Editorial: The tragedy of North Greeley Avenue

The Greeley Freeway. Yesterday’s collision occurred near the rear of that white truck on the left.
(Note: Red line is where concrete jersey-barrier protected lane is slated to be built.)
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Yesterday morning around 9:00 am two people died in a collision on North Greeley Avenue. Police say one of the victims, the driver of a sedan, crossed the centerline. That person’s car was hit by another driver and both people in the sedan died as a result of the impact.

While no bicycle user was involved in this crash, I can’t stop thinking about what happened (see aftermath below).

PBOT says the project (initially promised to be completed two years ago) will also, “increase the buffer between opposing traffic lanes.”

Most of you know the conditions on Greeley and its dubious history as a dangerous road. People drive 50-plus miles per hour on it part because of its industrial location, wide and straight lanes, and direct connection to an Interstate 5 on-ramp. It has been a major concern of bicycle riders for years. Despite it’s stressful conditions, it provides a seductively direct and fast connection to downtown. The downside (and it’s a big one), is that it requires bicycle users to use relatively narrow, unprotected bike lanes that merge across a death-defying freeway ramp. There has been at least one very serious injury collision and a lawsuit that accused the City of Portland of negligence.

And, as we’ve seen with other fatal traffic crashes this year, PBOT has a project planned at this location that would make the street safer.

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PBOT had initially planned to have this section of Greeley repaved and reconfigured by summer of 2017. The $1.9 million project will include a concrete jersey barrier to on the east side to protect vulnerable users from drivers. On their website, PBOT says the project will also, “increase the buffer between opposing traffic lanes.”

Unfortunately, this vitally important project has been delayed more than once. PBOT said a contracting glitch set it back a year and it would be completed in summer 2018. Then they said they ran out of time to get a quality bid and it was pushed back again. Their latest promise is that it will be done sometime this summer.

Too many people think Vision Zero is all about biking and walking. It isn’t. It’s just that biking and walking advocates are the only ones who show up and speak up. As a driver, I never have to plead and beg for respect and safe conditions. I never have to sit on volunteer committees to make sure my interests are spoken for. The system takes care of drivers by default. It’s just one more manifestation of driving privilege.

The hard truth is that the things many people want when they’re driving (speed and access to every road at all times without impediments) are directly opposed to their own safety, and the safety of everyone else on the road with them.

Two people died on Greeley yesterday. It’s a tragedy we all feel. An urgency to gain control of our streets — and take steps required to mitigate dangerous driving and the unsafe designs that encourage it — is something we must all feel too.

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

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bikeninja
bikeninja
3 years ago

My youngest son saw so much driving carnage among the high school peers of his older brother that he decided he had no interest in driving when he came of age, and now he is 27 and has never driven or owned a car. We were very lucky that he had a short safe walk to high school and the homes of most of his friends, and is able to live a few blocks from where he works.

bikeninja
bikeninja
3 years ago

It was our reward for getting stuck in Salem for 25 years.

Q
Q
3 years ago

Inexperienced teenage drivers being let loose upon the general public with two tons of metal moving at high speed is definitely part of the problem. Too bad you choose to perpetuate that.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
3 years ago
Reply to  Q

What method would you suggest for transitioning from “inexperienced” to “experienced”?

Ryan
Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Q

*Irresponsible* teenage drivers are a part of the problem. I’ve known plenty of new drivers that, while inexperienced, had been properly taught to respect the power they were wielding behind the wheel. Plenty of carnage being created by drivers of all experience levels, one of the main things they have in common is that they’re acting carelessly and irresponsibly. It seems a common side-effect of experience is complacency, which can be much more dangerous than inexperience.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
3 years ago
Reply to  Ryan

What you are calling “irresponsibility” I would call “recklessness”, which is a basic attribute of the teenage brain. One solution would be to not let people get their license until they were over 26 years old, which is an obvious non-starter.

Drs
Drs
3 years ago

I ride Greeley daily on my commute to downtown. Passed that location going southbound about ten minutes before that crash. Scary, scary, scary. Don’t know how to fix that road.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
3 years ago

JM,

and the time difference traversing that route at different speeds might be 1-2 minutes slower with those calming techniques.

