Father of teen killed by driver on Hawthorne Blvd questions city’s repaving plans

Posted by on May 5th, 2021 at 12:37 pm

(Photo from Fallon Smart memorial ride on August 26th, 2016 by Jonathan Maus/BikePortland.)

The father of a teenager who was hit and killed by a driver as she walked across Hawthorne Boulevard says the City of Portland erred by not seizing an opportunity to add bike lanes and make the street safer.

Tigard resident Seth Smart is the father of Fallon Smart, the 15-year-old who was hit by a reckless driver on Hawthorne and 43rd on August 19th, 2016. The tragedy sparked community outcry and led to a new crossing treatment at the intersection. One year ago the Portland Bureau of Transportation paid $395,000 to settle a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit brought by Fallon’s family.

In his letter dated May 3rd, Smart addressed PBOT and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as a “grieving father.” His letter comes in response to PBOT’s controversial decision in February to maintain all driving and parking lanes, but add no dedicated cycling access to Hawthorne as part of the “Pave and Paint” project.

Here’s the text of Smart’s letter:

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“On August 19, 2016 my eldest daughter Fallon Smart was struck and killed by a car while legally crossing Hawthorne Boulevard at 43rd. In the days, weeks and months that followed by family received tremendous support from local pedestrian and bicycle enthusiasts and the Portland community at large. It is now that we ask for your support.

When the Portland Bureau of Transportation announced the paving paint project in February of 2020 many in the community, myself included, were hopeful. This was a real opportunity to take steps to make Hawthorne safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. However, as this process has developed and the redesign solidified, it has become clear that the changes do not address the safety needs for a street like Hawthorne. A redesign plan that does not include clearly marked protected bike lanes is doomed to repeat the mistakes and the hazards of the past. The current plan forces me to ask the question, does PBOT truly believe in “Vision Zero” or is this simply a catchy slogan and utopian platitude?

Please reconsider.”

Fallon Smart was killed when a speeding driver swerved into the center turn lane to avoid a stopped driver. The lane striping plan chosen by PBOT maintains a center turn lane, while the protected bike lane design option would remove it.

Reached by phone today, Smart said a teacher of Fallon’s reached out to him about the project. After doing some research online, he decided to write a letter. It was posted to the Healthier Hawthorne Facebook page yesterday. Smart added that he hasn’t received a response from PBOT or Commissioner Hardesty’s office yet.

In related news, a fundraising campaign by Healthier Hawthorne founder Zach Katz has raised over $12,000 in the past month. The campaign is meant to fund legal fees and a potential lawsuit against PBOT for the decision. Katz says he’s engaged with a lawyer about the issue but hasn’t yet made a decision about a lawsuit. “We’re still researching legal options,” he shared today.

According to PBOT, the repaving of Hawthorne will begin June 15th. So far, the agency has shown no signs they plan to change course. The commissioner-in-charge of PBOT, Jo Ann Hardesty is scheduled to speak at the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday (May 11th). That committee has described PBOT’s Hawthorne decision as “profoundly disappointing.” In an interview with BikePortland in February, Hardesty acknowledged that not striping bike lanes on Hawthorne might have been a missed opportunity.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Christian
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Christian

Hope to see everyone at the bicycle advisory committee zoom meeting may 11 to support Zach’s work. It’s not a matter of if but when bike lanes will be built on Hawthorne. Why wait longer, this is an excellent opportunity.

Register in advance here:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_UKwDE3RpSRqPgfYDg9AVHg

Adam
Guest
Adam

The girl was killed by a reckless driver going about 60-65 mph. Protected bike lanes wouldn’t have prevented that. That tragedy doesn’t make Seth a traffic expert. There are back paths on both sides of Hawthorne that can be used. So many concessions have already been given to bicyclist at the cost of motorist. I’m against adding bike lanes to Hawthorne, its not going to make it safer for the pedestrians walking along the street. Of course pedestrians are second to bicyclist because they believe they are above all.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

The reckless driver used the center turn lane to swerve around the other drivers who were already stopped for Fallon. The protected bike lane design removes the center turn lane, which makes it so drivers would no longer be physically able to make dangerous maneuvers like that.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

There were 3 lanes total. Even with 2 lanes, Driver could have swerved into the other lane which would have been open because cars in the other direction would have been stopped.

