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$5.9 million lawsuit says City of Portland is negligent for allowing parking at intersections

Posted by on February 20th, 2020 at 10:10 am

Graphic from lawsuit filed by Scott Kocher/Forum Law Group.

The idea of no-parking zones at intersections started with a state law. Then it became a point of contention for transportation activists, then a City of Portland policy, then a campaign from a walking advocacy group.

Now it has become the basis of a lawsuit.

Yesterday, Portland attorney Scott Kocher of Forum Law Group filed a $5.9 million lawsuit (PDF) against the City of Portland for negligence in the death of Elijah Coe, who was hit by a driver while riding his motorcycle on East Burnside in May 2019.

According to the lawsuit, “Eric Whitfield, who was driving northbound on SE 17th Avenue, stopped at the stop sign, and attempted to turn left (westbound) onto Burnside. People had parked vehicles along the curb as the City’s signage invited them to do, blocking Mr. Coe and Mr. Whitfield’s view of each other.”

“Mr. Coe’s death in the resulting collision,” the suit declares, “could have been prevented if the City complied with the law.”

Kocher is suing the City of Portland and Whitfield on behalf of Coe’s estate.

Graphic from lawsuit filed by Scott Kocher/Forum Law Group.

Kocher’s name might ring a bell as he’s well-known in local advocacy circles. Last year he won a $145,000 settlement in a case against the City of Portland in a case where a man riding a bicycle was hit and injured by a TriMet bus operator. Last month Kocher published an article on BikePortland where he urged readers to request lower speed limits on neighborhood streets.

With his lawsuit on behalf of Elijah Coe, Kocher will test the city’s justifications for not implementing one of their own policies.

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Conditions on SE Ankeny are more dangerous because people are allowed to park all the way up to the corner. (Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Graphic from lawsuit filed by Scott Kocher/Forum Law Group.

Known as “daylighting” of intersections, Oregon law (ORS 811.550) states that parking is not allowed within 20-feet of crosswalks at an intersection. Portland City Code (16.20.130) also specifies a 50-foot parking buffer at intersections and a prohibition of vehicles over six feet high. Armed with those laws, activists have for years begged PBOT to enforce them. The issue is especially important for vulnerable road users like those in wheelchairs, on foot and on bikes, because they can be very hard to see by cross-traffic when tucked behind parked cars.

The problem is especially acute on streets like Southeast Ankeny which have a high volume of bicycle traffic and are filled with drivers and their parked vehicles. In April 2018 we reported on a bicycle rider who was hit by a car driver and many of your comments mentioned the problem of reduced visibility at intersections.

In the past, the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation has said another state law (ORS 810.610) gives it the right to deviate from the 20-foot requirement and establish their own local regulations. In an email to Portland resident concerned about this issue in February 2018, then PBOT Director Leah Treat wrote, “Parking Enforcement officers use their discretion when enforcing these rules.” Treat also said the agency relies on citizen complaints to enforce specific locations.

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This intersection on SE Clinton was daylighted after someone filed a complaint to PBOT.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

In September 2018, PBOT unveiled their new “vision clearance at intersections” policy. To improve safety, PBOT updated their design guidelines to include a 20-foot minimum setback to on-street parking at certain intersections. But those guidelines would apply only to “pedestrian priority streets” and would only be triggered on new capital projects. And of course there are thousands of intersections that need this treatment right away.

Kocher thinks road users shouldn’t have to wait. In a Willamette Week article on the topic last year Kocher called PBOT’s complaint-driven system a “feeble half-measure” (especially in light of an adopted commitment to Vision Zero).

And in the complaint he filed with the court yesterday, Kocher wrote, “The City’s failure to provide adequate sight distance at intersections endangers people regardless of what mode of transportation they are using… The City’s practices described herein violate PBOT’s enabling statutes under which PBOT has a duty to make travel on its streets “reasonably safe to the general public”… This duty is fundamental to PBOT’s role as a transportation agency and
is not subject to any excuse, justification, or loophole.”

“The City’s ongoing failure to provide parking setbacks (or reduce speeds, or both), achieve adequate sight distances and visibility at intersections throughout Portland,” he continues, “creates an ongoing and substantial risk of harm to people who use Portland’s city streets daily.”

