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Vision Zero coming into focus in Portland

Posted by on November 12th, 2014 at 12:45 pm

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.)

The Director of PBOT, Leah Treat, apparently wanted to attend, but was unable to due to her ongoing work on the Portland Street Fund effort.

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Treat has been a strong supporter of Vision Zero. Back in April, in her first major speech at the helm of PBOT, Treat said Vision Zero will be a top priority of her work. “Every death on our roadways is a failure of government, a failure of our community,” she said, “and a failure we refuse to accept.” At a panel discussion on Vision Zero held at the Oregon Transportation Summit last month, Treat put Vision Zero in personal and economic terms, saying that headlines of traffic deaths keep her up at night and that, “To me, Vision Zero is about addressing more than just fatalities and crashes. It’s about creating a prosperous city.”

“Our goal is a little different. Our goal is to increase the number of zero fatality days.”
— Troy Costales, ODOT

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky has been working to push Vision Zero into the spotlight for years. Just this week, the League of American Bicyclists awarded his organization and Oregon Walks a $10,000 grant to keep that effort going. Sadowsky sees serious momentum for the concept on the local, regional, statewide, and national levels.

Right now, Sadowsky and the BTA are working on a statewide policy document that will include a look at existing conditions and challenges as well as offer a comprehensive set of recommendations. One of Sadowsky’s top priorities will be installing speed cameras and finding funding for infrastructure investments that encourage safe driving.

Once that policy document is fleshed out, Sadowsky says they’ll work with municipalities and encourage them to make official proclamations and commitments to Vision Zero.

On another front, the BTA and their partners want to make sure that if the Portland Street Fund is passed, “That those investments go toward specific projects that will get us to our safety goals.”

The big elephant in the room here in Oregon is our state Department of Transportation. ODOT has not fully embraced the concept of Vision Zero and it remains to be seen whether the BTA’s legwork will finally help them see the light.

At the same conference last month where PBOT Director Treat called for a “culture change” to put safety “above [auto] access, [Level of Service] LOS, above everything,” ODOT’s Traffic Safety Division Manager Troy Costales put a new spin on Vision Zero.

“We don’t use that moniker,” he said, “Our goal is a little different. Our goal is to increase the number of zero fatality days.” Costales added that he wants to “Turn this conversation of talking positively about a negative situation and start talking positively about a positive situation.”

ODOT’s goal is to achieve 175 fatality free days in one year. Last year they had 170.

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29 Comments
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    Adam H. November 12, 2014 at 1:06 pm
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      spare_wheel November 12, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      I disagree.

      The plan for a 25 mph *default* speed limit in NYC that is vigorously enforced by cameras and LE is a *very* big deal. Even in central portland there are far too many arterials posted at 30 and 35 mph (and we all know that these limits are often treated as minimum speeds). IMO, slowing down motorists and changing the every road is a freeway attitude of some drivers will go a long way towards making active transport and mass-transit more attractive.

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        Brian November 13, 2014 at 7:07 am

        Totally agree. One component of the platform for my mayoral campaign will be a minimum reduction of 5 mph on all streets in Portland. Also, if you don’t have your front car windows de-tinted back to perfectly clear within six months your car will be towed on sight until you have the cash up front for the work. Either that or there will be a full time staffer who will go around the city and smash tinted windows all day long.

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    jeg November 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    If their goal is to improve safety with cameras, there need to be big signs warning about cameras ahead. Otherwise, people freak out and there are accidents.

    Truly, we need to put a lot of our roads on diets. Sandy, 82, 102, 122, etc… If we want to achieve zero deaths. We need to make these areas truly multimodal for cars and pedestrians and bikes. And we need to increase density along these strips that are mostly soulless besides the diversity of people choosing to live there, or being pressured to live there. They deserve better than endless parking lots. They deserve high density, walkable neighborhoods. They deserve good NORTH SOUTH permanent lines. I mean, even down to maybe MLK, and 39th having streetcar, and Sandy, and 82, and 102, 122…

    We as a city can do this if we prioritize funds more toward developing transit oriented development rather than forcing LOS, as Treat said. But we must advocate a step further! Our leadership always seems to want to speak in generalities. In the previous paragraph, I think that’s what we should be hearing from people in charge… and we should be hearing it frequently.

    This idea of making Portland denser and more accessible to all modes goes hand in hand with adding housing stock and increasing affordability. It all boils down to what the people who make $100,000+ want to have in the neighborhoods they are increasingly believing they own outright… Density needs to go forward despite what people are decrying. This means from city center to our fringes on 162. We need to have a unified and equitable pattern of development and service.

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    Todd Boulanger November 12, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    This is great news…the adoption of “Vision Zero” by the CoP.

    One of the “easy” first steps (as in its 100% under control of the City) would be to reform its TCP for work zones so that on-street car parking, storage of construction materials and construction trailers DO NOT take precedence over pedestrian access along sidewalks. And the same for bicyclists access to bike lanes.

