66-year-old Clayton Chamberlin was rolling across Southwest Barbur Boulevard in his wheelchair Wednesday night when he was struck by someone driving a car. Chamberlin, who was in a marked crosswalk when the collision occurred, was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died from his injuries later that night.
Less than 12 hours after Chamberlin was hit, the Portland Police Bureau blamed him for his own death.
Based on a preliminary investigation, the PPB issued a statement claiming the driver was headed southbound on Barbur — which is State Highway 99W — and struck Chamberlin as he attempted to cross SW 30th from east to west — a distance of 112 feet. The force of the impact propelled Chamberlin’s body across the intersection and into the opposite crosswalk. The PPB found that the driver of the car was operating with a suspended license (in violation of ORS 811.175). Despite this, the PPB said in their statement that, “The preliminary investigation indicates the pedestrian was at fault in this collision.”
This statement was based on one individual interviewed at the scene. According to a PPB source I spoke to about the collision, the witness didn’t see the collision and only looked up after hearing it. That person looked in the direction of the crash and told a responding officer that they recalled seeing the light being green for the driver and red for Chamberlin. The PPB made their preliminary determination of fault based on this one witness and a visibility study conducted by reconstructionists with the Major Crash Team.
(Graphics from ODOT 2015 Barbur Road Safety Audit. Click for captions and more info.)
The intersection of Barbur and 30th is inherently dangerous for people outside cars because of driving-centric design choices made by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Pushed by advocates for years to make Barbur Blvd safer for bicycle riders and walkers, ODOT conducted a Road Safety Audit in 2015. Using their in-house Safety Priority Index System (SPIS) analysis they found seven intersections on a 4.5-mile section of Barbur that ranked in the top ten percent for safety risks statewide. The SW 30th intersection was one of them.
The audit also found that between 2004 and 2014, the intersection where Chamberlin was killed had the fifth highest amount of injuries and deaths of the 44 intersections studied. SW 30th is the most car-dominated intersection in the entire segment due to many driveways that encourage dangerous behaviors. The audit found that the Barbur/30th intersection had more driveway-related crashes than any other in the area. It had 15 crashes in the 10 year period, three times more than any other intersection (see chart above).(Renderings of Barbur/30th from TriMet SW Corridor 2020 Conceptual Design Report.)
ODOT has teased safety updates to this intersection for many years. The latest hope was the SW Corridor light rail project. In their public engagement about changes the project would bring to the new station planned for Barbur and 30th, TriMet heard many concerns from the community about dangerous road design. “A predominate share of respondents mentioned the car-centric nature of this station, both in terms of land-use and design,” TriMet staff reported in the project’s public engagement report. “This station is surrounded by a number of auto-oriented uses… There are concerns about two car lanes in each direction,” says the report.
TriMet’s plans would have made this crossing safer with the addition of concrete medians that would provided Chamberlin refuge and effectively shortened the crossing distance. Unfortunately the SW Corridor was the latest empty promise as it was put on pause last month following the failure of the Metro transportation revenue measure.
In 2020 so far three people have died while walking on Barbur Blvd within a two-mile segment of where Chamberlin was hit.
On March 17th, 39-year-old Iulia Hanczarek was killed near SW Parkhill Drive by a man who was speeding. She was remembered as a “brilliant” researcher who regularly walked home along Barbur from her office at Portland State University.
On June 4th, 51-year-old Miro Brankovich was killed at SW Capitol Hill Road by a man who fled the scene and was arrested for reckless driving two days later.
Clayton Chamberlin is the 54th person to die on Portland streets so far this year, making it the deadliest on record since 1996 and the second year in a row we’ve had over 50 fatalities.
Our southwest correspondent Lisa Caballero visited the scene this morning. “It’s an expanse, with no pedestrian refuge,” she shared, “If he had any trouble with his chair, or simply mis-timed the light, he could easily have gotten caught in the middle with nowhere to go as the light changed. It is not a forgiving intersection for someone in a crosswalk.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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This is some of your best work, JM! – some of your best writing here.
Sincere condolences to Mr Chamberlin’s family. Barbur is a horrible, lethal road.
Three people, one short section of one road, in one year. Waiting to build a train before we fix this is simply unacceptable.
