“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.
“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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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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.
If everyone used the facility perfectly no one would get hurt is pretty much the opposite of vision zero.
Well said! Everyone makes mistakes or fails to follow the rules sometimes, and good Vision Zero design makes crashes less likely to occur even if people don’t follow the rules. The example I always think about is protected left turns at signals. Who among us hasn’t walked against the red hand occasionally as a pedestrian when there’s a protected left turn for cars but it appears to be clear? The design of the signal should encourage slow turning movements and clear sightlines and whatever else is needed to make sure the driver sees a pedestrian and yields in this situation even though the pedestrian isn’t following the rules. Same goes for the opposite, sometimes driving turn against a red arrow or “no turn on red” and the design should prevent crashes in that situation.
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.
If we allow for steps beyond simple road design, I think it is possible to get close to zero deaths and serious injuries in spite of the tendency of many of us to not follow the vehicle code:
1. Require special, intrusive, expensive, time-consuming licensing to drive anything that’s not a standard car. Our streets would be much safer if we could remove all the excess pickups and SUV’s, both of which are getting taller, wider and heavier each year. Would they be popular with annual knowledge and skill testing that has a 95% correct answer threshold to pass? Would they be popular with a $0.25/lb annual fee? These things are too deadly to leave unregulated, imo.
2. Drop the speed limit on streets with limited sight-line intersections to 15 mph and mandate automated enforcement.
3. How about some actual traffic engineering? Every trailer-hauling bike rider has had the experience of having to slow way down to squeeze through narrowly spaced street furniture. Let’s use this for travel lanes. Set concrete-filled steel bollards 9-10′ apart and force motorists to slow down.
All of this would require our legislature to have the courage to start chipping away at our driving public’s sense that they are entitled to put everyone at risk on our roads. With the growing recognition that personal motor vehicle dependence is the biggest piece of our climate crisis causing emissions as well as the source of so much death and disease, it finally seems possible that we might some day see some steps in the right direction as our youth come of age.
Now imagine the outcome of this crash if instead of a 30 mph pick-up it was a 12 mph small sedan being driven along as the person on the bike ran the red light. I suspect we’d be looking at a broken bone or two and a bike replacement instead of the awfulness that occurred.
Most of what you are suggesting still depends on people following the law.
And making good decisions.
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. Even if a bicyclist plows through, it’s a lower speed 15mph collision.
So I think i moved from the same reaction as you to actually agreeing there are opportunities that significantly reduce the penalty of errors on the road.
I agree that roundabouts are safer than conventional intersections. They also require a lot more space than is available here (or at most of Portland’s urban intersections, so they’re rarely a workable option for us.
Mini-roundabouts don’t need so much space, but the grades of this intersection would be an issue.
All-way stop signs would fit the space and the budget, work better and safer than a traffic signal. PBOT is allergic to them though.
Generally, I’m surprised how well intersections that are signaled work when the signals go out, and they become all-way stops. So your suggestion makes sense to me.
The only thing I don’t like about doing it at this one is that two of the four approaches are steep uphills, and both can get backed up at busy times (although going to stop signs might reduce the backups) and if you drive a stick it’s not great having to start, go forward one car length, stop, and repeat that 8 or 10 times. I do realize I’m one of 17 people left in Portland that drive a manual, though.
Actually, at last count, there were 26 of us.
People can be amazingly talented at making bad decisions. But we can’t fault them for it, lest we are blaming the “victim”.
I know it’s kinda buried here, but….
The truck driver drove through an intersection where he had a green light. The guy on the bike decided that even though he had a red light, he was fine going through?
But we’re gonna blame a wall?
I haven’t seen one comment here where anyone has defended the victim for running the red light.
When I’m driving, I appreciate things that are done so that if someone else on the road does something wrong, I don’t kill them.
There are plenty of other comment sections here where that happens. It’s pretty much de rigueur.
Bad sightlines are always an issue, even when buildings are set back. There’s shrubbery, fences, overgrown vegetation, cars and trucks illegally parked too near the corner, etc. If I cant’s see around the corner, I slow wayyy down, no telling what’s coming nor how fast it is.
But, yeah, if you want to pack as many people into as little area as possible, your going to get more blind corners – there are lots downtown, and lots of crashes there for the very same reason.
Let’s face it, the crash occurred in a very dense urban part of Portland and everyone was at fault for not treating it as such.
I’m sorry for everyone involved.
The truck should have looked out for someone ignoring a red light?
Yes. For their own sake as well as anyone else. Just because you have a green light doesn’t mean it’s safe to proceed, it only means you have the right of way. BIG difference.
In this case, with the impossibility of seeing around the corner, extra caution is definitely called for. Not saying that would have been enough in this instance, but it was called for.
