Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 23rd, 2016 at 11:47 am
Much of the impact Fallon Smart’s death has had on our community has been emotional. It has bonded citizens and activists together. Combined with other recent tragedies, it has created a deeper sense of urgency to improve street safety — and a growing frustration at the slow pace of change — among many of us.
But Smart’s death has also left something physical and tangible. Hours after the tragedy, someone painted an unsanctioned crosswalk across Hawthorne at 43rd. Along with the crosswalk, signs and traffic cones sprouted up in the center turn lane that was used recklessly by Smart’s speeding killer.
Less than a week after she died a memorial ride brought hundreds of people to the intersection. They left flowers and notes and candles. Then community activists who had adopted the intersection brought more permanent planters and flowers. These physical objects have turned this notoriously high-speed stretch of Hawthorne into a more humane place. A place that still allows people to drive through the intersection, but in a way that’s less harmful to people who are not driving.
“PBOT let us know this week that everything would be taken down… that there was a lot of pressure from people who had been calling into the city with a number of very angry and nasty emails and voicemails about it.”
— Dan Rutzick, Sunnyside Neighborhood Association
By effectively closing down the center turn lane, the community has created change in the street that is both symbolic and physical. It raises awareness of what happened and lowers the speed of road users.
In a city whose five elected leaders have unanimously committed to a “Vision Zero” future where no one is seriously hurt or killed on our streets, it seems like taming a deadly, high-speed road for a few pennies would be embraced — especially when it’s supported by many nearby businesses and residents.
One month after Smart was killed, the Portland Bureau of Transportation still hasn’t touched the guerrilla crosswalk, the planters, the cones, or the signs. But now, according to neighborhood advocates and transportation activists close to the issue, PBOT is getting pressured to remove everything and plans to do so next week.
Sunnyside Neighborhood Board Member Dan Rutzick says PBOT told him they’ve received several complaints from people who drive on Hawthorne. They say the memorial items are impeding their travel, forcing them to drive more slowly, and are inherently unsafe.
“PBOT let us know this week that everything would be taken down,” Rutzick shared with us in a phone interview today, “And that there was a lot of pressure from people who had been calling into the city with a number of very angry and nasty emails and voicemails about it… And about how the City of Portland is giving too much influence to bicyclists and pedestrians.”
“This is a very sensitive issue, and we’re going to take our time to get it right.”
— John Brady, PBOT
Asked about this issue on September 7th, PBOT spokesman John Brady said they wouldn’t do anything to the temporary memorials until an engineering analysis was complete. At that time, he said, they would “come back to the community to explain any actions we do take.” Asked for when that might happen, Brady said they didn’t have a timeline.
Asked again yesterday for the official status of the intersection, Brady said they are planning a statement with more details later today. “This is a very sensitive issue,” he said, “and we’re going to take our time to get it right.”
Based on conversations with various sources, it appears PBOT is caught between a rock and hard place. They understand why the cones and flowers and signs are there and they sympathize with the community about the need for a safer Hawthorne — but they also have to consider laws and politics. They can’t just let the public think it’s permissible to place unsanctioned items in the middle of a street. And they also have to take the complaints they’re getting seriously.
From the neighborhood’s perspective, Rutzick says he won’t be surprised if there’s a citizen protest once the cleanup happens next week. He doesn’t blame PBOT and he appreciates how they’ve handled the situation thus far, but he also says he and his neighbors want real, permanent change in the short-term and will hard to make it happen.
Rutzick also told us he has talked about the issue with a member of Fallon Smart’s family who said they plan to gather some of the items from the intersection before PBOT crews show up. The family is also asking for privacy while this happens.
UPDATE, 4:10 pm: PBOT has confirmed their intention to clear the intersection; but they will leave the crosswalk. Here’s the official statement:
We will be restoring the center turn lane on Hawthorne. We have let the family know and we are working with them so they have the chance to take items that they would like to be part of a permanent memorial for Fallon. We also let the neighborhood associations know about our approach.
None of this will affect the crosswalk.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org