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Portland’s Vision Zero kickoff brings new faces to the table

Posted by on August 18th, 2015 at 3:26 pm

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Portland’s Vision Zero Task Force and partners.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Usually when we talk about preventing road injuries and deaths we have the usual suspects around the table — biking and walking advocates and transportation agency staffers. The power of Vision Zero lies in its ability to broaden the circle of concern about traffic safety.

vzsantos2

Joseph Santos-Lyons of APANO.

Yesterday at the kickoff of Portland’s Vision Zero Task Force, we saw that power in action. The event was hosted by the non-profit Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), a group that advocates for the rights and interests of Asian and Pacific Islanders. APANO’s Executive Director, Joseph Santos-Lyons, kicked off the event by saying that improving traffic safety is important to the people and the neighborhoods he represents.

APANO is headquartered in Portland’s “Jade District” — a moniker given to the commercial area around SE 82nd and Division. It’s an area full of renewed optimism, thanks in large part to APANO’s Jade Night Market (happening again this Saturday 8/22), but it’s also one of the most dangerous areas in the city to walk, bike, or drive a car. Last night there were two families in attendance who had lost a loved one in a traffic crash just a few blocks away.

“I’m in. We’re all in. We can make a difference.”
— Mayor Hales

“Vision Zero is a priority for us,” Santos-Lyons said before introducing Mayor Charlie Hales, “Our Jade community has been directly affected. These crashes are not only tragic, they are preventable.”

The fact that we can do something about traffic crashes was a strong theme throughout the event (and thankfully got picked up in media coverage).

Mayor Hales spoke about Vision Zero with more strength and conviction than I’ve seen from him in the past. Standing in front of an impressive group of electeds, agency leaders, and other Task Force members, he made the case that — despite all the shootings in the news each week — traffic fatalities and injuries have a higher “human cost” in Portland (statistically-speaking) than gang violence. To make things better, Hales said we shouldn’t drive unless we have to and when we do, we should, “give deference to pedestrians and cyclists,” because, “they’re the vulnerable ones.”

“For Vision Zero to work, we’re not going to get there alone.”
— Margi Bradway, PBOT Active Transportation Division Manager

And his final line made it clear he’s ready to take at least some responsibility to make things better: “I’m in. We’re all in. We can make a difference.”

After opening speeches, Hales was asked by a reporter how he’ll get people to change behaviors. “The language we use is important,” was his reply. That’s a good answer. A major rally in New York City last month was focused on getting people to use the word crash, not “accident” when talking about collisions. Hales then encouraged the reporter to, “Spread the message that this is a social responsibility for each of us.” “Having a driver’s license is a privilege,” he continued, “No one has the right to drive a car.”

After opening speeches, leaders from agencies partnering on the Vision Zero effort sat down for their first meeting. Around the table were TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane, Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, Deputy Fire Chief Leo Krick, Commissioner Steve Novick, Police Chief Larry O’Dea, PBOT Director Leah Treat, Oregon State Senators Michael Dembrow and Diane Rosenbaum, Oregon State Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, and ODOT Region 1 Director Rian Windsheimer.

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(This may seem like just another meeting, but this was the first time all of these leaders came together for Vision Zero. Not only are they now getting educated about what it means, they are also feeling the peer pressure to support the initiative from a broad cross-section of community leaders, bureaus, and advocacy groups. And for what it’s worth, everyone pledged their full support for Vision Zero yesterday. There were no hair-splitters or fence-sitters.)

“Where do families stand on this Task Force? Are we going to be asked to be on the Task Force? Are you going to ask for our opinions? It’s going to be us with our quivering and grieving voices — not politicians — who will touch people’s hearts.”
— Kristi Finney, mother of Dustin Finney

Metro’s role in Vision Zero will have more to do with funding than anything else, since they control federal pursestrings to the tune of about $16 million for Portland each year. Councilor Stacey said that money needs to be allocated “through a Vision Zero lens.” On a related funding note, Senator Dembrow said, “We’ll need to pass a transportation package in order to really bring Vision Zero to fruition.”

I was curious to hear how Windsheimer at ODOT would frame his support of Vision Zero. So far the most powerful road agency in the region (and the one whose roads claim the most victims), hasn’t committed to achieving zero road deaths and injuries. Instead, ODOT’s top traffic safety official said back in November that there approach is to increase the number of individual days when no one dies.

