Police battle speeding drivers as death toll piles up

PPB Traffic Division social media post. Inset: BikePortland Fatality Tracker yeart-to-date traffic death toll.

New roadside memorial sign program offers hope these deaths won’t go unnoticed.

On Sunday, February 4th at 8:46 pm, the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division posted to X (formerly Twitter): “Extremely excessive speeds in Portland this week. Mustang: 137 in a 45 on Marine drive racing a motorcycle. BMW: 122 in a 60 at I-84/148th Ave.”

Three hours before that post, a pedestrian was killed by a car driver on SE Foster and 97th. And 24 hours after that post, two more people who were walking on Portland streets were hit and killed by car drivers. One of them was killed while walking on SE 82nd near Flavel in the early morning hours of Monday morning. The driver in that collision did not stop and police are still looking for the suspect. The other person was killed while walking at NE Gertz Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd on Monday evening. Police who responded to that scene said they received calls about, “a person struck by multiple vehicles.”

The deaths on 82nd Avenue underscore the urgency for design changes being drawn up by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, and help explain why many local advocates don’t feel the city is going far enough to keep people safe.

These are just three of the five pedestrian fatalities to happen in Portland in the past two weeks, putting us on a pace that’s already ahead of our abysmal, tragic, and unacceptable traffic death toll in 2023. Just 37 days into 2024 we have endured the deaths of seven people using Portland roads — six of whom were what Oregon statute refers to as a, “vulnerable user of a public way.”

Given the current state of our traffic culture, I shudder to think how many people will be killed in traffic this year. Will it be someone I know? A member of family? Me? And what is being done about it? We have city leaders who say they’re aware of this crisis and that they care about it, but I don’t see any major shift in approach to the problem. It’s as if we think mere acknowledgment of the problem is enough to stop it from being a problem.

New sign that will begin appearing where someone is killed in traffic.

Some local road safety activists are trying something new this year they hope will appeal to peoples’ conscience, raise awareness of the responsibility we all have as road users, and reinforce the tragic consequences of shirking it. Volunteers with BikeLoud PDX have partnered with Families for Safe Streets OR/WA, The Street Trust, and Oregon Walks to create high-visibility signs that will be posted at the site of every fatal crash. Based on similar signs used in New York City (where the nonprofit Families for Safe Streets began), they read, “Our Neighbor Was Killed Here: Demand Safe Streets for All.” The signs include links to resources where people get involved in the fight for safe streets or find legal or mental health resources.

Each one of these crashes leaves a trail of trauma and grief among survivors. Families of survivors and the family of a driver that killed someone have reached out to me in recent weeks, wanting to make sure the community understands what they are going through. Next week, the family of Jason Ruhmshottel will accompany local activists to place a ghost bike on North Portland Road where he pedaled his trusty commuter bike for the last time. We can only hope people slow down enough to see it and let its meaning sink in.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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maxD
maxD
17 days ago

PBOT knows. They had a chance to reduce speeding on Greeley but passed on the opportunity in favor of catering to high speeds preferred by freight interests. 2 high school sisters were killed just before construction began, but no changes were made and the driving speeds are routinely over 55 mph. PBOT has an opportunity right now to address high speeds and dangerous driving on 82nd, but they prefer to tinker around the edges, preserving the dangerous high speed 2 lanes/direction and the unfriendly narrow sidewalks.

PBOT: hopes and prayers
Wheeler: hopes and prayers
Mapps: hopes and prayers
PPD: more funding please

Portland should be BLANKETED in traffic cameras by now. Cars without license plates, tinted window, or unsafe modifications should be impounded. WE should reforming our registration rules to require exponentially higher fees for cars that are over size, over weight and over power- including EVs.

jakeco969
jakeco969
17 days ago
Reply to  maxD

Portland should be BLANKETED in traffic cameras by now. Cars without license plates, tinted window, or unsafe modifications should be impounded. WE should reforming our registration rules to require exponentially higher fees for cars that are over size, over weight and over power- including EVs.

Is any of this on PBOT?
It seems like this is all enforcement and the fault of the Mayor and all those who don’t like the idea of enforcing the rules and mores that are already existing.
Once again, people need to be afraid of being punished for dangerous driving since this modern interlude of trying a “Lord Of The Flies” social experiment on our streets isn’t working.

maxD
maxD
17 days ago
Reply to  jakeco969

A lot of this is on PBOT. They have been fighting to ignore adopted plans to keep high speeds, close crosswalks, and not include sidewalks and bike lanes on projects all over the city. They have a mandate to do these things, yet they demonstrate over and over that they are committed to maintaining high speeds and unsafe streets. Transit, bike and pedestrian projects are universally compromised by PBOT decisions to favor car convenience.

