Last Wednesday (11/9), 33-year-old Bre Fry was walking across Southeast Powell Blvd when she was hit by a driver who fled the scene. Police say it happened just after 10:00 pm at the intersection with SE 64th.
According to a friend that has launched a fundraising effort on her behalf, Fry was walking her dog, “when a vehicle estimated to be traveling more than 70 mph struck her, left the scene and left her for dead. She was thrown several yards into the bushes but initial responders were able to find her due to her dog barking.”
This traumatic collision is just the latest in a long line of deaths and severe injuries that have been caused by drivers using Powell Blvd, a multi-lane arterial owned and managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation as U.S. 26, and it comes as a pressure campaign to redesign the road ramps up.
Thanks to the GoFundMe page set up for Fry, we now know that she was taken off life support just two hours after the collision. Her husband and family thought she was dead. But miraculously, she started breathing again. “She is heavily sedated and ventilated but breathing and responding appropriately to stimuli,” writes Desiree D’Agostino, the person who manages the page which has raised over $19,000 in less than one day.
According to our Fatality Tracker there have been 10 fatal traffic crashes on SE Powell between 24th and 62nd since 2017. We can only hope that Fry will not join that list and that she makes a solid recovery.
This collision should add urgency to local and state efforts to tame traffic on this notorious road. Powell currently holds so many of us hostage due to its inherent dangers. On a Reddit post about this latest tragedy, people flooded the comments with their own experiences.
Powell Is a death trap for pedestrians and cyclists. Terrible road design.
an absolute nightmare and failure in city planning.
This stroad needs to be significantly redesigned.
The more we prioritize cars over people the more of these we will see. Shame on ODOT.
Coincidentally, the morning after this collision, ODOT issued a press release to update what they’ve done to meet their promises following the death of Sarah Pliner last month. So far ODOT has installed new school zone and 20 mph speed limit signs near Cleveland High School (at SE 26th), and have completed “crosswalk improvements” at 24th, 26th, 28th, 31st, 34th, 42nd, and 69th avenues. Still to come are speed reader signs that will tell drivers how fast they’re going and leading pedestrian intervals at signalized crossings to give walkers a head start through intersections. ODOT has also promised to install photo radar enforcement cameras and do a study to analyze a road diet.
Those measures are not nearly enough says the Portland Bureau of Transportation Bicycle Advisory Committee. The day before Fry was hit they sent a letter (PDF) to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the four other commissioners, as well as top ODOT leadership. It was a scathing indictment of ODOT’s negligence and complicity in how they manage Powell and other urban highways.
“ODOT lacks sufficient oversight, safety goals, and direction to responsibly manage urban roadways,” reads the letter, co-signed by BAC Chair Ally Holmqvist and Vice Chair Joseph Perez. “While we are encouraged by ODOT Director Kris Strickler’s statement that ‘ODOT will be prepared to discuss ways we can make swift and meaningful changes to Powell Boulevard,’ this is too little, too late; it is feckless, banal and patronizing… We are tired of these avoidable traffic deaths and ODOT’s indifference to them.”
When the Oregon Transportation Commission meets this Thursday, Powell Blvd will be on the agenda. Looking through the meeting materials, one item about Powell in particular caught my eye. It relates directly to ODOT’s ability to quickly fund and build cycling and walking-related safety upgrades. “Over the past year,” reads the agenda item (PDF), “ODOT has been developing a program and with dedicated funding in order to be able to more quickly implement immediate pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements on state facilities with emerging active transportation safety needs.”
I followed up with ODOT to learn more and heard back from Communications Director Kevin Glenn. “Our current process for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements is too slow,” he said. Glenn added that ODOT plans to bring outlines of a new funding program to the OTC “early next year.” “This effort will include development of a new rapid response bicycle and pedestrian safety program, modifications and revisions to existing programs to better incorporate social equity, and adoption of improved data practices from other state DOT’s and FHWA,” he added. “Our intention is that by reforming our methods, we can more rapidly and equitably increase safety for people biking and walking on the state highway system.”
That’s hopeful. But ODOT has made and broken many past promises, so we’ll have to wait and see. And given the way people are driving on these deadly highways, let’s hope we don’t have to wait much longer.
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ODOT is simply in damage control mode right now; expect a lot of promises but not a lot of actual meaningful action or results.
I don’t have much faith in ODOT doing much to improve conditions on Powell personally. Even identifying Powell as a “state facility with emerging active transportation safety needs” is flat out wrong – I mean the safety need is certainly not emerging.
