(Screen capture via Rep. Rick Larsen)
Vision Zero is maybe the hottest subject in American street advocacy right now, but there’s still quite a lot of disagreement about what exactly it means.
As Portland adopts an official policy to prevent all road deaths and safety advocates begin a push for state and other local governments to follow that lead, we’ve just gotten a couple very clear examples of what Vision Zero doesn’t mean.
One comes from a hearing Tuesday in Washington D.C. The other comes from a state engineer quoted yesterday in The Oregonian.
As reported by Streetsblog USA, the president of the country’s most influential road-design organization answered a question about the recent national uptick in the number of people dying on bikes or foot by saying that on rural roads in his home state of Wyoming, road design is not an issue.
“Behavior — driver behavior and cyclist behavior — was really 100 percent the issue, not the design of the pavement,” Jon Cox, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said in a congressional hearing.
Cox didn’t elaborate on any possible policy changes, rural or otherwise.
Then, yesterday on OregonLive.com, Oregon Department of Transportation traffic engineering unit manager Doug Bish expressed a similar (though not identical) view while describing the agency’s safety efforts.
The state analyzes highways a tenth of a mile at a time and looks for places “where there is a higher number than normal of crashes going on.”
He said that fatal accidents, on their own, don’t necessarily indicate an engineering problem because many of them are the result of driver behavior rather than problems with roads or highways.
“If five crashes occur at a location,” he said, “there’s a stronger possibility that something is wrong rather than one crash where five people die.”
Obviously neither Cox or Bish is in favor of road deaths. But do they tolerate road deaths? Bish explicitly does. And neither Cox (a law enforcement officer by trade) or Bish (an engineer) seems to be open to the concept that roads designed for speed are a primary factor behind drivers’ unsafe behavior.
If they’d been pushed on the issue, Cox and Bish might have said that although safety improvements are important, allowing the overwhelming majority of cars to move quickly down a road is more important than preventing thousands of bad decisions from turning into fatalities every year across the country.
That argument might be valid. But it’s one that American politicians and engineering officials aren’t currently forced to make. If Vision Zero can accomplish anything, maybe it’s getting people to say this out loud — and decide for themselves whether they can live with the ongoing consequences.
More like “Vision Zero”…
…or “Zero Vision”.
normal level of deaths = evenly distributed, one for every tenth of a mile. Problem solved.
Their policy is reasonable, but their sampling method is bad. By looking at histograms of incidents per 1/10 mile segments, they identify only bad road features that are less than 1/10 of a mile long — e.g. bad intersections. A five mile long section with people speeding will distribute its incidents over 50 buckets, and not show up on their “needs attention” list.
They should probably use their method to identify all the incidents that appear to be attributable to a particular road feature, and perform further analysis on all the others, instead of just chalking them up to “driver error.”
“They should probably use their method to identify all the incidents that appear to be attributable to a particular road feature, and perform further analysis on all the others, instead of just chalking them up to ‘driver error.'”
Also, if such data can be had, is there a particular error that drivers consistently make along a stretch of road (e.g., speeding, cutting a corner, drifting out of lane), and is there any feature of the road that might encourage that “error”? Is there any way the road could be improved to lessen the potential consequences of that error?
The flawed methodology goes deeper. One of the characteristics to review when determining speed limits is crash history. But the criteria is specific in that is it road sections with unusually high crash history that are given more weight for speed limit reductions.
In other words, ODOT grades on a curve. It is a systemic issue and many of the primary criteria for setting speed limits is mobility focused as well.
Safe Systems/Vision Zero looks at risk first, mobility second.
It is the difference between median cable barrier, or better, on all of I-5 in Washington, but not in Oregon. While the likelihood of crossover might be small, the risk of fatality from one event is quite large.
Sounds like the comments held in question are holding the behavior of drivers responsible for traffic fatalities. Factual statements.
Roads do not kill people, drivers kill people. We should seek to hold drivers responsible and not let road design be another excuse for bad behavior.
Did countries that have successfully reduced traffic fatalities target roads or behavior?
