The Portland metro area’s regional director of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is leading a charge to raise the profile of transportation safety for all modes.
ODOT Region 1 Director Jason Tell put forth a successful amendment yesterday (download PDF) at a meeting of Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation that will fundamentally change how the influential Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) looks at safety. The RTP, a $20 billion package of projects, was supported by JPACT yesterday and is expected to be officially adopted by Metro later this month.
Tell’s amendment changes the safety performance measure in transportation project evaluation, adds biking and walking traffic into safety risk calculations (only motor vehicle traffic used to be considered), and directs ODOT, Metro, and other agencies to create a “Regional Safety Working Group.”
“So, if we’re going to have one million more people move here, are we willing to accept a lot more injuries and fatalities?… I just saw an opportunity to say hey, look, we can do better.”
— Jason Tell, ODOT
Tell, reached at Portland’s ODOT headquarters yesterday, said he was moved to take action on this issue because safety is something he thinks about daily. “I get paged on every serious accident that happens on the region. It’s on my mind daily. I just saw an opportunity to say, hey, look we can do better.”
“Up until now, safety was in the [RTP] plan, but more time and focus was on other things like land use, congestion, and so on. Safety is important and we want to do something about it. The measure I put on the table, and that was adopted, will be a more aggressive goal and say, we’re not going to accept as many injuries and fatalities.”
The first concern Tell addressed was to change the RTP’s safety target away from a per-capita measure. “So, if we’re going to have one million more people move here, are we willing to accept a lot more injuries and fatalities?” Instead of an assumed increase in fatalities and injuries, Tell has put the goal at a net reduction based, to be based on a specific analysis of crashes that happen in the urban region (this analysis is still forthcoming).
As an example, Tell shared goals from the ODOT’s Traffic Safety Performance Plan which calls for a reduction in fatalities from the entire Region 1 area of 120 per year to 85 per year.
“The area that number is from [Region 1] is larger than the Portland metro area, so we still have to figure out what share of that is Metro’s responsibility. As a surrogate [until those numbers are available], whatever share of the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is in the urban area will be the number we’ll go by.”
In addition to removing the per-capita safety performance measure, Tell’s amendment will also make an important, fundamental change to the safety targets in the RTP. Currently, Metro’s modeling of the safety performance of transportation projects includes only risks to automobile traffic. Tell’s amendment adds biking and walking traffic into that equation. “It broadens the measure from just autos and includes bikes and peds as well.”
Tell’s amendment also looks to improve the transportation safety efforts in the Portland region. Historically, all of ODOT’s transportation safety programs and communication efforts have been done on a statewide basis and were decided on from Salem. Now there’s a push for moving some oversight of Oregon’s transportation safety strategies and programs to the Portland region.
At the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation, a similar (and related) focus on safety is coming together. PBOT Traffic Safety program manger Mark Lear cites a number of forces that have coalesced recently, pushing him to come up with more proactive messages and campaigns around transportation safety.
Lear says much of this renewed attention on safety comes from analysis of the RTP by federal transportation agencies. According to Lear, the feds felt the safety components of the plan “needed some work.” Yesterday, Lear and PBOT traffic safety staffer Sharon White put together a meeting to garner ideas and strategies for more proactive approach safety campaigns. PBOT will be looking to fund new communication strategies around biking and walking safety messages in the coming months.
For Lear, and other PBOT staff who work on transportation safety, a renewed focus of resources and attention on the Portland region is necessary and overdue. Historically, ODOT has taken direction from the legislature in Salem, where rural and suburban lawmakers hold a disproportionate amount of influence relative to their burden of traffic crashes. According to the ODOT’s 2008 Traffic Safety Performance plan 46% of Oregon’s 18,409 fatal and injury traffic crashes occurred in Multnomah (4,549), Washington (2,234) and Clackamas (1,679) counties.
“A lot has changed in the past 10-15 years around the safety idea,” Lear said at a meeting this week, “it used to be all managed by ODOT and the answer was always to widen a road or a highway.”
Mayor Sam Adams — who according to Lear “has done more than any other elected official to bring the safety issue to the forefront” — is planning to host a Transportation Safety Summit in early February. Also early next year, a new transportation safety working group will be convened by Metro. Stay tuned for updates and opportunities to get involved.