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Families for Safe Streets lobbying for TriMet crash oversight, driver education bills

Posted by on February 6th, 2019 at 11:12 am

David Sale’s daughter was killed by a TriMet bus operator in 2010. Now he’s pushing for independent oversight of the agency.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A group of road safety activists led by family members of traffic crash victims and backed by The Street Trust has thrown their weight behind two bills this legislative session.

According to Oregon and SW Washington Families for Safe Streets, Senate Bill 746 would, “Encourage greater mutual expectations between all road users by combining the official state manuals for driving and bicycling and require drivers to retake a written test every eight years when they renew their licenses.” Senate Bill 747 would, “Close a gap in Oregon law that allows TriMet to lead investigations of crashes involving its own vehicles… a process that creates a conflict of interest and undermines efforts to improve system safety.”

SB 746 – Strengthen road user education and driver’s license testing requirements

In Oregon, you can drive or ride your entire life and never be re-tested on current traffic laws.

Cover of ODOT’s Bicyclist Manual.

This bill’s main sponsor is Republican Senator Chuck Thomsen (Hood River). In a statement, Sen. Thomsen said, “Pedestrian and bicyclist safety continues to be a pressing. There are a lot of new rules of the road, and there are a lot of motorists like myself who have remained unaware of some of them. SB 746 will save lives and is the right thing to do.”

Families for Safe Streets member Susan Kubota, whose 19-year-old niece Tracey Sparling was killed while bicycling across West Burnside in 2007, said all road users need better education and understanding of laws — especially those that protect the most vulnerable. “Tracey was very new to commuting by bike in Portland,” Kubota recalled in a statement. “I honestly don’t know if she knew much more than what she learned in driver’s ed. I think most people assume that a bike lane is the legal — therefore safe and proper — place to ride your bike. So she followed the ‘rules’ and stopped at the red light in the bike lane and went forward when the light turned green.”

The aim of the bill is to get more information about bicycling into the Oregon driver’s license test. Section 2 (2) of the proposed bill reads, “Instead of publishing two separate manuals, the department shall combine the Oregon driver manual with the Oregon bicyclist manual.” In addition, the bill would require people to pass a test of traffic laws when they renew their license. Surprisingly, even though traffic laws change significantly year-by-year, Oregon drivers never have to demonstrate knowledge of them after taking their initial test.

In addition to Sen. Thomsen, the bill is co-sponsored by House Rep. Carla Piluso (D-Gresham) and nine other legislators from both parties and chambers. It has been referred to the Transportation Committee but no hearing has been scheduled yet. Full details on SB 746 here.

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SB 747 – Creation of the TriMet Crash Advisory Committee

Sen. Thomsen and 11 other lawmakers from both parties have thrown their support behind this bill. The goal is to create more accountability and transparency in crashes that involve TriMet.

Darla Sturdy, shown here with her daughter Savanna Zelinka, and son, Aaron Sturdy-Wagner, has spent over a decade pushing for TriMet safety reforms.
(Photo: Families for Safe Streets)

Currently, the Portland region’s public transit agency leads its own investigations into serious injury and fatal crashes that involve its light rail trains and buses. SB 747 would establish an independent TriMet Crash Advisory Committee appointed by the Oregon Transportation Commission that would assess and analyze the circumstances of each crash, and make recommendations to prevent similar crashes. The bill also requires TriMet to provide meeting space and staff support.

Inspiration for the bill comes from Families for Safe Streets Member Darla Sturdy whose 16-year-old son Aaron Sturdy-Wagner was crushed to death under a MAX train in 2003. Aaron was biking across the tracks at the Gresham City Hall station when he was struck. In 2007 (before Families for Safe Streets existed), Sturdy successfully lobbied for a bill that led to independent safety inspections of crossings throughout the light-rail network and resulted in upgrades to 80 crosswalks near MAX stations. She also pushed for independent crash investigations back then, but that bill didn’t pass.

According to a statement from Families for Safe Streets, Sturdy’s lobbying campaign led TriMet analyzing 505 crash reports. They passed 20 of them along to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for further review. The NTSB found that one in four came to an incorrect conclusion, a statistic that underscores the need for an independent committee.

This time around Sturdy has other safety advocates in her corner, including David Sale, the father of a 22-year old woman who was one of two people who died in the highly publicized collision with a TriMet bus operator while walking in a crosswalk in 2010. “Public transportation needs to be held to the highest standard,” Sale said in a statement. “They need to be transparent in every way when it comes to safety. This is only a small step forward but it’s a great beginning.”

Full details on SB 747 here.

The Street Trust has partnered with Families for Safe Streets and is supporting both of these bills.

In related news, The Street Trust has hired a new advocacy director to replace Gerik Kransky, who held the post for seven years before moving on last summer. Richa Poudyal is a former resident of Boulder, Colorado who previously worked as legislative director for Oregon House Rep. Karin Power and is a current Climate, Health, and Housing Fellow at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO).

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

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10 Comments
  • Shoupian February 6, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    TriMet seems to believe it is not subject to public accountability. The agency is more interested in criminalizing transit riders (until the court ruled it unconstitutional) than being a contributing partner in improving public safety and reliable transit options. I hope the passage of SB 747 will signal to TriMet that they need to work on transparent and accountable to the public.

