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State’s anti-speeding photo radar bill flips ‘scofflaw’ narrative

Posted by on March 11th, 2015 at 8:31 am

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Just another day on SW Barbur Boulevard, one of 10 streets that could be fitted with radar cameras under a proposed state law.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

When it comes to the rules of the road, there are a few facts of life — or, as sociologists might call them, social norms.

When people are in cars, they tend to drive over the speed limit if they feel it’s safe to do so and they can get away with it.

When people are on bikes, they tend to roll through stop signs if they feel it’s safe to do so and they can get away with it.

When people are on foot, they tend to cross the street whenever they feel it’s safe to do so and they can get away with it.

The key difference between those scenarios is that one of them is far more likely to result in injuring or killing someone other than the person doing it. It’s also, of the three, possibly the most commonly broken law in the history of the world — and of the three, the least likely to provoke outrage by an average American.

The city says that according to law enforcement records, at least 46 percent of metro-area traffic fatalities are speed-related. That doesn’t include fatalities that may have been coded with different factors — drunken driving, for example — but were also speed-related.

In 2013, the last year with full statistics available, traffic killed 109 people in the four-county metro area.

SE Foster Road-3

SE Foster Road.

Speeding may be against the law, but in the United States it’s as powerful a social norm as stopping for a red light even if nobody else is coming.

This wasn’t always the case. In 1923, the U.S. auto industry successfully killed a campaign to install a device in every car that would force it to drive at a mostly nonlethal 25 mph.

Now the City of Portland is essentially proposing something similar, except only for its 10 most dangerous streets: to install automatic cameras that would send tickets to people who break the law by exceeding speed limits by more than several miles per hour.

Here’s why that matters: it has the potential to change social norms just as surely as the 25-mph devices might have if they’d ever been installed, back in 1923.

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122nd Avenue.

There’s no question that the perception of “bicyclists” as “scofflaws” is one of the single biggest political problems of bicycling advocacy. When one human sees another violating a social norm — especially someone who looks different or unfamiliar in some way — we feel a powerful urge to put them into the drawer in our brain labeled Others.

Six years ago, Oregon’s bicycling advocacy community more or less fell on its own sword in a failed attempt to get around this problem by legalizing something that most people do anyway — treat stop signs as yield signs.

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Today, there’s a bill in Salem that turns things on its head. Instead of trying to legalize an illegal social norm (rolling through stop signs on a bike) it tries to enforce penalties of a social norm that’s already illegal (speeding on dangerous streets in a car).

And here’s the interesting thing: because speeding is already both illegal and obviously dangerous, some people are willing to turn against it. The Oregonian comment section, rarely more than a torrent of hatred toward various Others, is surprisingly divided about the merits of this bill.

drive the speed limit

fixed locations

good news

caching

wondering

demos

To be clear, maybe three-quarters of the comments about this bill on the Oregonian’s website seem to oppose it, or at least to argue that it’s more about revenue than safety. (An opinion that, to be honest, isn’t ridiculous.)

But for city lovers and safety advocates, the real promise of speed-detection cameras isn’t that they’d bring in money, or even that they’d impose legal penalties on some drivers.

The promise of speed-detection cameras is that because they’re self-financing, it’s possible to install enough of them to change the social norm. The promise of speed cameras is that they might once again turn people who drive at illegally lethal speeds into the Other.

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SilkySlim
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SilkySlim

Love this, spot on. I’ve been bouncing around many of the same ideas since spending 5′ this weekend observing the “Your Speed” sign at the end of my block, at 35th and Holgate. Law abiders were definitely in the minority, if they existed at all!

I need to go back out there with a pen and paper and record the results one day.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Michael I’m for this bill, but I don’t understand why you need to open the article the way you did? Just saying speeding is bad is sufficient (and I really don’t think anyone on this site would argue with you about that). Just too red meat-ish for this site.

Dave
Guest
Dave

This is what keeps me believing that drivers are a separate, subhuman species–I have been able to comprehend 2 digit numbers since I was about six years old. What is motoring primates’ problem with comprehending a 2 digit number on a roadside sign and keeping the gauge in their car matched to it? This is, as they say, far from brain surgery.

