Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

During Vision Zero presentation, Commissioner Hardesty says distracted walkers are ‘huge issue’

Posted by on June 20th, 2019 at 12:02 pm

In the past five years, people walking have accounted for nearly 40% of Portland’s traffic fatalities.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty wants the transportation bureau to do more about distracted walking.

Commissioner Hardesty.
(Photo: City of Portlnd)

During a City Council presentation on the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s two-year update on its Vision Zero efforts last week, Hardesty said the problem of people staring into phones while they use sidewalks and streets needs to be taken more seriously.

Hardesty’s comments set off a notable exchange with Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees PBOT.

The exchange came as PBOT Active Transportation and Safety Division Manager Catherine Ciarlo presented the bureau’s “safe systems” approach to road safety. One of the key tenets of that approach is a shared responsibility for safety that takes into account road design and engineering — as well as individual choices. “Safety is the responsibility of the user of the system; but it is it also the responsibility of the owner of the system, the manager of the system, and the designer of the system,” Ciarlo said.

“So the implication is that it’s the peoples’ fault?” Hardesty asked. “If they acted right, the streets would be safer?”

“If anything, the safe systems approach says it’s not the user’s responsibility because all people make mistakes,” Ciarlo answered. “We’re all going to make mistakes and a safe system designs things, manages things, and educates people in a way that assumes those mistakes will be made and looks to protect against them.”

Then Ciarlo shared PBOT’s four Vision Zero priorities for the next two years. “Protect pedestrians” and “create a culture of shared responsibility” were among them. “And just to be clear, Commissioner Hardesty,” Ciarlo said, “That culture of safety isn’t about assigning blame to people injured by the system, but to create a culture in this city of moving more slowly, of looking out for vulnerable people in the roadway, and of making decisions that result in a safe system.”

At that point Hardesty interjected again:

“I have noticed there are lot of individuals who move through streets and sidewalks never actually looking up. They are on some electronic device that apparently is more important than whether or not they survive crossing the street. To me, I’ve noticed that is a huge issue. Is there any local data on it? I know we’re not talking about blame. But I think we should have the expectation that people actually look where they’re going when they cross the street and not be on their device.”

Advertisement


Portland traffic deaths, 2009 – 2018. Source: PBOT.

Ciarlo responded by saying “distracted walking” wasn’t called out as a specific risk factor when the Vision Zero plan was finalized tow years ago. She said the focus has been on things like lowering driving speeds, “Because if people are making that mistake of walking around distracted — which we don’t want them to do — we also don’t want them to get killed doing it.”

“I can tell you from personal anecdotal data there are way, way, way too many people walking with their eyes in their electronic stuff — whether a light is red or green — I’ve observed that over and over again… it scared me when I was driving.”
— Commissioner Hardesty

Then Eudaly chimed in. She called distracted walking, “a chronic problem for sure.” “But in reality,” she added, “With our pedestrian crashes, the majority of people were obeying the law and not doing anything wrong and they were still hit and killed.”

Hardesty then expressed concern that PBOT was collecting data on and enforcing distracted driving, but not distracted walking. “We need a full set of data to not just assume it’s one causation to the outcomes we’re getting,” she said. “Because I can tell you from personal anecdotal data there are way, way, way too many people walking with their eyes in their electronic stuff — whether a light is red or green — I’ve observed that over and over again… it scared me when I was driving.”

With her transportation background, and perhaps a sense that Hardesty’s comments needed a more forceful retort, Eudaly went a bit deeper with her final response. “I share your belief there’s a shared responsibility,” she said to Hardesty. “We have a very auto-centric culture. We tend to blame the victims in these crashes when in fact the stats show they are following the laws. So my pushback on responsibility isn’t a denial that pedestrians or cyclists need to follow laws or be more responsible, it’s more of the false narrative among car advocates who don’t want to take responsibility for their role, who don’t want us to inconvenience them by making our transportation system safer for pedestrians and cyclists
— and despite the fact vehicles have only been on the road 120 years while roads have been here for millennia — think roads should be sole conduits for automobiles.”

This isn’t the first time Hardesty has shared her opinion on this topic. During a candidate forum in April 2018, she responded to a question about traffic safety in east Portland by saying, “I can tell you there are pedestrians that walk out in front of cars because they think they have bumpers and no one will hit them.”

