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Recap: Summit lays out City's priorities on transportation safety

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 10th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

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Citizen activist Rebecca Hamilton pitches
Mayor Adams with her big ideas.
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(Photos © J. Maus)

The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation and Mayor Sam Adams hosted the Transportation Safety Summit Tuesday night. The event brought together advocacy groups, city staffers, citizen activists, and leaders from PBOT, the Oregon Department of Transportation and other agencies. The goal was to share information, garner feedback, and get focused around our city's top safety priorities.

The crowd was a who's-who of citizen activism and advocacy in Portland, and the Summit gave them a golden opportunity to bend the ear of policymakers. But before the real work could get started, the crowd sat back and listened to presentations from six speakers; Mayor Sam Adams, outgoing PBOT Director Sue Keil, her replacement Tom Miller, Police Bureau Traffic Division Captain Todd Wyatt, ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell, and TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane.

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Mayor Adams

Pointing out that more people have died on Portland's roads in the past decade (around 364) than were sitting in the large auditorium, Adams said that he has made safety the #1 priority for Portland. "We've prioritized safety over smooth streets." Adams also explained why safety matters — from the $100 million per year traffic crashes cause in health care costs and productivity losses, to the congestion they cause.

Adams also touted the City's recent safety successes, while also pointing out that the 15 people who died while walking on our streets in 2010 is "completely unacceptable."

The good news for pedestrian advocates is that Mayor Adams and PBOT have allocated $16 million in State funds to build new sidewalks in East and Southwest Portland, including $350,000 per year in crossing improvements.

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PBOT Director Tom Miller

With the vast majority of walking fatalities occurring on busy, high-speed arterial streets, PBOT's High Crash Corridor program was a major theme of the event. Tom Miller, newly appointed PBOT Director, presented a list of the 10 most dangerous corridors. "I know that when I look at that list," he said, "I know the way I feel when I'm on those streets... This isn't just an intellectual thing, you can feel it."

Of the 10 most dangerous corridors, Miller announced that PBOT will produce "annual performance reports" on each corridor (due by end of June 2011). He also said that PBOT has chosen 122nd Ave., SE Foster, and 82nd as the first three corridors they will focus on.

Miller also used the Summit as an opportunity to share his concept of "true choice" that he first shared in an article in The Oregonian over the weekend. Here's an excerpt from his presentation:

"The endgame as far as I'm concerned as your PBOT director, is true choice for all of you. So when you wake up in the morning and you're headed to work or wherever, you have true choice, you can travel safely and efficiently by foot, by bicycle, by transit or motor vehicle of course. Today we have motor vehicle pretty well covered right? But we've got a lot more work to do for those traveling on foot, by bike, or those taking transit."

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Traffic Division Capt. Todd Wyatt.

As we all know, a major element of traffic safety is enforcement. Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division Captain Todd Wyatt spoke to that issue in a speech that raised quite a few eyebrows. On pedestrian fatalities, he said,

"I hate to say it because it may upset some people, but most of the people killed last year who were pedestrians, most of the time it's the pedestrian's fault. I'm sorry but I want people to know that so they cross safely."

Capt. Wyatt also recounted the serious crash on SW Multnomah Blvd that happened on Friday as a result of a woman who was distracted by her barking dog in the back seat of her car. "That bicyclist would be out of the hospital today and on their way to recovery if they were wearing a helmet," Capt. Wyatt said, "It wasn't their fault for the accident, but they're going to have to take responsibility for why they're injured more for the rest of their lives."

While those are egregious examples of victim-blaming, you had to see and hear Capt. Wyatt's full speech to appreciate his general demeanor and overall message. My sense is that he truly cares about all road users and he's simply trying to drive home what he feels are important safety messages.

ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell was next up at the mic. He shared good news about SW Barbur Blvd, saying that ODOT will improve the crossing to the Rasmussen Village Apartment complex (just south of where Angela Burke was hit) "this year."

After all the talking, it was time for action. Below are some images and notes from the discussion panel sessions...

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Karen Kennedy came to the event because she crashed on rail tracks while biking on the transit mall downtown. After 7 hours of surgery to repair her elbow, she became an activist. She was shocked that no one was talking about the rail danger issue at the Summit. After he crash, Kennedy sent Portland State University president Wim Wiewel (her boss) a letter outlining her concerns. He responded and she is now in touch with PSU researchers who are looking into analyzing the issue. "It still feels like an invisible issue," she said, "Like no one's talking about it."
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Jeff Mandel of the Animated Traffic Law Center shared a sneak peek at their new Android app. It features a quiz on state vehicle laws accompanied by excellent animations.
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Carla Danley is one of several new faces on the City of Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee. The logo on her sweatshirt caught my eye.
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David Hampsten of East Portland and Marianne Fitzgerald from Southwest are two neighborhood activist superstars who have become key PBOT partners.
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East Portland carfree mom Kathleen McDade was really happy to see the proliferation of neighborhood greenways east of I-205. She commented that new sharrows and other treatments on SE 130th are "really slowing people down."
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I met new PPB Traffic Division Lieutenant Eric Schober.
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BTA Leader Rob Sadowsky encouraged feedback on reducing crashes.
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I found this concise definition of active transportation interesting. If transit qualifies, why doesn't walking to and from my car parking space qualify? What's the mileage threshold?
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These volunteer activists with OPAL were bringing attention to dangerous transit stops.
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Citizen participation in action: Voting for sidewalks in East Portland!

