Congresswoman struck by a driver while walking in northwest Portland

View looking westbound on NW Everett at 19th.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici

As you’ve probably already heard, last Friday evening U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-1st District) was struck by a car driver as she and her husband walked across a street in northwest Portland. According to a statement from her staff, the couple were walking across NW Everett and 19th in the crosswalk prior to being hit.

A Portland Police spokesperson told The Oregonian that it happened around 8:44 pm “when a woman turned at low speed and knocked them down.” Rep. Bonamici and her husband were leaving an event at Congregation Beth Israel, which is on NW Flanders near 20th. The exact details of what happened prior to the collision haven’t been released yet. Police say the driver was not arrested or cited.

Rep. Bonamici suffered a concussion and lacerations to her head. Her husband had only minor injuries. Both of them are healing up and are expected to make a full recovery.

(Graphic: BikePortland)

NW Everett and 19th is a relatively calm, signal-controlled intersection. The City of Portland’s Vision Zero Crash Map shows two injuries crashes at the intersection — with one victim a pedestrian and the other a cyclist — since 2011. Everett is a one-way eastbound and 19th is a one-way southbound at this location. Everett has one general travel lane, a bike lane, and two parking lanes on that block and 19th has two general travel lanes and two parking lanes. Since reports say they were hit by a turning driver, that means they were likely using the crosswalk on the southern or eastern side of the intersection*. There are no glaring safety issues I can think of at this intersection — other than perhaps general visibility. It could have been dark depending on the street light situation and/or visibility could have been constrained by the presence of parked cars all the way up to the corner.

(*UPDATE, 2:55 pm: We have confirmed with PPB that Rep Bonamici and her husband were walking southbound in the eastern crosswalk of the intersection. The driver was going south on 19th and hit them while turning left to go east on Everett.)

This type of collision is far too common in Portland. And given the extent of the injuries and other factors, this one only made the news because the person who was hit happened to be an important elected official. It also comes as Portland continues to lose its fight with traffic deaths and injuries and headlines of our record-breaking pedestrian death toll in 2022 have barely receded from view.

“We have been sounding the alarm on the epidemic of traffic violence in our community all year,” wrote The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone in a statement released Saturday. “If a congressperson and federal judge aren’t safe in a crosswalk in one of our most affluent, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, what Oregonian can cross the street with confidence?”

I’ve asked PBOT and the PPB for more details about the crash. I’m curious where exactly it happened and it would be nice to have more details on how it happened. There’s also the issue of the driver not being cited. While it’s common for PPB to not cite anyone at the scene of a crash until an investigation has determined fault, if this is as clear-cut as we’ve been led to believe thus far, it’s possible the driver could still be issued a traffic citation. We’ll update this post if we hear any significant updates.

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ED
ED
9 days ago

I would genuinely welcome feedback because I’m not an expert here, but isn’t this Vision Zero working exactly as it is supposed to? There’s infrastructure design and neighborhood context to slow drivers down so that when inevitable human error (seems to be the driver’s here) happens, no one gets killed? I don’t take it lightly that these two people were hit in a crosswalk, but they had relatively minor injuries and LIVED. So, Vision Zero because zero fatalities, right?

It seems a bit sensational to me to equate this collision with the horrifying toll of pedestrian deaths that generally are occurring in very different types of situations (outer Powell, say). All collisions are bad of course, but they are a result of significantly different forces and require very different responses. I can’t blame The Street Trust for using this headline-grabbing opportunity, but really, the goal should be to make all streets as safe as this area, and for this to be the worst possible outcome of a collision rather than death.

Note: All sympathies to the congresswoman and the judge and hopes for a speedy recovery, and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone nor am I trying to excuse the driver. I simply would wish this is the worst that would ever happen to anyone.

Jimbo
Jimbo
8 days ago
Reply to  ED

This is kind of the issue with Vision Zero and how we track transportation safety via fatalities. I don’t want to get hit by a car. Period. I am glad if I don’t die, but I don’t want a concussion either.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
8 days ago
Reply to  ED

If Vision Zero was working I wouldn’t be concerned/paranoid/scared to go out and walk in my neighborhood like I used to.
If it was working drivers would actually stop at stop signs.
If it was working they would actually drive 20 mph, not 40 mph to go pickup/drop off their kids at the neighborhood school.

Am I disgruntled you bet, not at you, just the whole messed up situation. Wish I could turn back the clock 2-3 years when I could walk in my neighborhood.

/Rant over, for now.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
8 days ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

We will always need some level of enforcement and coercion. We all know it’s gotten worse despite there being infrastructure improvements…so what’s missing?