So, do you exercise extreme caution by slowing to 5 or 10 mph at every intersection with visibility restrictions when you have a green light? Sorry. I don’t believe it.
When I ride over there, I have to mentally prepare myself for laying down the bike in case the brakes don’t grab some way I don’t want them (too soft/hard/late) . For all we know, that’s what happened to the victim.
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.
How about making the yellow longer, or have a delay between one side turning red and the other turning green? The latter is a side benefit you can see at signals where they’ve changed the timing so that pedestrians get a head start of a second or two before the light changes for drivers. It was done so pedestrians get a head start, but it also reduces the chances of collisions between vehicles if someone slightly runs the red light.
Moot point if the driver was on a green and not skating through on a signal change.
So people can disregard a longer light?
No, of course not. Giving people a longer yellow riding downhill on Vista means more time and distance for them to react and stop, reducing the likelihood they’ll go through the intersection after the cross traffic starts going through.
People generally don’t slow down for a yellow light. They speed up to “make the light”
It’s not particularly true of people riding a bike down a steep hill.
And if it is true, then it gives them more time to get through before the light changes, so it still works.
And if there’s a delay between the Park Pl. light turning red, and the Vista light turning green, then that takes the yellow out of the equation anyway.
Most signals in Portland have at least a second of all red, FWIW.
I was responding to your, ” I don’t see how PBOT could make it safer than the full signals they have there.” I think a delay would make the intersection safer. Lots of people bike down Park Place, and are going fast because it’s steep. If the light turns yellow as they’re heading downhill, and they’re far from crossing Vista, they’ll have time and distance to brake and stop. If they’re very close to Vista, they’ll have plenty of time to go through the intersection on the yellow. But you can also be caught where the light turns yellow, and you’re too close to stop easily, but too far to get through the intersection easily. A longer yellow would give you more time to get through safely.
The fact that vehicles heading up Vista towards Park are hidden from view until the last second (and their noise muffled) adds to the danger.
A longer yellow would also improve safety for people biking UP Park Place (or up Vista) because the steepness means many people can’t power through quickly, as a vehicle can. The longer yellow would give a bit more time to clear the intersection.
I do understand that a longer yellow isn’t going to be moot when people are running through the intersection (from any direction) long after the light changes. But in the other cases, it seems it could add a safety factor.
It would be helpful to know if cyclists are having difficulty complying with the signal for the reasons that you stated. If they are, your suggestions make a lot of sense.
I agree–some formal checking couldn’t hurt. I lived above Washington Park on the Zoobomber route for a couple decades, so biked, walked and drove through that intersection thousands of times from all directions. My suggestion was based on that experience using the intersection myself and seeing others using it.
I got the impression that the victim may have gone through the red light well after the signal change (but am not sure) which means making the yellow longer or adding a gap between red one way and green the other wouldn’t have made any difference. But other times I think it could.
So if a driver runs a red light, we can blame the crash on faulty infrastructure? No? Only when a cyclist does it?
Obviously, the cyclist should have obeyed the light. But to address your snarky post…
In this instance, cyclist ran red, motor vehicle had green. Collision occurred. Cyclist fatality occurred (and is likely in this circumstance).
Switch up the scenario: cyclist with green, motor vehicle runs red. Collision occurs. Cyclist fatality still highly probable.
Now, exchange the motor vehicle in either situation to another cyclist. First, collision is less likely to occur due to slower speeds and significantly smaller possible contact area, and while a fatality is possible, it’s not very likely.
Have a pedestrian swap in for the motor vehicle instead, and with a walk signal. Cyclist runs red. Collision is even less likely to occur than two cyclists, since the two parties would be able to see each other for longer before a possible collision. And even if one happens, it’s again not very likely for a fatality to occur. Plus, it’s highly probable that in such a collision that the cyclist would sustain injuries as well. This is a stark difference from any scenario where a car/truck is involved, and a big reason why street design is brought up in cases like this.
not being snarky, but you are lacking one other clear scenario.
what if u swap the bike for a car. car/car at residential speed likely not fatal either.
your framing somewhat implies cars = death.
my (again, not being snarky) framing leads more toward separating modes of travel…and of course following signals.
Or maybe to the banning of bikes altogether. Safety first!
i’ve noticed that forcing my car to come to a complete stop wastes energy, and further contribute to global warming…maybe if i come to an empty 4way stop in my car, we could create a law where i can treat the stop as a yield instead…u know, conserve energy/save environment? 🙂
Last week in Portland a man was run over and killed on SE Tacoma while he was on the sidewalk and a truck drove down the sidewalk (not across it) after driving over a curb and across a walkway, because after all that he STILL didn’t see the person on the sidewalk that he drove over and killed.
