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City of Portland: There’s no funding for truck side guards, yet

Posted by on February 7th, 2017 at 2:21 pm

side underrun guards on PDOT truck-2.jpg

A Portland Water Bureau truck in June 2008.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The dangerous combination of right-hooks and large trucks have been one of the most pressing bike safety issues in Portland for the past a decade. We have lost far too many people because of this deadly combination.

So why aren’t we doing more about this well-known hazard? Like so many of Portland’s bike-related projects, the solution is in the city’s plans, but not in the city’s budget.

We were once again shaken out of our complacency with this issue when a man died while bicycling on North Interstate Avenue yesterday. Official details are still sparse, but it has all the trappings of a classic right-hook.

That horrible tragedy is just the latest in a long line of them.

In 2007 Brett Jarolimek and Tracey Sparling were killed within two weeks of each other when a truck operator failed to see them, turned right, and ran over their bodies. It happened again in 2012 to Kathryn Rickson on a busy bike lane just one block from City Hall.

After all three of those tragedies one of the main responses from the community was the need for safer trucks.

Community gathering for Kathryn Rickson-16

Sign at a memorial and rally following the death of Kathryn Rickson in May 2012.

But for some reason we haven’t made enough progress. There have been tiny steps here and there, but the deadly duo of large trucks and intersections still looms ominously above us all.

If you use our streets on foot or on bike, the danger is palpable. You can feel the rumble of a large truck and watch with foreboding as its wheels and undercarriage pass you by.

(Graphic: Seattle DOT)

The crash almost immediately led to the discussion of one specific truck safety measure: side guards. The simple and cheap technology simply attaches a shield of material (or steel rails) between the front and rear axles. The idea is that if a human — in a car, on a bike, on foot, or any other conveyance — comes into contact with the side of the truck they’ll be pushed outward and away, instead of under the weight of the truck’s wheels. The research of their benefits (which also include fuel savings thanks to improved aerodynamics) are conclusive. According to a U.S. Department of Transportation-funded Volpe initiative, use of truck side guards in the United Kingdom led to a 61 percent decrease in bicycle fatalities. In 2014 the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that all trucks should use them (but unfortunately it’s non-binding and Congress still hasn’t taken up the cause).

Other cities like New York City, Boston and San Francisco have jumped on side guards as a way to make streets safer and fulfill commitments to Vision Zero. And just six days ago the Seattle Department of Transportation announced they will equip all trucks in their city fleet with side guards.

What about Portland?

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“Currently, there isn’t funding, but PBOT and BPS [Bureau of Planning and Sustainability] have been working on identifying resources to retrofit all fleet vehicles and for opportunities for education.”
— John Brady, PBOT communications director

In October 2007, as an emergency response to two deaths, the Portland Bureau of Transportation offered three “potential equipment solutions” for large trucks: one of them was side guards. That initiative led to at least a few side guards being installed on Portland Water Bureau trucks. (The Water Bureau has been a leader in truck safety. They held a bike/truck safety event in September 2008 and released a bike/truck safety video in October 2008.)

Other than that, I’m not aware of any major equipment initiative at the City of Portland to improve truck safety.

After yesterday’s fatality, we took a look at the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s recently passed Vision Zero Action Plan. Truck equipment upgrades are mentioned as one of seven action-items in the Dangerous Behaviors section.

Here’s the text of action D.7:

Develop and implement safety measures on heavy trucks owned or contracted by the City, including but not limited to truck sideguards, sensors, additional mirrors, educational messaging and enhanced driver safety training.

Phase I: Education outreach for all and City fleet upgrades;
Phase II: City contractors and service providers install truck upgrades

The above measures are listed as actions to be taken within five years (as opposed to two years for higher priority actions).