Fred
Fred
8 days ago

This is a great question, MORG (nice to see you back here). What’s missing for me is driver skill, with appropriate reinforcement. When I’m out cycling and walking, I see soooooo many drivers who struggle to drive correctly. Some are older and seem to have trouble with vision and speed and staying in their lane and executing turns correctly. Others (most others) are distracted, on their phones, texting, etc. Many others are speeding and inattentive.

I know this intersection really well (19th and Everett). Since Everett is THE main, multi-lane street running east, many cars and trucks rush to get on it, and they don’t look thru the crosswalk to see if anyone is in it. This type of skill needs to be built in driver ed and DMV testing and then continually reinforced (by police patrols or cameras) so that drivers maintain their skills. For ANYONE to be hit in a crosswalk is simply unacceptable. It’s NOT a win for “Vision Zero” and is certainly nothing we should ever celebrate.

Here in Murca we tolerate WAY too much lack of skill among drivers. We all pay the price.

Watts
Watts
8 days ago
Reply to  Fred

“What’s missing for me is driver skill”

Surely driving skills haven’t degraded so dramatically in just a couple of years. Something else must have changed to account for the dramatic increase in traffic fatalities and injuries.

Nick
Nick
6 days ago
Reply to  Fred

If the system relies on operator skill to not have people getting hurt, then it’s just not a good system.

There should be alternatives to driving for those who can’t/shouldn’t drive, but you also have to design the system so when people who are bad at driving make mistakes/errors people don’t get hurt.

maxD
maxD
8 days ago

The crosswalk across Everett would benefit from curb extensions to tighten the turn from 19th and shorten the crossing distance. Also, Everett goes from 1 motor vehicle lane to 2 just before 19th. When i drive this is, it is a noticeable and predictable location for drivers to start driving faster and more aggressively as they begin jockeying for positions and building up speed ahead of the on-ramp to 405.

PacificSource
PacificSource
8 days ago

Sarah’s comment is spot on

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
8 days ago

Portland should erect a ring of parking garages around the city, say out in a circle beyond I-205 an I-217 from the core. You all want to come, ride a bike or take transit or walk. Seems perfectly reasonable to me in light of the $340 billion per year price tag cost of crashes ($1000/person each year).

soren
soren
8 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Keller

That’s essentially what many cities with very high active transportation mode share have done. Bizzarely, many, if not most, urbanists/YIMBYs loathe the idea of funneling drivers to the periphery and instead want to create a parking “free” market that makes it easy for well-off people to drive to the city center.

Fred
Fred
8 days ago
Reply to  soren

True, but when cities make it hard to drive into the center and create parking lots & garages on the periphery and then make drivers pay not just for parking but also to take a bus, many drivers say screw it and drive into the center anyway. You have to create an incentive NOT to drive along with a disincentive (like congestion tolling) to drive.

Will
Will
8 days ago
Reply to  Fred

You remove central city parking to solve that problem. In poorly transit served areas, there isn’t a problem with peripheral park and rides, per se, but if the only sort of development at those transit stations is a surface-level park and ride, then you’ve lost the thread.

soren
soren
6 days ago
Reply to  Will

but if the only sort of development at those transit stations is a surface-level park and ride, then you’ve lost the thread.

I agree with this but have very deep reservations about concentrating rental housing near freeways/stroads. Ironically, park and rides that are multi-story (and, hence, have a much smaller footprint) get even more hate from urbanists/schoupistas.

robert wallis
robert wallis
8 days ago

We continue to be in downward spiral; walking and biking become less safe, less people walk and bike, walking and biking become less safe. When will the madness end?

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
8 days ago
Reply to  robert wallis

For me it ends when I leave for a country where indifference to human life isn’t celebrated as a god given right.

Gunter Fritz
Gunter Fritz
8 days ago

I hope she recovers quickly.
NO TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT = TRAFFIC VIOLENCE
Hopefully she will be able to turn this negative into a positive and via her position of power work to make our city safer for pedestrians and cyclists. We need pragmatism and common sense actions not traffic barrels and the removal of all traffic police.

X
X
8 days ago

Two more injured people to add to the score of automobility. I wish for them to be well.

The update doesn’t mention the state of the traffic signal when the people walking were struck by the driver’s motor vehicle. I was guessing this was a left-on-red which would have been legal except for presence of two people not inside a metal thing, just walking there. So far there’s nothing to contradict that.

A motor vehicle operator should be legally responsible to protect any pedestrian in adjoinimg crosswalks, at a minimum. If we can’t have that, put in a no-beg button that sends all signals to yellow, then red, on no more than a ten second delay.

MV operators are not getting the job done well. Traffic flow be damned, IMHO. All notions of justice aside, could we just notice that traumatic injuries are really expensive to treat? That’s a cost to society that we all bear.

mark
mark
8 days ago
Reply to  X

I imagine a scenario where the driver had a green light, at the same time that the walk signal was illuminated for the pedestrian crossing.

