On Thursday the Portland Bureau of Transportation released a powerful new tool that will help the community track progress (or lack of) toward our goal of zero traffic deaths.
The Vision Zero Dashboard is an interactive mapping tool that tracks five key things: safety projects, speed limit changes, fixed speed cameras citations, education and outreach events, recent traffic crashes, and Fire & Rescue call-outs. The data is generally from 2019 through 2020 and PBOT says they’ll update it every quarter.
As we’ve reported here a few times, access to information is crucial in holding PBOT accountable. I’m really looking forward to having this information at our fingertips. As I looked through it for the first time, a few things caught my eyes:
You can use the map tools base a selection on a mileage radius (see graphic at right). Just hover over the right arrow icon on the toolbar in the upper left corner of the map and then choose the “Radial” selection option. Then click and drag on a location you’re curious about to see if PBOT has recently invested around it.
(Screen grabs of Fire & Rescue response calls (left) and speed limit reduction locations (right)).
Curious about PBOT’s war on speeding? The new map lists all the speed reductions for the 100 or so miles of streets that have had one since 2019. Hover over a line and see the new speed, old speed, and boundary of the change.
Our speed cameras are very busy and we need more of them. In 2020 Portland’s eight fixed speed radar cameras issued 79,163 citations. Nearly half of those — 36,209 — were from the SE Division and 122nd cameras alone. See the huge downward spike on some of the lines on the graph? Those are what happened when the cameras were down from maintenance. It’s unfortunate we have these installed at only five distinct locations citywide given how effective they are at regulating speeds and enforcing safe behaviors.
2020 was interesting year because of the pandemic’s impact on driving. This new dashboard gives us a great visual snapshot of how speeding went up once the lockdown began in earnest. Check the line graphs of the camera citations after March 2020. PBOT also shares the amount of Fire & Rescue responses in relation to different points in the pandemic timeline. There’s a huge drop when the first stay-at-home orders were issued. Then the crashes start piling up again until they spike up above the previous five-year average in August.
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To me it says something when a speed camera issues so many violations, and that is that the road has been poorly constructed in such a way that it is indicating to drivers that it is safe to go faster than the posted speed limit. I feel like the takeaway here really should be that we need to try and find ways to change the visual appearance of the road from behind the glass to encourage people to drive at a safe speed. Whether that is narrower lanes, fewer through lanes, or something else. I have seen over in vancouver where they are trying chicanes so the street doesn’t feel as straight.
Every one of those locations is a transit route and a truck route. Do you think narrower lanes, chicanes and the like are appropriate for those trying to navigate a route with 8-foot wide vehicle that is more than 30 feet long? Have you ever driven such a rig? Sure, I suppose you could shift the transit passengers to uber or jitneys and of course you could reload every truck to smaller trucks and cargo bikes. Look at all the traffic on these major streets, not just the speeding personal vehicles driven by the distracted, careless, and self-important who don’t think while driving. My solution: enforcement including lots of automated enforcement. Design low-speed streets for low-volume situations like neighborhoods and neighborhood shopping areas.
The quickest, cheapest, and most effective way to reduce speeds without paying for costly enforcement or even more expensive rebuilds is to reduce posted speed limits AND simultaneously reduce painted lane widths. Portland now has the tools to reduce posted speed limits, which they are doing, but they are lagging on reducing lane widths. 10 feet wide should be the citywide standard for all arterial and collector streets, not Portland’s usual 10.5 to 12 feet. The right hand lane should have a right lane edge line at 10 feet, none of the usual varying width of 13-20 feet; anything left over should be a gutter lane unless it’s over 6 feet, then it can be a bike lane. Center turn lanes should also be 10 feet wide, not Portland’s 12-13 feet wide. Semis and buses can easily handle 10-foot wide lanes, even 9 feet, if they are driving the posted speed limit of 35 mph or less. Going for wider lanes just encourages drivers to break the law.
People drive 30mph down my very narrow neighborhood street fairly often. Design can only do so much; you also need enforcement to control human behavior. Cars turn some people into sociopaths (and some people are already sociopaths).
Well on my street they put a reduced speed sign behind a tree, and then a few hours later a police car was parked nearby. It seems the speed signs are not designed for safety by the city, but for money. If it was truly reduced for safety reasons, make it visible.
BTW, I went out and cut limbs of the tree and made if visible, and waved hi to the officer.
What’s disappointing to me is that there are so few cameras. Off hand, I’d say we should have about 200 already. Add another 10 for each month there is a fatality.
20,000 is more realistic if we really want them to keep people from speeding.
And with facial recognition technology and all those 20,000 cameras, we’ll now even be able to identify bicyclists and pedestrians who are crossing against the signal and send them fines. What a fun safe city Portland will become, like Singapore or Pyongyang North Korea.
If speed cameras were effective, citation numbers would start dropping. The fact that they aren’t suggests that this experimental band-aid is not working as planned.
Speed cameras in urban area are also an example of USAnian reluctance to actually implement proven vision-zero infrastructure. No european nation depends on speed cameras to calm SUV/truck traffic in dense urban areas — they are primarily used on major freeways and rural highways. The success of vision zero is, by definition, due to changes in physical infrastructure (including limiting or banning cage traffic) that makes it difficult or impossible to speed in areas with high numbers of VRUs.