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    • David Hampsten February 7, 2019 at 1:22 am

      Reading the legislation and who should be selected to serve on the committee, versus who likely will be, makes me think of the numerous police review committees that most cities have that generally exonerate anything and everything that a police officer does, rather than finds fault for negligence, criminality, etc. Everyone who serves on this committee could theoretically be made up of nearly all TriMet employees or board members, including the bike and walk advocates, the city of Portland rep (TriMet operates the Portland Streetcar under contract with PBOT), bus operator, etc. I find the legislation lacking in requiring independent representatives who have no affiliation with TriMet, such as from C-Trans, Keolis, TransDev, RAT-P, or First Transit, or Greyhound. The whole thing is set up for total failure.

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      • Greg Spencer February 11, 2019 at 5:49 pm

        If you have ideas on how to make this bill a more effective law, you can write to your legislators. First step is to make sure these bills get hearings: Why not write to the members of the joint Senate-House Committee on Transportation: The whole roster is right here: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Committees/JCT/Overview

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  • Eporter February 6, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    SB746 sounds great. We need a whole lot more driver education. On that note I’ve got an easy solution for too many cars on the road. Let’s get rid of some real quick by getting rid of bad drivers. It’d be great if we all had to study for a knowledge test every few years. Even better would be mandatory, road-side “skills courses” where you have to navigate the course to keep your license. Like a rest area exit, but with cones and all that. Don’t get me started on how great Japan’s licensing structure is. They’re hard to get to begin with, and have levels for BOTH experience level and vehicle type. Implement that here, and no more bad drivers in Bro-dozers.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty February 6, 2019 at 10:18 pm

      I personally don’t think taking the knowledge test is going to help much. I suppose I would support this bill, but most of the driver test questions are either obvious (what does the red octagon mean?), or useless (how far behind a fire engine can you follow?)

      A carefully crafted test that was designed to get people to learn about changed regulations might be helpful, but the current knowledge test is kind of pathetic, and probably always will be.

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      • Gary B February 7, 2019 at 8:51 am

        I agree. It’s a step in the right direction, so I support it, but it’s a very small step. I’d like to see upping the age for a DL, a rigorous licensing process, and rigorous re-licensing every 5 or so years.

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  • Al M February 6, 2019 at 4:37 pm

    This is a comment sent to me from a 25 year Trimet max operator veteran
    ………….
    I support the idea of a independent investigation of TriMet crashes, bus and rail. I can tell you from personal experience that “Doing the Right Thing” means for TriMet,not the operator involved in the incident. I have experienced personally the incompetence of a investigation, more than once, that was nothing more than a Salem witch trial. Lost evidence,made up evidence concealed past history of evidence by TriMet that could effect the outcome of the a investigation in the operators favor,while pointing a finger of responsibility to poor or NO management! ( The most egregious case of the missing letter from The Hillsboro Fire Chief telling TriMet that the Opticon system was in place and how it would work seven years BEFORE the MAX train and the fire truck collided. That letter and associated documents where delivered to ATU office, by me,unfortunately ten years after operator Bill Waggoner was fired. Where did I get them? In the TRASH from a manager who was cleaning out his desk and retiring.)I have other documents that show how the data was manipulated to achieve in a certain incident to try get a rail operator fired. Unfortunately for management, the facts could not be interrupted other than what the real truth prevailed due to a video that could not be “lost”. Remember, you are nothing more than a work number when it comes to TriMet protecting itself. This was reply to the post from the TriMet Operator Caucus, talking about a New proposed legislation that father of dead daughter, via the Sandy Day incident, that all operators take a written test every two years to maintain their employment.

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  • Fred February 7, 2019 at 6:52 am

    Getting – and keeping – a driver’s license in Oregon, and the US generally, is way too easy. My daughter got her driver’s license and took me for a ride in the car, when a fire truck approached from the other direction with siren blaring and lights flashing. My daughter the driver did nothing til I yelled, Pull over!, which she did. Then we had a talk about what to do when an emergency vehicle comes along. She replied, But I never encountered that situation in driver’s ed (which she had just completed). And it occurred to me that the way we train our new drivers is simply insufficient. Why shouldn’t every new driver have to complete a computer-based driver-training course that exposes her/him to *every* possible driving situation, multiple times? Other countries do this.

    BTW, I think this law has as much chance of passing as an Oregon sales tax.

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    • X February 11, 2019 at 10:54 am

      Add to DL training requirements: 4-hour ridealong sitting behind a TriMet operator.

      A person can’t argue with the stated goals of the proposal. Note: 1 % of total crash reports came up bad? That’s different than 25 %. I don’t know if this is the way to go about fixing things.

      I would support fixing roads so operators have better sight lines, fewer points of conflict with other road users, and lane/signal priority that makes it possible to run a brisk schedule without a lot of stress.

      Countries that have a lot less money than ours find a way to run transit better than we do. That’s damn embarrassing.

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  • Susan Kubota February 7, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    I ask all of you to support Senate Bill 746 by writing to your state representative and senators. (Don’t know who they are? Find them at http://www.olis.leg.state.or.us) This bill would promote greater understanding of the expected conduct for all road users by combining the current official state driving and bicycling/pedestrian manuals. It will also require drivers to retake an online written test when their license are up for renewal every eight years. Tougher laws, steeper penalties and infrastructure improvements are impotent in the setting of ignorance. My niece, Tracey Sparling, was legally waiting in the bike lane when she was stopped at a red light. When the light turned green, she went forward and the cement truck to her left turned right. Tracey was new to commuting by bike in Portland. I believe her knowledge of how to use the road was based on what she learned in driver’s ed when she first got her driver’s license. The streets are not just for motorized vehicles. The privilege of driving includes the responsibility to maintain the safety of vulnerable users that share our roads. In turn, the awareness for safe use of these roads is a necessity for all.

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