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ODOT's Parkway Deathtrap 

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It seemed like a good idea at the time.

That appears to be the Oregon Department of Transportation's best excuse for why it decided to put an unsignalized pedestrian crosswalk in the middle of the Bend Parkway.

Bob Hunt, 55, and his 14-year-old daughter, Chelsea, were crossing the parkway with their bikes in the crosswalk at Reed Lane on Saturday when a car slammed into them. Chelsea escaped without life-threatening injuries, but her father was killed.

It was only a matter of time before such a tragedy happened at that spot; it will be only a matter of time before one like it - or worse - happens again.

The parkway is a four-lane, limited-access highway. The posted speed limit is 45, but as anybody who's driven it knows, the prevailing speed is more like 55 or 60. Add to that the fact that the crosswalk is just beyond a curve so that northbound drivers can't see it until they're almost on top of it and you've got a formula for disaster.

The crossing is a potential deathtrap not only for pedestrians who try to use it, but also for motorists who approach it. Vehicles are required by law to stop for pedestrians who are in or are entering a crosswalk. Any driver who obeys that law at the Reed Lane crosswalk risks being rear-ended by a vehicle barreling down the road at 60 miles an hour.

How did this idiocy get perpetrated? According to ODOT spokesman Peter Murphy, when the parkway was being designed it was deemed the best solution to the problem of how to get pedestrians across the road at Reed Lane, which had been a through street.

A pedestrian overpass was considered, Murphy said, but rejected. "Certain members of the bicycle-pedestrian committee told us it would be best to make it a crosswalk, because even when you build overpasses there's a very small use rate," he said.

What's done is done; the question now is how to undo it. Murphy guesstimated the cost of a pedestrian overpass at $5 million, which effectively puts that idea off the table. A tunnel under the parkway, as some have suggested, would obviously be even more expensive.

Other possible options include putting up blinking signals to warn motorists that they're approaching the crosswalk, installing a signal that would let pedestrians stop traffic when they want to cross, and trimming back the bitterbrush and other vegetation along the edge of the parkway that has gotten overgrown and prevents drivers from seeing pedestrians who are about to enter the crosswalk. All those would make the situation a little safer ... but not much.

While ODOT is trying to decide what to do - which, if we know ODOT, probably will take years - it needs to close that crosswalk immediately. Put up a chain link fence, a stone wall or whatever, but just close the damn thing.

In the meantime, ODOT earns THE BOOT for the colossally stupid and myopic decision to put a crosswalk at that spot in the first place.


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