Thursday, January 7, 2016

City Report on Walking Deaths a Little Heavy on Victim-Blaming

Back in August Councilor Andersen asked about the crashes that had killed several people on foot in 2015.

January 29th, 2015
investigating David McGregor's death
Public Works and the Police have now come back with a report to Council on Monday the 11th, and it is worth some extended comment.

From here is seems like there is too much blaming the victim in crashes, and not enough on ways that our whole system is designed to prioritize auto travel at the clear expense of those not in cars.

Grading congestion and delay for cars A through F:
Level of Service (LOS) only means service for those in cars;
it always seems to trump comfort and safety for those on foot
(detail from a different report - see below)
From the report:
The crashes resulted in four serious injuries and seven deaths. There were no common patterns or problems among the nine crashes, but several causes appeared more than once as contributing factors - intoxication, dark clothing, and poor/limited visibility. The following key factors were identified as significant contributors:
  • Intoxication in three of the nine crashes
  • Dark clothing worn by the victims in four of the nine crashes
  • Poor/limited visibility in four of the nine crashes
  • Violating regulations or poor decision making in four of the nine crashes (Specifically: an intoxicated driver driving into a marked work zone; a skateboarder running through a red light; a bicyclist (who was not wearing a helmet) making quick lane changes across two lanes of traffic; and an intoxicated pedestrian trying to cross five lanes of traffic 75 yards from the nearest crosswalk.)
Here's a more detailed summary of each crash from the report. Quoted text is in italics, comments are added between crashes in regular face. All color images added as well. (It is bothersome that no person is named: They are unnamed abstractions, "pedestrians," not individuals with a history and family and friends. But this is the current convention, a reflection of the system problem.)

Report on crashes: Crosslands at #2
1. Date: 12/26/2014 Time: 5:30p.m.
Location: Summer St NE/E Street NE
Injuries: Fatal
Synopsis: Pedestrian was struck by a car while crossing Summer Street in an unmarked crosswalk.
Contributing factors: The pedestrian was intoxicated (twice the legal limit), the pedestrian was wearing dark colored clothes, and there was poor /limited visibility.
Disposition: No citations or criminal charges filed.

It's tough to know what to say about this one. Some online commenters a year ago had even suggested suicide. Based on publicly available information, it may not be possible to say more than "heartbreaking."

2. Date: 1/6/2015 Time: 5:30p.m.
Location: Market Street NE at Shilo Inn driveway
Injuries: Fatal
Synopsis: Vehicle turning into parking lot struck two pedestrians.
Contributing factors: Dark clothing worn by pedestrians, heavy traffic, poor I limited visibility, darkness, and fog. 
Disposition: No charges or citations issued.

This was the Crosslands.

In another world, heavy traffic, poor visibility, darkness, and fog would be a strong argument that under the basic rule for "reasonable and prudent" speed, a driver would have to exercise greater care and slower speed when leaving the roadway for a turn into a driveway and across a sidewalk. "I didn't see them" would be an indication that driving speed was not "reasonable and prudent," and was too fast for the conditions.

Does he need bright clothing?
(Note on Basic Rule added -
even 25mph in fog may be too fast!)
But this is not the world we live in, and instead the Crosslands are faulted for wearing dark clothing, and the driver absolved for hasty decisions in heavy traffic with fog.

3. Date: 1/15/2015
Time: 6:00a.m.
Location: Center St NE/18th Street NE
Injuries: Fatal
Synopsis: Pedestrian was struck by a car while crossing Center Street in an unmarked "off-set" crosswalk.
Contributing factors: Offset nature of the roadway, dark colored clothing worn by pedestrian, and poor/limited visibility.
Disposition: No citations or criminal charges filed.

David McGregor. Basically the same thing as with the Crosslands.

The very top image shows the crash site and investigation. Center Street is signed for 30mph here. The odds of surviving a crash at 30mph are about a coin-flip.

4. Date: 5/6/2015
Time: 9:30p.m.
Location: Pine Street NE at Maple Street NE
Injuries: One pedestrian killed, another pedestrian injured; pedestrian's dog was killed.
Synopsis: Motor vehicle traveling west bound struck two pedestrians and dog in an unmarked crosswalk.
Contributing factors: Poor/limited visibility and dark clothing.
Disposition: No citations or charges currently pending.

I swear the date is off here. This was the Storms in August, I'm nearly certain. Again "I didn't see them" is enough - though perhaps the case is still open, and there may be further developments.

5. Date: 6/2/2015
Time: 12:00 a.m.
Location: Mission Street SE near 1-5 interchange
Injuries: Fatal
Synopsis: Intoxicated driver drove through marked work zone and struck and killed ODOT road crewmember.
Disposition: Manslaughter I charges filed against driver.

