May was a tumultuous month for Portlanders who care about safe streets. There have been tragic losses, protests, calls for reform and the early signs of progress. For me (and I’m sure others) it was a bit of a déjà vu.
My mind keeps going back to that sad October of 2007 when we suffered the loss of two people — and very nearly a third — in less than three weeks. The sequence of events was very similar. The collisions were followed by despair and anger and then action. We flooded the streets and grassroots activists sprung up to push the dialogue. Then, only after public pressure built a strong political foundation, electeds and other power-brokers stepped-up and engaged.
For the current Portland city council, that time for engagement is long overdue. Ever since running his mayoral campaign as the anti-Sam Adams, Charlie Hales has seemed to actively avoid the “b” word (bikes) out of fear that its mere mention would rile stakeholder groups and the media. And Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick has followed suit.
“Pedestrian improvements,” no problem. “Access to transit projects,” fine. “Multimodal safety projects,” all right! But “bike” projects or “bike” anything has been avoided by our current administration like the plague. (Note how even the advisory for today’s press conference — called specifically due to bicycle collisions — doesn’t even mention the word “bike”.)
And people (besides me) have noticed. Here’s local transportation engineer Brian Davis on Twitter May 29th:
Again, none of this happens in a vacuum. It is a predictable result of an environment that has become openly hostile to cycling post-Adams.
— Brian Davis (@designingbrian) May 29, 2015
Now we seem to have City Hall’s ear, but it took such great loss to bend it that no one is celebrating.
The oft-maligned Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is also listening. Their streets are responsible for the lions-share of human carnage and activists have been clamoring for their attention for years. Many people were downright amazed that they fast-tracked a new left-turn signal on SE 26th and Powell as a direct result of the two collisions last month. The upgrade is part of a project they have in the hopper, but they pulled it out and made it happen ASAP following public pressure to act.
I asked activist Dan Kaufman, the Cleveland High School (it’s adjacent to this deadly intersection) parent who organized the mass ride and walk that shut down 26th and Powell last month, what he thought about ODOT’s move.
He was unimpressed.
“I’m not surprised,” he said flatly, “Because we have seen responses from ODOT before when there is a fatality… That’s great; but it’s not a solution. It’s appeasing one bad area; but it’s a kind of narrow-minded approach to a systemic problem with their high-crash corridors.”
According to Kaufman, we haven’t even reached step one yet. “Step one is admitting you have a problem.” And what is Portland’s problem? “We have a transportation system that accepts the fact that people die while using it,” Kaufman says. “We can’t get to step one until we raise awareness of that, which is why we’re out there protesting.”
Kaufman is part of a wave of grassroots activism that has taken the lead in the dialogue over the past few weeks. The growth — both in numbers and maturity — of BikeLoudPDX, an all-volunteer group that earned its first wings with its work on SE Clinton, is a huge silver lining to all this tragedy. This fledgling group has all the markings of turning into a major transportation advocacy presence in Portland. Activated by the events of recent months, last week they elected new chairs and decided to file paperwork to become an official non-profit.
BikeLoudPDX will also have representation at today’s big safety meeting. I hear Alistair Corkett will be there too. If Mayor Hales, Commissioner Novick and other city and state transportation bigwigs haven’t gotten the message yet — that the demand for safe bicycling isn’t just some cause or special interest but an urgent public health and safety issue — than seeing Corkett come in on one leg should bring the point home.
I just wish it didn’t have to come this.
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Great write-up, Jonathan. I think we’re all tired of being treated like second-class citizens and want equal protection on our streets. I’m hoping Hales and Novick come out of this meeting with a sense of urgency and real plans of action. More empty promises are not going to cut it.
I remember the Jarolimek and Sparling deaths.
It was really sad.
Vision Zero should have been implemented 10 years ago.
The thing is is that Vision Zero is going to require way more restrictions to the car-friendly infrastructure than people are going to accept.
