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At hearing on speed limit bills, lawmaker bristles at mention of ‘traffic violence’

Posted by on March 19th, 2019 at 11:32 am

The Street Trust Advocacy Director Richa Poudyal (L) and Oregon House Rep. Caddy McKeown.

Earlier this month a pair of bills that would give cities across Oregon more authority to set speed limits on local streets got their first hearing in front of lawmakers at the state capitol in Salem.

There was no vote taken on either Senate Bill 558 or House Bill 2702 at the Joint Transportation Commitee on March 6th; but the conversation between advocates, lobbyists, agency staff, and lawmakers was notable. Especially an exchange about “traffic violence”.

“When you use the word ‘violence,’ it makes me think something intentional has occurred, and I’d question the use of that word.”
— Rep. McKeown, Transportation Committee Co-Chair

First, the bills. SB 558 is the statewide expansion of a bill passed in 2017 that gave the City of Portland authority to lower residential speed limits by 5 mph. HB 2702 would give City of Portland authority to set speed limits on all the roads — including arterials — in its jurisdiction. This would be a major victory in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s war on speeding.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) currently has authority over speed limits on all streets in the state. But as we know all too well, ODOT’s driving-centric perspective colors their decision-making and they often care more about maintaining driving speeds than keeping all road users safe. Part of that is because they rely on outdated and dangerous methodologies for speed-setting like the 85th percentile rule — which means the faster people drive, the higher the speed limit.

Thankfully it appears ODOT is aware things need to change.

“Maybe the historic practice that we’ve been using [to set speeds] doesn’t necessarily fit the context of what our current transportation system is,” said ODOT Highway Division Manager Kris Strickler at the outset of the hearing. “And maybe what the future of that transportation system is, and are there other ways to look at speed setting as we start to look at this future.”

While ODOT gets pressure from truckers and freeway drivers to keep speeds limits high, it’s a different story in cities like Portland.

PBOT Active Transportation and Safety Division Manager Catherine Ciarlo was at the hearing. She told lawmakers her mandate is Vision Zero, which requires nothing less than an end to fatalities and serious injuries. “It’s something [City] Council takes seriously and the public leans on us very hard about, so we really are trying to organize our management of the roadway system to achieve that,” Ciarlo told lawmakers.

Then Ciarlo made the case for change: “There’s pretty strong national research coming out that — especially in the urban context — the historic way of setting speeds has not had good safety outcomes.”

A major PBOT ally on HB 2702 is the City of Eugene. Their City Engineer Matt Rodrigues testified that, “If you keep using 85th percentile as an approach, the 85th percentile speed will keep going up.”


HB 2702 wouldn’t give cities carte blanche. It would have a series of parameters in place like the requirement of certified engineers, requirements for consistency and adherence to a methodology laid out in adopted rule, a close partnership with ODOT, and so on.

House Rep. Rob Nosse is the bill’s main sponsor. Perhaps concerned that ODOT will be reluctant to give up speed-setting authority, he called the bill a “partnership approach” that would, “Allow willing [as in, cities would opt-in] local jurisdictions to implement context-informed speeds on their roads in consultation with ODOT.”

When it came time for open testimony, the first person to step up with The Street Trust’s new Advocacy Director Richa Poudyal. Her organization is strongly in favor of the bills. “We work with Families for Safe Streets… who’ve been driven to working against traffic violence after they’ve lost family and loved ones to violence on the roads.”

That reference to “violence” caught Transportation Committee Co-Chair Rep. Caddy McKeown by surprise. “When you use the word ‘violence,’ it makes me think something intentional has occurred [shaking her head], and I’d question the use of that word. Can you explain it to me?” (Co-Chair Sen. Lee Beyer interjected, “Is that like road rage?”).

Poudyal then responded: “My usage of the term ‘traffic violence’ is really to address the impact to the people who die, who suffer injury. There is violence inflicted on them. It wasn’t intended to speak toward any intention on the drivers’ part or anyone who inflicts that harm.”

Here’s video of the exchange:

I asked both McKeown and Poudyal about this exchange via email after the hearing. I didn’t hear back from Rep. McKeown.

Poudyal said,

“We want to use language that challenges the notion that deaths of pedestrians and cyclists are ‘accidents’, that there is not much to be done to prevent them, or that it is normal that they happen as frequently as they do. Referring to fatalities and serious injuries as traffic violence rather than accidents more accurately reflects the actual impacts – losing lives – and helps to challenge complacency of drivers not being cautious.”

As for Rep. McKeown’s discomfort with the term, Poudyal said she feels it reflects a common feeling that many of us who drive worry about the vast responsibility that comes with it.

“It’s important to begin to shift the way we talk about traffic violence in order to begin to really value people’s lives over efficiency and speed,” she added.

It will be interesting to see how these bills fare. Stay tuned.

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

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111 thoughts on “At hearing on speed limit bills, lawmaker bristles at mention of ‘traffic violence’”

  1. Avatar SD says:

    It’s one thing for the transportation committee co-chair to question the phrasing of an issue. It’s another very remarkable circumstance for them to be unfamiliar with this phrasing. The lack of knowledge at the highest levels of state transportation policy makers is always astounding. It is no wonder that ODOT casually lies to manipulates them in broad daylight.

    1. Avatar encephalopath says:

      If you’re the lawmaker, you’ve been sitting in that chair on the Transportation Committee for years listening to the advice of the ODOT people on project after project then making decisions based on what they have to say. You start to think, “I have a respectable level of competence in this field. Look, I make the decisions and the projects get built.”

      Then this other sort of transportation expert comes in and starts using language and concepts you can even begin to engage with because you don’t know any of it. I have a certain level of sympathy with the lawmakers here in that it’s really hard to set aside your perception of your own abilities and admit that you have to listen to people who know more than you do.