Imagine a car passing other cars with a double yellow – it’s entirely possible.

clay
Subscriber

Adding bike lanes won’t necessarily make Hawthorne safer, but removing space for cars definitely will. Removing the center turn lane would almost certainly have saved Fallon’s life. Instead, PBOT is converting a much larger stretch of Hawthorne into the exact same configuration as the one where she was killed: wide, highway-sized travel lanes with unfettered access to a spacious turn lane in the center. It’s shameful that this is the design they chose, knowing full well how deadly it is.

Matt Meskill
Subscriber
Matt Meskill

Sorry for accidentally giving this a thumb up. This is simply wrong. Protected bike lanes = narrower streets = safer streets. Seth doesn’t need to be a traffic expert. You have an opinion; are you an expert? And every cyclist I know would surely rank pedestrians, or human beings walking, as a clear number 1.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Actually, in this case they would have, because the driver used the center “turn lane” to speed past stopped traffic (this center turn lane is not present in the protected bike lane configuration). I see drivers do this nearly every day in Portland. I’d like to see PBOT add solid islands every 2 or 3 blocks on roadways that have bi-directional center lanes. If funding is an issue, they can just drop a yellow jersey barrier perpendicular to the lane until an island can be built.

Also, regarding your comment about him not being a traffic “expert”: you might be surprised how a personal loss (to the level that you probably can’t fathom, I know I can’t) can drive someone to become informed on a subject. If the debate is over street safety, I’ll take the opinion of someone who has suffered a personal loss due to our roadway design over someone who hasn’t. If you haven’t lost someone to traffic violence, consider yourself lucky. It really puts things in perspective when you see people doing incredibly stupid/dangerous things to save a few seconds.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

The thing about median islands is, the more of them you build in the center turn lane, the less effective the center turn lane becomes for moving drivers. If there’s a median island every two blocks, why bother having a center turn lane at all?

That’s why, in my opinion, Alternative 3b is such a brilliant design: It has only two lanes *and* median islands:
http://www.healthierhawthorne.com/uploads/1/3/1/0/131025548/615222163.jpg

Here’s a gold-standard Dutch intersection with basically the same design:comment image

Jersey barriers every two blocks is a *fantastic* idea for making streets like E Burnside and Glisan safer in the short-term. But in the medium-to-long-term, IMO these streets need to ditch the center turn lanes altogether.

Of course, if there’s room for a wide protected bike lane on both sides of the street *and* a continuous planted median, that seems to be a good design to aim for as well. Really just depends on the street.

soren
Guest
soren

Hi Zach,

Let me introduce you to the mid-block median island:
comment image

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

It’s nice, but median islands are car infrastructure. The only purpose they serve is to allow drivers to avoid a couple of seconds of delay waiting behind other drivers turning into parking lots and driveways. A car-free promenade doesn’t need median islands. A properly traffic-calmed street doesn’t need median islands. A car-free busway doesn’t need median islands.

Median islands are car infrastructure.

soren
Guest
soren

After 40+ years of riding a bike as my main mode of transportation I developed a chronic disease that prevented me from riding a bike for transportation for almost 2 years. This changed both my perspective and infrastructure preferences. For you to tell me and others who walk/roll for transportation that median islands are “car infrastructure” is the worst kind of arrogance. And the fact that you made this claim immediately after posting a beautiful image of a Dutch protected intersection with 6 median islands is is a dumpster fire of cognitive dissonance.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

I’m not saying all median islands are bad, just that they don’t need to be paired with center turn lanes—especially if safety is a priority. Note that the Dutch street pictured does not have a center turn lane.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Plus, bonus bioswales.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Nice design but it still requires the pedestrian to make sure oncoming traffic stops. Would it give the pedestrian a false sense of security?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Eh. Being able to turn left every other block has value. Unless you ban all left turns on Hawthorne, I don’t see how 2 lanes without a turn lane is going to do anything but create gridlock.

