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.
“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.”