People are just not willing to give up their car travel expediencies. It would kind of take a miracle to bring the culture around to a Vision Zero point of view.
Right, Vision Zero isn’t just about wanting zero deaths. I’t’s about restricting the things that are causing the deaths.
“It would kind of take a miracle to bring the culture around to a Vision Zero point of view.”
Sweden has done it. NYC and San Francisco governments are or appear to be committed to doing this. It takes time, and more importantly, some leadership, the willingness to expend some political capital. Now, see, imagine Steve Novick had been willing to coordinate with Ms. Treat and, instead of blowing it all on the Street Fee junket, he’d thrown his hat in the Vision Zero ring…. A concept that would have been relatively easy to articulate and defend, compared to the flat-fee-that-wasn’t-really-flat and would raise maybe 10% of the backlog.
ummm, nyc? nope.
don’t know about sf or sweden.
Hm. I’d chalk that up to growing pains. Disappointing, but NY has gone further down this road than we have. Getting everyone (the police?) on board takes time. I don’t think I’d give up on NYC’s VZ efforts just yet.
Here in the south bay, I still remain somewhat skeptical:
“During the Vision Zero launch, Mayor Sam Liccardo acknowledged that the days of planning for unrestricted motorized mobility at the expense of safety and quality of life are behind us.”
Those may be just words, but have we heard them from our mayor?! I don’t think so.
I’m for giving credit where people are taking steps in this direction.
I live in the next city over so don’t follow SJ politics so closely, but Sam’s an ‘avid’ cyclist who pushed to implement one particular contentious road diet when he was on city council (Hedding, where my ex-girlfriend was almost hit several years previous). One woman got a ticket from a cop on a bicycle while driving down the (new) bike lane there and launched a campaign to have it removed, but I’m not sure where that led to. Downtown San Jose seems to get some pretty good ‘bike love’, but I ride in parts that are a little more neglected… granted it’s a (geographically) huge city.
From my experience here in Santa Clara I can say that the city council got completely hammered after implementing a recent unpopular road diet, even though the police have shown that it’s improved safety dramatically. We’re quite close to their city geographically, but politically very different, and it makes all the difference in the world when going after change on the roadways – as I think you guys have witnessed with the new administration in Portland.
Change definitely has to have (political and financial) support from the local government, so I’ll be rooting for you from the outside. Oh, and nice insight Jonathan!
Also, as we know, change can be infectious, once inertia is overcome:
Isn’t there some measure of risk/danger other than death/dismemberment? Couldn’t we set up temporary video surveillance at locations following a traffic control change or street reconfiguration to observe what happens? Couldn’t we do the same at locations that have received complaints before someone dies or gets maimed?
There might even be enough people who would volunteer to review the footage and count “incidents”, classifying them by type (e.g. “high-risk turn”, “disregard traffic control”, “dangerous passing”, etc.) and rating them by degree of danger (e.g., “forced other party to slow/stop” to “came within x feet/inches of other party” to “collided with other party”).
The purpose of such video would not be to catch lawbreakers, but to see what kind of behavior a particular street/signal configuration induces/allows so it could be adjusted to minimize risky behavior.
Now that is clever -a and cheap. Probably the chief reasons why ODOT didn’t think of it.
I highly recommend pressuring your city council into a ride-along. If they don’t have bikes work with a shop to demo or rent them – we have shops here that ponied up when we did this a few years ago. Some of those who participated were enlightened, to say the least. (Two members were glad to participate as they ride daily anyway).
Ha…this city council isn’t the least bit interested in bicycles at all, unless they can put them in a travel brochure.
I am not even sure they understand the recreation and tourism benefits of investing more. This is not just about safety, it is about an alternative and sustainable development model.
Some posters here don’t understand that either. Spending money on bicycle infrastructure is good for everyone.
