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


vz cover
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.”

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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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