Dispatch from where a 12-year-old was hit and killed while bicycling in Hillsboro

My husband came home from a shopping trip on Saturday, grim-faced and quiet. “A kid on a bike got hit by a car,” he said. I looked at him for more information. “Is he going to be okay? How do you know it was a kid? Did you see the crash?” “I saw the kid’s bike under the car,” he replied, and shook his head. He didn’t see the collision, or glimpse the victim, but from the position of the bike under the car, and the swarm of cop cars that responded, he suspected the worst.

The worst was confirmed by local news reports: A twelve-year-old boy named Joseph Michael Brausen was killed while riding his bike after a collision with a driver of a car just a few blocks from our home in downtown Hillsboro.

Although police and news reports say the collision occurred at or near the intersection of SE 10th Ave and Baseline St, my husband clarified that the car was facing west on the alley by the Starbucks”— that’s SE Gumleaf Lane at 10th Ave.

I wanted to pay my respects, bear witness, and try to figure out what happened, so I rode to the place my husband described. Sure enough, at the exact spot, the family of 12-year old Michael Brausen was there, tying balloons to a nearby pole and trying to put up signs with phrases like “Slow Down” and “Speeding Killed My Son” — but the wind kept blowing the signs down. I felt stupidly helpless and pathetically useless. What good are my tears or condolences to the family who lost their son forever?

Still, I wanted to try to figure out what happened. I wish I could rely on the official investigation for answers, but frankly, I don’t have a lot of faith in that process right now. So I went out to have a look for myself.

SE 10th Avenue is a very busy five or six lane road (it changes right at this spot). This section is known as “Calle Diez” by many Spanish-speaking locals because of the concentration of Latino-owned businesses. The City of Hillsboro is working on a plan to “enhance the livability” of this section of 10th because so many people feel it’s stressful and dangerous to walk on. At this location there is a concrete center median, so no left turns are possible onto the Gumleaf alley from northbound Baseline. My husband said the car was facing westbound on Gumleaf, which would suggest it was making a right turn from southbound 10th Ave onto Gumleaf (which is more of an alley or parking lot throughway than an actual street).

I wondered, and then timidly asked a relative standing nearby, “Do you think the boy was riding on the sidewalk?” “Oh yes,” he said, “he only rode on the sidewalk.” The family was very strict about that fact. “He always rode on the sidewalk,” he repeated.

And that made sense. 10th Ave is terrifying. There are no bike lanes. It’s very busy. I don’t even like walking on the sidewalk there, which feels narrow and frighteningly close to the passing cars. I have never biked in the road on that section of 10th Ave, and generally avoid it entirely. I don’t think a kid (nor most adults) would ever ride on the road there. The few times I have ridden it, I have used the sidewalk as the only option. 

While it’s possible the boy was riding on Gumleaf, or crossing Gumleaf between the Walgreens and Starbucks parking lots, or even doing some kid bike behavior that an adult may not guess at, I suspect the boy was riding on the sidewalk along 10th Avenue, when the driver hit him as it turned onto the Gumleaf alley. The boy may have been crossing the alley “driveway” on the sidewalk as the car turned right into him. That’s my best guess, based on the few details I could gather. Maybe a surveillance camera from the adjacent Starbucks or Hillsboro PD office or other businesses will have recorded the collision. I hope investigators do a far and thorough investigation.

I have more to say, and much I am thinking about. But nothing I say, or write, or think, will restore the life that has been lost. So for the moment, I just want to offer my condolences. And to say that someone cares. I know there are tons of drivers passing by that very spot every minute, unaware, unknowing, and it may feel like no one cares. But I care, and many other cyclists care, and many other parents care, and many other advocates for safe streets care. And I know I speak for more than myself when I say:  I’m so sorry for this untimely loss.

GoFundMe for Joseph Michael Brausen

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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Noah Langenwalter
Noah Langenwalter
10 days ago

I visited the memorial with my wife and son this morning. It’s at the southwest corner of 10th and Gumleaf. Some really heartwrenching messages from Joseph’s friends and family.

