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This morning’s death on TV Highway underscores need for reform, investment

Posted by on January 14th, 2020 at 2:56 pm

Another dangerous ODOT highway that runs through our cities. Another tragic consequence.
(Photo: Washington County Sheriff’s Office)

Policymaking can often feel far-removed from our everyday lives. Then there are times when we can connect current policy debates with matters of life-and-death with a short, straight line. This is one of those times.

“The Sheriff’s Office would like to remind people that it’s very dangerous to cross dark highways while wearing dark clothing.”
— Washington County Sheriff’s Office

This morning just before dawn there was a fatal collision on Tualatin Valley Highway and NW 341st, about two miles west of downtown Hillsboro. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office says a woman driving a 2005 Mazda minivan was driving westbound when her vehicle came into contact with 51-year-old Leslie Schmadeke. Schmadeke was attempting to cross the road on foot when she was struck. She died at the hospital a few hours later.

The Sheriff’s Office statement attempts to absolve the driver and place blame on Schmadeke. “The conditions at the time of the crash were dark and foggy, so poor visibility was likely a factor in this crash… The victim was also dressed in dark clothing,” reads their official statement. They then added, “The Sheriff’s Office would like to remind people that it’s very dangerous to cross dark highways while wearing dark clothing. Please consider wearing bright, reflective clothing or carrying a flashing light when out walking along busy roads in the dark.”

The statement didn’t mention that the driver should have had headlights to illuminate the street. Or if visibility was impaired, the driver should have been driving a slower, safer speed in order to not endanger others. The police also failed to mention that there are no sidewalks on this stretch of the highway and that the location where Schmadeke was killed is in the middle of 1.5 miles of highway without a single safe crossing (see below).

1.5 miles between safe crossings. Red star is location of this morning’s collision.

According to a comment from Schmadeke’s cousin, JenRenee Fairlane, Schmadeke didn’t own a car and never learned to drive. “She was an avid supporter and user of public transport.” “My uncle has been hounding ODOT about that dangerous strip for years,” she added.

This tragic narrative is far too common on TV Hwy, also known as Oregon’s State Route 8, which is one of the deadliest roads in the region. We’ve been sharing its trail of death and destruction since Bret Lewis was hit and killed back in 2011. In October 2018 we reported on two separate fatal crashes in one day. According to Washington County, the TV Hwy corridor had a whopping 3355 crashes and 16 fatalities between 2010 and 2014.

But yeah, let’s blame dark clothing.

Advocates and politicians have tried for years to make the road safer, but their hands are tied because it’s owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation, who treats it like a rural interstate rather than the multi-use urban connector it has become in recent years.

Asked about the crash this morning, Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González (who grew up along the corridor), wrote via Twitter, “Pains me to read about another injury. Absurd that a major arterial in the region is still at that standard.”

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Help could be on the way thanks to the Metro 2020 Transportation Measure. Arrow points to location of this morning’s collision.

In addition to having the leadership of Councilor González, there’s more good news from Metro about TV Hwy.

First, the effort to hasten the transfer of TV Hwy away from ODOT and toward local control is moving along. While legislative attempts to force this transfer failed in 2015 and 2019, Metro is still working hard to make it happen. Their jurisdictional transfer assessment project is moving into its final selection phase (TV Hwy is still on the list) and the implementation plan is set to begin in September.

Also promising is that the section of road where Schmadeke was hit this morning is slated for $10-15 million in investment via Metro’s 2020 Transportation Funding Measure. According to Metro (see graphic above, PDF here), the section between Hillsboro and Cornelius is slated to become a “complete street” with narrower lanes, a planted center median, protected cycle-tracks, sidewalks, transit updates, and more. The entire corridor could receive nearly $600 million in funding if the current list of Tier 1 projects is approved by Metro Council and the measure is supported by voters in November.

