Vigil at ODOT headquarters draws attention to 409 deaths this year

Posted by on December 18th, 2015 at 12:46 am

The vigil was staged in front of ODOT’s Region 1 headquarters on NW Flanders street in downtown Portland.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Over two dozen people stood outside the headquarters of the Oregon Department of Transportation in downtown Portland on Thursday night. As rain pelted their jackets and umbrellas, a collection of activists and friends and families of people that have died while using Oregon roads demanded actions to improve safety.

The event was organized by Livable Streets Action, an affiliate group of BikeLoudPDX.

Candles were placed on rocks just outside the main entrance of ODOT’s Region 1 headquarters on NW Flanders and 2nd Avenue. A ghost bike was locked to a lamppost. Many of the people who showed up held signs that read “RIP” and had 409 stick figures — one to represent each death on Oregon roads so far this year (a 22 percent increase over last year). One of the signs was taped to the entry door of the building.

While this vigil was aimed at drawing attention to traffic victims in general, it was also a memorial for Martin Greenough the man who was killed in a hit-and-run on NE Lombard on Saturday night.

Dan Kaufman.

Grabbing the mic as everyone huddled together, Dan Kaufman, a volunteer with several traffic safety groups, said the 22 percent increase in deaths over last year is “unacceptable.” He said poor road design was to blame for most of the carnage and that they were all preventable. “Some might say these deaths are just a part of the system and we have to accept it. We are here today to demand change, and the first place we’re starting with is the agency that’s in charge of the roads,” he said.

Other speakers echoed Kaufman’s focus on road design and a desire to change the culture at ODOT. Chris Anderson, who launched a Vision Zero political action committee last spring, said the only solution is a change at the top. “If you want safer streets,” he told the crowd, “we need to make sure the governor knows that [ODOT Director] Matt Garrett and the rest of ODOT leadership aren’t cutting it and they do not represent Oregon’s interests.”

Specifically, Livable Streets Action is calling for ODOT to transfer jurisdictional oversight of Lombard and other state highways to the City of Portland. They also want ODOT to embrace and implement the Vision Zero approach to traffic safety.

Regardless of what happens at ODOT, Monica Maggio (Martin Greenough’s housemate), said change will only start when we hold ourselves accountable. “And that starts by having a conversation. Have a conversation with somebody you think it’s going to be hard to have that conversation with. We need to get these issues of street safety, bike safety, and car safety on the radar of a lot of pepole. Try to talk to someone every day.”

Activist Joe Rowe said roads should be designed with the expectation that everyone makes mistakes, similar to how air safety is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). “Instead, we design roads for faster trips times, and that’s not vision zero,” he said.

BikeLoudPDX Co-Chair Ted Buehler said the tragedies that brought people together today were the result of, “A long series of decisions made at all levels of government.” “It’s important,” he said, “That from this day forward we look at how we can influence our leaders and let them know this is not acceptable to us and we want these problems fixed. Not just deliberated. Not just politely consider.”

Buehler said the “bicycle constituency” needs representation and he hopes BikeLoudPDX can be the grassroots organization that Portland has been missing for the last 10-15 years.

Here are more photos from the event:

This is ODOT Public Information Officer Don Hamilton. He was the only agency staffer who attended the event. Hamilton was asked to addressed the crowd, but declined. He did however, stay and talk to BikeLoudPDX volunteers, Families For Safe Streets leader Kristi Finney, and others.

ODOT’s Don Hamilton watching the event.

BikeLoudPDX volunteer Roberta Robles speaking to local TV news media.

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Martin Greenough’s housemate Monica Maggio fought back tears during a brief speech.

BikeLoudPDX organizer Soren Impey.

One of Martin Greenough’s co-workers came to offer remembrances and place a bouquet on his ghost bike.

BikeLoudPDX Co-Chair Ted Buehler.

Chris Anderson of Vision Zero USA and his daughter.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

37 Comments
  • Avatar
    Endo December 18, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Cars are the cause of all of the carnage on our streets, until the politicians start taking steps to reduce the number of vehicles driving around Portland I’ll assume that “Vision Zero” is just an empty phrase to fool us into thinking that they’re doing something about the problem.

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      9watts December 18, 2015 at 7:59 am

      While I might agree with some of what you say, it is interesting to note that Sweden’s approach (remarkably successful by most measures) doesn’t come close to questioning the car’s continued centrality and viability. I think Vision Zero would be easier and cheaper and quicker to implement if we took your approach, but that is both unlikely in the short run and perhaps not even necessary given what we’ve seen Sweden accomplish.

