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9% of Portland road fatalities in 2013 happened at a single intersection

Posted by on December 28th, 2013 at 12:55 pm

The southbound approach to Southwest Barbur and Miles.
(Image: Google Street View.)

I promise we’re going to be able to focus on cheerier subjects soon, but some facts are too shocking to pass over.

After a late-night crash that police say involved drunk and reckless driving, the corner of Southwest Barbur and Miles has now seen three road deaths in a single year. That’s 9 percent of the 35 traffic fatalities that have happened in the entire city of Portland in 2013.

The intersection is on the main bike route that connects most of Southwest Portland with rest of the city.

Here’s the awful lineup, told in Police Bureau press releases:

On Tuesday May 14, 2013, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Central Precinct officers responded to Southwest Barbur Boulevard and Miles Street on the report of a car down the embankment after it struck a telephone pole.

The driver and victim was Lance Marcus, 45, a Salem businessman. He had been driving his Audi A-6 northbound “well above the speed limit.” He died at the scene.

This afternoon, Monday November 25, 2013, at 2:37 p.m., Central Precinct officers responded to the report of a serious traffic crash involving two vehicles at Southwest Barbur Boulevard and Miles Street.

The driver and victim was Debra Ann Maymi, 55, a Northwest Portland businesswoman. She had been driving a Ford Freestyle mini-van southbound when her van crossed the center median and into northbound traffic, colliding with a city dump truck. She died at the scene.

This morning, Friday December 27, 2013, at 3:06 a.m., Central Precinct officers responded to Southwest Barbur Boulevard and Miles Street on the report that a vehicle crashed into a tree.

The driver was Audy Molina-Colindres, 29. He had been driving southbound when he “lost control, crossed over a median, through the northbound lanes of S.W. Barbur Blvd. and collided with a large tree.” His passenger, Dmitiriy G. Maksimov, 28, died at the scene. Police accused Molina-Colindres of manslaughter, reckless driving and driving under the influence of intoxicants.

When we last mentioned this intersection, in October, Jonathan noted in an editorial that Nisha Rana, 25, had died in 2011 while driving southbound a few blocks to the north. Within one mile to the north on Barbur are the sites of a 2013 near-fatality hit-and-run, a 2010 fatality involving a speeding southbound car and a 2009 double fatality involving a speeding southbound motorcycle.

Bicycles must currently merge with auto traffic
as they cross two bridges near this corner.
(Image by Friends of Barbur)

Awful as it is, none of this might be worth noting on BikePortland if this very one-mile stretch of Barbur didn’t include two points at which people on bicycles and in cars are forced to merge into the same 45-mph travel lane as it crosses two narrow bridges.

A Metro traffic engineer who examined this area says that replacing a northbound travel lane on this stretch with two buffered bike lanes would slow northbound traffic without reducing road capacity by forcing northbound cars to travel at the speed of the slowest-moving vehicle. The Oregon Department of Transportation, however, has rejected that plan on the grounds that it would slow average northbound rush-hour travel times by several minutes over the next 20 years.

Could removing an auto lane make this corner safer for people in cars? Jim Gardner, who has lived near Barbur for 40 years (and who supports a fix for what he calls the “inherently dangerous” bridges that lack bike lanes) doubts it. Before 2011, he noted, there was no clear history of fatal crashes at Miles.

Riding Portland's urban highways-30

An organized bicycle ride on Barbur in June.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)

“Though in the middle of the city, it feels like a rural freeway: wooded on both sides, two wide lanes, gentle curves, no intersections, no visible habitation, no driveways,” Gardner said of the stretch, in an email Friday. “It invites speed and demands little attention. Then comes a reduced speed limit, a right hand curve, and the intersection, all within a fairly short distance. But does all that mean it is inherently dangerous? I think not. If it were so, there would be a much longer history of accidents there, even fatal ones.”

Gardner said he thinks speed limit enforcement would be one way to make the road safer.

“It’s a big world with many sharp edges,” Gardner added. “We have a duty not to increase those risks unnecessarily, but we also can’t idiot-proof everywhere and everything.”

Moreover, all of these fatalities but one involved speeding southbound vehicles, who would still have two lanes under the main restriping plan. And it’s not clear whether simply adding paint-buffered bike lanes would tend to change the behavior of people driving recklessly in either direction.

It is certain, however, that the deadliest intersection in the city of Portland is also the southbound end of a proposed 1.5 mile restriping that engineers say would slow traffic and separate bikes from cars without reducing road capacity.

In an October email, before Barbur’s latest two fatalities, Bicycle Transportation Alliance Advocate Carl Larson weighed in on a conversation with Gardner and others, saying that although “better street design can’t keep people from making bad decisions,” it can “reduce the impact of those decisions.”

“We have too many streets that, with their wide lanes, poorly timed lights, and radiused curves function all-too-beautifully for driving on at double the speed limit, drunk,” Larson argued. “That’s a design problem — one that can be fixed.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to an incorrect street name at one point, and referred to the top image as being from the wrong direction.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Chris
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Chris

I’ve ridden thousands of miles around the Portland area, and the only time I’ve been hit on my bike was on Barbur and Hamilton, where a car right-hooked me while turning in to the Swan Mart. Fortunately the car suffered more damage than my bike or I did, but it could have been a disaster and it is not comforting to hear this statistic.

wsbob
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wsbob

To northbound Barbur traffic, Miles is a side street on the right, just at the beginning of the road’s big curve, a short distance from the big Burlingame/Terwilliger intersection. After being basically level for some distance, Barbur begins to descend past Burlingame.