Mark from NextDoor
Guest
Mark from NextDoor

Zach, just ride your bike on the safe empty side streets already marked for bike traffic. So tired of you pushing this, on every forum you can find, when you know the vast majority of Portland is against this. Why? Because they know the bike designated streets exist on both sides of Hawthorne. They know Hawthorne is a major traffic thoroughfare. They know there is already an alternative. Your attempt to exploit the Fallon incident to continue to try to force this on the rest of Portland is ridiculous. Portland has spoken. They don’t want what you want.

soren
Guest
soren

“I’d like to see PBOT add solid islands every 2 or 3 blocks on roadways that have bi-directional center lanes.”

This is precisely what PBOT is adding to the Hawthorne Pave and Paint Project (4+ median islands over ~13 blocks). Moreover, there is clearly stated support from PBOT for the installation of additional islands:

We will first address the high priority locations, and then select from the medium and lower priority locations as budget allows.

comment image

https://www.portland.gov/transportation/planning/hawthorne-pave-paint

clay
Subscriber

“As budget allows…” PBOT engineers twice over a period of ten years evaluated the intersection and 43rd and concluded it was dangerous and needed safety work. It never got done because budget didn’t allow. Then Fallon was killed there, and shortly after that the PBOT director apparently rummaged through the couch cushions to scrounge up money for a crossing island. It didn’t require going to city council for a budget amendment or a tax levy. The money was there all along. They just hadn’t made it a priority. I don’t see any reason for confidence that they will make it a priority this time, either, until someone dies there.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

Bingo.

Also, notice how every single bullet point in that PBOT image also applies to Alternative 3b—except for 4, which is another way of saying “deadly center turn lane”, and 6, which is another way of saying “preserves parking.”

dan
Guest
dan

Imagine looking at Portland’s road network, hundreds of miles of roads which allow you to drive from any point in the metro to anywhere else in the metro, and then looking at the bike network, with its dozens of miles of bike lanes demarcated by nothing more than paint, and thinking to yourself “clearly, motorists are getting the short end of the stick.”

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

We also need to be clear about standard bike lanes, which Portland has invested in a LOT (est 175mi). Standard bike lanes by and large are not space for bikes. Much of the time they act as buffers for parking, artificial lane wideners or emergency shoulders, not actual space for people on bikes. Politically, they may act as “place markers” for actual future infrastructure, but do the opposite. “Look at all this space for bikers!,” one might say, “Look at the huge network!” when people on bikes don’t really use/want them.

The vast majority of the time standard bike lanes do not attract any cyclists.

“[Standard] bike lanes more or less exactly offset the negative effects of adjacent traffic, but were no more or less attractive than a basic low traffic volume street.”

Standard bike lanes are often worse than no bike lane. By law one is required to be in one if they are a cyclist, yet they are used as a loading zone/parking buffer, and riding in the traffic lane is a lot safer. W broadway and the old Williams design are great examples of this. They also serve as route markers on Google maps for out-of-towners, which may result in death (Martin Greenough). My hope is that PBoT will either remove standard bike lanes altogether or build PBLs in their stead.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

These are the same people who are saying all over social media that “there is a bike boulevard just a block south of Hawthorne”.

I suppose it might feel like a block when you are speeding down a side street at 30mph.

