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PBOT gets council support for Vision Zero, except from Commissioner Hardesty

Posted by on June 21st, 2019 at 8:46 am

Cover of PBOT’s Vision Zero 2-Year Update.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation is making steady progress on their march toward safer streets. They’ve queued up an impressive slate of capital projects, worked the legislature to gain authority for speed limits and enforcement cameras, and have passed important plans with the policy backbone that enables them to do things like remove auto parking from corners (a.k.a. “intersection daylighting”), install crossing treatments in more places, and so on.

Last week PBOT brought their annual Vision Zero 2-Year Update (PDF) to city council. They don’t have to get council’s official blessing for reports like this, but PBOT often takes this step to burnish council relationships, lay political groundwork for funding requests, and get explicit support for what might be controversial Vision Zero-related moves down the road.

Things like this usually get unanimous support because PBOT doesn’t bring half-baked ideas to council and they brief each commissioner beforehand to make sure they are up-to-speed with the issues and information. So it was a big surprise when Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty voted no.

“…When every other street has a different speed limit, you’re not changing behavior, you’re making people lose their minds because they don’t know how to legally operate on the street.”
— Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

Here’s what happened…

City council passed a commitment to Vision Zero in 2015. By the end of 2017 they’d passed an “Action Plan” aimed at achieving it, and by spring of that year Vision Zero had become the bureau’s chief organizing principle.

Last Thursday’s presentation to council was expected to be non-controversial. PBOT Director Chris Warner and his Active Transportation and Safety Division Manager Catherine Ciarlo updated commissioners on planned capital projects (they have eight projects on major streets planned to be completed by 2020), new policy approaches, and near-term actions they’re taking to improve road safety (including the left-turn calming initiative we reported on earlier today).

“I’m very disappointed to hear your concerns with this report. If those are your takeaways — which are virtually unfounded — I don’t think my bureau has done a good enough job briefing you on this program.”
— Commissioner Chloe Eudaly

In one of his first major council appearances since being named PBOT director less than a month ago, Chris Warner spent some of his time explaining why the bureau now erects electronic signs for two weeks at the location where someone was killed in traffic. It’s part of a “culture of shared responsibility,” which is one of PBOT’s Vision Zero priorities. “Sometimes there will be a fatality and a few hours later everything will be cleaned up and people won’t really know what happened,” Warner explained. “So we really want to raise the focus and awareness for Portlanders to know that was a dangerous spot, that someone died there, and for them to really reflect on how they’re driving.”

When cautioned by Commissioner Nick Fish about promising the public such a lofty goal as zero deaths, Warner was unfazed. “Unless we have that goal I don’t think our job is ever complete. And I don’t think we can stop doing what we can to make sure there are no deaths or injuries on our streets,” he said.

Sitting alongside Warner, Ciarlo spoke about PBOT’s commitment to the “Safe Systems” approach. “If Vision Zero is the performance measure, then Safe Systems is the approach that will get us there,” she explained. Ciarlo shared a slide (below) outlining the basic tenets of the approach, which call for (among other things) city staff to be proactive, instead of reactive to problems. It also says road designers and policymakers — not just users of the system — share responsibility for safety outcomes.

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PBOT slide outlines basic tenets of Safe Systems approach.

When it came time to vote and comment on the report, Commissioner Amanda Fritz had effusive praise for Commissioner Eudaly and the Vision Zero program in general. She urged PBOT to move even more quickly in their effort to remove parking at corners and offered tips on how to fund the work. Commissioner Nick Fish also strongly supported it, saying “This is a fine piece of work and I’m proud to support it.” (Mayor Ted Wheeler was absent.)

Commissioner Hardesty at the 6/13 meeting.

Then there was Commissioner Hardesty. As we reported yesterday, she had expressed concerns early in the presentation about the “big issue” of people who walk while using their phones. Turns out that wasn’t her only concern.

Hardesty said in her comments before her vote, “I think it’s a good vision. I just think it could be a better vision.” “It looks like the responsibility we’re putting is primarily on the drivers of automobiles as compared to us taking responsibility for the roads we haven’t built, the sidewalks we haven’t built, the lighting we haven’t put in,” she added. “There are reasons why there are a lot more crashes in east Portland. The primary reason is there’s been a lack of investment in east Portland.”

