As bell tolls for victims, Portlanders at ‘die-in’ call on ODOT to end ‘traffic violence’

Posted by on March 15th, 2019 at 10:30 am

A woman and her baby made a strong statement in front of ODOT headquarters on Wednesday.
(Photos: Alex Milan Tracy)

In a silent and powerful protest on Wednesday, parents, children, and activists came together to draw attention to unsafe streets. There was fake blood and chalk-outlined bodies. Adding to the symbolism was that it took place in the courtyard outside the front doors of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Region 1 headquarters in northwest Portland.

“We’re lying here today to make it less likely that you’ll be lying in the road in the future.”
— Ted Buehler, participant

They laid down on the cold, hard pavement while someone struck a bell 467 times — once for each person who died on Oregon roads last year.

ODOT was the clear focus of this event. Organizers chalked “#DeathByODOT” on the sidewalk and used the hashtag in social media posts. In a statement about the event, Bike Loud wrote, “ODOT can no longer ignore the violence that occurs on their streets. We will not allow them to hide any further. We call on ODOT to stop the violence.”

“We’re lying here today to make it less likely that you’ll be lying in the road in the future,” said Bike Loud PDX volunteer Ted Buehler.

Edward LeClaire was one of the volunteers with Bike Loud PDX who participated. He showed up a bit early and found himself in ODOT’s lobby. I wasn’t at the event, so I asked LeClaire to share his thoughts on how it went. Here’s what he shared via email:

“I was astounded at how willfully out-of-touch ODOT staff were with the bike community. Before the event I happened to be in the lobby and I overheard staff saying things like, ‘What do they think is going to happen anyway?’ During the event while I was on the ground, looking up at the ODOT building, I could see several staff peering out and staring at us. Meanwhile, the bell was being rung to mark every death and it was somber as hell. The sun was going down the temperature was dropping and I was starting to shiver from the cold of the ground, but I didn’t want to get up out of respect for the dead while the bell kept ringing and ringing and ringing.

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A couple of ODOT staff took the time to be outside during the event but they chose to stand apart and refused to participate. Bicyclists are obviously the ‘other’ not deserving of their respect. Given that staff were aware of the event and discussing it inside, I had sort of hoped that possibly a few ODOT staff who commute by bike might come out and at least say, ‘Hey we ride bikes too.’ But they did not. We had an open microphone to allow anybody to talk and I honestly expected ODOT’s public information officer (who was there) to take the opportunity to say bland words about how, ‘ODOT cares deeply about the safety of all road users, and we work hard every day to keep people safe, we lament the death of every person killed on our roads, etc. etc.’ But that they could not even say kind bland words when given the direct opportunity in front of the evening news crews — it really struck home just how ODOT staff view bicyclists and pedestrians not as humans but as the freakish weirdos who strangely keep choosing to die on their roads.”

See more coverage of the event from KATU News.

Images by Alex Milan Tracy

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

26 Comments
  • Avatar
    bikeninja March 15, 2019 at 10:39 am

    It could be that the reason no one from ODOT came out to say a few words is that they were very afraid of insulting or angering their patrons in the trucking, freeway building, development and car retailing industries.

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      Middle of The Road Guy March 18, 2019 at 9:13 am

      Or that this looked like a mob scene and no reasonable person would step into one.

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        q March 18, 2019 at 9:35 am

        From the photos, it looked like a quiet protest to me, one that literally, a baby could nap through.

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  • Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
    Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike) March 15, 2019 at 10:45 am

    that is Lulu and Kate!

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    Chris Smith March 15, 2019 at 10:52 am

    I was at ODOT the following morning for an I-5 Rose Quarter meeting and they were wasting no time in pressure-washing away the evidence…

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      John Lascurettes March 15, 2019 at 11:13 am

      Zero visibility = zero vision.

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      Middle of The Road Guy March 18, 2019 at 9:14 am

      Why did the protestors leave their litter and waste behind? I expect more from environmental activists.

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        Alex Reedin, now in Albuquerque, NM March 18, 2019 at 1:21 pm

        I think the environmental activists understandably put their trust in Mother Nature to clean up the chalk.

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    bikeninja March 15, 2019 at 11:40 am

    I have a dream, one day the governor calls together all the ODOT employees and tells them the bad news. They are shutting the agency down because there are no more gas tax revenues because no one uses gas anymore. But the good news for them is that the state has arranged new jobs for everyone as cargo bike riders to service the new state funded ,bike based transportation service that will haul produce from all the new organic farms surrounding the city in the area that has been repurposed from car based suburbs to food production.