X
X
3 years ago

A minute or two? As opposed to being dead for a really long time?

Jeff
Jeff
3 years ago

I moved to N Portland further up on Greeley last summer. In the years before that, living in various other parts of town, I was a pretty regular bike commuter on the Bike/MAX Biathlon out to Beaverton. But after just a few trips heading down Greeley into downtown, I really lost motivation to ride because of that road. I wasn’t overly intimidated by the ride itself, but it started to dawn on me that I was cheating death (more-so there than anywhere else) pretty much every morning. Having to stop and wait on a 2 ft wide patch of asphalt to cross a highway onramp as vehicles fly by at highway speeds just to keep biking into town started becoming just too much of a gamble for me. The promise of the protected lane is definitely exciting, but has yet to materialize. Obviously there are other routes into town, but I appreciate Jonathan’s use of the term “seductively”, this route is direct and fast. I got used to riding the bus instead, which is unfortunately slower and gets stuck in heavy traffic in the evenings. I’ve more recently begun to ride again (its by far my fastest option), but now meander through Arbor Lodge / Overlook onto Interstate. It adds some time, but is far more pleasant of a ride. Seeing the crash that occurred yesterday doesn’t give me confidence even the protected lanes will be that much nicer. I’ll likely stick the the neighborhood for now.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeff

I avoid Greeley for that same reason – it feels like it’s just a matter of time and that it’s not even my decision making as a cyclist (other than choosing that route) that would be the reason for an accident. It’s an urban highway where one should not exist – that road should not be faster than 40mph.

Matthew in PDX
Matthew in PDX
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeff

I’ve lived and biked in N Portland since fall 2014. I have ridden N Greeley precisely once and have been actively avoiding it ever since. The time saved by riding that fast hill into downtown is not worth the risk. I also avoid N Lombard, N Interstate and N Rosa Parks because they have way more traffic than I like, and there are much calmer options close by.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
3 years ago
Reply to  Matthew in PDX

Agreed – I live between Lombard and Rosa Parks. I will not touch Lombard.

PDXCyclist
PDXCyclist
3 years ago
Reply to  Matthew in PDX

You dont ride Rosa Parks after the PPBL update too? What would make it better for you out of curiosity. I take Rosa Parks since it feels much better than other E-W streets in the area. Rosa Parks should be get the concrete parking stops soon too according to BP/JM.

encephalopath
encephalopath
3 years ago

The damage from that wreck looks like a t-bone situation rather than a crossed over the center line crash. Like the sedan was turning left or making a u-turn?

I didn’t see exactly where on Greeley this was so maybe it was far enough from Going to eliminate the possibility of the sedan making a left turn.

Chris I
Chris I
3 years ago
Reply to  encephalopath

Given the location, I would guess they were driving excessively fast down the hill and lost control in the curve, spinning out and ending up perpendicular in the northbound lane, just as the SUV hit them. This is likely a case of reckless driving and or vehicle maintenance issue.

Kristent
Kristent
3 years ago
Reply to  encephalopath

My partner works down on Swan Island as an engineer with a bunch of other engineers. This crash is very near his workplace.

Based on what they saw, the location of the crash, and the behavior of drivers they witness every day, it appears that the sedan made an illegal U-turn in the middle of the road and the SUV hit the brakes hard and slid for several 10s of feet in an effort to not hit them but was unsuccessful.

There have been so many crashes down there that the guys are getting pretty good at reading the road markings, tire rubber marks, debris and damage to the vehicles. It’s very sad that they’re getting this much practice.

He and his coworkers know just how dangerous it is in this area– he texted me after this crash to let me know that it was not him or his coworkers. It’s become an automatic response.

DRA
DRA
3 years ago
Reply to  encephalopath

I drive on Greeley a lot and see people panic and flip a u-turn frequently. My husband had once got very close to being in a similar accident when someone decided to make a u-turn in front of him from the far right lane. He was in the left lane. I have no doubt that is exactly what happened with this accident.

