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News / Clark County News

Safety is the word on the street at West 11th and Esther in downtown Vancouver

New mural reminds drivers to watch for pedestrians, bicyclists

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: June 3, 2024, 6:06am
5 Photos
Artist Benji Todd walks past the new mural highlighting pedestrian safety he created in downtown Vancouver. The mural is part of an effort to reduce fatalities and serious injuries caused by crashes on our roads, with a focus on homeless people.
Artist Benji Todd walks past the new mural highlighting pedestrian safety he created in downtown Vancouver. The mural is part of an effort to reduce fatalities and serious injuries caused by crashes on our roads, with a focus on homeless people. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The intersection of Esther and West 11th streets in downtown Vancouver received a makeover recently — a colorful mural of blue and green hues to prompt drivers to slow down and watch out for neighbors.

Benji Todd, a local artist and Outsiders Inn night-shift lead and peer counselor, created the large-scale street mural as part of an effort to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries, with a focus on pedestrians, particularly homeless people.

“These are our roads, this is our community, and that makes it our responsibility,” Todd said Thursday during the mural’s unveiling. “I’m assuming nearly every adult knows someone who’s lost their lives on the road, usually in an avoidable way. So anything we can do to remind ourselves of how important it is, you know, that’s worth the effort.”

The street mural sits next to the city of Vancouver’s third Safe Stay homeless shelter, 415 West. The mural displays the message: “Our Roads, Our Community, Our Responsibility.” It also depicts the Interstate 5 Bridge, part of Vancouver’s skyline and tiny homes to represent the city’s Safe Stay shelters.

“Road safety happens neighbor by neighbor. We’ve all seen the headlines. Now, this street mural is here to say that a safer future is possible. Road safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Washington Traffic Safety Commission Director Shelly Baldwin said.

The mural is sponsored by the commission and Washington State Department of Transportation’s Target Zero project, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths by 2030.

The mural emphasizes protecting vulnerable pedestrians, including homeless people who often walk or use bicycles to get around.

“Just beyond Clark County, we know that researchers found 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities in Portland involved people who were unhoused. We are here to reduce these numbers,” said Jesamie Peters, Target Zero manager for Clark and Skamania counties.

Adam Kravitz, founder of Outsiders Inn, said road safety for people experiencing homelessness has been a priority. With the help of WSDOT, the nonprofit hands out reflective jackets and flashlights to those they come across in their outreach, he said.

“I’m emotional because we’ve had so many friends that have died from traffic accidents in the last few years. I think this is beautiful and instrumental in bringing this message into our culture and community,” Kravitz said.

Be safe

Road safety tips for drivers:

  • Look out for people walking and rolling (bicycles, wheelchairs, etc.).
  • Follow the speed limit but also recognize you may need to go slower than the posted speed limit to protect walkers and people rolling.
  • Brake for people in marked and unmarked crosswalks. Every intersection is a crosswalk even if unmarked.
  • Respect yellow lights.
  • Be extra cautious at dusk, at dawn and in rainy weather. Most pedestrians are killed between dusk and dawn.

Road safety tips for pedestrians:

  • Stay alert. Keep eyes up, and stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Look both ways.
  • Be visible to drivers by wearing bright-colored clothing or reflective items so drivers can see you at night.
  • Make eye contact with the nearest driver to help them know you want to cross the street. Also, watch for turning vehicles.

— Washington Traffic Safety Commission

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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