In addition to the $5.9 million, Kocher wants a court order that would force the City of Portland to implement parking setbacks citywide.

(Disclaimer: Forum Law Group is a financial supporter of BikePortland.)

— 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 welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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EP
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EP

“Kocher wants a court order that would force the City of Portland to implement parking setbacks citywide”

Yes please.

Since Portland is already improving ~18,000 corners citywide for ADA access per the 2018 class action lawsuit, it wouldn’t be too hard for crews to just go ahead and daylight the intersections by moving/adding the no parking signs and some yellow paint while they’re at it.
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/686828

Candor Cane
Guest
Candor Cane

Do you know if there is a place to reach out and support this lawsuit? I was hit in an intersection on SE Salmon Street in December. I was traveling westbound through the roundabout that intersects 28th on Salmon. A HUGE box truck was parked on the corner that obstructed the view of the woman traveling southbound on 28th, so that when she ran her stop sign, it resulted in her plowing a Cadillac Escalade directly into my body.

mh
Subscriber

THANK YOU, SCOTT! And as I keep telling anyone who will listen, the city should not mark individual intersections, because that suggests those marked intersections are different than the norm. PBOT needs to comply with state law, they need to get the word out to every driver that they will be enforcing the 20′ law, and then they need to enforce it. Enforcing it should be the norm. Parking patrol needs to ticket offending vehicles.

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

Along with a change in practice would need to come better enforcement. Right now the only times I see parking violations enforced outside metered zones is when I call the enforcement hotline and report illegally parked vehicles. The city would also need some sort of outreach plan to make sure the general public is aware of the city’s policy change, assuming this lawsuit has the intended effect.

Doug Busack
Guest
Doug Busack

Wow, this brings to mind the story that “forced” me into bike commuting. In Spring 2018, I was living in Saint Johns and was a Lyft Driver. Fall 2017-Spring 2018 gave me plenty of “signs” to retire from Lyft driving (hit and runs, accidents, working 60 hours a week to make ends meet, etc.). One afternoon, around rush hour, I was returning home from Safeway on Ivanhoe. Because I lived near Fessenden, I crossed Lombard at John Ave. I waited at the stop sign for 15 seconds or longer, hoping for a clearing, and unable to see clearly due to parked cars on either side of the road.

I thought I was clear, so I attempted to gun it across the intersection. Instantly, my driver side front corner collided with an Eastbound driver’s passenger front corner. My car was totaled, and the accident was deemed my fault as a “failure to stop”. The other driver’s car had much more damage than mine, indicating he was going faster than 20mph, as I was coming from a dead stop. I asked insurance if they checked the impact for speeding, and they sarcastically asked me if I knew how fast he was going. I didn’t fight beyond that, but had to start riding a bike while I looked for work since the total valuation was used for living expenses. It was a terrible year, but I’m glad I’m part of the Portland bike community now!

Steve B
Guest
Steve B

My deepest appreciation and condolences to the family of Elijah Coe. Thank you Scott for leading the way on this important effort. Let’s go!!!!

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Can we get sidwalk bulb-outs and bike corrals for the last 20ft of each block?

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

I was wondering when this “issue” was going to hit the preverbal “fan”.

Thinking out loud: there are 2 +1 ways to address this traffic safety need for daylighting:
1) lower the speed limits (add calming if needed) to match the “daylight available (interim emergency safety measure);
2) pull private vehicle parking back (as discussed earlier) to match the posted / 85th percentile speed (long term); or
3) do #2 BUT add in bike corral / bike share dock station / shared micro-mobility station (e-Scooter, etc. tech flavour of the month)

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

PS. I forgot to add to #3 concept: the bike share dock / scooter zone would be in place of the pulled back “private vehicle storage” (aka parking), as this infill parking would self enforce / keep the buffer clear of illegally parked cars while improving the “parking” capacity of the block AND meet the safety / engineering objectives of daylighting.

Caishen
Guest
Caishen

Totally missing from the article is that Kocher’s motivation here is not to make Portland a better place. It’s to get his client’s medical bills paid and take home $1.95 million from Portland taxpayers for himself.

Does this seem like reasonable way to run a society to you?

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Called it.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Put bike racks in the street at more intersections. Mark designated scooter parking spots. Gets bikes and scooters off the sidewalks and makes it easier for everyone to see. Nobody loses except the person who now has to park a car an extra 15 feet away.

