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Lawmakers, ODOT Director hear emotional testimony at Vision Zero bill hearing

Posted by on February 15th, 2017 at 1:01 pm

ODOT Director Matt Garrett (lower right) was in the house for today’s hearing.
(Photo: Oregon Walks)

A bill that would establish an official State of Oregon Vision Zero Task Force got its first public hearing today. And it was heart-wrenching.

The eight members of the House Committee On Transportation Policy who presided over the hearing for House Bill 2667 probably didn’t expect the 8:00 am start time to attract testimony from nearly two-dozen people. And they probably didn’t expect to hear from people like Marina Hajek, the mother of a 10-year old boy who was hit and killed by a reckless, speeding driver while walking his bike across a street in Eugene 10 years ago.

“How many more deaths will it take? How many more memorials? How many more children have to die?”
— Marina Hajek, Eugene resident

As she spoke this morning, Hajek apologized for breaking into tears — something she still does when thinking of her son. “It’s just that I have been in front of so many committees and I always think, ‘Is this going to be the one that’s going to be brave enough to finally confront the reality of our streets?'” she said, sobbing. “How many more deaths will it take? How many more memorials? How many more children have to die? How many more brothers and uncles?”

Hajek put a human face on a bill that comes up as Oregon lawmakers, bureaucrats, and advocates try to respond to a significant uptick in fatalities in the last two years. The issue is also personal for House Representative Rob Nosse, the chief sponsor of the bill. He opened this morning’s testimony by recounting his memory of Portland teenager Fallon Smart, who died while trying to walk across a street just three blocks from his house. “It could easily have been one of my teenage children,” he told fellow legislators.

And five members of Oregon and SW Washington Families for Safe Streets testified today. After sharing their stories, they left a copy of this with each legislator…

Nosse and a coalition of supporters led by The Street Trust (formerly the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) see HB 2677 as a key starting point to change the culture of safety at the state level. The Street Trust Policy Director Gerik Kranksy explained the need for the bill by saying a new approach is necessary. “Vision Zero focuses on preventing injuries. The vulnerabilities of the human body, not the collision itself, should drive the design of our transportation system,” he testified. With 492 deaths on Oregon roads last year, Kransky added that, “What we’re doing currently isn’t enough. Vision Zero calls on us to do more.”

Chart from ODOT presentation showing tragic trend of past two years.

HB 2667 is supported by an impressive list of key interest groups including AARP Oregon, Oregon Walks, Springfield Public Schools, the League of Oregon Cities, the Association of Oregon Counties, the Oregon Environmental Council, Transportation for America, and many independent citizens — especially those who have lost loved ones like Ms. Hajek.

In a surprising development, the Transportation Development Division administrator for the Oregon Department of Transportation, Jerri Bohard, offered testimony that seemed to undercut HB 2667. She said the bill focuses only on people who walk and use bicycles. And, “While they are certainly vulnerable users of the system,” Bohard said, “a safety plan must consider and encompass all users.” (*Note: The text of the bill states, “The task force shall examine strategies to reduce and eliminate traffic crashes, particularly serious injury and fatal crashes and those involving bicycles and pedestrians.)

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Excerpt of testimony from ODOT Jerri Bohard.

In addition to her claim that the bill doesn’t focus on all road users, Bohard also put on the record that ODOT feels the work of a new Vision Zero Task Force could duplicate work recently completed through ODOT’s 2016 Transportation Safety Action Plan. “The work of the task force,” Bohard continued, “could also result in different safety investment priorities than those identified in the Oregon Transportation Safety Action Plan, since it does not consider all users of the system.”

Bohard’s concerns were echoed by other people who testified in support of the Vision Zero bill, most of whom said the two should not be seen as mutually exclusive and that perhaps there would be a way to merge the efforts.

“We’re underrepresented in trips and overrepresented in deaths.”
— Gerik Kransky, The Street Trust

Asked about Bohard’s testimony, Kransky with The Street Trust said he’s already met with the ODOT administrator and is aware of the concerns. “It was pretty clear they [ODOT] feel the Transportation Safety Action Plan is the primary and only vehicle for making these kind of policy recommendations.” But Kransky sees the push for Vision Zero as vital on several levels. He thinks its approach will be broader in scope and could build more political support for the state’s traffic safety goals. “That’s where I hope we end up,” he said. For Kransky, the biggest “game-changer” of the Vision Zero approach (compared to ODOT’s approach) is “bringing fresh eyes and the public health perspective to the table.” By having a representative from the Oregon Health Authority (as HB 2667 mandates), Kranksy says the new task force, “Could bring an epidemiological perspective to the human health crisis that exists.”

As for Bohard’s assertion that HB 2667 focuses too narrowly on just bikers and walkers, Kranksy said she’s technically correct. The bill does specifically emphasize vulnerable road users, and that’s the point. “If on average, 6.6 percent of Oregonians walk and bike to work, yet they represent 20 percent of serious injuries and fatalities — that disparity is alarming and call for some focus in our work. We’re underrepresented in trips and overrepresented in deaths.” (According to the latest ODOT statistics, 80 people died while biking or walking in 2016 (10 and 70 respectively) – or about 16 percent of the 495 total deaths.)

Today’s hearing ended without a vote. It appears there will be more discussions and possibly amendments before it comes back for a second hearing. If it passes out of this committee it will also have to pass out of the Ways and Means Committee because there will be funding required to set up the task force (just how much isn’t known at this point).