I’d be fine with an Idaho stop law for drivers if they didn’t make mistakes in thinking the street in front of them was clear, but they do make those mistakes, and the consequences are much worse than anything that would typically happen to others if someone riding a bike makes a similar mistake.
fwiw i wasn’t actually arguing for idaho stop for cars.
was merely responding to HK taking my argument to a possible yet absurd place, by taking another familiar argument to an equally possible yet absurd place
We already have mini-Idaho Stop for cars. It’s called “Right Turn On Red”.
And many drivers seem to feel that they have a right to make their own private choice to not stop fully at stop signs, even though they expect others to obey the law. I guess those people tell themselves that they have “My Own Private Idaho”.
True, car-car collision at residential speeds not super likely to cause a death. However, cars are much easier to get up to higher speeds (even without gravity assisting), and with significantly larger surface areas a collision is more likely in the first place. Basically, when a car/truck is involved, the potential consequences are typically much worse.
Nobody’s excusing the red light running.
And millions/billions are spent upgrading infrastructure so the consequences to drivers who drive badly are reduced–guardrails to keep them from going off the road when they drive too fast, impact protection devices at off-ramps…Improving infrastructure to protect people–even from their own mistakes–is valid, and doesn’t mean the mistakes are being excused.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
I was told that what matters is the federal classification, and that federally, collectors are different than local service streets, and are therefore not candidates for the 20MPH zones in the 2018 law.
I hope that you are right, because there’s some streets in my neighborhood I’d like to see posted at 20MPH (they’re collectors, currently posted at 25MPH, but are very much residential, and some are even important bike corridors). But PBOT told me they are not eligible.
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.
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.
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.
Nor is this an infrastructure problem.
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
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
I forwarded your email to him. So sorry about what happened.
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.
Addendum: I meant, where it kicks us out onto SW Vista.
The uphill direction of this route used to be my commute home from work. Getting across Vista from the downhill side, making that left to continue uphill on Montgomery was always a little sketch. Sure there’s a wall there, but there’s also a blind curve, so that even making a left, with a clear view of the downhill direction of Vista, it was impossible to see oncoming traffic coming up around that curve. I had to really stomp on my pedals a few times to make the left as a speeder suddenly appeared coming up that hill.
Adam, I agree that the entirety of SW Vista should be posted 20 mph. So should SW Broadway Drive (which doesn’t have sidewalks or bike lanes, but is designated both a City Bikeway and City Walkway), and so should SW Patton, which, again has only a stretch of sidewalk at the top of the hill and no bike lanes. These streets are Collectors in Residential Districts and should be posted at 20 mph according to city ordinance.
65% of southwest Portland arterials and collectors lack sidewalks on both sides. No Collector without sidewalks should be posted at 20 mph.
SORRY, no Collector without sidewalks should be posted at 25 mph.
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. 🙁
“Running a red light is unsafe at the best of times, even when you can see the entire intersection.”
Untrue. Crossing an intersection is safest when there is no other traffic, regardless of the signal. The only times I’ve been hit by cars, I’ve been following the rules. Never been close to any kind of dangerous interaction when I’ve “broken” the rules.
That being said, there is a certain amount of caution that is warranted if one wants to break rules, and this particular incident shows what happens when either equipment fails, making it impossible to stop for a red, or a choice is made to break the rules without having all the relevant information.
I’m not sure why anyone wanting to make streets safer in light of the human mistakes made every day by bicyclists AND motorists would “embitter” anyone. I don’t think anyone has said the motorist in this case is to blame. The only real debate is about the practicality of re-engineering intersections like this to make them more mistake-proof. At an intersection like this with substantial hills, buildings, and retaining walls, options are indeed limited. Nevertheless, the point stands that if there had been a wider view of all sides of this intersection, both the bicyclist and the driver might have acted differently and there would be no story here.
All perfectly said. Also, besides the fact that discussing things like the poor visibility not meaning that anyone is dismissing the red light running, or advocating tearing that wall out, there’s value in the discussion because the lessons apply to other locations and might influence design, signalling, etc. on future projects. Analyzing what went wrong and discussing it is something that happens in all areas of life.
“You cannot engineer away stupid”.
But in many cases, engineering can reduce the negative consequences of being stupid.
And it’s done constantly in all areas of life. As one example, a huge percentage of building and fire code regulations are aimed at reducing the consequences of being stupid.
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.
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?
“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?”
The neighborhood above SW Park Place has very few ways in or out. If you want to go towards downtown, your only choice besides Park Pl. is to go out SW Tichner and down West Burnside, which can be terrifying to walk or bike on. There at least used to be a couple alternative routes going though park property/paths, but I don’t know if those are even possible anymore, and if they are they’re far from ideal also (tricky to find and navigate, etc.).
I don’t know if SW Park is even identified as any sort of official bike route, but regardless it’s an essential route for bikes, just because of the lack of good alternatives.