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Vision Zero coming into focus in Portland

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

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.


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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