Louanna “Lou” Battams life touched many people in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood of southeast Portland. The 82-year-old was remembered at a memorial last night as a creative, smart, and selfless person who devoted her later years to helping vulnerable people.
“This event has had a profound impact on our community. It’s a tremendous loss.”
— Matchu Williams, Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Assoc.
Battams herself was described by neighbors as a strong and capable woman who did projects around her home and garden that inspired people half her age. After decades as a friend to many and a pillar of strength in the community, it was her own vulnerability as a person trying to cross Southeast Foster Road on foot that led to her death. There are no marked crosswalks or signals at the intersection with 71st Avenue where she was struck on June 13th and it’s unclear what happened prior to the collision.
About two dozen people gathered at that intersection last night to remember Battams. Among the crowd were her son, next-door neighbors, people who knew her from her work with the local neighborhood association, and one little girl who told me Lou was her friend.
One of Battams’ next-door neighbors told me she would bring cookies to kids on her street. Another said she walked on and around Foster often to pick up a newspaper or to get to church where she volunteered preparing meals for the homeless. A skilled painter later in life, I learned that Battams had a geology degree and used to fly in helicopters over Mt. St. Helens to study its volcanic activity.
Matchu Williams is co-chair of the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association and would see Battams at neighborhood events. He’s also a leader with BikeLoudPDX, the group that helped organize the event. “Our city has done a lot to make Foster Road safer,” he said into a microphone barely audible over the roar of passing car engines. “But they can do more to protect our community members so we never have to experience loss like this ever again.”
“This event has had a profound impact on our community,” Williams continued. “It’s a tremendous loss.”
By a cruel irony, Battams was killed just one block away and just 10 hours after the Portland Bureau of Transportation cut the ribbon on Foster’s recent safety updates. But in keeping with their promise to respond quickly to fatal crashes, PBOT has already made several changes to the intersection.
The speed limit on Foster (at least this section) has been reduced from 35 mph to 25 mph. PBOT has installed plastic wands at the corners to prevent drivers from using the bike lane to get around stopped traffic. They’ve also closed the easternmost crosswalk to discourage people from using it (neither crossing at 71st is marked). I’ve reached out to PBOT confirm these changes and find out if anything else is in the works.*
Battams is one of 27 people who have died on Portland roads this year. That number is alarmingly higher than previous years at this same date. In 2018 we had 34 deaths total and 17 by the end of June.
I can only imagine how Battams would have reacted upon learning an innocent person had been killed simply trying to cross the street so close to her home. Given what I learned yesterday, she would have offered to help any way she could. We owe it to her — and everyone else impacted by these tragic, unnecessary deaths — to do the same.
*UPDATE, 4:13pm: PBOT Communications Director John Brady shared a clarification:
“The ‘No Crossing’ signs were not put in because of the fatality. Rather their installation was a condition that had been placed on nearby development. They just happened to be installed right after the fatality. Secondly, the speed limit was reduced to 25 for the construction; we are keeping it at 25 mph while we apply to ODOT for a permanent reduction to 25 mph.”
UPDATE, 6/28 at 8:03 am: PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has left a comment below that you should not miss:
“Hey Ted [a commenter she’s replying to] and Bikeportland, I am painfully aware of every death on our streets and was heartbroken to learn of Ms. Battam’s death just hours after we celebrated the improvements to Foster. With my support and direction PBOT is doing more than ever to respond to and prevent fatalities. I don’t need emails to raise my awareness or accelerate this work. I need support from my colleagues and their bureaus on our Vision Zero work, I need the legislature to give us the ability to reduce speeds on more of our roads, I need ODOT to improve their roads, or better yet adopt Vision Zero statewide, and I hate to say it but we need more enforcement. PBOT cannot engineer or educate fatalities away entirely (and it’s going to take a long time to correct every shortcoming on our roads). Sadly, there are too many people who will continue to break the law and endanger people’s lives regardless of what we do. We will be installing more speed and red light cameras around the city which dramatically reduce specific behavior but don’t help with distracted or impaired drivers or other rampant and asinine behavior we see on the roads. We have half the number of officers in the Traffic Enforcement Division that we had 10 years ago despite significant population growth and increase in traffic. More than four times the number of people died in traffic fatalities than were murdered in the City of Portland last year. We are not putting our police resources where they are most needed.”
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