Adam
Guest
Adam

^ The views of the Adam above are not representative of all Adams. Motorists rule the world we all have to navigate. As a nearby resident of Hawthorne I’d be A OK if they banned motorists from Hawthorne from Downtown to Mount Tabor. Just keep two lanes for buses and emergency vehicles only. You could have wider sidewalks and a two-way cycle track. That’s probably too bold for the feckless pols masquerading as leaders in this town though.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Ummm… As a nearby resident of Hawthorne, banning car traffic on Hawthorne just means I’d get more cars speeding down my residential street. Bad idea.

Adam
Guest
Adam

You need not lose any sleep that my idea will come to fruition. I certainly wouldn’t want people speeding down your street or my street or anyone’s street. I’m for any traffic control device that will force drivers to never get above 20 mph. I live a block north of Belmont and every time I hear drag racers at night I fantasize about making a spike strip. The fact is there a those who will perceive themselves as “losers” no matter what changes are made or not made to our streets. The city would never close a major street permanently to personal automobiles. Never. But if they ever did, and could keep cars from speeding down other streets, you’d have to admit it would be pretty cool. Right?

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Hey Adam I don’t think it would require complete closure to personal autos. Simple bus/delivery only signs at major intersections (eg 39th, 12th) would limit traffic dramatically on Hawthorne. Local traffic isn’t a problem. It’s the long-distance commuter traffic at 10k per day that seems to be the problem no one really wants to talk about.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Keeping the center turn lane on Hawthorne is a very bad idea. Can’t even count the number of times that I’ve been driving on streets with a center turn lane (like SW Oleson Rd), at or slightly below the speed limit, and some aggressive driver pulls up behind me, doesn’t like how lawfully I’m driving, and uses the center turn-lane to pass me. Usually it’s a guy in a truck – the one on Oleson Rd kicked up a rock that broke my windshield.

The fact is that if drivers are ABLE to do something dangerous with no cost to themselves, they WILL do something dangerous. The road needs to be designed so that any dangerous action carries the threat of harm to the driver, who will thus decide not to do the dangerous thing.

Varner
Guest
Varner

I recall this point being summarized a few years ago that we design for the ‘best in us’ not the ‘worst in us’. Infrastructure that is designed assuming people are polite and mannered doesn’t help much against the murderer who drove over 60mph down Hawthorne.

soren
Guest
soren

I remember when Bikeloudpdx and this very same teacher were loudly demanding that PBOT install a high-quality median island at the location where Fallon was killed (and at other locations along Hawthorne).

PBOT is now installing these same high-quality median islands every 3 blocks (on avg) in the Hawthorne Streetscape area. I completely understand how one might want more median islands or their better placement but describing this proven safety infrastructure as deadly is dishonest at best.

SMDH

PS: High quality median islands are among the most robust pedestrian safety infrastructure treatments so anyone claiming otherwise should show their data.

https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/tools_solve/medians_brochure/#:~:text=FHWA%20guidance%20further%20states%20that,second%20half%20of%20the%20street.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

Fortunately, Alternative 3b allows for high-quality median islands. http://www.healthierhawthorne.com/uploads/1/3/1/0/131025548/615222163.jpg

soren
Guest
soren

Nice blog image but this is not accurate.

1) Alternative 3b prevents PBOT from installing the many midblock median islands they have prioritized.

2) High-quality median islands are at least 8 feet wide which would also not be possible under Alternative 3B. (See the FHWA link above.)

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

1) I think you’re mistaken. None of the median islands they have “prioritized” are midblock. All of them are at intersections.

2) Can you point to any data that shows that a street with 8-foot median islands, three 12’ travel lanes and no protected bike lanes is safer than a street with 6-foot median islands, two 10’ travel lanes, and protected bike lanes? If you can, I’ll delete HealthierHawthorne.com and publicly thank Chris Warner for choosing Alternative 2.

soren
Guest
soren

The 35th place median island is midblock on the north side of Hawthorne. I would love to see your glossy mock up of how the existing massive concrete island would work with two protected bike lanes and the ample free vehicle storage you depict in your business-friendly mailers.