J_R
J_R
8 days ago
Reply to  mark

This is by far the most logical explanation. For it to have been to have been a turn on red violation by the motorist, it would also have needed the pedestrians to be crossing against the don’t walk indication.

X
X
7 days ago
Reply to  J_R

You’re right, and I’m willing to give the legislator and the judge the benefit of the doubt here for obeying traffic statutes.

It doesn’t change my other sentiments. In my circus the clown car gets launched if they hit another player.

How many of what kind of people need to get run over before we fix this? You’d think one dead kid would be enough to catch some attention but that turns out to be wrong.

Chris I
Chris I
8 days ago

I’ll be surprised if they issue a failure to yield citatation. Oopsies! Nothing to see here! Nothing the driver could have possibly done to prevent this.

Buster
Buster
8 days ago

It sounds to me like it was probably a “turn on red” crash given the description. So a potential safety improvement would be to prohibit turning on red. It could also help to mark high-visibility continental crosswalks, and maybe a leading pedestrian interval. Other than that, not many obvious things to do. I agree with the commenter who pointed out that low-speed, minor-injury crashes are not Vision Zero priorities, so this shouldn’t be treated as a huge priority or anything. Maybe just do some cheap fixes.

maxD
maxD
8 days ago
Reply to  Buster

great point! Hopefully Rep Bonamici will introduce legislation for a state-wide ban of right-on-red!

J_R
J_R
8 days ago
Reply to  maxD

Representative Bonamici serves in the US Congress. Introducing a measure to change state law is not within her purview. Besides that, we have no evidence that turn on red was the problem.

mark
mark
7 days ago
Reply to  Buster

I feel that it was more likely that the driver had a green light while the crosswalk in the same direction showed a walk signal. Failure to yield. Oopsie!

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
8 days ago

Most of Portland is terrible for these sorts of incidents. Parked cars are allowed too close to intersections, street lights are barely adequate in dry conditions and nearly useless during wet weather, plus crosswalk/traffic lights could be programmed much better (for example, light the Walk sign for a full five seconds before the corresponding traffic signal goes green).

This will not be a popular suggestion here, but I would like to see PBOT prioritize lighting and signal improvements plus ban parking within 20 feet of all intersections before spending on another cycle track, bike/ped bridge, or other “sexy” project that gets headlines. In my opinion, creating better sightlines and replacing obsolete lighting technology would have a far greater impact for peds and riders than a few random blocks of car free riding.

mark
mark
7 days ago
Reply to  Lazy Spinner

There’s already an Oregon state law that prohibits parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk (essentially every intersection). Portland chooses not to enforce this law. Cities are allowed a certain amount of discretion to make their own parking laws that don’t necessarily have to match the state law.

If Vision Zero was a sincere effort, the city would match the state law. It’s a clear safety benefit for all road users, but comes at the expense of parking, so a non-starter.

Todd/Boulanger
7 days ago
Reply to  Lazy Spinner

Yes – it would be good to know if parking (illegal or inappropriate: poor traffic engineering) was a contributing factor. CoP has allowed NW Portland car parking / storage to obstruct too many intersections per Vision Zero.

And PPB is less than helpful when it reports “when a woman turned at low speed” (almost a ‘hall pass’*)…if they were going so slow then why could the vehicle operator not see react in time versus impacting the pedestrian to now have a concussion. As we all know from the NFL, concussion injuries have lingering effects that are forever…

*When I was struck by a driver – leaving a bar – in similar scenario in a marked crosswalk…the Vancouver PD officer said to the driver and me (before I was talken to the ER)…good drivers make bad decisions.

John
John
7 days ago

There’s a lot of talk about “enforcement” here, but from everything we can see so far that has absolutely nothing to do with this case. Nobody did anything wrong up to the collision, they only failed to see the pedestrians. It’s possible speed was an issue but that seems unlikely, in terms of speed limits, because this was a turn. No enforcement even theoretically could have changed this. This is straight up inattentive driving.

There’s also some talk about “skills” and “training” for drivers and that to me just feels like a sisyphean and futile task. This isn’t a skills problem, it’s a human problem. Humans can’t be trusted to reliably, all the time, day in and day out, be perfect drivers who never make mistakes. That’s one of the many problems with driving. It’s not possible to make it safe.

There are things that can be done though. People have mentioned sidewalk extensions. Various changes to make the cross easier for the pedestrian and more cumbersome for the driver, requiring slowing down. Big raised crosswalks, at least in one direction. Stuff like that. Maybe a concrete barrier that raises and lowers as pedestrians cross (joking… unless?).

I agree we need more traffic enforcement. I don’t think police should be doing that, it’s just not really necessary for it to be them. Cameras and dedicated – unarmed – traffic enforcement people. In the short term, sure, have police do it because they’re the institution we’re stuck with and traffic enforcement is the closest thing to a public service they do.