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Opinion: Vehicular violence hits home again. We cannot ignore it again.

Posted by on January 26th, 2021 at 11:39 am

Memorial at Southeast 19 and Stark for victim hit and killed Monday.
(Photo: Sarah Mirk)

A man behind the wheel of a four-wheeled weapon raged through southeast Portland less than 24 hours ago. Many details remain unknown, but the underlying issues that led to yesterday’s tragedy are all too familiar.

The man who drove that silver Honda SUV didn’t kill, injure, and frighten “pedestrians” and “cyclists”. He did this to Portlanders — people with names and families and friends who should never be minimized to a convenient and narrow label so others can file it away as something that doesn’t impact them.

Some call what happened an “accident” (it wasn’t), many others are shocked. While it’s certainly shocking someone would do something so horrible to innocent people; it is not an aberration. Nor should it come as a surprise — at least not to those of us who’ve been paying attention to our broken traffic culture and those who enable and exploit it. We’ve seen this behavior before. I’m afraid it will continue until we all understand and embrace our role in what caused it, then do the work it takes to change.

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The suspect, who reportedly showed no remorse for his actions and was fully aware of what he did, shouldn’t be seen as a deranged monster. His actions are a natural evolution of a culture that doesn’t value human life on either side of the windshield and thinks it’s acceptable to act like you don’t.

We’ve been warning the community to take traffic violence seriously for many years now. I’m afraid it still hasn’t sunk in.

Remember back in 2006 when hosts of a popular local sports radio show promoted hatred and violence toward people on bikes? One of them said she carries bottles of water to throw at people outside her car. Another said, “If you are a cyclist you should know I exist, that I don’t care about you. That I don’t care about your life.” BikePortland was the only media outlet to take that seriously from the outset and we hounded the radio station until the host responded and the program manager apologized.

In 2017, following a spate of injuries, deaths, and damage from reckless drivers, I wrote an editorial that included, “The motor vehicle menace is out of control. Large steel vehicles and people inside them imbued with a feeling of invincibility fueled by a pervasive culture of selfishness and speed mixed with a systemic acceptance of its consequences has led to nothing short of chaos in our streets.”

Ten months later a man intentionally drove his car up onto a sidewalk on the downtown campus of Portland State University and plowed through several people, causing serious injuries.

Later that same year we reported on Todd Foulk, the former owner and producer of Portland Fashion Week, who said he believed the way to respond to people protesting in the street is to, “drive right thru killing as many as who will stand in my way.” There was also Hawthorne Cutlery owner David Rappoport, who wrote in an email to the Hawthorne Blvd Business Association list that, “Sometimes running over bicyclists and pedestrians is the only way they’ll learn.”

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The crime scene on Southeast Stark yesterday.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

This past summer traffic violence became a regular occurrence. In June a Portland Police Bureau office drove recklessly through a crowd of people on the street during a protest. A few weeks later someone violently revved their engine and sped through a peaceful group bike ride in northeast Portland. Six days after that we reported on a City of Gresham employee who put an “All Live Splatter” sticker on their truck. These are just a few of the many vehicular assaults that took place.

Despite all this, too many leaders still don’t think we can do anything about it. Or even worse, they just ignore it. I’m afraid that’s a recipe for more tragedy.

In 2019, an advocate with The Street Trust mentioned the term “traffic violence” during testimony about a speed limit bill in Salem. One of the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Transportation bristled at the mere mention of it and seemed to have trouble acknowledging that someone would intentionally use their vehicle to commit violence.

When Trump supporters used their vehicles to violently drive through downtown Portland streets in August, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Lovell had an opportunity to fortify our streets against the threat and denounce the behaviors. They failed on both accounts. “There was no indignation about people spraying mace or attempting to run over innocent people,” I wrote at the time.

Just last week I shared how our transportation bureau has not fully acknowledged the traffic violence problem or their potential role in addressing it. In response to a tragic 2020 that saw a record-level of traffic deaths and a big spike in reckless driving, the Portland Bureau of Transportation shirked an opportunity to show resolve and commitment to taking back our streets. This continues an unfortunate trend at PBOT.

In 2016, following the killing of Fallon Smart on Hawthorne Blvd by a reckless driver, former PBOT Director Leah Treat told The Oregonian, “I don’t know if there is anything anybody could have done to have prevented that fatality except for the driver… I don’t know how Vision Zero is going to address that kind of fatality.”

This casual acceptance of vehicular violence and recklessness as a random occurrence we can’t do anything about is unacceptable and must change. I’m afraid more people will die if we don’t.

Our enforcement policies need to be better at flagging high-risk drivers. Our mental and public health services need to find at-risk people and give them more support. Our transportation agencies need to fortify our streets by adding more concrete and protected spaces wherever and whenever possible. Our community needs to call out traffic violence in every form, every time; whether it’s spoken, typed, or acted upon.

I’m afraid of how we’re handling this issue; but I refuse to be afraid of our streets. So many times this past year we saw the power streets have to unite us. “Whose streets? Our streets!” isn’t just a chant, it’s an acknowledgment that we all own a piece of the responsibility to keep them safe.

— 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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citylover
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citylover

Thank you for this: “I refuse to be afraid of our streets.” While it is hard to harness this today, as pedestrians and cyclists we can’t cede these spaces where we have a right to be. I go over what I’ve taught my kids about safety now that they go out on their own biking and walking and are still young. 1) never cross mid-block 2) even if you have the walk signal don’t assume traffic is stopping, someone might make a right turn, run the light etc. 3) make eye contact with drivers so you know you have been seen. I redouble the effort to follow these common sense rules myself.