Spizzle
Guest
Spizzle

Speeding cameras sound great. I would also love to see some cameras for cars that roll through the bike boxes, block the crosswalk then turn against an obvious “NO TURN ON RED” sign. Just about any traffic/law enforcement that can easily be automated probably should be. Cops have enough work as it is, without worrying about your average traffic violation.

Electric Mayhem
Guest
Electric Mayhem

The photo at top is one I go by every day on Barbur. Even when the entire section was set to 35 mph during construction last fall, and signs said that fines were double because of the construction zone, people still blasted past that sign.

Charles McCarthy
Guest
Charles McCarthy

I believe that the certainty of a ticket for speeding is more of a deterrent than a high fine (which proportionally affects the poor far more than the rich). How about a $20 fine for 0-5 mph over, with the added nuisance of requiring each ticket to be paid for individually — 5 tickets makes five trips to the payment window or 5 checks in five envelopes with five stamps.

Patrick Barber
Guest

Well said, Michael. Thanks.

Andy K
Guest
Andy K

I’m a “motoring primate” and I support House Bill 2621.

drew
Guest
drew

I love the opening to this article. It’s important to put things in perspective. Everybody violates the letter of the law at times, but when driving motorized appliances, the consequences can be huge; a level so far and above biking or walking that there is no comparison.

Great article, thanks. I sincerely hope the cameras get voted in.

Allan
Guest
Allan

The solution to people broadcasting the locations is simple: Move the cameras around, and replace them with dummy-cameras so that no-one knows where the real ones are. This is tried and tested in other countries

caesar
Guest
caesar

What will be the threshold speed that will trigger the camera? I read the actual bill summary (see link below) and it does not specify. I truly hope that there isn’t a 10 mph cushion (i.e., no ticket issued unless the driver was exceeding the posted speed limit by at least 10 mph). That will essentially encourage speeding. And, IMHO as a recent arrival to these fair shores, posted speed limits around here are way too high anyway. 45 mph on windy narrow two-lane NW Cornell Rd below Skyline / Miller? Really? Most people drive at least 50 on that stretch, if not more.

https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2015R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB2621/Introduced

Do it like the Aussies do in Sydney (where I lived for several years): red light cameras and speed cameras (with minimal to no speed cushion) and install the cameras on the “motorways” too (the OR bill seems to exclude the freeways).

http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/speeding/speedcameras/index.html

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

This is great news, and a good step toward Vision Zero. There is no rational reason to be against these cameras. The only arguments I hear are “I want to drive fast” and “it’s all about money”. The first is ridiculous – if you don’t want a ticket, then don’t drive past the posted speed limit. Regarding the second – we’re we not just talking all last year about how the city has no money?

Pete
Guest
Pete

When I was a kid there was a “seatbelt law” enacted in my home state and it created a huge public outrage. My Mom and Dad screamed that it was their choice whether to wear one or not, and then it was repealed by voters and everyone was happy again. It was enacted again not long after, repealed by voters again, and then permanently enacted – the federal government threatened to withhold large chunks of funding for the ‘dangerous’ states without seatbelt laws. To the day my mother stopped driving I had to beg and plead with her to use her seatbelt, usually by threatening that I’d start riding my bike without wearing a helmet.

Don’t underestimate the power of the various lobbies – insurers, manufacturers, etc. – to influence federal and state laws. After a period of decline and then steadiness we are once again seeing a rise in bicyclist and (mostly) pedestrian deaths, and suddenly funding is being released to fight that (under the Vision Zero premise). The auto insurance industry is no stranger to the fact that speeding is behind a great deal of damage that they have to pay for, and I suspect that’s part of the impetus we’re seeing local funding suddenly grow for projects like this.