MonicainPDX
MonicainPDX
3 years ago

“Seductive” is indeed the right word. I’ve commuted from the bluff to Lloyd District for 11 years now, and Greeley saves me 10″ on my commute. During two pregnancies I cycled over to the much safer Rodney greenway, but in past months I’ve yielded again to the fast and direct Greeley Ave, despite the semis flying by. Yesterday, when I saw news of this crash 10 minutes after passing through, I resolved once more to go the longer and safer route. I need to come home to my family in one piece.

pixie
pixie
3 years ago
Reply to  MonicainPDX

I’ve changed to a “I don’t want to die” riding style. I still get frustrated, if not angered, by the daily interactions with cars rolling through crosswalks and stop signs/lights, cars not looking for any other traffic while turning left or right, cars passing too closely, poor bike infrastructure, and all the other hazards of riding a bike in Portland.

However, I want to live, and if that means an extra 1-15 minutes on my ride, I’m going to ride with much more caution these days. The traffic environment for all modes has gotten more dangerous as Portland’s population has increased without much change to the transportation infrastructure/system.

Champs
Champs
3 years ago

Vision Zero is poorly understood all around. Rob Sadowsky had an OPB interview where he put it very succinctly: the only *acceptable* number of deaths is zero.

Deaths on our streets are not just collateral damage. This should not be a business that trades in human lives as a cost.

Dweendaddy
Dweendaddy
3 years ago

This article is good to point out that Vision Zero is not just for walkers and bikers. So I thought it was too bad you fanned the flames of the us (bikers and walkers) vs. them (drivers) debate with the statement: “The system takes care of drivers by default.” I don’t think the families of these two drivers or the other 40,000 who die each year in cars would agree. In fact, the system does not take very good care of drivers at all.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
3 years ago
Reply to  Dweendaddy

The system does not take care of poor drivers. Good drivers, it’s not so bad at.

Edward
Edward
3 years ago

The good drivers vs. poor drivers is maybe a false narrative. I get it. Yes, it’s possible to improve your odds of survival by driving defensively. But even “good” drivers are still at risk from “bad” drivers. And we are each of us human. Subject to making glaring mistakes. No matter how “good” you are, you can’t be “good” 100% of the time. That’s the whole point. The roads can be designed and engineered to be safer so people don’t die. They must be. Random death from roads is not acceptable.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
3 years ago
Reply to  Edward

I hear what you are saying. I’m just not convinced human engineering can outsmart human stupidity.

Fred
Fred
3 years ago

I think that in 30 years, our kids and grandkids will be *amazed* to hear that drivers could once speed, make illegal turns, etc. Computer-assisted driving will remove these problems.

Middle of The Road Guy
Middle of The Road Guy
3 years ago
Reply to  Fred

If you went back in time 30 years, I bet people would be amazed to hear we still use gasoline for automobiles and did nothing about Climate Change.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
3 years ago
Reply to  Edward

>>> Random death from roads is not acceptable. <<<

I believe the cost of preventing "random death from roads" (financial or otherwise) is also unacceptable (maybe not to you, but to the bulk of the people who would be paying the bill).

Q
Q
3 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

In that case it can unequivocally be said that you or someone you care about deserves to die from a car crash.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
3 years ago
Reply to  Q

That does not follow.

maxD
maxD
3 years ago

This is so tragic, and makes me even more upset that PBOT refuses to address the root issues on N Greelely. I had an EXTENSIVE conversation with the project manager over several weeks culminating in a meeting with her and her boss. Here are the takeways:
1. this is a project paid for with some freight dollars, so it it is designed to serve freight interests.
2. The current average speeds are in excess of 55 mph in each direction, yet there are no plans to address speeding, in fact, the lanes are getting wider!
3. This is not on the Vision Zero list of projects, so none of the principals of Vision Zero apply to the project
4. The bike improvements will only be designed for 2/3’s of the distance of the route. The entire southbound bike lane is being removed and replaced with a 2-way, barrier protected MUP across the street, but that only goes 2/3’s the distance of the route. The rest of the route is along an existing concrete walkway that is less than 10′ wide, is currently used as a driveway to service Hazelnut Grove, and connects to Interstate Ave via a single curb ramp. Yes, the entire 2-way MUP will be merging/crossing the existing 5- bike lane Interstate with a single curb ramp!! There is plenty of space to route southbound bikes down the sidewalk and merge into the bike lane beneath the bridge, but there is not even a question of looking at this.

