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As traffic deaths spike, ‘Remembrance Day’ reminds us of human toll

Posted by on November 21st, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Despite all the technology; despite all the vigils; despite all the “safety campaigns”; despite all the promises from road agencies and elected officials that “safety is our number one priority” — people continue to die at an alarming rate while using Oregon roads.

To help stem this tragic tide, a small but dedicated group of bereaved family members wants us all to feel their pain — and then use those feelings to change ourselves and our streets. That was the goal of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, which was observed yesterday in Portland’s Waterfront Park.

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Kristi Finney.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

“We’re here because the average person is indifferent to this until it happens to them,” said Kristi Finney of Familes for Safe Streets (Facebook) during a ceremony to remember the more than 400 people who died while using Oregon roads so far this year.

The group had to scramble to get enough shoes for the memorial. When they started collecting them on November 3rd, 405 Oregonians had died this year. By November 8th that number was 410. In the past week, 11 more people have died, pushing Oregon’s year-to-date fatality tracker to 421 — an estimated 15 percent increase over the same period last year.

To make sure the humans behind those numbers are not forgotten, Finney and three other members of Families for Safe Streets created a temporary visual memorial under the Morrison Bridge for several hours on Sunday. They held a press conference and stood in front of the shoes along with Legacy Emanuel Hospital Trauma Nurse Mike Morrison, and Portland Fire and Rescue Lieutenant Laurent Picard.

As a first responder to many crashes, Lt. Picard knows the toll of traffic violence all too well.

Picard told several horrible stories yesterday. There was the time when two women were chatting on the corner of Broadway and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd when a drunk driver slammed his car into another drunk driver whose car then careened into the innocent women. They both suffered serious injuries and each had to have a leg amputated. There was also the time he was first on the scene of an elderly woman who was hit and killed while walking across the street near Mt. Tabor Park — by someone driving 60 miles per hour.

“I’ll never forget those moments,” Picard said.

In 2016 Picard said his bureau has responded to over 900 traffic crashes involving people on foot or on bike. He referred to road deaths and injuries as an “epidemic.” “We know these are preventable,” he said, “This is a crisis and it needs to stop now.”

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Portland Fire & Rescue Lieutenant Laurent Picard.
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David Sale’s daughter Danielle was killed when TriMet operator Sandi Day turned her bus into her while she crossed Broadway (at Glisan) in 2010. She was holding her boyfriend’s hand.
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People in our community were saying those exact words in 2007 after Tracey Sparling died while riding her bike on NW 14th Avenue and Burnside. Sparling’s aunt Susan Kubota has spent the last nine years re-living that day in the name of raising awareness for safer streets.

“We are unwilling members of Families for Safe Streets, but we bear witness to this pain and suffering because we all have become complacent to these daily preventable crashes,” Kubota said. “We are united in our demand for change.”

“We bear witness to this pain and suffering because we all have become complacent to these daily preventable crashes. We are united in our demand for change.”
— Susan Kubota, Families for Safe Streets

David Sale recalled the death of his 22-year-old daughter Danielle in 2010 with vivid details. Danielle was one of two people killed in 2010 when TriMet bus operator Sandi Day made an illegal and dangerous left turn and ran them over in a crosswalk on NW Broadway. “These are not accidents,” he said as he fought back tears.

Legacy Emanuel trauma nurse Mike Morrison sees this issue from a different perspective — from the mangled bodies and blood-stained clothing that gets rushed into his hospital rooms. Looking out over the 400 pairs of empty shoes, Morrison said, “We see nearly eight times this many people who are seriously injured every year.” Morrison said the focus should be on changing driving behavior and simply slowing down.

“What changes can we make so we don’t have another 400 shoes to look at?” he asked.

By their own adopted Vision Zero goals, the City of Portland says we can eliminate traffic deaths by 2025. That’s nine years from now — the same amount of time that has passed since Tracey Sparling was crushed to death by a right-turning truck operator who claimed he never even saw her.

How much progress have we made since then? How much progress will we make in the next nine years?

Kristi Finney, who lost her son Dustin in 2011 when he was hit from behind while biking on Division, is sick and tired of business as usual. She struck a defiant tone at yesterday’s event. In a sign that her group has evolved beyond public grieving and press events, Families for Safe Strets released their first-ever policy platform. It focuses on road user education.

The platform includes five focus areas: Highlight personal stories on victim impact panels and in DMV materials; require driver testing for license renewal; combine the Oregon Drivers Manual with the Oregon Bicyclist Manual; require hands-on driver education courses for all Oregonians; and give every Oregon student bicycling and walking education in school.

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Core members of Families for Safe Streets (L to R): Susan Kubota, Kim Stone, David Sale, Kristi Finney)

Finney and Familes for Safe Streets are doing all they can to promote change. Now they want road agencies and elected officials to do their part.

“The government response to all these crashes is often inadequate,” Finney told Sunday’s somber crowd. “If things don’t change, we are going to hold you accountable. This is outrageous.”

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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TacomaEl BicicleroJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)David Hampstenq'Tzal Recent comment authors
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Noel Mickelberry
Guest
Noel Mickelberry

Thank you so much for covering this event, Jonathan.

Spiffy
Subscriber

there are a lot of illegal turns built into TriMet bus routes… I’ve reported many and I’ve never heard of any action being taken to correct them…

TriMet encourages their drivers to break the law every day… some of their routes don’t even work unless you break the law…

how can we expect ordinary citizens to obey the law when one of the most visible transportation companies in the city can’t even be bothered?

