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West Linn known as one of Oregon's safest cities — unless you're on the road


TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - 10th Street and Willamette Falls Drive is a particular hotspot for accidents in West Linn. Some refer to Willamette Falls Drive as the unofficial third lane of Interstate 205.West Linn is routinely called one of Oregon’s safest cities, and that reputation is well deserved.

But while the violent crime entries in the police log are sparse, accidents remain ever common in a city that is defined in part by its unique topography and busy throughways. Ask any longtime resident and you’re sure to hear a horror story about travelling on Highway 43 or turning off 10th Street and Willamette Falls Drive. And that’s not even mentioning the dangers pedestrians face while walking or biking the busier roads.

Examining the raw numbers leaves little in the way of surprise. In 2015, the West Linn Police took 126 crash reports. Of those, 50 were on Highway 43 (also referred to as Willamette Drive), while 25 were on Interstate 205 and nine were on Willamette Falls Drive near the Main Street area.

“The rest,” said West Linn Police Sergeant Dave Kempas, “were scattered throughout the city.”

As Kempas noted, those numbers don’t account for the more minor accidents police responded to, the kind that prompted an information exchange between drivers but no formal report.

And indeed, the good news was that even many of the crashes requiring a report were minor in nature.

“From my personal observations — and I was on afternoon shift all of 2015 — the Highway 43 crashes were mostly rear-end crashes, as were the freeway crashes,” Kempas said. “We went to a bunch of them on afternoons, mostly during the commute.”

Crash data obtained from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) tells a similar story. West Linn compiled the data as part of an ongoing effort to update its Transportation System Plan (TSP), focusing specifically on intersections that were known hot spots for crashes.

Between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2013, 66 crashes were reported at those specific intersections, which included Highway 43 and Cedaroak Drive; Highway 43 and Hidden Springs Road; Highway 43 and Interstate 205 ramps; and Willamette Falls Drive and 10th Street. Thirty-one of those 66 crashes were of the rear-end variety, while 23 came on turns.

More specifically, the intersection of Highway 43 and the Interstate 205 on-ramps had the most recorded crashes (13) followed closely by 10th Street and 8th Avenue (12). Rear-end crashes were most common at Highway 43/ Interstate 205 and the intersection of Highway 43 and Hidden Springs Road.

“Highway 43 is where the most crashes occur, if you don’t include I-205,” Public Works Director Lance Calvert said.

In conjunction with the new TSP, the City is also working to update its Highway 43 Conceptual Design plan. ODOT recently included the Highway 43 project on its 150 percent funding list for the 2019-2021 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), and should West Linn make the final cut, Calvert said the proposed work would likely reduce crashes.

“In the first phase (of the project), there’s lots of improvements around Cedaroak Drive and Hidden Springs Road as we try to mitigate there,” he said. “(We would) improve lighting and (look to) reduce rear-end and side crashes. Particularly at the location between Cedaroak and Hidden Springs, there’s such a short distance between signals, and drivers could be looking at the signal ahead instead of the one in front of them.”

Among the proposed improvements to the busy road are buffered cycle tracks — pathways shielded by a physical barrier to protect riders from oncoming traffic — as well as improved pedestrian facilities, a new traffic signal at Pimlico Drive and several center two-way left turn lanes.

“The longer term vision for 43, beyond the first phase of improvements, would have a safety focus,” Calvert added. “That’s the number one goal.”

The ‘third lane’ of I-205

While many lawmakers and citizens have pushed for the widening of Interstate 205, residents in West Linn’s Willamette area say there already is a third lane: Willamette Falls Drive.

The road travels through the city’s Main Street district and, indeed, rush hour traffic slows to a snail’s pace as some commuters attempt to circumvent traffic on Interstate 205.

“It’s no secret where much of the traffic comes from in Willamette — many residents refer to Willamette Falls as the ‘third lane’ of I-205,” said Mike Selvaggio, a Willamette resident who highlighted traffic concerns as part of his 2015 campaign for City Council. “The state needs to invest in I-205 improvements if we’re ever going to alleviate that traffic, but I think the City has at least made it somewhat safer for us through things like the new stop sign and good policing.

“The awkward corner and pedestrian-heavy areas around 10th Street, Willamette Falls Drive and 8th are still, in my opinion, begging for an incident — but ironically the saving grace in that area seems to be that vehicles aren’t really able to move that quickly,” Selvaggio said.

“10th Street in general is another area of concern where we have a lot of vehicle traffic,” Calvert said.

Like Highway 43, 10th Street between Willamette Falls Drive and Salamo Road is controlled by ODOT. Thus, any improvement efforts would have to be coordinated between City and state agencies.

Meanwhile, the traffic concerns in Willamette are not limited to Willamette Falls Drive and 10th Street, according to Selvaggio.

“My big concern is that as Willamette Falls Drive continues to back up, we see more and more traffic speeding down parallel routes past the elementary school and where children play,” he said.

Concerns not limited to drivers

Cornelia Seigneur knows firsthand how dangerous it can be to take a simple walk in West Linn.

Just over a year ago, in January 2015, Seigneur and her husband, Chris, were struck by an SUV while crossing Walling Way along Highway 43. Their injuries were serious, but not life-threatening; Cornelia suffered a concussion and her right ear was nearly severed, while Chris had a broken pelvis and temporary brain bleeding.

As Seigneur recalls, another accident took place nearby just a few months later, when a bicyclist was struck by a car.

“When you try to cross the road at that intersection, pedestrians have a walk signal while at the same time, cars can go,” Seigneur said. “Of course cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians but you cannot count on it.”

She recalled an instance just recently when she was crossing at Lazy River Drive and Highway 43, and a car began its turn while she was walking. “I pointed to my ‘WALK’ signal, and he pointed to his green light,” Seigneur said. “It is a problem that I am asking ODOT to fix.”

But, she added, “the real problem ... is that people are in a hurry, plain and simple. Suburban life, it is crazy, people are afraid for their kids to walk or bike anywhere because people do not look around or slow down.

“I am super careful, always have been, and yet we got hit — at a crosswalk.”

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.

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