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Fatal collision in Goose Hollow a tragic result of decisions and design

Posted by on February 21st, 2020 at 12:40 pm

The large wall seen from southbound SW Vista as it approaches Park. The truck driver was headed toward the intersection with that red car in the background.

“The truck had zero time to slow or skid. It took him by surprise given the visibility of the blind intersection.”
— Dave Morgan, witness

Terrible sight lines and a steep descent were the recipe for tragedy in the midnight hour early Monday morning when a bicycle and truck operator collided in the intersection of Southwest Vista and Park.

According to Dave Morgan, a man who saw the crash take place, there were two riders coming down the hill on Park. He watched the driver of a white full-sized pickup truck with a canopy on it rumble by. Morgan responded and tried to save the fallen rider (whose name hasn’t been released by authorities), but unfortunately he died at a hospital a few hours later.

From what Morgan has learned, it appears both parties in the collision assumed the intersection would be clear. The truck driver (going south on Vista) had a green light and Morgan said it didn’t appear he was speeding (he confirmed the signal phase with the friend of the fallen rider). Morgan told me he felt the truck driver had no time to hit the brakes until after the collision (more on that below). He also confirmed that both riders had headlights on their bikes, a fact that contradicts what police reported in their official statement. (The victim’s headlight was far away from his bike and still flickering when Morgan found it.) Morgan said it was a “dim, crappy light, but it was still a light”.

One thing I can’t stop thinking about with this crash is the huge retaining wall that leads up to the intersection (pictured). It almost entirely blocks the view of someone going south on Vista or east on Park.

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Intersection of Park and Vista looking westward from Park.

“The truck had zero time to slow or skid,” Morgan shared with me yesterday. “It took him by surprise given the visibility of the blind intersection.”

The other aspect of this fatality worth noting is the speed limit on SW Vista. It’s currently posted as 25 mph and the police estimate the truck driver was going 25 to 30 mph (well within the 9-12 mph padding police routinely give before issuing a citation).

On October 26th, 2019, local lawyer and transportation activist Scott Kocher flagged this exact section of SW Vista in an email to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. He included it in a list of three other streets he says are, “non-arterial streets in residence districts that are incorrectly posted with 25 MPH signs.” You’ll recall Kocher has taken up a personal crusade to help PBOT implement their 20 mph residential speed limit ordinance more quickly.

PBOT has erected this temporary sign on SW Vista.
(Photo: Dave Morgan)

Transportation Chair of the Southwest Hills Residential League Neighborhood Association Lisa Caballero also thinks the speed should be lowered here. “That whole stretch, from Burnside to the Vista Bridge should be posted 20 mph, it’s not possible to justify cars traveling at 25 mph,” she shared with me via email earlier today. “You’ve got the gardens to the west; Civic Stadium and Lincoln High to the east; bus stops; high density apartments and condos; a grocery store at bottom; obstructed site lines.” Caballero added, “the area has tempting thrills for some cyclists and skateboarders,” which adds to her concerns.

Kocher says PBOT heard these concerns and SW Vista is currently in the queue of streets to receive a new 20 mph speed limit sign.

Street signs are probably the last thing on the mind of the victim’s family and Mr. Morgan, who remains shaken by the experience. He’s spoken to the victim’s family who visited the site Wednesday night. He also recovered a piece of the truck’s bumper:

“I saved a large chunk of the truck that hit him, a broken grill, as a souvenir, in hopes to give to the guy if I got the chance to see him in better shape. Sad I won’t be able to do that. I gave it to his cousin last night. There was so much pain and anger in his eyes when he held it, and so thus he returned it to me. Considering the painful reaction, I doubt such a thing belongs at the memorial. Not sure if I should throw the chunk in the garbage or not, but I would like to be rid of it. It’s sitting in the back of my own pickup truck reminding me of optimism turned bitter, and that awful night. A pitiful attempt to help save someone and utterly failing, so I saved something. I look at it and feel worthless, useless, and angry.”

May the rider rest in peace and all victims of this tragic collision find healing as time passes.

UPDATE, 2/22: The PPB have released the name. The bicycle rider was 37-year-old Jerry M. Stites III.

— 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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qCandice J.Hello, KittyEric LeifsdadBennett Shane Recent comment authors
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Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

Building right up to the property line is becoming easier, so bad sightlines like this will likely become more common. And given the topology in this particular location, a design solution seems extra challenging.

But fundamentally, if everyone had obeyed the traffic signal, this tragedy would not have occurred.

Stephen Keller
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Stephen Keller

Visibility is impaired from both streets. That is probably why there is signal light. The person on the bike would not have been able to the oncoming traffic. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a fine location to heed the traffic lights. I don’t know exactly happened, but every report I’ve seen says the driver of the truck had a green light. Without tearing down the building, I don’t see how PBOT could make it safer than the full signals they have there.

redlight
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redlight

So if a driver runs a red light, we can blame the crash on faulty infrastructure? No? Only when a cyclist does it?

David Hampsten
Guest

I do have a question:

We have some idea how fast the motor vehicle driver was moving, but do we have a notion of how fast the cyclist was moving, down a fairly steep grade, before they hit the brakes? Was it under 25 mph?