Carter Kennedy
Guest
Carter Kennedy

I have long wished the city would enforce those no-parking zones at corners. For me, it’s not so bad when I’m riding, because I’m relatively slow and I can peek around or over the parked vehicles. But when I’m driving it’s huge problem. I have to slowly stick five feet of my car into the car lane or the bike lane before I can see any traffic. I wish I had front-bumper cameras looking left and right.

It should be illegal (if it isn’t already) to park so as to obstruct a stop sign. The city should also have a permanent stop sign cleaning program using volunteers or people serving public-service sentences. Way too many stop signs are obstructed by branches in the summer.

Dirk McGee
Guest
Dirk McGee

While I support daylighting intersections generally, I wonder if that just makes a 20′ parking spot for Uber, Lyft, Deliver Vans, etc

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I wish the city would enforce laws against speeding, running stop signs, illegal turns on red, and other behaviors that result in far more deaths in serious injuries than parking.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Even if Kocher wins the lawsuit I doubt enforcement practices will change. Clearly tragic outcomes can result from blocking sight lines, but Portland (“The city That Works” S/) doesn’t enforce violations or crimes worse than illegal parking.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I understand this is an issue, but the only way to stop it is to put a bump out at every corner.

Tristan
Guest
Tristan

This is great news.

The intersections in close-in SE are dangerous for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

As a pedestrian I’ve almost been hit crossing Hawthorne (at SE 11th) because a box truck was parked on the corner and drivers were making a left turn without slowing down. I was crossing with a lighted walk sign.

As a driver I’m always concerned I’m going to be t-boned crossing a busy street when I can’t see around cars. I whisper a little prayer every time. This happened to me a month ago on SE 11th and Main: https://twitter.com/twaddington/status/1222267771142074368

As a cyclist I have to creep out so far into the intersection to see cars coming it’s dangerous.

Phil Richman
Subscriber

A Vision Zero City would day-light intersections without having to be sued first. Anecdotally it seems like parking is brought closest to the corners at the newest redevelopments. i.e. SW corner of SE 7th & Morrison. There is a clear, but unspoken battle happening between BDS/developers wanting to maximize public right of way private property storage for their building users and PBOT.

Tom
Guest
Tom

My son was struck by a car at that 17th and Burnside intersection in similar circumstances, 23 years ago. Fortunately he was ok physically, but his nice Peugot PX-10 was totaled.
I ride the Ankeny Bike Boulevard every day. The lack of consideration for pedestrians and cyclists from drivers of motor vehicles on this supposedly set aside safe conduit for non motorized traffic is appalling.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

Of course, this is a problem in every city, as population grows, and the number of parking spaces does not. Over here in Bend, parking right up to the apex of the corner is becoming commonplace. There is a crucial sentence in this article from Ms. Treat. That is to the effect that, except in city cores, enforcement is complaint based. I call the non-emergency parking enforcement line, when cars park in bike lanes. My experience is that they are good about getting out there, but it usually takes a day or two. That is mostly OK with me, because I am addressing chronic bike-lane parking at popular restaurants outside the city cores. Now, the new parking issue for me is parents lining up on one of our most popular east-west streets, waiting in the bike lane, with their cars idling, for their kiddos to get out of school. Oh, and the latest, off topic, is the City is going to put traffic flow lights at roundabouts, because lineups are now 10+ minutes at roundabouts, mostly parents driving across town to the school of their choice. End of rant.

mh
Subscriber

None of them, of course, are supposed to have stop signs on two of the legs, but we’re Portland and we’re different. Thank you, though, those are useful definitions.

Mark McClure
Guest

Thank you, Scott, for your action on this important matter! And thank you, Jonathan, for your reporting. As an avid pedestrian, I think this is a very big deal.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I have a friend who walks a lot, and he feels fairly strongly that having cars parked up to the corner actually improves his safety. He can step off the corner and proceed 5ft or 6ft across the street while being totally protected by a metal barrier (i.e. parked car). This gives him a chance to see if anyone is coming, and lets drivers see him from his protected position.

I think curb extensions would be even better (because they give pedestrians an extra few inches of height), but I think his view is worth consideration.