      I kind of that that’s whats happening here, though why they are completely unfamiliar with the basic principles of active transportation continues to be a mystery. They had better get used to it, though. They can’t keep making transportations decision based solely on the interests of auto mobility.

      1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

        Also, Oregon’s very-part-time legislator model is a real obstacle to legislators gaining the necessary level of knowledge to make good decisions. They legislate for a month or two a year and run a campaign for about 9 months every 2 or 4 years. They’re not paid an amount that’s really liveable full-time. Unless all the legislators do a lot of self-study on the off times, their work hours are really not enough time to get fluent in the many areas of society that they touch in their jobs. Why state legislation in smaller states is often done in these short session sprints is beyond me. Paying for full-time legislators would not cost very much in the grand scheme of things.

      2. Avatar SD says:

        Exactly, lawmakers can’t be technical experts in everything, but they can be proactive in seeking broad input and expertise- especially if they are on a specific committee like transportation. The easy and lazy approach is to take ODOT’s talking points at face value. Too often, officials at the city and state level act as if they have some secret knowledge or special understanding that community members do not have. But, in reality, they are just accepting ODOT or lobbyists’ positions without question. Often they are too intimidated to oppose or question state agencies because they lack their own understanding of the issues.
        Watching them over the years deal with transportation and bikes has been particularly jarring. They lack a cursory grasp of vision zero and don’t appear to have any working knowledge of road safety outside of what ODOT and freight tell them. I believe that most think they are too busy to develop their own positions and they view anyone who presents new information to them, like Poudyal, as hostile, because words such as “traffic violence” don’t gel with their uniformed instincts.

  2. Avatar Paul B says:

    If this passed, would it allow Portland the opportunity to give the St. John’s bridge a 25mph speed limit AND enforce it? Asking for myself, a friend, and a lot of other bikers.

    1. Avatar Andrew Kreps says:

      SB558 states: “Authorizes city to designate speed for highway under city’s jurisdiction that is five miles per hour lower than statutory speed when highway is located in residence district and highway is not arterial highway.”

      HB2702 states: “Authorizes City of Portland to designate speed on highways city has jurisdiction of as road authority.”

      The St Johns Bridge is Philadelphia ave, not hwy 30 so HB2702 seems not to apply. SB558 would give them the right to lower it to _30_ given that it’s currently 35. So, sadly, it wouldn’t. And there is nothing in the laws that specify enforcement, but they are able to enforce speed limits any old time they like.

      1. Avatar Andrew Kreps says:

        Also it’s worth noting that arterial highways are exempted from SB558 which could mean 82nd ave doesn’t qualify.

    2. Avatar Let's Active says:

      I don’t think so b/c the bridge is under ODOT jurisdiction. I am almost certain that Portland is going for all non-ODOT, non-County etc roadways. In other words, ODOT will stay ODOT.

    3. Probably not. St Johns Bridge is still an ODOT road, so their rules, not PBOT. Just because a roadway is within the city boundaries doesn’t mean that the city has any jurisdiction over the road.

      But it should allow the city to lower speeds quite a bit on Division, 122nd, Fesseden, Willamette, etc. I’m not sure how this will affect Multnomah County bridge roads like for the Morrison, Hawthorne, Burnside, and Broadway bridges, nor private highways like Airport and Sam Jackson.

      From HB2702:
      (11)(a) The City of Portland may establish by ordinance a designated speed on any highway under the city’s jurisdiction as a road authority.
      (b) The city shall post signs giving notice of the designated speed on the portion of the highway where the designated speed is imposed or at such other places as may be necessary to inform the public. The designated speed is effective after signs giving notice of the designated speed are posted.

    4. Avatar paikiala says:

      Portland is prohibited from owning bridges that cross the river.

      1. Interesting, I did not know that. Why is it?

  3. Avatar Andrew Kreps says:

    vi-o-lence: noun. Definition 1a: the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.

    I’d call the act of speeding an intentional one. If you contact a human being with a motor vehicle while speeding (or even without), you will definitely be using physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage _and_ possibly destroy. The definition checks out, will the lawmakers stop seeing accidents and start seeing collisions?

    1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

      Most collisions are accidental.

      1. Avatar 9watts says:

        Most collisions are due to human error.
        Human error that can be recognized, studied, categorized, managed.

        The Swedes understand this. We still seem, generally, to be in denial about this.

        1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

          >>> Most collisions are due to human error. Human error that can be recognized, studied, categorized, managed. <<<

          This is absolutely correct. It does not mean they are not accidental.

      2. Avatar canuck says:

        As someone who did “Accident” investigation for the military, there was never an “accident” when there was a driver behind the wheel. There was always a cause, excessive speed, not driving to conditions, distracted driving. I had one true “accident”, a parked vehicle damaged by a falling tree limb.

        1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

          Accident does not mean “without cause” or “act of god” or “no one responsible”.

          1. Avatar HJ says:

            HK this is victim blaming apologist nonsense. Accident means it was unexpected/unavoidable, so “without cause” “act of god” or “no one responsible” are perfect examples of accident. There is nothing particularly unexpected or unavoidable about a crash when one is speeding, driving distracted, etc. Everyone knows the risks. It’s a choice they make when they engage in these behaviors. They decide that their convenience is more important than someone’s life. Please just stop. We don’t need more people pushing the car-head mentality.

            1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

              The first link on Google:

              Among other things (none of which include unavoidable, without cause, etc.) “an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance”.

              You don’t have to be an apologist to think this is a very accurate description of most crashes.

          2. Avatar paikiala says:

            From, ‘accident’ is the term traffic professionals don’t use because it includes such an inference:

            an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap:
            automobile accidents.

