Updated: Pedestrian Safety Hits Close to Home

Updated 1:20PM February 1st: KATU is reporting that Sara Cogan, 66, died from her injuries.

Walking the dog last night, my partner and I came across the intersection of NW 23rd and Quimby (one block from our home) taped off with crime scene tape and a number of police vehicles in the area.

Watching the 11 o’clock news, we learned that two women were struck by a car, one had a broken leg, and the other, 60, is in critical condition. The driver of the car – who police said was not speeding – said she never saw them.

I was out earlier in the evening with my 16-year-old-with-a-learners-permit behind the wheel and there is no question visibility was poor in the rain, and I was scanning somewhat nervously for pedestrians as we drove through the neighborhood.

Two immediate thoughts as I absorb this in a rather personal way:

1) This is exactly why speed limits on neighborhood streets should be more like 18mph than 25mph (although 23rd is technically a collector, not a local service street) – the survivability of the pedestrians hit by a car would go up dramatically at the lower speed.

2) As transportation chair of the neighborhood for about a decade, getting something to break up the traffic flow on 23rd between Northrup and Thurman (we argued whether a stop sign or traffic light was more appropriate) was a frequent discussion. I can’t help wondering if we (I) should have pushed harder…

My thoughts and prayers go out to the two women who were hit.


11 responses to “Updated: Pedestrian Safety Hits Close to Home”

  1. Makes me really wonder about the idea of a Woonerf… although it has already been retired in Denmark in favor of even more integrated streets…

    Well, you guys have seen the pics on this site of Amsterdam. Methinks 23rd ave would be THE BEST place in the metro area to try this idea out on!

    Let’s lower the speed limits down to like 15 mph, and actually enforce it. I can’t believe it when I see people speeding down the street at 45 mph at nighttime… those people should be drug out of their cars and thrown in jail for a year. And it happens pretty often late at night (2 am) on the weekdays, even though there are still a bunch of residents out & about.

  2. NW 23rd is slated to be reconstructed from Burnside to either Glisan or Lovejoy (depending on how much money they find). The neighborhood has been pushing for this work to include the pedestrian environment, not just the roadway, but this is unfunded. I have suggested to Sam’s office that this would be a great demonstration area for an Amsterdam-style street.

    The speed limit issue has a couple of hurdles:

    1) You have to get ODOT to remove its control of speed limits, even on local streets (they set the minimum speed limit you can post – 25pm for a neighborhood street unless special conditions).

    2) Even the Dutch would say it’s insufficient to just post a speed and try to enforce it. You have to engineer the street so that it only feels safe when you go that slow.

  3. One technical point here:

    State Statute establishes Business Districts as having a 20 MPH designation. That’s why downtown (except for Broadway and a couple of segments on a few other streets) is 20 MPH. If 23rd were a designated Business District it’s possible that it would become a 20 MPH zone under law.

  4. Thanks, Greg, that’s good to know. I’ll pass it on to my neighborhood transportation committee colleagues. Any preliminary conclusions from the investigation of this accident?

  5. That’s not something I’d know. I’d suggest checking in with the Police Traffic Division to see if there’s been any progress.

  6. Last week Sara called me to network with her daughter-in-law, Danielle, freshly arrived from the Bay Area. Danielle had worked for Nancy Peolosi and a councilman in Oakland. Delightful young woman, 32, husband soon to follow from the Oakland school district. What a loss, Sara gone and Danielle injured, and in her heart, forever. Everyone please be careful, peds, bikes, drivers. I recently bought an orange jacket for these dark, wet days.

  7. That’s interesting; I remember learning that from when I was 16! And… 23rd IS a business district! Why isn’t it already 20?!

  8. Interesting that “State Statute establishes Business Districts as having a 20 MPH designation. That’s why downtown (except for Broadway and a couple of segments on a few other streets) is 20 MPH. If 23rd were a designated Business District it’s possible that it would become a 20 MPH zone under law. ”

    Presumably that’s because people are assumed to be walking there… (and because dead pedestrians don’t spend money? if you’ll excuse the graveyard humor)… but if 20 mph is the limit for places where people are valuable because they might SPEND MONEY… why isn’t 20 mph the rule for places where people are valuable because the LIVE there, and WALK TO SCHOOL there, and so on. If businesses can organize to protect their customers, why can’t neighborhoods value their RESIDENTS in the same way?

    Hmmmm. This gets ya thinking.

  9. I lost sight of the original topic of this thread, the tragic death of a woman. My joke was inappropriate in the context. Chris, would you delete this comment and my above comment… I’ll make the point in another context in another day, but not in a thread about a recent death. My appologies.

