Saturday, September 26, 2015

Salem Driver kills Keizer Man Crossing Chemawa Road

Yesterday a Salem driver struck and killed a man apparently crossing an unmarked crosswalk at the intersection of Chemewa Road and Newberg Drive, where there is an old neighborhood market.

Chemawa Road and Newberg Drive - via Google
From the paper:
James Alton [68] was taken to Salem Hospital with life-threatening injuries. He later died from those injuries, said Lt. Andrew Copeland.

Officers were told Alton was crossing the street when he was hit by a 1999 Ford Ranger driving east on Chemawa Road. Salem resident Melody Krewson, 49, told officers she didn't see Alton crossing the street. Krewson has been cooperating with the investigation, officials said.
The photo at the scene from the Keizer Police shows rainy, possibly slick conditions. The crash was called in shortly after 7:30am.

At the scene Friday morning it was rainy - via Keizer PD
At top you can see the nearly white concrete. Chemawa here has had recent work with sidewalks, curbs, rain gardens and gutters, bike lanes, and some left-hand turn pockets. It is signed for 30mph.

But even though it is formally classified a "minor arterial," it still retains many characteristics of a local, neighborhood street. (Older information from Keizer suggests "collector," but the more recent draft regional TSP says "minor arterial." For this discussion it doesn't matter which is true.) If it's signed for 30mph, people routinely travel faster, and appears to be another example of a place where we have prioritized auto through-put too high. Lawful driving may yet be too dangerous to people out walking.

Near Keizer Rapids Park, 30mph seems excessive
Just a few blocks west is Keizer Rapids Park, and 30mph seems high for a kid-zone like that. (Late add: McNary School is also very near: Celtic Way is just one block from Newberg Drive. So this is something of a school zone, too, along in here.)

This is an older rural road that has become very suburban and is part of a neighborhood. It seems very likely it is engineered and posted for inappropriately high speeds along the entire corridor.

No matter who was at fault in the particulars of this, the roadway design privileges auto movement and increases the likelihood that small errors, by drivers or by people on foot, will cascade into catastrophe. There is also a system problem here.

This is the seventh person on foot killed in the area. Though it has many fewer trees, Chemawa here is configured similarly to Pine Street, where Caroline Storm was killed this summer, though Pine Street has a continuous center turn pocket.

The Problem of these Mid-sized Streets

We were on the theme of medians this week, and 17th Street might be interesting to consider in this light. It's in Salem, so I know it better, and it is also an older road that has been widened and repurposed to "minor arterial" capacity and standards. It shares at least some history and characteristics with Pine Street, Chemawa, and even inner Center Street, where David McGregor was struck.

And the question is: Did widening 17th to three lanes actually improve anything? And if so, for whom?

I don't know the exact time line, and perhaps you can fill it in - though the dates aren't at all necessary for the general thought.

Currently serving between 11,000 and 12,000 car trips per day along here, 17th Street used to be much smaller, a legacy of a neighborhood and local street that didn't even go through.

In 1917, 17th Street dead-ended at creek - via USGS
The road was widened to our "urban standard" with sidewalks, curbs, gutters, bike lanes, center turn pocket, and two travel lanes. (Update: But first it was widened to four through-lanes, and then it got an early "road diet" treatment in the mid-90s. See discussion in comments here.) The widening chopped down some people's front yards, and when you walk along 17th there are places, especially with older homes, where the proportions aren't quite right. (There's a great argument for smaller set-backs, of course, but set-backs of any size can be harmonious or clunky. The widening created some visibly awkward proportions, and though this is a secondary rather than primary consideration, aesthetics of place do matter.)

The primary rationale for the widening is two-fold, as I understand it. The center turn pocket places drivers and cars making a left turn out of the travel lane and thereby reduces queuing and "congestion." And so it increases capacity with a freer flow for through movement. Secondly, it reduces the frequency of head-on and rear-end collisions involving turning movements. (Here's one FHWA study, but I don't know the current state of the literature. Maybe you can add to this or correct it?)