Jonathan, thank you for this reporting. It adds an important perspective to this death, which I first read about on oregonlive, and where most of the article focused on the police report, with little contextual information.
The real killer here is a highway that’s destined for speeding and that is difficult to cross safely on time. We could have prevented this death if this street had one lane each way. We could prevent many deaths on our streets if we transformed them into single-lane streets.
That is a huge distance to cross with a mobility device or in a wheel chair. Especially if you have a condition that means you can’t propel yourself quickly.
I *could* easily imaging a scenario where he started crossing, but was unable to get completely across before the light changed. Hell, I sometimes feel rushed crossing those huge expanses and I don’t have mobility issues.
I *do not* know all the facts. Those are just my first reactions, considering he was in a wheelchair and that is a *long* crossing.
Reasons like this are why I think all roads with at least two car lanes in each direction should be required to have a center planted median. People crossing would only have to worry about safety from one direction at a time, and if there isn’t enough time for someone to cross safely they can just wait in the middle. Versus now, where reckless drivers from multiple directions are an issue, and people run the risk of not making it across in time if they can’t go fast for whatever reason.
Honestly planted center medians are nice while driving too. They make you less of a sitting duck for oncoming traffic while waiting to turn left. Really just good design for all users to have those.
Agreed. Plus they just look nice! I’d certainly rather be on a road with nice overarching trees than a road with just lots of concrete.
Trees? You won’t find those on ODOT facilities!
SW Macadam (Highway 43) has lots of trees on both sides and in the center median.
ODOT (which stands for the Oregon Department Of Tree destruction) must be working through their extensive backlog of trees to cut down.
Just curious. Over here in Bend, when a ped pushes the crossing button at a similar Hwy 20 urban crossing, we have about 25 seconds to cross after the Walk sign comes on. Way more than enough for anyone, unless they are so disabled that they cannot travel at least 2 mph. I don’t know how you can do much more than that. I guess the center median is a possibility, at least at heavily used crossings.
I’ve seen leading count down pedestrian signals up to 90 seconds in DC before the light even turns green for car drivers on PA Avenue.
To cross this intersection (112 ft) in 25 seconds one would need to traveling at just over 3mph (~4.5 fps). I don’t know how long this intersection allows for, but if it was 25 seconds it’s not unrealistic to think someone in a wheelchair could have trouble crossing in time. Especially if there’s any incline or if they didn’t/weren’t able to start crossing right when the light turned for them. Even 30 seconds would require a speed of just over 2.5 mph, which in normal situations seems like enough time but we don’t know all of the circumstances in this particular situation.
Yes. A hand-propelled wheelchair would have a tough time on level, or uphill, grade to go much over 2 mph. That said, the only people, at least in Bend, who do not have powered rigs are the homeless. Off topic, but I have almost been nailed on my bike, because I am going, say 15 mph into a big headwind, crossing an intersection where speed limit is 35 mph. Light changes when I still have another lane to cross. That happens when I entered just as the light turns yellow. I should call the City, I know.
I hear you. I’ve had similar situations crossing large intersections that have insufficient yellow times for non-motorized vehicles. Some left-turn signals can be really bad.
1) no indication of why the driver has a suspended license. Why?
2) a passenger who didn’t witness the collision. Why?
I have been led to believe that a motorist who drives illegally, i.e. with a suspended license, is at fault for any collisions they are involved in. They have no business being on the road, and driving illegally is well.. illegal.
Driving illegally is illegal, which is why they got a ticket. Is the why of it important? I’m curious if they were allowed to drive home.
As for the passenger, they could have been asleep or looking at a phone and not seen what was happening outside the vehicle.
It is… but a child or a suspended driver exiting the freeway crashing with a driver driving up the off-ramp does not make the latter not at fault for causing the collision.
At a minimum, it’s a red flag that should trigger a thorough investigation. In this case, the only other witness sounded pretty weak (didn’t witness the crash, but rather the aftermath). Any of the nearby businesses have cameras?
as a former PI, and traffic accident investigator, I took the ‘witness’ statements of anyone who had any kind of possible useful info. There were times when nobody actually ‘saw’ the crash, but I was able to piece together a cogent explanation. Circumstantial evidence is still evidence.
