Woman hit by a driver on SE Hawthorne reflects on infrastructure changes

SE Hawthorne at 38th. The driver in the black minivan on the right is in the same position as the person who hit Funke.
Nicole Funke (Photo: Nicole Funke)

Southeast Portlander Nicole Funke has walked across SE Hawthorne Blvd countless times. As a pedestrian and transit advocate who travels around Portland without a car, Funke knows about the dangers cars and their drivers pose, and she does everything she can to keep herself safe while getting around.

But after a recent run-of-the-mill grocery trip to Fred Meyer last month, Funke was struck by a car driver while crossing Hawthorne at 38th Ave. The collision illustrates how even people with her level of neighborhood familiarity and awareness of traffic risks are vulnerable when put up against car-centric street design and careless drivers.

The incident happened on August 15th around 7:30 pm. Funke recounted to BikePortland that as she waited to cross Hawthorne at 38th to head south, she looked around to make sure the coast was clear before continuing. Someone was driving slowly up to the crosswalk in the westbound lane (where the black minivan is above), giving her the impression they were going to stop. But the driver continued through the crosswalk, and right as Funke had almost crossed the westbound car lane, he hit her while going about 15 mph.

Injuries from collision.
(Photos: Nicole Funke)

“I think a lot of drivers just take those crossings as a suggestion.”

-Nicole Funke

“I ended up folding around the front of his car, and when he stopped it threw me back a few feet,” Funke told me on a Zoom call earlier today.

She landed a few feet outside the crosswalk on her right hip, sustaining injuries on her elbow and face along the way. She said the driver got out of the car – he claimed he didn’t see her because the sun was in his eyes – and multiple passersby stopped to help her.

Funke thankfully left the scene of the crash alive that night. But that doesn’t minimize her experience: she sustained painful injuries from the incident that she’s still recovering from, and has had to spend the past few weeks dealing with the logistics of medical bills and insurance claims, which is not the ideal way to spend late summer days. And Funke is understandably shaken up from what she went through.

“I’ve always been a cautious, defensive walker, and this has made me even more so,” Funke told me. “It’s tough because I’m someone who really relies on myself to get around.”

The crosswalk Funke used that evening was installed last year by the Portland Bureau of Transportation as part of their Hawthorne ‘Pave and Paint’ project. The crosswalks installed as part of the project included median islands to reduce the exposure to Hawthorne traffic and included enhanced signage to increase visibility of the crossings. That wasn’t enough to prevent Funke from getting hit.

As we recently learned, many people who frequent Hawthorne on foot notice car drivers won’t always stop for people waiting to cross the street. Funke thinks more serious infrastructure measures need to be taken so people driving will actually stop at crosswalks.

“My big takeaway from this is that I believe if there was a pedestrian crossing light there, he would have stopped, he would have seen the light and he wouldn’t have continued through,” Funke told me. “I think a lot of drivers just take those crossings as a suggestion.”

Something else Funke gleaned from the incident is how important it is for victims to know how to advocate for themselves in situations like this. She said she was grateful for all the help she received from people passing, including someone who was a former trauma nurse and made sure Funke got the medical attention she needed and had all the relevant information from the person driving.

“I was so shaken that I couldn’t really advocate for myself. If there was nobody around, I probably just would have walked home in a daze,” Funke said. “I feel that I better understand how I could be helpful if I witnessed a crash.”

Ultimately, Funke decided not to press charges against the driver who hit her.

“I think that he made a really poor decision, but I don’t think it was malicious,” she said.

Instead, she said she will continue to champion safer street design on Hawthorne and around the city.

“Any time I have the ability, I will advocate for safer streets, especially further out east where the infrastructure is so terrible and people are incredibly unsafe walking around.” Funke said. “I think we just need to keep being voices in the community for that.”

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Ron
Ron
26 days ago

Recently the sun was in my eyes while I was driving, so I pulled over and waited for conditions to change – because it was not safe to do otherwise.

Nick
Nick
26 days ago
Reply to  Ron

Or potentially “The sun was in my eyes” -> the driver was texting

Nick
Nick
26 days ago

decided not to press charges against the driver who hit her

I think about this frequently while walking and biking, and I’m not sure what I’d do in this situation.

One line of my thingking about it is that I would press charges to help bring awareness to the need for drivers to be responsible, and because I know it would be tramautic to have to think about getting hit every time I crossed the road or whatever. I imagine the positive impact overall of someone knowing someone who was suied for driving irresponsibly would be a net gain for socitey.

(not a critique on her choice, I belive she did what’s right for her at the time)

Watts
Watts
26 days ago

I used to be very assertive in crosswalks, but incidents like this have caused me, when walking, to remain my “place of protection” until I am sure drivers have seen me and are going to stop. This slows everyone down, but I’m not confident I’d be a “lucky” as Funke was.

steve scarich
steve scarich
25 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Yes….part of my assertive walking is always being in a position where I can jump out of the way if a driver just does not see me. I never assume they are going to stop, until they actually start to put on the brakes. One thing that has become a bigger problem lately is dark window tints. There are many more cars now with illegal tints on the driver and passenger doors that make it impossible to know what they are thinking. I sometimes annoy drivers because, even though it appears that they are stopping for me, I wait a long time to make sure, because I cannot see their faces. Enforcing the illegal tint law is very simple for a cop, pull out a template that shows illegal tint level, write the ticket. But, I would be willing to bet that illegal tint citations occur like, never in the this state.