Stay tuned for a closer look at PBOT’s two-year Vision Zero/Safe Systems update.

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

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

77
Leave a Reply

avatar
27 Comment threads
50 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
46 Comment authors
Hello, KittyMatt9wattsdrthompsnel timito Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
mran1984
Guest

Hardesty is right. Your device should never be someone else’s problem. Be present in the world you live in. YOU are responsible for yourself. Don’t stop in the middle of a sidewalk, or aisle, to gaze into your hole.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

The only reason pedestrians and not motorists are being called out for this is because pedestrians are more easily visible using their ‘devices’, whereas motorists using ‘devices’ are probably just as plentiful but are hidden within their metal box with tinted windows.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

Hardesty]s comments are pretty disappointing. Shared responsibility needs to take into account the danger a person’s mode choice posses as well. It’s ridiculous to worry about distracted pedestrians or spend an ounce of resources on them when it’s distracted, drunk, speeding, red-light running drivers that are killing and harming people. As far as data is concerned she just needs to go as far as the PPB reports on the 11 pedestrians that were killed this year. 9 of them were not a fault. The other 2 we just have the driver’s word they couldn’t stop and were paying attention.

I mean if being distracted by a mobile device is so dangerous how are people with disabilities supposed to use the roads? Or children? It’s easy to forget you have other senses to detect danger when walking especially from in your car where mostly only your vision is useful.

JJJJJJJ
Guest
JJJJJJJ

pErsOnAl aNeCdOtal dAtA

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

So… Eudaly is building strawmen to attack. Got it.

“So my pushback on responsibility isn’t a denial that pedestrians or cyclists need to follow laws or be more responsible, it’s more of the false narrative among car advocates who don’t want to take responsibility for their role, who don’t want us to inconvenience them by making our transportation system safer for pedestrians and cyclists
— and despite the fact vehicles have only been on the road 120 years while roads have been here for millennia — think roads should be sole conduits for automobiles.”

A hundred bucks says this sentence was pre-written by someone else and read in the meeting by Eudaly.

rick
Guest
rick

Not much like victim-blaming public officials.

Glenn II
Guest
Glenn II

Look I feel disgust and pity for people glued to their phones as much as anybody, but “distracted walking” is not a thing as far as I’m concerned. “Distracted walking” is the “all lives matter” of transportation – true in principle, but too often twisted around and used by members of an entrenched and powerful majority, who are responsible for most of the problems, to minimize and shut down the concerns of the minority.

Distracted walking collision: “Oh excuse me,” and get on with your day.

Distracted driving collision: “She is survived by her husband Chad and sons Chad Jr. and Jeremy. Services will be at Johnson’s Funeral Home.”

So no, f— me very much, I’m not falling for that one.

Chris Anderson
Guest
Chris Anderson

I doubt I’m the only person who pretends to be distracted sometimes crossing the street, as it seems to increase crosswalk compliance by drivers.

William Henderson
Guest
William Henderson

I gotta say, the main take away here for me is how awesome it is to have this type of engagement between Commissioner Eudaly and Commissioner Hardesty. My observations:
1. I was not present but from the account this seems like a very open and civil exchange. There was disagreement, but also a sharing of two meaningful perspectives.
2. I can’t speak for Commissioner Hardesty, but given her focus on the issue of social and racial inequity in enforcement I can understand how that might translate into a concern about enforcement across modes. As we know, there is a huge discrepancy in who has access to live in walkable neighborhoods. So it is a reasonable concern that targeting enforcement by mode could inadvertently target certain types of people.
3. It is so, so refreshing to hear any Commissioner talking openly about an ‘auto-centric culture’ and victim-blaming. Seems like there’s a fruitful conversation to be had between the two Commissioners on PPB’s role in this.
4. This all makes me hopeful that we can finally move away from a conversation that is focused on enforcement (of any mode). Just a couple years ago the Vision Zero conversations in City Hall were largely about enforcement and platitudes that people need to “slow down” and “take responsibility”. Now we are talking about the hard stuff, the stuff Safety Division Manager Ciarlo was talking about: that our street designs are prioritizing speed and convenience over safety and access, and that the responsibility for fixing this rests squarely on “the owner of the system, the manager of the system, and the designer of the system”. What a welcome change!