Metro’s 2020 Transportation Funding Task Force meets tomorrow (Wednesday, 1/15) to figure out how to raise $3.1 billion needed to fix TV Hwy and make other big investments. It’s a matter of life and death. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

33 Comments
  • Avatar
    Bike Guy January 14, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    A tragic and avoidable loss of life. Maybe I have been too critical about the Metro Bond. Thank you for reporting on this issue, Jonathan.

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    B. Carfree January 14, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    Why do police spokespeople not read the relevant law before (mis)speaking? The Oregon Basic Speed Law is pretty clear. One must slow down to a safe speed when factors such as darkness and weather make it necessary. If a motorist hits someone or something in the dark and blames the darkness, the citation should be written on the spot because they are acknowledging a class B traffic violation.

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      Middle of the Road Guy January 14, 2020 at 6:03 pm

      I understand where you are coming from but the law contains the word “reasonable”…for a reason.

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        9watts January 14, 2020 at 7:05 pm

        Are you suggesting the speed at which the woman was driving was reasonable? The fact that she killed someone suggests maybe not.

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          dwk January 15, 2020 at 7:38 am

          I am sure the Driver just needs a good talking to…..

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        nuovorecord January 15, 2020 at 9:26 am

        I think it’s entirely reasonable for a driver to expect a person may be attempting to cross the road. And if you are driving at a speed that does not enable you to see the person and react in such a manner as to avoid hitting them, given the current conditions, your speed is by definition not “reasonable.”

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        nuovorecord January 15, 2020 at 9:29 am

        I’ll just add that Metro’s Regional Flexible Fund Allocation includes $1.3M in funding for the Council Ck trail, in addition to what may come from the transportation measure to be voted on in November. Vote YES!!!

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      Jason January 15, 2020 at 9:13 am

      Everyone knows it was cold enough to freeze last night. Anyone who left their house for their morning commute and didn’t conduct themselves with extreme caution was in the wrong. Such as this motorist, they should have been going slow enough to stop safely on the ice.

      Sheriff needs to get voted out.

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    JenRenee Fairlane January 14, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    Leslie was my cousin. After reading many disheartening articles today, I am so glad to come across this one. My cousin never learned to drive; she and was an avid supporter and user of public transport. My uncle has been hounding ODOT about that dangerous strip for years. I just wanted to let you know I appreciate your bringing attention to it.

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      rick January 14, 2020 at 6:53 pm

      I’m glad to hear that Leslie supported public transit. I will remember that because, today, I bought my first yearly TriMet card. I’m sorry to hear about this tragedy of Leslie’s death. I’m glad she had a life of supporting public transit.

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      Felice January 15, 2020 at 8:52 am

      JenRenee, I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. Each death and injury on roads is one too many. And thank you, Jonathan, for highlighting the way the cops talk about the victims. The victim blaming of vulnerable road users is out of control. All of us could probably be more visible on the road, but a life cut short is not the proper punishment for wearing dark colors.

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      Jason January 15, 2020 at 11:31 am

      Her story is tragic. I am disgusted at the Sheriff for blaming her. I offer my condolences to you and your family. I can’t imagine how you feel today.

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    Carl January 14, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    Please change that to 2 miles West of Hillsboro center

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    Jason H January 14, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    Despite the picture of TV Highway as the epitome of suburban sprawl and strip mall hell, this section of highway is actually semi-rural, and a gap in the urbanized area of the metro growth boundary goes through here.

    It makes the appalling number of deaths and serious collisions I hear about all the more egregious. But yes, the fact that there’s no lit marked crossing for almost two miles and to get from the few residential areas on the north side to the eastbound transit on the south is absolutely an infrastructure induced recipe for disaster. ODOT certainly carries some responsibility for the carnage and the upgrades and future trail can’t come soon enough.

