Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Broad coalition to launch PBOT’s ‘Safe Summer Streets’ campaign

Posted by on June 28th, 2011 at 9:52 am


PBOT will announced a targeted effort
by Portland Police to crack down
on people who use a cell
phone while driving (or biking).
(Photo © J. Maus)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) will kick off a new ‘summer safety campaign’ later today.

Mayor Sam Adams — who has consistently said safety is his number one priority in leading PBOT (which he has done for six years now) — will be on hand to launch the effort. In addition to a focus on safety, what’s notable about this campaign is that it’s not just biking and walking advocates doing all the talking.

In what PBOT bills as the “first time these interests have team up,” the Safe Summer Streets campaigns boasts a broad coalition of partners including AAA Oregon/Idaho, the Oregon Trucking Association, the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, TriMet, and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Today’s press conference will take place in the parking lot of AAA Oregon/Idaho in southwest Portland.

Dangerous? Yes. Annoying?
Yes. Illegal? Not exactly.

What exact role each group will play, and what the details of the effort will be, remain to be seen.

PBOT says it will focus on, “distracted travel, whether while driving, bicycling or walking; running red lights; and speeding.”

As part of today’s announcement, PBOT will launch two new types of “enforcement actions” to their existing crosswalk enforcement program. That program, which we highlighted back in January, has resulted in 904 citations over five years.

It’s interesting to see PBOT move away from the term “distracted driving” and use “distracted travel” instead — so as to include people walking and biking. I’m all for mode-neutral language, but have mixed feelings about diluting the message for something that hasn’t been shown to actually be a problem and that’s not illegal to begin with.

While people using cell phones while biking and walking is surely not a good idea, I’m not aware of any statistics that show that the behavior has caused anywhere near the over 5,400 fatalities on U.S. roads that cell phone use while driving has. It’s also not clear whether using a cell phone while biking or walking is actually illegal. Oregon’s cell phone law clearly states that it applies to a “person operating a motor vehicle.”

It’s not hard to understand the thinking behind PBOT and City Hall’s use of this term. Neither of them want to be perceived as being too hard on motor vehicle operators, especially on a campaign that includes partners from AAA and ODOT. As we shared back in May, ODOT’s head of traffic safety Troy Costales, publicly blamed part of Oregon’ major uptick in fatal crashes on “aggressive pedestrians” and signed onto a press release by a highway interest group that blamed fatalities on people “stepping out in the street and getting hit.”

(For more on the ‘distracted travel’ enforcement actions, read The Oregonian’s coverage.)

Stay tuned for more coverage of this campaign.

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

  • 9watts June 28, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Maybe PBOT was engaging in some ‘distracted thinking’ when they came up with that phrase?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Dave June 28, 2011 at 10:06 am

      …or AAA donated some cash to the effort…

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am


      i think it’s more a political thing. Look at the partners… it’s not too cool to look tough on one of them and dismiss the behavior in another.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Dave June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am

        Yeah, I understand the motivation, but really… guess who is responsible for the most part? It’s people driving, and our governments for being too lax in smacking their hands for driving irresponsibly, and in some cases, encouraging them to drive irresponsibly.

        It won’t get better unless that changes.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

      • BURR June 28, 2011 at 11:17 am

        I don’t buy it. The highest risk behaviors are the ones that should be targeted, and the highest risks are all associated with motor vehicles, because of their much greater weight and speed. It’s simple physics at work here, and we shouldn’t be obfuscating the physics with politics.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • beth h June 28, 2011 at 10:43 am

    I’ll believe any statements about “enforcement” when I see them. The number of people I pass who are operating a vehicle while tal;king on a cell-phone is ridiculous and totally unsafe. Why it isn’t completely illegal — and completely enforced — is beyond me.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • deborah June 28, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Enforce the cellphone law!!

    If the other stuff is thrown in to appease the ‘masses’ so be it. Seems like there’s always some other political vying that needs to happen.

    But (imho) those that talk/text on their cellphones and drive cars demonstrate over and over that they the most inattentive and deadly drivers to cyclist and pedestrians alike.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Dave June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am

      Not to mention to themselves and other people driving – considering most traffic fatalities are people *in* cars.

