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


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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