Boise & Garden City

‘Let’s make it safer’: Elderly Boise couple’s crosswalk deaths spark call to action

Florence and Bob Goar at home in 2017.
Florence and Bob Goar at home in 2017. Submitted photo

Bob Goar was an 89-year-old Air Force veteran and retired newspaper typesetter who didn’t let neuropathy in his feet stop him from getting out for daily walks when the weather was nice.

His walking companion was his partner in life for the past six decades: 87-year-old wife Florence, a 6-foot great-grandma with many stories to tell about playing basketball.

Bob used a walker to steady himself, and Florence held on to Bob’s arm.

“They enjoyed going out on a walk before dinner,” said their daughter, Donna Walker, in a phone interview from her home in Colorado this week.

That’s what Walker thinks they were doing on the afternoon of Feb. 27, when they were struck by an SUV as they were crossing North Milwaukee Street at the intersection with West Northview Street.

The couple were fatally injured less than a quarter-mile from the home they lived in for 46 years, and where they raised two daughters.

Florence died the day of the crash, and Bob died nine days later.

“He died of his injuries,” Walker said. “But I would imagine his heart was broken, and he didn’t want to live without his Florence.”

Boise police interviewed multiple witnesses — even tracking one down through security video from a nearby WinCo — and they are working to complete the crash reconstruction, a police spokeswoman told the Statesman. It’s unclear when the police report will be ready for prosecutors to review for possible charges against the driver.

The death of the Goars has left many in the community heartbroken, and looking for ways that pedestrian safety in general can be improved.

Public works employees in Kansas City, Kan., recently installed a 3-D crosswalk in the Northridge at Piper Estates neighborhood in an effort to discourage speeding and to improve pedestrian safety.

The Idaho Walk Bike Alliance has been studying the intersection where the crash occurred to see what, if anything, can be done to help reduce the likelihood of future incidents, and they’re asking local leaders to become more vocal and visible on the issue of pedestrian safety. They’re planning an event to bring together families of crash victims and concerned members of the community.

“To me, a walkable city is the lowest-hanging fruit of how to define a livable city,” said Chris Danley, a member of the group and co-owner of a business that does planning and policy work to promote healthy living. “Let’s make it safer.”

Problem intersection?

A 20-year look at the history of crashes at Milwaukee and Northview shows that there were 46 crashes at that intersection, according to Idaho Transportation Department data from 1998 to 2017.

That’s about two to three crashes a year.

No one died in any of those, and none involved pedestrians, though two involved bicycles. One crash resulted in serious injuries, but that was a single-vehicle crash involving alcohol, according to ITD.

The intersection has never been flagged as a safety concern, a spokeswoman for the Ada County Highway District told the Statesman.

Since March 2015, the traffic signal on eastbound Northview has had a flashing yellow arrow option at certain times of day for vehicles turning left, or south, on Milwaukee — the turn made by the SUV that hit the Goars. Police have not said what color the light was at the time of the crash.

The flashing yellow is called a permissive left turn, which allows drivers to turn when there are breaks in oncoming traffic and when the crosswalk is clear.

What’s notable is that there are a few times a day when the flashing yellow arrow at that light does not operate, and there is only a green arrow, or protected turn. That means drivers turning have the right of way.

The flashing yellow arrow does not operate at school arrival/departure times: 8:35 a.m.-9:20 a.m., 2:30 p.m.-3:15 p.m. and 3:40 p.m.-4:15 p.m., according to ACHD. That’s a traffic safety feature that could benefit the elderly and others, as it does schoolchildren — if the walker could activate a switch to make sure there is no yellow turn, said Don Kostelec, a board member for Idaho Walk Bike Alliance.

The crash occurred at about 5 p.m., an hour and a half before sunset.

“Had they [the Goars] been doing this same walk 45 minutes or so earlier, then they would have been protected,” Kostelec said. “Life shouldn’t depend on what time of day someone decides to walk.”

More time to cross

Those who have lived in Boise for a decade or more know that the Goars were not the first elderly couple to be killed in a city crosswalk: Mary and Tom Woychick, both in their late 70s, were hit on ParkCenter Boulevard on Aug. 19, 2009, as they walked home from morning Mass.

The driver who hit the Woychicks was convicted by a jury of two counts of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 8 months in jail.

The Goars’ deaths came on the heels of two bad years for pedestrian deaths in Ada County: five in 2017 and seven in 2018.

Also troubling is that the number of pedestrian crash victims with incapacitating injuries doubled from 20 in 2016 to 43 in 2017. Those are injuries that prevent a person from walking, driving and doing other normal activities.

Idahoans older than 65 are overrepresented in fatal pedestrian crashes, according to Kostelec’s review of 19 years of crash data (1997 to 2015). Seniors are about 8 percent of pedestrian crash victims but 24 percent of fatal crash victims, he said.

He believes some intersections could be made safer by adding a new feature that allows those who move more slowly to get a few extra seconds to cross the street.

Another idea: New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities have been adding signals that give pedestrians a “head start.” In New York that means showing a walk sign for 7 to 11 seconds before a turning car traffic gets a green light. The National Association of City Transportation Officials says that’s one of the best ways to reduce crashes and save lives, according to The New York Times.

“Over the years, several traffic studies have shown that when pedestrians are allowed to go first, there are fewer crashes,” The Times reported.

Those head-start signals already exist in Ada County, but ACHD traffic engineer Josh Saak estimated that there are just 10 to 15. Two examples are at Capitol and Idaho streets, and Broadway and Front streets.

“Those are on a case-by-case basis, where we have a high number of pedestrians,” Saak said.

Funerals instead of celebration

The Goars had two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren (and a fifth on the way). Their family had planned to gather in Boise this summer to celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary.

Instead, a memorial service for both was held at a local funeral home last Saturday. About 70 to 80 people attended.

The couple have been cremated and will be buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. A service at the cemetery will honor Bob’s military service: four years in the Navy and then 20 years in the Air Force. He worked in security.

“The military was so important to our parents,” Walker said.

So was their faith. They were Lutherans.

“They were very strong Christians,” Walker said.

Her father did ministry with death row inmates, and he visited veterans in the state home to be sure they were getting the support they needed. Her mother was active in the church.

Walker said she hopes that whoever picked up her father’s baseball hat from the crash scene will return it to the family. It was Bob’s favorite hat, she said. It’s a black and says “Korea-Vietnam veteran” on the front.

Goar hat.JPG
In this photo of Bob and Florence Goar, Bob is wearing his favorite hat. The hat disappeared from the crash scene on Feb. 27, and his family is hoping that whoever took it will return it to the family. Submitted photo

Walker said she is glad she talked to her mom on the phone the day of the crash and got to tell her one last time that she loved her.

“They were beautiful people, just wonderful people and loved by so many people,” Walker said. “They are in a better place now. They are in heaven with Jesus, together. That’s our faith. We know through our faith that we will see them again in heaven. We are just carrying on and living our lives as we did.”