home
Advertise on BikePortland

Portland City Council passes Vision Zero resolution

Posted by on June 17th, 2015 at 2:02 pm

vzcitycouncil
Vision Zero’s big day.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A few hours ago Portland City Council unanimously passed a resolution that reads, “No loss of life is acceptable on our city streets,” a phrase that’s part of the city’s larger goal of Vision Zero.

Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick introduced the resolution by calling out naysayers: “I think there are people who assume it’s not possible, people might think accidents happen,” he said. “That is not true.”

Mayor Charlie Hales said the city’s official embrace of Vision Zero isn’t just a soundbite. “This is a serious commitment by the city to say ‘This is our goal and we meant it.'” However, despite requests from advocacy groups, the city did not amend the resolution to set a firm target date to achieve Vision Zero and they didn’t dedicate any specific funding to implement the new policy. (One amendment pursued by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance was passed. It requires the city to take specific steps to prevent racial profiling as new enforcement measures are rolled out.)

“[These deaths] are going to continue to happen as long as we have streets that allow for it.”
— Noel Mickelberry, Oregon Walks

The resolution was strongly supported not only by the mayor and members of Council, but also by PBOT staff and advocates who shared powerful testimony.

PBOT Director Leah Treat referred to traffic injuries and fatalities as “a health and social justice problem.” The bureau’s Safety and Active Transportation Division Manager Margi Bradway added that, “We need to reset how we think about traffic safety because what we’re doing now isn’t working and Portland is behind the mark.”

Bradway pointed out that while Portland is better than the national average when it comes to preventing roadway fatalities, we are still behind New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. Those cities average 3.9, 4.0, and 5.2 deaths per 100,000 people respectively while Portland averages 6.2 (the United State average overall is 11.2).

City Council says this new policy will have a wide-ranging impact on all future decisions. To help guide those decisions, Bradway shared a slide during a brief presentation that laid out Portland’s new “Vision Zero Philosophy” (emphases theirs):

  • The death or serious injury of even one person is one too many.
  • Human error is inevitable, thus street design must be forgiving.
  • Responsibility for fatal and serious crashes rest not just on users, but on the system design.
  • In roadway design, either lower speeds or separate users.

Advocates are celebrating the passage of this resolution, but they hoped the city would go even further.

Testifying through tears as she recalled recent fatalities, Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry told council, “[These deaths] are going to continue to happen as long as we have streets that allow for it… No one should accept this.”

Mickelberry and other advocacy groups that have formed a coalition around Vision Zero urged Council to amend the resolution to include a firm date. They want to see the city commit to achieving zero fatalities and injuries by 2025. Bicycle Transportation Alliance leader Rob Sadowsky also testified, saying that “Vision Zero policy isn’t effective unless it sets a measurable goal with a target date.”

“I don’t know what the structural improvements need to be on the Burnside Bridge that we can install in short order; but we need to be looking into that.”
— Amanda Fritz, City Commissioner

City council agrees with advocates that this policy is important, but they weren’t comfortable setting a timeline. They say a lack of funding and the potential for political fallout if they’re seen as failures makes a date commitment unwise.

Novick said he’d consider a date, but only after having “further conversations about the pros and cons.” He wants to talk to leaders who worked on Portland’s “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness” and ask them, “What happens to the discussion when you can’t meet that goal?”

Commissioner Nick Fish said he doesn’t think a target date is a good idea. Given his experience dealing with the homelessness issue (which he said people call a failure because it still exists) Fish said while the problem persists, the city has made huge strides. “We haven’t conquered homelessness,” he said, “But we’ve made a hell of a down payment.” Fish would rather set achievable goals and describe what success looks like so the city can “celebrate those wins.”

In his closing statement after voting yes on the resolution, Fish told PBOT staff that, “My concern about a timeline is I want you to have time to do it right. I don’t want people to declare failure when you make progress.”

For his part, Mayor Hales said he doesn’t want to set a timeline “until we know what resources we have to do this.”

On a similar note, Commissioner Amanda Fritz said, “We can’t set a timeline because we don’t have the funding.” “That’s heartbreaking to know there are improvements needed all over but we don’t have funding.”

Less than a year ago, Commissioner Fritz’s husband was killed in a head-on collision on Interstate 5. “It’s been very difficult for me to sit through this hearing,” she said in her closing statement. Fritz added that, as in the case of her husband, “things happen” so we need to engineer our roads in a way that protects against those things. She also, surprisingly, addressed the recent tragedy on the Burnside Bridge. “I don’t know what the structural improvements need to be on the Burnside Bridge that we can install in short order; but we need to be looking into that.”

