The Going Neighborhood Greenway is one of the busiest and arguably best example of a family-friendly cycling street we have in Portland. That’s why what happened to Josh Ross and his six-year-old son on Saturday matters.
Ross was biking with his son in a Weehoo bike trailer when they were hit by a woman driving a BMW coupe. As he described it to me on the phone yesterday, Ross was riding east on Going. He used the two-way, elevated cycle-track on the west side of 33rd (map) and was one full lane into the intersection just prior to the collision. People in cars were bumper-to-bumper in the southbound direction, so Ross had an easy time pulling in front of someone in the lane closest to the cycle-track. Then, after he slowed to make sure the driver in the northbound lane saw them, he rolled forward. “The BMW had been stopped on Going heading west. I noticed her sitting there, but she wasn’t on my radar because she shouldn’t have been going,” Ross explained about The BMW driver who was waiting to turn left.
But as he and his son began to roll across 33rd, the woman inexplicably lurched forward directly into them. “I think she thought that traffic had stopped for her so she just jumped… She said she didn’t see us.”
Ross and his son were returning home after getting lunch and running some errands on Alberta Street. The collision left him with a badly banged-up foot and both he and his son hit their heads and might have had a minor concussion. Ross reports that the woman who hit them, “was really freaked out.”
“We enjoy riding. And I really hope I can get back to doing that with him.”
— Josh Ross
It’s hard to know why exactly this woman would make such a grave mistake; but her behavior suggests she might have been distracted. It’s common to see people looking down at their phone or other device while stopped. They feel like it’s OK to do when they’re not moving. But I’ve noticed that even when you’re not moving, when you stop paying attention to the task of driving for a few moments it’s easy to become detached from what’s going on around your car. You lose the situational awareness that’s essential for safety. You assume the conditions present when you last looked at the road will be similar to when you’re done looking at your device. That’s not only dangerous behavior, it’s illegal.
There’s a very good reason Oregon’s distracted driving law explicitly forbids using a device while stopped in traffic and requires people to pull over and park if they need to take their attention off the road.
Another element of this collision worth noting is that it could have been much worse. That might not be much consolation to the Ross family; but when you talk to traffic engineers about road design, you won’t find one who expects to prevent all collisions. Even a Vision Zero approach assumes bad things will still happen sometimes — the goal is to minimize consequences when they do. To PBOT’s credit, this was a very slow-speed collision that resulted in relatively minor injuries. If this same thing happened on a multi-lane arterial or larger neighborhood collector street that didn’t have a crossing treatment updated to neighborhood greenway standards, it’s likely this would have been much worse.
As for what the future holds for Ross and his son’s cycling aspirations. He says he’s not sure his son will want to get back into the trailer. “We enjoy riding,” he said, “And I really hope I can get back to doing that with him.”
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