      That’s one thing I really don’t get, is that people feel like being in a car, they are inherently safe, whereas in reality, it’s one of the most likely places to die or be seriously injured.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Whyat June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Why shouldn’t bikes be included? It’s dangerous behavior. Anyone want to volunteer their child to be hit by a distracted cyclist?

    I didn’t think so.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Dave June 28, 2011 at 10:52 am

      Because I typically like something to be shown to be a real problem before taking enforcement actions against it. How many people were injured by distracted cyclists in Portland so far this year? Killed?

      The problem is, we have apparently such limited resources for enforcing traffic laws already (basically most of them never get enforced), adding more things to the mix, that haven’t been shown to be real problems? I think that’s counter-productive.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • 007 June 29, 2011 at 9:55 am

      Totally agree. If bicycles are vehicles then why wouldn’t the law apply to us? I realize some of us have matters of international intrigue and political importance, but think of how it looks — someone so important, riding crookedly, slowly and getting in others’ way while taking an important call from the President.
      Hang up and PAY ATTENTION.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jack June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am

    A child walking along the sidewalk is inherently a distracted-traveler. Should children require adult supervision (and maybe a leash) if they want to walk around town?

    I understand the political motivation behind the term distracted-traveler. But there is plenty of hard data to show that distracted-drivers are the problem.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Alex Reed June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I think this initiative is a good step. Yes, saying that biking or walking distracted is as bad as driving distracted is bad marketing. But I see that bad marketing as a necessary evil (given current political realities) to get increased enforcement of our traffic laws. Having biking and walking actually feel and be safe is really important for getting people to do it.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • 9watts June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I missed the partners bit. Thanks for pointing that out, Jonathan.

    Funny how this theme runs through so many of the issues you highlight. I wonder if a sense of ENTITLEMENT on the part of the car-bound captures some of this? I think most of our problems these days, or the ones I think about at least have ENTITLEMENT at their core. An unwillingness to give up something or even to question whether that something is essential, or works for others.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Chris June 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    In the future I believe more and more people will commute by bike. As traffic increases in bike lanes, this will become a huge issue. I think its great that PBOT has the foresight to pound it into peoples heads that you don’t bike and talk on your cell phone.

    I agree they need to focus on enforcing the current car laws, but this will give them the right to crack down on “that guy” in the bike lane swerving around at 5mph while having a conversation.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Bill Stites June 28, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Glad to see this issue getting big attention.

    It is unbelievable how many motorists I see driving and chatting. Even pulling away from the curb, some are starting out their journey on the phone … seems like people consider driving an opportune time to catch up on phone calls.

    Please, just don’t do it. Super dangerous.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mark Allyn June 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    What about school buses with WWIII going on in the back?

    There was a youtube video (since taken off, I believe) of this incredible fight between two kids caught by the security camera in a school bus.

    It was so bad that I could not sleep the night after I saw it.

    If I were the driver of that school bus, I would be so distracted with that fight that I most likely would have driven the vehicle into a group of cyclists.

    I dread those things, especially on bad-mood days such as monday mornings.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • bumblebee June 28, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Maybe PBOT was engaging in some ‘distracted thinking’ when they came up with that phrase?

    Thanks for making me laugh!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kevin Wagoner June 28, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Focusing on safety is great so this could be good. We should focus our efforts to the problem areas based on data, so I hope they don’t get to distracted here…my guess is they won’t get distracted and this will be good (hopeful).

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Spiffy June 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    revoke the cell phone law! start enforcing distracted driving which is actually causing problems and stop going after people talking on cell phones…

    I don’t care what you’re doing, if you’re not paying attention it’s a problem… do whatever you want as long as you can stay in control of your vehicle… quit passing laws against whatever trendy thing is currently distracting people and start citing people… all your doing with these laws is making officers lazy, they don’t have to pay attention, they just have to notice a phone by your head…

    btw, it’s not illegal to have a phone next to your head, only to be using it at the time… if cell phone use while bicycling becomes illegal I’ll be holding my phone, turned off, to my head the entire time I’m riding…

    Recommended Thumb up 0