My family lives near Buckman Elementary. I wanted to let folks know that a vigil is planned tonight at 5pm for the victims of the vehicle attack yesterday. It will be at the field adjacent to Buckman Elementary (SE 19th and Stark). As many know, two victims were biking and the rest were walking.

Bob R.
Guest
Bob R.

Back on August 29th, KGW’s Pat Dooris played footage of pro-Trump protestors in vehicles charging at pedestrians (mostly BLM protestors) in a crosswalk. The pedestrians clearly had a walk signal and every legal right to be crossing the street. Pat Dooris characterized this on-air as “protestors blocking traffic”. I happen to know a producer at KGW and I messaged him about it. His response was that conservatives complain that Pat is too liberal. So I guess that means the coverage was fair and balanced. To my knowledge, KGW has never issued a correction or apology for portraying pedestrians getting run into by vehicles while having the walk signal as somehow responsible for the violence.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

On his way out of town Trump ordered his followers to use their imagination to “create chaos.” One can’t help but think incidents like this, plus today’s internet outage in the northeast caused by an intentionally cut cable are just the start.

hamiramani
Subscriber

Bravo, Jonathan. Powerful and accurate. Your editorial represents my sentiments exactly.

And, yes, more people *will* die if our leaders continue to fail at their work to keep us ALL safe.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

> Our enforcement policies need to be better at flagging high-risk drivers. Our mental and public health services need to find at-risk people and give them more support. Our transportation agencies need to fortify our streets by adding more concrete and protected spaces wherever and whenever possible.

+1, but Jonathan perhaps we should add: “less-dangerous 4-wheelers”.

Because perhaps vehicles, like SUVs and even rational-sized autos, should not be designed to so easily serve as stand ins for semi automatic weapons. No leader or legislator in Oregon can deny this pattern of vehicular violence, and things like AEB (automatic braking) and pedestrian crash tests exist (in Europe at least), so it’s inexcusable that in 2021 you don’t have lawmakers addressing the physically dangerous design of “sport” (or other) vehicles on Oregon roads.

soren
Guest
soren

I agree with Leah Treat. Vision Zero won’t prevent people from choosing to intentionally kill people with ubiquitously available lethal devices (automobile or gun). Other than banning non-commercial automobile ownership entirely* or creating some form of truly draconian “car/gun control”, there isn’t any kind of easy structural reform that will prevent USAnian mass-murder from occurring.

IMO, USAnian car/gun mass murder is a direct result of the way USAnian society tolerates, enshrines, and promotes violent behavior/ideation. It’s a collective and ubiquitous cultural sickness that won’t be fixed without a massive cultural upheaval/revolution.

*As long as we create a genuinely equitable transportation system, this has always been and remains my preference.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

In order to remove the cultural assumptions associated with the use of vehicles (since it is so widespread) I try to imagine, as proposed in Crash Course, replacing each of these quotes and behaviors with a slightly different, yet culturally neutral behavior. Replacing “driving” with “moving a piano” might be suitable for some people to see how bizarre our culture looks at, shrugs, and simply accepts car violence. Driving a vehicle should be looked at in the same way as moving a piano. It can easily be done safely, but we choose to accept when a mover wishes to do it carelessly, rapidly and distractedly. Then we state afterward: “Nothing could have been done,” or “We just can’t prevent people who want to drop pianos,” when a pattern of reckless behavior predates the inevitable.

bettie
Guest
bettie

I propose (again) that the DMV administer a mental health assessment before administering driver’s licenses. I also do not give s sh*t if drunk Johnny needs a driver’s license so he can get to work because he needs to pay his child support; he can take the bus.

Christian Samuel
Guest
Christian Samuel

It’s a shame recent police budget cuts eliminated the entire traffic division. Not that they would have been able to prevent this horrible event but I do feel more enforcement of traffic laws would reduce traffic related injuries and fatalities.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Of course we can ignore it. We’ve decided on no traffic enforcement and the result is disregard of traffic laws on the part of a growing segment of the motoring public. No enforcement. No consequences. Increasing death toll. Do you still believe it is a coincidence?
How many deaths until we begin taking it seriously? Given our acceptance of 400,000 US deaths from COVID and the failure of half the population to even wear masks, my guess is that we won’t start taking vehicular killings seriously until we’re at 3 per week in Portland. Sad and disgusting.

Andyfah BeaLaMont
Guest
Andyfah BeaLaMont

Yes cyclists! Don’t be afraid. Ride down the middle of streets and ignore all traffic regulations as you always do. Show your anger and ride down the middle of I-84 with no reflective gear on at night. You’ll show them!

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

It is 100 percent certain that it will be ignored again.

Tod Foulk
Guest
Tod Foulk

pathetic taking me out of context again fool writer! we even spoke on the phone. typical now of weak press who instead of reporting simply play into dram. maybe you should speak to my lawyer as well! placing me in the same league as this psycho is libel! get it right/write jerk! yes come at me in a swarm and attack me at a red light while I simply wait for it to turn like the poor old gentleman whom I was referring to and YES you will be hit if you dont get out of the way! violence is met with violence all too often. and again jerk writer trying to make me sound like a cold blooded murderer is piss poor writing, you simply suck.

Don Courtney
Guest
Don Courtney

Yes, this was a good summary of my feelings and policy positions on this topic. Thank you Jonathan.