More traffic cameras, more money: A big day for safer streets in Portland

Posted by on June 9th, 2021 at 5:32 pm

A man tries to cross 82nd Avenue at Alberta, the intersection where two people were killed by drivers in April.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Wednesday was a very consequential day for traffic safety in Portland.

“I have moved from hating cameras, to really understanding how, in relationship with other safety improvements, they could help keep people in our communities safe.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, city commissioner

At their morning session Portland City Council finally authorized the Portland Bureau of Transportation to move forward with a contract for automated enforcement cameras. This contract was first given the go-ahead by council 18 months ago but was mired in red tape and stuck at the city’s procurement office.

Then this afternoon the Oregon Senate passed House Bill 2530, which repeals the existing sunset on the city’s traffic camera program that was set to expire in 2024. “We are optimistic that the governor will sign this,” a PBOT spokesperson shared with me today, “Allowing the speed safety cameras program in Portland to become permanent.”

And then at their evening session, City Council passed the 2021-2022 budget that included a last-minute, $450,000 amendment from PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty that aims to, “Urgently respond to the crisis of vehicular violence.”

When these three things are taken together, they represent significant progress and give PBOT clear marching orders to tame the city’s most dangerous intersections.

At City Council today, PBOT Safety Section Manager Dana Dickman told Mayor Wheeler, Hardesty and the rest of council that the new, five year, $15 million contract with Conduent State & Local Solutions, Inc will allow PBOT to install twice as many cameras as they have now. “This contract will allow us to install up to 20 fixed speed cameras [total] and 20 intersection cameras so it’s essentially a little bit more than doubling the system,” Dickman said.

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Despite the clear effectiveness and urgent need for automated cameras to cite drivers for speeding and red light running infractions, Portland has installed only eight of them in the past five years. One of the barriers to expansion was that state law requires a sworn police officer to review each citation. PBOT tried to change that law at the legislature this year, but lawmakers and police unions weren’t ready to pass it.

Asked how a major expansion of the camera program will be possible with the police officer requirement still in place, PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera told BikePortland today that, “We have agreement from our partners at the Portland Police Bureau, and the courts that handle speed citations, that they both can handle the additional work that will come with the expansion in the number of cameras.”

Rivera said PBOT could install even more cameras in the coming years without the officer requirement and that, “We fully intend to bring this issue up again [at future legislative sessions].”

Cameras alone will not solve our traffic safety crisis. Streets must be designed in a way that discourages dangerous driving and limits the consequences of it. PBOT Commissioner Hardesty understands this and today she put our money where her mouth is.

The $450,000, one-time boost from the General Fund will be used on projects on PBOT’s “high crash corridors” (streets with an above average rate of injury and/or death) in the next four to six months.

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Hardesty’s commitment to address Portland’s rising traffic fatalities began in earnest when a man intentionally used his car to run over people in southeast Portland in late January. It was a vehicular rampage that left one person dead, many others injured, and put our entire city on edge — and it happen just weeks after Hardesty was asked to lead PBOT. Then when two people died while walking on 82nd Avenue in late April, Hardesty had seen enough. She tasked PBOT staff to come up with a list of projects that would have an immediate impact on safety.

“It’s clear our city is seeing a tragic increase in loss of life from vehicular violence and we need to treat this like an emergency,” Hardesty said in a statement released today that also referenced a spike in deaths so far this year that’s over 50% higher than 2020.

The $450,000 will be spent on new traffic cameras, intersection “daylighting” projects, new traffic signals with leading pedestrian intervals, turn calming bumps at high-crash intersections, installation of flexible posts in center turn lanes (to prevent them from being improperly used), and warning signs at high crash intersections.

Today proves that Hardesty can deliver for PBOT and there’s nothing like excellent budget news to boost staff morale. It’s also another example of Hardesty’s flexibility when it comes to re-assessing her positions.

“I have moved from hating [automated enforcement] cameras, to really understanding how, in relationship with other safety improvements, they could help keep people in our communities safe,” she said at Council today. “I look forward to installing these cameras and installing the safety improvements so that it doesn’t matter what part of the city you live in, you can safely walk and bike safely.”

