On the same day that 60-year-old Elizabeth Meyers became the 20th person to die while walking on Portland streets this year (the most since 2003), Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry penned a letter to Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Council imploring them to do more — faster — to make our streets more livable.
Here’s the text of Noel’s letter (with her formatting/emphases):
Mayor Wheeler & Portland City Council,
Portland is experiencing a livability crisis in our streets. Today, the 20th person this year was killed while walking. This makes 2017 the deadliest year on record for pedestrians since 2003. Last week, Multnomah County published a new report showing that 80 people died last year while living outside on the streets of Portland. We believe these issues are interconnected and the approach to solving them must take into account numerous factors critical to Portlanders’ safety.
Finding solutions to these growing crises requires a coordinated effort and sustained leadership that recognizes the impacts that every policy and funding decision has on our most vulnerable residents. We have not yet seen the urgency from our City leadership necessary to end this growing epidemic.
Creating safe, walkable communities where people can thrive is at the heart of our work at Oregon Walks. In order to do so, everyone needs access to their basic needs. One of the best ways to achieve this is through investment in safe, walkable, and affordable neighborhoods for everyone, regardless of income, age, background, ability, or housing situation.
Our City leadership must commit to a holistic approach to saving lives on our streets. We have two specific requests for Portland City Council:
Disband the proposed increase of ‘pedestrian use’ zones in downtown Portland as proposed by Mayor Wheeler and defined through his recent op-ed in The Oregonian. We believe that every person has the right to access their community by walking – and for many people living outside, this is the only mode of transportation available. People living outside are also pedestrians, with the same rights to public space as everyone else. And with a dearth of places to sit, public garbage cans, or public restrooms in the downtown core – while offering the densest availability of social services and transit connections – we are leaving our houseless community with very few spaces to simply be. By authorizing enforcement of certain people’s use of public space we are setting a dangerous precedent of determining who has access to basic needs in our city and who doesn’t.
In addition, the visibility of poverty in our city points to the very real public health crisis that deserves resources and attention toward root cause solutions and not reactionary politics. The solution is homes. People need reliable access to jobs, health care, and places to sleep. The time has passed for words of compassion – we need action and we need transparency toward this goal.
Invest in our High Crash Corridors: If the City of Portland wants to seriously address documented and decades-long public safety threats to people walking – we should be shutting down our High Crash Corridors to auto traffic tomorrow. We could literally save lives before the end of December; with dark days and inclement weather ahead, we are too likely to lose another person to traffic violence over the next two weeks.
We have championed Vision Zero in the City of Portland – the policy set to end traffic deaths – with a keen eye toward racial and social equity in its delivery. The City adopted the Vision Zero Action Plan one year ago, and street design – the most critical element – takes a long time to go into effect. It will take even longer if we delay funding opportunities and instead institute stop-gap policies in the name of safety but not in the places or for the people who need it the most. The first major street design investments for Vision Zero will be built in 2018. If we intend to reach our goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2025, we have to move much faster.
The City, with input from the Vision Zero Task Force, has a documented list of projects planned for our High Crash Network and many of them would address the specific locations where lives were lost this year. Implementation needs funding. Funding needs leadership, and our budgets are our moral compass. We need City Council to show that they are committed to their stated policy goals by allocating the necessary funds to reach them.
We encourage a broader conversation about policy changes and investments that will dramatically change the lives of our most vulnerable community members. We welcome the opportunity to discuss solutions to these ongoing public health and safety crises on our streets; the rising number of fatal crashes involving people on foot, and the limited affordability of housing options for everyone in this city we call home. There is so much work to be done.
– Noel Mickelberry
Executive Director, Oregon Walks
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