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The Oregonian: “Massive therapeutic intervention” needed to make roads safer for all

Posted by on November 10th, 2010 at 9:01 am

The Oregonian Editorial Board published a timely piece in today’s paper about the need for all of us who drive to take stock of our actions and do a better job looking out for people walking and biking on our roads. Here’s the opening:

Hey, you.

You need to have a “full and frank” conversation with yourself this evening. Looking in the mirror, you the driver ought to give you the walker a piece of your mind, and then switch roles.

Quite simply, both of you — and all of us — need to do a better job of paying attention. This year is shaping up as a terrible one for Oregon pedestrians.

Why was The Oregonian compelled to address this issue today? Here’s another excerpt (emphasis mine):

… As of Monday, 52 pedestrians had been killed, up 80 percent over the same time period in 2009. Just 48 hours later, as of Tuesday, the death toll had reached 55.

That’s an 86 percent increase over the same time period in 2009, according to the Oregon State Police’s spokesman, Lt. Gregg Hastings. And, although no one knows why, pedestrian deaths have also increased in Portland. Fifteen people have died this year, up from 10 in 2009 (5 in 2008 and 11 in 2007).

Meanwhile, a terrible crash on Monday in North Portland injured three pedestrians and sent one of them — a 23-month-old baby — to the hospital. The baby died Tuesday.

The Oregonian Editorial Board writes that Oregon is in need of “some kind of massive therapeutic intervention to boost pedestrian safety.”

The direction these statistics are heading, the engagement with the issue by an outlet like The Oregonian (and others), and the fact that a 23 month old was run over and killed in broad daylight while being pushed in a stroller in a crosswalk, lead me to wonder whether or not all of this will impact the legislative discussions down in Salem. Will all of this add fuel to efforts to strengthen vulnerable road user laws and/or stiffen legal consequences for distracted driving-related laws?

Read the full editorial here.

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  • ped November 10, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Separate facilities for drivers, bikers and walkers is the only answer.

    Cost? Consider what 55 deaths cost in emergency care and insurance payouts, not to mention lost wages, grief, loss of property, etc.

    More ped bridges over dangerous intersections.

    Separate bike routes that don’t pit drivers against bikers for inches of space.

    Well-lit, well-marked crossings.

    Bad behavior and habits will not die.

    Bad design can be corrected.

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  • mello yello November 10, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Free lights. Light campaign.

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  • jim November 10, 2010 at 9:31 am

    mandatory retesting old people for driver licenses, how many of them just keep driving into their 80’s 90’s without anyone ever checking their competency? It’s really hard to get great aunt Edna to hand over the keys.

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  • k. November 10, 2010 at 9:32 am

    It’s funny how vulnerable pedestrians engender a “heart felt” call to action and therapeutic intervention, but put those same people on a bike and the Oregonian is all derisive and combative. Everyone’s a person, with a family and loved ones. That’s what’s important, not whether we have a bike between our legs or not.

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  • Ely November 10, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Separate facilities would be nice but are supremely impractical – eventually, you will still have to cross a street somewhere. If people driving never encounter risky situations, they will never learn to deal with them – and they WILL occur eventually.

    Real consequences for driving “mistakes” are needed. Our current slap-on-the-wrist system just cries out for this kind of carnage. It’s not an “accident” if you drive impaired, or don’t pay attention, or drive recklessly; it’s murder. The man who killed that baby should go to jail same as if he threw him off a bridge. “I didn’t mean to” is worthless to grieving parents.

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  • Tim November 10, 2010 at 9:33 am

    When laws are not enforced and drivers do not know or follow the laws intended to provide protection for pedestrians, then pedestrians pay the price.

    Recently, I was threatened and followed by some looser who took offence when I signaled for him to stop for a pedestrian. Such is the pathetic excuse for drivers.

    I have invited city officials to come take a walk with me and count the number of times vehicles violate pedestrian crossing laws. No takers. I guess they are afraid to cross the street.