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      mran1984 December 18, 2015 at 9:20 am

      People are the problem. Paint and slogans will not protect you from human actions. I love my car and I am sure that I ride my bike more than you do. The “murder machine” bit just lights my fire to drive. I have commuted by bike for over twenty years and when I read comments LIKE YOURS I WANT TO DRIVE.

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        9watts December 18, 2015 at 10:04 am

        If it were as simple as people being the problem, why don’t we see more people killed by potato-wielding humans or pencil-wielding humans?

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        Peejay December 18, 2015 at 10:08 am

        Whoa, dude. Are you saying you respond to claims that cars are dangerous by wanting to drive your car more? wouldnt it be better to try to logically counter that argument rather than resort to emotion? I’m not at all comfortable with the direction you’re taking this discussion.

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      • Anne Hawley
        Anne Hawley December 18, 2015 at 11:24 am

        So now we’re not only blaming victims, but blaming people who care about victims (and their own safety) for your dangerous attitude?

        Wow. Just wow.

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        Endo December 18, 2015 at 12:28 pm

        I don’t own a car and I travel exclusively by bike unless I’m going out of town, so I doubt you ride more than me. You really think I’d be calling out cars as a problem if I owned one? That’d make me a hypocrite.

        People may not head out on the road with the deliberate intent of killing someone, but when the same thing happens over and over again for decades at some point it’s not an accident. Since I was born in 1981 there hasn’t been a year where less than 30,000 people have been killed by cars in this country, something like 1.25 million people have died at the hands of a car in my lifetime. At what point do we begin to realize that all of these deaths aren’t accidents, but are part of what comes along with car ownership?

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          paikiala December 18, 2015 at 2:21 pm

          For now, cars are inanimate objects that do not move unless a human operates them.
          Cars are tools. Any tool can be used for good or for bad.
          If the cars are bad, then you are bad when you operate or ride in one, by your logic.

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            9watts December 18, 2015 at 3:42 pm

            “Cars are tools. Any tool can be used for good or for bad.”

            A widely held but inaccurate perspective.
            Are nuclear power plants neutral? Handguns? Meth pipes? Cigarettes? Tasers? Cars are a thousand things, but the idea that they, as a technological artifact, have no intrinsic significance beyond what whoever happens to be at the wheel imparts, is ridiculous. See Endo’s comments for a rather stark contrast. 1.25 million people have (emphatically) not been killed in his lifetime by bicycles, shoes, horn rimmed glasses, or milkshakes.

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            Endo December 18, 2015 at 5:01 pm

            You sound just like the NRA. Is gun control an equally stupid idea?

            Actually, guns kill less people in the US than cars do. So maybe we should forget about gun control and start working on car control:

            http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/12/gun-violence-car-deaths-charts

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            rachel b December 18, 2015 at 11:43 pm

            Actually, I do become kind of a tool when driving that tool. Hence, in part, my getting rid of it.

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    9watts December 18, 2015 at 7:57 am

    I’m proud of all our friends who braved some rather unpleasant weather to push back against ODOT’s intransigence, and proud of bikeportland for providing us a forum in which to organize, learn from each other, and get mad, every day.

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    resopmok December 18, 2015 at 8:16 am

    I find the airline industry analogy interesting. If the same crash and death rate existed for airplanes as it does for automobiles, how many people would think twice about flying? Yet, how many of those same people wouldn’t think twice about getting in their car? Do we label people who cause car crashes as terrorists?

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      Terry D-M December 18, 2015 at 10:02 am

      When you are a pedestrian legally approaching the crosswalk and the driver speeds up so you can not enter the crosswalk, when you have the right of way…..yes, I label that Urban Terrorism.

      That driver is making you FEAR FOR YOUR LIFE so you change your behavior….. And let the big bully in the metal box have road. That is terrorism.

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      • TonyT
        TonyT December 18, 2015 at 10:08 am

        Imagine if I crossed at crosswalks with a baseball bat in hand and raised it at every multi-thousand pound vehicle whose driver didn’t look like they were going to yield. Guess which person would get arrested for threatening behavior. Not the driver.

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          Chris I December 18, 2015 at 10:15 am

          A fun experiment to try is the “shopping cart affect” as I call it. I have found that when you push a large shopping cart through a parking lot, the yield rate is much higher. Not sure if drivers recognize the larger object, or if they fear damage to their car.

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            Alex Reed December 18, 2015 at 10:46 am

            Same is true when I inch my large, front-loading cargo bike into a crosswalk (with no baby inside). The yield rate is astounding!