Charles
Charles
17 days ago
Reply to  maxD

“Portland should be BLANKETED in traffic cameras by now. Cars without license plates, tinted window, or unsafe modifications should be impounded. WE should reforming our registration rules to require exponentially higher fees for cars that are over size, over weight and over power- including EVs.“

THIS IS IT!!!

We need to start internalizing these externalities! Put the responsibility where the cause lies!

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
17 days ago

“It’s as if we think mere acknowledgment of the problem is enough to stop it from being a problem.”

And

“Some local road safety activists are trying something new this year they hope will appeal to peoples’ conscience, raise awareness of the responsibility we all have as road users, and reinforce the tragic consequences of shirking it.”

Prediction: it will do nothing. 

Watts
Watts
17 days ago

> Prediction: it will do nothing. 

I disagree with you. 

Do you think the signs will change driver behavior? I’d like to think a sign can do that, but I admit that I don’t.

Fred
Fred
17 days ago

I have to agree with M-Guy here: Roadside-memorial signs will check the Performative Portland box of making us *feel* as though we’re doing something, but they will have little impact on the 20-30% of drivers who are going to drive dangerously, no matter what.

My uncle used to lock his door at night and say, “That’s to keep the honest people out.” This epigram nicely sums up our current predicament: the drivers who tend to obey the rules and might be moved by a sign are already obeying the rules.

PBOT and PPB need a targeted program to go after the 20-30% who are breaking the rules (speeding, tailgating, close passing, etc). Get these drivers to follow the law, or get them off the road entirely.

John
John
16 days ago
Reply to  Fred

The problem is, the “honest people” to use the analogy are already speeding. I.e. we’re not locking the door at all, so they’re wandering right in. So “keeping them out” by locking the door (convincing them to slow down) would go a long way. And a road filled with a few slower drivers slows everyone down.

Just to give Jonathan’s view one defense.

I don’t know if it will make a meaningful difference in practice though. Traffic cameras seem like the most obvious, straight forward, and effective solution (along with the much more expensive, but better, improved infrastructure).

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
17 days ago

I remember a story of a church that wanted to engage members better, so they installed a device that blocked wifi and cell phone signals, which I’ve since seen in many public buildings as well.

What the city needs to do is block all such signals in the public right-of-way. It wont stop the worst drivers and those who are too drunk, stoned, and/or medicated, but it would stop those ordinary drivers who get a bit distracted.

Steve C
Steve C
17 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Jamming cell signals is a felony, no?

https://www.fcc.gov/general/jammer-enforcement

You have seen many public buildings do this too? Really?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve C

Yes, I have, usually at city and county government buildings here in NC, sometimes at convention halls, schools, & universities. Thank you for the FCC link, though given how many ADA laws get broken too I doubt our local governments really give a crap about the feds – again a lack of enforcement on their part.

Steve C
Steve C
15 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I’d love to see that procurement process and documentation. “So I want to put this highly illegal product on the government CC”

I’m more inclined to believe they use passive blocking of signals and even locate certain sensitive offices in areas with known bad or no service.

PTB
PTB
16 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

A Faraday cage for the whole city? Let’s do it.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
17 days ago

Billboards are specifically placed, aligned and sized to be read while driving. These are not. To that same end, billboards have just a little text, sized REALLY BIG. These do not.

These signs will function only for neighbors who stroll by and stop to read all that text, maybe while the dog goes wee. Methinks that’s not really the audience that most needs the message — namely, cut-through drivers going “whoosh” past the quaint little sign.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
16 days ago

Because it has worked so well already.

People going 145mph or kill someone and drive away already know it’s illegal. That irresponsible behavior is not going to be swayed by a well-intentioned sign.

PS
PS
17 days ago

You mean to tell me the people who already don’t care about speed limits, stop signs, pedestrian crossings, etc. are going to see this sign and not reevaluate their behavior? I am shocked at your cynicism.

X
X
17 days ago
Reply to  PS

The market for this message is the people who have already decided to care about their neighbors. If those people are a little more scrupulous about speed limits, signal light changes, full stops, and crosswalk safety it will be a lot harder to speed race on surface streets. You can’t gun it through an intersection that is occupied by cars driven by folks who stop for a yellow light.