Joe Fortino
Guest
Joe Fortino

distracted walking is almost as bad as distracted driving. life of a cyclist! rant over.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Yes there are anicdotally more “distracted pedestrians” [or we are more aware of it] but not more enough to generate these more frequent deaths by human operators of motor vehicles. [I thought Catherine C. did a good job reframing it.]

In Honolulu here, there is also a “chronic” peak killing of pedestrians too (and much lower cyclist mortality rate)…similar to Portland. AND I have been shocked several times at victim blaming* comments [similar to Commissioner Hardesty’s] by the Honolulu Police Department Information officers speaking about pedestrian deaths at public meetings.

*[After 30+ years of professional experience in transportation planning/ roadway safety audits and hearing similar comments from other professionals…I wonder when “we” as a society will shift away from roadway vulnerable population victim blaming? As “we” have seen such recent shifts from blaming rape victims for what they wore prior to the act of violence against them… so when pedestrians?]

Champs
Guest
Champs

Ms. Hardesty, please miss me with this SaFEtY iS EvErYOnE’S ReSPoNSiBiLItY nonsense. I think it’s reasonable to guess you wouldn’t see it that way if a wayward child stepped in front of PPB fire. Drivers are the only rattlesnakes in this cornfield.

joan
Subscriber

I’m going to give Commissioner Hardesty a pass on this one because she’s doing a lot of great work and because I think she’s a smart woman who does her research, and she’ll figure this out. Also, no joke: I suspect she’s a good driver who doesn’t mess around on her phone while she’s driving, so she might not be as aware as she could be of how terrible this behavior is amongst folks who are driving. Finally, I think she and Commissioner Eudaly are doing good work together, and in a way, maybe it’s for the best that Hardesty is giving a voice to this complaint so Eudaly could address it. I’d love to have an entire council made of up smart, thoughtful, progressive folks like Hardesty and Eudaly.

Steve Smith
Guest
Steve Smith

Pretty sure Hardesty is dead wrong about any causation related to “distracted pedestrians”. I do wish she would do a little homework before she makes off-the-cuff remarks that are likely to have no basis in reality because now, instead of focusing on the real killer in the public right of way we have to now talk about people walking with cell phones. People driving kill other people driving, people walking and people biking. This year in Portland at a pace of about one per week.

I wish the Commissioner would look into the 2 ton vehicles and see how many people driving are looking at their phones. That’s the real threat. As is speeding. As is running red lights. As is driving drunk. THOSE ARE THE THINGS KILLING AND MAIMING PEOPLE. Why would Hardesty say something like this?

Below is some of what a 30-second google search turns up about distracted walking. I could not find any reputable data source indicating that distracted walking is regularly leading to deaths on the roadway.

https://www.curbed.com/2018/6/21/17477026/distracted-walking-pedestrian-deaths-crosswalk
https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/index.html
https://www.citylab.com/life/2019/05/texting-safety-tips-distracted-walking-laws-nyc-vision-zero/589606/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095756415000689
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022437511000107

ed
Guest
ed

Regardless of whether Hardesty is overdoing the issue I must say as a cyclist l’ve noted last several years many more pedestrians walk into the street using only ears, not eyes, to judge feasibility of crossing. They may or may not have their eyes glued to a device, but their sole criteria for crossing is if they hear a vehicle approaching or not. This is actually the PEDESTRIAN being very auto-centric, as their unconscious bias is the only traffic needing to be noted is motor vehicles. I often see people literally not look up or side to side at all stepping into a street. (at an intersection or not) Very common with people exiting cars too. Yes I yield to them when possible, but can’t change the laws of physics if the move is particularly darting and spontaneous. I walk lots and defend ped rights adamantly but there seems a new wave who just don’t seem to think a visual assessment is needed when entering street and it’s quite unnerving.

Also those who render themselves deaf on MUPS (pod zombies) and dart unpredictably or walk 3 or 4 abreast. Peds get priority yes, but they cannot pretend they’re alone in the universe while doing so. C’mon be honest; if you ride here you’ve had close calls with this behavior.

I know motorists rag on and stereotype cyclists behavior and you may view this as same thing… but I’m just saying no one user group walks on water here, and being the most vulnerable and abused doesn’t mean they can do no wrong.