If the fines for violations were higher you would see a reduction in speeding. The problem remains that there are almost no consequences for violations of traffic laws and almost no enforcement. European nations have residents who have a greater appreciation for the public good, more serious enforcement, and consequences for violations.
Have you ever asked yourself how this happened?
Portland-style appeasement and sycophantic BAU reform were not how European cities overcame Fordist culture. Every transformation of urban transportation systems in Europe developed after a political victory by a leftist coalition*. Every single one.
*Democrats, liberals, and progressives in the USA are not leftists according to the political semantics of the rest of the world.
The UK has lots of urban speed cameras – so many in fact that published road atlases show exactly where they are. Not every city chooses to use them.
Almost all of which are on limited-access expressways, freeways (M), and numbered highways (e.g. A, B, C). This would mean that there could be speed cameras on I-84, Powell, or 82nd but rarely, if ever, on Division.
One of the maps you mentioned:
The UK does have red light cameras with radar (which may be what you are referring too) but these are used for red-light enforcement (e.g. the radar is used to provide additional evidence in court for a red light violation).
Unless you have a camera on every block, you will still get speed camera tickets in any city. You get people who don’t drive these roads often (out of town, live in a different part of town, etc). I was behind two drivers that got tickets on BHH last weekend. Everyone was driving 5-10mph, and then we all slowed down just before the cameras, except for 2 drivers, who stayed at 10mph over. They both got tickets because they didn’t know about the camera, or didn’t remember it, or weren’t paying attention. You put a camera on every block, and people will alter their behavior quickly.
Very interesting Chris I. The expectation by drivers is that speeding as the norm is acceptable behavior, until a speed camera/cop is present. I would argue that this system is inherently flawed. The rare instances that I drive it is clear that this pattern of behavior is due to the reinforcement schedule. The consequences of speeding are so rare that the perception of risk of doing it is virtually nonexistent.
An analogy I like to use is gambling, because it is so effective at changing behavior. Gambling works via using a variable ratio schedule, ie one wins after a random/unpredictable number of attempts. That’s why it’s so addictive. You’re never quite sure when you’re going to win, and thus try a lot. What would a system look like for cars where we had a variable ratio schedule?
First, it could reward drivers who drive the limit. Second, it would be unpredictable in that on any road at any time, one could see consequences for speeding. This essentially means fake speed cameras with a modicum of real ones mixed in, switched periodically at random. There is no question speed cameras are effective at reducing crashes and speed. There is some question on how we should use them, and a behaviorist approach would appear to work very well.
“You get people who don’t drive these roads often (out of town, live in a different part of town, etc).”
Even so, one would expect that locals would get fewer tickets but the rate of ticketing overall has not changed much and has even gone up in some locations. (It should be noted that Portland only started ticketing recently — cameras issued warnings for over a year, as I recall.)
Regardless, the idea of using speed cameras as a substitute for proven infrastructure is another example of “experimental” ‘merkin exceptionalism. Why is our society and its government so resistant to evidence-based approaches?
Maybe they were speeding because you were speeding behind them.
I perused the dashboard and had high expectations, but I’m afraid to say (Debbie Downer alert!) that I didn’t find it all that useful. I guess I expected that a dashboard would allow me to change the settings on the dials and see customized results, but I didn’t see that kind of feature (maybe I’m a tech-Luddite).
PBOT’s war on speeding? What haha
More like a strongly worded letter than a war imo.
Have a social problem? Americans “DECLARE WAR!” On an inanimate object or behavior. And then promptly lose.
Americans appear totally clueless and constantly belligerent to the rest of the world.
Jonathan, are you aware of the legislation that would change
who can review speed cameras? The current requirement for a police officer to review speed cameras is a major impediment to installing more of them, and the legislation would change that. Willamette weekly reported on that a few weeks ago. Maybe good to report that here as well, t
Yes, he covered 810.436 in a recent article.
Welcome to 1984.
… where Big Brother is both bored and negligent…
No expectation of privacy in public. This is established law.
The answer is really quite simple. ENFORCE our traffic laws.
I really dig the dashboard! Interesting diving into a particular spot from all these angles, including trying to track if behaviors changed after speed reductions or education events or recent high-profile crashes or wahtever.
One tidbit example from SE 122nd Southbound, where there is a speed camera. In 2020 it recorded 5k violations from 2 million vehicle passes. So violation rate of .25% (1 in 400 cars). That is actually better than I would have expected. On the flip side, there was a day where the AVERAGE speed of violators was 62 MPH (it is a 35 MPH speed limit there). So… I read that as not just some bad apples ruining the bunch, but some seriously poisonous apples.
One clear message is that the design of these highways, like BHH or Marine Dr. encourages speeding. An easy fix, though it would initially piss people off, would be to make all of these roads only one lane in each direction. The two lane roads encourages aggressive lane changing and speeding. I frequently drive on BHH and Canyon and there is no reason for those streets to be 2 lanes in each direction. The other lane could be turned into sidewalks and luxurious bike lanes, or a dedicated bus lane.
“Two-lane roads encourage aggressive lane changing and speeding.” Well said, ROH! This sentence should be tattooed onto the forehead of every ODOT and PBOT employee.
The cardinal rule of cars is: If drivers CAN go faster, they WILL go faster.
It’s odd to me that we often consider whether drivers will be “mad” when they encounter a new design. Many drivers are going to be angry and behave unsafely regardless of design. But ROH, yes, design can mitigate the effects of this unsafe behavior.