In the same hearing this morning, the committee members also had an informational presentation about traffic safety from ODOT Director Matt Garrett and Transportation Division Administrator Troy Costales. They focused solely on distracted driving and what Costales referred to as “belts, booze and speed” — the deadly combination of not wearing seatbelts, driving drunk, and driving too fast. The difference between ODOT’s usual approach to blaming deaths and injuries on human error runs directly counter to the tenets of Vision Zero which put the onus on road design and policy. It will be interesting to see how these two approaches meet — or don’t — in the coming weeks and months.

Marina Hajek, who became a member of the Vision Zero Task Force in Eugene after her son died, just wants the state to help. “We can’t do it alone. We need your support.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

Thanks for the reporting on this important topic.

m
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m

Thanks for posting this. Of the 492 deaths last year, what was the breakdown of pedestrians, cyclists, car riders, & other?

rick
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rick

How can the trend be stopped with so many road-widening projects from Salem to Hillsboro?

Bob K.
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Bob K.

Thank you to all who testified. It may feel like you are shouting into the wind, but your voices are being heard.

JV
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JV

Thinking of Brett Jarolimek today. Thanks to those who are working so hard in advocacy for us all.

Todd Hudson
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Todd Hudson

After the Task Force there will be a steering committee that will have some off-site meetings, and publish a white paper. Follow by a resolution. A consultant might be hired.

MaxD
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MaxD

This reminds me of Brent Toderian saying, “Don’t balance road users, prioritize people walking, biking and using transit”
http://denver.streetsblog.org/2017/02/09/brent-toderian-dont-balance-modes-prioritize-walking-biking-and-transit/

Jim Lee
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Jim Lee

Is “pedalcyclist” ODOT-speak for “bicyclist?

If so, JM, bicylist deaths are but 2% of the total.

By that measure we would be doing better than all other categories, and a 25% increase year-over-year (8 to 10) would be statistically insignificant.

I’ll say it again: “Vision Zero,” from Stockholm to Salem, is about preventing motorists from killing each other.

Adam
Subscriber

This is a good first step. However, while Vision Zero sounds great on paper, without identifying a funding source, it will suffer the same fate as Portland’s plan. Meanwhile, ODOT will continue to magically find more money for highway widening.

9watts
Subscriber

With all due respect to statistics I think it speaks volumes that ODOT is using this opportunity to whine that there’s not enough attention to the dead inside cars.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Even when faced with hard statistics that vulnerable users are dying at something like 3x the rate of the overall population, ODOT falsely complains that motor vehicle occupants aren’t being considered?! Incredible. And yet all too believable.

buildwithjoe
Guest

ODOT is full of lies. ODOT lied to say an 18 lane freeway would reduce pollution.

We were near 300 dead a year recently. We could have gone down to 200 dead a year. ODOT made choices to push us up to 400. These are choices.

This is NOT “a Decade of improvement lost in 2 years”

That’s like saying to your kids you “lost” money at Vegas. Uh no dad, you got in the car with the family money in your wallet and you drove to Vegas. ODOT has gambled away lives. Imagine how many lives we could have saved with the 200 million spent on PR for the CRC freeway. Imagine!!! The lying Matt Garrett is still head of ODOT and nobody seems to care. Sigh…

For zero dollars we can make policy changes to save lives. It just takes lawmakers with guts to clean house at the top levels of ODOT and pass laws for safety.

Citations generate money and improve safety. yes Citations can be a form of social injustice. But citations can be done without bias.

Look at Seattle. It cost them zero dollars to cut speed limits city wide to 25mph. Most likely their accountants will be able to show that saved them millions.

Did everyone at that meeting give ODOT a free pass? Is there video?

Yes. ODOT put up the smoke that this is about “belts, booze and speed”. But did anyone even mention that ODOT is to blame because our roads are designed for death? If the FAA and NTSB can take on safety and make progress we should never accept the distracting baloney from ODOT leaders.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Vision Zero means street sweepers for bike lanes. I’ve not yet observed a street sweeping machine in action anywhere in Portland?

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Maybe I’m not understanding something, but it seems to me that if a plan can offer greater protection for people outside of cars, surely it would be beneficial for those inside them as well? You know, with them already being surrounded by metal cages equipped with seat belts and airbags and such… Unless the plan only involves completely separating the transportation infrastructure of the different modes, but obviously that can’t be it.

JaredO
Guest
JaredO

“We don’t think this is a good idea because we have a plan,” says the agency whose management results from past plans on safety speak for themselves, and resist the idea that engineering has much to do with travel speeds.

ODOT always wants to suck up control over everything. This is an example of that in action.

They don’t get Vision Zero. They want to blame someone else. Vision Zero is, in part, accepting human errors, and using engineering to make sure those errors won’t be fatal.

Justin M
Guest
Justin M

Can we just say the words that everyone is being too politically correct to say? All the people moving here from CA don’t care about cyclists at all. I wonder how many deaths can be attributed to recent transplants.

Justin M
Guest
Justin M

If you have a theory about the recent increase in fatalities, I would be interested in hearing it. As I said, I wonder how many deaths can be attributed to recent transplants. If there’s an alternate explanation for why the last few years have gotten so much worse, what is it? I suppose I will see if I can find information and report back.

Justin M
Guest
Justin M

oh. look at that. low gas prices contribute to record traffic deaths right in an article on time.com from 2016. Yet the nationwide average of a 7% increase is nowhere near the trend we’re seeing. I don’t see enough evidence to discard my hypothesis.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Rain is also correlated with increased crashes. Our problem is that we have both abundant rain and abundant transplants, so we get a bit of a double-whammy.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I would not mind a campaign that focused 100% on cars and drivers. Nearly 100% of road deaths involve a car.