            Law . such a happening resulting in injury that is in no way the fault of the injured person for which compensation or indemnity is legally sought.
            any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause.

            chance; fortune; luck:
            I was there by accident.

            a fortuitous circumstance, quality, or characteristic:
            an accident of birth.

            Philosophy . any entity or event contingent upon the existence of something else.

            1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

              Focusing on the usage that specifically refers to traffic incidents:

              >>> an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: automobile accidents. <<<

              Where is the inference of “without cause” or “act of god” or “no one responsible”?

        2. Avatar nc says:

          Surely the driver shouldn’t have parked under the tree?

      3. Avatar Pete says:

        So are many pregnancies, but due care can be taken to prevent them. Intention is largely irrelevant to outcome. Using the word “violence” can be a vehicle for focusing the conversation on outcome, and frankly I wouldn’t have been so apologetic in my reply to Rep. McKeown and instead used it as an opportunity to shift her viewpoint away from the intent of one’s actions towards the impact of them (i.e. speeding).

        1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

          “Intent” vs. “impact” is a great way of getting to the heart of the issue without using language that distracts from the message (as I believe “traffic violence” does).

      4. Avatar GlowBoy says:

        Most collisions are due to intentional acts behind the wheel, even if the collision itself is rarely intended.

        1. Avatar GlowBoy says:

          I should point out that a couple decades ago, I sat on a jury in Washington state on a vehicular homicide case (as an aside, that would be a good law to have in Oregon).

          As a jury we were not asked to judge whether the accused intended to kill his passenger, but whether he committed deliberate acts (getting drunk, getting behind the wheel drunk, driving too fast) that unintentionally led to the passenger’s death. And we convicted him on that basis.

      5. Avatar Paul J Atkinson says:

        “Accidental” doesn’t contradict “negligent,” though. All it means is that the driver didn’t specifically and deliberately target the victim. That’s a pretty low bar.

  4. Avatar Greg Spencer says:

    Indeed, “traffic violence” is not a phrase you’re going to hear much outside road-safety circles — at least not yet. But it well describes the routine killing and maiming on our roads, much of it attributable to motor vehicles travelling within posted speed limits. One example that comes to mind is Joe Stone, a young Gresham man who was struck and killed in fall of 2013 as he was walking in a marked crosswalk across SE Division Street at SE 156th. Joe was 6 feet tall and more than 200 pounds but the impact of that crash sent him flying more than 70 feet. And the driver was going just 36 mph, one mile an hour over the posted speed. No one can deny he died a violent death. Traffic speeds are just too high for an urban setting, and it’s good to hear that ODOT is starting to realize this.

  5. Avatar El Biciclero says:

    I’ll admit that when I first heard the term “traffic violence”, it sounded over-the-top, and I can see how someone might be mildly surprised at “accidents” being described that way. It’s a little macabre, but I think there is a distinction between how people think of “death by violence” vs. “a violent death”. The former sounds like it was intentionally perpetrated, the latter could mean anything from falling into a wood chipper to falling off a cliff, to, yes, being smashed into, run over, or otherwise violently impacted by a motor vehicle.

    The trouble is that while many people would agree getting hit by a car is “violent“, it sounds different when it’s called “violence“.

    1. Avatar 9watts says:

      Another way to respond to McKeown’s question could involve asking her what she thinks would happen to the current level of violence on our streets if we
      (a) reduced speeds everywhere to 15mph (Ivan Illich famously suggested this back in the late seventies), or
      (b) eliminated autos from the streetscape?

      Intention has rather little to do with it, but cars driven at speed have everything to do with it.

      1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

        I guess what I was attempting to imply was that we might ask the Representative whether being torn apart or smashed to pieces was “violent”, and whether dying in such a way would be “a violent death”. If so, then when one dies (or is injured) in such a way in or by “traffic”, should we not call it “traffic violence”?

        1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

          Wood chipper violence?

          1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

            If there were 40,000 wood-chipper-related deaths per year, yes.

    2. Avatar canuck says:

      I find the problem is that we want a catchy phrase. Traffic violence, gun violence, neither focuses on the real cause, the user, the driver, the shooter. Those who wish to be violent will do so regardless of the tool used. In this case the word traffic puts the impetus on the cars, or the congestion, when in reality it is always people that cause the problem.

      1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

        Also worth noting that we don’t use the phrase “gun violence” when someone is shot accidentally, even while being careless. “Violence” does suggest intentionality. In most cases this is absent from traffic crashes.

        1. Avatar HJ says:

          I disagree. I would argue intentionality is involved in most. Everyone knows the risks of speeding, driving impaired, driving distracted, etc. They make a choice to do it anyways. Very few crashes don’t involve factors of this sort. When you prioritize your convenience over the safety of yourself and/or others that’s a choice. It’s the exact one we need people to stop making. The only way we do that is by making it clear to people that they are making that choice and by not letting them have a mulligan for doing so.
          Also many people do categorize accidental/careless shootings under gun violence.

          1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

            People choose to take risks all the time without expecting or intending the worst to happen.

            1. Avatar 9watts says:

              Oh my….

              Now you’ve done it, Hello, Kitty.

              Poor judgment, thinking one is special, and driving in a riskier fashion because of these delusions are surely at the heart of what those of us you reliably disagree with are pointing to here. The point surely is that those who do as you suggest take responsibility when they discover that their powers weren’t special, and to acknowledge, collectively, that this risk taking takes us out of the common understanding of an ‘accident’ as something unavoidable.

              1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

                Of course people who cause crashes to occur should be held responsible, even if the outcome was utterly unintentional. I don’t think anyone would dispute that (further supporting the idea that people understand “accidents” are not blameless events).

