Weekender Ride

Bike/walk advocates unveil plan for Oregon to zero out road deaths

Posted by on March 31st, 2015 at 2:54 pm

The cover of the new report.

Two Portland-based advocacy organizations have released Oregon’s first detailed proposal for a “Vision Zero” policy that they say could completely eliminate road deaths and serious injuries.

The plan from Oregon Walks and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance describes itself as “A Unifying Vision for Street Safety for Oregon.”

The two groups assembled the report with input from officials at various government agencies, including the City of Portland and Oregon Department of Transportation. It’s the first big component of a coordinated campaign by the two organizations, part of a national effort to spread the Vision Zero concept.

What’s inside? Maybe the most significant ingredient here is the five-page list of specific recommendations at the end. Here are nine particularly interesting selections from that list.

Present residents of the Portland Metropolitan region with a unifying vision of dramatically safer streets. Contrast with the cost of inaction – a road system that is the cause of death and serious injury for too many of our citizens.

This is maybe the single biggest promise of the Vision Zero philosophy. Though the concept that every traffic death is preventable seems hard for almost everyone to accept (at least at first), it’s also simple enough for anyone to understand and therefore to take seriously.

City Councils should adopt a clear unifying Vision Zero policy that sets a clear goal of reaching zero fatalities and serious injuries with specific dates and mid term goals. Model ordinance is attached as Appendix A.

“If it doesn’t have a target date and it doesn’t have a zero number, it isn’t a Vision Zero policy,” BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky said Monday.

Create a regional Families for Safe Streets program, which gathers victims of traffic crashes and families who have lost loved ones in crashes to advocate for street safety.

“I’ve never seen a campaign have so much influence over elected officials in such a sort time as Families for Safe Streets,” New York City advocate Paul Steely White said in a BikePortland interview last Friday, discussing the NYC version of this campaign.

Design assurances against racial profiling and targeting as it pertains to Vision Zero enforcement. Ensure that communities of color, police bureaus, and community leadership are included in the decision making and development of enforcement plans or policies.

Unlike the original Swedish approach that focuses almost entirely on road design, the U.S. approach to Vision Zero has usually emphasized law enforcement. This has met skepticism from people who observe that law enforcement penalties fall disproportionately on people with low incomes or people of color. The BTA/Oregon Walks policy tries to anticipate and mitigate this concern.

Prioritize improvements in areas that are lacking even the most basic infrastructure, with a specific focus on historically under-served communities. These areas lack basic pedestrian safety measures, such as proper street lighting, crosswalks, ADA accessible curb ramps and complete sidewalks. These areas must not be overlooked while other areas receive significant design improvements to already existing infrastructure.

So far we’ve never heard the city or any other organization propose a system that could offer clear guidance about how much time and money to spend on making the central city terrific and how much to spend on making the outer city more tolerable. This recommendation, though meaningful, doesn’t really clarify things.

“Equitable distribution of benefits is a big piece of Vision Zero and you can’t have a Vision Zero without that,” Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry said Tuesday. “I think you saw it in the street fee hearings. People were at those meetings saying ‘I don’t want to pay for crosswalks in East Portland. That’s not my neighborhood. Why is my money going to pay for that?’ That’s where people are getting killed and that’s where people are getting seriously injured.”


Establish construction and detour policies that prevent sidewalk and bike lane obstruction. Jurisdictions should amend building code to require developers to minimize sidewalk and bike lane closures both spatially and in duration, and to provide safe detours. Statements from Oregon Walks on sidewalk obstruction in the City of Portland are attached as Appendix C. The BTA has a guidance document available for review by agencies.

Despite the city’s stated policy that foot and bike traffic is generally a higher priority than car traffic, many detours in Portland don’t prioritize foot and bike safety or comfort over car traffic or parking. Different agencies, public and private, design different detours, and the city’s transportation department has never laid down rules for detour design.

Work with the OLCC’s Top 10 list of establishments linked to DUII arrests in conjunction with police bureaus and OLCC to improve enforcement and regulatory action against establishments that over-serve patrons. Research ways to improve the ability for patrons to travel home safely at locations where access is limited.