Hardesty’s comments touched on several issues she’s uncomfortable about.

Hardesty called out PBOT’s speed limit reduction efforts – not because she wants people to drive faster, but because she feels they’ve created a patchwork of different speed limits that make it too hard to follow the law. “You could be going a couple of blocks, and it’s [the speed limit is] up another 10 miles, then you turn to the left and it’s down 20 more miles [an hour], then you turn to the right and it’s up another 10 miles [an hour]. It’s very confusing if your goal is to change behavior, when every other street has a different speed limit,” Hardesty said. “You can imagine how frustrating it is for people who live in the community who are trying to do the right thing and yet there’s no commonality or consistency from one major arterial to the next. I just don’t think that’s a good way to change behavior. You’re not changing behavior, you’re making people lose their minds because they don’t know how to legally operate on the street.”

PBOT’s Ciarlo explained that since the City of Portland doesn’t have control over the speed limit on all streets (ODOT does), they’ve had to go “section by section”.

Then Hardesty said she believes PBOT is focused too much on individual behaviors when the system itself isn’t a level playing field. “I continue to have the concern that we are over-criminalizing one segment of our community and using them as the reason why people are dying rather than the poor conditions of our roads. The lack of lighting, the lack of sidewalks in many places. I think it all works together.”

PBOT slide on enforcement cameras.

Earlier in the meeting there was a discussion about speed reader boards (signs that show speed limit compared to actual driving speed) and automated enforcement cameras. Hardesty expressed discomfort with cameras due to privacy and racial concerns. Despite stats presented by PBOT that show a clear reduction in speeding in locations where cameras have been installed, Hardesty seems to prefer reader boards which don’t have a built-in enforcement and citation mechanism (“90% of people look down and check their speeds when they pass those reader boards,” she said). Hardesty pressed PBOT to share demographic data from the speed and red light camera citations. That data isn’t currently collected and PBOT said it would be challenging to determine people’s race based on the photos taken by the system — not to mention the potential pitfalls of having a staff person make racial determinations based on appearance.

Eudaly said she likes the reader boards too and would welcome more demographic data, but she defended the enforcement cameras as an important tool. “I’m not so interested in being punitive as I am in changing behavior. However, because there’s such inadequate enforcement on the street… If there’s no ultimate consequence I think we lose that effect over time.”

In the end, Hardesty remained skeptical and the presentation didn’t allay her concerns. “I guess until I know whether or not we’re penalizing folks, and whether we’re still using speed readers or whether we’re actually going to start giving people tickets, and what that process will be, I will vote no.”

“I’m very disappointed to hear your concerns with this report,” Eudaly replied. “If those are your takeaways — which are virtually unfounded — I don’t think my bureau has done a good enough job briefing you on this program.” (Note that this tension between Hardesty and Eudaly around enforcement is not new.)

Yesterday I asked Eudaly’s Chief of Staff Marshall Runkell if the two commissioners had spoken since that exchange. He said they’re trying to set up a meeting but haven’t had a chance to debrief in person. “Commissioner Eudaly is sympathetic with Commissioner Hardesty’s concerns about over-policing low-income neighborhoods and the surveillance state, but she did a good job of explaining why PBOT’s approach allayed her concerns from the dais during the hearing.” (I reached out to Hardesty’s office as well but the commissioner and her chief of staff are out until next week.)

While PBOT’s Vision Zero Report and 2-Year Strategy was ultimately adopted 3-1 last week, a renewal of the photographic traffic enforcement contract will return to council on Wednesday, June 26th.

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

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Shawn Kolitch
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Shawn Kolitch

I live in NE Portland. Please ticket me if I speed through an enforcement camera, regardless of my race.

Karstan
Subscriber
Karstan

I think she’s making some good points about better infrastructure vs. enforcement. And I agree about the speed limit thing. Let’s make it all 20mph. 🙂

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

Can we give all the bureaus to Hardesty? PBOT especially would be better served then who currently occupies this bureau.