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    q January 14, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    The “dark clothing, etc.” official statements need to stop. There was a long Nextdoor thread started in SW this week by someone who was nearly hit while walking on the sidewalk in the South Waterfront area by a car turning directly into her. A high percentage of people blamed her for not wearing reflective clothing or swinging a flashlight while walking on the sidewalk. A scary percentage of drivers believe that if they go the speed limit, blame for crashing into anyone biking or walking is the fault of the victim, unless the victim is reflective and illuminated–even when walking on the sidewalk. They speak of driving at night being like some sort of video game, with ninja figures suddenly appearing from nowhere directly in front of them.

    If you mention anything about the driver or vehicle being a factor, they immediately go to “that’s not required by law”, ignoring that neither is wearing reflective clothing and lighting, and often being wrong about the law anyway (“there’s no law against tinted windows”, it’s illegal to cross outside a marked crosswalk”, etc.).

    Obviously the official statements are teaching drivers to believe this way. Victims are blamed for not exceeding the law, while no scrutiny is given to even check if drivers were obeying it.

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      9watts January 14, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      Yep. El Biciclero has been saying this here for years.

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        q January 15, 2020 at 12:18 pm

        Smart guy! I’m sure I’ve been influenced by his comments then. And of course by Jonathan, who’s convinced me how badly so many official statements are written, and how they encourage people who read them to blame victims.

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        q January 15, 2020 at 12:51 pm

        The article is correct to focus on ODOT’s ownership of the road being an issue. ODOT’s focus is always moving vehicles through areas, without much regard for other users of the road, or for the community the road goes through.

        The scary thing about this article is that it seems the sheriff’s office has decided its job is to support ODOT’s position, and make sure people driving through the community aren’t hampered by people doing things like trying to cross it. At least, that’s the impression I get from its statement totally aimed at protecting people driving through, and telling pedestrians to change their behaviors so drivers don’t have to.

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          Chris I January 15, 2020 at 1:27 pm

          The sheriff’s office is not in cahoots with ODOT. It is just made up of lazy people with a major windshield perspective. They can’t step out of their own world for a few minutes to consider life as a transit-dependent citizen.

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            q January 15, 2020 at 2:15 pm

            That’s what I meant–not that there was any real agreement between ODOT and the Sheriff, but that the Sheriff’s attitude (as you describe) means it’s taking ODOT’s side at the expense of people it’s supposed to be protecting.

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    JenRenee Fairlane January 14, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you. Btw, Carl is Leslie’s father who has been on them for years to make it more safe. I appreciate your including me in the article.

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    Fred January 15, 2020 at 8:08 am

    The missing piece of this story is whether the car had its headlights on. I often cycle after dark and see so many cars with headlights off. I can’t believe Leslie would walk across TV Hwy if she saw a car’s headlights coming toward her. Law enforcement needs to do a better job not only of communicating about these mishaps but also of enforcing the law that requires drivers to turn their headlights on.

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      Jason January 15, 2020 at 9:01 am

      For a start, the Sheriff should charge the driver with reckless driving! If the conditions warranted Leslie Schmadeke to dress more visibly, then the Mazda driver should have been driving cautiously. Driving is a privilege, and a responsibility. I am well past tolerating behavior that indicates otherwise.

      I can’t believe that we live in a country that considers itself to be “a shining city on a hill”, above the rest of the world morally. Yet, a machine operator has the right to kill pedestrians that get in their way. We do not live in an enlighten society, take note and act accordingly.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty January 15, 2020 at 11:18 am

        The Oregon legal definition of “reckless”:

        “Recklessly,” when used with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, means that a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

        https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/161.085

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          Jason January 15, 2020 at 11:34 am

          Yep. I would call the driver’s conduct reckless. If they were not aware that it was icy and dark, well… I’m not sure they have any awareness at all!

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty January 15, 2020 at 12:55 pm

            The question is whether a prosecutor thinks a crime was committed, and whether they think a jury would agree with your (and their) assessment.