How much should Vision Zero address alcohol? Guest writer A.J. Zelada explored this question in a memorable guest post here last year. As we reported last year, the state tracks the drinking establishments that drunk drivers came from, and a handful of businesses show up on it year after year.

Work with the police department and government relations to gain legislative authority to use fixed speed cameras and other automated safety laws that does not require using scarce law enforcement resources and takes out subjective nature of enforcement by individual police oficers. Allow advance warnings to the public upon installment, so that people actually slow down. Design program to be revenue neutral and/or designate any net revenue for further investment in safety and not in general funds. Build on the results of automated enforcement programs to expand safety laws statewide, and thus a greater expectation of safe driving at any time.

The City of Portland is currently trying to get state permission to do this on its 10 high-crash corridors. This paragraph adds some detail about exactly how such programs might work.

Build an anti-speeding campaign that frames speeding in the same context as drunk driving. A visual campaign aimed at drivers, via signs on buildings, bus banners, billboards, that calls out speeding as a dangerous and irresponsible behavior. Use infographics that show the impact of speed on pedestrians survival rates. Stress the danger of what driving five mph over the posted speed limit can to do to a struck pedestrian.

This would certainly be a major change to social norms here in the U.S. But if any state could do it, maybe it’d be Oregon.

The report also appends a draft Vision Zero policy statement that cities, counties and other agencies can approve. (“We believe no one should die or be seriously injured on the City of_______’s road network and we can build a road network that is the safest network in the world.”) And it includes a sample pledge that residents, politicians or other leaders might be asked to sign, promising to do their personal part to improve safety. (It includes an amusingly Portland-specific touch: “I will not yield the right of way to another when doing so is not required and may be confusing or dangerous.”)

Sadowsky said on Monday that Clackamas County has already become the first county in the state to pass a Vision Zero policy at the commission level. At Sadowsky’s mention of that victory, Clackamas County Engineer Joe Marek, who wrote the policy, raised a fist and let out a whoop.

“If we can do it in Clackamas County, we can do it in any community in the state,” Sadowsky said. “It’s not rocket science. It’s explainable.”

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  • Evan Manvel March 31, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Congrats to the BTA and Oregon Walks! It’s a long uphill battle to change the social norms around traffic violence, as well as redirecting our engineering investments and norms, but telling the stories and putting faces on the victims (not just using numbers) could get us some real progress across our goals. I’m truly excited about this frame and story.

    I’d like to hear more about the choice to highlight the “construction and detour policies that prevent sidewalk and bike lane obstruction.” While it’s certainly a pet peeve of mine, I’m curious if construction and detour locations are high crash locations. I couldn’t find that in the report in a quick skim. Did I miss that?

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    • Noel Mickelberry March 31, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Evan! Construction and detour locations could very well be at high crash locations and without policy to provide adequate detours, can lend to creating even less safe environments than already exist- or take away the infrastructure that makes a street safer. I can already think of an example on SE 27th and Powell, the construction for a McDonalds closed off one side of sidewalk on Powell (high crash corridor) for about a month, with no detour – less than a block from a school and next to a transit stop. You either had to cross Powell (we know how that is) or walk in the street with cars traveling upwards of 40mph. Improving code and policy around detours and construction can be a preventative measure, so that we intentionally avoid creating more dangerous environments.

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      • Terry D-M April 1, 2015 at 7:38 am

        There is a building being constructed right now at 57th and East Burnside, one of our High Crash Corridors. The sidewalk is closed off, so pedestrians have to cross the street. Except, there are only crossings at 55th and 60th. This is the closest crossing for Mount Tabor Middle School.

        Yet, they can not remove parking or a lane since it is that “pro tem” parking that allows for two travel lanes in the morning. Hence, pedestrians have to fend for themselves. It is not pretty, but luckily there are at least good sight lines.

