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A planned and funded project could have prevented this morning’s fatal collision

Posted by on January 4th, 2019 at 12:04 pm


*Existing conditions (left) and PBOT concept drawing of SW Salmon and Park with “X” marking approximate collision location. (Click to enlarge)

This morning someone died while walking across a street in downtown Portland. It’s the first traffic fatality of 2019.

A project approved by City Council in November might have prevented it.

According to the Portland Police Bureau, the collision happened just after 7:00 am this morning at the intersection of SW Salmon and Park, just across from Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and the Park Blocks, in an area known as the center of our downtown theater and cultural district. “Based on preliminary information,” the police statement reads, “investigators believe the pedestrian was crossing Southwest Salmon Street in an unmarked crosswalk when he was struck by a vehicle that was traveling on Southwest Salmon Street.” The man suffered major injuries and died shortly after at a nearby hospital.

This is a tragedy for our city; not just because we’ve lost another person to traffic violence, but because a project that’s already been planned, designed, and funded could very likely have prevented the death.

Streetview looking east on Salmon and Park with “X” where driver’s car was stopped after the collision.

In November, council approved the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Central City in Motion plan. That plan aims to improve downtown streets by making them safer and more efficient for all users. 18 projects were included in the plan, with eight of them slated for implementation in the first 1-5 years. PBOT has around $25 million already in place to start building them.

One of the projects slated for the first phase of construction is Project #8, a $3.7 million upgrade to the SW Salmon/Taylor couplet. Once the project is complete, PBOT says Salmon and Taylor between 14th and Naito Parkway will, “become key east/west bike routes for people of all ages and abilities” and will also include, “Pedestrian crossing improvements.”

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Raised intersection as depicted in the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide.

What’s often lost in debates about projects that include protected bike lanes is — especially in Portland — they rarely come with only cycling-related upgrades. In this case, the intersection where the man was hit and killed this morning is slated to be improved for everyone. The project comes with a new bus stop, a protected bike lane, extended curbs to decrease the crossing distance, and fewer on-street auto parking spaces to improve sightlines at the intersections (the space where that big red van is parked in the streetview image above would be a bicycle lane).

Perhaps most importantly in light of this morning’s tragedy, Project #8 will include a “tabled intersection.”

Right now only one crossing of Salmon at SW Park is striped with a crosswalk. Preliminary reports say this morning’s victim was using the side of the street that doesn’t have one. In Oregon we’re told that “every corner is a crosswalk,” and while existing statute might not be so clear (ORS 801.220 says, “Whenever marked crosswalks have been indicated, such crosswalks and no other shall be deemed lawful across such roadway at that intersection”), the onus for safety should always be on the person with most potential to do harm.

PBOT cross-section proposed for Project #8 in Central City in Motion plan.

As you can see in the concept drawing and cross-section above, PBOT plans to stripe all four crossings of this intersection with crosswalks and create a large speed table, a.k.a. a “tabled” or “raised” intersection. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), raised intersections, “reinforce slow speeds and encourage motorists to yield to pedestrians at the crosswalk.”

This morning’s death is a stark reminder that the current condition of our downtown streets is unacceptable. They are a ticking time bomb that we should treat with similar urgency. When streets are dominated by drivers and cars, drivers and cars will dominate. We can’t implement these Central City in Motion projects soon enough. And we need to plan even more of them. Portlanders deserve a safe and inviting downtown where driving is discouraged and demoted, and where a foot on pavement is more powerful than a foot on a gas pedal.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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J_R
Guest
J_R

The fatality might also have been prevented if there were any meaningful traffic enforcement, any meaningful prosecutions, and any significant punishment associated with blatant violation of traffic laws.

Every day, including today, I see motorists blow through red lights, exceed the posted speed by at least 10 mph, and fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

We live in the modern day equivalent to the wild west, except in the wild west cattle rustlers were hung.

Dwainedibbly
Guest
Dwainedibbly

I live not far from here and often walk through this intersection on my way to Pioneer Square, etc. Cars go very quickly, encouraged by the descent. The bus stop makes it more dangerous for pedestrians by creating a blind spot. Here’s hoping that Project #8 can provide some traffic calming.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

For the sake our the lives of our community and our climate we need to figure out a way to move these projects along faster. It is still radio silence on the 7th ave greenway as well. We need political leadership that understands the need and pushes theese faster but the planners also need to find ways to move faster.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

Much like many intersections in that area, visibility is piss poor at best. Let’s stop letting people park so close to the them so less don’t have to walk into the street to know what exactly is going on.