        2. Avatar GlowBoy says:

          “we don’t use the phrase “gun violence” when someone is shot accidentally”

          We don’t? I disagree. It’s not the intentionality of killing that matters, it’s the intentionality of wielding the weapon irresponsibly.

  6. Avatar Michael Wolfe says:

    When you keep designing and implementing transportation infrastructure that kills 33000 people a year, every year without fail, you don’t get to hide behind “it wasn’t intentional” anymore. When you know better, and you do it anyway, there’s no distinction worth making between that and violence.

    1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

      It sounds as if you are suggesting that highway engineers are committing acts of violence.

      1. Perhaps the roadways are collaborating with cars to incite violence upon people? After all, people don’t kill or maim people, things do. So we should ban things.

      2. Avatar 9watts says:

        Commission… omission?

  7. Avatar bikeninja says:

    One of the main tools to prop up any form of ” Business as Usual” is the use of vague minimized terms for bad side effects, outcomes or intents of the System. So blowing kids and families to bits in war is ” collateral damage”, destroying intact climax forest ecosystems is “harvesting”, populations that are left to live in the mud in tents are “marginalized” and people who are run down and crushed to death by speeders and the inattentive in cars are the victims of “accidents”.People who’s livelihoods depend on the continuation of “Business as Usual” are often indignant when this Orwellian “Newspeak” is pointed out.

  8. Avatar Greg Spencer says:

    Exactly. There’s another euphemism I heard many years ago when working as a news reporter. I turned in an article about someone charged with sexual assault, and my editor, who was English, thought the term unfit for a family newspaper. He was accustomed to the phrase “interfering with”. Presumably our English readers would have understood what it meant. But only a fraction of our readers were from the UK, so to me, “sexual assault” was the better term because it was descriptive of what the guy had done. I think the same argument can be made for “traffic violence”. It may cause offense, but that’s only because it gets closer to the harsh reality of what’s happening.

    1. Avatar 9watts says:

      Interfering with…? With what?

      1. Avatar X says:

        Archaic Victorian thing. See: “Fiddle about.”

    2. Avatar Todd Boulanger says:

      Yes, Rep. McKeown’s discomfort with the term is just the first stage of her likely evolution on this topic, “Denial”. It is hoped that she will move through the other higher stages with more awareness and time. There has been a long legacy of “conditioning” of drivers [and the walking public] to be blind to our current transportation system’s high body count (and injured) being the acceptable “price” of our mobility freedoms…starting almost 100 years ago. It is helpful that she pushed back…as a “call for help”.

      1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

        Cars did not usher in a new era of death and mayhem on the streets. If anything, they made things safer than the use of livestock which predated them.

        1. Avatar 9watts says:

          The source quoted here some years back which supposedly attributes more deaths per capita in NYC from horses a century ago than from cars today should I think be scrutinized rather than accepted unquestioningly. If it is found to be valid, fine, but in the meantime I am going to register skepticism.

          1. Avatar donttreadonme says:

            That number is based on the possible numbers of people who fell ill due to poor sanitation and large amounts of fecal matter in the streets during the age of cholera, not a concrete statistic of horse crashes.

            1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

              This is not including sanitation related issues, which are legion with a city full of animals:

              >>> Horses killed in other, more direct ways as well. As difficult as it may be to believe given their low speeds, horse-drawn vehicles were far deadlier than their modern counterparts. In New York in 1900, 200 persons were killed by horses and horse-drawn vehicles. This contrasts with 344 auto-related fatalities in New York in 2003; given the modern city’s greater population, this means the fatality rate per capita in the horse era was roughly 75 percent higher than today. Data from Chicago show that in 1916 there were 16.9 horse-related fatalities for each 10,000 horse-drawn vehicles; this is nearly seven times the city’s fatality rate per auto in 1997. <<<


              Also, read this for an interesting historical anecdote that might shed light on some of the modes of failure of horses in urban environments:


              1. Avatar idlebytes says:

                There’s quite a number of reasons why these numbers aren’t exactly a fair comparison the first being health care. People survive some pretty horrific crashes today that they wouldn’t have then. There’s also safety features carriages lacking seat belts, bumpers, low hoods for pedestrians to end up on instead of under would have an effect. Speaking of pedestrians there was a much higher percent in the streets back then wouldn’t that also effect these numbers? Lets also not forget the number of other safety features we have today like cross walks, signals and sidewalks with curbs.

                It would be a lot more valid of a claim to see the New York numbers adjusted to take these things into account. For instance New York City has around 17,500 collisions a year how many of the people injured in these collisions would have died back in 1900?

              2. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

                Without discounting any of your comments, the point I was trying to make still stands: The road were full of danger (not to mention horse poop and flies and dead horses) long before cars came along.

              3. Avatar idlebytes says:

                My point is your comparison is completely unfair. I mean the access to antibiotics and blood transfusions alone could get the number of deaths from collisions with a carriage down to a handful. Especially when we consider that the likelihood of death or severe injury goes down exponentially with speed and weight (carriages move much slower than and are lighter than cars). Also the number of collisions themselves could be significantly reduced if most people were in carriages (like they are in cars now) or the pedestrians had sidewalks and traffic lights. The point of the original post and your quoting it was to make out that cars are an improvement over the past. But all it really shows is that health care and safety changes to our roadways and vehicles has improved significantly which was driven largely by the carnage of automobiles.