    After complaining twice about the pedestrian crossing situation at an intersection, I watched a pedestrian get run down by someone in too big of a hurry to bother to look. After the pedestrian was hit and further complaints – still no enforcement.

    Count the number of drivers talking on the phone, texting, speeding, or violating the pedestrian crossing rules and then ask again why we have so many pedestrian fatalities? Can you sue the City for failure to uphold the law leading to serious injury and death? The City cannot claim they are enforcing the law.

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  • 9watts November 10, 2010 at 9:58 am

    If we do nothing (likely if unfortunate scenario) Peak Oil and Climate Change will take the cars off the road for us in a decade+/-. In light of this, spending money on separate facilities is crazy, nuts, looney, myopic. Better to recognize that cars are not here to stay (and no electric ones aren’t the ticket either, where’s the electricity going to come from?) and start taking the steps to make the transition as smooth as possible.

    Build/expand/repair no more infrastructure designed exclusively or primarily for modes of transport reliant on fossil fuels–this is sometimes referred to as stranded assets: stuff we built but then realized we can’t use/don’t want after all. Use the money saved in those ways to tweak the infrastructure and legal system we have to work for those who bike and walk.

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  • Elliot November 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Re: jim #3, I agree.

    However, it’d be a lot easier for older citizens to take the responsibility to give up driving as their ability declines, if public transit could fully provide for their transportation needs.

    We need to acknowledge this, because right now it’s a non-choice. Most older folks can’t give up driving unless they have support from family members, etc. for their transportation. So most of them to continue driving, to the detriment of public safety and leading to tragedies like what happened at Interstate and Lombard.

    It’s a sad irony that our current system forces the elderly – among most the vulnerable pedestrians – into their cars, where they become the among the most dangerous drivers.

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  • jim November 10, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Good idea about improving public transit to get old people out of cars. Think about the destinations for old people, the doctor, the pharmacy, groceries, church. If there was a shuttle that made regular stops at these places (walmart, walgreens, riteaid, Kaiser….) something with a little more patience than a regular bus, perhaps the driver could assist carrying groceries to the porch…
    Would it be worth the extra cost to get these people off the road?
    What is the first step?

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  • Greg Haun November 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Seriously enforcing the existing pedestrian laws would make a huge difference. And enforcing that one law also happens to be the best way to tackle distracted driving and the consequences for all road users. You can’t easily text, put the straw in your soda, program your radio, or anything else when at any moment the car in front of you might come to a screeching halt to allow a pedestrian to cross.

    Last I heard Portland does one pedestrian enforcement action a month. Why not every day?

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  • jim November 10, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I think something like a trailer they use for radar. Do some video and ticket by mail. This could be moved to a new spot everyday and would use less man hours. The affect of the trailer just being there would get results fast. Schools would really benfit from this

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  • jim November 10, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I mean no disresect to the elderly drivers. Most of them have more patience and experiance than all of us. Most of them could teach us a thing or 2. It is a hard thing to tell a parent that maybe they should give up the car. That is something they have been doing for 50+ years with no problem. take away their license is very demoralizing for them, one step closer to the nursing home. I would rather the state deal with this than myself having to step up, some old people have nobody to tell them that anyways.

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  • 9watts November 10, 2010 at 10:43 am

    The state can/will. You can call up the DMV and have them send a notice to your parent, uncle, cousin, etc. and ask them to come in for a test. We did this for my grandmother. The DMV needs your info/ID, but as far as I remember this info is not disclosed to the person in question.

