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Q&A: NYC’s top biking advocate wants you to talk more about death

Friday, March 27th, 2015
paulswhite
Paul Steely White at the 2010
National Bike Summit.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Talking about “livable streets” is out; talking about “safe streets” is in.

That’s the advice from Paul Steely White, executive director of the country’s largest local transportation advocacy group. The executive director of New York City-based Transportation Alternatives since 2004, White was a major force behind the city’s emergence as a national leader in reimagining streets as pleasant public spaces.

But as he heads to Portland for a keynote address Monday to the Oregon Active Transportation Summit, White is urging his fellow believers in livable streets to readjust their message when talking to politicians and the public. We spoke by phone on Thursday about why and how his organization has put Vision Zero, the campaign to completely eliminate road deaths, at the middle of their message.

Are you on a national Vision Zero tour, or is this a one-off thing?

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Two perfect examples of the attitude Vision Zero is supposed to change

Thursday, March 19th, 2015
jon cox
AASHTO President Jon Cox before a congressional
committee Tuesday.
(Screen capture via Rep. Rick Larsen)

Vision Zero is maybe the hottest subject in American street advocacy right now, but there’s still quite a lot of disagreement about what exactly it means.

As Portland adopts an official policy to prevent all road deaths and safety advocates begin a push for state and other local governments to follow that lead, we’ve just gotten a couple very clear examples of what Vision Zero doesn’t mean.

One comes from a hearing Tuesday in Washington D.C. The other comes from a state engineer quoted yesterday in The Oregonian.

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Congressmen Blumenauer and Buchanan introduce $30 million ‘vision zero’ grant programs

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015
My ride with Earl Blumenauer-1.jpg
Blumenauer would like to be safer on the road.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

On the same week that the nation’s bike advocates roll onto Capitol Hill for the National Bike Summit, U.S. House Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) have introduced the Vision Zero Act of 2015 (H.R. 1274).

The bill would set aside grants worth $30 million for cities to plan and implement road safety projects.

In a statement, Blumenauer’s office said the bill is a recognition that “communities across the country are recognizing that there is only one number of acceptable deaths on our streets: zero.” The goal of the legislation is ambitious: “eliminating all transportation-related fatalities, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, motorists and passengers.”

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A single question that can sell anyone on Vision Zero

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

The notion that 100 percent of traffic deaths are preventable is difficult for many of us (including me) to embrace. But as our local safety advocates kick off a campaign to make the concept state and local policy, this simple four-minute video by the state-funded Zero Fatalities Nevada is a powerful lesson for how to get the idea across.

If you’re interested in the ways that people’s opinions change, it’s definitely worth your time.

But you have to watch it all the way to the end.

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Oregon road deaths tick upward after long-run decline

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015
traffic deaths
(Source: ODOT. Chart: BikePortland.)

One year after Oregon saw its best year for traffic safety since World War II, it seems to have backslid somewhat.

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Vision Zero coming into focus in Portland

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
BTA Annual meeting-2
BTA’s Rob Sadowsky sees a bright future for
Vision Zero in Portland.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Vision Zero (also known as Towards Zero Deaths) is a bold goal that’s also the name of a growing national movement to end the acceptance of fatalities and injuries on our roads as mere “accidents.” Advocates instead want to completely change our approach to street design and policy so that no one is hurt or killed while using them.

We’ve been talking about Vision Zero for years here in Portland, but there seems to finally be some tangible movement forward.

Tomorrow in New York City is the opening day of the Vision Zero for Cities Symposium and there will be several Portlanders making the trip. Rob Sadowsky, the leader of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Aaron Brown, a board member with Oregon Walks will be there. The City will send Gabriel Graff, the operations manager of the Active Transportation Division at the Portland Bureau of Transportation. (We’ve also heard that PPB Traffic Division Capt. Kelli Sheffer will also be at the symposium, but we’ve been unable to confirm her attendance.)
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Vision 0.08: Why any major safe-streets effort must tackle alcohol

Friday, October 31st, 2014
Scene of fatal crash on SW Barbur Blvd-6
SW Barbur Boulevard: a bad street to
be drunk on by any mode.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

This is a guest opinion piece by A.J. Zelada, a longtime biking and walking advocate who chaired the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee from 2011 to 2013.

Intoxicating amounts of alcohol are at the death scene of 36 percent of walking fatalities and 32 percent of biking deaths.

So why does today’s street safety movement seem to trivialize it?

Last year, I listened to Oregon’s Safe Routes to School manager proclaim new safety issues to protect pedestrians. The ideas were great, but one was missing: She did not mention alcohol at death scenes. Vision Zero is being considered by many cities, including Portland and New York City, as a backbone policy for reducing road deaths. New York City’s new Vision Zero policy has one paragraph about alcohol.

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Q&A: How Minnesota saves lives by spreading safety money thinly

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
27-tzd-groth400
Sue Groth, director of traffic, safety and technology
for the Minnesota Department of Transportation,
has been nationally recognized for overseeing rapid
drops in traffic fatalities.
(Photos: MnDOT)

Sue Groth’s job: use math and millions of dollars to stop injuries before they happen.

The team Groth leads at the Minnesota Department of Transportation has probably saved a few hundred lives over the last 10 years. In that time they’ve reinvented “highway safety” spending and seen traffic fatalities fall almost twice as fast as they have in Oregon and the rest of the country.

Groth is the plenary speaker at the Sept. 15 Oregon Transportation Summit hosted by OTREC at Portland State University. I caught her by phone last week to talk about MnDOT’s daring decision to give up some of the “gobs of money” it gets for highway safety and hand it to local agencies instead.

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Recap of PBOT Director Leah Treat’s first major speech

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014
PBOT Director Treat
PBOT Director Leah Treat at the Sentinel Hotel today.
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat hit mostly familiar notes today during her first major speech since taking over the agency last summer. Treat was hosted by the City Club of Portland and the event was included in the agenda of the annual Oregon Active Transportation Summit.

While she didn’t make any major policy commitments or launch new initiatives that might have sent the crowd of local transportation advocates and insiders abuzz, Treat gave us a glimpse of her perspective and offered clues about where she might take us during her tenure. She laid out her justification for investing in better biking and walking access and touched on big issues like Vision Zero, bike share, Safe Routes to School, getting tougher on speed enforcement, equity and investment in east Portland, the City’s efforts to pass a transportation fee, and more. (more…)

Five ideas from NYC’s ‘Vision Zero’ plan that Portland could steal

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Tomorrow, Portland’s city council is expected to approve a project (item 234) that’s likely to chart the city’s shift to “Vision Zero,” the philosophy that nothing — not vehicle speed, not road capacity, not even economic productivity — is more important to the transportation system than preventing the serious injury or death of a person on the road.

It’s a provocative idea. But what exactly does it mean the city would do that it doesn’t already do today?

(more…)

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