As always El Biciclero you are many steps ahead of us. Can we hang out someday? jchris at gmail
Great idea. I have implemented a more blue collar version. I live on Davis, at the base of a hill that has a two way stop. I sit on my front porch with a beer and observe car/cyclist interactions. I have classified the frequent “yields” by autos as moderate danger, and the sometimes full-on blown stops as severe. I cringe, and sometime yell to cyclists to watch it, when I hear a car coming down the hill at a speed that sounds too loud. I sent an email to let PBOT know. NO change. I have scrubbed the stop sign to make it brighter, and am close to painting a white stripe in front of it. The four way stop down the street has white lines painted, why not at a seemingly more dangerous two way stop? What else can I do? I really don’t want to have to run out to the street some day to attend to someone.
Thank you…I know that hill and I think I have seen you there. How about the new Monster Duplex they are putting up?
You’er welcome, though I feel like I need to do more. Guerilla street painting is my next step.
Must be a different dangerous hill, though there is quite a bit of new development in the neighborhood. I am adjacent to the intersection of 45th.
Having spent hours watching video of traffic, your stated goal is possible, but several of the metrics you identify are not.
Frequently you get video from one direction. You can see break lights for one direction and if the fronts of vehicle dip for multiple directions – indicating hard breaking. You can sometimes see mistakes and too quick of maneuvers. If the objects in the video are moving toward or away from you, there is no clear scale to determine feet of distance between road users, let alone inches.
It’s really boring work also. Even the professionals have to have training for what to look for.
What you’re describing is called Traffic Conflict Analysis. State Farm funded such work in the past (2000/2002).
Safer infrastructure by design is a critical aspect, but we cannot possibly implement green boxes and dividers across every door-to-door route in the metro area. At the root of all of these bike/car collisions is a transportation culture that accepts “accidents” as a community, while the individuals of the sum live in denial their behaviors will ever cause injury or death to another.
Cars are dangerous pieces of equipment.
The word ‘accident’ should be erased from your lexicon when describing outcomes on roadways. Crash and collision are the best terms.
An ‘accident’ implies helplessness, lack of fault, something unavoidable.
To me it implies something unintentional, which crashes and collisions usually are.
For me, an ‘accident’ is something a child has, not adults.
Thanks for writing this. This city is being let down by timid, well-meaning people who are afraid to make real change. I’m tired of it. My friends are tired of it. We get told: if you don’t like it, work for change. Well, I’ve written the emails and postcards, signed the petitions—heck, I even helped start a petition—and I’d love to drag a concrete barrier here, reprogram a traffic light there, but it’s just not quite legal to act on my own. So, the next move is the city’s to make.
Absolutely, 100% agree PeeJay. I’m so tired of leaving the SAME message about the SAME problem areas over and over and over again to 823-safe.
Correct TJ! I think it may take more than “Just cycling activists” to get a lot of the attention of the Politicians and the motorists. Start giving the educators ideas on things that affect their environment also. I may sound like a broken record but here goes. Beaverton and most of the rest of the townships in at least Oregon and Washington require School zone traffic speeds with in a block or so of a school, even if a school is set back from a thru street by a 100 yards or so IE: Whitford On SW Scholls Ferry, and every other school that has property near a main street.
Yet Cleveland has no school zone limits that are being used or monitored. The private schools up the street do not get any attention from motorists either. Might it be a good idea to bring them into the conversation. They can go statewide and national very quickly. They do have a very big voice!
somebody here mentioned that high schools don’t get school zone speed limits…
A WashCo engineer recently explained to me the difference between a School Zone and a School Speed Zone:
“School Zone – A section of roadway adjacent to a school or school crosswalk where signs designating a school are present. Typical signage for a school zone include School Advance warning signs (fluorescent yellow-green, doghouse style signs showing kids walking) placed in advance with additional signs at the crosswalk.”