  10. One pedestrian was mowed-down, and another seriously injured, less than one block from where the city recently held a “Crosswalk Enforcement Action” on NW 23rd Avenue. The Northwest District Association (NWDA) board has unanimously asked PDOT to take a number of steps to enhance pedestrian safety in the neighborhood.

    Specifically, the NWDA is asking the city to:

    1. Stripe crosswalks on all intersections on NW 21st and NW 23rd Avenues, as well as NW 20th Avenue at Glisan (where many children cross to go to Couch Park and the Metropolitan Learning Center).

    2. Put up “Yield to pedestrians” signs at the north and south entrances to the neighborhood on NW 21st and NW 23rd Avenues.

    3. Stripe and enforce “no parking zones” within 20 feet of crosswalks as is required by state law.

    4. Post speed limit signs and reduce the speed limit on NW 21st and NW 23rd Avenues to 20 mph (same as in school zones).

    5. Remove items that block intersections and crosswalks (like “A” signs and newspaper stands)

    The full text of the letter to the city follows:

    Susan Keil, Director
    Portland Office of Transportation
    1120 SW 5th Ave, Suite 800
    Portland, OR 07204

    Dear Ms. Keil:

    The recent fatality and serious injury of a second pedestrian on NW 23rd Avenue at NW Quimby reinforces our long-held belief that drivers outside the downtown core of Portland do not know that they must yield to pedestrians even at intersections that are not marked with crosswalks.

    Since the city does not have enough law enforcement officers to adequately enforce the existing law, we must provide additional protections to pedestrians on major commercial streets. At its board meeting last night, the board of the Northwest District Association (NWDA) unanimously approved the following course of action, which was also unanimously recommended by our Transportation Committee.

    First, and most importantly, the city must stripe crosswalks on every intersection on NW 21st and 23rd Avenues between Burnside and Vaughn, as well as the intersection on NW Glisan Street at 20th Avenue. This last intersection is used by many children coming and going from the Metropolitan Learning Center and Couch Park. The marking of the intersections on NW 21st Avenue can easily be accomplished this spring when the road is resurfaced.

    We know that your staff believes that marked crosswalks create a false sense of security for pedestrians. We disagree. As this recent fatality suggests, that false sense of security already exists.

    The driver in this most recent accident claims to have never seen the pedestrians. The majority of drivers are not aware that there is an implied crosswalk. This is the problem painted crosswalks address. They are vivid visual reminders to drivers to slow down and watch out for pedestrians. Without them, drivers simply race from traffic light to traffic light assuming incorrectly that they have the right-of-way.

    It should also be noted that this accident occurred less than six months after, and only one block away from, the Crosswalk Enforcement Action the city held at 23rd & Pettygrove on August 31, 2005. According to the city’s own release on the Crosswalk Enforcement Action, “This location was selected because it has high pedestrian activity and the City has received multiple complains about cars not stopping for pedestrians in this area.” Now we have both multiple complaints, and a fatality. It is clear that additional steps need to be taken.

    Second, in order to maximize effectiveness, we also request that you to put up a sign on the northbound side of 21st and 23rd between Burnside and Davis/Everett, and on the southbound side of 21st and 23rd between Vaughn and Thurman saying, “Yield to pedestrians at intersections.” It would also be useful to have a similar sign on Glisan just prior to 19th Avenue (where Couch Park begins). Speed limit signs would also be helpful, and the city should consider establishing 20 mph zones in busy commercial areas with large numbers of pedestrians, similar to the 20 mph zones that surround schools.

    Third, we ask you to take additional steps to increase visibility at intersections so that drivers can see pedestrians and vice versa by: clearly marking and enforcing a no parking zone in the 20 feet before crosswalks on 21st and 23rd Avenues (Oregon law); reviewing the adequacy of street lighting at intersections; and removing any impediments (e.g. sandwich boards and newspaper boxes) which block the corners of crosswalks.

    Please do not wait until there are even more fatalities before taking these simple and inexpensive steps to protect pedestrians in our neighborhood.

    Mike Radway, Chair
    NWDA Transportation Committee

  11. As a resident of Northwest portland – I live 1 block from 21st – I am very thankful that the NWDA is pursuing such improvements. Cars really do need to be secondary to the neighborhood. There are so many people that come to visit, young and old in particular, that need to be protected from traffic as much as possible.

    I have personally almost been run down a half dozen times last year alone… several times deliberately by drivers who think you should scamper back to the sidewalk even when you have the walk sign.

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