Interestingly, both Fritz and Novick hinted that in light of this new commitment to Vision Zero, Portland might need to have a new debate about how best to balance our investments in maintenance of existing assets versus safety projects when we invest new transportation funds. “What do we as a community want to pay for?” Fritz asked rhetorically, “We know how to engineer for safe streets, it’s a matter of how we pay for it. We need to re-open the conversation about how any new money goes to maintenance versus safety.”

In the end, the official embrace of Vision Zero by the entire City of Portland (not just its transportation bureau) is an important step forward. But, as advocates made crystal clear at City Hall today, the work has just begun.

“We need to continue the urgency,” Oregon Walks’ Mickelberry implored of Council, “We know where this might happen next and what we can do to stop it. I really don’t want to be up here again two days after someone has died… Hold yourselves accountable. Our communities deserve it.”

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

45 Comments
  • LC June 17, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Talk is cheap.

    Recommended Thumb up 10

  • dan June 17, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    I am forced to note that after Amanda Fritz’s husband’s death, the state promptly installed barriers there to prevent a recurrence. How often does that happen for cyclist or pedestrian deaths? What are we, chopped liver?

    Recommended Thumb up 11

  • Adam H. June 17, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    This is a good step for the city and hopefully will prompt more immediate action. We can’t wait around for more people to be killed or injured in our streets.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Adam June 17, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Why do people drive? I believe mostly to get to travel between home and work.

    If Portland is truly becoming a hub for high-tech jobs, let’s restructure that habit.

    How many of our high-tech workers could perform their daily tasks from a home office? Many can, but I propose that most are not allowed to.

    One way to decrease the number of cars on the road would be to mandate that all workers in the state of Oregon that are able to perform the duties of their profession from a home office be given the authority to do so, without fear of repercussion by their employer.

    Remove an eastbound vehicle lane and install concrete barriers on the Burnside Bridge too. Thanks.

    Recommended Thumb up 9

    • Scott H June 17, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Oh boy. Your idea is to tell white collar workers they’re required to stay home to reduce traffic?

      While you’re at it, you should convince cyclists they’re required to wear helmets and reflective clothing.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Adam June 17, 2015 at 3:46 pm

        Not required, no.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

        • Scott H June 17, 2015 at 3:55 pm

          But mandated?

          Recommended Thumb up 0

          • Adam June 17, 2015 at 4:30 pm

            Who’re you mad at Scott? Employees who can do their job from home should be allowed to, even if their employer is against the practice.

            Recommended Thumb up 0

            • Scott H June 17, 2015 at 6:53 pm

              Hey man, I’m just sayin, kill the disease, not the host.

              Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Pete June 17, 2015 at 8:52 pm

      Adam, thanks for this. Having telecommute policies in a company is a very important modern practice. As someone’s who’s worked from home on and off through the years and is currently home-based for a global company, it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, so many tasks can be performed just as efficiently sitting in front of a computer at home as they can sitting in front of a computer an hour’s drive away. On the other, it often takes face-to-face relationships to build the influence required to make real organizational change, and even technical meetings take on a more efficient form when they’re highly interactive around a whiteboard.

      But you’re absolutely correct. Modern companies (and mine’s one of the oldest around yet considered by many to be innovative) need to address and enable telecommuting, for their own protection and benefit, as well as society’s. My current company does that pretty well (we’re focused on results); my last company required me to be in an office where we all had closed doors and worked with global teams but didn’t even build relationships with the people next to us.

      Here in Sili Valley I like to say that bike commuting is the “best kept secret.” Telecommuting plays an important role, and as CA tries to replace LOS with VMT as a priority it MUST be considered, but meanwhile people continue to sit in their cars for 5- to 10-mile commutes next to wide bike paths in nearly-year-round 70-degree sunshine while they bitch about traffic. I just don’t get it.

      Thanks for pointing this out.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • J_R June 17, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    “Responsibility for fatal and serious crashes rest not just on users, but on the system design.”

    The problem with this statement is that it continues to provide an “out” for the continuing failure of vehicle operators to take RESPONSIBILITY for their actions, specifically drunken driving, speeding, not paying attention, and texting among other things. The new excused will be “It was a system design error that caused me to run down the bicyclist/pedestrian because they were on a street designed and intended for motor vehicles….”

    It also gives an “out” to the City Council because “we can’t afford to redesign and rebuild the system.”

    Still lacking is a commitment to ENFORCEMENT and the lack of a willingness of the Mayor, Council and senior personnel from PPB to declare that “once again the motorist was responsible and has been cited for….”

    Recommended Thumb up 18

    • Paul Smith June 17, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      I haven’t read Portland’s Vision Zero policy, but I agree with J_R that the City’s statements don’t seem targeted to clear problems such as speeding and impaired driving. Stockholm and Sweden in general cut their fatality rate significantly in large part because of automated speed enforcement. Let’s go there! Get motorists to slow down!

      Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Pete June 17, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      And speeding… you forgot speeding.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Pete June 17, 2015 at 8:56 pm

        Sorry, see it now. Blurred vision != vision zero. I brought up vision zero at our BPAC meeting tonight, by the way, and nobody else had ever heard of it. We’ve had two only two fatalities this year; one pedestrian, but I think it’s important that city councils understand what goes on in larger cities, especially as we double in size.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Aaron June 17, 2015 at 10:02 pm

      I cannot ‘like’ and appreciate this statement enough

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Andyc of Linnton June 17, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    “The city is really low on funds, and it will be tough to find more money, but the lives of our citizens on our streets are the utmost priority and we cannot waste one more hour in implementing safer design and traffic enforcement across our city. We need to start immediately and we will use every resource we have to find funds to implement this change as soon as possible. We are committed to Vision Zero and will do everything possible to reach the goals therein so that everybody traversing our streets, no matter which mode they choose to travel by, knows that they will arrive at their destination safely.”

    It’s still just words, but maybe something like that would instill a little more confidence that they are serious.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Andyc of Linnton June 17, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Realize I can come off kinda cynical about this stuff sometimes. Pretty frustrated with the way things are in the city right now. Of course I hope this leads to real solutions. Wait and see.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • Pete June 17, 2015 at 9:10 pm

        I totally understand your frustration. One thing to understand, though, is that city council members (and mayors) often get into these positions due to their passion to make positive change in their communities. I had a good friend that was elected mayor of a small community in Oregon (I’ll give you a hint: it’s a vacation destination east of Portland). He worked really hard, got so incredibly stressed trying to ‘do the right thing’, and toward the end of his term had some of the ‘old boy network’ (read: local developers and Realtors) calling for his resignation, but managed to steer the city pretty wisely through some positive directions as it grows (IMHO – for one thing, there are some much-needed bike lanes and sharrows in place even though he’s not a big cyclist, he listened).

        Matt Piccio (sp?) has nailed it on the head here. You want change? Show up at city council and committee meetings. Practice speaking to the public on your issues for just two minutes, and offer concise, realistic potential solutions. Stay involved… rinse, repeat. Don’t get discouraged; change will be SLOW. Stay on target with your message, and work with others for alignment and support by numbers. LISTEN to why change isn’t faster – you’ll learn the (frustrating) process, but most importantly, learn to work within the process. It’s not the best, but it’s what we’ve got, and at least it allows our voice to be heard (even if not always listened to ;).

        Keep at it.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

        • soren June 17, 2015 at 11:59 pm

          “learn to work within the process. It’s not the best, but it’s what we’ve got”

          i disagree with this. the history of successful bike advocacy in other nations shows that citizens can protest outside “the process” and be successful. and even in portland, people who make the most noise often get more attention from the city.

          Recommended Thumb up 2

          • Pete June 18, 2015 at 8:56 am

            Fair enough, but only in large enough numbers. Small numbers of people rattling government cages tends to be noise easily filtered.

            Also, timing is everything… election season comes to mind.

            Recommended Thumb up 0

  • maccoinnich June 17, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    “We can’t set a timeline because we don’t have the funding.” “That’s heartbreaking to know there are improvements needed all over but we don’t have funding.”

    If only Amanda Fritz had some kind of influence over how much revenue the City has for transportation. She should really try running for City Council.

    Recommended Thumb up 16

    • Pete June 18, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Ah, but they do know their funding cycles, and also potential grant sources. What it sounds like is that they can’t set a timeline because they don’t have a prioritized list of improvement projects. Does Portland have a Bike Master Plan? When was it last updated? Does it have criteria for prioritization, and include estimated project costs? Our last one was in 2009 and we started the ball rolling to update it last night… this time more data-driven, hopefully.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Chris Anderson June 17, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    One way to end the safety vs maintenance debate is with city code requiring all streets to be upgraded to 21st century designs when any maintenance occurs.

    Recommended Thumb up 17

    • hat June 17, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Yes.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Scott H June 17, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Amanda Fritz is so talented. It kills me that she burns so many bridges with mundane, pointless little squabbles ( see Pedal Bike Tours mural and Riverview mountain biking ). She could be so, so successful if she avoided unnecessary missteps that deter would-be supporters.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • 9watts June 17, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    I find all this talk about money a distraction. Really?! Money?