    …otherwise “Vision Zero” just becomes zero vision in day to day practice outside of City Hall.

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    PNP November 12, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    ODOT’s position would be laughable, if the subject matter wasn’t so serious. They seem to be saying that it’s okay that there are 190 days in a year where someone dies on our streets. Seriously?

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      J_R November 12, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      You completely misunderstand the ODOT position. At the recent OTREC Oregon Transportation Summit, Troy Costales made a really good presentation and explanation of ODOT’s safety program.

      If I remember correctly, Costales explained that focusing on the number of non-fatal days was a good way to show progress since it “rewards” the positive. Apparently it’s a psychological thing has proven beneficial just like those signs in the warehouse that proclaim “xxx days since an injury.”

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        jeg November 12, 2014 at 4:18 pm

        Ok, I can follow that… However, isn’t the point to design roads and declare speeds that reduce fatality? As well as enforce laws against wreckless driving. Just cheerfully saying youve decreased the number of fatal days decouples the message entirely from what needs to be focused on: Our infrastructure and laws. Right now there’s too little emphasis on road diets and traffic calming. There needs to be more. That will reduce fatalities first. On highways, enforcement of speeds and perhaps even variable speeds for conditions could help.

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          9watts November 12, 2014 at 7:19 pm

          Count me as another skeptical citizen when it comes to ODOT’s commitment to this goal. I think their inclination to distance themselves from Vision Zero speaks volumes—and Mr. Costales’ candor is appreciated. ODOT’s statements, actions, positions couldn’t be further from what I understand to be the principles and priorities of Vision Zero.

          Pedestrians:
          ODOT: 70+% of pedestrians injured and killed are themselves to blame.
          Vision Zero: does not blame pedestrians; recognizes the elephant in the room.

          Driving:
          ODOT: Cars Über Alles; our constituents drive.
          Vision Zero: Safety Über Alles; our constituents deserve to get home alive.

          Funding Priorities:
          ODOT: Anything that gets people in cars where they want to go faster.
          Vision Zero: Complete revamp of infrastructure around safety, lower speeds, modal separation.

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            jeg November 13, 2014 at 9:25 am

            That’s exactly why ODOT is trying to make the message about vague death free days instead of the importance of fixing infrastructure so bike riders and pedestrians aren’t killed. ODOT probably doesn’t even hold firm to the belief of induced demand. All they want is to increase throughput of cars, not people. Bikes, walking, and cars together would carry more people, along with permanent transit lines both N-S and E-W.

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              wsbob November 13, 2014 at 11:26 am

              “…ODOT probably doesn’t even hold firm to the belief of induced demand. All they want is to increase throughput of cars, not people. …” jeg

              Decisions ODOT makes, are directly in response to the mandate of the public. Obviously, not in direct response to wishes of individuals such as yourself and some others here, personally, but to the wishes of the people of the state as a whole, yes, this is how ODOT works.

              So then, to have the work that ODOT does, begin to reflect design and management principles of Vision Zero, ODOT’s got to have the ‘go ahead’ from the people of the state, by individual effort and through elected officials and so on. Most likely will require majority public endorsement. Big, complicated process. Very likely will involve more funding too.

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                9watts November 13, 2014 at 11:31 am

                “Decisions ODOT makes, are directly in response to the mandate of the public. […] to the wishes of the people of the state as a whole, yes, this is how ODOT works.”

                Really? That is not at all how it appears to me, frankly.
                What is the process by which the wishes of the people of the state as a whole get funneled upward into Matt Garrett’s set of priorities? Since the wishes of the people of the state change, how does your trickle-up theory explain how ODOT as a sluggish bureaucracy can’t keep up?
                And, for that matter, where does vision, leadership come in? They’re the ones who have known for the better part of ten years that they were heading for a cliff financially, yet they spent a great deal of their time and energy stumping for the CRC.

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                9watts November 13, 2014 at 11:58 am

                “So then, to have the work that ODOT does, begin to reflect design and management principles of Vision Zero, ODOT’s got to have the ‘go ahead’ from the people of the state, by individual effort and through elected officials and so on. Most likely will require majority public endorsement. ”

                Waiting for what you call the ‘go ahead’ is not how this went down in Sweden. The folks who came up with Vision Zero were from Sweden’s version of ODOT. They led the effort, laid out a program, pushed for it:
                “Vision Zero was developed in 1995 by staff at the Swedish National Road Administration. They argued the traffic system needed to be to radically changed to achieve zero road fatalities and serious injuries.”

                Lots more good stuff here:
                http://www.swedishroadsafety.se/vision-zero.html
                and here:
                http://www.cga.ct.gov/2007/rpt/2007-R-0635.htm

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                wsbob November 13, 2014 at 12:53 pm

                “…pushed for it…” 9watts

                The Swedish public apparently supported the proposal and like I said, gave the ‘go ahead’ for the Swedish ODOT to proceed.

