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Lo and behold: An American city just focused their “be seen” message on drivers

Posted by on November 6th, 2017 at 3:53 pm

The lack of people dressed like traffic cones is a nice touch.

I’m sure your inbox and timelines are full of well-meaning organizations urging you to “be safe and be seen” this time of year.

These are important messages, but it’s annoying how they usually focus on vulnerable road users. It makes sense intuitively, but that paternalistic approach fails to address the elephant in the room — or should I say the huge, powerful steel vehicles in our streets.

“Dress up like a traffic cone if you want to survive winter!” these campaigns too often say.

That’s why I was very pleased to see the latest statement from the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “‘Be Seen. Be Safe.’ Traffic safety during the darker days of the year,” the headline reads.

The full text is below. Notice how the focus — first and foremost — is on people who drive cars and trucks (after a solid first sentence that’s generalized to all road users):

Daylight savings time ended on Sunday, so it’s time to step up your visibility and make sure you’re doing your part to travel with care.

People driving can increase visibility by using their headlights, leaving a safe distance between vehicles to increase your cone of vision, and continuously scanning the environment looking for people walking and bicycling. Always be alert and practice extra caution during winter’s rain and low light.

Drivers need to:

– Remember to practice patience and slow down
– Stay in your lane and beware of drivers who dart from lane to lane
– Even though the route may be familiar, don’t go on autopilot; stay alert and ALWAYS watch for vulnerable road users such as people walking, biking and rolling
– Don’t touch your phone, eat, drink or do other things that are distracting. Remember, as of October 1, 2017 it is illegal to drive while holding or using an electronic device (i.e. a cell phone or tablet).
– Slow down at crosswalks and take care when making turns – even at a signal.

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Did you know that as we age we have greater difficulty seeing at night? Night vision is the ability to see well in low-light conditions. A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old.

Depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision can be compromised in the dark for all drivers, and the glare of headlights from an oncoming vehicle can significantly impact a driver’s vision. Even with high-beam headlights on, visibility is limited creating less time to react to something in the road, especially when driving at higher speeds.

People walking and biking can increase their visibility during low-light hours by wearing reflective gear and using safety lights. When walking, keeping a small flashlight or using the feature on your phone is another helpful way to make sure you can see at night.

Did you know that you’re first visible to people driving from 500 feet away when you’re wearing reflective clothing? Compare this to just 55 feet away when wearing dark colors with no reflective gear or lights.

Nearly the entire statement is directed at motor vehicle users. That’s noteworthy. The words and messages agencies prioritized are windows into their values — and building blocks of the type of culture they hope to create.

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

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Michael Andersen
Subscriber

Nice catch! This is a breath of fresh air.

Paul Atkinson
Guest
Paul Atkinson

That’s a vast improvement. I’m really happy to see PBOT making this shift; language matters and this message shows huge progress over prior versions of this program.

Here’s hoping PPB hears this and adopts similar principles when describing crashes.

Dave
Guest
Dave

A city is TELLING DRIVERS WHAT TO DO????!!!!! Holy smoke, glad I’m sittin’ down as I read it!

Michael Neubert
Guest
Michael Neubert

You are fortunate. Where I live, in Arlington VA, the county government (Arlington is a county, but really a small city) has several bike coordinator personnel that try to sell PAL – predictable, attentive, law-abiding – the notion is that this is equally intended for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, but it sure feels like the attention is heavily focused on the cyclists. (For one thing, they were paying some poor young person to ride a bike on the trails towing a trailer with a “PAL” sign! Not too many motorists saw that!)

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

They fear the wrath of Bike Portland.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Yes…its a good start…but the proof will be if such is communicated to a larger audience (drivers) via TV PSAs / transit ads and then finally in PPB crash reports…

Toadslick
Subscriber

I appreciate that the small print is directed at drivers, but they should update the slogan to match. Too many drivers assume that ambiguous platitudes such as “Share the Road” and “Be Seen, Be Safe” are directed at vulnerable road users.

I’d prefer phrases such as “Slow Down when it’s Dark”, “Always Yield to People”, or “All Intersections are Crosswalks.”

soren
Guest
soren

“People walking and biking can increase their visibility during low-light hours by wearing reflective gear and using safety lights.”

More Vision Zero denial from PBOT.