    I don’t think additional money is necessary at all. Just take the money we have (and have allocated to ends that do not support Vision Zero if we took a closer look: widening roads, continued subsidies to the car-bound, subsidized gasoline, free on street parking, etc.) and shift it toward tasks that support Vision Zero.
    Create a means-test. Does X align with Vision Zero? Yes, it gets funded; No, it doesn’t.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • The Duke June 17, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    {Mayor Charlie Hales said the city’s official embrace of Vision Zero isn’t just a soundbite. “This is a serious commitment by the city to say ‘This is our goal and we meant it.’” However, despite requests from advocacy groups, the city did not amend the resolution to set a firm target date to achieve Vision Zero and they didn’t dedicate any specific funding to implement the new policy. }

    The Portland bureaucratic credo at its finest… “lets have a meeting to talk about having a conversation about implementing a a plan to have a meeting…”

    [Novick said he’d consider a date, but only after having “further conversations about the pros and cons. “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness”” ]

    Political windbagery… “I’ll converse with other windbag…buh, buh I mean “city leaders” about how they tip toed around… buh, buh I mean implemented the 10 year plan to end homelessness” that all but doesn’t exist!

    By the time these windbags get around to actually doing something I’ll be retired or dead!
    Lack of action = impeachment!

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Jenny Wallingford June 17, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Put mandatory drivers Ed back in high schools.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Pete June 18, 2015 at 9:04 am

      Is that not a thing anymore? Oh, my!

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Anne Hawley June 17, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    “Human error is inevitable, thus street design must be forgiving.”

    Am I the only person bothered by this line? “Forgiving” street design strikes me as tantamount to bigger, wider, faster, unobstructed – i.e., stroads.

    I think street design must be “restrictive”. It must “inhibit speeding”. It should “enforce careful driving”. Otherwise, it sounds like more airbags, more cameras, and more rollbars to protect the people inside the car.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • Anne Hawley June 17, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      Got a bit carried away with my annoyance at that one line and slid right past the following three lines, which do equate design with speed restriction. Sorry.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Pete June 17, 2015 at 9:17 pm

        We just went through a much-needed road diet here that was considered by some to be successful (police report dramatic decrease in incidents and tickets; they were strong proponents). Public backlash to our city council was HUGE! Many, many people complained it slows their drive to work down radically and was completely unnecessary (because, you know, bicyclists don’t pay taxes, etc.). So much so they were gun-shy to approve budget we already had for bike lanes on a super-wide street where many feel we didn’t even need them.

        My point is, it’s not always city councils or planning departments that are “car-centric” or “speed-centric”…

        Recommended Thumb up 1

    • wkw June 18, 2015 at 2:53 pm

      I think they are stating that they should design for safety (don’t assume that there won’t be any drunk drivers, etc), but also to take fatal accidents and reduce them to survivable accidents.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Matti June 17, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    I’d like to hear how the the City intends to confront a problem that hasn’t anything to do with street design: distracted driving. City cops should be coming down hard on this one.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Jayson June 18, 2015 at 9:21 am

      Agreed, “accidents” are just an excuse for someone not paying attention or taking their ‘job’ of driving seriously. There’s a combination of street design, education, and enforcement that play into implementation of Vision Zero. I’m not sure what making streets more “forgiving” means…

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Aaron June 17, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    I am **VERY** bothered by both of these
    –Human error is inevitable, thus street design must be forgiving.
    –Responsibility for fatal and serious crashes rest not just on users, but on the system design.
    This essentially (with different language) says ‘accidents are inevitable, it’s nobody’s fault, just a tragic unforeseeable accident.’
    —-
    These are ***NOT*** unforeseeable, they are NOT unavoidable. The measures necessary are merely ‘inconvenient’ and/or ‘politically risky.’
    All (or at least nearly all) of the deaths/injuries could be avoided by removing a travel lane.
    Pete expressed this issue very well

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • wkw June 18, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Instead of ‘forgiving’ they should of said that the roads should design for safety, and reduce the severity of accidents for all users (that is the intent of Vision Zero)

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Randy June 17, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    I see vehicles speeding daily. During my travels, last 4 yrs, I’ve not yet observed PDX Police giving a speeding ticket to any driver in SE Portland. Hotspots: Lincoln between 20th and 60th, Hathorne between MLK and 12th. I’ll know were are actually moving in the right direction when I actually see a police care in SE.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jayson June 18, 2015 at 9:17 am

    With the 2015 legislative session nearing a close, where is the state transportation funding that the Portland City Council was waiting/hoping for? If the state doesn’t step in, the City needs to raise funds to get safety prioritized.

    I’ve seen firsthand the changes TriMet has implemented in its system since the awful deaths in Old Town over five years ago. Virtually nothing gets approved now without first being vetted by their safety committee, which includes a variety of stakeholders. I’m not suggesting the City copy TriMet’s actions, but they need to seriously assess how they can improve everyday actions with safety as a key factor in any and every decision. This may seem excessive, but human life is worth it. That said, I wouldn’t make safety review an excuse for not doing something quicker. There should be timelines for seeing things happen because in many cases, the sooner they happen, the better.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jacob June 22, 2015 at 7:26 am

    “In roadway design, either lower speeds or separate users.”

    Yes! This should be the mantra for all street projects everywhere.

    Recommended Thumb up 0