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                9watts November 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm

                Well the way you appear to conceptualize this is just very different from what I think occurred.
                Sweden: those with authority in the transportation field cook this up, champion this cause, come up with a program, go to the parliament, make it happen.
                Oregon: when it comes to transportation innovation this is not at all what happens here. No innovation, just moping about how hard it is to get out of silos. And you’re appeal to ‘having to get the go-ahead’ to me speaks to this. That phrase implies waiting for rather than pushing for something, and as such is of a piece with what I see happening with ODOT.

                The difference is one of leadership, of vision, of standing for something. ODOT doesn’t give the impression that they as an institution are capable of or inclined toward doing this.

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                9watts November 13, 2014 at 1:12 pm

                Swedish Road Administration:
                Vision Zero is the image of a future in which no one will be killed or serious[ly] injured.*

                ODOT:
                ODOT’s goal is to achieve 175 fatality free days in one year. Last year they had 170.

                See the difference?
                Long term/short term.
                Detailed plan/spur of the moment utterance.
                Clear communication/gobbledygook (fatality free day?!)

                *http://publikationswebbutik.vv.se/upload/1723/88325_safe_traffic_vision_zero_on_the_move.pdf

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                wsbob November 13, 2014 at 2:51 pm

                watts at: http://bikeportland.org/2014/11/12/vision-zero-coming-focus-portland-113313#comment-5816973

                Unless Sweden has a dictatorship form of government, the ‘go ahead’ comes from the country’s people. Sweden’s department of transportation may have had ideas for Vision Zero, but the department most likely did not have the autonomy over the country’s people to implement the various measures Vision Zero consists of.

                If you’re just looking for somebody or something to bark at, which seems to be the case, I guess ODOT can likely take it. Doubtful though, that your example can really do anything to help readers understand what efforts on their part may help to bring out the best of Vision Zero in our area.

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                9watts November 13, 2014 at 3:03 pm

                “Sweden’s department of transportation may have had ideas for Vision Zero, but the department most likely did not have the autonomy over the country’s people to implement the various measures Vision Zero consists of.”

                Don’t be silly. The point is having someone/many someones well positioned championing it makes all the difference. It is (sometimes) called the bully pulpit. If Garrett decided to write scores of editorials in the Oregonian pushing Vision Zero, and his staff cooked up a really sound plan and program and they talked to the legislature, this could work—as it did in Sweden. But if they sit on their hands, and stump instead for the CRC, for which there was no need, no money, and a whole lot of backroom deal$, then not only do we get nothing for our money, we sour on the whole idea of ODOT having any (future) authority in such matters.

                The thrust here is that some well-positioned actors made the case persuasively, got the right people on board, and saw it through. Since ODOT isn’t doing anything on this front, the ‘go ahead’ isn’t likely to happen for a very long time if ever; they’re not even looking for a ‘go ahead.’

                Perhaps you can appreciate why people in Sweden and Denmark and Germany and France are much more willing to pay taxes than people here are. They get something tangible, something useful, for those taxes.

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        gutterbunnybikes November 12, 2014 at 6:27 pm

        It’s called covering your bases.

        It wouldn’t take much for the number of days to go down, but actual number of fatalities goes up. This system completely eliminates multiple fatality incidents from the equation. It just increases the chances that ODOT can pat themselves on the back for success.

        Jim: “Hey good job guys look fatal days are down by 5% this year”
        Joe: “yeah but fatalities are up 10%”
        Jim: “Hey that Train/Bus collision only happened on one day…so those 25 people only count as one. Lets get a beer to celebrate.”

        And as for positive reinforcement, how so? It’s not as if anyone but the folks in their office have daily updates of these numbers. Are they gunna start renting billboards to bring us this information? Even for other businesses those “days without injury” stats don’t really do anything. It’s not like people walk into to work and say “Hey. I was planning on putting that cutting torch to my eye balls today, but gee I don’t wanna break that 34 accident free streak the company has got going now.”

        And on a side note, how is that it has taken almost 90 years of automobiles dominating the road that “vision zero” is a “thing” today. Shouldn’t it have been a goal 90 years ago. If anything it just proves how out of touch they (or we) are.

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    spare_wheel November 12, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    “Turn this conversation of talking positively about a negative situation and start talking positively about a positive situation.”

    A quote worthy of the The Ministry of Truth.

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      Andyc of Linnton November 13, 2014 at 11:13 am

      For real. Jeez.

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    wsbob November 13, 2014 at 12:42 am

    For it’s most basic objective, reducing the number of traffic related deaths to zero, I admire and respect Vision Zero. About some of the subtler points of Vision Zero as originating from Sweden, which I learned some of in reading last week, I’m not so sure.