Here because of DUI laws and work zone laws, the legal and enforcement framework is mostly adequate, and charges have been brought against the driver who killed William Hatch. At the same time, Mission Street is here super wide, posted for highway speeds, and engineered to State Highway standards. Even in broad daylight, in 2012 Connor Jordan was killed making a legal crossing in a marked and signalized crosswalk not far from the site of this crash.

6. Date: 6/13/2015
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Location: Pringle Road SE at Madrona Avenue SE
Injuries: Serious 
Synopsis: Skateboarder rode skateboard through red light and crashed into a car that had right of way.
Disposition: Citations pending for skateboarder.

It looks like a kid made a kid mistake, sadly, and a citation justified.

7. Date: 8/27/2015
Time: 9:00p.m.
Location: Lancaster Drive NE North of Sunnyview NE
Injuries: Serious
Synopsis: Intoxicated pedestrian stuck crossing five lanes of traffic 75 yards from marked crosswalk.
Disposition: Reviewed by Marion County District Attorney. No citations or charges filed.

75 yards is 225 feet, which is longer than a Portland downtown city block of 200 feet. It's another 800 or 1000 feet to Wolverine St., which has the next signalized crossing to the north. By itself, attempting a mid-block crossing on Lancaster is a reflection of how much auto traffic is prioritized there and how readily we inconvenience those who travel on foot.

It's hard to cross Lancaster
It is also unclear what "intoxicated" means in this context: Falling down drunk? Slightly buzzed? Somewhere in the middle?

If we criminalize drunk driving, are we heading down a path where drunk walking is equally criminalized?

To walk instead of to drive with some level of intoxication should generally be regarded as a virtuous choice, not one that deserves censure. It's the safe choice.

But it seems instead like we see a neo-Temperance trend to fault any level of intoxication for people on foot.

Additionally, an intoxicated person might have the same judgement as a child or a disabled person, and our streets should be safe for the child, the elderly, and the disabled - as well as the person who rightly decided they shouldn't be driving.

This really shows the asymmetry in the "forgiveness" in road engineering. We engineer roads to forgive driver errors in speed, turning, braking, etc.

But all too ruthlesslessly by death or serious injury, we do not forgive walking error.

8. Date: 10/18/2015
Time: 12:11 p.m.
Location: 2200 block of Mission Street SE in marked bike lane
Injuries: Serious
Synopsis: For an unknown reason, a bicyclist made a quick lane change across two lanes and was struck by a vehicle. Bicyclist was not wearing helmet.
Disposition: No citations or charges currently pending.

Hard to say anything without knowing more. But certainly it doesn't seem necessary to say anything about the helmet, which here serves mainly to denigrate the character of the person biking and to assert superior virtue for the person driving who hit them. The helmet has nothing to do with the conditions that led to the crash. Helmets don't prevent crashes; they only mitigate them once the awful impact occurs. They can only be relevant in assessing extent of head injury.

9. Date: 12/29/15
Time: 540 p.m.
Location: Mission St SE west of Ford St SE
Injuries: Fatal
Synopsis: A pedestrian was crossing Mission St SE and stopped in the special left turn lane. A vehicle turning left onto Mission St SE from Ford St SE struck the pedestrian and she died from her injuries. The pedestrian was not crossing in an unmarked or marked crosswalk. There was a marked crosswalk less than a block to the west of the crash.
Disposition: No citations or charges currently pending.

This is Rebecca Schoff. And it sure seems like this was another instance of "off-set" unmarked crosswalks. Like Lancaster, Mission Street is poorly served with signalized and marked crosswalks, and it is not surprising someone would attempt a mid-block crossing or a crossing at an off-set unmarked crosswalk.

Again, drivers get formalized slack in road engineering and law enforcement for making errors, but not people on foot. Even if Schoff made an error, she did not deserve to die.

From 2012 through 2014, there were 15 serious motor vehicle crashes involving 16 pedestrians. Six crashes resulted in fatalities and four of those fatal crashes involved pedestrians with alcohol in their system. Ten crashes resulted in serious injury to pedestrians. Seven of the 10 pedestrians involved in serious injury crashes were reported to have alcohol in their system, which was the leading cause of those crashes. The three remaining serious injury crashes were caused either by an intentional act of the pedestrian, limited visibility, or driver error due to impairment or distraction. Citations and/or criminal charges were filed where the driver was found to be at fault.

