Irene Ferguson

By Claire Roth
January 31, 2019

Active River Road resident Carleen Reilly shared the following message on January 23, 2019…

Dear River Road Community Resource Group:

We urgently need volunteers to work intensely on the River Road Corridor Study. Transportation Working Group members with good background info, neighbors living along the River Road Corridor, and employees and owners of River Road businesses are needed to provide valuable information and perspectives to the process. Note time and place in Calendar. Details here: https://www.eugene-

I hope you will forgive me for taking this space to remember Irene Ferguson after her untimely death when she was hit and killed on Hunsaker on Thursday evening, January 17. Irene’s life made an indelible imprint on me, many, many other River Road neighbors, and the broader community. She lived in our neighborhood at a Briarcliff apartment complex for 10 years before moving to a foster care home in northwest River Road neighborhood. She then moved to a foster home in Santa Clara on Hunsaker. Irene was a bellwether for transportation safety and transportation needs for impaired people. If Irene needed a transportation fix, we all needed it.

Irene was a force to be reckoned with. And her life was filled with ironies. Irene was born in Chicago area, was a nurse, and a Hoedad. She desired that people live in harmony with one another, and she worked to build community everywhere she went. And she went everywhere! She walked and rode the bus. She was very determined. If she wanted to go somewhere to do something, she found a way to do it, despite her physical impediments.

Irene was severely injured in a car crash in the 1980s in Florida. She had permanent brain trauma and a damaged leg that remained with her for the rest of her life. Soon after I met her, about 2009, she was hit by a vehicle at the corner of Hunsaker and River Road. The vehicle made a turn, hitting her in the crosswalk. Her bad leg was broken, and her good foot/leg was run over. She spent a long time in the hospital and rehab before going home. She had medical complications and difficulties in getting doctors to see her as she was on Medicaid. The driver’s insurance didn’t want to pay for her medical care. She spent more than 2 years with an attorney fighting for her, just to get the medical expenses paid.

She lived in great fear of being hit again by a car. She called me at times, in tears, when she was almost hit at various times as she crossed River Road to the bus. I wasn’t the only person to hear her stories. Councilor Claire Syrett was also on the other end of phone calls from Irene. In one instance, she was crossing River Road, one car stopped, but a second car plowed into the first car. Irene hid in the bushes because she thought she had caused the accident. Fortunately, another driver stayed behind, coaxed Irene out, and assured her that she was not responsible for the accident.

The irony of Irene being killed by a car on Hunsaker, just a couple of blocks from where she was hit in 2009, is tragic, to say the least. The question about her visibility on that very dark night lingers. Irene was obsessed with flashlights, headlamps, and reflectors. I wonder how well equipped she was that fatal evening.

Many River Road neighbors frequently complained about the 40 MPH speed limit on River Road, but Irene’s situation made the danger real for us. She motivated us to continue to complain and ask the City Engineer to reduce it. A City Engineer told us no for a dozen years. We were pleased and amazed when the new City Engineer, Matt Rodrigues, was able to petition ODOT to reduce it to 35 MPH within about 6 months of being placed in that position.

Irene had that same insistence that a pedestrian crossing was needed near Briarcliff where she and dozens of other residents in this area were dependent on public transit. Irene had a heightened sense of need for safety measures. And she reminded us often. When a new neighbor, Mary Byrnes, moved in with new energy and drive, they collected 250 signatures for that pedestrian crossing, and they flocked to the City Council meetings to push this idea through. Once again, Matt Rodrigues and Reed Dunbar got the job done. Irony struck again, however, when Irene was evicted from her apartment before she was able to benefit from this amenity that now serves many people.

Because of Irene’s mental stability, she was moved to a foster home where she could receive the professional care she needed.

Irene volunteered loyally in several organizations for the betterment of the community.

  1. River Road neighborhood: signing in neighbors, keeping the literature table neat, and loved flipping pancakes at the annual Pancake Breakfast.
  2. Volunteered at Next Step to take computers apart for recycling.
  3. Folded, labeled, and tabbed newsletters for her political affiliation. She knew that people with physical and mental impairments needed to be active politically to advocate for policies to address their needs.
  4. Acquired the first National Night Out in the River Road neighborhood in 2010. She was concerned about crime and wanted to bring change by providing safety information and resources and to help neighbors make connections with one another.
  5. Served on a Board for senior and disabled people to help shape policies that affect their lives, like public transit.
  6. Advocated for the reduction of the speed limit on River Road.
  7. Promoted a pedestrian crossing at Briarcliff for people to access bus stops.
  8. Spoke ably about the need for more bus services for people dependent on public transit or the generosity of friends to take them to doctor’s appointments or grocery shopping.

Irene had many interests: Astronomy–including string theory, Reading, Libraries, Camping in the woods, Gardening and Permaculture, Cats!, Singing, Walking, and Making friends and building community.

What can we learn from Irene and what should we ask for that will bring greater safety and better public transit for our neighborhoods? Here is my list, but you may have other action ideas. Let’s hear them.

  1. Maintain safety as the highest priority over all other factors.
  2. Name the new Santa Clara Transit station Ferguson Crossing.
  3. Don’t wait a dozen years to reduce speed limits in neighborhoods when they are requested.
  4. When sidewalks and bike lanes are needed for the common good, don’t be buffaloed by neighbors who have used the public right of way for landscaping and parking cars. Safety first. (People like Irene do not have vehicles to use, and many people are in her circumstance.) If neighbors object to access to right of way, make them buy the property and charge them taxes for all the years they have used public property.
  5. When private property owners obstruct to the installation of public transit, they need to be brought into adherence quickly to the rules of public domain. Don’t let it drag out for years on end. Public transit is a broad community service.