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 email@example.com
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