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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 5, 2005 6:59 PM. The previous post in this blog was A million of 'em. The next post in this blog is Progress. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2005

It's on our list

For years, I've said that someone was going to get killed trying to cross Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland between 30th and 39th. The most dangerous spot I know of -- the place I've long predicted tragedy would happen -- is at 35th Place, where the Cat's Meow sits on the south and Noah's Bagels on the north. There's nothing to slow traffic down for several blocks in either direction, and the drivers hustle right through.

It turns out, I was off by several blocks. A pedestrian lost his life today across the street from Taco del Mar, near Artichoke Music, in the 3100 block. Reportedly the man stepped or dashed into the street right into the path of a westbound van. But I've seen many a close call over there where the pedestrian was clearly in the right.

As I understand it, the Hawthorne merchants and the Sunnyside neighbors have been after the city for years to do something to make that stretch of street -- a shopping and dining mecca -- safer. I remember when I talked to city transportation folks about this myself years ago. Could they at least paint a few crosswalks in the mid-30s? No, they told me. If we paint crosswalks, the city might be liable if someone got hurt or killed crossing in them.

Now that someone's died, even though he was apparently in the wrong, this part of Hawthorne will likely start to get some more serious attention. I'm sure there's some improvement plan or other on the shelf; there are a slew of such plans awaiting funding. Right after we build a couple more streetcar extensions, re-do the transit mall, and finish the aerial tram, doggone it, we're going to do something on Hawthorne.

UPDATE, 7/8, 2:50 p.m.: At the time this post was originally written, the identity of the accident victim was not known to me. Today it was confirmed that it was in fact the father of a colleague and friend of mine. I doubt that I would have written a post like this on the day of the accident had I known that. My deeest condolences to the Beloof family.

Comments (29)

Could they at least paint a few crosswalks in the mid-30s? No, they told me. If we paint crosswalks, the city might be liable if someone got hurt or killed crossing in them.

That's a rather idiotic and baseless position for them to take, since under the law, it doesn't matter if there's a PAINTED crosswalk -- it's still a pedestrian crossing. I've had this conversation specifically as applied to Hawthorne before, if I recall correctly.

You're right, Jack, that Hawthorne can get mighty dangerous at times. The 37th-34th stretch is particularly bad; I'm actually surprised it was down by 31st, since it's more wide open down there than up by 35th as you suggest.

Even worse is 37th and Hawthorne--people cross that intersection against the pedestrian light ALL the time (moving east-west along Hawthorne), and I have seen 20 near hits in the four years I've been going through that intersection. There have been several times, in fact, that I know I would have hit somebody were I unaware of the tendency of pedestrians to just jump out into the road before checking.

Under Oregon law, drivers must stop and stay stopped for pedestrians at all intersections, including those that are not marked with crosswalks. Drivers also must yield to pedestrians when turning at signaled intersections.

-- Portland Tribune

Good on you, b!X. Before you were born, much less here, "Pedestrians have the right of way" was a mantra in the state -- not just in code, but lived by.

Them wuz the days.

So was he/she crossing legally at a crosswalk (marked or not) after looking both ways?

Thanks
JK

I don't think he was. But that won't save you on Hawthorne. Try getting the legally required yield from a driver at 35th Place or 38th Avenue sometime. Step on off the curb at the corner, as is your right. I'll come visit you in Emanuel Hospital.

The guy should have troubled himself to look before moving himself into the path of a moving vehicle - regardless of who had the green light (if any).


Sure, it's a problem that some drivers aren't attentive, around Hawthorne and other places. What the real problem is, is the folks stepping in front of 35-mph cars without bothering to look. Darwin's gonna win, everytime.

One reason they don't paint crosswalks on busy streets like Hawthorne is that there's been studies done by the traffic engineering folks that show painted x-walks tend to give pedestrians a false sense of security, leading to them taking more risks when trying to cross.

It sounds stupid, but I think it's generally true. Even though the car drivers are completely in the wrong for not stopping when they should, I've seen people at marked crosswalks step off the curb expecting the 4-lanes of traffic to stop for them... and then are surprised when they almost get hit because they didn't expect the car 5 feet away to slam on the brakes. At the unmarked crosswalks, people usually seem to be a bit more careful about looking before they leap.

The safest option is usually to put in pedestrian lights, like the ones ODOT finally installed on 13th/Powell, that use a traffic signal.

The safest option is usually to put in pedestrian lights, like the ones ODOT finally installed on 13th/Powell, that use a traffic signal.