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    9watts March 15, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    “But that they could not even say kind bland words when given the direct opportunity in front of the evening news crews — it really struck home just how ODOT staff view bicyclists and pedestrians not as humans but as the freakish weirdos who strangely keep choosing to die on their roads.”

    That is a possibility, but I suspect that the reason they didn’t choose to participate was the combination of terrible optics for them, the likely pushback they would have received if they had opted to speak the bland words you suggest, and the fact that they appear to have nothing in their playbook, no substantive proposals, no commitment to actually addressing these situations. If you look at Troy Costales’ language, back when Jonathan quoted him on the Fatality Free Days nonsense, the party line in response to the rise in deaths was, basically, a shrug: we wish it were otherwise.

    “Troy Costales, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s safety division, said Oregon saw 238 road deaths through July 23, up from 165 in the same period last year.

    There are reports that traffic fatalities are up across the nation,” he added. “I wish neither was true.”
    https://bikeportland.org/2015/07/31/across-oregon-traffic-fatalities-abruptly-return-almost-to-pre-recession-levels-154524

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    Orig_JF March 15, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    The sum is greater than its parts. Individual fatalities are reported, on average, more than every other day. The community could become immune to hearing about “another fatality” and think it is the norm. It should not be. When others SEE what 200+ people looks like, it puts a different perspective on the amount of life lost. If this event makes one person change their behavior to a safer mentality than previously, it is a success. As a community we can have, and should demand, safer streets.

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    Another Engineer March 15, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    Opinions expressed here are my own and not representative of ODOT.

    Hey, I ride bikes too. A bike is my primary mode of transportation. The reason I didn’t come outside yesterday is I didn’t think it was the proper place to have a discussion, especially on State time.

    Since the bloody and violent revolution that brought motor vehicles to streets in the 1930’s the American political body as a whole has been accepting of a certain amount of carnage in the name efficiency. The idea of manifest destiny transitioned from westward expansion to the freedom provided by the personal automobile. Our economy became dependent on the personal automobile and so did our development patterns. The political reality of today is that the average Oregonian’s view of how transportation dollars should be allocated is vastly different than the average person who frequents BikePortland.

    Until something shifts the overton window at the State level like a Carbon Tax, Congestion Pricing, or the global collapse of the oil markets the political headwinds will be against those of us who personally support funding improvements for modes that are not the personal motor vehicle. Or reducing the many subsides for personal automobile use. Our efforts along with your activism will score small wins here and there but projects will rarely be scoped at the scale needed to avoid deaths on a scale needed to reach zero and to significantly reduce c02 emissions related to transportation. Accomplishing things like transferring large amounts of lane ROW from vehiclular lanes to bike lanes or dedicated transit ROW are political challenges not engineering challenges. Policy’s focused on efficiency like higher speed limits and others will not be decoupled from their large economic consequences unless their is political pressure to do so.

    I’m thankful that those who tragically lost their lives were remembered yesterday. I think a more effective effort for protests to move the needle would be to convince the legislature to fund improvements for and jurisdictionally transfer orphan highways like Lombard, Powell, 82nd to the City of Portland. The consituents within the city are more progressive than Oregon and the City could be more progressive in their administration of the funds and the limited right of way.

    Sincerely,

    Just An”other” Engineer

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      9watts March 15, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      “Accomplishing things like transferring large amounts of lane ROW from vehiclular lanes to bike lanes or dedicated transit ROW are political challenges not engineering challenges.”

      I agree.
      And having people we elect, people in positions of authority, take principled stands on these and other issues would be salutary. No amount of smoke and mirrors is going to convince me that leadership, spine, stepping up to the bully pulpit would hurt right now. Sometimes bureaucrats, and politicians and so-called leaders prefer to hide behind a lot of words about how unfeasible change is. That is not only not helpful it is reckless and should be called out.

      Things could (and I think will) change rapidly such that automobility ceases to be viable. What will you and your colleagues have to say then about feasibility, options, priorities. Why wait until sensible, prudent, timely options have been eclipsed by history marching on?

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      GlowBoy March 15, 2019 at 1:35 pm

      Thank you for your perspective, AE.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 15, 2019 at 1:40 pm

      thanks for this comment Another Engineer.

      one thing… Keep in mind that no one knows what the opinion of the “average person who frequents BikePortland” is, because the average person never comments nor do they take part in protest events like this.