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

Safety cameras that record license plates and send the citation to the registered owner are the right thing to do, but failing to auto-blur the driver and passengers face is becoming highly problematic due to the increased misused of biometric source data.

Storing a capture of the occupant face is completely unnecessarily for this application. A couple years ago I would not have had an issue with it, but the situation has changed rapidly since then. Once the face captures are stored they can be stolen in a hack, shared or backed-up against the rules, and later subjected to biometric fingerprinting. No stored biometric data is safe. Last year there were over a 1000 data breaches in the US affecting over 150 million people and the problem is rapidly getting worse.

Not auto-blurring the faces in the captures will just further normalize biometric data collection which will only lead to its further expansion and the scams, identity theft, and misuse that come along with it.

mark
Guest
mark

We need to change the law to allow the citation to be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle, without needing to identify the driver. If the registered owner wasn’t driving at the time, they can give up the responsible party. Too many citations for a given vehicle, and the state will seize and crush it.

Harald
Guest
Harald

The German system requires the actual driver to be identified. However, if the driver can’t be identified and the owner is uncooperative, there is no immediate fine but the vehicle owner is mandated to keep a drivers log for a certain period of time. Seems like a reasonable middle ground.

Tom
Guest
Tom

That German system was created far before facial recognition was developed and before the recently available facial recognition background check software existed. Currently at least the Beaverton and Gresham PD are full-in on the use of facial recognition with no real restrictions. They may already be pulling traffic camera data to run facial recognition background checks for both driver and passenger just to see what pops up. Why wouldn’t they when its so easy, cheap and affective, and who is going to know as they don’t reveal the details on how they are using facial recognition, and there are no records kept.

This is essentially part of what China is doing in Xinjiang. What we are rapidly converging on in the US is China style surveillance. The Beaverton and Gresham PD can actually buy the same FR software used in Xinjiang which include built in filters for race detection. The FR software in the works will also have filters for sexual orientation, politics and even mood (see below links).

If you don’t have anything to hide, hopefully all the people who look like you (close enough to you to create a mismatch) also don’t have anything to hide.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/09/12/researchers-use-facial-recognition-tools-to-predict-sexuality-lgbt-groups-arent-happy/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-79310-1

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00507-5

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-quiet-growth-of-race-detection-software-sparks-concerns-over-bias-11597378154

soren
Guest
soren

It should be noted that the majority of speed cameras in Germany are located on motorways or regional highways/expressways, not on average roads in urban centers.

https://www.scdb.info/en/karte/

The monomaniacal focus on speed cameras in some urban areas is a USAnian “experiment” that avoids installation of cheap vision zero infrastructure because it might may annoy the sports utility cage (SUC) driving majority.

I also expect that speed cameras in dense urban areas will prove to be a waste of money in the long run as drivers become accustomed to briefly decelerating and then re-accelerating.

Speed cameras in urban areas are, in effect, very, very, very expensive speed bumps with multi-million dollar maintenance contracts.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Even taking this gloomy view, it still seems better than the alternative to me. And cameras are a net revenue source that can be used to fund infrastructure improvements.

soren
Guest
soren

What’s gloomy about cheap and effective speed bumps (and raised crosswalks)??? Oh sorry, I guess those things are quite gloomy for the homicidal convenience of sports utility cage (SUC) drivers,

FullLaneFemme
Guest

Well, until drivers become accustomed to not driving at speeds that will seriously injure or kill someone we can have speed cameras.

Cleo Robins
Guest
Cleo Robins

Soren ,

Should we re-fund the PPB and let the traffic police make traditional traffic stops? We need to do something to reduce the death toll.

soren
Guest
soren

We need to do something

Yes, but anything other than the cheap and effective infrastructure that is proven to reduce the speed of deadly sports utility cages (SUCs).

This is the ‘murrican way.

PS: As far as I am concerned, every single PPB officer should be fired.

