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Blame drivers, not pedestrians

Letters to the editor
by: Christopher Onstott, Yifang Qian had to cross West Burnside Street at an unmarked intersection every morning to get to her job. Eventually, the odds caught up with her and she was hit by a car traveling 40 mph.

It's time to change our default way of thinking from looking for reasons to blame the pedestrians for being hit by motor vehicles toward understanding why drivers don't see people walking in the road right before their very eyes (Danger!, Nov. 18).

Drivers are failing to see people in the road even without billboards and flashing signs. They fail to scan the road ahead and consider the conditions for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with what a pedestrian was wearing, or how or when the pedestrian entered the intersection.

Yifang Qian, pictured in this story, was hit on a dry spring morning in broad daylight while wearing an orange and black diagonally striped skirt - the very definition of high contrast. She was hit almost in the center of a multi-lane roadway on the driver's side of the car. There were no skid marks at the scene and according to witness testimony, the driver hit Yifang without even applying the brakes. When asked what she was looking at, the driver replied: 'the tunnel.'

There's a lot to see out there while driving, and we downplay the attention and effort required to drive safely. This is not the Autopia ride at Disneyland with a rail to keep the car on track and handlers to keep everyone else waiting in line for their turn to drive.

There are real lives at stake, including the lives of drivers. If you're driving in the dark, in the rain, you have to drive more slowly and more cautiously. It's actually the law.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers show us that drivers are killing each other and themselves in enormous quantities, yet we refuse to believe driving safely requires 'a lot' of attention and effort. When nonmotorized vehicles or pedestrians enter this mix, we immediately blame them for creating unsafe conditions - for illegitimately encroaching on Autopia.

We all need to recognize that driving is a difficult, dangerous and exhausting task. The consequences are lost lives or a remaining life of varying degrees of pain and suffering for victims of collisions. Those who drive have to take responsibility for being exhausted, poorly skilled at driving, in a hurry, unaware of the rules of the road or simply not seeing what is plain to see until it is literally right in front of the steering wheel. There are simple and easy remedies for all of those problems (Take a nap, take a driving class, give yourself more time, study up, look around you).

The driver who hit Yifang never contacted her to apologize. To this day, over two and a half years later, nothing. If you were the driver who hit my wife causing her to be hospitalized for a week and limping and in pain for perhaps the rest of her life, what would you say to me? What would you say to Yifang?

Jeff Mandel

Northeast Portland

Portland drivers are the worst

Regarding your cover story on Nov. 18, I have lived in major cities all over the country - Miami, Kansas City, Denver, L.A. and San Diego. The worst drivers I have ever seen are right here in Portland (Danger!, Nov. 18).

They go from one extreme to another, from trying to be too polite to being totally inconsiderate. Most of the drivers here seem to have no idea what the white stripes on a pedestrian crossing mean, yet they will stop on a four-lane street to let a jaywalker try to get across.

I also see drivers all day long who come to a stop at a green light and look both ways to see if anyone is coming. Drivers come flying out of parking lots across sidewalks without slowing down.

What is wrong with you people?

Dale A. Hill

Northwest Portland

Crosswalks barely visible on Powell

I'm so glad you raised the subject of pedestrian crossings (Danger!, Nov. 18).

Starting near Southeast 71st Avenue and Powell Boulevard, I drive (or ride) the Powell corridor downtown daily via the Ross Island Bridge. If it's not rush hour, car traffic moves at about 40 mph. There are several crosswalks drawn on the street that are practically invisible on rainy evenings.

And so are the pedestrians.

If you're driving in the middle lane in a car, and an SUV or truck is in the right lane in front of you, you cannot see pedestrians until you almost hit them. To me these 'crosswalks' are comparable to the cartoon tunnels painted onto rock walls by the Roadrunner to stop the Coyote: They may look good but are extremely dangerous.

If the city is serious about public safety, these crosswalks should have pushbuttons to stop traffic, or not be there at all.

S. MacKenzie Swan

Southeast Portland

'Implied' crosswalks aren't safest

Kudos to your featured victim for holding her assailant's feet to the fire (Danger!, Nov. 18).

But, as pedestrians, we can help prevent accidents with educated actions. Wearing something more visible than all-black, as shown in the photo, would help, or at least carrying a brightly colored bag or umbrella. Also, it appears that where she's standing (presumably at the intersection in question) has very poor sight lines between cars and pedestrians due to the curve and tunnel walls, while a short stroll to cross closer to the tunnel's mouth looks much safer.

The law says that intersections are legally 'implied' crosswalks, but who wants to be technically correct yet deceased? Intersections appear to the most alert drivers as fleeting spots where the yellow center line disappears (if it's even visibly maintained) or as a tiny pole with green street-name signs on top - and pedestrians are barely more visible than these vague markers. With a 90 percent chance of dying from her accident, as mentioned in the article, hopefully the one-tenth who survive have more sense than to focus on legal victories and can reflect on their future contribution to preventing repeated accidents.

Michael Kennedy

Northeast Portland

Suburban areas are hazardous

Notice that all the highest ranked places for crashes and fatalities are suburban locations (Danger!, Nov. 18).

If we could introduce pedestrian-oriented zoning to these places they'd be safer.

Brian Libby

Southeast Portland

Pedestrians should carry lights

Traffic signals everywhere are not the answer (Danger!, Nov. 18). Nighttime illumination might be helpful, but placing it right over the crosswalk is not. Visibility is greatest with contrast, so the pedestrian needs to be front lit or back lit. Overhead lights wash out all features at night and don't provide the contrast needed to see movement. Pedestrians carrying lights at night, just like a cyclist, is the best self-defense.

Regarding safety, speed is everything. If you could drive five miles anywhere without stopping, driving 25 mph would take 12 minutes and driving 45 would take 7.5 minutes.

Whose life is worth you saving 4.5 minutes?

It's not an attack on auto users, it's just common sense. If we keep building roads the same way we've always done it and expect to achieve different results, isn't this one definition of insanity?

Scott Batson

Woodland, Wash.

Marked crosswalks are best choice

The main issue on Burnside and any other multi-lane street is the vehicle in the second lane (Danger!, Nov. 18).

I have often stopped for a pedestrian, only to have another vehicle either continue past me - or even swing around me - and nearly hit the pedestrian. Signals would help, but both the cost and traffic impact are issues I can fully understand.

As a pedestrian, my solution has been to walk to the nearest marked crosswalk or signal. And even then be extremely cautious and observant of traffic. A pain, yes, but not nearly so painful as being struck by two tons moving at 35 mph.

William E. Hardy

Beaverton

Place signals at crossing areas

I'll yield at a crosswalk when I know there is someone wanting to cross or there is a traffic signal that tells me to yield or stop (Danger!, Nov. 18). Otherwise it's just a guessing game trying to determine if the person standing at the curb/sidewalk really wants to cross.

If the city wants to solve this crosswalk dilemma on busy streets, put in traffic signals as well as street lights over the crossing area so that pedestrians can be seen, especially at night. The city saying it doesn't have a budget for public safety is no excuse when they spend plenty of money on frivolous things that contribute nothing for the masses.

Waiman Eng

Southeast Portland