Yesterday Windsheimer made it seem like ODOT has supported the idea all along. “We’ve had a goal for a number of years,” he said, “to have zero injuries and fatalities.” Was that peer pressure in action? Either way, it appears we can now add ODOT to list of agencies committed to Vision Zero. Windsheimer also shared a phrase that irks some activists because it’s too soft on motor vehicle operators. “It doesn’t matter what mode you travel, safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

It will also be everyone’s responsibility to find funding to pay for new safety efforts — whether they include marketing and PSAs and/or projects on the ground. On that note, Novick fearlessly brought up his controversial (and “paused”) street fee effort. “At some point,” he said, “we’re going to have another discussion about raising revenue for transportation.” He acknowledged that one mistake made in pushing for the street fee last year was that the city didn’t do more to soothe feelings between the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the Portland Business Alliance. Instead of working together, those two groups’ advocacy devolved into a fight over how the money should be split up (the BTA wanted 50/50 safety/maintenance and the PBA wanted 25/75). “We should have gotten them into a room together to make that argument not so vehement.”

If we rely on funding to make progress on Vision Zero, it might never happen. Much of this effort is about created a movement and upping the public urgency that the way we use our roads needs to change.

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Kristi Finney addressing Task Force members.

Kristi Finney took the day off work to be at yesterday’s event. Finney lost her son Dustin four years ago when a drunk driver hit him while he biked Division just four blocks away. She stood up and addressed the electeds and agency leaders: “Where do families stand on this?” she wondered. “Are we going to be asked to be on the Task Force? Are you going to ask for our opinions? It’s going to be us with our quivering and grieving voices — not politicians — who will touch people’s hearts.”

While Finney’s words made an impact, Portland’s official efforts at the moment are more about amassing the institutional and political support it will take to find funding and change policies. And on that note, Margi Bradway, leader of PBOT’s Active Transportation Division and a former advisor for ODOT Director Matt Garrett, deemed yesterday a success.

Bradway was pleased to see all the partners who showed up and pledged support to the effort. “For Vision Zero to work, we’re not going to get there alone,” she said. “Vision Zero provides a framework for the discussion, and it’s that framework that comes into play when major decisions have to be made and everyone thinks of Vision Zero.”

See the full membership list and meeting schedule of Portland’s Vision Zero Task Force here.

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ethan
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ethan

This event achieved the exact goals I was expecting them to: they made a fancy banner.

“we can now add ODOT to list of agencies committed to Vision Zero” – hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha – oh that wasn’t supposed to be funny? I thought it was hilarious.

PaulaF
Guest
PaulaF

I am not jumping up and down quite, yet. What are the individual commitments/actions from these folk. Will they commit to driving slower? Will they commit to educating their respective staff to stop driving through yellow lights, LOOKING and stopping for people crossing the street, will they commit to staying on the arterials and not try and bypass rush hour traffic on arterials?

Seems like a lot more could have been communicated as a key participant that would have immediate change while the big plan is put together. A key component no one seems to want to take on is the auto culture change that must occur – that is a big money battle there. Marketing has taught people to Love their car, to close off in their moving, private office, zipping through an empty downtown, drifting into that parking space right in front of the restaurant.

I do hope this group is creative and effective . . .

9watts
Guest
9watts

“To make things better, Hales said we shouldn’t drive unless we have to”

O.K. Charlie, here’s your chance to shine: How did you get to the press conference? I hope you took the bus.

Rian Windsheimer: “It doesn’t matter what mode you travel, safety is everyone’s responsibility.”
Unfortunately I’m not so sanguine about ODOT’s about face. This was a litmus test and I’d rank that statement a qualified failure. How hard can it be?! Every other jurisdiction that I know of that has embraced Vision Zero gets it: the problem is the automobile, and the solution is to rein it in. Once we get into the weeds, we can talk about everyone’s responsibility, but at this early, 30,000 foot level it has no place.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

While it’s nice that everyone is gathering in one room to talk about Vision Zero and get on the same page, what I am still not hearing is proposals for reducing car dependency and making walking and riding a bike safe and comfortable. We need projects on the ground. We need to put every arterial in East Portland on a road diet and add cycle tracks and expanded sidewalks. We need cycle tracks on close-in arterials (Hawthorne, Burnside, N/NE Broadway, etc.) We need to charge for parking city-wide and quadruple vehicle registration fees and gas taxes. And what ever happened to bike share?