I’m sure this won’t be well received but should be noted is what the person who was driving was doing as well as the person walking. Quite frequently on my ride in I see too many people driving and walking downtown that clearly don’t know what they are doing and lights are a mere suggestion rather than some sort of order.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’m going to go out a limb and predict that speed was a factor. Cars routinely break the speed limit on this stretch. We definitely need projects that add speed tables at intersections. No ones life is worth a few seconds shaved off someone else’s commute.

James A Hilsenteger
Guest
James A Hilsenteger

I professionally drive (catering business) through this intersection quite often and always slow down and keep my eyes open because it is a high pedestrian traffic area. But I agree the design sucks. I am a cyclist and pedestrian so I am probably more aware. But the downhill grade and the desire to “make” the light at Broadway along with the other design flaws creates a terrible situation. I see these physical situations all over Portland.

John
Guest
John

“…a project that’s already been planned, designed, and funded could very likely have prevented the death.”

Saying that the project is designed makes it seem like PBOT is sitting on a stack of engineering drawings that are ready to build. As far as I know, the projects in CCIM aren’t designed yet. Getting through City Council is what allows the projects to begin design.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

The primary safety problem in those east/west streets in the Park Blocks to my thinking is that they are unsignalized in the Park Blocks section.

While the timing of the signals in the rest of the area limits speeds to the 12 mph of the signal timing, the 3 unsignalized blocks of the Park Blocks area allows drivers to run their vehicles up to 30 mph or more in an attempt to race to the next signal. That isn’t really possible in other areas of downtown.

The Park Block is intended to be a more pedestrianized area of downtown but this lack of controlled intersections ends up making the area less hospitable to pedestrians.

If the vehicle that hit this guy was really going the 12 mph as dictated by the signal timing, how in the world did the impact end up killing him. It’s possible. Pretty much any fall or impact to the head can kill a person. But the possibility that the driver was going much faster than that exists in the Park Blocks in a way that is doesn’t in other areas of the city.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

This morning’s death is a stark reminder that the current condition of our downtown streets is unacceptable. They are a ticking time bomb that we should treat with similar urgency.

Downtown is statisically the safet part of the region. Why must stis site always editorialize everything? Is subjective journalism dead?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

The Google Street View shows a major problem with our city. It would help if the city would enforce the law prohibiting parking within 20′ of a crosswalk. Or the law prohibiting parking vehicles that block visibility within 50′ of a crosswalk. Or any other number of parking laws violated by thousands every day that the police just ignore. These drivers contribute to the lax attitude that they can get away with whatever they want because even if it’s reported it’s unlikely they’ll be cited.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Pedestrians have to violate ORS 801.220 all the time. Even children are forced to break this law due to how the crosswalks are painted near schools. It’s either that or walk blocks out of your way.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I know this area well. The narrow streets , poor visibility and high volume of pedestrian traffic at nearly all hours makes this part of Portland incompatible with automobile traffic. Letting people drive motorized jalopies here is akin to letting elementary school kids do chain saw carving in art class. No matter what the outcomes will be bad.

David Hampsten
Guest

The headline sums up East Portland’s history within Portland.

q
Guest
q

The article states, ” In Oregon we’re told that “every corner is a crosswalk,” and while existing statute might not be so clear (ORS 801.220 says, “Whenever marked crosswalks have been indicated, such crosswalks and no other shall be deemed lawful across such roadway at that intersection”), the onus for safety should always be on the person with most potential to do harm.”

ORS 801.220 seems VERY clear to me that this pedestrian was breaking the law, because they were not using the marked crosswalk. I think even people who disagree with that would agree that this law at least adds some troublesome murkiness to the situation.

ORS 801.220 has come up before in articles, at least in the comments. People have logically questioned why–if the law says what it seems to say–doesn’t PBOT always mark BOTH crosswalks at any intersection? What’s the logic of marking one but not the other? Especially given this law that seems to say at an intersection with no marked crossings, both are legal crossings, but once you mark one, the other one becomes illegal. That’s an argument against marking crosswalks, unless both are marked. What’s the logic or safety benefit of having people cross the street (Park) to use the crosswalk to get across the street ahead of them (Salmon), then cross back (Park again)?

When one is marked but the other isn’t (as at this intersection) it implies to drivers that people should or will be crossing at the marked crossing, but not unmarked one.

I think the law should be changed, and PBOT should mark the second crossing at just about any intersection where one crossing is marked.