“School Speed Zone – A special 20 MPH speed zone for schools established by the road authority. Typical signage for a school speed zone would include School Advance warning signs and crosswalk signs with a 20 mph school speed signs (flashing lights are an option used to supplement 20 mph zones)”
“20 mph school speed zones are intended to provide pedestrians with more time (gaps) to cross between vehicles than occur under normal conditions and to slow drivers during the times of day when it is likely that they may need to yield right-of-way to a student trying to cross the street. In the case of this intersection, the traffic signal fully controls the right-of-way and creates the needed gaps by stopping traffic. Since traffic is stopped due to the normal operation of the signal, it removes the justification for a 20 mph school zone. Therefore, the County would not install the 20 mph school speed zone and supplemental flashing lights at this location.”
So, basically, they believe that because there is a signaled intersection, a School Speed Zone wouldn’t be needed. I disagree with that, but it’s basically impossible to do anything in WashCo that is at odds with their current guidelines.
Are there even School Zone markings around Cleveland though? I didn’t think there was any marking or signage at all.
Interesting. There’s signals both before and after Tigard HS and before and after the Elementary School to the East of the high school on Durham Rd. Both schools have designated 20mph school speed zones, 7am to 5pm with a sign showing your speed. By WashCo’s logic, there shouldn’t be the speed zone because the traffic lights should slow the traffic down (it doesn’t, the sheer volume of cars on Durham Rd slows traffic down).
I’ve found that Durham Rd works the best at speeds between 15-25mph– traffic flows smoothly between the traffic signals, and when the lights are red, traffic further away from the signals is still able to mosey along up to where the traffic is stopped, usually arriving as the light turns back to green.
Kristen, that’s really helpful, thank you.
At Tigard HS, the School Speed Zone starts just west of the Durham/Hall signaled intersection and continues to just west of 92nd. So it’s meant to slow speeds for two unsignaled crossings at 87th and 88th. 92nd has signals, so it’s odd that the speed zone continues beyond that intersection. I wonder if the speed zone was put in place before the signals were installed, or if they actually went outside of their guidelines for this one.
The school speed zones actually begin and end outside of the signalized intersections; in both cases, you have to travel beyond the traffic signal to get to the “end school zone” sign, both directions and both schools.
The lights at 92nd and Hall have been there for at least 15 years, and the schools were there for longer than that… Durham Elem got a light at 79th a bunch of years ago but I don’t know exactly when. I know it wasn’t there when I moved to Tigard 16 years ago. The school speed zones got upgraded I think about the same time the light at 79th went in.
Durham Rd in the morning heading East from 99W is a giant parking lot if you drive, and lots of people cut through Summerfield to avoid the High School, although there really isn’t a good work-around for the Elem school except Bonita, which has its own slow-down problems. On a bike, except for inattentive drivers, it’s a dream of a ride– a long, straight-ish piece of road with traffic signals far between so nothing to really slow the flow.
Ha! Look at that! A 20mph School Speed Zone right in front of a signaled intersection!
WashCo, we are coming for you!!
The purpose of signals is not to slow down auto traffic, it is to assign right of way and separate conflicting uses in time.
BUT IT COULD BE!
You know of course that Portland is lauded for it’s use of signal timing downtown to encourage an appropriate travel speed.
FHWA has identified the use of signals to control speed as one of the key strategies used in European countries to enhance ped/bike mobility and safety.
Signals can and should do more than just assign right of way according to engineering warrants. We can use them as tools to slow drivers through our neighborhood centers and build better places.
I was wondering about that, using lights on roads where there aren’t intersections as a way to help control speeds. But then I think people would just start running red lights…
That only works when the intersections are close together, like Portland’s 250-foot spacing. Additionally, downtown is a one way grid, and it is much more difficult to time a two way corridor to work the same way. Lastly, at $250,000 per full signal intersection, where do we find the funding?
It is too bad that the people who are smart enough to lead our city our also too smart to run for public office.
Hales is up for re-election. To be safe, he will probably establish a ‘committee’ to research the issue….We need a real leader, not a puppet.