Greeley is basically a oversized freeway ramp and PBOT is only making it worse for all users. I begged them to address speeding to make it safer for people driving and people crossing. IMO, this design is completely inappropriate for an urban street. Those freeway ramps are redundant with the ramps off Going and could be closed today and not impact freight.

Close the ramps, convert the outermost lanes to bus-only, add barrier-protected bike/MUP lanes on each side of the street. Add crosswalks at Addidas

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
3 years ago

The sad thing is that if there is some kind of fundamental change to this road, it will not be because multiple cyclists have been injured or killed, but because a motorist did.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
3 years ago

“was”.

Ryan
Ryan
3 years ago

In general, most drivers don’t really want extra safety measures built into roads. To them, the car IS the safety device – steel cage, airbags, crumple zones, etc…, so all they want from the roads is for them to be free-flowing. Their personal “safety” devices insulate them from the noise and feelings of vulnerability/danger inherent in our current roadway system, so until they are directly involved in an incident that makes them realize these dangers (and sometimes not even then) they feel impervious to them, which makes them prioritize flow over safety. As VRU’s, we don’t need to be involved in a collision to feel/understand the dangers that are present. This is why only VRU’s in general will advocate for VZ, while drivers will look at it as a wasteful hindrance to their freedom.

Chris I
Chris I
3 years ago
Reply to  Ryan

Driving is so common, and crashes are relatively rare, so it is easy to ignore the risk completely. People do insanely dangerous things all of the time, because driving fast is so normalized in our culture. It doesn’t really hit home until it happens to someone they know well. Even then, it is easy for people to dismiss it because they believe they are a better driver than everyone else on the road.

J_R
J_R
3 years ago

Well, maybe with a fatality, this corridor will qualify for automatic speed cameras.

I think speed enforcement cameras should be required with all improvement projects on arterial street and all ODOT highways.

Driving north on McLoughlin the other day, I backed off from 45 mph to 35 where the speed limit drops just south of the Ross Island Bridge. I was passed by a motorist whose speed I would estimate to be 65 mph. With that kind of behavior, it’s no wonder we have crashes.

There is essentially no enforcement of traffic laws in Portland. It’s no wonder the number of fatalities is increasing rather than decreasing.

Jeffery L Krater
Jeffery L Krater
3 years ago

enforcement. it’s easy if you try.

xfs
xfs
3 years ago

ashamed to admit that i was fooled into thinking Greeley corridor
was safe just because of Arbor Lodge diverters. won’t be taking this route anymore.

Brad
Brad
3 years ago

Here’s some photos taken as I rode past, if it helps clarify the location any. No injured parties are visible, fwiw.

https://imgur.com/a/PuMKr3c

matchupancakes
matchupancakes
3 years ago

PDXCyclist
You dont ride Rosa Parks after the PPBL update too? What would make it better for you out of curiosity. I take Rosa Parks since it feels much better than other E-W streets in the area. Rosa Parks should be get the concrete parking stops soon too according to BP/JM.Recommended 4

I used to exclusively use Ainsworth for crossing I-5 in No’Portland due to the limited traffic in that section, but with the recent safety investments along Rosa Parks, it too is now my preferred east-west route in the area.

matchupancakes
matchupancakes
3 years ago

maxD
This is so tragic, and makes me even more upset that PBOT refuses to address the root issues on N Greelely. I had an EXTENSIVE conversation with the project manager over several weeks culminating in a meeting with her and her boss. Here are the takeways:

The details of the project and resulting, unaddressed concerns would make for a good read on BikePortland. I’d imagine JM would welcome such an article.

Lenny Anderson
Lenny Anderson
3 years ago

Its easy to understand why many Swan Island bike commuters would rather face Officer Bender on the private Ash Grove Cement Road than the terror that is N. Greeley. Time to make the AGCR a public ROW for non-motor vehicles as called for in the Willamette Greenway Trail plans.