PTB
PTB
24 days ago
Reply to  steve scarich

Dark windows is a massive pet peeve of mine. You’re not in SoCal anymore, bro. Soon it’s gonna be dark at 5 and endlessly grey (CAN NOT WAIT) and you do not at all need blacked out windows. For real though, it’s impossible to know if I’m seen while walking or biking. I’ll be a petty asshole and have stand offs at 4-ways with people with super dark windows, even when it does seem very obvious they’re letting me go. I’ll make a whole dumb show of loudly shouting, “I CANT SEE YOUR FACE SO I CANT GO, NOT SAFE YA KNOW? ARE YOU IN THERE?”

Matt
Matt
26 days ago

Any driver who chooses to drive while they can’t see where they’re going (whether due to sun glare, inclement weather, impaired vision, or any other reason) needs to have their license permanently revoked. That displays a profound lack of understanding of how to drive safely.

Watts
Watts
25 days ago
Reply to  Matt

I just took a quick look at the Oregon Driver’s manual, and the word “sun” only appears twice, as parts of “sunrise” and “sunset” in a context utterly unrelated to sun glare or blindness.

So maybe before advocating for permanent license revocation, you should advocate for the DMV educating folks about what to do when the sun hits you, because just slamming on your brakes when you momentarily lose the ability to see is itself problematic.

Matt
Matt
25 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Who said to slam on the brakes?

If you don’t understand that driving while you can’t see where you’re going is dangerous–without having the government or anybody else have to spell that out for you–you’re too stupid to be trusted behind the wheel. It’s just common sense. Should the driver’s manual tell you not to drive into brick walls too?

Watts
Watts
25 days ago
Reply to  Matt

Since sun in the eyes is such a common occurrence, and since you don’t want people to hit the brakes, nor keep going, don’t you think the driver’s manual should offer people who are just learning how to drive some advice on what to do in this situation?

I know it’s satisfying to call people stupid and grandly proclaim their license should be revoked for the rest of their life if they react the wrong way when the sun hits their eyes, but I think education and helping people make good decisions would be a more effective solution.

Matt
Matt
24 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Okay, then educate me. What should people do in this situation?

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
25 days ago
Reply to  Matt

Sometimes you can’t predict when a sunbeam shines in your eyes.

This has never happened to you? You’ve always had sunglasses on and never got caught with blinding sun?

squareman
squareman
25 days ago

I drive (and ride) with polarized lenses in bright situations. Again, when you earn your driver’s license, you have agreed to the responsibilities that come with the privilege. If you can’t see reliably, you should not drive. Full stop.

Matt
Matt
25 days ago

I find that the sun moves slowly enough that I can predict where it will be before it blinds me.

Chris I
Chris I
25 days ago
Reply to  Matt

“It came out of nowhere!” – Person talking about the sun.

Luke
Luke
25 days ago
Reply to  Matt

This is a stupid, band-aid solution, but does PBOT, ODOT, or any other organization advocate for not building roads on an east/west parallel? Coming from the relentlessly-hilly New England, there are very few roads that sit straight and perpendicular to the horizon (i.e., will force a driver to drive directly in the direction of sunlight), and I never remember having quite so many blinded-driving scares when I lived in New Hampshire as I have in my time here in Oregon. Besides historical accident, why do we still build roads that will blind drivers on sunny days for multiple hours every day?

steve scarich
steve scarich
25 days ago
Reply to  Matt

I ride my bike at dawn frequently. I am very aware of how I become ‘invisible’ to a driver coming up behind me when I am heading directly into the rising sun. I have a blinky light and hug the side of the road to minimize my risk. I occasionally approach joggers who I absolutely cannot see until the last second, due to the glare. I am not victim blaming, but it is almost impossible to see sometimes. Drivers need to slow way down in those conditions.

Pauline
25 days ago

When will there be a fair road transport between car and bike?

Bob Murphy
Bob Murphy
25 days ago

So many drivers get pissy and give me the stink eye but I refuse to step in front of their moving vehicles if there’s any chance they and I might intersect for this very reason.

Fred
Fred
25 days ago
Reply to  Bob Murphy

Same here, Bob. It’s crazy but Funke’s story reaffirms the need to make sure the motor vehicle is fully stopped before you step all the way into the crosswalk.

Andrew Kreps
Andrew Kreps
25 days ago

many people who frequent Hawthorne on foot notice car drivers won’t always stop for people waiting to cross the street. “

This is citywide. On powell, you’re lucky to get 1 in 20 to stop for you in a marked crosswalk. Forget about unmarked- those may as well not exist legally. Last time I had someone stop for me at a corner, a driver zoomed their machine around the stopped car in the bike lane coming closer to me and my dog than I’d prefer.