“Cox and Bish might have said that although safety improvements are important, allowing the overwhelming majority of cars to move quickly down a road is more important” – when you need to make up thinks that were not said to support an argument, you may not have a very good argument to support.
That’s a fair dig, Tim – I could have taken the time to get Bish on the phone, but didn’t for this quick post. But to answer your question, the countries that have successfully reduced traffic fatalities have targeted roads much more than behavior.
“The Swedish philosophy assumes human imperfection at every turn, and places the onus of mitigating its effects largely on traffic engineers.”
Have you also considered the fines and enforcement actions they hand out, the relative cost of driving, and the way the hold drivers accountable. What I notice riding in Europe is not better roads (they are far worse), I notice better more courteous drivers (i.e. better behavior).
Totally agree with you, and an effort we should support, but EU came from a different place and still has way more cyclists than US. From what I’ve seen here we have mechanisms and opportunity to improve road design, but not to scale enforcement. Our BPAC works closely with the PD, and all of the local agencies here have lots of vacancies from retirements, officers with seniority who get to deny certain beats/patrol activities, etc.
At last night’s meeting we got to hear about the public backlash over road diets – people are absolutely furious over a recent one – and our visiting officer mentioned that this recent road diet people are most furious about has absolutely reduced speeds and crashes (and that if it wasn’t effective people wouldn’t be angry).
I guess my point is that LEO’s here rely on good road design to lessen the enforcement they need to provide.
(Oh, an aside, when asked whether bike collisions were on the rise and what was the popular nature of them, he said almost all the bike crashes they see reported in our city are from inexperienced riders (mostly kids), on the sidewalk or riding the wrong way, and most of the personal injury is mild concussion in helmet-less riders. They were on the rise a little, but probably not in pace with the growth in population or even ridership here, so in essence a decline – very few solo crashes (reported), and only one death here in recent memory (he’s been on ~30 years, much of it as a moto cop)).
Nice to see that the local anecdotal data on helmets minimizing head injury are in accordance with the published
What do you mean by “far worse.” Often times to people that means poor condition, irregular routes, narrow widths, etc., versus the ideal American car road (straight, flat, wide). If that’s what you mean by worse roads, that’s exactly the point of this: those conditions cause people to slow down and drive more carefully. The hope is that we can achieve similar “driver behavior” by influencing their behavior through design.
Totally agree, and a point I’ve tried to hammer into city engineers time and time again about bike lane design. Road design has a language all of its own – it communicates to the user an expectation. Narrow lanes slow drivers down – we know that. Interstate highways tend to have wider lanes because we know that. Thick dashed lines here in California tell drivers their lane is about to deviate from the main route. Dashes in bike lane striping tell both drivers and bicyclists to expect merging or crossing traffic. Solid bike lane striping tells texting drivers to weave back and forth over it…. anyway, you get the picture.
Well-marked bike lanes, on the other hand, communicate that that is the proper (and only) place for the bicyclist on that section of roadway – so much so that I’ve had people yell “Get in the bike lane!” at me on roads with no markings at all. Believe me, I’m all in favor of well-marked, even buffered bike lanes, but that paint tells a huge story, so my desire is that the people responsible for laying down these paint lines become fully conversant in what they’re telling both drivers and bicyclists to do – especially at intersections, merges, and lane adds.
(What I’ve noticed is that engineers generally look at bike lanes and sharrows as mutually exclusive on a given stretch of roadway, and I believe there are places that I like to call ‘mixing zones’ where even the most timid of bicyclists is forced to mix with cars, but that striping a Far-To-Right bike lane endangers the user at that point where sharrows may better communicate expectations to all).
“…Often times to people that means poor condition, irregular routes, narrow widths, …” Gary
Portland is having difficulty funding repair of its roads, and you’re telling them that disrepair makes people slow down, resulting in safer road conditions for people that bike? Most likely, that’s not what you’re thinking, but faulting wide, straight, in good condition roads in the U.S. as a design flaw causing unsafe conditions for people biking, doesn’t address actual contributing problems.
Nice, straight, wide smooth roads with good visibility, are not the key problem. Some people drive too fast, however straight, curvy, speed bump equipped a given road or street is. The remedy, is to slow these people down. Electronics will likely become the means of slowing people down.