Asked about the status of the action, PBOT Communications Director John Brady wrote via email, “Currently, there isn’t funding, but PBOT and BPS [Bureau of Planning and Sustainability] have been working on identifying resources to retrofit all fleet vehicles and for opportunities for education.” In a follow-up question, Brady said PBOT doesn’t have an official cost estimate yet. However, in their contact with other agencies they have heard the costs run about $3,000 per vehicle.

Brady said PBOT is also working with other city bureaus and with truck operators who drive in Portland, “because we recognize the increased risk associated with crashes that involve heavy trucks.” As an example, Brady cited a driver safety program in the Bureau of Environmental Services’ construction division. That educational program teaches drivers about road hazards and safe driving practices. “They have compiled a list of the 120 contractors, subcontractors and suppliers that are working on their $75M in construction projects and are traveling throughout the Portland metropolitan area to present this driver training course and distribute Vision Zero safety tips, hard hat stickers and bumper stickers that remind drivers about right hook risks,” Brady shared.

Keep in mind that absent a new federal law, the City of Portland can only require equipment options on their own fleet vehicles.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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*Infographic on side guards below is from Volpe/USDOT

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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Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Strikes me as a good idea.

However, I’d prefer if they go with a solid color (i.e. yellow or white) maybe with reflective accents. Actual tigers have striping to help break up their outline to make them less visible. Besides, visually noisy things make it harder to tell what’s going on in an already visually noisy environment.

Adam
Subscriber

Replace “funding” with “political will”.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’m okay with an unfunded mandate. They need to start now, since any measure would probably not be retroactive.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I am constantly amazed at how strict workplace safety laws are compared to safety precautions on the roadways. Maybe we can declare the entire highway and roadway system subject to OSHA regulations including safety equipment on cars and trucks. Last time I was involved with an OSHA inspection they did not ask if you had the money in your budget to correct a safety hazard. They gave you 2 weeks to correct it then they started the fines.

Scott H
Guest
Scott H

Side guards on city vehicles alone isn’t enough. I’m guessing the unmarked van in yesterday’s incident probably isn’t a city vehicle. Require them on all trucks based in the Metro area.

soren
Guest
soren

“Currently, there isn’t funding, but…”

I challenged Novick at an open house about the absence of funding commitments or even an outline of potential funding sources in the draft Vision Zero plan. I told him that I was afraid that this plan would end up like our unfunded bike plan and he flat out dismissed my concern. I and others repeatedly shared these concerns at open houses, forums, and city hall and, yet, here we are today without a single @#$%ing cent of dedicated funding (1).

Portland’s 2030 bike plan has become a cruel joke (25% mode share by 2030!!!). Without substantial dedicated funding Portland’s Vision Zero plan is in danger of being even less funny.

http://bikeloudpdx.org/images/5/59/BikeLoudPDXVisionZeroletter.pdf

(1) Successful funding of Vision Zero infrastructure and reforms is essential to its success. Funding estimates for full implementation and a list of potential funding mechanisms/sources should be included. In particular, the draft should outline funding sources for 2 year actions.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

A moment of sadness…realizing its been 10 YEARS…since Ted and Tracey were killed AND this priority seems even less of a priority now…other than the VZ discussion…

[Perhaps a PSU/ UO student can look up how many new trucks that CoP has bought in the last 9 years that coulda-woulda-shoulda had these (and other) vulnerable roadway user safety features added at time of purchase.]

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

And additionally, back in 2007 there was a recommendation to require that all contractors on CoP funded projects utilize these safety features …any idea if this has been looked into…it is another way of implementing this outcome.

mh
Subscriber

How about requiring those contracting with the city to install and use the things? Cost the city itself nothing, and the contractors would shame city departments to follow suit.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It is ridiculous that the city hasn’t taken this commonsense safety measure.

Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

I don’t understand why there can’t be rules just stating:
any truck running in the State of Oregon (or Mult Co or City of Portland) must have side guards. Otherwise stay out or face a large ticket.

while we’re at it, make sure they meet the 2007 air pollution standards

Spiffy
Subscriber

pass a rule requiring side guards and people will find the money and lives will be saved…

talk about how you can’t afford it and nobody will take action while lives continue to be taken…

loved ones of victims don’t care about your budget issues… if you can’t do something safely then you shouldn’t be doing it… if doing it safely puts you out of business then you shouldn’t have been in business…

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

I don’t know where you got that caption from, but I’m almost positive that isn’t a Portland Water Bureau Truck, I don’t know of any tankers like that owned by the Water Bureau and I don’t know of any Water Bureau trucks with side guards on them.

David Lewis
Guest
David Lewis

This has nothing to do with the truck. It’s the driver.

bendite
Guest
bendite

Chris I
And you think it is realistic to expect all drivers at all times to avoid this situation? How do we get there?
Recommended 0

If people did jail time for killing someone while making an illegal maneuver, we’d see drivers make changes really fast.

Jan
Guest
Jan

Another tragic incident that shouldn’t have happened. No one ever mentions that maybe cyclists need to watch out for their lives also. This goes for pedestrians too. The proliferation of bike lanes seems to have given cyclists a sense of protection. The only advantage to being dead right is for the lawsuit. Passing a truck on the right, even in a bike lane, at an intersection should raise a cyclist’s alertness. I see way too many that are intent on where they’re going fast and take many risks with traffic. And if they have a close call due to their carelessness they curse the drivers! I used to commute by bike and these cyclists were just as scary as the drivers.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

The city of Portland charges delivery companies using commercial trucks thousands of dollars. Look it up. Where is that money going?

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

From a bikeportland story on the collision at 3rd and Madison involving Kathryn Rickson and a right turning truck, I seem to recall a report on the final investigation of the collision, that found it was the front of the truck that she collided with, rather than the side of the cargo part of the truck behind the cab. None of the side protection on trucks being discussed, seem to mention side protection around the front of the truck.

Where side protection on trucks are used, I wonder how collisions involving vulnerable road users, particularly people on bikes, work out. Realizing the side protection keeps people from sliding under the cargo part of the truck and likely its wheels, people being knocked off their bike or crashing into a truck because of right hook collisions, is still a bad collision. Wondering whether places where trucks have such side protection has helped to raise awareness of the potential for right hooks, and consequently may have helped to reduce rates of collisions with vulnerable road users.

Looks like lots of square inches of visible area on the sideguard of the truck in the picture….that possibly could be used for advertisement…to get ad revenue to pay for the sideguards.

bendite
Guest
bendite

Jan
Another tragic incident that shouldn’t have happened. No one ever mentions that maybe cyclists need to watch out for their lives also. This goes for pedestrians too. The proliferation of bike lanes seems to have given cyclists a sense of protection. The only advantage to being dead right is for the lawsuit. Passing a truck on the right, even in a bike lane, at an intersection should raise a cyclist’s alertness. I see way too many that are intent on where they’re going fast and take many risks with traffic. And if they have a close call due to their carelessness they curse the drivers! I used to commute by bike and these cyclists were just as scary as the drivers.
Recommended 0

Are you saying a close call on a right hook is due to rider carelessness? It seems like you’re dismissing driver responsibility.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Sideguards are in investment. They pay off in less than one year from gas and insurance savings. After you buy the first one, the 2nd year you have saved enough money to buy one more. The 3rd year you save enough to buy two more. The 4th year you can buy four more. The saving grows rapidly after that such that they could already have a large fleet outfitted over the last ten years.

Its hard to believe they could not scrape up enough money for a single set of them. Its not a black hole for money, unlike the 100s of tons of gravel they dumped on the roads just to increase driving speeds for a few days, then spending weeks/months cleaning it all up. How many sideguards could we have had for all the money they spent playing with gravel.