Overall, it was a solid event; although I could have done with fewer speeches (which was mostly preaching to the choir). The main themes that emerged were the High Crash Corridors program, sidewalks and pedestrian safety, Safe Routes to Schools, Neighborhood Greenways, and East Portland and the idea of spreading the benefits of safe and "true choice" transportation beyond Portland's inner core.

The Summit was also a shining example of the role — and power of — citizen activists in making this city work. PBOT Director Tom Miller put it best when he told the crowd, "We appreciate the citizen activism... That's how things get done in Portland. We don't do this alone."

— See more more photos from the the event in the gallery.

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  • K'Tesh February 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    It sucked that the Cycle Oregon Kickoff Party, and the summit were in conflict with each other... I'd have loved to do both.

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  • Dave February 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I believe most people care for the safety of others, unfortunately, as with Captain Wyatt, they usually bring that out in public by saying "defend yourself!", not "how can we protect you?"

    Especially coming from the police, it's not exactly hope-inspiring.

    I would like to hear more about the rest of his speech, but the bits you quoted here leave me wishing for a lot more from the traffic division captain.

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  • Anne Hawley February 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I don't have a problem with Captain Wyatt's safety statements, even out of context. Personal, individual responsibility is a big part of the safety picture. Without at least SOME emphasis on it, we won't get very far in improving the safety of our streets.

    His words strike me as pretty measured, really.

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    • spare_wheel February 10, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      I thought it was in extremely poor taste given that the victim is still hospitalized.

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  • Dave February 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Yeah, personal responsibility does matter - but to take a cyclist who was riding responsibly and was hit by a distracted driver (in a large vehicle, nonetheless), and tell everyone they should have protected themselves better, that's just pushing it for me. Especially using no proof or details whatsoever to make an absolute claim about how, had he worn a helmet, he would now be in much better condition. In the case of a collision with a car, that is hardly a given.

    Regarding pedestrians - yes, you shouldn't be running into the road without looking, but completely blaming the deaths on the pedestrians - well, all they did was enter the street. They may have done so "unsafely" - but why was it unsafe? The primary reason is not because they did it mid-block, or against a signal.

    We existed for centuries without people being in the streets being a problem. It was only after the mass introduction of the automobile that being in the street became illegal or dangerous.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      Well said Dave. I agree with your sentiment. The reason I mentioned the context of Capt. Wyatt's comments is because in my gut I think he's an O.K. guy and that he's open to learning more about these issues. The story was getting long, so I didn't include more of his comments.. He shared some funny stuff about how he got a traffic ticket and he also shared that the main priority for his division this year is cracking down on drunk drivers.

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      • Dave February 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm

        That's good to hear - I hope as time goes on, and bicycle and pedestrian traffic become heavier, it will become less and less the default safety reaction to just tell people to protect themselves on the roads, and more and more the reaction to actually do something useful about it (including not essentially forcing people to drive faster than they can reasonably control their vehicles).

        I hope that he will have some really good interaction with pedestrian and bicycle advocates and that a useful partnership can be formed there.

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    • jram February 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm

      I definitely agree with you Dave. I think it is a pretty bold statement by Capt Wyatt to speculate on what could have been when it comes to someone's recovery. Maybe if Reese's doctors made that statement i would be a little more receptive (but still not thrilled).

      I am also a little skeptical about the pedestrian being at fault statement. There have been some pedestrian accidents in recent months where the driver was "not at fault" that i found it difficult to really believe. There is a good chance the "person at fault" statistic is skewed by improper assignment of fault.

      It is definitely good to see so many departments working together on something as big as this. I really hope Mayor Adams is serious about safety being the top priority. I am a huge fan of the "true choice" concept.

      Thanks for the recap for those of us who didn't make it.

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      • Dave February 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm

        Yes, I wanted to say also that the "true choice" concept is a huge one - I hope they really start pushing that idea, both in creating infrastructure and law, but also in media.

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  • John Mulvey February 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for this recap, Jonathan. I got stuck late at work and wasn't able to attend. Sounds like a great event and I'm particularly happy to see Foster Road named as a specific priority.