Brandon
16 days ago
Reply to  X

Agreed, the purpose of these signs is not to prevent the guy doing 120 on Marine drive, it’s to remind the rest of us that distracted driving and speeding kills people. Many of these deaths are not being caused by the outliers and scofflaws, they are being caused by normal everyday people who are distracted or driving to fast. The ghost bikes are great reminders, but most non cyclists have no idea why they are there. I didn’t until I started reading bikeportland. A visual reminder to those of us that care might just be enough to get us to ignore that text message, or slow down when bikes and pedestrians are nearby. If they can save one life that is a win, it will never be a silver bullet, but nothing is. We need many things to solve this problem; better street design, more enforcement, less deadly cars, and less reliance on cars altogether. Tossing out this idea because it won’t “fix the problem” is short-sighted. No single thing will ever be enough to “fix the problem.”

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
16 days ago
Reply to  PS

I’m sorry. I’ll try to wear some rose colored lenses.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
17 days ago

The roadside memorials need to be permanent, standardized, and installed by PBOT, financed by speed camera revenue. The vinyl/cardboard, whatever signs are well-intentioned and a step in the right direction. But a program that places a permanent sign stating the date, the victim’s name, and the driver’s activity that caused the death (speeding, illegal turn, impairment, distracted driving, etc) in a way that allows drivers to read the sign is what’s needed.

John
John
16 days ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

Maybe a permanent memorial, in the form of a Jersey barrier, right at the place of impact.

dw
dw
17 days ago

Sure hope Mr. 137 in a 45 is never allowed to get behind the wheel again.

Fred
Fred
17 days ago
Reply to  dw

Nah. The right to drive a car is enshrined in the Constitution and on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

He will get a slap on the wrist and be back on the roads soon – if he was ever kept off of it at all.

Steve C
Steve C
17 days ago
Reply to  Fred

“Huddled masses yearning to speed free”

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
16 days ago
Reply to  dw

In Oregon once you pass the 100 MPH mark its Straight To Jail, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

In Oregon Driving 100 mph or more over the limit is considered reckless driving and could have a fine of $1,150, plus a mandatory 90-day license suspension.

They could also be charged with street racing. These crimes are punishable with up to 1 year in jail, 5 years of probation and/or a fine up to $6,250.

Steve
Steve
15 days ago
Reply to  Jim Calhoon

“100 mph or more over the limit” in a 45 is 145 mph.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
17 days ago

We need more traffic enforcement. Much more traffic enforcement. Instead of the police internet shaming, they need to be out there busting people. Since more people are being killed by cars than guns in this town, drivers should be the top priority for PPB enforcement.

Chris I
Chris I
15 days ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Vehicle Violence Task Force

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
17 days ago

How big are the signs? Where will they be placed? Can we assume the signs will follow Portland’s pretty strict signage rules?

Maria (Bicycle Kitty)
Maria (Bicycle Kitty)
17 days ago

The design changes on 82nd Avenue won’t be extending south to Woodstock and Flavel. According to the published PBOT plan, those traffic calming changes (trees, crosswalks) are only coming to northeast.

PTB
PTB
16 days ago

Deep/Outer SE get dumped on. I know you know this!

X
X
17 days ago

What actions are Portland police taking to deter speeding? I’d like to hear about 40 tickets for going 7 mph over the limit on Prescott. That’s a violation that makes my life more difficult and dangerous. I already trust that police know what to do when it’s 137 in a 45.

EEE
EEE
16 days ago
Reply to  X

Ticketed for going 32. I’m all for it, but the whining would be endless. It’s also politically inconvenient because of car dependence and related entitlement. Just like the bike lanes at the shiny new pedestrian crossing in front of Las Adelitas at Cully and Killingsworth which are completely blocked every day.

Brandon
16 days ago
Reply to  EEE

If they would ever get those cameras installed they can set the threshold for a ticket to anything they would like. Seven miles per hour in a 25mph zone is 28% over the posted speed limit. The current threshold is generally 11mph, which is 44% over the posted limit in a 25mph zone, that seems excessive to me. Make a point of announcing the policy change to a 7mph threshold, and only give out warnings for the first few months and you can mitigate the whining. The habitual speeders can then decide if they prefer money in their pockets or getting to their destinations one minute earlier.

Brighton West
Brighton West
15 days ago
Reply to  Brandon

I think the 11mph is part of state law for speed cameras. We need to get that changed – especially for 20mph streets like Hawthorne. The cameras can’t issue a ticket to someone going 50% faster than the limit!