Southbound Barbur traffic, gradually ascends as it travels away from Portland, and is in a broad, sweeping right hand curve as it approaches the point on the road where Miles intersects Barbur; that I know of, and it’s not indicated otherwise on the google map, Miles doesn’t intersect with Barbur on the west side of Barbur.

In this most recent collision on Barbur, the person driving, Audy Molina-Colindres, is reported to have been traveling southbound, that is…away from town, slightly uphill, through the big curve as it approaches the point where Miles intersects Barbur on the other side of the street. Doesn’t appear that the Miles St intersection had anything to do with the Molina-Colindres collision.

Peter W
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Peter W

In that top photo it looks like there is just a concrete median. Would trees on the median or jersey barriers help? (Perhaps by deflecting speeding cars or making the road look narrower and encouraging slower driving?)

Granpa
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Granpa

“the corner of Southwest Terwilliger and Miles has now seen three road deaths in a single year. ”

Correction (I suspect), Barbur Blvd & Miles. Anyway, it needs to become less of a dangerous route.

9watts
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9watts

Were any of the drivers wearing helmets?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Why can’t we have speed cameras? It seems like that would solve the problem.

Barbara Stedman
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Barbara Stedman

I avoid biking on Barbur, but drive on it regularly. I’m trying hard to drive at the speed limit (not easy on a wide road like that), but it seems like everybody else is speeding past me. The speed limit in the “woods part” of Barbur between Miles and shortly before Hamilton is 45, but most people drive 55. Going southbound the speed limit goes down just before Miles to 35, but people keep driving 55.
I would also like to see speed camera enforcement, a standard treatment in Europe. The problem is that everybody, including grandma, thinks they can go 10 miles above the speed limit because they won’t get tickets, even if it’s not safe and no matter what the road/weather condition is. Not sure if a public awareness campaign would help. Visually narrowing streets with better road design would surely help.

Slave to the Traffic Light
Guest
Slave to the Traffic Light

All the streetlights are out around there. I mean it is pitch black. This could have an effect on things. At least if they were turned on people could get a visual indication of their speed.

lyle w.
Guest
lyle w.

Spent five minutes picking up and throwing branches and a very large stump that some crew had decided to place directly in the northbound bike lane right at this bend today.

You just gotta ask yourself what planet people are on.

Drunk driving, speeding, texting and driving, just generally being completely out of it, etc… It’s actually incredible more people aren’t killed and maimed out on the roads every day, to be honest.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Reposting this from a couple weeks ago —

Just remember, folks, things often get fixed based purely on the number of complaints that the authorities receive.

So, whenever someone gets killed, maimed, clobbered, etc. on Barbur, shoot off a couple letters to your favorite officials. Like:
* State sen and rep
* Da Guv
* Those dudes and dudettes at ODOT that keep saying its not a problem because not enough people have been killed yet, and we really need to open up all of those lanes for the declining traffic.
* Your favorite friends at the Oregon Freight Haulers Association, or whatever its called.
* Your city councilors
* Leah Treat and Rob Burchfield, head honchos at PBOT.
* The Oregonian, Willamette Week, Tribune.
* email SAFE@portlandoregon.gov and askodot@odot.state.or.us
* Rob Sadowski and Gerik Kransky at the BTA.
* Sheila the Bike/Ped main bike/ped person at ODOT in Salem.
* State highway patrol, ask them to enforce the speed limit and red light running.
* Maybe some civic leaders — Presidents of OHSU, Lewis and Clark, PSU, and Mr. Sam Adams, exec dir of the Portland City Club.

Send them nice letters, angry letters, short letters, long letters, hard copies, electronic copies, telephone messages. Mix it up a bit.

You don’t need to send a million letters every time, but keep the heat on.

Also, remember that by advocating for a safer Barbur, you’re also advocating for safer streets everywhere. Whenever public comment comes in asking for safer streets and improved bike lanes gets registered. And those that complain get placated. Even if the Barbur road diet doesn’t come on line for a couple years yet, your letters asking for improved bicycle facilities will result in the authorities giving more favor to bicycle issues in other areas of their jurisdiction.

FWIW,
Ted Buehler

OnTheRoad
Guest
OnTheRoad

The caption on your main picture is wrong. We are looking southbound, not northbound.

friv game
Guest

thanks for sharing We are looking southbound

9watts
Guest
9watts

wsbob,

here’s some bedtime reading for you:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448300/

“Recent data demonstrate a 17% increase in deaths after a 4% increase in speeds on US interstate highways. High-speed driving on highways induces speed adaptation (a situation in which vehicle speed is influenced by the speed and duration of recent travel in the vehicle) on connecting interurban roads, and even urban roads.”

“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite 41,967 road deaths in 1997, has not cited higher speed limits as contributing to the high number of deaths. The British government, by contrast, is committed to strategies to reduce speeds.”

Barbara Stedman
Guest
Barbara Stedman

O.k. guys, can you please continue your quibbles in your private sandbox? It’s not contributing to the discussion of Barbur Blvd.