His mother, Sarah, spoke to KGW earlier today: https://www.kgw.com/article/news/local/boy-hit-killed-bike-hillsboro-mother/283-0ebf23bf-5648-4f8b-8a24-df6e55622c9b

This death is so heartbreaking. Kids should be able to go play basketball in the park without risking injuring or death. It’s insane that we think this is normal and allow it to continue.

Joseph should not have died. One mistake by a driver should not have resulted in his death. He should have had a safe way to get to the park.

I’m so angry at the people, whoever they were, that could have provided that for him but failed to. Other children will be hurt and killed if we fail to redesign our public spaces to prioritize people over cars.

Peter
Peter
11 days ago

Ugh this is just the saddest. Thank you for sharing and bearing witness.

 
 
11 days ago

Regardless of what the true cause of the crash was, I hope we can all agree that this is tragic, and that the street design of the area is wholly inadequate. I believe that 10th north of Baseline is owned by Hillsboro, while Baseline, Oak, and 10th south of Baseline are owned by ODOT.

To anyone wanting to suggest that cyclists should take 9th instead of 10th, 9th is not a viable route because of the lack of signals to cross the busy streets of Baseline and Oak. 12th is also not a viable route for most people as it does not continue north of Main, and 8th also has no signal at Oak. This leaves riding the sidewalk on 10th, or detouring all the way to 7th as the only options for north/south travel in the area, neither of which are in any way acceptable. Note that Hillsboro block sizes are much larger than Portland’s, making a three-block detour much larger than it would be in Portland itself.

In my view, ODOT should be immediately adding signals at the 9th/Baseline and 9th/Oak intersections to immediately create at least one safe north/south route in the area without having to go all the way west to 7th, while further planning of how to make 10th safer is also needed.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
11 days ago
Reply to   

Yes, thank you for pointing this out. The lack of signals for North/South travel to cross the very busy Oak & Baseline streets is a real problem. To the West, we are able to use 3rd street southbound, which has signals at every intersection, but it is one-way. For us to travel North, we have to go to 7th, or risk a tricky crossing on 2nd or 4th streets, crossing three lanes of car-traffic.
The lack of signal lights across Oak and Baseline has been a concern. If I remember correctly, there are re-design plans for adding bike lanes (or maybe raised/separated cycle tracks–so much better) to Oak and Baseline, but the original concept designs did not add signals or take into account the need for frequent safe crossings of these roads. (I know this was pointed out in feedback given on the Oak/Baseline re-design concepts, but I don’t know if there have been any plans to add the suggested signals.

MontyP
MontyP
11 days ago

So tragic and sad.

In looking at that diagram of the accident, I can’t help but think of the similarity to the design for the “new” 82nd, and how that road will still be dangerous to people walking and biking on the sidewalk.

It is time for stroads to get designed and engineered away.

Pkjb
Pkjb
11 days ago
Reply to  MontyP

Yes. They’re putting so much money into half measure designs on 82nd that will only provide a marginal safety improvement. We should demand better.

Fred
Fred
10 days ago
Reply to  Pkjb

Yes – the goal of the designs is to make it *LOOK* as though they care about ped and bike safety, when in fact the goal is motor-vehicle throughput.

It’s classic Performative Portland.

Our job as thoughtful people is not to be fooled by these designs and certainly not to accept them without pushback.

Brendan
Brendan
11 days ago

Thank you for this touching article Shannon. RIP little guy.

Pkjb
Pkjb
11 days ago

Poor kid. Poor family. This is so sad and senseless.

HJ
HJ
11 days ago

ODOT shouldn’t have control of any surface streets. They’ve demonstrated a consistent and longstanding pattern of severely neglecting the safety of anyone who isn’t in a car. It’s gotten so bad that I can tell if a road is managed by them just by looking at it, no matter where I am in the metro area, the difference from how everything else is managed is that dramatic.
How many family members lost will it take before our elected officials wake up and do something? They got 82nd, which is great, but hardly sufficient. Beaverton could be truly wonderful for bike commuting to your necessities, except for the big roads that split it down the middle and are so astoundingly hostile to cyclists. Yes, there are alternatives nearby, but you still have to cross them. Which is always a very unpleasant experience.
PBOT and WashCo Roads, even with their flaws, have very clearly demonstrated that there is another far better way.