With the widened road, speeds have increased, the crossing distance is longer, and the intersections are much more problematic for people on foot.

So now we have to backfill with mitigation, and the current solution is an enhanced crosswalk with center refuge median:

The first was at Chemeketa a couple years back. Sadly, shortly after it went in, a driver struck down a blind man using the crosswalk - for whom the crossing had been explicitly designated! - so that showed an important limit to the effectiveness of it.

17th and Chemeketa, with marks from investigation
after Rose Litherland crashed into John Dashney, a blind man
The second, at Nebraska. This one has developed by accretion, rather than being built all at once. It is just a couple of blocks from an elementary school, and the next accretion could well be a flashing beacon.

New median, enhanced crosswalk at 17th and Nebraska
The third, just completed, is at Mill, also near an elementary school and on the way to Willamette:

Crosswalk and median on 17th at Mill
By my count that's 3 medians and crosswalks in the space of 13 blocks, just over one median every four blocks. State and Center Streets are also fully signalized, so that is 5 major, marked crosswalks in 13 blocks.

In this primarily residential area, the 17th Street widening configured it in such a way that it was very difficult for people to cross it. And may still yet be difficult.

It's a Captain Obvious moment, but worth stating anyway: This is strong evidence that widening a road to the urban standard of two through lanes and a turn pocket creates a very significant barrier for people on foot and introduces new problems or exacerbates existing ones.

At least on mid-sized streets like large collector streets or minor arterials, we should consider a new approach.

Way out south, Mildrid Lane is insanely overbuilt
Chemawa, Pine, 17th, that section of Center - these streets are not identical, but they go through neighborhoods and they are also not grotesque urban things like Mission, Lancaster, or the Salem Parkway. They are large neighborhood streets that people ought to feel confident walking along and walking across. That people out walking keep getting killed on them, and that we see a clear need for medians on these streets, together suggest our system approach to them is unbalanced and even unjust. We overbuild new roads like Mildred Lane, and already we see "hill-hopping" there, and soon we will see people on foot endangered.

Hydraulic autoism isn't working.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here's the initial Keizer Times piece:

“An older gentleman was crossing the road and walked right in front of the pickup,” Copeland said from the scene. “There was nothing criminal in nature. The guy didn’t make it.”....

Copeland noted the female driver of the Ranger appeared to have done nothing wrong.

“The driver of the pickup has been cooperative,” he said. “This type of accident is very traumatic for the driver. There’s no indication of anything other than she was driving lawfully at the speed limit when the pedestrian just crossed right in front of her.”

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

From the paper this evening. There was in fact something very criminal in nature, and the driver in the Ranger was very much in the wrong.

"A Medford woman became the first person ever in Marion County to be convicted of causing another person's death by driving while distracted by her cell phone....

[Melody Krewson, 50, formerly of Salem] told officers she didn't see Alton crossing the street. She later admitted she was using her cell phone at the time of the crash.

According to Keizer police, Krewson was transferring photos from her phone to a cloud-based photo storage app at the time of the deadly crash.

As per his wishes, no services were held for Alton. He was interred at the Willamette National Cemetary in Portland. Alton served as a U.S. Navy Fireman during the Vietnam War.

Krewson was charged with criminally negligent homicide in May 2016. She pleaded guilty on Wednesday and was sentenced to three years supervised probation.

In her plea petition, Krewson admitted to negligently causing Alton's death by driving while distracted by her cell phone.

According to trial notes, Krewson, who works as a specialist for developmentally disabled adults and children, expressed remorse about the "tragic accident."

Marion County District Attorney officials said Krewson's case is the county's first prosecuted case involving distracted driving that resulted in a death....

Criminally negligent homicide, a class B felony, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In addition to her probation sentence, Krewson was ordered to perform 180 hours of community service. Her driver's license was permanently revoked.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Note the early exculpatory comments by Officer Copeland. The plea agreement and sentencing shows them to be completely wrong also. This is textbook autoist bias by Law Enforcement.