Good point: Change driver behavior to eliminate road deaths. As long as roads are closed to motorized vehicles, we’ll see the number of deaths on those roads drop to as near to zero as we can expect.
Both, and more. The Safe Systems/Vision Zero paradigm does not depend on any one single factor to reduce serious and fatal crashes, it attacks the problem from multiple directions. Better road users (drive, walk, bike), better vehicles, better roads, better enforcement, better adjudication, better laws.
Also, many of the most successful countries don’t excuse any one of those contributing factors either. It’s everybody’s problem.
To reduce traffic deaths we need to talk about drunk biking, drunk walking and drunk driving, and also find the dangerous spots that require an engineering fix. About 25% of people killed on bikes had a BAC over .08 in Cali. It is hard to protect drunk bikers/pedestrians from themselves.
Having said that, everyone knows a badly designed intersection, and there is no excuse not to provide safer infrastructure. Portland has major drinking problem, IMHO. Our family doctor told us that she sees young Portlanders (under 40) with liver damage. So we need to get real and stop senseless death and injury with a two-pronged approach.
While it is possible that Portland has many people under 40 experiencing liver damage, keep in mind that MANY things cause liver damage (e.g., heroin, prescription MEDICATION, and alcohol).
So you’re suggesting we focus on 25% of the problem first, and then also the other 75%, at some point?
I really think you are taking things out of context for Cox and Bish. Saying that Bish “explicitly tolerates” deaths is rather unfair.
I think Bish is simply trying to explain how ODOT prioritizes or spends it’s limited resources (staff time and construction dollars) by evaluating crash statistics. I think what he’s saying is that if they discover a high number of crashes in one area, they evaluate further to see if there is an engineering/maintenance issue.
Take the issue of the videoing driver in Gresham who ran down three high school students in the crosswalk. (The videoing was announced in today’s Oregonian!) Clearly driver error, right? If any of the students had been killed by this really, really stupid motorist, it would be a fatality.
Some readers seem to think the engineer is at fault for every fatality if he even hints at driver error and that he is not embracing Vision Zero. What would you have the engineer do in the case of a fatality in this Gresham case? Close the crosswalk? Put monster speed bumps on the street in every school zone? Close the entire street?
Traffic safety involves education, enforcement and engineering. When an engineer, who’s facing severe budget constraints, tries to explain the process he uses to deal with the engineering part of the equation, at least try to understand where he’s coming from.
Every pedestrian crossing should be raised, like this:
It does two things: it tells drivers that they are guests in the pedestrian zone, not the other way around; and it slows people down. Have you been on 182nd where this incident occurred? People routinely drive over 40mph. I can’t say if the incident would have occurred or not, but the chances are definitely lower, and the injuries would have been less severe.
But the whole incident raises another question that I always have: So if you mow someone down while drunk or while texting, you get punished; if you do it without these distractions or impairments, nothing happens? Who is more dangerous, the person that occasionally drinks or texts while driving, or the person who drives that way every day?
Sorry, forgot to attach examples:
I am familiar with Centennial HS and 182nd Avenue; I used to work nearby. And yes, people do drive 40 mph on 182nd. It also has a school zone with a 20 mph speed zone. The driver was almost certainly exceeding the speed limit; was clearly not paying attention because she was making a video!!! Do you really want an engineering solution to this really, really stupid driver behavior?
I’m sure Doug Bish and his engineer coworkers know how to design a raised pedestrian crossing, but they can’t simply go out and start building them. There has to be some policy decisions made by elected officials giving them the direction to do so.
If we can’t even get the consensus to prosecute drunk drivers and take away their licenses after three or four DUIIs, do you really think we can get agreement on raised pedestrian crossings at every intersection or even get reasonable enforcement of school speed zones?
Quoted from the Portland Tribune: “[The driver] was booked and released from the Multnomah County Detention Center and charged with three counts of third-degree assault, five counts of recklessly endangering and one count of reckless driving.” I wonder if I walked through downtown randomly firing a gun in all directions if I’d be charged with reckless endangerment and then released. You’re right, an engineering solution isn’t needed in this particular case; she should be in jail.