Also in the Report is a list of projects. This is very nice to see in totality:

1. Pedestrian Crossing Islands
  • 17th Street NE at Nebraska Avenue NE 
  • 17th Street NE at Mill Street NE 
  • 17th Street NE at Chemeketa Street NE 
  • 25th Street NE at Claude Street SE (Post Office) 
  • State Street east of 1-5 (Robert's High School) 
  • Liberty Road S at Holder Lane S (Crossler Middle School) 
  • Broadway Street NE at Columbia Avenue NE (Highland Elementary School) 
  • Doaks Ferry Road NW at Daisy Lane NW (Chapman Hill Elementary School) 
  • Eola Drive NW at Eagle View Drive NW (park property) 
  • Hawthorne Avenue NE at Northgate Park access 
  • Hawthorne Avenue NE at Felina Avenue NE (Hallman Elementary School) 
  • Fairgrounds Road NE/Hood Street NE at Church Street NE 
  • 12th Street SE at Mill Street SE (Willamette University) 
  • Market Street NE at Tierra Drive NE (Blanchet Catholic School and Swegle Elementary School) 
  • Skyline Road S at Joseph Street S 
  • Glen Creek Road NW and Taybin Road NW at Roth's Fresh Market 
  • Front Street NE at Court Street NE and at State Street
2. Pedestrian Safety Improvements
  • Center Street NE at 13th Street NE 
  • Commercial Street SE at City Hall- Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacon 
  • Court Street NE and State Street at State Capitol- Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacon 
  • Ferry Street SE at Commercial Street SE - removal of double left turn lane 
  • Miller StreetS at River Road S 
  • Railroad Crossing Safety Improvements (Union Pacific) 
  • Pedestrian countdown signals (ongoing installation throughout town) 
  • Union Street Bridge - conversion from rail to pedestrian and bicycle use 
  • Path between Union Street Bridge and Glen Creek Road NW
3. Speed Radar Signs
  • Hawthorne Avenue NE at Osborn Avenue NE
  • Glen Creek Road NW at Parkway Drive NW
  • Croisan Creek Road S at Roberta Avenue S
  • Sunnyside Road SE at Juntura Street SE 
  • Mildred Lane SE at Cinnibar Street SE (to be installed spring 2016) 
4. Curb Extensions
  • Edgewater Street NW at Kingwood Avenue NW 
  • Downtown and Capitol Mall Curb Extensions
5. Sidewalk Construction and infill
  • Hawthorne and Hyacinth Avenues NE between Silverton and Portland Roads NE 
  • Market Street NE and Swegle Road NE between Lancaster Drive NE and Cordon Road NE 
  • Skyline Road S between Liberty Road S and Kuebler Boulevard S
  • Eola Drive NW between Edgewater Street NW and Gehler Road NW
  • Gerth Avenue NW between sth Avenue NW and gth Street NW
  • Marshall Drive SE, north side, east of 12th Street SE
  • Baxter Road SE, north side, between Lone Fir Avenue SE and Reed Lane SE • Onyx Street NW at Chapman Hill Drive NW
  • Ellis Avenue NE, south side, west of Savage Road NE (Hoover Elementary School)
  • 25th Street SEat Simpson Street SE 
  • Weathers Street NE, south side, connecting to Weathers Park 
  • Pringle Road SE, east side, from Georgia Avenue SE to Morningside Court SE 
  • Tanoak Avenue SE, across from Ginwood Court SE 
  • Hayesville Drive NE, north side of street between Tile and Conrad Streets NE 
  • Kuebler Boulevard SE between Sunnyside and Lone Oak Roads SE 
  • Brown Road NE between Carolina Avenue NE and San Francisco Drive NE
Additionally, Public Works has recently applied for state grants to:

1. Construct Pedestrian Improvements at:

  • Maple Street NE as part of the Family Friendly Bikeway (including improvements at the intersection of Pine and Maple) 
  • Sunnyview Road NE at Scotsman Lane NE (McKay High School) 
  • Pringle Road SE at Copper Glen Drive SE (Leslie Middle School) 
  • Jones Road SE at Judson Middle School 
  • Commercial Street SE corridor improvements, including pedestrian crossing medians and infill of street lighting 
  • Install flashing yellow arrows at signals throughout town
2. Install Rapid Flashing Beacons at Marion Street NE and 13th Street NE (North High School).

Upcoming projects scheduled for completion in or by 2018 include:

  1. Installing a rapid flashing beacon on Market Street NE at 19th Street NE; 
  2. Install a traffic signal at Union Street NEat Commercial Street NE; 
  3. Construct sidewalks and bike lanes on Brown Road NE between San Francisco Drive NE and Sunnyview Road NE; and 
  4. Construct sidewalks on the west side of 12th Street between Hoyt and McGilchrist Streets SE.
On the one hand this is a good list, and it is great to see them all in one place.

Recklessness in car advertising:
Skidmarks and cookies around the record player.
There's no room for people on foot in this world

The record player's message: Buy this car!
(Ford Focus as Muscle Car!)
At the same time, I think this is strong evidence that we have a system problem and that no quantity of spot safety counter-measures will fundamentally alter the fact that our system of hydraulic autoism is broken if we actually mean to make our roads available to all users. (Too often "sharing the road" or "complete streets" remains essentially a polite fiction at present. "Might is right" mostly prevails.)

