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Two more people were killed while walking across Southeast Division Street last night


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(Note: This post is a mix of news and opinion.)

Two people were killed while walking on Division Street last night in separate collisions. The first one happened just before 7:00 pm at 156th Avenue. The second one happened around 9:00 pm near 87th. These are the 13th and 14th people to be killed while walking (about three over our average since 1996) and the 39th and 40th traffic fatalities so far this year. That’s the most fatalities we’ve had since 2003.

Division is already known as one of the most dangerous streets in Portland for vulnerable road users. This year alone five people have died in traffic crashes while using Division (four people walking and one person driving). In addition to those fatalities there have been at least three serious injury crashes on Division in 2016, including one with life-threatening injuries and another with traumatic injuries. Seven of these collisions happened on a two-mile stretch between 124th and 156th.

Details on what exactly happened last night are still unknown, but both collisions involved a motor vehicle operator who struck a person on foot.

As news of these latest tragedies on Division rolled in last night, the community was justifiably horrified, frustrated, and angry.

Despite the road being managed by the Portland Bureau of Transportation as an interstate highway where motor vehicle capacity is the top priority, this stretch of Division runs through vibrant neighborhoods full of places where people try to live, work and play.

Why is PBOT holding people in this neighborhood hostage to the terrors of dangerous auto use while preserving and protecting the interests of motor vehicle speed, capacity and convenience?

SE Division looking east toward the crosswalk at 156th.

If we know so clearly about the inherent dangers posed by Division Street — and if we truly accept responsibility for what a commitment to “Vision Zero” means — why have we not done more to keep people safe?

On January 12th 84-year-old Francis Weaver was crossing Division in the crosswalk at 156th when she was struck and killed by 61-year-old Carolyn Bettin. Less than one month later the Portland Bureau of Transportation installed a “rapid flash beacon” at the intersection. In a tweet on February 8th they said “it’s working great.”

PBOT, like the Oregon Department of Transportation, appears to be impotent when it comes to taming motor vehicle traffic on these urban arterials. Their only response is a few yellow signs, some paint and a few flashing lights — none of which appear to be significantly changing the roadway environment. Here’s an inconvenient truth: We must make people slow down on Division (and elsewhere). We can’t afford to wait for our typical incrementalist approach or culture change or public education campaigns to work. The options are to reconfigure the roadway to make it nearly impossibly to drive dangerously and/or to develop a fair and effective method of enforcement.

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In a sad twist to last night’s news, both of the locations — 156th and 87th — are the same locations where Kim Stone and Kristi Finney lost their sons. Joe Stone was killed while walking across Division at 156th in 2013 and Dustin Finney was killed while biking on Division near 87th in 2011.

Last night on Twitter, reeling after reading news of both fatalities, Kristi Finney wrote, “I feel like a complete and utter failure.”

It’s sickening that Finney has to add the failure of our broken transportation system to the already massive emotional burden of her son’s death.

Graphic from Bike Loud PDX. They feel Division has too much space for motor vehicle traffic.

Volunteer activist group Bike Loud PDX has already responded to these latest deaths. They are planning a “takeover” of Division Street this Saturday. Bike Loud says despite knowing the dangers of Division for years, PBOT “has only made baby steps” to improve it.

“Where the City hasn’t addressed this crisis, we the people of Portland will,” reads a statement on their Facebook event page. Here’s more about the event:

All are invited this Saturday when we will implement emergency traffic calming measures along the stretch of SE Division where the street widens to five traffic lanes (the deadliest stretch of the road). All you need to bring is yourself, but the especially enraged should bring signs, and anything large and visible (traffic cones, old pallets, planters, hay bales, patio furniture, etc). Remember Fallon Smart’s memorial on Hawthorne? So far, it’s been the only tactic that actually got the City to listen and seriously respond, so we’re doing it again.

Please note that this is not a shutdown: we will be maintaining functionality of the road, including driveways and bike lanes. Our goal is to show that the unnecessary and dangerous outer lanes could be removed (or converted to other purposes like bus/bike lanes) immediately and not cause undue impact to functionality!

This is a citizen-lead emergency traffic calming event on SE Division St in response to the crisis-level number of fatalities and serious injuries on this road. We’re shutting down the deadly and unnecessary two outer traffic lanes through the 5-lane stretch of Outer Division.

Last week the City of Portland passed an action plan to reach zero traffic deaths. That’s what Portland usually does to address big problems. But business as usual is no longer enough. The threat we face is growing at a faster rate than our steps to mitigate it. People will continue to be hurt and killed until we catch up and leave the status quo far behind.

UPDATE: The police have released more details on one of last night’s fatalities. They say 65-year-old Rohgzhao Zhang of Southeast Portland was walking home from work at a nearby restaurant at the time of the collision. The 19-year-old driver was going westbound, “when Zhang stepped into traffic and was struck by Moore’s vehicle.”

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

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