Chris, the second picture is a raised intersection. As you increase the length of the flat area of a speed table, you lessen the slowing achieved. Raised intersections do much less for slowing people driving at crosswalks than raised crosswalks do.
Every intersection is a pedestrian crossing. Do you want one of these at every intersection? That would dramatically decrease the utility of automobiles. This might not bother me so much, but it would certainly anger my wife and the majority of Portlanders. Scratch that; it would drive me crazy too.
School zones; yes. It think that would be great!
I think that would be a great idea if it reduced speed through an intersection and alerted drivers when they were in a crosswalk. People just drive too fast everywhere. Except maybe freeways.
Chris, did you mean every pedestrian crosswalk, or every marked crosswalk?
Crosswalks are a legal definition, not the marking on the road.
What about emergency response? Speed tables delay fire trucks up to 9 seconds per device. ten of them would be a minute and a half delay responding to a home. Most of those responses are medical emergencies, like heart attacks – time sensitive emergencies.
“Most of those responses are medical emergencies, like heart attacks – time sensitive emergencies.”
Then why do they (still) drive those enormous trucks filled with hoses and axes? Maybe they should retool to better reflect the kinds of emergencies they actually respond to. A smaller emergency response vehicle would solve lots of other annoying problems that the standard US-issue firetruck precipitates when it comes to our transportation infrastructure.
Too true re: vehicle size. OSHA rules require four EMTs at a medical emergency response. The ambulance only carries two. So a truck or engine has to roll to every medical call because PF&R is the first responder. AMR usually only transports.
I recently saw a council hearing item to spend $5M to replace 9 vehicles. If $5M were spent to add sprinklers to homes in Portland, and all future homes were required to have fire suppression features, the need for those big fire trucks would certainly diminish.
PF&R is like the air force. instead of multiple tools for multiple missions, they put everything on one vehicle – swiss army knife style. And like modern fighter jets, with more tools on board the complexity increases, and for fire vehicles, the weight dramatically increases. When the weight goes up, acceleration goes down, so every delay, bumps or congestion, means the time it takes to get back up to speed is stretched out even more.
I’ve curious what they spend for fuel each year.
A giant speedbump is exactly what I want coming into a school zone.
A speedbump that will shake a phone/camera right out of someone’s hand if they’re going more than 5 miles above the speed limit.
Or, alternatively, a speedbump so mean-looking (i.e. looking like it might break something on the underside of your car if you don’t go over it at the correct speed an angle) that after you hit it the first time you’d never do it again.
Absolutely an engineering solution. High rise, angles on all sides, obstacles added in that could easily cause cosmetic damage to your car if you weren’t paying attention. This is almost as mean as I’d like it:
That’s pretty tame, actually. the photo is of a raised crossing at a pinch point. Only one car can get through at a time.
Not sure the liability risk for the taxpayer of what you propose is worth the reward. Speed tables achieve 85ths of about 20-22 mph at the bump and standard bumps achieve closer to 17-20 mph. Closer spacing achieves better slowing.
Interesting…I think some of my comments were taken out of context. The article was talking about crashes were mutliple people were injured and how ODOT takes that into account. As an example I gave one instance of how we screen the network for crashes (not the only way).
ODOT did a study to try to identify risk factors for bike crashes and trying to come up with a better way to screen for the best locations for engineering improvements.
Yes the speed of the vehicles are a primary risk for bikes, higher speeds more risk. Changing the road character is one of the best ways to reduce speeds and reduce risk for bicyclists. The idea would be that the roadway would make a driver feel like they need to slow down. That is difficult in some circumstances but providing safer roads for all users should be our goal.
I don’t know about “Vision Zero”, one side of me says is it isn’t plausible, the other side says it should be our goal.
Of course it’s plausible.. It’s not as though automobiles fall out of the sky at random intervals, sadly killing whoever was unlucky to be at that spot. This is a problem with a very obvious solution, chalking it up to inevitability is such an egregious level of complacency as to be complicity.
What is the obvious solution? I can think of solutions that are obvious in one dimension but are problematic in others.
