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Report: Transportation Safety Summit

Posted by on October 5th, 2005 at 1:16 pm

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend Monday’s Transportation Safety Summit hosted by the Portland Dept. of Transportation and City Commissioner Sam Adams. Bike safety was a main topic of discussion so I thought you’d like to know more about it. I know someone who attended and she was kind enough to write up this report for us. Thanks a million Elly!

The summit is Commissioner Adams’ brainchild–it provided a forum for citizens to get involved and various transportation oriented groups, from the Portland Police Bureau to the BTA, to share ideas and network. The main topics of discussion were how to reduce motor-vehicle related crashes and how to increase traffic safety for pedestrians and cyclists, particularly kids. There were even some school-aged kids present who made some excellent and articulate suggestions about traffic safety.

Talk was overwhelmingly positive about cycling. Sam Adams in particular kept going out of his way to highlight the importance of cycling, but it was a refrain everyone seemed to agree on.

The summit opened with a report on the State of Traffic Safety in the City, which was followed by two breakout groups designed for citizens and professionals to think about first, what is already working in Portland in favor of traffic safety, and second, what more the City and the community can do. The first groups focused on infrastructure-level safety issues, and the second on safety concerns of different transportation modes.

1. State of Traffic Safety in the City

Sam Adams began with a request that we focus our problem-solving skills on the following key hazards:

  • Driver distraction (especially cell phones)
  • Drunk/drugged driving (there are too many crashes because of this)

  • Speed (“The faster you go, the more people you will kill, and the faster you will kill yourself.”)

He also told us that he needs to trim down the PDOT budget by 8 million dollars in the next seven months, so could we please help him think of ways to increase traffic safety without huge investments into infrastructure and enforcement.

Mark Lear, a self professed “traffic safety junkie” and the City’s traffic safety guy then got up. Here are the highlights of his talk:

  • The City now says “crashes,” not “accidents.”
  • The three major fatality causes are speeding, drunk driving, and running red lights (by motorists)
  • In the 1970s, two thirds of kids walked or biked to school, and now it’s only 10%, though it’s a little higher in Portland. Our Safe Routes to School Program is meant to address that, and we need to do much more. This is also a public health issue.
  • Percentage of transit use is a good indicator for pedestrianism.
  • Cycling is great.
  • Portland dedicates a million bucks a year to traffic safety. This is paid for by traffic violation fines.

2. Breakout Groups

A. Neighborhood Traffic Safety

People were really excited about PDOT’s adventures in infrastructure–curb extensions, signage, pavement paint, speed bumps, signals, etc. What people wanted more of were slower speeds (15mph on neighborhood streets, and ending the 10 mph cushion on speed limit enforcement were two key points), more pedestrian-oriented enforcement and design, and especially more public education (and enforcement) about unmarked crosswalks and the stop-and-stay-stopped law. There was a lot of kudos for the city’s cycling infrastructure, and some suggestions for improving it.

B. Bicycle Traffic Safety

This was a feistier group, moderated by Evan Manvel of the BTA. Lots of people started giving suggestions for improvement right off the bat. There was a lot more talk about infrastructure. The new “sharrows” in NW apparently confuse motorists, but in a good way, so that they stay in the other lane. There was a lot of talk about bike boulevards–people want more and better. The Get Lit (free bike lights for people who can’t afford them) program got good press and a call for donations. There was a broad agreement that more education is needed–for motorists and cyclists, particularly kids and new riders. The “stop or yield” at stop signs debate continued here, but was (refreshingly) overshadowed by the focus on the safety hazard of motor vehicles.

During this breakout group, Adams spent a good deal of time sitting and listening, and at the end had three straw polls for us; first, “should handheld cellphone use be banned while driving (and biking)?” All hands but one went up (about 40?). When prompted, he asked “what about all cell phone use, period, while driving?” and about half the hands went down. He also asked us whether cyclists should have to obey all the same laws as motorists, or if there should be different legal requirements for different modes. The group was split on that. The third poll was: “Should helmets be legally required?” and the group was again split down the middle.

Someone mentioned a program in Australia where a doctor can write you a prescription that sends you to some agency that helps you walk and bike more. We should do this here!

My general impression as a cyclist: This summit was heavy on talk of cycling, all positive. Despite seeming popular belief on the city’s editorial pages, reckless cycling was never once cited as a systemic traffic hazard, and Adams got up at one point and said that all complaints about cyclists traced by his office have indicated “downtown messengers,” not the cycling population at large. Portland needs more such public discussion of traffic safety, where the focus is on the real threats: motorists speeding, drinking, and running reds.

–This report has been provided by Eleanor “Elly” Blue, local biking advocate and activist.

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  • Andy October 5, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    Wow – thanks for the update.

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