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        • Doug Klotz April 1, 2015 at 8:24 am

          Well, they could keep a sidewalk route in the traffic lane with barricades. They could restrict Burnside to one lane for that stretch. If the traffic engineers couldn’t stand that, then they could take a lane from the other direction in the morning, and give it back in the afternoon, for instance. It’s all a matter of priorities!

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  • Dan Kaufman March 31, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Excellent! Count me in as an active and enthusiastic supporter.

    Concentrating on enforcement, however, promotes the well established and false belief that the responsibility (and the solution) to the problems of our transportation system is individuals, not bad design/inertia.

    Streets and roads are usually built for speed and throughput of automobile traffic rather than safety first. Since we have been born into this modern environment we consider it socially acceptable and necessary when, in fact, we shouldn’t. Fighting for safety becomes as surprisingly uphill battle especially when you add the powerful interests and agencies determined to expand our destructive transportation system.

    Vision zero helps change the narrative.

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    • 9watts April 1, 2015 at 11:10 am

      I don’t see why we can’t have both (real enforcement of existing laws, and a focus on how design encourages speeding, or whatever). Distracted driving, to just name one problem, isn’t I don’t think about infrastructure/design but about behavior/no enforcement.

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      • paikiala April 3, 2015 at 9:05 am

        The best safe systems/vision zero program attacks the problem from multiple points – see a Haddon matrix. Some of the factors we can influence locally and some are state issues, while a couple are Federal.
        Local: better roads, more informed system users, better enforcement and better adjudication.
        State: better laws, directed safety funding based on risk.
        Federal: better vehicles.

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  • PeeJay March 31, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    That whole business about OLCC and the ten worst bars for drunk drivers, while an interesting idea on its own, seems out of place with Vision Zero. If there is any component of enforcement that belongs in this plan, it would be a global change to automatic liability of the driver, such as the policies used in Denmark and the Netherlands. No more letting crash-causing drivers off with a ticket and no loss of driving privileges, and universal application of that policy that lets everyone know of the consequences of their actions. Spot enforcement of select offenses here and there do not change the culture of driving like a known and certain outcome if you drive carelessly enough to cause a crash.

    And still, this all takes a back seat to design.

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    • J_R March 31, 2015 at 5:42 pm

      I disagree that enforcement should “take a back seat to design.” Personally, I’d rank enforcement against drunk drivers as a clear choice for #1. I’d even endorse a change in the Oregon Constitution to allow random sobriety check points like they have in civilized countries.

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    • wkw March 31, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      I agree 1000%.
      Further, the problem with enforcement, is a tenuous one – when the enforcement goes away, people’s bad habits creep back.
      Safety by design is best, but you have to contend with the goons in Salem who won’t fund ODOT properly.

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      • 9watts April 1, 2015 at 11:13 am

        ” when the enforcement goes away, people’s bad habits creep back.”

        I doubt this is an across-the-board rule. Or can you substantiate this?
        Are we talking sidewalk stings, speed cameras, MADD, or strict liability? There are an awful lot of ways we could do this seriously.

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    • J. E. April 1, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      If we really cared about drunk drivers, we’d prohibit all businesses selling open containers of alcohol from having parking lots or street parking adjacent to their building, or else require an elaborate program involving valets and wristbands. I don’t buy the “what about groups with designated drivers” argument since in my experience, the DD just “tones it down” on consumption rather than abstaining entirely.

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      • Dan Kaufman April 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm

        Or attach a breathalyzers to the starter of ALL automobiles. Any attempt to tamper or foil the system would result in automobile forfeiture and permanent license suspension.

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  • Chris Anderson March 31, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Interesting the focus on legibility and right of way, especially in contrast with this line of thinking: https://worksthatwork.com/1/shared-space

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    • Scott Kocher March 31, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      Hunch: the Dutch village with no traffic signs is safer because it has that one traffic sign… 30kph.

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      • 9watts April 1, 2015 at 11:13 am

        Three cheers for Hans Monderman.

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  • Dave April 1, 2015 at 9:42 am

    A non-chickenshit step to discourage driving while intoxicated–legalize theft and vandalism of vehicles from bar and tavern parking lots.

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