I often piss people off for actually driving the speed limit on my local California roads. I’ve seen online comments such as “if I do the speed limit I’m afraid I’ll be hit from behind!” – and I can relate, having once been rear-ended by a speeding Californian (on SW Cedar Hills, ironically). It remains to be seen whether this ‘safety movement’ will change this powerful social norm such as the seatbelt law did, but one can be hopeful. (In my opinion you have a far better chance with Oregon drivers, believe it or not).

ricochet
Guest
ricochet

davemess
Michael I’m for this bill, but I don’t understand why you need to open the article the way you did? Just saying speeding is bad is sufficient (and I really don’t think anyone on this site would argue with you about that). Just too red meat-ish for this site.
Recommended 1

The opening was the single best part of the article

mike
Guest
mike

the privacy concerns with this are enormous. its not worth the revenue or the potential speed diet

Carl
Guest
Carl

“I’m all for saving lives AS LONG AS IT DOESN’T ALSO MAKE THE CITY MONEY.”

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

To quote Nike… “JUST DO IT.”

soren
Guest
soren

“Six years ago, Oregon’s bicycling advocacy community more or less fell on its own sword in a failed attempt to get around this problem by legalizing something that most people do anyway — treat stop signs as yield signs.”

I don’t think fighting for equity is falling on a sword. The BTA won’t shift the overton window by always accommodating car-centrism.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

I like 9watts’ comment. I agree with the way you wrote this. However I really question why it was titled ‘State’s anti-speeding bill’ when the more accurate title (for a non-Oregonian rag) would be something like ‘State looks to improve safety enforcement.’

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

in regards to the Oregonian story, the poll in that article currently shows 682 votes to keep getting away with dangerous speeding vs 287 votes to put an end to it…

unfortunately, I was not surprised by those results…

Rick
Guest
Rick

BH Highway and Barbur greatly need this.

ac
Guest
ac

I’d like to point out that the “your speed” sign on barbur is the an indication of the beginning of a 35mph zone. The road leading to that sign is a 45mph zone. That location merely warns of the slower zone to come. The vehicle that prompted that 42mph sign to light up is legal until they reach the 35mph sign.

Opus the Poet
Guest

How about a study to find the inflection point in the speed vs vulnerable user fatality graph and restricting speed limits under that speed inside city limits? Humans seem to survive impacts pretty well up to somewhere around 25 MPH when lethality seems to grow exponentially with increased speed to the asymptote of 100% of vulnerable users killed.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

Funny thing is is that speeding on surface streets doesn’t get you anywhere faster. Infact most the locations listed here are timed in such away that you’ll be waiting at every red light even if you go the speed limit. The lights are called traffic control devices for a reason.

To time the lights in any traffic condition other than complete gridlock all you have to do is drive roughly 3 MPH under the speed limit. In rush hour even slower (though you’ll still hit some reds from backed up traffic but not nearly as many).

Coast if the light ahead is red, even if you slow way down…what’s the point of rushing to the red light?

And try to adjust your speed by the cross walk signals in your direction (it’s nice how they countdown the change to yellow for you) and you’ll sit at fewer reds increasing you MPG and saving significant wear and tear on your car in the process as well.

HJ
Guest
HJ

Somehow I just don’t think this is the best use of our tax dollars to increase safety on the roads. I’ve yet to see an actual dollar figure as to what this is going to cost the taxpayers to set up. Knowing the government I’m guessing in the millions.
I would much rather see them put the money towards actually cracking down on the reams of distracted drivers out there. Start hammering on people who drive along messing with their cell phones! Worse than the drunk drivers anymore if you ask me if just due to the sheer volume. The way they constantly weave across centerline with no proper control of their vehicles is just scary.

danny
Guest
danny

“There’s no question that the perception of ‘bicyclists’ as ‘scofflaws’ is one of the single biggest political problems of bicycling advocacy.”

See Bike Portland story on proposed illegal mountain bike ride to protest closure of the River View property to cyclists. Ironic, no?

bjcefola
Guest
bjcefola

Portland desperately needs more tools for enforcing traffic laws. If this alleviates that I’m all for it.

Alex
Guest
Alex

I am probably in the minority here but just moving from a place that “went to town” installing camera’s all over the city (Phoenix and surrounding cities) only to see them all come down years later I don’t really feel great about this.

Firstly, the revenue generating piece. In the case in Phoenix more then half of the revenue generated went to an Australian company that supplied, installed, monitored all the camera’s.