It’s been there since at least 1928 when ODOT built the Ross Island Bridge and expanded Powell through Brooklyn’s main business district
It was there when ODOT built the pedestrian bridge at 9th and Powell in conjunction with a roadway expansion in the mid 70s.
It was there a few years ago when ODOT removed a crosswalk at 21st and Powell to aid automobile signal stuff.
From a safety standpoint, Powell obviously needs a road diet but ODOT is afraid of pissing off the 40,000+ drivers per day that currently use it to cross the Ross Island Bridge and get to Gresham.
I mean when was Powell first identified as a road dangerous for pedestrians? I’d hazard to guess that ODOT has known this for going on 80 years now, and they haven’t done anything – it’s ludicrous to call the need for safety on a notoriously dangerous road “emerging” and it’s embarrassing (and ahistorical) for the director of ODOT to suggest that.
Comment of the week! Thanks.
Can ODOT please add a hawk signal to the crosswalk at 77th and Powell before someone get’s killed here. I regularly cross here with a cargo bike loaded with kids and probably 1 out of 4 crossings here I have a stressful near miss, while i’m in the damn crosswalk. it’s truly infuriating.
Would it be interesting to get an update on how PBOT is responding to the recent pedestrian deaths on outer Stark, in comparison to ODOT on inner Powell, and maybe compare both to the joint project on 82nd? Both agencies have big plans, but how good are they in carrying them out in a timely manner?
Everyone who drives in Portland has seen these people going 2x+ the speed limit, usually on our wider arterials in east Portland. How do we stop these drivers?
E N F O R C E M E N T and C O N S E Q U E N C E S.
We’re not doing either. We could try it and see what happens.
Yes! We need policing of drivers t the degree that the overwhelming emotion that most Americans will feel behind the wheel is aninhibiting fear of cops. Time to use opression for a oos causefor a change!
Exactly. Up on Mt Hood Highway near Welches there was a history of serious crashes and that US 26 corridor was made into a “Safety Corridor” with expensive tickets and extra enforcement. It worked. Crashes plummeted and the Safety Corridor designation was lifted. While the police presence has been reduced over the years, people still slow through that area. Of course they speed before and after the corridor.
97% of pedestrian deaths happen on multilane roads, the answer to what needs to happen to Powell is clear.
Calling in from the real world: It’s only clear if you focus on one aspect of a very complex problem and ignore the consequences of implementing your one simple solution.
Oh no those big awful consequences. What will we ever do if we make driving harder in Portland? What will happen if we don’t continue to have pedestrian deaths?
Voters (the car driving ones) will rise up and vote in politicians with even more extreme views than yours, and not in a good way. Then what do you think you’ll have with a right leaning mayor and city council calling the shots?
“Let’s accept this horrible situation, otherwise they might make it even worse.”
That’s what “Vision Zero” means, doesn’t it? Focus on not letting people get killed.
A witness reported that the offending driver was driving at a very high rate of speed. It should be simply impossible to reach speeds like those on any city street – we can design streets that don’t allow them to happen.
Why has ODOT allowed them to happen??
No, we can’t. Any modern car (and most old ones) can accelerate to 60 mph in the distance of one short city block. You can hit 60 mph in a parking lot, if you are fool enough. And anywhere a car can move at 20 mph, it can move at 60 mph, assuming a sufficiently reckless driver. Just like anywhere a bike can move at 5 mph, it can move at 20 mph. You can’t road design away extreme recklessness and disregard for others.
You sure can. How many times have you seen this happen though? Compare that to how many times you see people exceeding that speed on roads like Powell? If you make Powell a space most drivers would fear for their safety to reach that speed, then most drivers won’t do it.
It’s the same reason drivers typically stop for stop lights but not stop signs. Make their dangerous driving more dangerous to them and they’re much less likely to drive dangerously.
You nailed it, idlebytes! When you design a road in a way that causes drivers to fear for their OWN safety, then they will drive in a way that enhances not just their own but EVERYBODY’s safety.
And I forgot to mention: Why is it even possible to accelerate a car to 60 mph in one city block? (looking at you, Elon Musk). This is another conscious design decision that we all take as inevitable, but it isn’t.
The whole system needs to be redesigned from the ground up.
“Why is it even possible to accelerate a car to 60 mph in one city block?” Merging onto freeways, etc.
Of course you can. Compare what happens on Powell to what happens on streets in other countries or even other streets in Portland. Recklessness and selfishness is everywhere. Street design makes all the difference.