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          • Anne Hawley
            Anne Hawley December 18, 2015 at 11:27 am

            Anecdotal and specific to me: when I leverage my old-lady privilege and put my gray hair and aged face out there, people stop for me at least half the time. In fact, they do it when they shouldn’t (like when I have the stop sign and they don’t). I can’t decide whether it’s kind of awesome or super annoying.

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              rachel b December 18, 2015 at 11:48 pm

              Hah! I love to imagine you “puttin’ on the old,” Anne. 🙂 Then (once in the clear) spryly pedaling at the speed of light out of there.

              I broke my leg a little over a month ago and noticed people responded much better to the sight of cast, too. Especially if I hobbled, most pathetically. 🙂

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            B. Carfree December 18, 2015 at 2:24 pm

            I just put that one to the test. I picked up a garden cart full of coffee grounds and such from my local coffee house and wheeled it to my community garden. At each and every intersection all of the motorists yielded to me. If anyone hadn’t I would have had no qualms about pushing the metal-framed cart into their cars. When I walk these same streets without the cart, the yield rate is much lower than 100%.

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              Robert Burchett December 20, 2015 at 2:44 am

              Ha! In my ‘biking with digging fork’ experiments I find that a bike with a pointy metal thing on board is much more visible than a mere bike/human combo.

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          Eric Leifsdad December 18, 2015 at 11:47 am

          From my reading, you have the right to place your “including, but not limited to” bat in the road to indicate your intent to cross, as long as you give the driver enough time to stop (as determined by the posted speed?) I wouldn’t be surprised if you got arrested, but that could depend on whether you act (or look) menacing, or just if your bat is dressed in high-viz.

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    Chris Anderson December 18, 2015 at 10:29 am

    I’ve been thinking for a while about how to realize change at ODOT. I wish I had time to do the legwork but kids / job / etc have kept me from digging into it. So I’ll just leave this hear and if anyone wants to take on the project, I can help pay for the parts that cost money.

    Step 1: do the research to find quotes from ODOT officials who are proud of a decision they made on a particular piece of infrastructure.

    Step 2: Tie those decisions to deaths and injuries that have resulted directly from those decisions. With hundreds of deaths a year, it shouldn’t be hard to find ODOT officials crowing proudly about deadly infrastructure.

    Step 3: Organize the quotes / decisions / crashes on a timeline, showing a pattern of deadly designs, and an attitude of defending the decisions that lead to dangerous situations.

    Step 4: Hire a graphic designer to put it all together as an infographic.

    Step 5: Get local media to pick up the infographic as part of a larger story on incompetence and corruption at ODOT.

    The point is to tie real deaths to the names of people who made real decisions, and make it impossible for Governor Brown to ignore a pattern of disregard for human life at ODOT.

    Until we get ODOT leadership who are willing to say their entire approach has been flawed for generations, I don’t expect real change.

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      9watts December 18, 2015 at 10:31 am

      I like it.

      Matt Garrett is already on board, though. Remember in his interview with Jonathan, he bemoaned the silos? 😉

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 18, 2015 at 10:59 am

      that sounds like a good approach Chris. And it’s exactly the type of in-depth journalism that I would love to be able to produce here at BikePortland. Unfortunately it’s super hard for us to pull off that kind of research and graphics. That type of thing is expensive to produce and our monthly budget is small to non-existent right now. We simply don’t have the capacity to do stuff like that.

      This is why it’s so important for the community to support bikeportland. We have thousands of daily readers, yet only a small fraction support our work financially (about 175 of you… thanks!). And good, stable advertisers are harder and harder to come by these days.

      bottom line is we need more revenue to tackle these larger stories and issues. I have no doubt we could move the needle if we had more in the budget. i know what to do, how to do it, which levers to pull, and so on… but we have bills to pay every month and — I hate to have to admit it — but paying the bills is a higher priority for us than reforming ODOT. I know we could do both! I wish we could do both!

      The ongoing incompetence at ODOT and Martin Greenough’s death are really the last straw for me personally. I want to do more, but the realities of business are, well, real. Stay tuned. I hope I – and we – can figure this out.

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        Alex Reed December 18, 2015 at 11:28 am

        People waiting to give money to BikeLoudPDX – I would guess we will have a financial vehicle for you to donate to in about a year. In the meantime, please consider giving the money you would have given to BikeLoudPDX to BikePortland – BikePortland does amazing work and its articles end up feeding BikeLoudPDX project info and political context as well as letting the wider community know about BikeLoudPDX’s work (and doing a bunch of other awesome, less BikeLoudPDX-related, stuff).

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        Alan Kessler December 18, 2015 at 11:45 am

        How about this for a lever: how much money would you need to follow through on Chris’ proposal? Would you be willing to accept funds specifically for that purpose?

