Comments about transportation safety made on Twitter last week by Portlander Tiana Tozer have raised eyebrows. While her Twitter account is not an official ODOT communications channel (her profile says, “Opinions are my own”), Tozer is ODOT’s Region 1 transportation safety coordinator and she sits on the Portland Bureau of Transportation Vision Zero Task Force.
Here’s what happened:
Tiana Tozer attended a City of Portland event at Ventura Park Thursday morning. Later that day she replied to a tweet of a video we posted from the event. When someone questioned the effectiveness of holding signs and asking drivers to slow down, Tozer replied: “Ho hum another entitled American sitting back watching people die, but he himself has no solution. How easy it is to criticize. God forbid you should be part of the solution. Don’t strain yourself.”
“No matter how much we engineer our streets, some idiot, like you, will still find a way die on them.”
— Tiana Tozer via Twitter
But that was just the start. Tozer went on to post 47 more tweets in the thread. When another person questioned the event, Tozer replied sarcastically, “… so nice of you to criticize yet you have no better ideas. How superior you must feel. Hopefully you will survive the streets of PDX. Or not.”
Tozer’s comments on such a sensitive topic would have sparked a debate whether or not she was a state employee or member of a high-profile PBOT committee. 14 people have died while walking on Portland streets this year. Next month, Portland State University is hosting a lecture on the “Pedestrian safety crisis in America.”
Tozer, who recently gave a presentation on ODOT’s approach to Vision Zero at an Oregon Institute of Transportation Engineers luncheon, posted replies to our tweet that questioned peoples’ intelligences, advocated for walkers to take more responsibility for their own deaths, and repeatedly downplayed the role of safe infrastructure in saving lives.
Below is a sampling of Tozer’s tweets (all of which she has since deleted):
“… it’s not about infrastructure it’s about behavior but God forbid we actually address personal responsibility.”
“Well considering that 40% of the ped deaths in the last five years were pedestrians illegally in the roadway that’s not the solution either…”
“… Well listen up Stoopid, Genius has its limit, stoopidity knows no bounds. No matter how much we engineer our streets, some idiot, like you, will still find a way die on them.”
“… did you read the police reports or you just make the assumptions based on what you want to think, becuase [sic] when 2019 stats come in 50% of ped deaths if not more will be peds illegally in the roadway.”
“I’m sorry did I say “deserve to die” no. Don’t put words in my mouth. They made choices that resulted in their deaths, did they deserve to die no. But if you know that a 3,000 lbs vehicle can kill you and you don’t follow the rules to keep yourself safe, isn’t that sort of like Choosing to walk through a mine field. Jumping off a cliff without checking the water below. Why do Americans abidcate [sic] all personal responsibility for their safety? If you don’t care about your safety, why is it someone else’s responsibility?”
“And also what about the drivers who were obeying all the rules who have to live with that death? How is that fair? Cars drive on roadways if you stand or walk in the middle of a roadway well it’s a poor choice.”
“… but why as a pedestrian would you walk in the middle of the street in the dark in dark clothes?”
“See if a ped chooses to cross in the middle the street it’s not really an error it’s a choice, like speeding is a choice. And most of the drivers don’t even get cited because they weren’t doing anything illegal.”
“… how will infrastructure protect people from intoxicated drivers cause right now that is the number 1 cause of fatal and serious injuries on the roads in Region 1.”
“… feel free to continue to twist my words to not address the real problem–human behavior.”
“When you decide you want to discuss the facts and deal with reality then we can talk, but I’m done with someone who twists facts and my words to support their own agenda. You are part of the problem.”
“Wow what you know could written on the head of a pin with room to spare.”
“I think what bothers me the most is it seems like we should all be playing our part, drivers, peds, cyclists, scooter riders, but for some reason personal responsibility has no place in American society.”
Many people who saw Tozer’s tweets were surprised to find out she is a state employee and member of a high-profile PBOT task force.
“No justification for her abuse of a taxpayer over a policy/strategy disagreement. And her subsequent blocking of other taxpayers for voicing objections is illegal,” wrote @Tonyatwork. “Wow are you really on @OregonDOT’s Transportation Safety Committee overseeing #VisionZero? That makes you a public official who probably shouldn’t be talking to concerned members of the public this way,” wrote @sarahforpdx, the account of Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone.
While Tozer’s tweets were her personal opinion, her views are in line with her employer. ODOT Transportation Safety Division Manager Troy Costales frequently advocates for more personal responsibility when it comes to preventing crashes. He told a legislative committee back in February that, “94% of the time that there is a crash, it’s because there was a human error involved; some choice that was made, that led to a mistake that led to a crash.” In 2010 Costales shared during an interview with BikePortland that, “being visible and following the rules increases your safety more than anything else.”
In another response to Tozer’s tweets, community organizer Andrew Riley had this to say: “If you’re wondering why many of us are deeply skeptical of ODOT’s commitment to actual traffic safety (and any mode of travel that’s not an SOV or freight truck), your comments here are a perfect example.”
Tozer has blocked many people who were on that thread (including @BikePortland) and deleted all the tweets.
When she’s not working as ODOT’s Portland-area transportation safety coordinator, Tozer is an inspirational speaker and consultant. We’ve reached out to Tozer for comment but have yet to hear back.
UPDATE, 10/3: PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s office has shared with us that Tozer has been removed from the City of Portland Vision Zero Task Force. The action comes after several people complained about Tozer’s conduct. ODOT is also aware of the issue and is still investigating.
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