The Vision Zero ball is officially rolling in Portland.
Thanks to the passage of a resolution at City Council this morning, there should be no more confusion or excuses when it comes to doing what it take to make our streets so safe that injuries and deaths are shocking and impossible.
For the past several weeks I have been poking various local leaders for not putting enough ooomph behind their claims of commitment to Vision Zero. I will remain mostly unimpressed until I see bold projects, big investments, tough decisions, and a re-thinking of our existing street designs, culture and the policies that dictate them.
That being said, I am also eager and willing (as I always have been!) to share news about progress when it happens. On that note, it’s time to update you on several things the Bureau of Transportation and Mayor Charlie Hales’ office have done recently that show they are taking some actions. I don’t want to debate whether it’s the right action or enough action (at least not in this post), I just want you to know what they’re doing.
After leading council in this morning’s unanimous passage of the Vision Zero resolution, Mayor Charlie Hales went up to his office for lunch and sent out an email. That might not sound like a big deal, but that email went out to 8,000 city employees and it urged them to sign the Vision Zero Pledge.
I think we all know where a pledge fits on the spectrum of bold actions we could take and it’s quite easy to ridicule it as mere political window-dressing; but the fact is that education and awareness are a huge piece of the road safety puzzle. To have the CEO of the city send out a thoughtful email with a call-to-action is a very positive thing.
I’ve pasted the email below. Notice how he refers to Vision Zero as a “common-sense” idea? This is a huge improvement! I had expressed concerns on Twitter a few days ago that PBOT was referring to it as an “audacious” goal which I thought was not a good choice of words.
Here’s the email:
Dear City Employees,
On Wednesday at Council, Commissioner Steve Novick introduced and Council approved a common-sense Vision Zero resolution, signifying our commitment zero traffic fatalities; they are preventable, and no life should be lost on our city streets. We can all take steps to be better drivers — slow down; don’t drive distracted by cellphone calls or texting; never drive impaired — and to be more responsible cyclists and pedestrians.
As an employer, the City wants to have a role in creating safer roadways for all users. Studies have shown that when people sign a pledge to do something, they are more likely to change their behavior. So, Commissioner Novick and I have taken this Vision Zero Pledge (found a bit.ly/VZpdxPledge), and we encourage all City employees to sign on to contribute to a safer, healthier Portland.
The pledge states:
Vision Zero Pledge
- I will behave safely and courteously at all times on public streets, respecting and empathizing with other people’s need to get where they’re going and to get there safely.
- I acknowledge that traveling on public streets can be risky, and I resolve to be alert to the surroundings.
- I also recognize the role of the roadways, paths, and sidewalks as public space in the community, not only a means for travel, and resolve to share the road with all users, whether they are traveling to a destination or enjoying the street appropriately as public space.
- I will be a good example, and I want my neighbors to slow down, say hi, and join me in spreading the word.
To show my commitment to this goal:
- I will never drive my car or bike impaired or distracted. I will not travel while excessively sleepy; after drinking more than the legal limit; using recreational marijuana; or while using a cell phone to talk or text.
- I will travel at a safe and legal speed for conditions at all times. Regardless of mode, I will travel slowly and cautiously on neighborhood streets, and adjust my speed when it is dark, wet, or windy.
- I will always yield the right of way to my fellow travelers when I am required to do so, including when turning at intersections and at stop signs, yield signs, and crosswalks. I will cross the street safely after looking for any traffic traveling on or turning onto the street, preferring to cross at corners and crosswalks.
- I will obey all traffic signals and markings, including stopping on a yellow signal when it’s safe rather than trying to “make it.”
- I will pass other people carefully and when there is enough room to safely.
Mayor, City of Portland
Now, if we can get every Portlander to actually read through that and have it sink in, then combine it with “common sense” road designs, we just might move the needle.
The other updates I want to share came in the form of a press release sent out last night by PBOT in advance of today’s council meeting. In it, agency spokesperson Dylan Rivera shared a list of “recent and upcoming actions to improve transportation safety and implement Vision Zero”.
I’ve pasted each item followed by my thoughts below…
In East Portland, PBOT plans to install 24 rapid flash beacons in 2015, more than double the 20 beacons operational there as of 2014.
These beacons have become PBOT’s go-to tool for taming unsafe crossings. At about $35,000 a piece, they’re much more affordable than a signal (not to mention way easier to install both from an engineering and political perspective). They consist of signage and a flashing light that makes the crosswalk much more visible. Last year the Oregon Department of Transportation gave Portland $1.9 million to spend on beacons east of 82nd Ave.
On Wednesday afternoon, PBOT officials will seek permission from the Oregon Speed Zone Board to expedite the process for setting speeds on city streets, taking into account how and when pedestrians and cyclists use the road. While that request is pending, the City recently successfully reduced speeds on SE Division and Burnside, which are both classified as High Crash Corridors.
As we reported earlier this week, PBOT is asking the State to approve an alternative methodology to expedite speed zone change requests that go through ODOT’s state traffic engineer. “In other words,” spokeswoman Diane Dulken shared with us earlier this week, “we would be able to submit multiple requests at one time and hopefully get faster approval.” Anything that gives PBOT more control over local speed limits is a very good thing.
PBOT has been supporting House Bill 2621, which would allow Portland to install fixed photo radar safety cameras to reduce speeding on the City’s High Crash Corridors. The 10 designated High Crash Corridors make up just 3 percent of the City’s road network, but they account for more than 50 percent of pedestrian fatalities in Portland. The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in Room H-174 of the State Capitol Building in Salem.
I listened in on this hearing today. Unfortunately the future for this bill does not look good. The end of the legislative session is near and it’s still stuck in a House committee awaiting a vote. The big sticking point is its “fiscal impact” and the unknown impacts it will have on our court system. The Oregon Judicial Department expressed concerns about that issue during today’s hearing and said the bill could lead to a “significant workload for the courts” and that “the revenue stream anticipated by the bill depends on courts being able to process that workload.” We’ll keep you posted.
The City Council recently approved the City’s biggest investment in the High Crash Corridor Program. The 2015-16 Budget approved on May 27 includes $8 million for maintenance and safety improvements on 122nd Avenue in East Portland and $2.8 million for safety improvements on East and West Burnside.
This is fantastic news that would have happened regardless of the city’s commitment to Vision Zero. 122nd is a huge arterial and a key north-south corridor in dire need of a redesign. As we reported last week, better bus service and safer crossings are in the works. It remains to be seen how/if a protected bike lane fits into the project but it seems to me it’d be a huge missed opportunity if it doesn’t.
The budget also includes $300,000 to begin to expand Portland’s Safe Routes to School programs to middle and high schools. Council adoption of the 2015-16 Budget is scheduled for Thursday.
This also isn’t connected to Vision Zero, but it’s a nice boost for a tried-and-true program that deserves all the funding we can muster.
PBOT recently launched a new web site, VisionZeroPortland.com, which includes the Vision Zero Crash Map, an interactive map that displays 10 years of injury and fatality data for people walking, biking and driving. It also includes maps showing locations of existing and funded East Portland rapid flash beacons. On Wednesday, it will include the Vision Zero Pledge, so all Portlanders can sign on.
Like I said regarding Hales’ email about the Vision Zero pledge, communications and marketing will be a big part of this effort.
Stay tuned for (hopefully) more updates about the concrete steps our city is taking on their path toward Vision Zero.