              4. Avatar idlebytes says:

                I really don’t understand why you have to doubledown on your original claims when you’re so wrong. Be it vehicular violence, transportation funding, or whether or not more people were likely to die in 1900 from carriage accidents. Just admit you were wrong. The thing you quoted was comparing deaths between those two time periods and modes and equating them even though there were so many reasons those numbers aren’t comparable. Your response was basically people still died back then… Well ya… What do you get from trying to be right? Why is it so important to you? Never mind you’re right “The road were full of danger”


              5. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

                I was responding to this comment: >>> our current transportation system’s high body count (and injured) being the acceptable “price” of our mobility freedoms…starting almost 100 years ago. <<<

                An even higher price was acceptable more than 100 years ago. The tradeoff between mobility and safety did not start with cars (and, arguably, we now have far better mobility for the same level of casualties). Whether a horse based transportation system would be safer today is not really relevant.

              6. Avatar idlebytes says:

                Your quote doesn’t make any claims about what “most people”, your words, find acceptable. I don’t even understand why you keep trying to “be right”. The initial claim was absurd and you now tried to twist your quote of it to mean what people found acceptable which even the absurd claim you quoted didn’t make. You’re wrong please stop perpetuating lies.

  9. Avatar Todd Boulanger says:

    Jonathan: Typo “Their was no vote taken”

  10. Avatar Johnny Bye Carter says:

    ““Maybe the historic practice that we’ve been using [to set speeds] doesn’t necessarily fit the context of what our current transportation system is,””

    Our CURRENT transportation system? The needs of the system have never changed. We’ve been doing it wrong the entire time. This isn’t about past and future, it’s about finally doing what’s right: The thing we should have been doing all along.

    It’s these comments from people high in the transportation hierarchy that prove they have no idea what they’re doing.

    1. Avatar 9watts says:

      Well said. I stumbled over that too.

  11. Avatar encephalopath says:

    If I put on a blindfold and start swinging an aluminum bat wildly around in the room, no one would call it an “accident” when I hit someone with it.

    1. Avatar encephalopath says:

      Similarly, if you ram a two ton vehicle into someone because you aren’t looking out the front window, that’s not an accident either.

  12. Avatar Michael says:

    Not being a Portland native, most of my biking has occurred in somewhat smaller cities. That said, when I ride in this much larger city it isn’t prohibitively difficult to find routes that are bike friendly. Instead of lobbying to lower speed limits on busy roads, why not simply avoid them? My wife, for example, doesn’t feel all that safe even in her car in the maze of 26-405-5… so we go over the hill into downtown on Burnside or Cornell. Problem solved. On my bike, I can usually find routes which are not heavily traveled enough to even worry about what the speed limit is. There are plenty of quieter residential roads parallel and adjacent to most of these areas of concern (Sandy, Burnside, 82nd, etc).

    The difference between “35” on a sign and “30” on a sign is not, I believe, sufficient to change driver behavior nor put my mind at ease when on the road. At some point, lowering speed limits too much will just inspire more frustration and resentment from motorists. I suppose I just accept more personal responsibility for my situational awareness, ability to follow traffic rules, and route finding, and less expecting (mandating?) the behavior of others to change.

    1. Avatar Errin says:

      As traffic numbers increase and thanks to handy helpful apps like Waze, those quieter routes will soon become a thing of the past, sweets. So, yknow, best of luck with that whole “more personal responsibility” thing then!

    2. Avatar MTW says:

      Some people don’t have the luxury of riding on low stress streets since the origin and/or destination of their trip is on high speed arterials or urban highways (Columbia/Lombard, MLK, etc.) I’ll let you guess which populations bear that burden the most.

      Saying that you and your family haven’t found it prohibitively difficult to find bike (or car) friendly routes is effectively victim blaming.

    3. Avatar idlebytes says:

      “There are plenty of quieter residential roads parallel and adjacent to most of these areas of concern (Sandy, Burnside, 82nd, etc).”

      You’ve generalized about half of East Portland with that list. My first experiences biking here were along 122nd and I can tell you there aren’t many options other than 122nd in that area. There are parallel streets sure but the few that don’t dead end usually end up dumping you out on some arterial with no signal which basically makes them unusable during rush hour.

      Even Burnside East of 82nd doesn’t have any through parallel roads. Your nearest alternatives are Stark and Glisan not exactly “quieter”.

    4. Avatar El Biciclero says:

      “… less expecting (mandating?) the behavior of others to change.”

      Have you considered that you go to all that extra trouble because that’s what others (drivers) expect you to do? And that they communicate that expectation by making the easy and efficient routes hostile enough to “encourage” you to stay off of “their” routes?

      Have you considered that the law literally mandates that you stay out of the way of the really important road users (see ORS 814.420)?

      1. Avatar Michael says:

        Yup. I also know better than to go play badminton on the freeway. Because there’s probably an applicable law against it, and because I don’t really have a right to do so. And it’s a really bad idea. Seriously, if I choose to go out of my way when riding my bicycle because I find it safer, more scenic, quieter, whatever reason… that choice is mine to make, or not. I’m not about to start blaming others for forcing me to make it. That’s absurd.

        1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

          I’m not necessarily saying we should “blame others” in a finger-pointing way, but merely that you consider the underlying causes for your reasons. In the list you gave, specifically what makes a particular route “safer”, or “quieter”? Is the danger of routes not chosen posed by sheer drop-offs and loose shale that you have to traverse along the edges of a mountain pass? Or is it rather other people operating different vehicles in a way that disregards your right to travel on the same roadways? Is it their choice to drive dangerously and largely illegally that influences your choice to take a different route? Of course no one is “forcing” you go somewhere else, they just expect you to go somewhere else.

          “Choices” are tricky. Go to McDonald’s and order the pizza. Or any fancy restaurant and order the Boerl & Kroff Champagne (I had to look that up; it’s super-expensive). You have “choices”, sure—but depending on the context, some are just not available or are too “expensive” to choose, so your “choice” is guided toward what someone else wants you to do. Given the context of our transportation system, what’s really on the menu for different travelers? Who gets to pick from the regular menu, who only has enough cash to choose from the “dollar menu”, and who has to choose from the kids’ menu, ‘cuz Mom & Dad are not spending a ton of money on ungrateful children?