Lauren C
Lauren C
10 days ago

Thank you for this insightful article. Joseph was my 11 year old sons friend. They enjoyed playing basketball together. I met him twice as well. We are so devastated and can’t say enough prayers for his family!

qqq
qqq
10 days ago

That whole environment for anyone outside a car would be sickening even without this death–which maddeningly, all the people who designed that environment should have known was a likely outcome of their cavalier disregard for people walking or biking.

Look (first photo) how distorted and narrowed the sidewalk is because Starbucks encroaches several feet into where the sidewalk should be. The aerial photo makes it clear that intrusion was done to facilitate laying out Starbucks’ drive-thru.

Look at the fire hydrant in the middle of the sidewalk, and the huge chunk of broken concrete wall next to it.

Look (second photo) at the lane-arrows sign poles in the middle of the sidewalk, and the street lights further down also in the sidewalk. People walking or kids riding bikes get the leftover spaces.

Look how it’s not even possible to walk from the sidewalk to Starbucks’ order window without walking in the driveway right where vehicles are entering and exiting.

Look (third photo) at the utility box that obscures views from cars exiting onto the street of people using the sidewalk.

The pedestrian access to Starbucks is an ADA violation, and the sidewalk with its obstructions is an ADA nightmare. Why did the designers ignore ADA requirements (engineers and architects are required to know them) and why did the jurisdictions’ reviewers and inspectors miss or ignore all the violations?

The most frightening thing to me is that the driveway where the boy was apparently killed is apparently a street, not a driveway, so I won’t be surprised if ODOT/Hillsboro/insurance companies/lawyers claim that the boy wasn’t riding on a sidewalk, he was riding through an intersection, so the vehicle that hit him had the right-of-way. If that sounds bizarre, I remember reading (here?) about a case in California (?) where a man was charged with jaywalking through an intersection when he was walking on a sidewalk that looked just like this.

I’m constantly appalled at the horrible, illegal environments that architects, engineers, companies and jurisdictions create, with nobody showing any leadership or responsibility. The people responsible for that Starbucks drive-thru layout certainly weren’t caring about anyone walking on the sidewalk, or walking to get a coffee, nor were the engineers locating the light poles or signs, etc. They should all be ashamed of themselves. But they never are.

And all of this is focusing only on the sidewalk, not even mentioning the street.

Fred
Fred
10 days ago
Reply to  qqq

All true. In Murca, bidness rules.

mark
mark
10 days ago
Reply to  qqq

Good analysis.

I think the “walk-up” order window was designed for people to drive up, park in the parking lot, then walk to the window. Clearly, they can’t conceive of anyone arriving outside of a motor vehicle. It’s gross.

qqq
qqq
10 days ago
Reply to  mark

Exactly.

I also think that attitude–from businesses build things that don’t even hint at trying to serve anyone not arriving by car, and cities that approve them–in this case to the point of allowing the business to take over half the sidewalk for drive-thru layout–have led to the attitude that’s becoming more common that normal people don’t walk or ride bikes. So when people read that a “pedestrian” or “cyclist” was killed, they’re insulated from feeling bad about that because it must have been some homeless person or loser.

But they can’t really lump children into those groups. So the next step in this will be hearing people saying “kids shouldn’t be riding bikes there”, “this was probably an ebike, but even it it wasn’t it could have been, so we need more ebike regulations”, etc.

SD
SD
10 days ago
Reply to  qqq

Very well-described. Like a pathologist’s detailed report of chronically diseased and barely recognizable tissue.
In this supposedly public space, the general public has been designed out of the landscape. Only consumers that are there to serve private corporations are prioritized. And not just consumers in general, but only consumers who drive cars and trucks. It is nauseating and vastly under-appreciated how hostile this environment is to children.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
10 days ago
Reply to  qqq

Hmmm. You give us a lot to think about. Often I “don’t feel safe” in places, but I don’t always understand the details that lead to my lack of safety.
I have long been disturbed by the Starbucks there…we tried to visit (by bike) and it felt like the Starbucks was an island surrounded by swirling drive-through traffic. It didn’t feel like there was a safe way to walk up to the walk-up window. Also, the drive-through brings a large volume of car traffic across the sidewalk there, and it just feels uncomfortable (outside a car).