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley December 18, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Bless these people who stood out in the rain and cold!

    I was out in it most of the day yesterday. In one of those weaving-around-and-riding-on-sidewalks maneuvers that I resort to a lot when trying to get somewhere new, I came to an incredibly dangerous and terrifying gap in bike/ped infrastructure in Hollywood. The sidewalk ended, I was close to a freeway onramp, it was monsooning, angry and impatient drivers were roaring past me, and there was no way to cross Sandy to the sidewalk side.

    I inched my bike along the twelve-inch “curb” (me walking behind it and praying I wouldn’t tip over into oncoming trucks), and all I could think was, “This was how Martin Greenough died.” That, and “This f***ing city, what is WRONG with us?”

    Didn’t realize how terrified I was till many hours later when I couldn’t sleep.

    And that is why I didn’t have it in me to join those hardy souls at ODOT last night.

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    GlowBoy December 18, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    “Not sure if drivers recognize the larger object, or if they fear damage to their car.”

    I”m sure that damage to the car is their primary concern. Wear flashing lights and a construction-worker vest, and you’ll still observe the effect.

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    GlowBoy December 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Kudos to all the people who went. This is the right approach. 409 is 409 too many, especially since the numbers are starting to go up again. The trend is the same nationwide:
    – Car-occupant deaths are going up again in 2015, after several years of gradual decline.
    – Motorcyclist deaths are going up at a higher rate.
    – Pedestrian and cyclist deaths are up dramatically.

    Here are the results in MN, by the way: year to date vehicle occupant deaths are up a few percent over last year, motorcyclist deaths are up 35%, bicyclist deaths are double, and pedestrian deaths are more than double.

    We need to do more enforcement, of course, especially with respect to distracted driving, but we also need to keep putting pressure on agencies like ODOT to fix their most dangerous facilities. In many places, including NE Lombard and SW Barbur, it wouldn’t be very expensive.

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    Keviniano December 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    I’m so grateful for all the folks who put this together and braved the elements to bring the point to ODOT’s door that deadly-by-design can no longer be the State of Oregon’s tacit public policy.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. December 19, 2015 at 1:32 am

    The only acceptable amount of deaths and serious injuries on our streets is zero. It’s time we hold our governmental bodies responsible for their destructive design! The safety our friends, family, and neighbors is worth the cost of of upgrading our streets to put people first!

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    Chris Ortolano December 20, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Enough close calls, near misses, maps with good intentions leading to tragic outcomes. Time for an online, crowd-sourced app with detailed descriptions of hazards cyclist and pedestrians might face before they get going. Those who agree can upvote these hazards to create a list of priorities that need attention. We all benefit by having a place to quickly review the current state of the Bicycle Transit System (BTS) much the same way drivers check traffic before getting in their cars. (Think Waze for non-motorized travel) We have enough tech talent to build this in a month (or less), and hopefully we’ll have one less ghost bike in front of ODOT as a result.A Walk/Ride Safety App has potential for other cities too..Who’s down for a happy hour to bang out the details…?

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    Mark December 21, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Endo
    Cars are the cause of all of the carnage on our streets, until the politicians start taking steps to reduce the number of vehicles driving around Portland I’ll assume that “Vision Zero” is just an empty phrase to fool us into thinking that they’re doing something about the problem.Recommended 8

    The misuse of cars, the uncaring nature of driving, the lack of proper training, the lack of enforcement,the Paramount position the car holds in many minds similar to legs and arms, the 1950’s mentality that someone is a freak if they don’t own a car and the mindset that a car is a right of passage….

    All of those are the problem. And yet….Oregon and even Portland continues to build wider streets and faster interchanges for the car.

    Until someone stands up to the carnage.. It will never change. To most, this human deserved to die. To odot, it’s acceptable risk.

    We still put bike lanes next to traffic on brand new bridges. Apparently we don’t know yet that people always lost to metal.

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    Mark December 21, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Chris Ortolano
    Enough close calls, near misses, maps with good intentions leading to tragic outcomes. Time for an online, crowd-sourced app with detailed descriptions of hazards cyclist and pedestrians might face before they get going. Those who agree can upvote these hazards to create a list of priorities that need attention. We all benefit by having a place to quickly review the current state of the Bicycle Transit System (BTS) much the same way drivers check traffic before getting in their cars. (Think Waze for non-motorized travel) We have enough tech talent to build this in a month (or less), and hopefully we’ll have one less ghost bike in front of ODOT as a result.A Walk/Ride Safety App has potential for other cities too..Who’s down for a happy hour to bang out the details…?Recommended 0

    Open street maps is crowd sourced and effective.

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