If PBOT were willing to get rid of all of that free vehicle storage and remove dozens of concrete bulb outs (e.g. 35th place) other alternatives would be possible. However, this would be expensive and pull even more funding away from from desperately needed safety infrastructure in marginalized communities. As a long time resident of the Hawthorne area I would prefer that PBOT cancel this project entirely and dedicate its funding to addressing the ongoing CARnage in E Portland. It’s shameful that people living in twee transportation-rich neighborhoods are demanding major investments while marginalized communities lack sidewalks, decent transit routes, and the most basic bike infrastructure.

“10’ travel lanes”

Ten foot travel lanes for a major transit route? I guess you’ve never noticed how the 14 often uses both lanes on Hawthorne because 10′ lanes suck for bus transit.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

The lanes on Hawthorne west of Chavez are currently 9’.

Momo
Guest
Momo

I think Soren’s point is that transit needs 11 foot lanes. Buses are 10.5 feet wide mirror to mirror, and they also need shy distance on either side because it’s difficult to drive a bus (or any vehicle) completely straight. So the typical lane width for buses is 11 feet. The 6 foot wide median islands you reference also usually have a foot of shy distance on either side, so they really take up 8 feet of width. So the travel lanes plus median island take up 30 feet, leaving 5 feet on either side for an unprotected, striped bike lane where there is a curb extension. So any protected bike lane on Hawthorne would not be protected at places where there is both a curb extension and a median island.

soren
Guest
soren

“transit needs 11 foot lanes. Buses are 10.5 feet wide mirror to mirror, and they also need shy distance on either side “

Exactly. If Hawthorne were not a major transit route I’d support bike lanes or the kind of severe traffic calming that would drive Sunnyside/Richmond nextdoor apoplectic (e.g. whatever the Dutch word for commercial woonerf is).

Todd/Boulanger
Guest
Todd/Boulanger

The other “elephant” in the room is that the current system for many US cities / public works departments is also very broken…in that the budget for making incremental “safety” enhancements on existing urban streets is both constrained and competitive…but the general fund for paying out court or legal settlements is more flexible and deeper…as in this case, like many others. For example, “Portland Bureau of Transportation paid $395,000 to settle a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit brought by Fallon’s family.” as noted in the article above.

Gita
Guest
Gita

There are very functional bike streets running parallel to Hawthorne; both a couple blocks north and a couple blocks south. I use them all the time rather than trying to ride my bike on Hawthorne. I agree that the pedestrian crossing is dangerous on Hawthorne and needs structural improvement (especially west of 30th) but I don’t really think bike lanes on Hawthorne make sense. Using Harrison or Taylor as a protected bike travel route in the east – west direction seems so much more functional and safer for everyone. I like the crossing “median islands” for pedestrians on Hawthorne and think there should be lots of them.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

By “functional bike streets” and “protected bike travel route” do you mean residential car streets with some bike shaped paint on occasion? I use them also, but only because there are virtually no safe spaces dedicated for bikes only. Could this ideology, ie “bike lanes don’t make sense,” be connected to why Portland has an incredibly low number of people on bikes (compared to other cities with a functional bike network on commercial streets)?

Momo
Guest
Momo

Incredibly low number of people on bikes?! believe Portland has the highest (or nearly the highest) bike mode share in North America, so that’s an odd claim to make. If you’re talking about European cities, they’re hardly comparable given their much higher cost of car ownership and use, higher densities, and lower parking supply.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Well yes and no. We have an incredibly low number of people on bikes compared to other cities with a network of separated bike lanes (eg Amsterdam, Montreal, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vancouver etc). We may still have the highest in the US, but it’s very close. In the last decade modal share has dropped from 8 to 5%, very close to other cities in the US.

