A video released Tuesday by Oregon House Representative Jeff Reardon portrayed someone in a Chevy Camaro running over an innocent person using a marked crosswalk. Prior to the graphic impact, the Camaro driver recklessly burns rubber from his tires (a violation of Oregon law), stares down his victim, clenches the wheel tighter, and proceeds to run through a red light. If this scenario happened in real life, there’s a good chance the driver would serve time in prison.
The “Look First. Walk Second” public service ad campaign is irresponsible, insensitive, and dangerous. It flies in the face of current traffic safety advocacy best practices and runs counter to the principles of Vision Zero. For an elected leader who says he cares about improving road safety, Reardon’s continued support of this campaign and his unwillingness to acknowledge very serious concerns raised by the public are shocking and outrageous.
And I’m far from the only one who thinks so.
Kim Stone and Kristi Finney-Dunn both lost sons to traffic violence.
On October 4th, 2013, 25-year-old Joseph Stone was hit and killed by someone driving an SUV as he attempted to walk across SE Division Street in a marked crosswalk. Yesterday his mom Kim Stone left this message on Rep. Reardon’s Facebook page:
“It was painful enough to read the insensitive comments by victim blamers on articles about my son Joe’s death. To have elected officials and professionals perpetuate this practice is unconscionable.”
On August 12th, 2011, 28-year-old Dustin Finney was hit by a drunk driver while he biked in the bike lane on Division near 87th. His mom Kristi Finney-Dunn left this comment on BikePortland about Reardon’s video:
“This video shows extreme insensitivity to the thousands of people walking or rolling who were hit by drivers even in their right of way. Our loved ones are already lambasted unmercifully and the promotion and justification of this attitude in this way by people and governments who should know better makes me livid.”
These are just two of many heartfelt and serious reactions to the campaign.
Both of Oregon’s largest walking advocacy groups — Oregon Walks and The Street Trust — have both strongly denounced it.
But even as the opposition builds (none of the dozens of comments on Reardon’s Facebook post about the campaign are supportive), Reardon and 3/Thirds, the Portland-based ad agency who created the campaign, are unwilling to acknowledge the negative impact of their actions.
In his prepared statement, Reardon said he’s “pleased that this public service ad has captured people’s attention.” He says the portrayal of insensitive and damaging stereotypes of vulnerable road users in the video was justified because he and his “team” walked on a few streets and observed that, “pedestrians make unwise choices and jeopardize their own safety.”
Reardon has a good point: Some road users do dumb things that put themselves at risk. But there are myriad ways to address this issues. The measure of a true leader is having the sympathy, perspective and discretion to choose the right one. Reardon has not chosen wisely.
The creators of this campaign have shown a similar lack of understanding and humility.
In response to an email asking specific questions about the campaign, 3/Thirds Director of Client Services Erika Rockney issued a statement last night. She described her agency’s approach as “bold”. “The characters and ‘crossing’ situation were both greatly exaggerated in an effort to remove the story from the norm of the real world and place it into an outrageously unreal scenario… one in which people obviously would not take such actions.”
Unfortunately Ms. Rockney, the behaviors from the driver you portrayed are not unreal. They happen more often than you think. And they result in death and injury and broken hearts and fear and sadness in epidemic proportions.
Despite all this, Reardon and Rockney seem happy because they’ve “furthered the dialogue.” The reality is they’ve only furthered the pain and suffering of traffic victims and they’ve added to our dysfunctional road culture.
I’m extremely frustrated and disturbed that Rep. Reardon appears to be oblivious not only to the mistaken approach of his campaign, but to the significant amount of negative reactions it has received.
And to think that the Portland Bureau of Transportation — an agency that says Vision Zero is their top priority — was involved in the creation of this campaign (via a $12,000 donation to Reardon and 3/Thirds) and is now trying to hide their involvement only after it became clear that it was wildly inappropriate and offensive to many people (including members of their own Vision Zero Task Force) ——— I’m stunned.
The lack of road safety in our region is a crisis. It demands thoughtful and strong leadership, not careless stereotyping and continued normalization of reckless behaviors.
Please do the right thing Rep. Reardon and PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman: Acknowledge the people who have been hurt by this campaign. Acknowledge that you took the wrong approach this time. And please consider taking down the website and video as soon as possible.
UPDATE, 8/15 at 2:30 pm: Reardon will pull down the campaign.
Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.
BikePortland needs your support.