My greatest fear would be this driver’s lawyer would point to ORS 801.220 and claim the victim was crossing illegally, which caught the driver by surprise–and would get somewhere with that. If judges are ruling that bike lanes disappear at every intersection, that horrible outcome seems plausible.

OldRider
Guest
OldRider

Matt
This is the only place I’ve ever lived where people can park right up to the intersection. It’s really dangerous because of the sight lines and it’s even more dangerous when cars can turn right on red and creep into the intersection to try to look around those parked cars.Recommended 31

I live between Stark & Division in the 14200 area. Our exit street to either of those arterials is 139th. (which has now become an afternoon cut through for cars avoiding 122nd)
Construction company has placed a large (12×12 ?) tool shed east of the exit to Division in the bike lane, it completely blocks the view of oncoming traffic. You are forced to enter traffic blind, on a prayer.

I keep wondering what bonehead issued the permit to do that ?

Ruben
Guest
Ruben

In good walking cities, there are human scaled street lights that light up the corners. Portland has very poor lightning. In a city where it rains this much, which decreases visibility, having street lights at street level at crossings would be a big improvement. And I agree about the sight lines. No parking within 25 – 50 feet of an intersection would at least begin setting up drivers for successful turns.

SD
Guest
SD

Recall that the Portland Business Alliance brought up this intersection / project in their opposition to CCIM. They were concerned about the loss of parking and wanted to maintain Salmon as a thoroughfare for cars entering and leaving downtown. The constant opposition to downtown becoming a place for people who live, walk and ride bikes in downtown has slowed down efforts to improve safety. I don’t know of any other group that deserves more blame for unsafe road conditions downtown than the PBA.

Isaac Hanson
Guest
Isaac Hanson

I’m so sorry to hear this. A person is dead, and the incident sends out a psychological chill among people who get around by foot and bike.

Thank you for the coverage Jonathan. I have a question: is there a particular agency or elected official I can write a short email or postcard to in order to prompt immediate action on this intersection and other redesigns that are approved but are being delayed?

I want to do something but I could use specifics – names, email, phone, etc. – to make my 10-minute effort the most effective.

Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost
Guest

The view we have always taken of ORS 801.220 is that it does not “take away a crosswalk at another corner ” but instead that a marked crosswalk location denotes the crosswalk for that crossing and there is no other crosswalk, for that particular place. However at this four corner intersection there are four crosswalks. Unless there is signage, like at the west end of the Morrison Bridge on the east crosswalk over the foot of Washintgon Street that says “No Pedestrian Crossing” or something like that, ORS 801.220 is not a crosswalk “trimming” or elimination statute. Note that the actual language of ORS 801.220 states: “Whenever marked crosswalks have been indicated, such crosswalks and no others shall be deemed lawful across such roadway at that intersection.”https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/801.220
NOTE, the plural use of the word “crosswalks” not “crosswalk”. That is intentional. AND note that where such “crosswalks” exist “no others” shall be deemed lawful. Clearly this indicates that marked crosswalks denote the crosswalk where such markings exist but where no such markings exist then the unmarked crosswalk definition in the link to ORS 801.220 above (which by the way is very expansive, 6′ to 20′ wide!) still exists for the other 3 unmarked crossings on a four corner intersection. Further, “such roadway” “at that intersection” is a different part of roadway from the crosswalk where the collision occurred, separated by my guess of about 20′ or so. I am not saying PBOT could not close that unmarked crosswalk (the Oregon Vehicle Code provides cities the legal authority to do so), but in my view it would require signage to do so, and would be a dumb idea.

X
Guest
X

Needed: A PSA on the back of every bus that explains about crosswalks.

Alternatively: Just report the bit about the dead footist not wearing a helmet.

Charley
Guest
Charley

I don’t have the last word on this, but did hear the following (I work in the Schnitz and a colleague talked to witnesses that morning and was told this):
The driver was turning left onto Park, then noticed that a garbage truck was blocking Park. In order to continue moving (not get stuck behind the truck) the driver backed up back onto SW Taylor. Unbeknownst to the driver (because, really, why should you have to know what you’re doing in a car, right?) a pedestrian had entered the crosswalk behind the car. When the driver backed up, he consequently ran over the pedestrian. Sensing (miraculously) that he had done something odd with the car, the driver then shifted into drive and drove over the pedestrian again. There was a lone walker sitting on the sidewalk next to the car, and I know from working at this location that a lot of folks on Section 8 housing travel this crosswalk from the building at the corner over to the park blocks to sit, and many of them use walkers. So, my guess is that it is one of those elderly, less mobile people.