Momo
Guest
Momo

The only comparable city on your list to Portland is Vancouver, BC, which has similar density and urban form and similar cost of car ownership. European cities are fundamentally different, with lots of people biking because owning and operating a car is so expensive. Vancouver BC is only a couple percentage points higher than Portland in bike mode share. So yes, protected bike lanes help somewhat on the margin. But they’re not the massive driver of change that you’re implying. I think social policies like cost and convenience of driving, high speed limits, “free”ways, barriers to bicycling (higher upfront cost than buying a car!), cheap/free parking, etc have much higher impacts on people’s mode choices.

To take Amsterdam as an example, it was really the high biking rates that came first. Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general were pretty auto-oriented back in the 70s, but gas prices went up and people started biking in high numbers as a result. Because so many people were biking, there was high demand for cycle-tracks and bike infrastructure generally, and they invested in those. It wasn’t the protected bike lanes that drew people to biking, it was the people biking that brought about the protected bike lanes.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

Momo, you might be surprised to learn that some of the things you mention are common misconceptions. Here are some good resources to learn more about why world-class infrastructure is so transformative:

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/all-those-myths-and-excuses-in-one-post.html

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2008/09/grid.html

soren
Guest
soren

Neither of those links really address Momo’s point.

Bike mode share started sharply increasing in Amsterdam in the late 70s to 80s — well before its high-quality cyclepaths were built*. The increase in cycling in AMS (and to a lesser extent in CPH) was initially associated with political upheaval, the election of leftist/green-leaning governments and the implementation of policies that made it expensive and difficult to drive/park. This is not to say that infrastructure did not play a role in the decades that followed but I think the lesson of AMS is that Portland needs a an anti-SUVs/truck kindermoord movement more than it needs a a few cr*ppy disconnected segments of car-protected infrastructure.

I hope I see you on the barricades…some day.

*See Carlton Reid’s “Bike Boom”

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Gotta say momo, I completely disagree. Density is certainly important, but not a predictor of modal share. Oulu, Finland and London, Canada are almost exactly the same density (ie 915/km sq). Oulu has 22% of people commuting via bike, and London has <2%. They also have virtually the same climate, topography etc. The difference: a separated and maintained network of cycle paths.

Here's an example of why other factors are so much less important.

Amsterdam had virtually no bicycle infrastructure in the 70s. The modal share was 17% in 1986. The modal share is now close to 50% in Amsterdam with 320 miles of separated bike lanes.

There are certainly a lot of factors that affect how people choose modes, but a separated network is the biggest predictor of modal share.

soren
Guest
soren

“17%”

As far as I can tell, your image shows workday trips into and out of Amsterdam, not total mode share. Moreover, the graph only shows three points (the first one of which is 1986) so claiming this as the nadir is not only incorrect but misleading. I think these discussions would far less contentious if there were an assumption that people who disagree with you are posting in good faith.

FWIW, the most widely used numbers come from Bruheze and Veraart and show the nadir of bike mode share in AMS as ~25% in the mid 70s (see my comment above).
comment image

A later open source publication of Bruheze includes this graph and the original publication can be found online via scihub (possible copyright violation):

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269990790_Oldenziel_Ruth_and_Adri_A_de_la_Bruheze_Contested_Spaces_Bicycle_Lanes_in_Urban_Europe_1900-1995_Transfers_1_no_2_2011_31-49

Brighton West
Guest
Brighton West

Today walking Hawthorne, I noticed many “street seats” in the “parking lane.” Can we rename the parking lane to the “public zone” or something that says it can be so many things other than parking?

And what would happen to street seats in 3B?

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

In 3b, the street seats would remain; they would just become “floating” between the car lane and bike lane. Portland has an example of this on SW 2nd Ave:comment image

Brighton West
Guest
Brighton West

How wide is is area? How wide is the parking lane in 3B?

Zach
Guest
Zach

I’m not sure if PBOT ever released that info, but I also vaguely remember hearing 8 or 9 feet (what it is currently).