Second, while speed is definitely an issue I don’t see it as the MAIN issue. It’s shitty, lazy un-observant drivers who speed that are more of the problem. If you are going 41 in a 35 it’s really easy to point and scream “illegal! you are breaking the law! you are a very bad person!” but it really depends on the road, conditions and if you are paying attention or not or gabbing to your friend, tending to your kid in your back seat or in general just day dreaming.

Another issue is the enforcement of the citation. I am sure this will hold true in Oregon as well but in Phoenix it was technically illegal to give someone a citation that was not actually served to you by an officer. So what you had happening was another “lucrative” side business where you had servers running around trying to service people who did not pay. You had people not answering their doors, people who never got served or did not get their mail finding out their license was suspended with no warning, etc, etc – it was a big mess.

My suggestion would be to start with red light cameras, many of those camera’s can also be speed camera’s (and we still have those in Phoenix). So if you run a red light you get a ticket, or if you speed through and intersection you get a ticket (11 mph over posted limit). This might not be the main problems areas in Portland but this was the biggest issue in Phoenix, they just got a little crazy and started putting the camera’s everywhere (freeways, etc). You basically had people causing more of a traffic problem because you had a flow of traffic that was technially speeding and then you had a line of cars slamming on their brakes (it actually caused accidents). They eventually took them all down or turned them off when studies revealed it did nothing to prevent accidents or make things safer. The one place they did seem to make some difference were intersections and for red lights. Good place to start.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Padiddle on that Toyota.

CarsAreFunToo
Guest
CarsAreFunToo

http://www.portlandmaps.com/detail.cfm?action=Traffic&&propertyid=&state_id=&address_id=&intersection_id=59209&dynamic_point=0&place=SE%2053RD%20AVE%20&city=PORTLAND&neighborhood=MT.%20TABOR&seg_id=119483,119484&x=7661706.623&y=677375.455

http://www.portlandmaps.com/detail.cfm?action=Traffic&&propertyid=&state_id=&address_id=&intersection_id=62006&dynamic_point=0&place=SE%2057TH%20AVE%20&city=PORTLAND&neighborhood=FOSTER-POWELL&seg_id=121954,500504&x=7662649.332&y=674488.488

Scroll down to the “Traffic SPEED Counts” section and note the tiny, tiny amount of people going 10mph over the posted speed.

10mph over the posted speed limit, give or take depending on many factors (school zones, etc.), is probably a good approximation for the socially accepted norm for the limit beyond which speeding is getting egregious. I argue that this norm developed because of the billions and billions of miles driven by people around the globe within that range without the sky falling and the coming of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

“The city says that according to law enforcement records, at least 46 percent of metro-area traffic fatalities are speed-related.” How exactly they are related is important. Was it, “Well I was try to text me mum when I realized I was headed right for a crowd of children and I couldn’t stop in time.” If “speed related” means they couldn’t stop quick enough, you could be bang on the limit, or under, and still not be able to stop in time if you’re not paying attention. I’d like to know what the city actually means by that. Also note that, given there were 109 traffic fatalities, that’s 50 fatalities out of how many of trips driven every day. An estimated 2+ million people lived in the greater Portland area in 2013. Say there were a million car trips a day. That’s 365 million car trips a year. So, there were 50 fatalities during those 365 million trips allegedly speed related. That’s 0.00013%. So that’s basically you’re risk of dying due to a speed related auto-accident. That’s pretty freaking low. (One article listed your odds of dying in a car crash at 1 in 5000 or 0.0002, so my napkin math is remarkably good.)

And take a good look at the map of these supposed Corridors of Death and Mayhem (https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/439832). For one, MLK looks way worse than Sandy. But also, most of the proposed speed camera locations don’t even appear to line up with the areas with the most accidents, save for maybe the one on Powell. And even if we look at the data for Powell, on a normal weekday in 2010* travelling in JUST the westward direction, there were 14683 cars passing by. A mere one half of one percent of them were doing more than 10mph over the 35mph posted speed. That’s 73 assclowns out of more the 14k. It’s a non-issue.

Oh, I forgot. To BikePortland readers even the posted limits are ludicrous, unconscionable and murderous.

ISIS called. They wanted to know if y’all wanted to hang out.

*(Yes, I know it’s only one data point, but if you look around at other locations, it’s a totally normal number).