Yep, right after the aerial tram.

there's been studies done by the traffic engineering folks that show painted x-walks tend to give pedestrians a false sense of security, leading to them taking more risks when trying to cross

"Take more risks," as in, actually trying to cross the street with the right of way?

It's not self-evident that the painted crosswalks would do more harm than good. Having a driver see the paint on the street might clue him or her in that there's a corner on one side of the street, even if there isn't one on the other. Which is true of a lot of that stretch of Hawthorne.

I also wonder how we distinguish between the many Portland corners that have the paint from those that don't.

i've also spent a considerable amount of my mental angst over hawthorne's pedestrian unfriendliness; i've waited in vain with pregnant belly and rambunctious toddler poking out into the unmarked (or even, marked) crosswalk countless times, watching cars pass me by in clear violation of portland's (completely uninforced) pedestrian laws. and my experience runs the gamut from 11th to the 40s. and I'd say that 38th is even more dangerous than 37th; there's a MARKED crosswalk there and, half the time, cars don't stop for the waiting pedestrians.

i don't think that striping is the answer so much as enforcement. if police were actively ticketing drivers for passing by pedestrians - even once a month - there would be a marked reduction in the violation of the "pedestrian always has the right of way" rule.

(and sally - i grew up on 24th and madison and fondly remember my dad teaching me that!)

Yeah, I try to step cautiously into the street to get them to stop, and it usually works, but you have to be ready to jump back... not something a pregnant woman can necessarily do... I only do this at marked crosswalks, though. At unmarked ones, they just won't stop, in my experience.

I believe the dead man was 81 years old.

...there's a corner on one side of the street, even if there isn't one on the other. Which is true of a lot of that stretch of Hawthorne.

That's what causes the problems, as I see it. For long stretches of Hawthorne, there's just no good place to cross. I suppose a suggestion of a few speed bumps would be totally shot down, considering crosswalks are also apparently out of the question.

Time to start a Critical Mass for pedestrians?

I'm sure Metro and TriMet have already concluded this is proof that Hawthorne needs a streetcar or a light rail line.
It wouldn't help crossing the street at all but they have people working full time to come up with ways to explain absurdity as reason.

The city and neighborhood groups have been planning improvements for a year or two. I believe the work on Hawthorne is supposed to start this fall. At the neighborhood association meeting I atttended just over a year ago, I saw some planning documents and heard a presentation from the city engineer who was working on the project.

The improvements looked pretty good. For example, intersection corners will buldge out to give drivers a better view of pedestrians -- and pedestrians a better view of traffic. That's just one improvement that I can remember from the city's presentation.

The Willamette Pedestrian Coalition actually does "critical mass" for pedestrians from time to time.
http://www.americawalks.org/wpc/

And the Oregon Dept of Transportation funds some pedestrian enforcement efforts of local cities. But this is $100,000 a year -- compared with a $23 million highway interchange, it's nothing.

I've been amazed at the speeds some people drive on Hawthorne. Hopefully the curb extensions, etc. will slow people down.

Actually, the city does have a plan:

http://www.trans.ci.portland.or.us/Projects/Hawthorne/default.htm

Including a new light at 35th, curb extensions, pedestrian islands, etc. It's moving painfully slowly, but it is moving.

Living smack in the middle of that strip, I agree whole-heartedly that it is an extremely dangerous area, transportation-wise. Neither the drivers nor the pedestrians nor the cyclists seem to have even the slightest bit of common sense. Pedestrians darting (or worse, blindly wandering) out mid-block from between parked cars, drivers flying through at 40+ mph, cyclists riding against traffic on the left side of the road (at rush hour!) ... everyone is at fault. I'm amazed there have been so few accidents considering the brazen idiocy I see time and time again out there on the Boulevard. Sadly, as a driver, a cyclist, and a pedestrian, I try to avoid the Boulevard as much as possible.

I think a few additional stop lights, a streetcar, and some median islands will make a huge difference. From what I've seen of the plans, the city is on the right track.

Any day now. I'm sure the city will require some more last-minute begging from the neighbors, which is their usual posture toward inner southeast. Whatever; it's too late for Robert Beloof.

Jack Bog at July 6, 2005 01:14 A: "Take more risks," as in, actually trying to cross the street with the right of way?

Jack Bog at July 6, 2005 01:14 A: It's not self-evident that the painted crosswalks would do more harm than good. Having a driver see the paint on the street might clue him or her in that there's a corner on one side of the street, even if there isn't one on the other. Which is true of a lot of that stretch of Hawthorne.