Glenn II
Guest
Glenn II

Answer: Yes, get rid of that piece of grille. Bad enough this happened once; no need to recreate & relive all the bad feelings (yours, his, theirs) in your mind every time you see that object.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

True, having a light obviously did not affect the outcome of this situation. However, it serves to point out how willing authorities are to report on “facts” after making only surface-level observations. If a witness was able to locate a light that was knocked off of a bike, but police were not able (or not willing to look), it says something. Even if police rationally decided not to look for the missing light, concluding it would make no material difference given the outcome, why include assumptions in the official (if “preliminary”) report?

DAN
Guest
DAN

All the city needs to do is put in a sick jump Westbound over Vista so you can do something useful with all the momentum outta the park.

Scott Kocher
Guest

There is no such thing as “residential speed limit[s].” SW Vista is a collector in a residence district. Collectors are non-arterial. That means SW Vista should be 20 under the 2018 ordinance. Lower speeds will save lives on collectors in SW just like they will save lives on east side arterials.

uhh...
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uhh...

PDXCyclist
I had the same gut reaction as you. But then I thought what if this was a roundabout? No one can barrel through. The bicyclist has to stop to see if there’s any cars or bikes already in the roundabout.

Doesn’t the cyclist have to stop at a blind intersection at a red light to see if people are coming? I don’t see how a roundabout changes the equation. 1) You shouldn’t run a red light. 2) If you can’t see at the intersection you DEFINITELY shouldn’t run a red light.

Jim Lee
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Jim Lee

The words “fatal” and “tragic” are out of place here, for they imply that the cyclist was trapped in an unavoidable danger and extinguished.

Old Mr. Oedipus got into trouble with his gods by taking all reasonable and practical steps to elude his preordained fate. He was not successful. That is tragedy.

The cyclist in question was where he was at the time he was doing what he was doing in the normal course of his ordinary life. Deadly and extremely sad, to be sure, but only those.

estherc2
Guest
estherc2

There is a stop light here and that clearly takes care of the lack of sight problem.

If there is a stop light you have to stop. In no way was this the pickups fault.

Mike
Guest
Mike

The cyclist ran a red light, why is infrastructure being blamed? It seems very clear that this was an avoidable death. There seems to be a great effort here not to put any focus on the cyclists actions

Jennifer murphy
Guest
Jennifer murphy

If the man who still has the peice from the accident could email me i would love to have it this was my cousin thanks

Adam
Guest
Adam

It’s not just from W Burnside up to Vista Bridge that needs slower speeds. The WHOLE of SW Vista has terrible sightlines and speeding traffic.

I sometimes run with Team Red Lizard, and our regular winter route takes us through the West Hills up to Council Crest. We descend down SW Montgomery to where it kicks us out onto SW Montgomery, at a complete blind curve, with the added fun bonus of a high stone retaining wall for the property on that corner that would hide any sightlines, even if the road were straight.

It is the only part of our run that I find terrifying. You can’t see what is coming around that corner at all, and holy cow, when it does, I don’t know what parallel universe you all live on where it all sticks to the 25mph speed limit. The car drivers floor it up that hill at 35mph minimum. It’s a commuter rat run route, not a scenic backroute.

Slower speeds for sure. I think also the neighbors could be way more proactive about lobbying for a safer SW Vista. Tons and tons of homemade signs, petitions etc.

John
Guest
John

Hello, Kitty
It’s hard for me to see this as a case of someone using the traffic signal “imperfectly”. I’m not sure how you engineer our streets in such a way that no matter what someone does, no one gets much injured. That just doesn’t seem a realistic goal, and I don’t think that’s the goal of Vision Zero.Recommended 20

^^This.
Running a red light is unsafe at the best of times, even when you can see the entire intersection. Running a red light at an extremely low visibility intersection at speed down a steep hill (at night!) is making a calculated choice to take your life in your hands and tempt death. The cyclist made that choice and lost. Tragic, but fairly cut and dried.

People make mistakes all the time, sure. It sounds like the cyclists made a deliberate choice to run a red light. The consequences are tragic and I’d never want to make light of that, but at the same time, you cannot engineer away stupid. This sort of nonsense is large part of what embitters motorists towards cyclists. 🙁

Bennett Shane
Guest
Bennett Shane

Something really doesn’t add up with this situation. Before I even say this, I am not victim-blaming at all, and agree that it’s a terrible intersection and needs improvement. However, I ride down this stretch of road a few times a year and cannot for the life of me understand how someone could *intentionally* roll into this intersection without visually confirming that it was clear in both directions. My hunch is that the rider just wasn’t able to actually stop their bike, especially if conditions were wet. I think one impotant takeaway from this is that there is another, very dangerous intersection 1 block down the hill, where the park staggers right across King, and becomes Salmon. This one, I routinely see people bombing through because there is better visibility and stops on King. However, I would advise against this in light of how horrible visibility has become from inside of most vehicles.

Candice J.
Guest
Candice J.

The design flaw that jumps out to me is a poorly placed bike lane/route, where cyclists have an illusion of safety. Why isn’t more thought put into ensuring that bicycle lanes and routes are on streets that are appropriate for all cyclists, all ages and abilities? Not necessarily wherever they can be striped in?

Most vehicles are not traveling at the same speed through an urban intersection as what is posted on the street, unless they have clear visibility. I haven’t heard anything so far that indicates the truck was going at 25 mph, full allowable speed through the intersection. The most certain thing in this scenario is that if the cyclist hadn’t run the light, he would not have been struck by this truck traveling through.

I’m sorry that someone thought that offering the deceased family the grill of the truck that killed him would be the same sentiment as offering it to someone who overcame odds and survived the crash. Who would want that grisly memorial?