Based on what I’ve seen recently on SW Barbur and SW Macadam, ODOT’s new pedestrian safety strategy is to put new “no crossing” signs at every corner it can get away with. There are about a dozen new ones, all in locations I’ve never seen anyone EVER cross in years because there’s nothing to cross to or from, unless you want to go look at, say, a retaining wall.
Since they’re not accompanied by anything aimed at drivers, the message it sends to everyone who sees them is that pedestrian safety problems are caused by pedestrians.
It’s also ironic that several are in the way of pedestrians using the sidewalks they obstruct.
The juxtaposition of seeing the effort being put into erecting those while reading all of ODOT’s promises to act on Powell is jarring.
Tonight I noticed several new “crosswalk closed” signs at SW 64th and Barbur at a location that has not had crosswalk issues in recent years. It made me pause about why this is suddenly a spending priority when there are so many other safety issues that ODOT needs to deal with. This intersection has houseless issues, and panhandling issues, and motor vehicle crash issues, but as far as I know it has not had crosswalk issues where the new signs were installed. I just read this article and it explains a possible ODOT rationale for the appearance of spending to improve safety in a location where the new signs may not make any difference at all.
There’s a crosswalk closed sign right by the hall/nimbus WES (and the 76 bus) stop in Beaverton, where I get off when I’m on my way to work. It’s pretty clearly because the sidewalk at the intersection is in disrepair, but it still feels like BS. I always cross at it anyway, if I have to
Is it closed because of the 217 freeway industrial complex project?
PBOT is closing crosswalks faster than ODOT, BTW.
What infrastructure is going to stop someone going over 70mph on city streets? I hate cops as much as the next guy, but living in complete anarchy is unacceptable.
Sorry, but I’m “the next guy” and I don’t “hate cops.” They perform an important public service, and while policing does need to be reformed, police deserve our support and respect.
There actually is NO evidence that police reform works, or that supporting or respecting cops does any good.
Respect is earned, not given. Police have done little to earn my respect and plenty to lose it.
Traffic circles every 100ft.
Wow. So you’re saying that having a racetrack, or living in total anarchy are our only choices? You sound like you work for ODOT. Do you word for ODOT?
How about adding a few roundabouts… maybe some diverters. How about the same obstacle courses they put up for bikes? I’m sure some eager engineer could figure it out.
We can actually ban cars from large segments of the city.
“speed reader signs that will tell drivers how fast they’re going.” Wow. What an interesting concept.
What if there were some other way to inform the driver of the vehicle’s speed. Maybe something inside the car. Let’s call it a “speedometer.” What if we were to require that every car had one?
The only thing that will cause drivers to slow down are flashing red and blue lights. Well, maybe there are other alternatives like an RPG connected to a speed camera.
I came in to say something similar. A flashing sign telling someone they’re speeding isn’t gonna do shit. A severe financial disincentive to speed would work however. Painful tickets from automated cameras would be amazing (for speeding and red light running). That isn’t cutting it for some? Impound their vehicle. Make the fee to get your vehicle out punishing, too. I increasingly don’t want to bike anywhere in town. It sucks. I used to love biking everywhere, and I used to love Portland, and I enjoy both less and less as time goes by.
Between 52nd and 80th on the south side of Powell, there are these little frontage roads with parking on them. Functionally, these remove a cross street from Powell and enable faster driving speeds. Removing these and creating develop-able parcels could help make Powell more of a human-scaled street. Think of how the Division Main Street/Green street sparked a transformative wave of redevelopment. The new architecture has its detractors, but SE Division was transformed from a fast stroad into a pretty comfortable, pedestrian-centered street. Another recent example was the East Burnside/Couch couplet. Signalizing every intersection plus adding storm water planters and trees transformed Burnside for pedestrians. My recommendation would be:
The frontage streets are used for parking and, increasingly, camping. They aren’t used as cross-streets to Powell – since they parallel Powell rather than intersect it. I don’t think they have much to do with this.
I think the infrastructure needed on Powell is raised pedestrian refuges, corner bumpouts, much better lighting, and more signals.
BUT there is only so much that can be done with infrastructure. When a city’s willingness to aggressively enforce traffic laws is gone – and EVERYONE KNOWS IT – infrastructure can do rather little.
Which may have something to do with why PBOT is spending more and more on road reconfiguring, road diets, and “yellow plastic barrels”, while Portland’s roads are getting more and more dangerous. “Mad Max” wouldn’t have cared about speed bumps and plastic barrels, and the people speeding around the city, sometimes with no plates, don’t either.
Portland needs greatly increased traffic enforcement. Automated speed cameras (densely located), enforcement of license plate requirements (cameras need something to read), and, yes, cops pulling drivers over.
