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Portland commissioner cites ‘vehicular violence’ in response to spate of crashes

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland’s commissioner-in-charge of transportation has responded strongly to a spate of crashes and fatalities on the streets she oversees.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty published a statement on Twitter Tuesday afternoon that comes in direct response to the past week of violent carnage in our streets.

Here’s the statement:

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Three days. Four deaths. All from vehicular violence. I can assure you that myself and @PBOTinfo are digging deep into both immediate and long-term solutions to keep all Portlanders safe as they move around our city.

We have a lot of work ahead to realize our Vision Zero goals, but I am committed to that work.

We can mitigate danger on our roads by improving street design and developing infrastructure that protects people from the potential damage cars are capable of inflicting.

While we double down on that work, I ask all that drive to acknowledge the outsized potential cars have to inflict violence on our streets. I say this as someone who didn’t always see it this way. Please drive slowly & carefully. No matter the circumstances, lives are at stake.

It’s highly notable that a city commissioner in Portland has used the term “vehicular violence”. To my knowledge it’s the first time the term has used by a Portland city official.

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We first used the term here on BikePortland in November 2017 following an intentional vehicular assault in Lower Manhattan. In the past year, the phrase took on new urgency and relevance in light of people driving through protestors over the summer, or more recently when a man intentionally rammed his car into several people and killed one of them in southeast Portland.

If we want to stem this dangerous tide of death and destruction on our streets, we must acknowledge that the mere act of driving has immense potential for violence (defined as, “intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force”). Whether intentional or not, when we decide to drive a multi-ton steel vehicle through spaces where vulnerable bodies exist, we create the possibility of a violent outcome. Resistance to that word or framing is partly responsible for the widespread desensitization and normalization of traffic deaths and injuries in America.

It is a good sign that Commissioner Hardesty has not only come around to this understanding and necessity of this term and the, “outsized potential cars have to inflict violence on our streets;” but that she has chosen to state it publicly.

Now comes the difficult task of matching actions to words.

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