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  • caryebye November 10, 2010 at 11:05 am

    In general I think people who drive everyday get so used to it, that they no longer think about what they are doing and kind of forget they are moving around in big box with limited views of what’s around, and if they lose control, there are consquences. We have such a busy city with so many bicyclists and pedestrians zipping in and out of view, I’m thankful I don’t drive. I don’t think I could ever relax or feel confident I wasn’t going to ‘not see’ someone sometime, and take a life or hurt someone or myself. But in my driving fears I’m a minority, I was never comfortable with driving and while I learned and had a car for year, I never was able to ‘comfortable’ enough to forget that I was actually in charge of a vehicle. Our society accepts cars, and accepts deaths from cars rather easily, which is too bad. And I’m sad that many friends of mine who would be biking or walking more, don’t because they are scared of being killed. The cell phone ban doesn’t seem to be doing much as I see in constantly, including using smart phones to look up the internet while driving. It just takes one second, and someone’s kid is dead. Next time it might be yours.

    I really don’t know what the solution is except to keep reminding people to chill out on the road a little, to not be in a hurry, and to give everyone a little more space.

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  • Nathan November 10, 2010 at 11:20 am

    9watts #7: I won’t lie. Part of me can’t help loving the idea of an energy crisis taking cars off the road in my lifetime. But I know better than to believe it.

    Peak Oil is the second-coming myth of the bike/ped set. No one could ask for a better tool for quelling anti-car sentiment than this belief that cars will just go away in the near future. They won’t. If we want to reduce the harm autos cause to people, we first have to recognize that autos are here to stay. The editorial is far from specific, but the call for a “Massive therapeutic intervention” is correct in recognizing the scale of effort it will take to change the situation. Waiting will not do the trick.

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  • ped November 10, 2010 at 11:22 am

    To #5:

    The 75 year old driver who killed the baby might have had a heart attack or some other medical impairment. Should he go to jail as though he threw the baby off a bridge, really? He might have been a great driver with a clean record, no drugs or alcohol in his system, etc.

    If separate facilities are so bad, why do other countries place such emphasis on smart design?

    You’re right, of course. Enforcement, making use of existing laws–all good. But design would also add something to the mix, or they wouldn’t place bike stop lights on Broadway, which seems to be working and will probably be statistically demonstrable.

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  • Schrauf November 10, 2010 at 11:55 am

    If there have been 52 deaths in Oregon I am surprised only 15 have been in Portland.

    I suppose the lower average speeds in Portland compared to suburban or rural areas results in a higher proportion of crashes in Portland resulting in “only” injury, rather than death.

    That, and Portland drivers are at least a little more used to looking out for vulnerable users, so the per capita crash rate may be lower, as well.

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  • resopmok November 10, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Well if the Oregonian is serious about wanting to promote safer streets, they could use their considerable ability to reach an audience as an opportunity to engage and educate the public. Bringing the issue to light is a good start, but how about a special series devoted to “how to be a good driver” which contains good information and advice about how to keep our streets safe. Tips on defensive driving, common conflicts with bikes and pedestrians and a host of other issues. It’s easy to lambast people for bad behavior and raise the alert level colors, but it takes real work to heal and make things better. I’ll know they’re serious about the article when they try to do something about it.

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  • eljefe November 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Call the police every time you witness dangerous driving. Call the parking patrol (503.823.5195) every time you see a vehicle parked in a crosswalk, sidewalk, or bike lane. I do. We call it the Gentle Movers’ Intifada. So far I have gotten 23 vehicles ticketed in a couple of months. Get your friend to do it too. Eventually, the police and the city will conclude that getting serious about enforcement is cheaper and easier than having their dispatch lines clogged up.

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  • dr. E November 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    The city has an obligation to make our streets safe for all users: auto, pedestrian, cyclists.

    The users have an obligation to use these facilities in a safe manner and obey the law.

    For sometime now, I’ve been contemplating a video (and other electronics) citation system for all manner of infractions: speed, cellphone use, excess noise (am I the only one enraged by loud monster trucks and Harleys?), noxious fumes.

    Seems technology would be a cheap, even revenue producing solution to these problems.

    But wait – there’s been a recent swing in voter sentiment/backlash to these systems. Apparently they weren’t specified by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution (or something along those lines). It’s somehow a violation of your individual freedom to be captured on camera breaking the law.