Some of us were there… we know what was said…we will remember.
People riding bikes have little clout as a mode share of road users, likely in no small part because they are such a small percentage of total road users, is so small.
The four collisions involving bikes and motor vehicles within the last two or three weeks, that got a lot of press coverage and attention, all occurred in intersections and had to do with left turns; insufficient or perhaps ill-advised left turn regulation was the big problem in all of those collisions. The flashing yellow arrow left turn signal was a factor in at least one of the collisions.
The money is always a big factor in terms of whether any improvements to road infrastructure are made. Ask yourselves whether people, other the relatively small percentage of people, the public, that ride bikes, really are interested in investing much more money into biking infrastructure, than they already are. Mayor Hales and whoever else at city hall that may actually want improvements in bike infrastructure, are going to have a very tough go against the will of the public.
Mode share percentage may be small for cyclists but vulnerability is much higher. Especially considering the fact that cycling has been restricted to a handful of designated corridors in the city, the danger is high and cyclists must be protected. The same logic applies to pedestrians – why else would the city install crosswalks, flashing beacons, overpasses, and sidewalks for such a tiny percentage of road users?
People on foot aren’t vehicles. They generally don’t use the road as people with vehicles, including bikes, use the road.
“People on foot aren’t vehicles.”
no, but they’re traffic…
“They generally don’t use the road as people with vehicles, including bikes, use the road.”
sure they do, we just give them the smallest slice to use out of all users, a thin raised strip on the side…
What I mean to say, is that people on foot aren’t vehicles in the sense that people riding bikes and people driving are; they don’t use the road by walking in the lane itself as is done with bikes and motor vehicles.
People walking get, as a consideration and protection against vehicle traffic on the road, the full range of “…crosswalks, flashing beacons, overpasses, and sidewalks…” Kyle notes, because they’re not vehicles. So pedestrians are traffic, but much less so and in a different sense than bikes are.
Some types of road infrastructure though, conceived and designed for vehicular use of the road, is for motor vehicle use, more responsible from a safety perspective, than it is for bikes. That to me seems to be a problem with the yellow flashing left turn arrows, that I’m not sure has been given enough consideration.
I know I’m not the only person thinking this. On the other hand, maybe people tend to think of the safety level offered by the yellow flashing left turn arrows, as being not much different than that offered by the yellow caution lights on standard green-yellow-red signals.
“Mode share percentage may be small for cyclists but vulnerability is much higher. Especially considering the fact that cycling has been restricted to a handful of designated corridors in the city, the danger is high and cyclists must be protected. …” Kyle
Biking isn’t restricted to a handful of designated corridors. People can ride a bike virtually anywhere they want, on any road or street with the exception of freeways. In terms of bike specific infrastructure custom suited to people riding bikes, many of those people whom are not equipped, trained or certified to ride a bike amongst motor vehicles, sure…many cities in the U.S. don’t have a lot of that, if any; because it costs a lot of money to provide it, and the public has yet to be persuaded that it should be obliged to spend more than it already does to provide it.
Just saying “…cyclists must be protected. …” isn’t going to persuade them. Over decades, people feel the public already has spent a lot of money on bike lanes. Of late, some people seem to like to speak the words ‘Vision Zero’, but in terms of what that phrase implies in the way of infrastructure and cost to the public: Nothing much.
If ‘Vision Zero’ in Portland and perhaps beyond in the Metro area, means something like buying right of ways and properties to create grand infrastructure for biking, such as cycle tracks: that’s big money.
A guy like Mayor Charlie Hales, or Councilor’s Novick, Fish, or Transportation Director Leah Treat may like such ideas, but there’s little chance they’re going to be able to build stuff like that unless they’ve got the public telling them to ‘Go ahead and spend our money on that, because we think it’s needed and worth it, even though we’ll probably never get to use it personally, because almost everywhere we need to go, we have to drive.’.