            My guess is that “gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation” is a tough bar to overcome, assuming neither drugs/alcohol or substantial violation of the traffic rules were at play.

            And if you were to assert the street was icy, you’d probably need some evidence to support that.

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              Jason January 15, 2020 at 1:45 pm

              Given the excessive winter weather alerts over the past few days from NOAH, the known precipitation yesterday leaving moisture on the ground and the verifiable over night low temperature, there is no disputing the fact that “the roads were icy”. To debate if that particular quarter mile was icy is asinine, given the previously stated – known conditions. Also consider that a motorist is obligated to know the current conditions and expect the worst. Are you trying to debate if the roads were icy this morning, or that extra caution was not called for?

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 15, 2020 at 3:04 pm

                I’m not debating anything. You suggested reckless driving charges should be filed. Reading the law and putting yourself in the head of the sheriff/prosecutor should make it pretty clear why, unless new facts surface, there is almost no possibility of that happening.

                You don’t even know that the driver wasn’t driving cautiously, much less that she “deviated from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” I’m not saying she didn’t, but being personally sure she must have is not the same as proving she did.

                If it can be proven the driver was driving recklessly, I would totally support prosecution.

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              Jason January 15, 2020 at 3:52 pm

              Hello, Kitty
              I’m not debating anything. You suggested reckless driving charges should be filed. Reading the law and putting yourself in the head of the sheriff/prosecutor should make it pretty clear why, unless new facts surface, there is almost no possibility of that happening.You don’t even know that the driver wasn’t driving cautiously, much less that she “deviated from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” I’m not saying she didn’t, but being personally sure she must have is not the same as proving she did.If it can be proven the driver was driving recklessly, I would totally support prosecution.Recommended 1

              I find this logic enabling to the culture that leads to dead pedestrians.

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    CaptainKarma January 15, 2020 at 10:28 am

    I do not exceed the speed limit. It annoys 99% of the other drivers. When roads are wet, I further cut 5 mph. If it’s dusky, dark, or low angle sunny, another cut of 5 mph. My cell phone blocks calls & messages in & out when the vehicle is under way. Too many cars, not enough infrastructure. It seems people must die before safe crosswalks and side paths are installed. Maybe the victims should be memorialized by naming the crosswalk after them.

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      B. Carfree January 15, 2020 at 4:15 pm

      Over the past decade or so this is more or less what I have noticed in far too many jurisdictions. People call for better facilities for those not inside motor vehicles which only primes the pump. It takes a death or four to actually get the work started.

      What a terrible way to do infrastructure. I just imagine doing freeway overpasses and bridges like this. Just slap up some crude thing made of rotten lumber and ignore public pleas for something safer until one falls down. Then replace it with something slightly better and wait for the next tragedy.

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    q January 15, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    Google “washington county sheriff” and you’ll see a lot of black uniforms. Same with “portland police”. The agencies criticizing victims for wearing dark clothing are out there walking around on highways and streets responding to night calls. Granted they may have some reflective material somewhere, but on the other hand they’re out in the midst of chaos, flashing lights and moving vehicles as a basic activity of their jobs.

    Anyone criticizing or blaming people for walking in dark clothing should feel comfortable telling law enforcement that if they get hit by a car, it’s their own fault. That includes the agencies’ own spokespeople.

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    Kristen January 15, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    Another other pedestrian fatality occurred within 1/2 mile of this location in the last year.This is a super scary section of highway. I grew up living on 336th Ave and it’s just tragic. People on foot are crossing TV Hwy to catch the bus, these fatalities are occurring at bus stop locations.

    Here is a link to the news story.
    March 9, 2019 – 59-year old man hit and killed near NE 334th
    https://katu.com/news/local/deputies-investigate-crash-involving-pedestrian-near-cornelius

    A motor vehicle fatality also occurred at NE 334th in November 2019.
    https://katu.com/news/local/fatal-crash-closes-tv-highway-between-hillsboro-cornelius

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