Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 19th, 2013 at 10:55 am
at TriMet's safety campaign.
It's that time of year when many commutes happen in the dark and transportation agencies and advocacy groups roll out their safety promotion campaigns. You know the campaigns, they encourage people to wear bright, reflective clothing, and implore people to take extra caution when bicycling and walking.
Here in Portland, TriMet has been doing their 'Be Seen Be Safe' promotion for several years. It includes a fashion show and a contest to see who has the most highly visible bike and/or body. And just this morning we saw the following in our Twitter stream from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration:
If you like walking or jogging, wear bright clothes or reflective tape. Drivers will be able to see you better.
— NHTSA (@NHTSAgov) November 19, 2013
We've covered these campaigns in the past; but this year for some reason we haven't felt compelled by TriMet's PR pitches. The campaigns are obviously well-intended; but if safety is truly the goal, why not focus on the most rampant and dangerous behaviors?
On this note, Brian Davis, a transportation analyst for an engineering firm in downtown Portland, has penned an article on Portland Transport that captures a frustration that is growing more common among traffic safety advocates.
"There’s a patronizing naiveté in the implication that all of our anxious moments would abate if only we’d liven up our dour wardrobes with a few shades of traffic cone," Davis writes. "I can wear all the shiny shit I want, but it won’t make me nearly as bright as a smartphone screen if that’s where a driver’s gaze is fixed... 'Be Seen, Be Safe' is a symptom of an auto-centric worldview where if a pedestrian or bicyclist is unseen by a driver then they must have been unseeable."
Via that article, we came across an elaborate parody of TriMet's official 'Be Seen Be Safe' website. With the spoof name of "TriMore," the website's authors have turned the tables on the campaign by changing 'Be Seen Be Safe' to 'Look up. Slow down.' The site is targeted toward the act of driving and it reminds us that "Changing seasons is a time to step up your alertness" when behind the wheel.
At the TriMore site, people are encouraged to stop texting and/or looking at phones while driving and they're even told to paint their vehicle a bright color. "Including reflection to your everyday commuting car is essential to visibility during low-light hours," the site reads. Here's a shot of their safety tips:
There's no harm in reminding road users to use caution during the dark, rainy winter season. But there's a point where transportation agencies and advocacy groups might want to consider a more balanced approach with messages that address the most common and dangerous behaviors while doling out advice that's more commensurate with road users' capacity to do harm.