Doug
Guest
Doug

If you are riding a bicycle on a road with semi-tractor trailers you are just riding on the wrong road. Find another road. If you are trying to commute in Portland Oregon by bicycle you are on a fool’s errand, buy a bus pass before you get killed. I’m done with trying to ride in cities, because I ride for fun and exercise and I don’t get either dodging trucks, sucking exhaust and sitting at stop lights.

rick
Guest
rick

Fatal crash scenes also prevent people from driving to adjacent stores (the death-grip-on-the-steering-wheel type). Safe streets are needed.

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

We should be clear that we are asking for “Side Guards” for protection from collisions, not “Trailer Skirts”, which are solely for reducing wind resistance.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trailer_skirt

The two look similar, but the Trailer Skirt (or “Aerodynamic Side Panel”, or “Side Panel”) does not come down far enough, and may not be located in the same place. The Trailer Skirt apparently qualifies the owner for a federal tax break under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (the idea being that reduced wind resistance saves fuel and, thus emissions).

Perhaps that Act could be modified so that the Trailer Skirts could also meet the specification for Side Guards. I know the new administration is eager to promulgate new regulations.

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

I note in the graphic that “Boston passed the nation’s first Side Guard Ordinance” in 2014. This would imply that, in fact, local jurisdictions can indeed require vehicle equipment beyond what is required federally. Is this true?

pdx2wheeler
Guest
pdx2wheeler

So we’re waiting on the current congress to pass one new regulation to make us safer? We’re going to need a good supply of body bags!

J_R
Guest
J_R

I’m not convinced that the guards would prevent death or serious injury. Ok, maybe in a few cases, but it’s not as if they will always sweep the rider away from the track of the rear wheels.

Retrofitting trucks with guards seems to me to be the equivalent of welding cross braces on drainage grates – something that will improve ones ability to ride across the grate if one has to. We know that the real solution to the drainage grate issue is to have curbside inlets (no grates).

Another example relating to bikes is exemplified by Eugene’s decision 30 years ago to place push buttons on posts next to the curb making it really easy for bicyclist to push the button to activate the signal. Those posts were constantly getting knocked down by motor vehicle, especially trucks. The better solution turned out to be better, more sensitive detectors and better placement of loops to locations where they pick up cyclists. Video or radar detection has also proven successful.

To solve the right hook problem, especially with trucks, it seems to me we’d be better off with a technological solution than spending lots of money on guards. Maybe it’s a video or radar-based blind spot detection device with both audible and visual warnings for the driver.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Though technically, when the truck is crossing your travel lane, it’s crashing into YOU.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

I wonder if sideguards will have an unintended consequence; more accidents. I recall research (that might be apocryphal), that when cyclists wear helmets, they tend to use less care while cycling. The thinking being that they feel invulnerable. Would truck drivers have the same mentality (e.g. ‘I have sideguards, so I’ve done my bit to protect cyclists’).

John Schmidt
Guest
John Schmidt

Stop killing people ! Oregon needs to adapt California rules on bike lanes: “A right-turning vehicle is supposed to move into the bike lane before the intersection, anywhere from 200 to 50 feet before, first s
ignaling the lane merge, then merging right to the curb lane, then finally making the actual turn when safe”

Mossby Pomegranate
Guest
Mossby Pomegranate

I blame Kate Brown.

soren
Guest
soren

VISION ZERO PROTEST RIDE
Dawson Park, 101 N Stanton St Take Trimet
Wed Feb 15 4:30pm – 6:30pm

https://www.facebook.com/events/392353741121786/

On February 6 another person was killed by a right-hook collision while cycling in Portland. Four out of six of the last cycling deaths involved preventable right- or left-hook collisions. This type of collision has been a major safety issue for decades but the city continues to drag its feet on funding laws and infrastructure that can prevent tragedy. We will ride to the location of this recent death to protest the city’s inaction and demand that it fund its committment to Vision Zero (the goal of working towards zero traffic deaths). Please feel free to bring signs, messages, flowers, candles, and/or other symbols of outrage.