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  • BURR February 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    so once again, where is the high profile motorist reeducation campaign?

    nowhere to be seen, because PBOT is full of engineers and PPB is full of cops, and neither of these two organizations are very good at providing the necessary educational tools.

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  • davemess February 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    That bicyclist would be out of the hospital today and on their way to recovery if they were wearing a helmet," Capt. Wyatt said, "It wasn't their fault for the accident, but they're going to have to take responsibility for why they're injured more for the rest of their lives."

    Excuse my ignorance, but does the helmet issue ever come up when people are talking about motorcycle accidents? Or people who drive cars without airbags?

    There are better ways to advocate for helmet usage, using a poor blameless victim of what I believe is a crime is in very very poor taste.

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    • spare_wheel February 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      And why don't we ever hear anyone preaching "personal responsibility" when helmetless car or motorcycle victims are hospitalized.

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      • Jack February 10, 2011 at 6:53 pm

        I'm pretty sure the helmet issue comes up with most helmet-less motorcycle accidents.

        But maybe we -- the people who take the time to post comments online -- should make a point of bringing this up more. Next time you I a news article about a motor vehicle accident with injuries, I'm going to ask why those involved weren't wearing helmets.

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        • Jack February 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm

          Sorry, big typo. That should read "Next time I see a news-article..."

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  • Aaronf February 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Count me among those who see more room for emphasis on personal responsibility. Biking or driving I assume that the other cars and bikes aren't paying attention to me. It isn't worth it to me to risk getting right hooked just because I have a right to be there and they should be paying attention. No matter how much education.. some people are going to blow it sometimes. I probably would get run over in a crosswalk every other month if I didn't make sure I was seen rather than crossing as soon as it was my turn. Some people be crazy, or just focused on making that right turn... How do we test/educate something like that?

    And I'm no doctor, but if you have a head injury I think it is pretty safe to say a helmet would help. Not that controversial really.

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    • the peoples republic.... February 10, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      I'm with ya. IMO the consequences of bike/vehicle accidents are way too high for the cyclist to argue about right and wrong. I understand the risks and take what I believe are reasonable measures to limit personal injury should I get in an accident. I wear a helmet when I ride on the road to limit head trauma if I were hit by driver/rider/ped not because I think I am going to cause myself injury. Offroad is another story.

      For me riding defensively is key, the stakes are too high.

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      • Dave February 10, 2011 at 2:54 pm

        And the two of you have no desire to change that situation? You'd prefer it just stays as-is? Nobody is saying you shouldn't ride defensively, or look where you're going when walking, just that our perception of safety and blame should change as a whole in society.

        I'm just curious, honestly, how you view this. Do you believe it never is going to get better, no matter how hard you try, or do you like the thrill of traffic, or what is the reason? I understand the desire to protect yourself, but I don't understand the lack of desire for change in a situation you feel is dangerous.

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        • Aaronf February 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm

          Honestly, I feel that a situation like the ones I suggested above just aren't going to get much better. How much can you educate people into constant aware of their surroundings? The changes suggested tend to sound like really big projects that will still only reduce risk.

          I am not a thrill seeker. I drive and bike in a very vanilla fashion. I check mirrors, get eye contact from drivers and so on. I would rather accept responsibility than get hit and be a victim.

          I'm not against making things better, but I have yet to see any promising proposals to make things better. Everything I see is either politically of fiscally very unlikely. DMV already has employees taking furlough days... you can't just start having people take another drive test every 10 years... and there is no data I know of that suggests it would prevent enough accidents to be cost effective.

          I don't see this as an egregious case of blaming the victim. If there is a cultural taboo in saying helmets can help prevent head injuries, there is a problem with the culture. You guys are all gonna get run over if you demand that motorists just pay more attention instead of proactively accepting some responsibility.

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          • Dave February 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm

            Aaron: like I said, I'm not suggesting anybody do anything stupid - I also ride very intentionally, aware of what's going on around me, and try to avoid traffic rather than tangle with it.

            All that I'm saying is that, while acute awareness and defensiveness may be necessary sometimes, I want to work to change that somewhat, while not being ignorant or in denial about reality in the meantime.

            I'm not looking to play the victim, I'm looking for *everyone* on the road to have to take some responsibility, which is often not the case now.

            I do get the cynicism... I often feel the same, and it seems like hardly anything really important ever does get done. I guess I'm just too much of an idealist to let it go. I don't know if that's good or bad, but there you go.

            Also, I'm not against someone saying helmets can help prevent head injuries. I think as a general statement, that is true (to varying degrees depending on the impact and overall situation). I am against someone saying, without showing me data or information to help prove it, that in a collision with a fast-moving large vehicle, a person who wasn't wearing a helmet would absolutely without question be in much better condition if they had been wearing a helmet. That *is* blaming the victim, and is an emotional reaction to a situation, not a logical one.

