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.