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Bill’s passage will lead to more oversight of TriMet crashes

Posted by on July 25th, 2019 at 3:50 pm

Familes for Safe Streets advocate Darla Sturdy (right) stands with Governor Kate Brown and House Rep. Barbara Smith Warner following the vote on SB 1053.
(Photo courtesy Darla Sturdy).

The dogged determination of one advocate has forced TriMet to create a new committee to review all injury and fatal crashes involving their vehicles.

Darla Sturdy, a volunteer with Families for Safe Streets, turned anguish over her son’s death in 2003 into activism that has now led to passage of two bills through the Oregon Legislature. In 2007 she passed a bill requiring TriMet to study and create recommendations for how to make dozens of light-rail crossings safer. That bill became law four years after her 16-year-old son Aaron Sturdy-Wagner was killed while biking through one of them.

And on June 30th of this year, Sturdy’s bill passed just one hour before the end of the session. Senate Bill 1053 establishes a seven-member TriMet Crash Advisory Committee. Originally intended to be completely independent of TriMet with members appointed by the Oregon Transportation Commission, the final bill allows the agency’s general manager to appoint the members. The bill also mandates that committee members must come from a wide variety of experiences and professional expertise including: a disability rights advocate, a biking and walking advocate, a government agency staffer, a vision zero expert from Portland, and a TriMet board member.

“They didn’t want to do it… Then I said, politics or lives?”
— Darla Sturdy

Sturdy fought for this committee because she doesn’t trust TriMet. “TriMet judges their own accidents,” she repeated to me several times on the phone today. It’s true. Until now, the agency has always investigated themselves when one of their light rail or bus operators hurts or kills someone.

Reached today on the phone, Sturdy said it took six months of work to pass the bill. It died twice and went through three bill numbers before it was signed by Governor Kate Brown last week. At each step, Sturdy didn’t take no for an answer. “I probably met personally with all but four legislators in that building,” she told me today from a conference she’s attending in Dallas. At one point Sturdy asked her House representative to do a “bill pull” — legislative jargon for pulling a bill directly out of committee for a vote on the floor — something that’s not done very often. “They didn’t want to do it because other lawmakers might frown on it,” she shared. “Then I said, politics or lives?”

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Bill text.

A MAX light rail crossing in southeast Portland
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Eventually Sturdy’s relationships paid off and she was able to get her bill on the floor. It passed unanimously an hour before the gavel came down for good.

“I knew God would take me to the end, but I didn’t realize he’d take me all the way to the last hour,” she said with a laugh.

Sturdy knows her work isn’t done. This unrelenting advocate was at TriMet’s Board Meeting last night. “I looked at the GM (Doug Kelsey) and said, ‘You’re going to be picking this committee’. And I told the board, ‘You better make sure they come from the outside’.”

For their part, TriMet was officially neutral on the bill. In a letter to lawmakers dated June 19th, the agency’s director of government affairs, Bernie Bottomly wrote, “We would like to express our reservations regarding the potential ramifications and unintended consequences of the proposed legislation… TriMet concerns relate to how this legislation may conflict with other requirements placed on the agency by both state and federal law regarding safety Management and reporting, civil liability mitigation, privacy rights of employees, attorney-client privilege and public records.”

In the end, Sturdy hasn’t lost sight of why she devotes so much of her life to this fight. “My son would be proud of me. He had a saying, ‘Dream big, don’t let the little things get in your way.’ To me that meant I can’t save him, but I can save others,” she said, holding back tears. “That’s what it is. To make that change, make it better. I believe we all have a purpose and I found mine in safety advocacy.”

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

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Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

Meanwhile… is anyone looking into car crashes?

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

As a MAX operator I question what results this will have. More bureaucratic minutia or real, significant change that Ms. Sturdy so clearly desires.

TriMet needs to get real about upgrading crossings throughout the alignment. Times have changed. The sheer quantity of electronic distraction and mental health issues we see daily is staggering and makes the job incredibly stressful and ends up slowing down the system. Waiting for another death or injury seems reactive. I can go into great detail but scattered throughout the system are the vestiges of every accidental MAX fatality, areas where we have to go super slow. The hilarity is that we only do this where someone was killed. So, with enough time, basically the entire system is going to have these special speed zones and crossing treatments unless they step up and make more active crossings and barriers.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Crossing rails calls for looking both ways. Otherwise, ***portion of comment deleted for insensitive word choice***. Other countries who’ve had light rail for decades don’t have this problem. You can’t protect people from themselves.

billyjo
Guest
billyjo

Her son was killed crossing a fixed track train. He didn’t even bother to look to see if a train was coming. So far she has managed to force tri met to build those mazes that you have to go through to cross the tracks and to place signs telling people to look both ways when crossing the tracks. Her son didn’t die from a train that swerved into him. Her son died because he didn’t even make an effort to see if it was safe to cross. Somehow she has always tried to make it tri met’s fault?

Now tri met needs to spend a whole lot more money?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Hopefully this is a step closer to getting actual automated arms instead of just a zig-zag or those awful manual gates.

The problem is that TriMet is putting in these pedestrian crossings away from the road where the counterweights for the streets arms usually swing up to partially obstruct the roadside sidewalk and give a natural deterrent. They should put in automated arms if they’re going to create a mid-track crossing away from the already installed automated street arms.

As usual motor vehicles get all the safety improvements and vulnerable users are left in an unsafe environment.

Yes, you should look both ways before crossing. But why don’t drivers need to? It’s obviously not that difficult to install automated arms and keep people safer, in all modes.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I was coming off the west bound sidewalk, on Hawthorn bridge. On that particular day, I was wanting to cross the car lanes and get to the left side to exit on 1st ave. I know this is very common for bikes to do. A bus was barreling down the bridge and despite my position in front of it, it did not yield to my right of way.

Upon contacting the dispatch desk via email I was told, “Tri Met buses don’t have to yield to anyone”. This informs me that Tri Met is a horribly toxic environment, if you are not a bus driver. Even if you are a bus driver, I imagine.

The irony of this story.

Pdxmark
Guest
Pdxmark

Speaking of legislation, when is the Governor going to sign the stop sign law?

Deke N. Blue
Guest

What a farce! You never even contemplate what it’s like, from our perspective. Shame on you all.
https://fromthedriverside.blogspot.com/2019/09/investigate-me-go-ahead-inept-boneheads.html