JK: One Federal report shows that a major source of ped accidents is when one car stops for a ped on a 4 lane road and the driver in the adjacent, same direction lane, does not see him AND the ped assumes he will stop. That is one example of a false sense of security due to crosswalks.

JK: In many situations, I prefer to cross mid block (even if it is illegal) because you only have to look in two directions, not four,

Thanks
JK

The bottom line is that we drive to fast with too many distractions. Portland is a small city with tiny streets which are being squeezed into main traffic arteries. slow down, get off the cell phone or ride a bike. I guarentee your last regrert on your death bed won't be "I wish I got to Fred Meyer two minutes quicker".

Chris B. at July 6, 2005 08:57 AM:For example, intersection corners will buldge out to give drivers a better view of pedestrians -- and pedestrians a better view of traffic.

JK: And they encourage pedestrians to stand closer to fast moving traffic. On kid got hit when horsing around and he stepped into the path of a car at Grant park. Had it not been an extended curb (proper name) he would have stepped into a parking lane.

I have repeatedly asked the city for data as to their safety and the city has no data to show that these curbs actually improve safety. For all they know they may be getting people killed.

Be careful what you wish for from a bureaucrat.

Thanks
JK

The problem I have with the redesign is that it is only addressing a symptom of the main problem. The symptom is that drivers are driving too fast in a dense residential area with lots of foot traffic. But the real problem is that Portland has too few adequate thoroughfares to handle large volumes of traffic at peak hours. Try driving from OMSI to Alameda sometime during rush hour to see what I mean (note: not my commute, just an example of a long-in-minutes, short-in-distance commute that really has no freeway options, only tortuous surface street routes).

And doing things like slowing down traffic speeds on Hawthorne will help, as long as your only goal is to slow down traffic. But it won't address the problem: the heavy volume of traffic. The problem is infrastructure, and the proposed cures are cosmetic, and I worry that if they slow down traffic on Hawthorne, it will only drive more cars to Division and Belmont (and, consequently, will funnel them through the neighborhoods that are even less equipped to handle them).

I know it's crazy talk, and set aside the obvious concerns about disrupting traffic flows, but how about this? Reduce Hawthorne to one lane in each direction between, say, 30th and 45th; turn the unused second lane into diagonal parking every other block on the north side, with a curving two-way bike lane between the cars and the expanded sidewalk; and expand the south side with cafe-friendly sidewalks and trees.

Wouldn't that be a much safer and more pleasant place? I never did really understand why the wealthiest country in the world tolerates such craptacularly low expectations for our public spaces. Whoops, again with the crazy talk.

One lane would be HEAVEN. For pedestrians and cyclists. Even for cars, perhaps -- the lanes on Hawthorne feel dangerously narrow for stretches of it.

But the businesses would have a fit.

One lane would be a nightmare, because you'd have increased traffic in that one lane, and the minute someone decided to turn left, boom, 8 block backup.

cry me a river. MOST of SW Portland doesn't even have sidewalks. We share the road with cars for 90% of our walking. How do you expect us to take mass transit? stepping into bushes as cars whip by at 40 mph?

DaveJ said: "But the real problem is that Portland has too few adequate thoroughfares to handle large volumes of traffic at peak hours."

For the last 10+ years the City has also had a policy of making the thoroughfares less thorough (less through?) by removing lanes. My favorite example is the quartet in Northwest Portland of 14th, 16th, 18th, and 19th, where the City reduced these two-lane one-way streets to one lane each and encouraging traffic to move to the already-overburdened 21st and 23rd instead. SE 7th Avenue is another example.

I sometimes think that the City believes that traffic that's prevented from using a particular street disappears, instead of simply moving to another street.

Five years ago I remember having an argument in a bar. This person was annoyed at the obviously poor transportation planning in the metro area. It was obvious to her that the system was inadequate because it took an inordinate amount of time for her daily commute between her home in Oregon City and her job in Hillsboro.

Now one way to look at this is that we do have a problem when there's not a highway running directly between her house and her gig at Intel. But I'm more inclined to think that it's absurd to focus transportation planning on the idea that there's no difference between having people live five miles or fifty miles from their daily work or personal destinations.

So I disagree with the 'squeezing a balloon' theory of traffic over the long term. Build the communities where people don't feel the need to drive hundreds of miles a day and you won't need ten lanes of traffic every five blocks.


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