Spiffy
Subscriber

“on November 3rd, 405 Oregonians had died this year. By November 8th that number was 410. In the past week, 11 more people have died, pushing Oregon’s year-to-date fatality tracker to 421”

that’s incredibly sad and should be completely unacceptable to the people in charge of roads…

most occupations have a 0 tolerance policy on deaths happening in and on their facilities… but for some reason if you’re in charge of public roads you get a national limit of 33,000 acceptable deaths…

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

VZ presentation at City Council 1 December, Thursday afternoon.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Other potential policy platform planks:

–Make passing an accredited driver education course mandatory before testing for a license.

–Make the license test more rigorous and require a higher passing score.

We have to quit dumbing down the licensing process and treat driving like we would treat operation of any other heavy equipment.

rick
Guest
rick

Thanks for the respect. I admire it.

J_R
Guest
J_R

E N F O R C E M E N T!

There is virtually no enforcement and the consequences for blatant violation of the law brings little more than a slap on the wrist for even the most egregious failures on the part of road users (mostly motorists).

You only have to touch a hot stove once as a child to understand the consequences of that action. But with drivers, one can usually use the get-out-of-jail-free expression: I didn’t see him. He came out of nowhere.

Some big fines for most traffic infractions, mandatory weekends in jail for first time DUII offenders, making motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians serve as decoy pedestrians in subsequent enforcement actions, and similar measures might make motorist take more responsibility for their actions. It’s worth a try isn’t it? The status quo isn’t working and Vision Zero is not even nudging the needle.

Caitlin D
Subscriber

Thank you to the members of Families for Safe Streets for fighting to make a difference and for showing such strength in the face of tragedy. I hope their policy platform is adopted. I think highlighting personal stories in DMV materials is a great approach to making people think more carefully about how they drive.

longgone
Guest
longgone

I just would like send out my love to all the family’s connected to this event.

Adami
Guest
Adami

The DMV is 100% culpable.

I took my Oregon driver’s test and it was so easy, a monkey could have passed it.

Driving is a privilege, not a right. It needs to be learned, then earned.

eddie
Guest
eddie

In the Europe it’s common for a driver’s license to cost thousands of dollars, and the test is HARD. I wonder what the stats are re. automobile related deaths there…

James
Guest
James

A lot of respect for the fire department and all first responder types.

I voted for Trump!
Guest
I voted for Trump!

What have you personally done to improve your own safety while driving or cycling to help make vision zero a reality?

Let’s see some testimonials. Me? When cycling I ride with flashing lights front and rear, wear bright yellow tops, wear light colored socks (hoping drivers can see them going up/down/up/down), and wear the usual helmet, gloves, etc. When driving a car, I pay attention to the road trying to see peds, cyclists, etc especially at intersections – I don’t use my phone when driving (I might answer a brief call, but would never try to dial a number) – I turn my lights on even in the day unless I’m out on a rural road where you can see for miles – use my signals – check function of all lights occasionally – never drink and drive (never have) – ignore a$$hole drivers that don’t deserve to be ignored, try to remember to yield to oncoming traffic when turning left with a green ball – basically I try to follow the rules. It’s not easy today – traffic is awful much of the time.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Thanks, Kristi Finney, Susan Kubota, Kim Stone, David Sale.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

Good luck expecting government to perform well at any level. The *only* thing they are good at, excel at actually, is taking your money.

Your #1 best defense is to be as alert as possible when it comes to your personal safety. And don’t hold your breath expecting any government agency to make things safer for you.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Individuals need to change just as much as government and agencies. The attitude of otherwise reasonable people (who seem to be concerned about equality, the environment, and against war), when it comes to driving they are selfish, entitled, and pushy. The “you people” sentiments about sharing the road or funding bike infrastructure seem very callous against the externalized costs of death and injury. In the end, we’ll all be dead because people were too afraid or lazy to get out of their cars. An electric bike will do all of the work of transporting you and your cupholders, but you have to bother to dress for the weather and pay some attention to your surroundings. Seems a small price to pay for sustaining life on earth. If you’re not with us, you’re against us (there is no them.)

Dave
Guest
Dave

Granted, the wireless communication business would fight this seeing as they probably have major money to bribe politicians with but I offer two suggestions: 1. Empower, no, require, police officers to immediately seize and destroy all cell phones they see in the passenger compartment of a car.
Treat ’em like the open bottles of liquor that they’d pour out on the ground.
2. Require insurance companies to sell liability coverage on cell/smart phones if the owner is a licensed driver. Yes, it would be expensive. Yes, it’s a handout to a filthy and parasitic industry. But it would drive home how terribly bad an idea it is to multitask while driving.

Greg Spencer
Guest

This focus on individual responsibility for everything is so American. Look at any country where road safety is better than in the States, and the explanations are in every case public: lower traffic speeds, higher public transport mode share, stricter driver’s licensing systems, better cycling infrastructure, etc. And then look at countries with WORSE safety records, and you’ll again find public explanations: poorer infrastructure, high road speeds, poor traffic enforcement and so on. It’s not that individual behavior isn’t important. I’m reminding my kids about road safety all the time. But if we want to see change beyond our close circles of friends and family, we have to think as a community.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Thank you for your continued work and advocacy Kristi. I hope we can continue to honor Dustin and the many others lost to dangerous driving.

q'Tzal
Guest
q'Tzal

1.5x scale full body concrete stautes of traffic victims… Placed where they died and LEFT in place PERMANENTLY.

That’ll slow ’em down.

Dodge this!