          1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

            Not to belabor, but a fun quote about choice that stuck in my mind when I saw “The Devil Wears Prada”:

            ‘This stuff’? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

  13. Avatar john says:

    Traffic violence is a very appropriate term. As one who was left hooked on Multnomah Blvd a few years ago, I can say it was a violent, tramatic event resulting in a fractured neck, skull and other serious injuries. I am lucky to be alive and still biking. “Traffic violence”, yes, about right.

  14. Avatar SD says:

    Welcome to Portland

  15. Avatar Michael Burdick says:

    It might make us feel good to educate lawmakers about the terms we prefer but what did we really accomplish here? The co-chair of a committee that could take real action to protect cyclists was distracted from our message because of the terms we used. I’d rather see us use whatever words make sense to lawmakers so we can persuade them to pass our bills.

  16. Avatar Carrie says:

    I suppose I just accept more personal responsibility for my situational awareness, ability to follow traffic rules, and route finding, and less expecting (mandating?) the behavior of others to change.

    I moved to Portland from a place with spectacular riding conditions and ridiculous infrastructure. I used to not get it either. But I’ve come to realize that car drivers are operating a deadly weapon and it’s not treated as such. Just this morning riding to work (on a newly signed 20 mph road) on a somewhat major road with no bike lane, I was ‘taking the lane’ so that I didn’t get squeezed and had a car driver pass me literally within inches. THAT is traffic violence — there was no room for any error on either the drivers fault or mine — if either of us had deviated from a straight line because, I dunno, a squirrel, I would have died (or been seriously injured). The driver wasn’t speeding, but was still driving in a reckless fashion, NOT following traffic laws regarding passing, and acting with a deadly weapon.

    1. Avatar Doug Hecker says:

      Discourteous maybe but violent? I’d give them the finger from my bike and then catch up to them to give them some more “flowery” words but violence doesn’t come to mind. Granted, I had the same issue this morning on SE 28th and I acted the same way I described. The driver then turned east bound on 26 and blew the red.

      1. Avatar X says:

        Can we recognize that you are recommending to another person a course of action that can result in direct intentional attack from the other party? Who may have a weapon inside their motor vehicle, or be prepared to use their mv itself to commit an assault? I’ve been around this block a few times. Starting a beef with Motorhead in this situation is a weak tactic, especially if you have no well thought out avenue of escape.

        1. Avatar Doug Hecker says:

          Most people analyze the advice that they are given to see if it is something worthwhile. Whether perceived good or bad advice, that is up to the person that hears it. We’re you asking if I had a plan to “escape” or assuming that I didn’t? In any regard, that is for the input. I’ll be sure to mull it over to see if it matter to how I handle the next situation where a “Motörhead” (lol) acts discourteous towards me.

      2. Avatar bikeninja says:

        Passing in a dangerous and illegal manner such as this is exactly the same as your neighbor shooting a nutria in your yard in a way that intentionally misses you by a couple of feet. The neighbor (assume we are in Texas or LA where such a thing would be legal) did not intend to do you harm or cause violence but their action, which put you at great risk for insufficient reason is truly a type of violence.

        1. Avatar Doug Hecker says:

          Are cars unable to pass bikes on greenways?

      3. Avatar GlowBoy says:

        No one has to actually get hurt for it to be an act of violence. A close call or grave threat is sufficient. If I rob you with a sawed-off shotgun, it’s still a violent crime even if I don’t pull the trigger.

    2. Avatar El Biciclero says:

      “The driver wasn’t speeding, but was still driving in a reckless fashion, NOT following traffic laws regarding passing…”

      Sadly, if the driver was traveling at less than 35 MPH, they were perfectly within the law. If a bike lane is present, OR the driver’s speed is less than 35 MPH, there are no legal passing distance requirements whatsoever.

      Even worse, if a bike lane is striped, regardless of whether a bicyclist is using it (given the legal exceptions to ORS 814.420), there are no passing distance requirements regardless of speed. This means that on a street like Murray Blvd. in Beaverton, if I am riding close to the bike lane line, or am outside the bike lane for any reason, a driver may pass me within inches at 45-50 MPH, and not be in violation of any law.

      So I would agree with “reckless” or careless—but astonishingly, not illegal.

      1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

        That was my reaction as well, so I did a little research, and found this:

        The situation isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as it might seem.

        1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

          Nice find. That at least clarifies that a “safe distance” should be kept when passing any vehicle anywhere, regardless of speed or stripes. The trick, as always, is in the definition of “safe”. If no contact was made during an overtaking maneuver, then was it a de facto “safe” distance? Nobody died, right?

  17. Avatar Gadfly says:

    I think it’s obvious that anyone uncomfortable with the term “Traffic Violence” is probably in the grips of defensiveness as they perceive the scope of their potential harm done. It’s not dissimilar from the reaction of some men to the #metoo movement. It’s uncomfortable to realize you’re part of the problem, but I can tell you that taking steps to correct your acculturation does wonders for your conscience.

    1. Avatar Doug Hecker says:

      It’s a term that has clearly been thought up by a small group of people who want to think that it actually has some academic or historical meaning when in reality it doesn’t. It brought the shock factor probably more as a “wtf is this person talking about” and less about someone’s perceived ignorance.

      1. Avatar Gadfly says:

        I think the term may be over applied. Though it’s far from academic. Cars have a type of homicide named for them. They are a weapon plain and simple. Operating a weapon without due caution, or as we often see in road rage incidents, with malicious intent, is a violent act.