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  • Steve B February 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Great recap! I really liked what Tom Miller had to say. I am hopeful about what he'll bring to PBOT.

    The highlight of my night was connecting with so many rock star activists. Perhaps that is one of the greatest values of having a summit in the first place about the summit.

    I was also dismayed with Wyatt's remarks that blamed the victim for being in the hospital. I have no doubt Wyatt wants to see everyone get home safely, but I take his remarks as an indication of the gap between police culture and our own department of transportation.

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  • Mark February 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Okay, enough victim blaming!

    Bicycle helmets are NOT designed to protect the wearer from injury caused by being run down by a motor vehicle. They are designed to lessen injury caused by falling off the bike. The CPSC, who certifies bike helmets in this country, tests them with a straight drop from 6.5 feet, attaining an impact speed of 20ft/second. That's about 13.6 mph. Getting hit by a multi-ton vehicle traveling 40 or 50 mph? Not going to help much.

    Yes, I wear a helmet when I ride my bike, because sometimes I do fall. I have no illusions that it will help much if I am run down by a car. It might help my family to win a civil suit, because our courts and people who sit in the jury are misinformed about the helmets capabilities.

    Not getting run down by a distracted driver in the first place would be better than trusting a couple hundred grams of styrofoam to save my life.

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    • Aaronf February 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm

      A helmet won't prevent an injury. Will it not lessen an injury?

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      • dwainedibbly February 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm

        Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the nature of the injury. To make a blanket statement displays ignorance.

        Where did Capt Wyatt go to medical school, and where did he do his neurology residency? Google was of no use in finding this information.

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  • Aaronf February 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    If I do something that is a risk to my own safety, am I at least partially to blame? Say I pick up a hitchhiker and he eats me. Obviously I am a victim, but am I blameless?

    If someone says I should not have taken that risk, are they also saying the hitchhiker was not the main problem? I say no. I think that saying the cyclist would be in better shape wearing a helmet doesn't make the driver any less careless or selfish.

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  • Mark February 10, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Saying that the man on the bike would be out of the hospital now if he'd been wearing a helmet (Capt. Wyatt) is pure speculation and attributes too much to the capabilities of a bicycle helmet. It _might_ have lessened the injuries slightly, but that's all one could rightly claim.

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  • J_R February 10, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Count me as another who's extremely disappointed by Capt. Wyatt's remark. Blaming the victim, again.

    What about the personal responsibility of the motorist? Job one is driving the car.

    Maybe Capt. Wyatt should have said "If the dog had been properly confined in a crate, the motorist wouldn't have been so distracted that she ran down the innocent bicyclist who was riding where he was supposed to be."

    The law doesn't require dog to be transported in a crate nor does it require an adult cyclist to wear a helmet. Both are good practices and we observe them in my family.

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  • Kevin Wagoner February 10, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    The fact that this conversation is happening seems positive. If I read that right there is a higher priority being put on safety than on potholes. If so I am assuming that shows in the financial spending (or will in the future). I hope they also discussed slowing traffic down which makes for a safer environment for everyone.

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    • J_R February 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm

      My worst crashes on a bike have been due in large part to inadequate pavement surface. Sure, I was to blame for not being better able to navigate around the broken up surface, but I hope you don't think we have to choose between "safety and potholes." I think they are often directly related.

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      • Alexis February 11, 2011 at 10:36 am

        I thought about this during Mayor Adams' comments as well. Potholed streets are not safe and they are not good for the equipment that travels on them.

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  • Kevin Wagoner February 10, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    I believe Todd is a good guy. I hope he considers offering an apology for his statements blaming a victim. I find it unacceptable.

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  • CaptainKarma February 10, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    When I had my car stolen out of my driveway, I told the cop that it was my fault as I had left a key under the seat. He said no, didn't matter, the perp didn't have to steal the car, it was his doing. So anyway, I always wear a helmet but that in no way changes whether or not someone should run me over or whatever.

    One of my favorite cartoons ever showed a motorcyclist whose M/C just made contact with the front passenger door of a little old lady who had pulled out in front of him. Of course the bike stopped, and the rider kept going. It showed him sailing into the open window of the car, arms outstretched, aiming for the woman's neck, as if to strangle her on his way through space, regardless of how things were going to end up. The expression on both their faces - priceless.

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  • Ted Buehler February 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    I call b.s. On Todd Wyant's statement --
    "most of the people killed last year who were pedestrians, most of the time it's the pedestrian's fault"

    I really really doubt it. I think the problem here is that in many of these cases there were only two witnesses. And one of them is dead. And the other one might not know if they're guilty or not (based on a lot of peoples' driving styles they're pretty uneducated about the law) and even if they know they're guilty they might not confess because they don't want to go to jail.

    Call me a skeptic.

    Ted Buehler

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