The lowest level of Hades ,in my version of Dante’s Inferno, is reserved for automobile drivers who kill blind folk, wheelchair users and babies in strollers in a crosswalk.
Does your version of Hades differentiate between people who do so with malice or wonton carelessness, those who do so accidentally or through a minor lapse in attention (of the kind that everyone suffers from time to time), and those who really had no control over the situation (person steps in front of the car)?
I remember a story about some crazy Strava fool (back east somewhere?) killed a woman while on his bike. Does he go to Hades too?
If he hadn’t posted it to Strava, it didn’t happen.
All Strava users do, actually.
Yes, people step in from of cars so often don’t they?
Is there anything you wont “both sides”?
We read about a cyclist who did effectively the same thing last week, and another the week before. So yes, it does seem to happen.
Also, traffic safety isn’t about “taking sides” — it’s more about understanding complex situations and looking for solutions.
Blaming victims seems to be your MO.
This is a horrendous case. A man in a Wheelchair and you have to point out it ‘could’ have been his fault…
Uh… did I do that?
No it does not. Though it is not currently politically popular to say so, I believe that one of the biggest problems with the modern industrialized world is that most people have been protected too much from the consequences of their actions. So it is considered ok to bumble around attentively with the idea that there will be someone or something to shield us from carelessness or incompetence. As time goes on this behavior builds on itself and foolishness becomes the norm as we run over blind people in crosswalks with the excuse ” gee, I didn’t mean too.” Before long we end up with a population that is incapable of dealing with difficult circumstances where failure is not an option. At that point, we quietly shuffle off to the dustbin of history.
In that case, you are no better than Trump, demonizing an entire class of people. In Trump’s case it’s immigrants and the like, in your case it appears to be people who drive.
Ah yes, we tragic, put-upon people who drive. We really have it rough in today’s world, don’t we? Such a disadvantaged minority. Wait, we *are* the “tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”, right?
I can’t make heads or tails of what this comment is trying to say.
I’m saying that people who drive cars are not in danger of being over-demonized. Driving is glorified and people who don’t drive are marginalized. Whereas immigrants are demonized and marginalized. So your comparison is bogus.
I’ve known a lot of immigrants, and most didn’t realize they were marginalized. Maybe someone should tell them what a rotten deal they got by coming here.
Yeah, and my one black friend said it’s okay if I use the N-word.
God, you’re full of it. None so blind as those who will not see.
IMO, your defense of people inattentively using lethal machinery in public spaces is far more Trumpian than Bikeninja’s critique of our society’s acceptance, normalization, and valorization of ubiquitous and preventable CARnage in public spaces.
To use an analogy, if you use a chainsaw responsibly, then nothing wrong with that. If you inattentively cut someone’s arm off, then that’s horrible but I wouldn’t ask for someone to be criminally charged for doing so because our justice system should be preventative, not punitive. Driving is in a similar boat. Using our justice system in a punitive manner, or saying that people should burn in hell (as Bikeninja did) for one bad lapse in attention is Trumpian. Tell me how showing my compassion to all and not demonizing people is Trumpian.
You keep using that word. It does not mean what you think it means.
Anyway, criminal negligence is, and should continue to be, a crime that people are punished for.
I was looking back at past years of this intersection in Streetview (to see if there were any CCTV cameras) when I noticed that there used to be a raised pedestrian island on Barbur at this intersection – but on other side. Any idea why it was removed in the last 3 years? (Was it done for for the conversion of the old Wendys into a Starbucks?)
You must be thinking of another intersection. There’s no Starbucks or Wendy’s at this intersection. There’s a Mexican restaurant on one corner (NW corner?), a Chevron station on another corner, a coffee cart across Barbur, and a Subway sandwich place across from that.
Technical question for the traffic/signal engineers or attorneys in the audience: wouldn’t these traffic lights (on a high-volume major highway) be controlled/monitored remotely, so we can know what cycle they were on based on the time of collision?
Or is this a place with ped-activated signals – and are pressing times data not captured? I thought at least the ped-activated signals capture the number of presses, but wouldn’t they capture the times of the presses as well?
Traffic signal timing seems like a really cost-effient way of acheiving lots of goals, and something engineers work a lot on, and it seems like we should know.
