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Most of those new traffic victim memorials will be gone soon: Here’s why

Posted by on November 18th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Most of them will be gone by next week.
(Photo: Oregon Walks)

On Sunday in the pouring rain, dozens of activists and family members of people who have been killed in traffic crashes erected memorials at 135 locations throughout Portland. The effort was part of the national World Day of Remembrance to End Traffic Deaths. The ghostly white silhouettes were ziptied to sign poles adjacent to some of the most dangerous major streets in the region — most of them owned and managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

No more than 24 hours later ODOT maintenance crews started taking some of them down.

One of the event organizers said at first she was angered, but after contacting ODOT she now plans to remove most of them this weekend.

Kristi Finney with Families for Safe Streets, whose son Dustin was killed by a drunk driver while he biked on SE Division in 2011, didn’t ask for ODOT’s permission prior to the event. “We suspected they would take them down if we affixed them to their property,” she told us via email yesterday.

Even so, Finney added, “I feel dismay that out of all the priorities ODOT should have, removing these memorials of people killed on their unsafe roads was made a top one. Really, they couldn’t even leave them through the outbound rush hour?”

Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry told us she also wasn’t surprised. Her group gave ODOT a heads-up prior to erecting the memorials, but they too didn’t ask permission or get a specific permit.

ODOT’s spokesman Don Hamilton confirmed for us that maintenance crews have removed four of the memorials so far — one on SE Powell Blvd and three along 82nd. In a phone interview this morning Hamilton said ODOT is obligated by law to remove, “Things that are causing distraction for people on the road or are obscuring important safety information or creating some kind of safety hazard.”

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As to these specific memorials, Hamilton said ODOT understands the emotions at play but the agency has no choice. “These are sincere and heartfelt gestures. We appreciate their effort to convey a safety message; but we have obligations we have to follow.” Hamilton noted that memorials were “very much in line” with similar safety messages ODOT tries to conveny.

So far just four of the memorials have been removed but it’s likely more will come down as maintenance crews come across them. Hamilton said ODOT hasn’t received citizen complaints yet. The first four were removed after a maintenance staffer drove by one that was placed on a median. “He was driving home,” Hamilton explained, “And it started him. It was alarming.”

“Another one [of the memorials] was on a sidewalk and it was facing right onto the street,” Hamilton continued. “That’s going to cause someone to stop. It can really cause confusion.”

When I last talked to Hamilton about this issue in 2011 he said, “State highways are not a bulletin board.”

Advocates have twice tried to pass a new state law that would allow permanent signs along roadways to memorialize traffic victims. It has failed both times, most recently in 2008.

Finney has since been in touch with Hamilton about the issue and they are making arrangements to return the cut-out figures. Finney has also agreed to remove all the other figures off ODOT-controlled roads this weekend. She’s happy with the impact they’ve already had. “This is more than I hoped for,” she shared today on Twitter. “We never intended for them to be left up indefinitely.”

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

60 Comments
  • Adam Herstein
    Adam Herstein November 18, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    ODOT knows.

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    • K'Tesh November 18, 2015 at 1:49 pm

      My thoughts exactly…

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  • K'Tesh November 18, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    So now that Kristi is taking down them herself, can ODOT and PBOT address a few of the issues I’ve pointed out to them? Say like those black hole grates up by the VA hospital?

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  • alankessler November 18, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    “He was driving home,” Hamilton explained, “And it started him. It was alarming.”

    “I was absolutely terrified by the silhouette: had that been an actual person I wouldn’t even have seen her until I had killed her! It’s just not fair to scare motorists like that!”

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    • Pete November 18, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      Hey, they took me by surprise, too. I almost dropped my phone!

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    • wsbob November 18, 2015 at 5:29 pm

      I think you’ve chosen a poor way to express your disagreement with ODOT’s recognition that the memorial figures are not a helpful distraction to road users. It sounds like you may have been trying to use a little black humor to make a serious point, but the impression you’ve left, is one of disrespect to people trying to safely use the road.