The “obvious solution” is infrastructure that makes driving over 23 MPH (the inflection point in the “speed v fatality” graph as determined by AAA in their pedestrian and cyclist death study) impossible or extremely uncomfortable. Below 23 MPH you have a 90% or better survival rate but by just 30 MPH survival drops to 60%, which is a improvement from the 1999 study that found a survival rate of 50%, mostly due to improved trauma care in the intervening time. The other “solution” to preventing road deaths is putting trauma centers on a one mile (or so) grid so that people can get stabilized more quickly and then transferred to a better facility as soon as possible, with ambulances having GPS directions to the closest (in terms of travel time in current traffic) center available at all times. one is a one time investment with minor ongoing costs, the other has a similar up-front cost but a much higher ongoing cost.
The other “solution” to preventing road deaths is putting trauma centers on a one mile (or so) grid so that people can get stabilized more quickly and then transferred to a better facility as soon as possible, with ambulances having GPS directions to the closest (in terms of travel time in current traffic) center available at all times.
Actually that would do the opposite – it would increase mortality. Delaying transfer to definitive care by first stopping at a nearby “stabilizing” facility has been shown to be detrimental. The faster the patient gets to the final destination (the trauma center) the better his/her chances. There isn’t a city on earth with a trauma center every few miles- none; and for good reasons. Given Portland’s population and geography, two trauma centers (what we have now) is all we need.
“The “obvious solution” is infrastructure that makes driving over 23 MPH (the inflection point in the “speed v fatality” graph as determined by AAA in their pedestrian and cyclist death study) impossible or extremely uncomfortable.
…” Opus the Poet
What realistic form of infrastructure do you envision your idea taking? What things do you include under the descriptive word ‘infrastructure’, as you’ve used it here? It’s very difficult, from what you’ve written, to know whether you’re talking about pavement surface, traffic management lights, electronics, enforcement, and so on.
How about a bunch of these connected to a radar unit.
If the goal is anything less than the ideal state, you will always be reaching for imperfection. Major manufacturing companies are all adopting “zero injury” safety programs, and several US Cities are joining many others in Europe in adopting Vision Zero. It’s a relatively easy step that can do a lot to change attitudes. The hard part is making progress towards the goal.
If you were to ask the following question to the folks working at ODOT, what would be the most common answer?
Q: What is ODOT’s primary goal?
a) To move people as quickly as possible to their destination.
b) To make sure that everyone reaches their destination safely.
On the following page, the document in the top right side “Towards Zero” is quite informative.
There is no magic bullet to accomplish “Vision Zero”.
I know this may be a lot to expect, but just maybe we can focus on road design, driver/biker/pedestrian behavior, and vehicle speed reduction.
and better enforcement, and better laws, and better adjudication, and better driver training.
Of course road design isn’t the issue in Wyoming – that’s not where people are moving to!!
Doug Bish… Welcome to BikePortland and thank you for commenting! I’m sure you have a busy workday, but there are some very enlightening discussions here, from parking to urban planning to CRC to roadway priorities… and some bike-related stuff, too. Some of us here slip off the rails sometimes, but this is the best site for discussion of regional planning and transportation issues around. Feel free to lurk around sometimes…
From a purely statistical standpoint, I’d have to agree that 5 crashes is worse than 1.
And an evidentiary standpoint too. One driver making a mistake someplace is one ambiguous data point. Five different people making a similar mistake at the same place is pretty suggestive of something going on at that place.
You guys are totally right – but you’re still talking about Vision One, not Vision Zero.
This is why people who believe in Vision Zero (and to be clear, I’m not personally among them) refer to it as a paradigm shift. If the road even allows one person to be stupid enough to kill themself, that is still a problem that deserves to be fixed by the public. This is the meaning of Vision Zero as I understand it.
I don’t believe in Vision Zero either. But we’re at Vision 25,000, so it’s perfectly appropriate to target the low hanging fruit. In fact, it would be foolhardy not to. We don’t have unlimited resources.
We have staggering amounts of resources but we choose to use a large fraction for nation destruction instead of nation building.
