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As traffic deaths spike, ‘Remembrance Day’ reminds us of human toll


Despite all the technology; despite all the vigils; despite all the “safety campaigns”; despite all the promises from road agencies and elected officials that “safety is our number one priority” — people continue to die at an alarming rate while using Oregon roads.

To help stem this tragic tide, a small but dedicated group of bereaved family members wants us all to feel their pain — and then use those feelings to change ourselves and our streets. That was the goal of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, which was observed yesterday in Portland’s Waterfront Park.

Kristi Finney.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

“We’re here because the average person is indifferent to this until it happens to them,” said Kristi Finney of Familes for Safe Streets (Facebook) during a ceremony to remember the more than 400 people who died while using Oregon roads so far this year.

The group had to scramble to get enough shoes for the memorial. When they started collecting them on November 3rd, 405 Oregonians had died this year. By November 8th that number was 410. In the past week, 11 more people have died, pushing Oregon’s year-to-date fatality tracker to 421 — an estimated 15 percent increase over the same period last year.

To make sure the humans behind those numbers are not forgotten, Finney and three other members of Families for Safe Streets created a temporary visual memorial under the Morrison Bridge for several hours on Sunday. They held a press conference and stood in front of the shoes along with Legacy Emanuel Hospital Trauma Nurse Mike Morrison, and Portland Fire and Rescue Lieutenant Laurent Picard.

As a first responder to many crashes, Lt. Picard knows the toll of traffic violence all too well.

Picard told several horrible stories yesterday. There was the time when two women were chatting on the corner of Broadway and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd when a drunk driver slammed his car into another drunk driver whose car then careened into the innocent women. They both suffered serious injuries and each had to have a leg amputated. There was also the time he was first on the scene of an elderly woman who was hit and killed while walking across the street near Mt. Tabor Park — by someone driving 60 miles per hour.

“I’ll never forget those moments,” Picard said.

In 2016 Picard said his bureau has responded to over 900 traffic crashes involving people on foot or on bike. He referred to road deaths and injuries as an “epidemic.” “We know these are preventable,” he said, “This is a crisis and it needs to stop now.”

Portland Fire & Rescue Lieutenant Laurent Picard.

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David Sale’s daughter Danielle was killed when TriMet operator Sandi Day turned her bus into her while she crossed Broadway (at Glisan) in 2010. She was holding her boyfriend’s hand.

People in our community were saying those exact words in 2007 after Tracey Sparling died while riding her bike on NW 14th Avenue and Burnside. Sparling’s aunt Susan Kubota has spent the last nine years re-living that day in the name of raising awareness for safer streets.

“We are unwilling members of Families for Safe Streets, but we bear witness to this pain and suffering because we all have become complacent to these daily preventable crashes,” Kubota said. “We are united in our demand for change.”

“We bear witness to this pain and suffering because we all have become complacent to these daily preventable crashes. We are united in our demand for change.”
— Susan Kubota, Families for Safe Streets

David Sale recalled the death of his 22-year-old daughter Danielle in 2010 with vivid details. Danielle was one of two people killed in 2010 when TriMet bus operator Sandi Day made an illegal and dangerous left turn and ran them over in a crosswalk on NW Broadway. “These are not accidents,” he said as he fought back tears.

Legacy Emanuel trauma nurse Mike Morrison sees this issue from a different perspective — from the mangled bodies and blood-stained clothing that gets rushed into his hospital rooms. Looking out over the 400 pairs of empty shoes, Morrison said, “We see nearly eight times this many people who are seriously injured every year.” Morrison said the focus should be on changing driving behavior and simply slowing down.

“What changes can we make so we don’t have another 400 shoes to look at?” he asked.

By their own adopted Vision Zero goals, the City of Portland says we can eliminate traffic deaths by 2025. That’s nine years from now — the same amount of time that has passed since Tracey Sparling was crushed to death by a right-turning truck operator who claimed he never even saw her.

How much progress have we made since then? How much progress will we make in the next nine years?

Kristi Finney, who lost her son Dustin in 2011 when he was hit from behind while biking on Division, is sick and tired of business as usual. She struck a defiant tone at yesterday’s event. In a sign that her group has evolved beyond public grieving and press events, Families for Safe Strets released their first-ever policy platform. It focuses on road user education.

The platform includes five focus areas: Highlight personal stories on victim impact panels and in DMV materials; require driver testing for license renewal; combine the Oregon Drivers Manual with the Oregon Bicyclist Manual; require hands-on driver education courses for all Oregonians; and give every Oregon student bicycling and walking education in school.

Core members of Families for Safe Streets (L to R): Susan Kubota, Kim Stone, David Sale, Kristi Finney)

Finney and Familes for Safe Streets are doing all they can to promote change. Now they want road agencies and elected officials to do their part.

“The government response to all these crashes is often inadequate,” Finney told Sunday’s somber crowd. “If things don’t change, we are going to hold you accountable. This is outrageous.”

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

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