Not only does this kind of fear mongering discourage people from walking but there is little (if any) empirical evidence that these kind of campaigns work. Despite decades of PBOT pedestrian shaming, I have seen no increase in people walking around with front and back blinkies in my neighborhood.

Mikael Colville Andersen addresses this kind of regressive fearmongering in this recent blog post:

Campaigns for reflective clothing are also increasing in The Culture of Fear, despite a limited amount of science on the subject. No corresponding campaigns are in place for cars, even though black cars are more likely to be involved in accidents.
All the negative campaigns blaming cyclists and pedestrians for not equipping themselves with body armour and christmas tree lights would be more credible if the same effort was placed on motorists and cars.

http://www.copenhagenize.com/2017/11/traffic-safety-orgs-speak-for.html

wsbob
Guest

Fortunately, as a closing note, the following was included in the PBOT statement cited and posted to this story:

“…People walking and biking can increase their visibility during low-light hours by wearing reflective gear and using safety lights. When walking, keeping a small flashlight or using the feature on your phone is another helpful way to make sure you can see at night.

Did you know that you’re first visible to people driving from 500 feet away when you’re wearing reflective clothing? Compare this to just 55 feet away when wearing dark colors with no reflective gear or lights.” PBOT

Vulnerable road users watching for traffic before setting out across roads and streets, walking along them, and generally looking out for themselves, is their first best line of defense against collisions with motor vehicles.

If it satisfies active transportation activists to have encouragement to operators of motor vehicles mentioned first in public safety visibility messages, that’s fine, as long as encouragement to vulnerable road users of the importance of their being watchful of their own safety is not omitted from such public safety messages.

If you’re a vulnerable road user, keep in mind what your relative visibility to people driving may be. To bikeportland, I would request that you please not take cheap shots at people as vulnerable road users, by implying they’re “…dressed like traffic cones…” when they opt through the use of a bright colored garment, or simply one with some retro-reflective trim, or even just carrying a flashlight, to enhance their visibility to people driving.

Vulnerable road users need all the good help they can get. Any suggestions made or implied that safety of vulnerable road users is the exclusive responsibility of people that drive, and none at all for vulnerable road users themselves, does not represent an adequate effort to help vulnerable road users avoid collisions.

Pat Franz
Guest
Pat Franz

While reflectives and lights are certainly helpful in getting noticed, imagine these two endpoint scenarios:

o A dark rainy night with lots of pedestrians, all with blinking lights and reflective things on their jackets and shoes. As an auto driver, would you be more or less able to pick out the people you’re most endangering?

o It’s gotten to the point where 90% of pedestrians have lights and reflectives. As an auto driver, do you relax into thinking “no lights, no pedestrian, no problem?”.

Things like lights and reflectives help you stand out when most people don’t have them. Their effectiveness changes the more people use them. It’s like an arms race. What’s good for you may not be the most desirable societal policy.

If you want fewer deaths and injuries, everyone needs to be more careful, especially the people presenting the most danger to others. Our policies don’t adequately encourage this. And unfortunately, the people most in need of “encouragement” don’t pay attention to nice PSAs like this.

Matthew in Portsmouth
Guest
Matthew in Portsmouth

One message I’d really like to emphasize is for drivers to come to a complete stop at stop signs, then start looking for pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. Too often we treat stop signs like yield signs and roll through them. After I had to stop abruptly after seeing a cyclist coming, I have made a conscious effort to stop then look. Last night I was stopped at a stop sign on N Portsmouth and was looking left then right, and when I looked straight ahead, there was a pedestrian crossing a couple of feet in front of my car – he was wearing darkish clothes and it was dark out, so he wasn’t easy to see, but because I came to a complete stop and looked, everyone’s journey home was uneventful.

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Cyclists on Bike Paths and 2-way MUPs: point down or turn off your high-powered headlamp!

Phil Richman
Subscriber

Thank you PBOT for addressing driver behavior. I wish crosswalk and stop sign violations were enforced. Vision Zero cities would be wise to take action.

John B
Guest
John B

I’d also like to see some enforcement of vehicles with lights that are out. There are a good number of car with only one working headlight. And I’ve frequently been behind cars(& trucks) with malfunctioning brake light or burned out brake lights. Privately owned vehicles should be held to the same standards as commercial vehicles.

