Last month, during a traffic crosswalk enforcement action, City Commissioner Steve Novick, from left, Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat and PBOT Traffic Safety Spet Sharon White cross Southeast Stark Street at 151st Avenue, the site of a new rapid-flashing beacon signal. STAFF/2016

Last month, during a traffic crosswalk enforcement action, City Commissioner Steve Novick, from left, Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat and PBOT Traffic Safety Spet Sharon White cross Southeast Stark Street at 151st Avenue, the site of a new rapid-flashing beacon signal.
STAFF/2016

Portland’s pedestrian fatality stats are currently speeding in the wrong direction, far and away from the vaunted Vision Zero. So far away that local activists mockingly refer to it as “Zero Vision.”

If the 2016 trend continues, there will be a third more pedestrian fatalities in Portland this year than last year’s 10.

Portland Bureau of Transportation sponsored a yellow rectangular rapid-flashing beacon (RRFB)-equipped crosswalk “education and enforcement” gathering on Southeast Stark Street April 7. Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) public information officer, Dylan Rivera, emceed. State representatives Jeff Reardon and Jessica-Vega Pederson spoke briefly. Rep. Shemia Fagan, the primary mover for obtaining the state funding to build the beacons, was slated to appear but never showed up.

PBOT Director and Vision Zero founder Leah Treat spoke, glibly concluding, “We need to take care of one another.”

Treat’s boss, City Commissioner Steve Novick, spoke at length, after which he successfully dodged three frustrated board members from the Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association who for months have been trying to set a face-to-face meeting with him over a transportation issue related to a development in their neighborhood.

East Portland Land-Use Chair Linda Bauer spoke ever so briefly, just thanking people for coming. Portland Police Bureau officers attended, its motorcycle cops making stops of vehicles that failed to yield at the flashing beacon-lighted crosswalk.

PBOT’s Active Transportation division manager, Margi Bradway, attended and spoke with the press alongside Rivera.

So did the mother of Dustin Finney, who died at 28 in a bicycle-car accident in August of 2011. After losing her son to a drunk driver, Kristi Finney-Dunn cofounded a Families for Safe Streets Oregon and Southwest Washington group.

Families for Safe Streets Oregon and Southwest Washington founder Kristi Finney-Dunn, whose son was killed while riding a bicycle in 2011, attended the crosswalk enforcement event. STAFF/2016

Families for Safe Streets Oregon and Southwest Washington founder Kristi Finney-Dunn, whose son was killed while riding a bicycle in 2011, attended the crosswalk enforcement event.
STAFF/2016

Finney-Dunn stood on the northwest corner of Southeast Stark and 151st Avenue holding a SAFE sign and a picture of Dustin aimed at approaching drivers. She thinks the flashing beacon lights confuse drivers.

“I think this is kind of a band aid, you know … I like the red ones. I think people understand those ones better. I actually think they don’t understand these … If you know that there’s a person in the cross … if the person’s like over there, if the light’s still [flashing] but that person is way over there … For the red ones I think you just stop. You know you have to stop on red,” Finney-Dunn told the Memo.

A 2012 Oregon State University global literature and Oregon field study sponsored by ODOT and U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration concluded that RRFBs are effective when used with medians in high-potential-conflict crosswalk areas where the speed limit is 40 mph or less, but that RRFBs are less effective than Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons (PHB) in terms of driver compliance and resulting conflict-avoidance. The PHB—also known as the HAWK (High intensity Activated crossWalK)—is singularly exemplified in the Portland metro area at the Northeast 41st Avenue and East Burnside Street intersection in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. (But a PBOT handout dated March 3, 2016 notes that a PHB is “coming soon” to Southeast Division Street and 157th Avenue.)

The PHB is a dual-spaced triangular (two red over one yellow) light system that warns drivers first with a flashing yellow, then a steady yellow, then a solid red light followed immediately by a walk light for the pedestrian who activates it, then a flashing red light that allows queued drivers cautiously to proceed after the walk interval ends. Otherwise, the PHB is dark. The combination of yellow and red lights is why it is called a hybrid traffic control device. Most PHBs also provide an early warning sign for drivers approaching the crosswalk.

The study concluded that RRFBs with a median are as high as 86.4 percent effective in obtaining driver compliance, while PHBs with or without a median approach 100 percent effectiveness in obtaining driver compliance. The comparative study concluded that “[i]t is recommended that PHBs be installed in high-risk environments.”

The cost including material and labor of a PHB like the one in Laurelhurst (overhead-mount, no median) is approximately $150-250 thousand, according to Rivera, and the cost including material and labor of an RRFB like the new one at Southeast Stark Street (side-mount, median) is approximately $100,000. Costs vary rather widely, Rivera said in his email, and the particular PHB (HAWK) installation at Southeast Division Street and 157th Avenue is currently out for bid.

Bradway and Rivera noted that PBOT maintains an interactive map that highlights high-crash sites along various corridors in Portland. The interactive maps may be viewed at www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/439832.

The study is at www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TD/TP_RES/docs/Reports/2012/SPR721pedreport.pdf?ga=t.


When asked by the Memo, PBOT public information officer Dylan Rivera confirmed that the controllers used by PBOT at the flashing beacon crosswalks like the one at the fatal crash site at Northeast Glisan Street and 117th Avenue are not the type that record time of day information for post-mortem analysis of whether the flashing beacon was activated and working when 34-year-old pedestrian Amber Lapine crossed Northeast Glisan Street last month within the crosswalk and was grievously and ultimately fatally injured by 89-year-old driver Edmond Balding. At press time, Portland Police Bureau spokesperson Peter Simpson told the Memo there is still no conclusion to the ongoing investigation of the car-pedestrian collision.