Jon
Guest
Jon

Cameras are color blind and cannot profile people breaking the law. We should have them at as many intersections and roads as is feasible. As long as the cameras are equally represented in neighborhoods regardless of the racial or income makeup they are completely fair. Driving is not a constitutional right and there is no right of privacy on public streets. If there are no consequences of reckless driving it will continue and non-car users will continue to be killed. Enforcement clearly changes behavior and reduces injuries. If you don’t want a ticked don’t break the law.

tyeal
Guest
tyeal

Traffic law enforcement is absolutely, direly, needed in Portland. As a driver, pedestrian, and cyclist, in the city limits of Portland, I witness ‘blatant’, potentially life-threatening, traffic law violations at least once every day, and that is not an exaggeration. The blatant disregard for traffic law represents a growing lack of social responsibility, and traffic signs aren’t going to fix the problem. Irresponsible people are not going to change their behavior because of a blinking sign. People are dying, suffering injuries, suffering financial ruin, suffering from the lack of feeling safe on the road, because of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians not obeying traffic laws.

Concerning privacy and discrimination, find a check and balance solution to compensate for the use of video in traffic enforcement. Automated traffic enforcement is probably the only economical solution that will actually make a statistical improvement in reducing the amount of people that blatantly disregard traffic laws.

Concerning confusion about speed limits, post speed limit signs to minimize confusion, and workout the ‘confusing areas’ for speed limits by enforcing the speed limits and using the traffic violation statistical data for corrective actions that minimize any confusion.

Do something now! I actually worry about my loved ones while they are on the roads of Portland, which I find disturbing, due to my general peaceful attitude being shattered by the growing amount of public, irresponsible social behavior.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

I wonder what Commissioner Hardesty would think if ticket amounts were tied to your income. A $100 ticket for someone making a million dollars is not as much a fine as for someone making minimum wage. Does anyone know if this has been tried in Oregon or if it could be done?

HJ
Guest
HJ

Hardesty comes across as just another cars only person. Her comments blaming pedestrians make that crystal clear. Let’s be real, when has a person walking while using their phone ever killed someone else? Probably never. It’s also not a significant factor in pedestrian fatalities. Cars however kill scores of people. Yet she wants less responsibility put on them? Hmm.
Yes, pedestrians glued to their phones are annoying. Heaven knows I deal with that every day during my commute through nw. But are they really a significant safety hazard? No. While they irritate me on principle they really don’t cause any particular problem for me as a driver or cyclist. If they do cause a person a particular problem then that person is probably doing something wrong as a driver.
Then there’s the thing about speed limits. We all know as children that different roads have different limits and that those limits are clearly posted on signs. It’s really not difficult to just read the signs and obey them, regardless of consistency or lack thereof. Again, this comes across as her trying to stall progress as opposed to really caring about improving the system. Which is something that I see pretty much exclusively from the cars-only crowd.

Catie
Guest
Catie

PBOT could likely find out who ends up getting tickets with cameras to allay her (and some of the publics) worries. While they are at it, they could gather some data on how many drivers who killed someone were found at fault, and who actually sees criminal penalties.

That said, yesterday I met someone who got 4 camera tickets in Beaverton and got a suspended license because of it. Made me feel safer knowing that chronic speeding drivers are actually being taken off the road.

Stephen Bartnikowski
Guest
Stephen Bartnikowski

1) “90% of people look down” – is this backed by anything? She doesn’t seem to be providing evidence / support, unless that’s lost in the article.
2) I’m sympathetic to the socio-economic impact concerns. I would think there’s another creative way to get a sampling of impact other than a racist AI bot processing pictures.

The whole spat seems based on hypothesis and not facts. I’d like more data.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

VZ is pure gaslighting.