    I’m not a fan of big brother but there can be be effective, low cost, technological ways to enforce the law. Some will argue it’s a “slippery slope”. I’d counter that if you don’t like it, obey the law.

    But the best solution is the simplest – put your phone away while driving. You might spare the life of a stranger.

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  • 9watts November 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Nathan #15
    “…autos are here to stay”
    This is a familiar trope. It reassures folks who’ve invested heavily in automobility, validates their choices and decisions, and allows people to keep on keeping on, but what evidence would you offer to support that claim?

    I also don’t think “Peak Oil is the second-coming myth of the bike/ped set” though you get a point from me for turning a good phrase. Climate Change and Peak Oil aren’t things you choose to believe in like the tooth fairy. Even the US military is all over both topics. They take them very seriously. Why the rest of the establishment doesn’t is another matter.

    And finally I wasn’t advocating waiting at all. But how we invest money in tackling this problem is most assuredly going to depend on what we think will happen to transport in the near future.

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  • KWW November 10, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    It all starts with calling out lazy DA’s who agree to plea bargain felony acts with vehicles down to misdemeanors. How to fight that? Figure that out and you will make some progress.

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  • tonyt
    tonyt November 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    The Oregonian has a long way to go to make up for their past scapegoating of vulnerable road users.

    This is a joke. A sad joke. That it takes the death of a toddler to jolt the Oregonian out of their auto-stupor tells us how “aware” they actually are of the important issues here.

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  • drew November 10, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    “It’s a sad irony that our current system forces the elderly – among most the vulnerable pedestrians – into their cars, where they become the among the most dangerous drivers.”

    I remember a lady at the DMV arguing with the clerk about how she should get her renewal and wanted to speak to the manager etc. She had failed the written test, and sounded like she was at the beginning stages of dementia, with her repetitive questioning.

    I am sure she had no alternative to getting behind the wheel, and would do everything she could to keep her independence. This kind of problem will be more common as all the babyboomers age.

    Over 7 years of riding the Sellwood bridge roadway, I only had one close call. Some old person brushed me at 40mph, totally oblivious. Lots of young people honk and yell and cuss me out on that bridge, but at least they can see me.

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  • Nathan November 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    9watts #21: True that you weren’t advocating waiting–point taken. You were proposing an immediate shift in funding to infrastructure that serves human-powered transportation. I’m largely with you. But we need a less debated reason to support that funding shift than your assertion that “Peak Oil and Climate Change will take the cars off the road for us in a decade+/-“. Maybe you’re right (and I’m wrong), but the fact remains that practically no one who makes transportation funding decisions believes that.

    As for evidence in support of my claim that autos are here to stay, I do expect auto use will decline and fuel costs will increase dramatically, but I’ll refer back to your comment #7 and your mention of stranded assets. I see evidence every day of the lengths we go to in the U.S. to maintain our huge investment in auto-dependent infrastructure and comfort. Look at the number of traffic deaths we tolerate. The way we use our military and foreign policy to keep access to oil. The aesthetic and environmental destruction we as a nation continue to accept. I look around and I see that we’ll do what it takes to keep driving. If that means swallowing our objections to nuclear plants when oil grows scarcer, we’ll do it. Damming the rivers, cutting social programs, drilling in protected places… we’ll do it. Until the apocalypse, the motorcar will be very tough to kill.

    I do hope I’m wrong, though. I’m working toward a community that doesn’t depend on automobiles to function, and that does everything in its power to let its citizens walk safely in public spaces.

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  • Joe November 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Today riding home from Portland to Wilsonville 3 cell phone drivers, not looking.. one case of road rage and red jetta that burned his tires from a stop light and almost hit a ped getting onto I-5 almost thought I was going to see a death today, he was going that fast.

    couple big things I see alot of here in Oregon, following to close, speeding, drifting into the bikelane and just not giving peds or bikes the right of way.

    ride safe, walk safe. lotta leafs in the bike lane this time of year slick out.