Vision Zero/Safe Systems road design is about more than infrastructure changes. It is a holistic approach to eliminating death and injury on our roadways. Better roads, better road users, better laws, better enforcement, better adjudication, better medical response.
the OECD is a good information source. A Haddon matrix is good shorthand for the variety of points of attack.
I don’t think it requires new rights of way, but it does require more than better roads and lower speed limit signs.
‘cyclists must be protected’ – so, requiring helmets, lights and bright clothing is now good…?
No, still bad, still blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator. Protect cyclists (and pedestrians, more peds are killed than cyclists every year) by de-fanging cars. Reduce motor vehicle speeds to non-lethal levels anywhere people are likely to be present, and place the onus on drivers to not hit cyclists and pedestrians (because motor vehicles kill, not cyclists and pedestrians).
My expectations for this Administration & Council are so low now that anything is an improvement but I’m also so angry with them that nothing will be enough. I can’t think of a single one that I’d re-elect at this point.
El Biciclero wrote:
“Isn’t there some measure of risk/danger other than death/dismemberment? ”
Ding ding ding!
One of the hidden risks of dangerous intersections is that people only feel safe traveling through them in a car (or even better, a massive SUV), so . We have no idea how many people would actually travel by foot/bike if they felt safe getting around that way.
On a good note, the new bike lanes were painted on SW Oleson Road near an ODOT highway..
There was a time back in the 90s when there was some discussion with PPB regarding using officers out on bikes to do traffic ‘stings’, similar to the PBOT crosswalk enforcement actions, but this program was never implemented.
I see one problem here, the traffic signal went up doubleplus fast because 26th and Powell basically rolled a crit fail twice in a short span, but the whole street is running at -5 on save against getting hit with a car rolls. Until the entire street gets fixed they will just be moving the bodies and meat wagons from one intersection to another ad nauseum.
If I were the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I would mandate that No Vehicle Shall Travel Faster than 20mph Within City Limits. I *might* make an exception for freeways, but then again, I might not. Below 20mph, the likelihoood of a pedestrian hit by a car dying is almost nothing (less than 2%); above 20mph, that likelihood goes up exponentially. None of this is really a question of “Gee what’s the answer?” We know the answer, but the political will is not there to make it happen.
As an workplace safety professional, I do not understand why we do not approach these with the same thought process I take to any safety problem. It starts with removing the hazard all the way down to your clothing.
1. Substitution: get everyone on bikes! yeah, that’s not going to happen. Next.
2. Engineering: Separate cars from bikes and peds. This is always more costly than any other solution. I think the 17th Ave path in SE from the transit bridge is a great example. It keeps bikes and cars moving with little interaction. Ideally, most arterial roads would have cycle tracks that would function to separate the hazard (cars) from bikes.
3. Training: everyone needs this, bikes, commercial drivers, passenger vehicles. When everyone has the same expectations, it is much easier to get around. Also, when you mess up, more training.
4. Administrative controls: This is where most of Portland’s “infrastructure” falls. Bike boxes, signs, bike lanes all hinge on the assumption that people are going to obey them and the law. If people (both bikes and cars) do not stay in the lane or pay attention, there is the potential for an accident. If I was to walk into an industrial environment with hazardous chemicals and they told me they put up signs that said “Don’t breath too deeply when working with this chemical” rather than putting in vans to remove the hazard, I would cite them immediately. We need to hold our transportation infrastructure to the same standard.
5. Personal protective equipment: Being seen as a bike rider is huge. Lights, reflective vests, and helmets are all part of a safe operation of a bike. When all the above fail, this is the last resort. Implementing helmet laws is similar to telling a diver they don’t need training, just scuba equipment to dive.
It all goes hand in hand to create a safer riding experience for everyone.
Why rule out ‘Substitution’ so quickly? Getting MORE people on bikes should be one of our top priorities.