Toronto Sam
Guest
Toronto Sam

Soren,
“Every single PPB officer should be fired”
That’s just naive and of course a non-starter.

soren
Guest
soren

I agree that my abolitionist position is naive and a non-starter in mostly-white and thoroughly racist Portland, but firing every single police office turned out to be a pragmatic approach in Camden NJ: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/12/nyregion/camden-police.html. (And, yes, the outcome was not perfect but those who expect perfection are always disappointed.)

Riderofbike
Guest
Riderofbike

Soren, You need to get out more if you really think Portland is racist. You should take a tour of India, Lebanon and Jordan. Might give you some needed perspective.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/05/15/a-fascinating-map-of-the-worlds-most-and-least-racially-tolerant-countries/%3foutputType=amp

soren
Guest
soren

The idea that we should excuse racism because others may also be racist is a logical fallacy at best.

Korie C
Guest
Korie C

Soren,
Actually that’s not what happened in Camden. They simply had the county there take over the force. The county hired back the majority of the Camden cops.

https://progressive.org/latest/camden-didnt-defund-police-department-kalet-200630/

Watts
Guest
Watts

If the registered owner wasn’t driving at the time, they can give up the responsible party.

“If you won’t identify the guilty party, we’re going to charge you!”

Sounds adjacent to collective punishment. What’s not to like? (Never mind complexities like trying to sort out conflicting accounts about who was driving, or someone getting a friend with a clean record to “take the fall” to avoid more severe consequences… as long as the state gets its pound of flesh…)

MarkInNoPo
Guest
MarkInNoPo

I’m glad we’re getting more cameras, but we still need to figure out how to handle the scourge of drivers being reckless in cars stripped of license plates.

Last week, on the Bryant St greenway, the driver of a souped-up Mustang with no license plates threatened to shoot a pedestrian who waved his arms in objection to donuts being spun next to Arbor Lodge Park. And on Lombard, the craziest drivers are often those without any sort of license plate. Cameras are key, but the city also needs to do something about the people speeding through town in cars that can’t be identified.

D2
Guest
D2

Unfortunately if offenders are going to the extent of taking off their license plate active policing is really the only answer.

I believe the logic behind speed cameras is to slow down the average rate of speed and therefor decrease the number of accidents and/or the severity of them. If you can coerce the moderate speeders into compliance it also forces the more aggressive speeders to be ‘stuck’ in that traffic. Fully reckless drivers are another concern altogether.

One
Guest

I can’t count how many times I’ve been next to a cop who is behind someone without a license plate or a temporary paper in the window. They don’t care

Riderofbikes
Guest
Riderofbikes

That’s because they’ve given up. They know they can’t win. If they stop somebody and ANYTHING goes wrong they will be blamed by the politicians that Portlanders have elected.

Abi
Guest
Abi

In Oregon due to the backlog at the DMV, there is a moratorium on liscense plate requirements. it’s currently legal to drive without plate, but hopefully not much longer

Toronto Sam
Guest
Toronto Sam

Abi,
Actually the COVID moratorium only allows one to be 6 months expired. If > 6 months, you are in violation. Unfortunately, due to police defunding the PPB does not have the staff to enforce vehicle laws and PBOT doesn’t care to either. Car owners In Portland can do whatever they please. Drive without plates, drive with expired plates and speed. Freedom (anarchy) at its worse.

https://www.oregon.gov/odot/DMV/docs/HB2137_moratorium_memo.pdf

Brilyn F.
Guest
Brilyn F.

Abi,
No it’s NOT legal to drive without plates. There is still a six month grace period on registration but I imagine that will end soon once Governor Brown stops declaring a state of emergency for COVID. Currently it’s scheduled to end June 28th.