Levels of Service, Delay, Volume/Capacity
Proposed gas station near Madrona and Commercial
"Delay" and "Get out of my way" go together.

Since we define delay for those in cars as the fundamental problem, people on foot remain "pedestrian impedance" and we default to blaming them when they "unexpectedly" appear in the roadway. As long as our principal analytical framework measures that delay and looks at roads like firehoses with volume/capacity measurements, it will remain very difficult for people on foot and on bike to stake equitable claims, including claims for personal safety, to the public space we call a road.

For more:


Unknown said...

I was incensed when I first read that report. It seemed from my reading that none of the responsibility for the accidents was placed on the vehicle drivers. Except in the one case where the driver hit the construction worker. Instead in several cases the pedestrians were blamed for wearing "dark clothing."

This kind of report just reinforces the view of pedestrians as second class citizens. I would guess that the creators of the report did not have that intention, but it is an indictment of our car-driven society that this is the prevailing view. As one of our county commissioners said, cyclists are speed bumps; and pedestrians are treated the same way. Considering cars are several tons heavier than a cyclist or pedestrian it is like blaming a gun death on the victim for getting in the way of the shooter.

As for their planned infrastructure improvements; none of them seem to be on Lancaster Rd or Mission St. As you noted in the post they are only half measures. If we really want to have safe streets for pedestrians and cyclists we need to narrow the lanes, have separated bicycle lanes, traffic calming devices and we need to lower the speed limits and actually enforce those speed limits. We need to stop treating streets as the sole property of cars and stop treating pedestrians and cyclists as if they were trespassers. Until that happens we will continue to have pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

Amanda T. said...

Alexander- I completely agree with you when you say that pedestrians are viewed as second class citizens. (Or anyone who chooses to transport themselves in ways other than cars) This has been a burden of mine for years and I think one of the key issues in all of this. We used to lived out off Center Rd. near the intersection of Lancaster and Center. I would walk with my kids often because I chose to. Not because I had to. But during that time, I experienced a lot of things that opened my eyes to people's views of pedestrians in our city. There were many times we were almost hit in a crosswalk because people didn't want to wait. Or when we would ride our bikes downtown with a flagged bike trailer with kids in it, people would be in such a hurry they would do the same thing in an intersection.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I missed this. It also seems like the report missed Travis Lane's death on the Parkway. He was struck by an impaired driver and the Salem PD responded, so it seems like his case should be in the report as well.

It is concerning that a report should miss key dates on the Storms and miss Lane altogether.

It doesn't seem the the report is motivated from a position of "we can do better" and "most crashes are preventable." Even though it uses the word "crash," the meaning in this particular context of the report it seems to retain the sense of "accident," as if there was nothing to be done, and we are doing all that we can.

Jason said...

I appreciate the summary of the report, as I was not aware of it. As you pointed out, one of the things that stands out to me is the clinical detachment of the incident descriptions. It bothers me when fatalities of any kind on our streets become merely statistics and the people involved fade away.

This past Wednesday, January 6th, four of us from NESCA took a walk to remember the Crosslands on the anniversary of their death. It was organized by one of the board members of NESCA. We started at the Park and Ride near Red Lion Inn at Hawthorne and Market, walked past the driveway where they were killed and on down Market St. We turned at 21st and went past the home where they lived to Englewood Park, where the bench was installed in their memory. It was a meaningful walk, and there was some talk of making it a yearly event.

My hope and desire is that the current culture of victim blaming will come to an end, and that our city will not continue the "we're already doing everything we can" mentality when what is being done is clearly not enough.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Jason, that is very kind tribute to the Crosslands. Thanks for sharing.

(Be sure Councilor Benjamin knows your concerns, as it seems like Councilors Andersen, Bennett, and Dickey could be ready to do more, but they need two more votes on Council to accomplish anything.)

Stephanie Waters said...

This is an extremely detailed blog, thank you for sharing this with us. The data you provided is astounding. My husband is an engineer by profession and agrees with me that this is very fascinating. Please share with us more of this in the future. You have found a follower in us. appreciate all the hard work put in. Thanks

Stephanie Waters @ Chastaine Law

floraspec said...

There is a huge error in the evidence. There was a huge street light change over to the new energy efficient & recessed bulbs. The old fixtures by design diffused the light between the lit poles. Now there are huge sections of road that were formerly lit that are not. Pedestrians and vehicles took a whole winter to adjust their behavior to the new lights. Some areas in Salem require high beam use. Just recently a storm took out 6 of the old style on the stretch of Sunnyview Rd. NE causing a single car accident. Still over a week later PGE hasn't corrected problem.