Joe
Guest
Joe

handing out blinky lights at park n ride seems the motorist love taking handful of lights,
does this mean the will wear the inside the car.. 😛

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

Saw a jogger this morning without lighting or reflective gear from about 200 yards away on a sparsely lit street. Seriously, if you can’t see people in ordinary clothing from behind your windshield when it’s dark out you are driving too fast for your abilities.

BB
Guest
BB

Kyle Banerjee
There’s nothing wrong with my vision, and my level of awareness of what’s going around me is considerably higher than most people.

Except that part of the problem is everyone thinks the same thing and you’re all wrong.

Merlin
Guest
Merlin

As a retired senior, I find driving at night mostly unnecessary and avoid it after winter comes with rain, fog, and the continued absence af adequate street lighting in Portland.
I also only ride in the daytime.
That said, I have the upmost respect for those who need to ride for transportation year round. Be safe out there!

Lars Skaug
Guest

“People driving…” Even the wording used is a big step forward.

Paul H
Guest
Paul H

> A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light to see as well as a 30-year-old.

Sadly, I can vouch that this assessment is not only true, but that it impacts people who cycle as much as those who drive automobiles.

I used to ride two-lane roads to work all year long, but nowadays I avoid them in the dark winter commutes, especially when the road surface is wet. It’s just too hard for me to see obstacles in the light of oncoming automotive traffic.

On winter commutes, you’ll find me on four-lane roads whenever possible: oncoming traffic is farther from my center of vision and the wider roads typically have better lighting.

Paul Atkinson
Guest
Paul Atkinson

Kyle Banerjee
Good for you.
Try spotting one even at short range in the dark and rain while trying to keep track of everything else out there. Throw shadows, obstructions to vision such as parked cars or branches, multiple oncoming light sources (even a cyclist running poorly aimed headlamp or a strobe), movement of any of the things mentioned, and see how things work out.
Even as a ped, I sometimes can’t make people out who are pretty close. There’s nothing wrong with my vision, and my level of awareness of what’s going around me is considerably higher than most people.
Recommended 5

This may help:
https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.100

If you’re overwhelmed by visual stimuli as you describe then perhaps you should be either driving more slowly or else using transportation that doesn’t put people at risk of death or injury due to your inability to process.

wsbob
Guest

The emphasis to people as vulnerable road users, to use some level of visibility gear while walking, biking, and so on, in low light conditions, probably should be stronger than it is.

Just last week, again, and for a couple months preceding, off and on this weblog, people have been discussing a collision over in southeast Portland, in the dark, very early morning hours, involving someone driving a truck and someone riding a bike. Traveling towards the same intersection from opposite directions.

It’s not been reported that the truck didn’t have its front driving lights on, so most likely, the person driving did have them on. Unfortunately, it seems he didn’t have his turn signal light activated to warn of the turn he eventually made across the direction of travel of the person riding.

The person riding, reportedly had no front light on the bike, and wasn’t wearing on their person, anything that could help distinguish them from the surroundings in which they were riding. To what degree each of the two road users erred in safe road use, continues to be debate able.

What I think, and likely many other people do too, is indisputable, is that the visibility of the person riding to the person driving, was vastly diminished by the fact that the safety of the person riding was not aided by at least some visibility gear that the person driving the truck would have been able to see more readily than they would, a person on a bike with no front light.

caesar
Guest
caesar

John Lascurettes
Stop behind the crosswalk — marked or unmarked — and check for pedestrians before inching forward for better visibility.
Recommended 6

Since every intersection is a crosswalk (whether marked as such or not) then motorists should stop at every intersection?

Justin
Guest
Justin

I love this. I’m constantly getting in trouble with other cyclists by saying I believe you ought to wear more visible clothing when it’s dark out. People are so quick to make it all about the motorists, which makes sense. Ultimately they should be responsible for not killing people, but we live in the real world and especially when it’s dark and rainy it’s a good idea that all road users make an effort to see and be seen. We shouldn’t be putting all this on motorists, but I like the fact that we are now putting the primary responsibility where it belongs.

q
Guest
q

Of course people should do what they can to protect themselves, and even your 15 mph solution wouldn’t create total safety.

The issue to me is that we are so far from doing what can be done from the standpoint of improving drivers’ behavior. Look at this article–the fact that there’s a safety campaign aimed at drivers instead of the people they run over makes it newsworthy. It shouldn’t be newsworthy at all.