      Had ODOT been consulted before siting the memorials, perhaps the department could have helped with some other better, and even more effective arrangement by which to get the word out about the importance of driving with great care. It’s unfortunate that because of the decision not to clear the action with dept first, much of the time and energy that went into creating the memorials was kind of wasted.

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      • J_R November 18, 2015 at 9:05 pm

        Maybe ODOT could have taken a proactive approach to safety and kept some of these memorials from being needed.

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        • 9watts November 19, 2015 at 8:31 am

          Stop talking sense!

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      • alankessler November 19, 2015 at 12:05 am

        You seem to have more faith than I do that ODOT is being intellectually honest. If those figures are “startling” and “alarming” the roadway and/or the way the driver is using it are unsafe. Period.

        You correctly detected that I was making a morbid joke in response to what I believe to be a cynical justification for silencing important and sincere political speech.

        You assume that ODOT would have cooperated if only they had been consulted first; again, I lack your faith in that organization.

        If a driver is driving at a safe speed for the conditions, (s)he should be able to see a cardboard cutout on the side of the road and have time to make a reasonable decision about whether to adjust course or speed based on it. If a driver has a fear response seeing the cardboard, what are the chances they would have been able to act calmly and rationally if there had been a pedestrian in the same location?

        As was pointed out numerous times in this thread. How many other signs does ODOT place on the roadway or condone? Public highways are littered with garbage advertisements and other images competing for drivers’ attention. I do not believe that ODOT’s motivation for picking on these particular installations had anything to do with safety.

        ODOT’s justification was patently absurd, their decision to remove the silhouettes was cowardly, and I stand by my joke at their expense.

        To the extent that any person ‘trying to safely use the road” feels disrespected by my joke, please know that this was not intended and please help me to understand why my words hurt you.

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        • wsbob November 19, 2015 at 6:37 pm

          Maus…Kessler responded to my comment…asked me to help him understand the lack of respect I felt his remarks show to road user’s efforts to use the road safely; how his words “…hurt me…”, which I regard as the more important question of ‘how they hurt other people trying to use the road safely.’.

          I responded in kind, in a civil manner that I think is respectful to his viewpoint, even though I don’t agree with it. And by explaining why I think many people having to use the road, would take issue with these type of memorials, rather than ones that would be less obtrusive and still get the message across, perhaps in more effective ways. Why then do you take so long to release the comment from moderation?

          I understand that you’re the owner publisher of this website, and that you’re the primary moderator of the site. And that I write and post a lot of material, perhaps a lot of it that your readers don’t especially like. Leaving you in the position perhaps, of feeling that you want to post mostly what pleases them, what they want to read.

          What I try to write, is what I think is honest and true of a particular situation, such as this one with the memorials…rather than my own personal view on situations. I think other people should try look into the greater dimensions of various situations, rather than limit what they see to their own personal view of what they want or don’t want, like or don’t like.

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          • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

            wsbob,
            I hold back your comments at times because I feel he volume and length of your comments can overwhelm a thread. I hope you understand.

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        • wsbob November 19, 2015 at 7:23 pm

          Maus doesn’t seem to be posting any comments I’ve made to this story, other than my initial comment, so you may not ever have occasion to read this one.

          “…If a driver is driving at a safe speed for the conditions, (s)he should be able to see a cardboard cutout on the side of the road and have time to make a reasonable decision about whether to adjust course or speed based on it. If a driver has a fear response seeing the cardboard, what are the chances they would have been able to act calmly and rationally if there had been a pedestrian in the same location? …” kessler

          The human shaped figures are memorials to victims of traffic collisions. Why do you diminish their seriousness by dismissing them simply as “cardboard cutouts” ?

          ODOT’s staffer was startled upon seeing the memorials, I’d guess, precisely because they weren’t a live person, or at least not something that looked like a real person that most people driving would as a matter of course take precautions being near to. The staffer found them instead to be alarming. A distraction away from the attention needed to be directed by people trying to use the road safely

          Again…memorials to people injured or killed in traffic collisions is a worthy effort. Please though, whoever should decide to take part in producing such memorials, work to do so in a way that will have a positive and effective benefit towards improving road safety.

