New crossing safety PSA by Portlandia producer pits ‘pedestrians vs. cars’

“Look first, walk second” is the main slogan backing up a new safety PSA campaign that aims to raise awareness about the “unsafe behaviors of today’s pedestrians.”

The video was created by Portlandia executive producer David Cress as part of a partnership spearheaded by Oregon State Representative Jeff Reardon. Reardon, whose district includes Happy Valley and east Portland, was partially funded (with $12,000) by the Portland Bureau of Transportation in partnership with the Clackamas County Commission, Clackamas Community College and marketing agency 3/Thirds.

Graphic that displays at end of video.

The film and companion website has a darkly humorous take on the issue. Five characters who are meant to represent typical walkers are portrayed as being part of a sporting event that takes place on an automobile race track. The walkers are introduced as irresponsible caricatures and are given nicknames like: “The Autopilot” who is “rarely paying full attention to the traffic”; the “Social Justice Walker” who, “assumes they have the right of way”; the “Walk & Roller” who is “distracted by phones, friends, kids, etc”; the “Logically Impaired” who “is intoxicated or high, and not thinking clearly”; and “The Jaywalker” who, “crosses against red lights or in places without crosswalks.”

“Stand on any city intersection for a period of time,” the website says, “and you’ll see a recurring set of dangerous and/or unknowing behaviors that can potentially lead to pedestrian-car collisions.”

The video ends when “the drunk guy” is run over by a black Ford Mustang Chevy Camaro that squeals its tires and speeds down the racetrack prior to the collision. Then the screen flashes with this ominous stat: “Every 8 minutes a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle… The car always wins.”


Still from the video.

Putting the blame for roadway injuries and deaths on people who use feet to get around is very controversial in transportation reform circles. After Honolulu passed a distracted walking law last month, Streetsblog wrote:

In some quarters it’s almost become an article of faith that pedestrian deaths are on the rise in the U.S. because of “distracted walking.” The victim-blaming impulse allows policymakers, opinion shapers, and the broader public to conveniently avoid honestly confronting our car-centric transportation system and the horrific volume of death and misery it generates… If the Honolulu bill passes, it could simply serve as a pretext for arbitrarily harassing pedestrians. And as Systemic Failure notes, it could even increase traffic risks by creating a more permissive atmosphere for driving behaviors that pose a greater threat.

We’ve asked Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry for her response and will update the story if we hear back.

*Note: Since this story was posted, the website has deleted all references to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. We just received this statement from PBOT Communications Director John Brady about why PBOT is no longer mentioned on the site:

“Representative Reardon has been a very strong supporter of Vision Zero and he asked us if we would help fund the Clackamas Community College’s public service announcement. The PSA represents the vision of the filmmakers. As just a funder, we wanted to step back and not play a central role in the campaign. We’re very grateful for Representative Reardon’s support for traffic safety.”

Brady says he misspoke about Clackamas Community College’s role in the project. He and a CCC spokesperson have asked me to edit his comment to make it clear that CCC was not directly involved in creation of the video or the campaign.

UPDATE, 4:41 pm: Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry shared this comment about the video and campaign:

“It’s an attempt to bring a youthful/comedic take on a really serious issue, and it completely misrepresents why there are so many pedestrians that are hit by cars – and the humor diminishes the extreme tragedy that comes with traffic deaths. Even in the video it shows completely legal behavior by pedestrians, and reckless driving – it shows the walk sign go ‘on’, and the ‘drunk guy’ in a perfectly legal position in the crosswalk when the car comes roaring through. It might get people’s attention, but doesn’t do anything to tackle the two largest contributors to pedestrian deaths: drunk driving, and speed. Pretty disappointing use of funds, when professional videography could go a long way in creating meaningful communication efforts around Vision Zero. We’d appreciate being consulted in the future!”

UPDATE, 8/15 at 2:30 pm: Reardon will pull down the campaign.

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

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