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  • Ron November 10, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Portland Police enforcement of the atrocious drivers is nonexistent. That is the issue, and I agree with the post that suggested we call every time we see dangerous driving and parking violations. A distracted elderly driver is just as dangerous as a distracted Gen Y driver.
    And while I agree that there needs to be ongoing assessment for elderly drivers, I would guess that most dangerous incidents, such as speeding and hit and run, are done by younger drivers.

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  • jeneraldisarray November 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Let’s stop parking cars on our streets and start fully utilizing our roads as a means of getting people from place to place, rather than a means of storage for idle personal property.

    Let’s instantly increase roads’ carrying capacity, freeing up space for bicyclists to travel without fear of having a car door flung open into their path, and allowing adequate distance between them and fast-moving auto traffic.

    Let’s immediately improve lines of sight at intersections, ending forever the refrain of “That pedestrian/bicyclist/other car came from behind that parked car and I didn’t even see them!”

    Let’s eliminate the need to “courtesy cue” on close-in residential streets, thereby increasing the ease and speed of travel on these streets, because car-owning residents don’t or won’t use their own driveways to store their vehicles.

    Let’s facilitate entrepreneurial opportunities for housing vehicles in low-cost, well-lit, secure facilities that will reduce the incidence of car prowls, vehicle theft, and inadvertent triggerings of obnoxious car alarms (and the costly police attention that these events currently consume).

    Let’s fully utilize the road resources that we already have to decrease congestion, increase visibility of vulnerable users, and eliminate much of the impatience and frustration that leads to distracted driving, cycling, and walking.

    Streets are for moving on!!!

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  • esther c November 10, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Remember this case, the kid crushed by a truck in Corvalis?


    “The investigation revealed that the mother pushed the stroller into the intersection against the ‘Do Not Walk’ signal, in front of the truck as it began to make a legal right turn on a red light.”

    This is total BS. The truck driver was making a right on red against pedestrians in a walkway. Doesn’t matter what her signal said (which I doubt anyone really knows what it said.) Are we supposed to believe if she’d had a “walk” signal he would have noticed and not gone ahead and turned.

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  • aaronf November 10, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Ely, hitting the gas when you mean to hit the brake is not the same as throwing a baby off of a bridge.

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  • was carless in pdx November 11, 2010 at 2:25 am

    After a 5 year carfree hiatus, I recently got a new car. Now, please don’t hate on me, I still cycle 3-5 days a week, and walk around my neighborhood as much as possible.

    I think the fact that I do that keeps my awareness much higher than the typical driver… going back to driving after years of cycling only really keeps me on edge and the lookout for who-knows-what. I must say, however, that a lot of peds do just step out in front of cars. Portland city streets oftentimes are so narrow, and people park so close to crosswalks, that its really tough to see. And it seems like most drivers drive faster than their view/stopping distance allows.

    I also think most of the 30mph zones need to be reduced to 25, and the 25s down to 20. Might help a lot, but only with enforcement.

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  • Fred November 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I agree that an increase in enforcement is one way to reduce conflicts on the road. The other major tool is public education and outreach. Both must be done but both require investment of public resources, i.e. taxes. And no one wants to pay for anything anymore, or at least that is what we are being told. It’s time to make serious investments in transportation infrastructure for efficiency and safety (education, enforcement, facilities, fuel efficiency, public transit).

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  • esther c November 13, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Another problem that needs to be addressed is who is allowed on our city streets. Yesterday as I was getting ready to pull out of New Season’s on Interstate Ave I see dump truck pulling a trailer with one of those long hitches.

    There is no excuse for double trailers like this to be allowed on our city streets. They are dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians alike. They can’t turn on city streets without cause a major snafu.

    I see double tractor trailers going up and down Interstate Ave all the time. No excuse for it.

    I don’t think we need tractor trailer trucks on our city streets at all. Freight could be moved onto smaller trucks for deliveries.

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  • Loren November 13, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Way to go Oregonian! I can’t see how we’ve gone this far without doing something. It’s time we take driving seriously in this country.

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