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      • mran1984 November 19, 2015 at 9:54 am

        I think you choose to defend some interesting people and agencies. How are your taser happy friends doing? ODOT/PBOT allow electric billboards on our roads to increase sales not safety. Our priorities are clearly driven by the dollar…everything else is b.s.

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  • Gary B November 18, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    “That’s going to cause someone to stop. It can really cause confusion.”

    I don’t know what’s more laughable: that he thinks people stop for pedestrian-looking figures, or that he thinks it’s a hazard if someone mistakenly stops.

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    • nuovorecord November 18, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Yeah, because everyone stops for pedestrians.

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      • Randall S. November 19, 2015 at 3:39 pm

        Hey, don’t be like that. I routinely have cars stop for me when crossing the road. Assuming there’s a police officer, in a vehicle, directly behind them.

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  • LC November 18, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    ODOT: An organization complicit in meaningless, preventable deaths of American citizens which refuses to acknowledge the fact or change the way it operates to avoid them in the first place.

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  • Dan A November 18, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    “we have obligations we have to follow”

    Indeed.

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  • Janet Lafleur November 18, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    “State highways are not a bulletin board.” LOLOL at that. There are signs everywhere on the road. So many they have to carefully place new ones so they can be seen amongst the visual clutter.

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    • 9watts November 18, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Not to mention the damn billboards that do litter the landscape along all kinds of highways!

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  • Adron Hall @ Transit Sleuth November 18, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    So based on this…

    “ODOT’s spokesman Don Hamilton confirmed for us that maintenance crews have removed four of the memorials so far — one on SE Powell Blvd and three along 82nd. In a phone interview this morning Hamilton said ODOT is obligated by law to remove, “Things that are causing distraction for people on the road or are obscuring important safety information or creating some kind of safety hazard.””

    …that means ODOT shoud get started closing down some of their roads entirely since they’re responsible for more than 50% of all of Portland’s fatalities while only maintain a few of the actual roads. :-/

    …hmmm, I guess it doesn’t really matter to ODOT eh.

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  • Kittens November 18, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    …Meanwhile our streets are polluted with all matter of Ca$h For Houses and crass advertising billboards.

    Nice to see ODOT so on top of this scourge.

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  • Kirk November 18, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    ” Hamilton said ODOT is obligated by law to remove, “Things that are causing distraction for people on the road…” ”

    That’s GREAT news! This means they are obligated by law to facilitate enforcement actions focused on distracted driving and as a result remove the phones from people texting/talking while driving.

    Nevermind. That’s just cRaZy talk.

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    • Kitten November 18, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      Sooner or later there will be a nice sizable group of vigilante cyclists with some auto-center punches and when ever they see a distracted driver, just pop their window with one.

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  • Tony T
    Tony T November 18, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    “I feel dismay that out of all the priorities ODOT should have, removing these memorials of people killed on their unsafe roads was made a top one. Really, they couldn’t even leave them through the outbound rush hour?”

    Yea ODOT! Way to be on top of the real threats to our safety!

    Seriously. The Oregon Department of Driving strikes again.

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  • Eric Leifsdad November 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Stay classy ODOT. Maybe one of your employees could be on the way home and find there’s a 6in thick blanket of leaves in the bike lane on Barbur at Miles, so they need to surprise merge left into 45mph traffic on a right curve and “It was alarming.”

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    • Chris I November 18, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      With the mess of leaves and torrential rains, this seems like a crazy thing to prioritize right now. ODOT crews should be working overtime to keep roadways clear and safe for all users.

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    • Tom Hardy November 18, 2015 at 4:46 pm

      Leaf sweeping. ODOT is right on top of it. They were sweeping Canyon/Hwy 26 past the zoo for the 4th time in the last 2 weeks today. Scheduled again for tomorrow.

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      • KristenT November 19, 2015 at 9:02 am

        Sure, they’re on top of it on a major highway… but what about all the other roads they own?

        For instance, Hall Blvd. Right now, it’s a mess of leaves and tree debris not to mention the ever-present glass from the Tigard Teenager Glass Recycling Program (c) (snark). ODOT sweeps out here on this road maybe once every three months or so, which means the bike lanes become a mess this time of year and stay that way.