JWL
Guest

Everyday I see people driving while texting or face timing. Scares me.

q
Guest
q

It’s sad people have gotten used the idea that if you don’t pay full attention while you’re walking to the store or school or bus stop, you can be killed.

J_R
Guest
J_R

If distracted walking due to a sighted person looking at his/her phone, does Hardesty plan to ban blind people from walking on Portland’s streets? After all, they can see less than the walker with the phone. It’s out and out victim blaming.

Every day, I see motorists blow through red lights, exceed the speed limit by 15 or 20 mph, and fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Distracted pedestrians are among the least of our problems. I view the criticism as pandering to the motorist-voters.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

I don’t know. Seems like I am seeing a lot of very risky pedestrian behavior lately. Some of it is mental or substance based. But a lot of it is just not being present. Sad but true. We can not eliminate 100% of pedestrian fatalities with design and education alone. There are just tons of messed up and distracted peds roaming the streets. Don’t believe me? Go down to W Burnside or 122nd at 11pm.

Driver alertness is of great concern as they must react to others in the roadway regardless of mental state or reason. Just don’t think we can design our way out of this.

meh
Guest
meh

What aboutism. Drivers do it so it’s not a problem for pedestrians. Guess what both can be true. Distracted drivers are dangerous, distracted pedestrians endanger themselves. They are not mutually exclusive. One does not forgive the other.
If I am driving down the street at 20mph, and a driver pulls out infront of me from between parked cars, giving me only 10 feet to stop they are at fault for the resulting crash. How is that any different if a pedestrian walks out from between parked cars giving me only 10 feet to stop? Both the driver and pedestrian didn’t look before entering the roadway.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

There’s a strange philosophy at work when it comes to driving that I don’t think is present when operating other modes of conveyance. When I operate a boat, the standard is that I’m responsible for that boat and everyone in it. If I’m running in a marked channel at a safe speed and I say…. run over a manatee guess what? The Fish and Wildlife officer is going to say (rightly) that the collision was my fault. I don’t understand for the life of me why we don’t apply that same standard to driving.
As an aside, say what you will about Eudaly’s landlord/tenant issues, but as a transportation commissioner she seems exponentially better than Novick. Her dedicated bus lane push is a bold step and I wish her and Portland luck.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

The reality now is that you have to be an ‘agressive pedestrian’ to survive in the cities of today. I walk everywhere in Bend. I have to be very agressive in letting drivers know that I am about to enter a crosswalk, making sure my actions are clear and that I expect them to stop. That said, I also make sure that I have enough space to jump out the way if they do not respect my legal rights. I peer into car windows (impossible if they are illegally tinted) to make eye contact to make sure they are looking at me. etc etc I still have several close calls every week, and I am playing a bit of a game of Russian Roulette every time I head out the door. I shouldn’t have to think like this, but it is reality. Of course, it is the same when I am on my bike.

SD
Guest
SD

I DGAF if people are distracted unless they are doing something that can hurt or kill other people. The completely oblivious distracted pedestrian is what vision zero infrastructure should be designed around.

chris
Guest
chris

Sad to see motorbike deaths are the only group not decreasing on the graph. I wonder if it is related to more diverters going in around the city, forcing motorbikes to make more right then left turns on busy roads where they used to be able to go straight across. Getting hit while making left turns is a major cause of death for this group of vulnerable road users.

hazy
Guest
hazy

***COMMENT DELETED BY MODERATOR AND AUTHOR HAS BEEN PUT ON AUTO-MODERATION LIST***

drthompsn
Guest
drthompsn

is a huge issue that same thing as a huge concern? is huge the highest level of concern? how many accidents involve distracted walkers? how do we know they were distracted? is there a formal definition of a distracted walker? are distracted drivers an issue too? are there precedents for making walkers and drivers less distracted in these modern times?

Matt
Guest
Matt

SilkySlim
Oh whatever. Two commutes a day by foot/bike for 12 straight years is at least 5000 trips of data. And I’m not even close to the age of these folks. Don’t discount the fact that individuals can witness things and draw accurate conclusions. I’m so sick of the, “well show me a study” trope.Recommended 6

If you can’t deal with using science to guide policy then maybe just get out of the debate entirely. Because the only thing that comes from policy absent science is more dead people.