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.
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.