‘Somebody is going to get killed’: Washougal residents urge city to tame speeding on ‘G’ Street

Neighbors hope city officials will take action after road rage incident injures father

In 2017, Angi Waring moved into a house on “G” and 20th streets in Washougal, about four blocks west of where she grew up. Waring said she still loves her “tight-knit” neighborhood and friendly neighbors, but has grown increasingly frustrated by the “dangerous” drivers on “G” Street.

“We need to find a way to slow people down,” Waring said. “I mean, if you want to speed, Portland International Raceway has a great racetrack. Go over there. You can speed all you want.”

And although Waring said “G” Street has always had its share of bad drivers — “I remember my dad hollering at people to slow down or stop at the stop signs when I was growing up,” Waring said. “We were conditioned to watch out for those idiots, because if we were going to (Hathaway) Park or (Hathaway Elementary) School, we had to cross the street.” — the issue seems to be getting worse.

“This has been an area of concern for many years. I grew up on 24th and ‘G,’ (near) Hathaway Elementary School and Hathaway Park, and recall many cars failing to stop at the stop sign. I’ve lived at my current address for five years and have witnessed more speeding than ever.” Waring told Washougal City Council members during a July 25 Council meeting. “The speed and lack of stopping at stop signs on 20th and ‘G,’ 24th and ‘G’ and 25th and ‘G’ are cause for concern.”

Now, Waring is leading a grassroots neighborhood effort to convince the the city of Washougal to install speed-control devices and reduce the speed limit on “G” Street between Washougal River Road and 28th Street.

Waring petitioned the city to conduct a speed survey in 2018, “but did not receive any follow-up.”

She tried again in July, collecting signatures from 70 neighboring residents and presenting them to the Council.

“We have children, grandchildren, loved ones and animals who are all at risk of being injured or worse,” Waring told city officials on July 25.. “We ask the city of Washougal to install speed bumps and lower the speed limit on this stretch of road to help alleviate the problem. We need to be proactive, not reactive. … We hope for a positive solution to maintain and improve the safety of our neighbors.”

Waring said she regularly watches people driving down her street who are going significantly faster than the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour.

“You’d think it’s the younger generations doing it,” Waring said, “but it’s not necessarily an age demographic. When school starts up here in a few weeks, it’s the parents who are late dropping their children off who speed through here. And a lot of the (drivers) that drive back and forth, they don’t even live on the street. They’re trying to bypass the intersection (at “E” Street and Washougal River Road).”

Washougal City Manager David Scott said he “certainly recognizes” the need for speed reduction in that area of the city and that the city could “easily” add the stretch of road to its next speed study.

“We put the tubes out and then collect data on the speeds. There are some standards in the mandated traffic manual that guide traffic engineering decisions, like placements of stop signs and placements of speed mitigations,” Scott said during the Council’s July 25 meeting. “We will collect that data and see what the data tells us. There’s a lot of technical detail involved with that around what percentage of drivers at the 50th percentile are doing and what they’re doing at the 85th percentile, and that informs the level of required mitigation, if any, so we need to pull data on that.”

Scott said he wasn’t sure how long such a speed study might take.

“We have a contract with a company that does it for us,” Scott said. “You don’t want to do it just one afternoon or over one weekend, so there’s a period of time. But it won’t be a long time.”

Molly Coston, Washougal’s former mayor and a current city councilmember, said it was obvious, judging by the number of people who had turned out during the July 25 Council meeting to discuss the speeding on “G” Street, that there was a high level of community concern.

“That’ll prompt us to put that up towards the top of our list,” Coston said. “I think that coming to us tonight is really a very positive step in managing speed on that corridor.”

City officials relocated one of their mobile speed display trailers to the street earlier this month, but Waring believes more can be done to slow down dangerous drivers.

“We understand that police patrol the area and cite drivers (for speeding). However, this is only a temporary and limited solution,” Waring said. “We are looking for permanent results that will deter speeding on our roads 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Moving from frustration to fear

Waring said she has watched speeding drivers hit objects and even animals on her street over the past few years.