Here is the pertinent information from the emergency directive from Governor Brown:

The bill prohibits a police officer from issuing the following traffic citations:
• Operating a vehicle without driving privileges under ORS 807.010, based on a driver license
or driver permit expired less than six months.
• Any offense based on a vehicle registration, or a vehicle permit, that is expired less than six
months.
• Unlawful parking in a space reserved for persons with disabilities under ORS 811.615,
based on such a parking permit expired less than six months.

https://www.oregon.gov/odot/DMV/docs/HB2137_moratorium_memo.pdf

Cleo Robins
Guest
Cleo Robins

Completely agree. But here in Portland the politicos we have elected frown on any use of the police to enforce our traffic and vehicle registration laws. PBOT does virtually nothing about the thousands of no plate vehicles and expired registration vehicles littering our streets. So the average citizen suffers the consequences.

mark
Guest
mark

I fully support the idea of more automated enforcement. In order for it to be effective though, we need some way to ensure that motor vehicles actually display license plates. I can’t count the number of cars I’ve seen recently with no plates at all, or a temporary permit barely visible behind a darkly tinted rear window, or no front plate because they don’t want to diminish the smooth front end of their Tesla.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

You know who doesn’t hold deep-seated beliefs about the superiority of the white race, isn’t filled with hate, and doesn’t carry a gun on the job? That’s right: traffic cameras.

Riderofbike
Guest
Riderofbike

Dude,
That is over the top hyperbole. There are many excellent law enforcement officers who do their darndest every day to help the community is which they are working. I find your comment offensive to those good officers.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

It is simply a fact that there are many police officers who hold racist beliefs, then act on those racist beliefs on the job, using state power to commit racially-motivated crimes. I find that even more offensive than you find my words.

And in case you haven’t noticed, that extra-judicial deprivation of human rights by the US government has caused some social unrest recently.

Maybe all those “excellent” police officers out there should stop remaining silent when their co-workers commit crimes and should stop using their union to prevent their criminal co-workers from being held accountable. Then maybe they would deserve to get recognized for doing “their darndest every day to help the community.”

MarkInNoPo
Guest
MarkInNoPo

It is possible to oppose bigotry of one kind without embracing bigotry of another.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Black people are born Black. Cops are not born cops. A “bigotry” against cops is not even in the same moral universe as racial bigotry.

Leo R.
Guest
Leo R.

Matt,
So are you saying it’s okay to make promote the false stereotypes that The Dude is making? Just because something is “less wrong” doesn’t make it right.

Matt
Guest
Matt

What false stereotypes?

soren
Guest
soren

When police “review” citations we should expect the outcome to be racist. Also, the moral cowardice of the democratic party in refusing to ban this practice is disgusting.

mark
Guest
mark

This is why it’s so important to change to law to allow the citation to be sent to the registered owner, without the need to identify the driver. Should apply to hit and run violence as well.

MarkinNoPo
Guest
MarkinNoPo

I agree with eliminating police review but this is overwrought. And if you want to know why Democrats hesitated, the simplest answer is usually correct: they’re beholden to the unions.

Korie C.
Guest
Korie C.

Oh brother. Not all cops are racist. Your repeated statements of such are growing tiresome.

Matt D
Guest
Matt D

The entire stretch of Banfield Freeway needs speed cameras. Drivers there are out of wack.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Good news!

Maybe I’m late to this, but while driving the other day Google Maps was telling me “Red light camera ahead” in advance of intersections (Tigard area).

I was sort of conflicted… I don’t want to “cheat” via this, but then again it caused me to slow down for sure. Which is probably better than speeding and getting a ticket several weeks later. I just hope it doesn’t lead to a feeling of freedom to speed elsewhere.

David R Burns
Guest
David R Burns

I like to think of those warnings as opportunities for everyone to practice safe driving. Having practiced, many will continue to do so elsewhere.

soren
Guest
soren

PBOT found that deceleration followed by re-acceleration was common at the Division speed cameras but somehow this finding is rarely discussed here.

IMO, speed cameras are expensive band aids that fail to address our toxic and inhumane road system. They are better than nothing but I doubt they will have much effect in the long-term (and will likely be removed once the sports utility cage majority [SUC] gets ticked off enough to make them an electoral issue).

SD
Guest
SD

It would be great if this kind of approach could be applied to greenways with increased fines similar to “work zones,” but I am guessing that isn’t part of the current plan.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

It’s worth noting the following regarding Oregon law and speed camera enforcement:

“Oregon law allows RLR cameras to also detect and issue speeding violations for motorists violating speeds by 11 mph or greater. Cities may not issue a speeding violation concurrently with a red light running violation, unless the motorist was exceeding the posted speed by more than 20 mph.”