Mayor Hales needs to actually announce plans for these things instead of repeating “hey slow down everyone” over and over. Until he stops lauding all the repaving projects that have lacked even basic cycling infra, until he actually admits that it is the people driving causing all the problems, until he commits to ride a bike once a week so he can see the issues first-hand; it’s all just wasted breath.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

How are we doing on that safety pledge from government employees? Maybe PPB could set the pace, even make some stops for all these hurried drivers at 1-11mph over and spread the word that drivers need to obey the posted speed, use turn signals, and come to a full stop before the stop bar? Even the speeding trimet bus drivers need to get “in”.

*First*, show the commitment, *then* get the support and money to build shiny stuff — seems obvious to me. How many meetings before we take this first step?

mran1984
Guest
mran1984

Wow! Now we have a slogan and a banner to go along with green paint. This is a joke. I am not laughing with it. I am laughing at it. Trimet drivers will NEVER stop speeding Eric.

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

Kristi Finney is an amazing woman!

My concern with a big group like this is that things get diluted and goals get sidetracked. They also make it harder for opponents to be effectve, so I’m going to try to stay positive…..

TonyT
Guest
Tony T

“It doesn’t matter what mode you travel, safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Who’s doing the killing? Do we speak that way about other forms of violence?

And remember that ODOT doesn’t really believe that road design can alter behavior.

http://bikeportland.org/2013/11/27/after-another-fatality-on-barbur-blvd-odot-tweet-hits-a-nerve-97815

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

I’d like to see congestion pricing figured into the mix somehow. It was discussed and proposed as a pilot project a few years ago and that’s as far as it got. Charging drivers to enter the city core at peak hours would go a long way towards calming traffic and eliminating needless trips. This may not directly help vision zero but it could help, it would go further towards the city’s goal of 25% of all commutes made by bike. That in and of itself would put a lot more pressure to ramp up safety.
The ‘orego’ pilot project charges far too little per mile to actually help reduce traffic, but that isn’t its goal. Ultimately it is a flat tax that penalizes owners of efficient vehicles and gives breaks to gas guzzlers. Raising the gas tax and setting aside a specific percentage for bike infrastructure would be much more effective IMHO.
A cheap and effective safety measure that could go into effect tomorrow if the political will existed would be speed limit reductions and photo radar enforcement of them throughout the city. If anything it would create a huge revenue stream!
Speed is the number one cause of roadway fatalities regardless of mode.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

It all means nothing until the money hits the table.

If taken like NYC could be a good thing, unfortunately that’s the one of the only places in the US where it has really taken off.

However, I suspect we’re going to get a lot more garbage youtube videos on how to use a flashing crosswalk beacon as a bicycle rider or pedestrian, before anything that actually makes sense kicks in.

Just a year (right before the elections – though I’m willing to bet it gets stalled to after the elections) before we know.

Michael
Guest
Michael

it doesn’t mean anything yet.

A few weeks ago I emailed PBOT about crosswalks at two intersections (18th and Fremont and 14th and Fremont) where the paint is pealing badly (18th) and line of sight is bad for drivers due to parking, congestion and overgrown trees (14th). The crosswalk at 18th leads right to Sabin Elementary, so it is used by many children. I got no response; not even an acknowledgement that they received my email. Until the culture of the agency changes (and their sense of accountability), ODOT, PBOT, and Mayor Hales can print any / all banners they want, but it won’t get us closer to Vision Zero.

inwe
Guest
inwe

“The language we use is important…”

Yes, Mayor Hales, it is. Please stop talking about “vulnerable” road users and focus on the dangerous and reckless ones. Walking and biking does not make one vulnerable; it is the selfish, careless drivers we have to accommodate on our roads that do that.

David Lewis
Guest

I agree in principle with Vision Zero, and I endorse wholeheartedly making automobile ownership unnecessary in the city. We (as a city) get that way through looking beyond neighborhood squabbles and individual streets and their problems, and focusing on why people commute to downtown via automobile in the first place, and making that unnecessary.

Today, activists demand small victories like diverters on Clinton St., and ignore Division – the real problem. It’s NIMBY in reverse.; Portland does not need more reasons to never leave one’s own quadrant… Just saying!

Severely restricting parking, and eliminating free parking altogether, is the first step. There is no other first step.