Poor orphan highways like Barbur don’t typically have such sophisticated signals, but now that you mention it, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was an ODOT camera or four at this intersection, with full recorded video of what actually happened. Perhaps the police watched it in the 12 hours between the crash and their blaming the unfortunate victim?
I suspect that the gas station and fast food place also have external security cameras that recorded some or all of what happened.
Be careful what you wish for with regards to traffic signal timing. In many locales, traffic signals are timed such that drivers going the speed limit will get the lights green. But this often has the side effect of cyclists and other transportation users getting a disproportionate number of the lights red.
Or in the NY Green Wave, presumably signal times are geared towards cycling speeds?
I’ve encountered traffic signals in Vancouver being timed for car travel at speed limit, never in Portland.
They are timeed when traveling north or south through downtown (which is nice because they are also timed perfectly for moderate bike speeds), and ODOT clams that Powell is also timed in either the eastbound or westbound direction, I forget. I am sure there are others.
What I have always found interesting is that so many drivers accelerate from one green light and drive so fast they hit the next red light, come to a stop, then repeat all the way through downtown.
Depends on the controller. Newer Controllers to NTCIP standard record events every 0.1s. The controller out there might have per cycle data showing if a pedestrian phase came up but it likely isn’t updated to NTCIP. The problem even if you have the data is that your clock isn’t synchronized with the traffic signal and witnesses likely don’t record time well during a traumatic incident so its nearly impossible to get an accurate read of what happened.
Traffic signal timing in the region is heavily underinvested in, there are by my count less than 20 agency staff responsible for operating 1500+ signalized intersections in the Portland Metro. Each person where I work is responsible for 100+ locations.
In the stats, they should consider vagrant incidents where they don’t belong separately though to keep statistics relevant. Vagrant pedestrian collisions that have occurred on freeways where they absolutely do not belong shouldn’t be tallied up together where pedestrians/bikes share road with cars. That sort of things go together with people who get hit by the train playing on the tracks.
People love to blame cars for stuff here, but they’re not always at fault. For example, the settlement received by the estate of a dead female transient in https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2019/09/homeless-woman-dies-after-dashing-across-highway-26-in-portland-family-settles-for-305000.html is absolutely ridiculous. The transient was doing something completely unreasonable.
Are concrete pedestrian refuges so expensive that PBOT can’t install them on a known dangerous intersection for ten years? Its a yard of concrete and some forms and paint/reflectors, right? A day’s work for a small crew? I really don’t understand what the reason is for a decade of inaction.
It’s ODOT’s jurisdiction and there is no right of way for installation. There are minimum ADA widths refugee islands.
In other words maintaining car capacity precludes any design for safety?
Does it really surprise you that ODOT balances priorities differently than you do?
Not just a days work.
There’s the investigation as to what is needed.
Then the committee to be formed to discuss what is needed.
Then a Project Manager has to be hired to run the project.
Project Manager then has to write up a justification for the project.
Then Project Manager has to write up a RFP and post for bid.
RFP responses have to be analyzed by a committee.
Company is then selected to do the work.
But then another company disputes the selection process.
Another committee is formed to analyze the selection process.
Once cleared, the company goes and does the work.
That seems easy at intersections that don’t allow left turns, but gets more complicated at ones that do. However, the TriMet renderings above do show it can be done. But it’s far from simple.
Heartbreaking. That’s one of the hairiest intersections on a very scary street for people not in cars. What a succinct history of the intersection, too! Hopefully we don’t have to wait for another metro transportation tax vote before this corridor gets serious safety improvements.
Putting MAX down the center of N. Interstate certainly tamed that old highway…one lane of traffic each way, refuges, updated signals, slower speeds. And a less expensive light rail project! Time to take Barbur down to two lanes.
Yeah, but Barbur got negotiated into a two-lane road WITH light rail. Interstate feels infinitely more safe as a one lane.
Another reason to look at BRT for Barbur. If the Transit lane can be used as surge capacity when there are crashes on I-5, the overall width could remain the same and still include median refuges (assuming they would have center-running BR&T with median stations).
Yup, I don’t see why TriMet can’t convert the SW Corridor project into an actual global-standard BRT line. It will be much cheaper, and if the ridership arrives as predicted, then they can add tracks to it later.
In a WHEELERCHAIR ? REALLY !