        Also for instance, Upper Boones Ferry Rd. Because Durham is a “Tree Safe City”, there are a LOT of trees lining this road, and this time of year we get a lot of needles, pine cones, leaves, twigs, sticks, branches to go along with the usual glass and garbage. Our office is right on UBF and our landscapers work hard to keep the bike lane clear of debris, but it flows downhill in the rain. ODOT sends their sweepers out here every now and then, but we’ll have to wait a while for clean bike lanes.

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  • J_R November 18, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    The actual acronym is NODOT. It stands for “No. You can’t do that.”

    Better remove the bike lanes on roads that intersect with state highways. Oh, wait, they’ve already proposed that on 26th Avenue adjacent to Cleveland High School.

    New short version of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan: “Get them into cars where they’ll be safe.”

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  • peejay November 18, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Fire Matt Garrett. Put him in jail. Blood on his hands.

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    • nuovorecord November 18, 2015 at 3:25 pm
      • wsbob November 19, 2015 at 7:45 pm

        Depends on how long he knew the numbers were wrong. If it’s just been since June 10, that’s nothing to what it would be if he know the numbers were wrong for 10 years, the amount of time the Oregonian writer mentioned he’d been using the numbers

        Incorrect numbers stopped the transportation deal from going through. As a result, roads may not get widened as soon as people thought. Correct?

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  • GlowBoy November 18, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I think we should have a monument to remember every single person who’s been killed by (or on) a road facility.

    Oregon ought to enact the same law requiring signs like those in South Dakota, marking EVERY SINGLE SPOT where a person has died on their roads. SD may not be considered a very progressive state, but I think it’s a brilliant idea and should be copied everywhere.

    The SD signs have a big red “X” and “Marks the Spot”, followed by “THINK!” on one side and “WHY DIE?” on the other. The signs are actually fairly small and off to the side of the road, so presumably they’re less “distracting” than big cutouts, but they are there.

    And when you come to an intersection with half a dozen of them scattered around it really does make you think: https://www.gasfoodnolodging.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/x-marks-the-spot-239×360.jpg

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    • LC November 18, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      While I agree that the organization hosting the carnage should at least be required to acknowledge it even if they’re not going to do anything about it, but..
      “Why die”??
      Victim blaming at its most blunt.

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      • Dan A November 19, 2015 at 7:10 am

        In 2013 in SD, they had 135 motor vehicle fatalities. That number includes 9 pedestrians, 22 motorcyclists, and 0 bicyclists.

        In fatal crashes, most collisions were with another motor vehicle (41%) or a fixed object (19%), with rollovers or other non-collision events accounting for another 29%. Collisions with pedestrians & cyclists combined account for 6.6%.

        I’d say these signs are meant for drivers, not for vulnerable users.

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      • GlowBoy November 19, 2015 at 11:51 am

        I agree the language on the signs amounts to victim blaming, and am not suggesting to use the same wording.

        How about “WHY KILL?”

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  • Dan G November 18, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    “Another one [of the memorials] was on a sidewalk and it was facing right onto the street,” Hamilton continued. “That’s going to cause someone to stop. It can really cause confusion.”

    So, stopping for pedestrians is unsafe? ODOT would prefer that drivers not yield? The message is loud and clear: pedestrians do not belong on ODOT’s right of way.

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    • wsbob November 19, 2015 at 7:52 pm

      “…So, stopping for pedestrians is unsafe?…” dan g

      Stopping, suddenly if needed, for people trying to cross the road, could save someone’s life. These memorials made of cardboard in the shape of a person, aren’t real people. Having people possibly stop, abruptly upon seeing a cardboard memorial shaped like a person, is not safe, and could possibly result in someone being injured as a result.

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      • Dan A November 20, 2015 at 6:31 am

        In what scenario would that happen?

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      • J_R November 20, 2015 at 9:05 am

        Based on what the DA and the PPB said in the case of the tow truck driver who struck and killed Mark Angeles, there’s no proof that the driver “could” see the cyclist. After all that was at noon on a sunny day in May and he was in a bike lane at a signalized intersection. Based on that, there’s little reason to believe that an average motorist would see a cardboard silhouette of a pedestrian on a sidewalk adjacent to a street. Motorists don’t need to see anything smaller than a vehicle; it’s the law, apparently.