        1. Avatar Doug Hecker says:

          It clearly seems that we don’t even have a working definition of traffic violence. Some folks say getting footed by a parked vehicle is TV, others say there has to be intent… that’s probably why the councilperson was unsure of what actually was being said. A clear over reaction write up.

        1. Avatar Doug Hecker says:

          A most excellent google search find. Sadly, the term/phrase “vehicle violence” is not used. Like I said, it is a made up phrase a small group of “think tankers” came up with. Professional’s probably don’t use that phrase so the councilperson probably thought the BTA lead didn’t know what she was talking about. Thanks for trying to help. : )

          1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

            Yeah, but the following phrases *are* used in period newspapers in the article:
            “motor killings”
            “Auto’s death list”‘
            And here are some more from the early 20th century from the “Fighting Traffic” book cited in the article:
            “road hogs”
            “speed demons”
            “death cars.”

            Honestly, I think that the fact that most people are a little confused by the term “traffic violence” is only one of its problems. Another is that it obscures the cause of death which is 99% motor vehicles.

            I kind of like “motor killings” but it’s too dated for today’s world (“Does he mean deaths by like an industrial motor??”) Here are some ideas:

            “Driving deaths”
            “Driving deaths & maimings”
            “Driving deaths & serious injuries”
            “Cars killing & maiming people”

            1. Hello, Kitty Hello, Kitty says:

              “Driving deaths and injuries” might capture the essence without derailing the conversation with what some would perceive as an overly sensationalistic or hyperbolic turn of phrase.

              1. Avatar Alex Reedin says:

                I’m down with that. I feel like it might still make some people do a double-take (“What, are people dying from too many hours behind the wheel like crazy video gamers??”) but they’d quickly get it.

  18. Avatar Matthew in PDX says:

    I think that in traffic engineering we’ve put the cart before the horse, so to speak. In most urban areas we continue to platt out traditional grid roadways. These were orginally established before motorized transpiration was a thing. While I am sure that there were plenty of horse vs. human collisions, including fatalities, the fact is that there were far fewer horse drawn vehicles per capita in cities, because horses are and were expensive and time consuming to purchase/breed and maintain, horses also limited in the time they can maintain higher speeds.

    Continuing to maintain the grid layout enables ever greater speeds as automotive technology progresses. The straighter and wider a road, the higher the speed a motorist can achieve and maintain, and that becomes perilous for all road users. Road design in the USA needs to be rethought, much as it has in places like Denmark and Sweden. We need to determine what a safe speed is for most of the motor vehicles using our public roads, and to design the roads to ensure that those speeds are used, if that means adding lots of curves and roundabouts in residential areas, so be it. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that many of the vehicles using our roads have a higher profile than was formerly the case, SUV’s and light trucks impact an adult’s thorax in a head on collision, whereas a sedan or compact will impact an adult’s legs, this makes all the difference for survivability. There is a case, therefore, for imposing lower speed limits as the profile of a car increases. A 30 mph limit might have been okay when we were all driving sedans, but now that the Ford F-150 is the USA’s biggest selling consumer vehicle, lower speeds are warranted.

    Speed limits without enforcement, including automated enforcement are worthless.

  19. Avatar jeff says:

    I was rather dismissive of the ‘traffic violence’ reference as yet another sensationalist name; after a bit more thought though and hearing of yet another HIT-AND-RUN death in Portland [SW] – I got to thinking the something associated with intentionally leaving the scene after causing harm or injury deserves a name beyond ‘accident’ or ‘crash’ or ‘incident’ – ‘traffic violence’ seems to near accurately describe that scenario.

  20. Avatar Transpo-Terrorism says:

    If someone threatens to kill me if I don’t get out of their way, that’s terrorism. If I walk to an intersection, legally, I have the right of way. But the speeding cars leave me in terror of losing my life if I assert this legal right. They’re using the threat of violence to systematically get what they want—not having to slow down. That’s terrorism. It happens all the time in America, and far more people die or are maimed by it than any other form of terrorism.

  21. Avatar GlowBoy says:

    I think it’s entirely appropriate to use the term violence to refer to the mayhem on our roads. We are talking about 40,000 deaths every year (more than are caused by guns) and an order of magnitude more serious injuries than that, resulting from deliberate acts behind the wheel. Most crashes are due wholly or in part to driving drunk, driving distracted or driving too fast. Those are all deliberate acts. If a person were waving a gun around as carelessly as many people drive, resulting in somebody getting shot, they’d get thrown in jail in a heartbeat. Do the same thing behind the wheel, and nothing.

    And here’s where I come to the equivalence that all too many people don’t get: motor vehicles are deadly weapons. Killing or maiming somebody through irresponsible vehicle use is an act of violence. How hard can that be to understand?

    A lot of people, especially in Oregon where Driver Education is (still!!) not mandatory, are shocked by this “deadly weapons” language. But having grown up and learned to drive in a Driver’s Ed state, I had two lessons drilled to me over and over and over again in class: 1. Driving is a privilege, not a right. 2. Cars are deadly weapons. It still saddens – and frightens – me that there are people who haven’t heard these messages, but that’s Oregon for you.

    1. Avatar Middle of the Road Guy says:

      A car is a tool that can be used as a weapon. It is not designed with the intent of harming others, like a gun is.

      A hammer is also a tool that can be used as a weapon. Nearly anything can be a weapon depending upon the intent of the wielder.

      1. Avatar El Biciclero says:

        The legal distinction (IANAL), I believe is “dangerous weapon” vs. “deadly weapon”. A “deadly” weapon must have been manufactured with no other purpose than to be used as a weapon that can kill. A “dangerous” weapon is anything that can be used as a weapon, without having been manufactured for that express purpose.