The soon-to-depart PBOT commissioner got acres of plaudits here for infrastructure but no scrutiny for her influence on enforcement. Has the one saved more lives than the other cost?
Hardesty is the commissioner of PBOT, perhaps you want to forward that scrunity to the person inchargr of PPB.
Who will be our new scapegoat for all city problems once Hardesty is gone?
Hardesty was very outspoken and influential on PPB traffic enforcement policy. She made a point of getting involved in any bureau, and especially PPB. In fact, for much of her tenure, she was more vocal about PPB than any other bureau. It wasn’t until the last year, when re-election loomed, that she started building her media identity as PBOT commissioner. Remember in mid 2021 when she had never even heard of Portland’s Bicycle Plan? https://bikeportland.org/2021/05/12/pbot-commissioner-has-revealing-heated-exchanges-with-bicycle-advisory-committee-members-331135
Pepperidge Farm remembers.
I think I was not clear- the frontage roads INTERUPT the cross-streets. Re-establishing the grid, getting rid of public parking lots and replacing them with new mixed-use buildings would activate the street, make it more narrow and less suitable for speeding down.
Oh oh, how about we transform the frontage rights-of-way into housing, subsidized or mixed income? Then we can activate the road, address a root cause of homelessness, and potentially reduce the need for folks to drive all the way to Gresham and beyond. It kills me to see the several new mini-storage warehouses that have gone up on Powell west of 82nd when the land could be so much more effectively used for housing.
mixed use of apartments and retail/restaurants/employment on the ground floor!
something like the mixed use buildings at Greeley/Killingsworth could replace those frontage roads to add a lot of house and some retail sapce
On the news last night, PPB said that at this point they have no traffic division (yah I know any cop can ticket, but are they?) and are basically just responding from one fatality to the next and didn’t “have time to investigate hit and runs”. So basically PPB has given the green light to drivers to just take off, and have announced in so many words that they won’t even look into it
There’s on average three shootings a night in Portland. A killing a week. Cops are overwhelmed.
This evening I got a mass email from PBOT on the implementation of the Pedestrian Design Guide, including planting trees in the parking lane, an incredible new innovation which many cities have been doing for over 100 years.
Now imagine adding this to every multi-lane stroad in the city, plus Jersey-barrier protected bike lanes like they have on Aurora in Seattle, and block fast traffic by having city and TriMet vehicles drive the posted speed limit on road-dieted stroads.
Yeah – they skipped over our school crosswalk at 47th for these “light” crosswalk improvements. We are getting vocal here at Creston – https://crestonschoolpta.org/advocacy/se-powell-blvd-saftey/
That is some great info, project ideas and urge to action at the link, Laura. One edit: PBOT’s director is Chris Warner, not Chris Warren.
As a big city without traffic enforcement, there is no reason for many of these drivers to not speed along Powell Blvd. Thursday nights are the nights that unmuffled vehicles race up and down Powell Blvd without anyone stopping them. This is a state Highway, even State Police could patrol this too fast moving highway. Dollars need to flow into funding officers to get this behavior to stop. Right now, I’ve heard about ‘engineering” and “education” to improve the problem but not enforcement.
“Still to come are speed reader signs that will tell drivers how fast they’re going” if only the car you’re driving could tell you that!! smh
I want to weigh in with what I think ODOT should do with Powell. Dedicate the right lane from the Ross Island Bridge to I-205 for freight and transit only. This has a dual benefit for freight mobility (which ODOT purports to be very important to them) and transit ridership, and would allow TriMet to move the FX service to Powell (where it belongs) up to 205 (where it would cut back to Division, where the ROW is wider after 205). Of course pedestrian accommodations, safer crossings, etc. are also important, but reducing the space dedicated for automobiles would also go a long way for safety on the corridor.
Now, would ODOT actually do something that takes away space from private automobiles? I doubt it. But if we could get that idea in the freight committees head, there is opportunity for another avenue of political pressure – which ODOT is historically more apt to listen to.
Trimet actively chose not to send FX down powell west of 82nd because they were very focused on minimizing travel time between gresham and downtown portland. There studies showed that diverting from divison to powell added more time than the higher speeds saved.
Interesting idea about freight though. I’ve never considered that. i’ll have to think on it!
Please, all of you who are reading these comments. Please be diligent in looking for a car with front end damage. If you see anything please get a license plate number and a description of the car. Report to firstname.lastname@example.org. The case # in Bre’s case is 22-300478. This person needs to be help responsible for the destruction of lives they have caused. We as a community can make a difference. Thank you.