      I just want you and other folks to keep our audience in perspective. The vast majority of readers and the vast majority of our supporters are silent.

      Also, while I agree with much of what you’ve written… IMO these type of protests are exactly what shift the Overton Window. Without this stuff, those larger changes you/me want won’t happen as fast. IMO it’s not either/or (types of activism), it’s both. We need all approaches.

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        Middle of The Road Guy March 18, 2019 at 9:16 am

        Okay, so we can admit that the comments are not average. Are they then fringe?

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      Alex Reedin, now in Albuquerque, NM March 15, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Agreed on most counts. However, I still think this is a great and effective protest.

      1) Salem is far away from Portland and it is hard to get people to go protest/testify on a workday.
      2) People who are politically knowledgeable know that ODOT’s funding and priorities are set by the Legislature and thus that a protest against policies implemented by ODOT is implicitly also a criticism of the Legislature.
      3) Media coverage (many local TV stations covered the protest) generates people learning about BikeLoudPDX; the more people who know about it, the more people will join; the more people join, the more energy to do stuff in general; the more energy to do stuff in general, the more energy to raise money, do legislative lobbying, protests in Salem, etc.

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      soren March 15, 2019 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks for your “inside” support for decarbonization and transportation alternatives, AE. I want to second Jonathan’s statement about the need for a diversity of tactics. I also want to note that I’ve personally witnessed quite a few of the people who participated in this “die in” lobby for jurisdictional transfer in Salem (at the the OTC and to elected representatives). It would be great if you could add your voice to theirs.

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    Columbo March 16, 2019 at 11:46 am

    That poor kid… how much you wanna bet he grows up to rebel against mom’s politics?

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      Alex Reedin March 16, 2019 at 2:28 pm

      Ha, how funny, what I thought was, “What a lucky kid!” I heard an interview recently with one of Dolores Huerta’s daughters. She grew up with her mom working and protesting LOTS of course, and went to lots of protests, and was also cared for many hours by her mom’s network of sympathetic women. She seemed to think it hadn’t impacted her negatively. She thought there was only a positive impact- that she thought she had more friends (kids) and had more grownups in her corner than the average kid because of her mom’s willingness to ask for help and trust in her community.

      And, of course, her politics are extremely similar to her mom’s. Best wishes to the family pictured!

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      Emily Guise (Contributor) March 16, 2019 at 6:25 pm

      Well, you really never know. I grew up with parents who had political opinions, but as far as I know have never participated in any sort of protest or action. On my own, I started going to marches/protests in college, and now I help organize them.

      Lots of factors influence kids, not just their families. I’m sure Lulu (pictured) will be able to decide what she wants to do when she’s older.

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    q March 16, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    Discouraging as it is to read about ODOT’s lack of concern for people biking and walking, I think the problem is even worse. My experience is ODOT is also unconcerned with vehicle users’ safety on non-ODOT roads.

    As an example, ODOT proposed eliminating several driveways on SW Macadam (ODOT’s Highway 43), and running all the access to and from the businesses out the back of the site, onto a City street. The reason was to reduce vehicles entering and leaving the highway. People pointed out to ODOT that that street that would handle the site’s traffic was already unsafe for several reasons—no sidewalks, chaotic head-in parking, etc. and any more traffic would be disastrous.

    ODOT response was that ODOT must focus on the safety of its Highway, and while there may or may not be safety issues created by running all the site traffic onto the City street, those concerns were not relevant to ODOT. I asked the very-senior ODOT staff member there, “Then why not close ALL the driveways on all the ODOT highways in Portland? Under your logic, they’d become safer, and while it would destroy the livability and safety of the neighborhoods and streets surrounding them, that would be irrelevant”. She actually walked out of the meeting.

    That’s one example. I’ve seen similar stances by ODOT mentioned in other articles here.

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    John Schubert March 18, 2019 at 8:01 am

    What specific policy measures do the protestors want?
    That’s not self-evident.
    Some times, the requests are contradictory, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the protestors were not all in agreement.

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      q March 18, 2019 at 9:21 am

      Is that a problem? To me, it’s enough to protest that the current policies are wrong, with the idea that there are better directions to take ODOT. That’s a valid, important message in itself.

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    Middle of The Road Guy March 18, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Did anyone get the baby’s consent or ask its opinion on the matter?

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      q March 18, 2019 at 9:23 am

      Why would they need to, even if that were possible? Why are you asking that?

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