Then, rather than a few token trams, replace most bus lines with actual light rail, on the tracks that our great grandparents laid and which probably still lay beneath the macadam.

Third, stop talking about taking ownership of state roads and take ownership already. Obviously, the state is too busy giving handjobs to petrol interests to care about actual road users, so they need to exit through the gift shop.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I thought about Vision Zero yesterday, riding along San Rafael east of 122nd, after being passed by two sports cars going about 50mph down the neighborhood street, near a park and a school.

We need action. We need more speed bumps, diverters, traffic circles, and speed cameras. These people need to pay for the dangerous situations they are creating.

Sr_Esteban
Guest
Sr_Esteban

It’s true ODOT has had the goal of zero deaths for a while.

However, the distinction many Vision Zero advocates make is that there’s no date on that (e.g. zero deaths by 2025) – so they assert it’s not an actual Vision Zero pledge.

drew
Guest
drew

I can imagine Mr Windsheimer from ODOT barreling down a fire road on a mountain bike yelling at hikers that safety is everybodys responsibility.

The public understands that with greater kinetic energy comes greater responsibility. Sounds like ODOT is finally behind vision zero? Less days when people die on the road was terrible policy.

Jayson
Guest
Jayson

“the BTA wanted 50/50 safety/maintenance and the PBA wanted 75/25”

I think the PBA wanted 75% maintenance and 25% safety. It currently reads the reverse in the article.

Jayson
Guest
Jayson

I think Kristi Finney made a very good point. There should be a citizens advisory group that makes recommendations and pushes the policy makers, funding entities and other entrenched bureaucracies to make changes.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Hey ODOT. Traffic fatalities in Oregon are up 59% this year compared to last year.
It would be nice if you didn’t have to be dragged to the table begrudgingly, but it’s not surprising.

http://www.nsc.org/NewsDocuments/Dec-2014-fatality-estimates.pdf

Noel Mickelberry
Guest

Thanks for this article, Jonathan. It is an important first step to have agency heads talking about Vision Zero and committing to that goal, and bringing diverse voices to the table for the conversation on what happens next. That is definitely just the first step.

A clarification – this meeting was the Vision Zero Executive Committee – which supports the work that the Vision Zero Task Force will do. That is where the action oriented work of a cross-jurisdictional, community supported plan that takes the work PBOT wants to accomplish and partners it with PPB, the fire department, Multnomah County & ODOT – with input from groups representing those likely to be affected by these decisions – to truly address the broad needs of our streets. PBOT can only do so much, so this table is incredibly important to set if we really want to see Vision Zero become a reality.

And one more clarification: The street funding conversation had more to do with what type of funding mechanism it was than the maintenance/safety split. Of course 75/25 was not acceptable – but that was never really the tipping point, and it was really fairly arbitrary anyways what projects fell into what bucket. The progressive income tax model was what was supported by a large coalition of organizations (not just BTA), and was what the PBA opposed – they were less concerned about the split, more on who was going to pay for it.

http://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Coalition-Letter-Transportation-Street-Fund-11-20-14.pdf

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

My favorite quote from the Mayor:

“Having a driver’s license is a privilege. No one has the right to drive a car.”

The notion of driving as a privilege has to sink in with the general public. It sometimes seems as though a lot of folks think the right to drive is guaranteed in the Constitution.

I know when I was a kid, if I acted irresponsibly, I would lose privileges. We need to raise the bar of responsibility for those with the driving privilege and stop being so afraid to suspend or revoke it.

WAR
Guest
WAR

Re: Street Fee:
I would like to remind you all that the guerrilla diverters were free.
Community effort can be utilized to solve deadly streets.

No amount of taxation will help to change the opinions of those who are carelessly causing these fatalities. They should be held accountable.
The infrastructure is not to blame.

Don’t let them sucker you into more taxes.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

paikiala
What data? A reference or source would be helpful.Recommended 0

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/524195

“East Portland: As East Portland is bisected by 6 of Portland’s 10 High Crash Corridors, it comes as little surprise that this region of the city is home to a disproportionate number of fatal crashes. In 2014, over half (15) of the city’s traffic fatalities were on or east of 82nd Avenue. The trend of the majority of pedestrian fatalities occurring in East Portland continued in 2014 as well, with 9 of the 15 pedestrian deaths occurring on or east of 82nd Avenue.”