Fatal crashes highlight problems with SW Barbur Blvd

Fatal crashes highlight problems with SW Barbur Blvd

Lance Marcus died Tuesday night
while driving on SW Barbur Blvd.
(Photo: Facebook profile)

45 year-old Lance Marcus died on Tuesday night after driving his car into a power pole on SW Barbur Blvd near Miles Street. The Portland Police report that Marcus was driving “at a high rate of speed” before he hit the pole.

In October of 2011, just a few tenths of a mile north of where Marcus died, 25-year old Nisha Rana was also killed when police say she “failed to negotiate a curve” while driving “at a very high rate of speed.”

Back in 2010, just one mile north of those tragedies, 28 year-old Caleb Pruitt was also driving “at a high rate of speed” (according to the police) when he rounded a corner on SW Barbur Blvd near the Town and Country Apartments and collided with 26 year-old Angela Burke. Burke was walking her bicycle at the time and was attempting to cross the street.

Barbur Blvd is notorious in Portland transportation circles. It’s one of the City’s High Crash Corridors and it has been subject of hopeful planning documents and neighborhood activism for years. However, despite this attention, it remains a classic, high-speed arterial where people continue to drive too fast and people continue to get hurt and killed. A few weeks ago a new “Friends of Barbur” group came together to try and hasten improvements. Here’s what they wrote on their website:

Few streets in Portland have received some much planning and attention yet so few improvements. From The Barbur Streetscape Plan, The Barbur Concept Plan. and The Southwest Corridor Plan Barbur has been through several public processes yet it remains one of the most dangerous high crash corridors in Portland and is a barrier for walking and bicycling movement in throughout Southwest Portland.

As the fatality on Tuesday reminds us, Barbur is also a safety hazard for people in cars because its design encourages speed and, as we all know from Traffic Safety 101, speed kills (either the person doing it or unlucky bystanders).

“The time has come for a serious and earnest discussion with the community regarding traffic safety on Barbur Blvd.”
— Roger Averbeck, Southwest Neighborhoods Inc Transportation Committee

Roger Averbeck is a veteran of transportation activism in southwest Portland. Through his membership on the Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. Transportation Committee, he volunteers on many advisory committees and goes to so many planning meetings he probably works more for the city than some of their own employees. After hearing about the death of Lance Marcus, Averbeck emailed dozens of PBOT staff and nearly 50 of his personal contacts last night.

“Unfortunately, there was another fatal car crash on Barbur Blvd last evening,” Averbeck wrote. “The time has come for a serious and earnest discussion with the community regarding traffic safety on Barbur Blvd, including the consideration of a lane diet, and safety improvements for all modes.”

A rendering by Owen Walz of what SW Barbur Blvd could look like where it passes over the SW Vermont St bridge.
– Click to enlarge –

Averbeck also noted the irony that Tuesday’s crash happened just one block from an ODOT’s SW Barbur Blvd Newbury & Vermont Street Bridge Rehabilitation Project. That’s the project that has spurred a renewed push for a road diet on Barbur. Road diets are proven to reduce speeding and collisions and analysis shows a lane reconfiguration would not bring auto traffic to a grinding halt.

If this were a PBOT owned and managed facility, I have little doubt a road diet project would already be underway. But ODOT owns and manages these outer segments of Barbur Blvd, and they have so far been unwilling to take strong steps forward with it. The road diet idea is currently being discussed as part of the SW Corridor Plan; but advocates like Averbeck know planning processes like that work on timelines measured in decades.

“While I appreciate the consideration of future improvements that might occur as result of high capacity transit in in the SW Corridor 15-20 years from now,” Averbeck wrote in his email. “this is too long to wait. Critical safety improvements, that were recommendations in the 2011 High Crash Corridor Study, and increased law enforcement are needed now, not in 2028.”

Averbeck is calling for a meeting between ODOT, Metro, the City of Portland and southwest Portland community members, to discuss funding and implementation of safety improvements on Barbur. Hopefully this meeting takes place and hopefully it results in action. Stay tuned.

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