      2. Avatar GlowBoy says:

        No, a car IS a deadly weapon. Millions of Americans have had that taught to them. Unfortunately most Oregonians haven’t, because all they had to do was some “supervised” driving and take a test. Sad!

  22. Avatar Michael says:

    Matthew in PDX
    … if that means adding lots of curves and roundabouts…Recommended 0

    As an avid motorcyclist, I cannot applaud this suggestion enough. Straight grids are boring. More twisty roads! Please just don’t regulate ALL the fun out of it with ridiculous low speed limits. Send those who never learned how to drive/ride safely back to driver-ed.

    1. Avatar Matthew in PDX says:

      If we’re talking about rural driving, I am okay with speeds above 30 mph. If we’re talking a neighborhood full of children chasing balls and miscreant puppies, then no, we should be having a 25 mph or slower speed limit, your motorcycle will still cause significant injuries to a child if you hit him/her while s/he chases a ball into the street.

      1. Avatar Michael says:

        True. Fortunately, my motorcycle has the advantage of being able to both change direction and stop much faster than any car. But the motorcycle would cause tragic injuries in a collision at half that speed. Where do you draw the line? At what point does it become the responsibility of others to stay out of traffic?

        Our parents always told us to go outside and play. And we did. And they told us to watch out for cars. And we did. And they watched us to make sure we were doing so. And we are still alive today.

        A child getting hit by a car is tragic thing. But tragic things happen all the time. There is no world free from risk. Reducing risk to zero means getting rid of all of it entirely, and we can all just walk, safely and slowly, everywhere we need to go. Until you trip on something, faceplant into the sidewalk, and then there has to be new laws outlawing whatever was tripped over and mandating rubber coated sidewalks.

        Where does it end?

        1. Avatar 9watts says:

          Oh, boy.

          “A child getting hit by a car is tragic thing. But tragic things happen all the time. There is no world free from risk.”

          This is silly talk. As someone pointed out above more people die-by-car in this country than die-by-gun(!) No one talks about potato violence or shoe violence or briefcase violence or elevator violence, because those things—and thousands of other objects—are not associated with the risks you are trying to impute to *everything*. Pretending that everything is potentially equally dangerous serves no useful purpose.

  23. Violence is baked into the system, the physics allow for nothing else. Your average SUV at highway speed has the same energy as light artillery, roughly a 105mm, and that goes up to heavy artillery (155mm/6″) at freeway speed. We are literally using WMD for transportation, and very inefficiently at that. Basically we are aiming a cannon down the highway and hoping nothing gets in the way, to transport a single person a few miles on average. When it works it’s wonderful, but there are too many times it “doesn’t work”.

    The data says that there is a speed we humans evolved for and below that speed we can collide with things usually with only minor injuries, above that speed and a larger and larger percentage of us don’t survive. That speed is 23 MPH, below 23 MPH and fatality rates are basically identical to just falling down, above 23 MPH and fatality rates become asymptotic very quickly with fatality striking half of impact victims at only 30 MPH, and surviving impacts at 50 MPH and above is strongly correlated with the genetic condition sometimes called “Superman syndrome”. This is a syndrome that combines dense bones with strong internal organs and even better than normal resistance to traumatic brain injury. And nobody should have to depend on being a freak of nature to survive using the built environment.

    The easiest way to do that is to reduce speed limits to a maximum of 25 MPH in all built-up areas, and only allow above that on limited-access highways like Interstates. And allow automatic enforcement of speed violations everywhere, without warnings. Make everywhere a speed trap, make everywhere an “enhanced enforcement” area, and at some point require vehicles be seized and destroyed when they have too many violations, violations that are so egregious as to be a danger to public safety, or a variable sliding combination of the two.

  24. Avatar Kristi Finney-Dunn says:


  25. Avatar Carrie says:

    Doug Hecker
    Most people analyze the advice that they are given to see if it is something worthwhile.

    Interesting in that reading my original comment I never asked for nor even implied that I was looking for advice.

    But back to traffic violence — this morning on my six block ride on said street with a 20 mph speed limit (and I know I’m going at least 15 mph if not faster) I had THREE car drivers put themselves and oncoming car drivers into perilous head-on collision situations because they wouldn’t wait to pass me safely. This is playing chicken with a deadly weapon! Or, even better, just go with the traffic flow as we were all headed towards the same controlled intersection anyway. And to circle around to the person I originally responded to — the business that I was headed to is located right on said road — there’s no alternate ‘quiet side street’ option for me to get to work.

  26. Avatar Michael says:

    Opus the Poet
    Make everywhere a speed trap, make everywhere an “enhanced enforcement” area, and at some point require vehicles be seized and destroyed when they have too many violations, violations that are so egregious as to be a danger to public safety, or a variable sliding combination of the two.Recommended 4

    I don’t want to live in the totalitarian society you are describing. I don’t care how “safe” it might be. This is the stuff of dystopian future fiction. Look, you don’t have a right to be safe. Risk is an inherent part of life. Minimizing your risk at the expense of everyone’s freedom, liberty, and happiness is not progress. We should not be made to live in fear simply because others are afraid.

  27. Avatar David Lewis says:

    In regard to the use of the word “accident”: James Fallows at the Atlantic has had some interesting pieces lately about the recent 737 MAX crashes. In one of them, a respondent talks about aviation safety culture, in which there is an explicit recognition that humans will do the wrong thing maybe 5% of the time, but we want the system as a whole to fail only 0.001% of the time. So they put things in place in terms of training, safety systems, serious postmortems of all crashes, etc. and generally have done a vastly better job in terms of safety than we have done with cars. A related term researchers are starting to use in the political realm is to call certain events “stochastic”, meaning that we cannot predict individual ones, but that we can look at the system as a whole and predict that they will occur. Traffic violence seems like just the right phrase to be using in this context.

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