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  • Psyfalcon November 18, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    Put them back up.

    Better to have ODOT running around removing these than trying to engineer something.

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  • 9watts November 18, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    “We suspected they would take them down if we affixed them to their property,”

    Not quite. It is OUR property. ODOT is merely the state agency charged with building or maintaining what goes on there.

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    • TTFN November 18, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      THANK YOU
      These people are representatives of we the people, not owners of us or our property.

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  • Scott Kocher November 18, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    askodot@odot.state.or.us
    for things that are creating some sort of safety hazard.

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  • Scott Kocher November 18, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    for example…
    sidewalk gaps on SE 82nd, or
    5-lane crossings with no ped refuge islands on SE Powell, or
    gravel or narrowing of the Hwy 30 bike lane, or
    dangerous speeds everywhere on ODOT’s high-crash corridors.

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  • Grandpa November 19, 2015 at 5:58 am

    While this blog gleefully piles-on ODOT because maintenance staff do their job, consider that these are the people at the Agency who know the carnage if the roadways best. They remove road kill. they clean up the wreckage after crashes, and can’t, as humans, be unaffected by the experiences. To bash the workers at the bottom of the totem pole thinking that a righteous blow is landing on policy makers is nonsense.

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    • 9watts November 19, 2015 at 7:45 am

      Most of the comments I’ve read weren’t getting their digs in at the guy downstream but the folks at the top who are making mendacious claims about why it is so urgent to spend taxpayer money to remove these *dangerous* cardboard cutouts.

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      • Dan A November 19, 2015 at 8:59 am

        We can’t just have drivers start slowing down (or stopping, even!) for pedestrians or fake pedestrians they might happen to notice.

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  • 9watts November 19, 2015 at 9:23 am

    What about the cardboard police cars on rural roads? Why does ODOT not remove those?

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  • mark November 19, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Whatever it takes to support the killing (I didn’t see em) culture…ODOT will do.

    With PBOT in lockstep.

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  • Alain November 19, 2015 at 10:02 am

    I see crosses and other memorializing items on the road side of state highways all the time, how are these different? I mean, I understand that white might be viewed as more “distracting” than a cross with fake flowers, but my point is I notice the crosses… whether I am driving or a passenger.
    Distracting? Not anymore than anything else on the road side. It should be the nature of driving to be aware of your surroundings, not wanting all “distractions” to be removed.

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  • 9watts November 19, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Matt Garrett himself saw to it that a $7million memorial to Steve Fritz was installed in the I-5 median, and pronto.
    But I guess that was to rein in the distracted drivers who couldn’t keep to their side of the highway. Have we now so internalized distraction that it is now considered natural to spend money to accommodate it but we disallow volunteers to erect reminders of it in an attempt to actually reduce it?!

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  • Private November 19, 2015 at 10:51 am

    I’m all for memorials for a little while but after a month or two they should go. That’s what cemeteries are for. If they’re not buried anywhere then sponsor a bench or something useful to society instead of what turns out to be an eyesore.

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    • Dan A November 19, 2015 at 12:06 pm

      There’s a better way to make the eyesores go away.

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      • Dan A November 19, 2015 at 2:34 pm

        Although you raise a good point: If I’m ever run down, please install something useful near the site, like a bike locker, or a water bottle filling station. Thanks in advance.

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        • Alan Kessler November 19, 2015 at 4:36 pm

          If I’m ever run down, please let me rot in place as an object lesson to other drivers.

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  • C Retlaw November 19, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    yep, kitten is right; those punchers are a simple means of consequence
    to drivers using phones and not paying attention.

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  • Paul Cone November 19, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    So those highways signs dedicated to police officers killed in the line of duty AREN’T bulletin boards?

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/TRAFFIC-ROADWAY/Pages/Fallen-Officer.aspx

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  • mark November 24, 2015 at 10:21 am

    These signs threaten the very soul of ODOT. ODOT exists to move cars. Period.

    Take that away..and the soul of ODOT dies.

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