Source – https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/Engineering/Documents_TrafficStandards/Red-Light-Camera-Guidelines.pdf

In other words, in a 20mph zone, drivers can go 50% over the speed limit without risking an automated speeding ticket. Likelihood of death from being hit by a driver goes from 7% at 20mph to 20% at 30mph. So pedestrians will have a nearly triple chance of dying due to protection for scofflaw drivers being enshrined into Oregon law.

Also mentioned above is that a driver can be speeding 20mph over the limit AND run a red light and due to Oregon law, they are assured of only getting a ticket for running the red light. Oregon law goes out of its way to protect drivers from the consequences of their actions.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Comment of the week?

Cleo Robins
Guest
Cleo Robins

Multiple episodes of vehicular violence against CHILDREN on NE 33rd between Hancock and Knott (adjacent to Grant Park/Grant High School/Beverly Cleary K-8. Despite multiple complaints PBOT has done virtually nothing.
They don’t seem to care.
One issue is lack of traffic enforcement which has been completely abandoned in lawless Portland. Can PBOT be mandated to install speed cameras in ALL high risk school zones? Would be a start.

Tom
Guest
Tom

In the race to roll out more biometric surveillance, pedestrians and cyclists may be far more impacted by misuse. Special fixed equipment and camera timing is needed capture drivers faces, but capturing people outside of vehicles is far easier and cheaper.

Take for example a new drone soon to be available on the market which is purpose built to fly over crowds and harvest high quality pedestrian face pictures and identify people on “watch lists”. It can’t see people in cars, only pedestrians and cyclists. Police in the US are already saying they are interested in obtaining this drone. The drone is expected to be flying over US pedestrians as early as next year.

The software developed for the drone includes a powerful tool that keeps track of who the target associates with, supposedly for COVID tracing. However, this feature makes the drone an authoritarian/dictatorship governments dream. They only need to identify one dissident or political opponent, and the drone software will generate a tree diagram showing who associates with them, then who associates with the associates, and so on. In a short period of time the software can create a complete organizational picture of any dissident organization that dares to step outside.

I don’t know how anyone could support the mass capture of biometric data when its coupling with FR technology will increasingly be used to imprison, torture and execute huge numbers dissidents around the world. Its a humanitarian disaster.

When its used on pedestrians and cyclists in the US, the justification will likely include that we are already capturing faces of driver using “safety” cameras. If its okay for drivers, then why not also okay for people outside of vehicles, will be the claim.

The purpose of license plate data is to identify the vehicle/registrant, and should be used to identify the vehicle/registrant without capturing and storing face pictures.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2021/02/15/drones-with-facial-recognition-are-primed-to-fly-but-the-world-isnt-ready-yet/?sh=6b0adba73d9e

Matt
Guest
Matt

Do we still have the van-based speed cameras? I haven’t seen one in ages. Placing them at random locations that change frequently seems a lot more effective than fixed location cameras.

tom
Guest
tom

I live on se main (between 139 & 148) . About 2 months ago PBOT installed 9 speed bumps (after only 40 years of requesting them) … traffic SEEMS to have increased. The dirt bike guys go fast and use them for jumps. The speed racer guys “floor it” from one bump to the next. Maybe they have a time competition ? so, once again, PBOT’s good intentions have made the situation worse ?

Cargo mom
Guest
Cargo mom

Twice as many cameras that exist. But we don’t have many existing cameras, so really baby steps here. So typical of Portland

Daily Commuter
Guest
Daily Commuter

I pass the red light camera every week on Marine Drive during my ride. Someone has cut every wire to the camera and associated equipment, and it’s been left that way for the 3 months that I have been observing it.

soren
Guest
soren

My back of the envelope math suggests that we we could install 30-40 emergency vehicle-compatible speed bumps for the 30 year cost of one set of traffic cameras. And another plus is that speed bumps have no wires that can be cut.

MarkInNoPo
Guest
MarkInNoPo

Do you propose installing speed bumps on Marine Drive? If not, what’s your next best idea?

soren
Guest
soren

On every high crash network street (and raised crosswalks, median islands, and chicanes too).