    Definitely, travel infrastructure in the Portland Metro Area, could provide for safer travel by all road users, if some of the posted speed limits on certain roads were reduced. At least, a basic main lane separated cycle track system accompanying thoroughfares used heavily with motor vehicles, could help biking be a safer travel mode.

    A flaw of Vision Zero Sweden, may be in its taking the “Design around the human as we are,” principle of Claes Tingvall of Vision Zero, perhaps a bit too far. Just what range of human nature or behavior Vision Zero believes cities should design around to have people be safe on streets where motor vehicles are in use, I’m not exactly sure yet.

    Link to the NYtimes article I read last week:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/nyregion/de-blasio-looks-toward-sweden-for-road-safety.html?_r=2

    Whether traveling by motor vehicle, bike, on foot, skateboard, and so on, in using the road, people have a responsibility to use due care. Vision Zero’s success here in Oregon, may be limited if the reasoning behind it’s recommended designs, are partly to enable irresponsible road use by people other than those driving motor vehicles.

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      9watts November 13, 2014 at 8:29 am

      “Vision Zero’s success here in Oregon, may be limited if the reasoning behind it’s recommended designs, are partly to enable irresponsible road use by people other than those driving motor vehicles.”

      I think you’re putting the zero before the vision, wsbob. The vision part I think comes from *finally* recognizing that the problem is not evenly distributed across the population, across modes. You and I seem to love this particular topic.
      To confirm for yourself that this is so, just subtract everyone on a bike or on foot from our current situation. What happens to the injuries and deaths on our roads? Are people in cars now safer?
      Now take away the people driving, and leave everyone else. What happens to the injuries and deaths on our roads?

      I find it curious that, with Sweden’s success at this, you and ODOT feel the need to quibble with it, find ways to wiggle out from under its unequivocal demands that those in cars shape up, slow down, pay attention, take responsibility.

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      Spiffy November 13, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Vision Zero’s success here in Oregon, may be limited if the reasoning behind it’s recommended designs, are partly to enable irresponsible road use by people other than those driving motor vehicles.

      it would be a huge success to get the irresponsible road users out of their motor vehicles…

      even if we replaced every driver with a drunk cyclist the streets would be a lot safer…

      the reasoning behind the designs? I’m pretty sure the reason is to get to 0 deaths… we can get really close by tackling the one thing that is by far the worst offender, the automobile…

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        wsbob November 13, 2014 at 11:09 am

        “…it would be a huge success to get the irresponsible road users out of their motor vehicles… …” Spiffy

        With design strategies, that’s apparently not how Vision Zero works to accomplish its objectives. Read and think again, about Claes Tingvall’s remark, included in my comment to which you’ve responded: Design around the human as we are,”.

        Go to Vision Zero Sweden’s website. Not extensive information there, but basically what the design strategy is, is to create infrastructure that reduces the chances that driving by irresponsible road users can injure other people. That’s the good part about Vision Zero. Irresponsible road users can still drive, their bad driving just can’t pose quite the threat it does with more conventional infrastructure.

        On the other hand, it may be that Vision Zero infrastructure design seeks to enable irresponsible road users not driving, ‘to be just as they are’. I’m not too keen on that idea, and I there may be plenty of other people that feel similarly.

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    Dave November 13, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Let’s talk about a toxic statute–the one about (I’m unsure of the language) driving too slowly and impeding other drivers even when one is driving at the speed limit. This makes a total f*****g joke of speed limits; it reserves the left lane of the freeway, for instance, for illiterates who can’t read a two digit number. To me, this is one of the roots of our speed-crazed driving culture if obeying a speed limit can be construed as illegal interference with another driver. Can anyone enlighten me on this?

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      9watts November 13, 2014 at 9:39 am

      Yep.

      1913 – “Get Oregon Out of the Mud”
      1957 – “Building Oregon Thru Better Highways”
      1958 – “Oregon Freeways…Symbol of 2nd Century Progress”
      1961 – “Freeways are Easier”
      1967 – “Fifty Years of Building Better Highways in Oregon”
      1978 – “Keep Oregon Green and in the Black”
      1986 – “ODOT on the Move”

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    paikiala November 13, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    The OECD has better documentation of the Safe Systems/Vision Zero concepts;
    http://www.internationaltransportforum.org/jtrc/safety/targets/targets.html

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      wsbob November 15, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      p..have you read and studied the “Towards Zero: Ambitious Road Safety Targets and the Safe System Approach document? Particularly what it says in section three about road infrastructure and vulnerable road users?

      Tonight, I browsed just the summary, so someone having already read and studied the actual report, giving their own brief summary about key points could be helpful to people reading here. Released in ’08, it’s getting to be an old report. I’d hope the report itself is in a form and language more comfortable to non researchers and scholars than the summary is.

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