Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 29th, 2011 at 10:49 am
(Photos © J. Maus)
"Over the last 10 years 377 people have lost their lives on Portland's streets and roads, that is more than the number of people who have been murdered in this city. A gruesome comparison I know, but I make it because it is a crisis that we intend to address."
That was the opening of a speech by Portland Mayor Sam Adams yesterday at the kickoff of the Bureau of Transportation's 'Street Smart: Go Safe' campaign. The campaign is a new effort by PBOT and its partners to improve traffic safety in the city.
Adams focused on enforcement at the event, making it clear that he intends to get tougher on two main areas: distracted driving (cell phone use and texting) and red light running (and to a lesser extent, speeding).
"Driving and texting is toxic," Adams told a bevy of news cameras, "If you drive and text you will likely hurt yourself or someone else. The numbers are clear." (20% of all injury crashes nationwide are attributed to distracted driving, that includes 5,500 deaths and 448,000 injuries.)
Adams' language was even more direct in a PBOT press release issued after the event where he said, “Using a cell phone behind the wheel turns your car into a loaded weapon."
To red light runners, Adams spoke forcefully:
"I want to make it very clear... if you're a bicyclist and you run a red light, we're going to ticket you. If you're a walker and you're jaywalking — especially in areas that we are having a lot of pedestrians being hit — we're going to ticket you. If you're speeding in any mode, we're going to ticket you... and our good judge here [Adams pointed to a judge in attendance] is going to make sure it sticks."
Adams said 11 Portlanders died and 3,500 were injured between 2000 and 2009 due to red light running.
Also clear from how Adams and PBOT have launched this campaign is that they're making a concerted effort to appeal to all modes of travel. At the press conference, representatives of AAA, the Oregon Trucking Assocation (OTA), the City of Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC), and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) held up signs that flip-flopped their respective modes.
Matt Arnold, Chair of the BAC, held a sign that read, "I drove my daughter to school" (In a speech, he also said despite the perception that people who ride bikes are "resistant" to enforcement, the BAC strongly supports enforcement actions against red light violators).
Steph Routh, director of the WPC, held a sign that read, "I love avocados delivered by truck."
Debra Dunn of the OTA held a sign that read, "I ride my bike for fun."
PBOT noted that this is the first time ever that these various interest groups have teamed up to focus on a single set of concerns.
Underscoring this theme, Adams said, "We cannot achieve our goals one mode at a time."
"You can be a car driver one part of the day, but I can guarantee you, you also, in that same day, you're also going to be a pedestrian.
You can be an advocate for trucks and freight, which are a key part of our economy as a traded-sector city, but you will also want to ride your bike for fun.
You can be an avid advocate for pedestrian safety and walking and running, but you also benefit from a successful and safe freight community that delivers to you what you need to live your life the way you want.
And you can be a bicyclist 90 percent of the time, but you also benefit from how that bicycle was likely delivered to the store where you bought it... The point is, street smart is about being safe in all modes in all times."
Adams' talk at the event was tough and it jibes with his consistent message of the years that safety is his top priority. However, it remains to be seen how much impact this new campaign will have (it's also inherently difficult to judge the results given the lack of benchmark data and clearly defined goals). So far, in addition to the media coverage (which has value in raising awareness of the issues), the campaign appears to only include more targeted enforcement missions by the Portland Police Bureau.
PPB Traffic Division Lieutenant Eric Schober told me he expects about one enforcement mission a month starting in late July.
The PPB and PBOT will publicize the location, times and dates of those missions and they will target specific behaviors (similar to the existing PBOT crosswalk enforcement program).
When asked what changes this campaign might bring to the PPB, Lt. Schober said his officers are "actively enforcing the laws now" and that nothing new internally will be done. He also pointed out that the PPB has written nearly 6,000 cell phone law violations since it was enacted in January 2010.
As for funding of the campaign, there's nothing new set-aside for it. However, from here on out, expect Adams and PBOT to fold all of their traffic safety related projects and activities into the Street Smart campaign. Adams said while enforcement is the initial focus, he promised that we'd be hearing more from him "as summer goes on" about engineering (such as new bike boxes) and educational components.