So you two who state that you ‘do not believe in Vision Zero,’ can you elaborate? You don’t like the approach, the framework, the goal? How would you approach this, assuming you think the general goal is important?
I have my differences with Vision Zero, too, but I guess I wouldn’t characterize myself as ‘not believing in VZ.’
I don’t think infrastructure is the issue here at all, as I feel quite comfortable exceeding the speed limit under a wide variety of conditions. On a per mile basis the speeding ticket or two that I’ve gotten is meaningless. Luckily I haven’t had any accidents, they would certainly mess up my per mile cost, but in any case I’m apparently comfortable with behavior and risks since I continue to do it.
As a society, we are also apparently comfortable with speeding. A coworker got a ticket in a school zone, and the water cooler discussion revolved around his efforts to convince the officer to give him a warning (tough to say you weren’t familiar with the speed limit when your license shows you live a few blocks away) and the relative benefits of showing up in court versus mailing in a defense (perceived discount of 50% vs. 10%). There was no guilt.
I can tell you what would make me uncomfortable with speeding, and that is a significant probability of receiving a ticket. Trouble is, police officers are too expensive and valuable for the level of traffic enforcement we need. Speed cameras are also expensive, and largely stationary, so they can only deter speeding in a small area. Ordinary Oregonians also have the right to issue tickets I believe, but it must be a hassle, since I barely recall hearing about it.
As a pedestrian I certainly see a lot of speeding and cell phone usage. A few minutes per day at the 60th Max stop next to I-84 and i see at least a few texters and talkers, more if traffic is actually moving. It irritates me and most of the posters here and I wish I could do something about it. If there was an App that would record traffic violations and submit them to the legal system, I might use it. If there was a small finders fee for each successful ticket issued and paid, I might use it a lot, kind of like Uber for traffic violations: just don’t use it while operating a vehicle.
I would expect a few outcomes. First, real penalties would reduce transgressions, which is the point. Second, lots of data to help guide decisions about infrastructure changes that could be funded from increased citations. The last outcome is sort of intangible, but I think the most important. Portlanders can be agonizingly considerate at 4 way stops, but this consideration seems to disappear midblock and on larger thoroughfares. Being chastised (and fined) by members of the community, rather than a faceless government bureaucrat, may remind drivers that traffic violations do in fact make you a bad person from society’s standpoint, in that the rest of us face unacceptable risks as a result. Recognition of individual roles and contributions to society should help us all get along better.
What I was asking for was infrastructure that made speeding to lethal velocities physically or psychologically impossible. The fact that speeding is common (and to some extent condoned) and also comfortable, means the infrastructure has not yet been made non-lethal yet. That is just one of the battles that has to be fought to make streets fit for people, not just people in cars.
The statement by Mr. Cox: “….by saying that on rural roads in his home state of Wyoming, road design is not an issue.” is correct in that there are hundreds of miles of rural roads in Wyoming and few bike deaths and it would be cost prohibitive to make all those rural roads “safe” for cyclists.
The problem, demonstrated ad nauseam on this website, by commenters and by moderators and the website owner, is the belief that cyclists should not shoulder ANY of the burden for their own safety and that the goobermint should be responsible for their safety. It’s always someone else’s fault when a cyclist gets killed – it’s never the cyclists fault even when it is clearly the cyclists fault.
And yes, many roads are designed so cars can move quickly over them.
“cyclists should not shoulder ANY of the burden for their own safety”
To me this boils down to whether we-who-cycle have the right to ride on the roads without the prospect of (a) being run over, and (b) getting no justice after getting run over. My opinion—and perhaps this puts me in the camp you castigate—is that we should have this right. The dangers, as we’ve had ample opportunity to debate here, emanate from those who drive without proper attention and/or too fast for conditions. It is as simple as that. Until we have put some serious muscle behind addressing those sources of danger I’m not really much interested in hearing what all I might do to improve my safety. It just doesn’t follow, logically or ethically.
Roads may have been given over to cars—and cars alone—for most of your and my lifetime, but that doesn’t mean that was a just decision, a wise decision, or a decision that can’t or shouldn’t be revisited.