“One of the neighbors lost a cat,” she said. “Heidi and Joe (Graves) lost a mailbox — twice. They almost lost their kid, who had just gone into (the house) seconds before a van blew through here and took out the stop sign. That’s when they took in their basketball hoop,” Waring said.

But it was one specific event that took place on July 15, that prompted Waring into action.

That was the day Waring’s across-the-street neighbor, James Birkenfeld, confronted a speeding driver and was subsequently injured after being pulled down the road for approximately 40 feet by that driver.

“The car that dragged me, when he blew by the first time, was doing at least 70 (miles per hour),” Birkenfeld said. “It was a blur. I went out because my 10-year-old was out here riding his bike with his buddies.”

While chatting with neighbors, Birkenfeld saw the driver heading back.

“(The driver) came down the street, blew through the stop sign, probably doing 50 at the time.”

Birkenfeld said, adding that he tried to get the driver’s attention by waving.

“He pulled up and stopped,” Birkenfeld said. “I walked to the side of the car and pointed in (the window). I don’t know if it was the guy in the backseat that grabbed me or not. I think it was the driver.’

Birkenfeld told the driver to slow down, that the posted speed limit was 25 miles per hour.

“And he pulled my arm in and gunned it,” Birkenfeld said. “He took me (about 40 feet). I couldn’t do anything until he let go.”

An ambulance arrived on the scene to take Birkenfeld to a hospital, where he was treated for injuries to his legs, hip and face. Washougal police later arrested the driver, who is currently awaiting sentencing.

“My son thought I was dead,” Birkenfeld said. “I got home from the hospital at like 2 a.m., and he came in our bed the next morning and replayed the whole story. He saw it all. He still does, actually. He sees my scar and asks me if I’m going to go to the ambulance. … It’s not like I came out and harassed (the driver). I never would have come out if my son wasn’t out riding his bike. I would’ve been like, ‘Oh, another speeder.'”

Jennifer Birkenfeld, James’ wife, was barbecuing in the couple’s backyard when the incident took place.

“It was awful,” she said. “I’m dragging my husband off the street, (and he’s) in and out of consciousness. It took this accident to make the cops (pay attention). We begged and begged for years to get them out here to come sit in our driveway, to get the ‘speedwagon’ out here, and they just didn’t. … It’s like a speedway.”

Waring said Birkenfeld’s experience prompted her and other neighbors to confront city officials.

“That was when we finally said, ‘OK, we’ve had enough. We’re going to fight this tooth and nail, whatever it takes,” Waring said. “That one incident really just set the ball in motion. It has been going on for quite some time, but it went from an annoyance and a frustration to a worry. What happened to James absolutely put it into a whole different perspective. Now it’s fear.”

Waring also said drivers aren’t stopping at the stop signs on “G” Street.

“They don’t just slow down and roll through,” she said. “It’s just like they’re not even there. We’ve got to get cameras. The police force does not have the staff or the resources or the funds to sit and wait. Traffic violations are not their meat and potatoes. They have other issues, like drug problems or other violent offenses. But it would be nice if we could get some sort of resource.”

Bre Yeager, Waring’s wife, told council members that somebody is eventually going to get killed on “G” Street if the city doesn’t install some sort of speed-prevention devices.

“That’s why I’m hoping we’ll get some sort of solution from the speed studies right now,” Waring said. “Hope for the best and expect the worst, I guess? I think the city is holistically focused on other, bigger projects, and we’re a blip on the radar. But I think in order for us to really get to the point of either, ‘They’re just going to do it or going to tell us to shut up,’ (we’re going to keep) showing up to the council meetings, and that’s kind of my plan.”

Waring also hopes her neighborhood’s efforts might make people think twice about speeding.

“I don’t know why everybody’s in such a hurry,” Waring said. “Life goes by too fast as it is.”