Josh
Guest

I think there are reasonable rebuttals to some of Commissioner Hardesty’s specific concerns, and those should be addressed. But in doing so I hope we don’t lose sight of the necessity of her perspective — that so many of our current systems, transportation included, have flaws which disproportionately affect historically (and currently) disadvantaged communities. We absolutely need her input, even (especially?) when it runs counter to conventional transportation advocate wisdom.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

“Earlier in the meeting there was a discussion about speed reader boards (signs that show speed limit compared to actual driving speed) and automated enforcement cameras. Hardesty expressed discomfort with cameras due to privacy and racial concerns. ”

We have a city councilor that believes automated enforcement cameras can be racist. This is insane.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

9watts: 28% of the comments in this thread so far.

drs
Guest
drs

I think Commissioner Hardesty is totally off base, here. Safe streets save the lives of people, regardless of their ethnicity. Same goes for traffic enforcement cameras.

We need more of them. Yes, there is a serious infrastructure deficit in East Portland. We need more streets and we need more sidewalk in those neighborhoods. But all the infrastructure in the world will be for naught if the arterial streets are death traps.

It’s not the pedestrians looking at their phones that are the problem, it’s the people in the cars that are looking at their phones that pose the real danger.

Greg Spencer
Guest
Greg Spencer

Hardesty’s arguments don’t carry water. She blames phone-distracted pedestrians for pedestrian deaths without citing a shred of evidence, in fact, going against the evidence we DO have. She says ‘What about poor infrastructure in Portland?’ What’s her point? I’d like sidewalks in MY NE neighborhood, but I’m not going to hold up other good safety measures until I get them. The race thing is another strawman argument. She cites ZERO evidence. Not impressed with Hardesty. Sounds like another motorist who want everyone else to do the work, make the investments so they can drive fast and carefree with the green wave. Thank Bob she didn’t carry the day.

X
Guest
X

I wouldn’t rush to call Commissioner Hardesty as a “driver”. (I saw her at SW 5th and Taylor walking toward city hall, looking a lot like a person who’d just gotten off the train)

Maybe she’s just putting down a marker as a person who won’t go along to get along. A yes vote disappears in the chorus, a no vote is a chance to register dissent. Since we’re speculating, how do we know if anyone took time to check in about what issues she wants to address and what her vote might be?

Vision Zero is a worthy goal, I’d like to die zero times in a car crash, but no doubt it’s going to need some fine tuning as we go along.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Here is what hardesty is getting out. White communities, on average, have it drilled into them on how to drive perfectly. They also know how to avoid suspicious actions on average. Minority communities on average do not and frankly never had that culture. So, by adding automated enforcement, it will rack up more tickets by minorities.

But you know…so what? Everyone who drives is a potential murderer. People need to shape up no matter their color.

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

“White communities, on average, have it drilled into them on how to drive perfectly. ”

Say what?? I must’ve missed that scholarly article in the Journal of White Communities.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

rain panther
“White communities, on average, have it drilled into them on how to drive perfectly. ”Say what?? I must’ve missed that scholarly article in the Journal of White Communities.Recommended 0

Figure someone would be triggered…but yeah. Look at which schools got drivers Ed until it was finally disbanded, which race generally gets private drivers Ed. …and which race just wanders into the DMV at 18… I think this council person has a point. However vague. But still…the root issue is cars kill and history has to be dealt with . Now, add in imigrant drivers and the reality is cameras will hit minorities hard. I don’t see that as a problem as long as we know why.

Jillian Detweiler
Guest

I represented The Street Trust at the hearing. We urged support for the VZ framework, focus on infrastructure and being clear in priority to protect vulnerable road users in road redesign processes. I also testified that the goal of enforcement is deference. My brief review of literature is that cameras are effective deterrence but episodic enforcement and citations are not. Commissioner Hardesty immediately replied to our request for a meeting following the hearing and we are scheduled to meet in July.

soren
Guest
soren

“It looks like the responsibility we’re putting is primarily on the drivers of automobiles as compared to us taking responsibility for the roads we haven’t built, the sidewalks we haven’t built, the lighting we haven’t put in…There are reasons why there are a lot more crashes in east Portland.”

Hardesty gets it. Vision zero puts the onus for safe streets on traffic planners and engineers, not drivers. PBOT and transportation advocates’ emphasis on enforcement is misguided, lacks evidence, and is contrary to vision zero principles.