I wonder… I’m just brainstorming, trying to look at this from a pedestrian-priority, rather than car-centric, or capitalist/business-centered perspective….

What if Gumleaf did NOT go through to 10th? The sidewalk could have a curb, no car access from 10th. Cars couldn’t use Gumleaf as a cut-through; they would have to use Washington or Baseline, or they could access that section of Gumleaf from the slower/less stressful 9th Street. Right now, it feels like cars are crossing the sidewalk there. In any case, with the Starbucks driveway and Gumleaf lane, there are two spot where cars from 10th are essentially crossing over the sidewalk…I know Starbucks would be furious (and so it wouldn’t happen, right?) but what if the only access to the Starbucks drive thru was from the West on Gumleaf? Then we could get rid of both the Starbucks and Gumleaf driveways that cross pedestrian traffic on 10th–which makes the sidewalk on 10th feel particularly hazardous, with so many cars crossing it in those places.

That would push more cars onto 9th to get to Gumleaf/Starbucks, but I think they would be going slower on their turn at 9th & Gumleaf than the car traffic traveling on 10th….

While I think that closing those two driveways that cross the sidewalk on 10th would significantly improve the situation for pedestrians on 10th (and the cyclists who need to use the sidewalk there), it would only divert car traffic a block… would that improve safety or simply move the problem down to a different street?

I’m just trying to hypothesize … sometimes it’s really difficult to re-imagine a street to be safer, to be radically different than what it is, because we are so accustomed to thinking about cars first, or the status quo first.

But if there was no car access from 10th onto Gumleaf… would this dear boy still be with us today? People could still get to Starbucks or wherever they need on that block of Gumleaf (from 9th) but pedestrian/bike safety on the 10th sidewalk would be prioritized.

Thoughts?

SD
SD
10 days ago

Many cities including Portland have limited or banned development of new drive-thrus. They should be banned.

“Accidents are so common that personal injury lawyers around the country specifically advertise to people injured at drive-thrus.”

https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/24/business/drive-thru-fast-food-chick-fil-a-urban-planning/index.html

qqq
qqq
9 days ago

You’re a lot more familiar with the location than I am, but just from looking at google and the photos, the obvious question to me is why is there any need for cars to EVER enter Gumleaf from 10th?

There are some reasons to keep it as an exit onto 10th (that is, make it one way towards 10th)–Starbucks’ current layout depends on that, Walgreen’s doesn’t really depend on it, but closing it as an exit would be at least inconvenient. But cars coming IN from 10th actually create a conflict at Starbucks if there’s a drive-thru line, because they can’t get in line without cutting in. It’s basically a route for Starbucks customers to cut in line, and Starbucks would work better without it. That wouldn’t eliminate the Gumleaf curb cut on 10th, but at least it would eliminate some traffic, and would have eliminated the maneuver that apparently killed the boy.

Another aspect of this is that ODOT (and PBOT and others) like to minimize curb cuts. With Gumleaf available, Starbucks could/should have been required to use it for both ingress and egress, and a drive-thru could have easily been designed to work with that alone, with no other driveway along 10th. In fact, there are drive-throughs all over the place that manage to do that, because they’re not on corners. Too bad the City didn’t care enough about sidewalk users to require that.

SD has a good point also, that lots of jurisdictions are restricting or banning drive-throughs. They certainly aren’t allowing projects to take over half the sidewalk to fit in a drive-thru!

TakeTheLane
TakeTheLane
9 days ago

Take home lessons: DRIVERS DO NOT SEE CYCLISTS!
Especially when the cyclist is overtaking the vehicle on the vehicle’s right.
SW Broadway is more dangerous now that the cyclists are hidden behind a wall of parked cars, for this reason. It seems to me that almost every bicyclist death I read about has this scenario in common. The only vehicle bicycle collision I’ve witnessed had this scenario.
DO NOT OVERTAKE A VEHICLE ON THEIR RIGHT IF THERE IS ANY POSSIBILITY OF IT TURNING INTO YOU! e.g. intersections, driveways and parking spots. My motto is:
FIRST GET SEEN, THEN, if possible, GET OUT OF THE WAY.