Portlanders are planning a local event for the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims (WDoR). At 1:00 pm on November 20th, participants will gather at the intersection of SE 122nd Ave and SE Powell Blvd, where they’ll hear from speakers including the family members of people who have been killed in traffic crashes. Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty will also speak at the event.
Event participants will ask for action from local policymakers and transportation agencies to do more to prevent these largely preventable tragedies that have already claimed the lives of 46 Portlanders this year.
Members of local transportation groups The Street Trust, Oregon Walks, Bike Loud PDX and Oregon Families for Safe Streets are working together to organize this event with help from the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Vision Zero team. The three main organizers are Bike Loud board member Cathy Tuttle, The Street Trust’s Educational Director Lindsay Huber and local safe streets advocate Michelle DuBarry, who began her transportation safety activism after her young son Seamus was killed in a traffic crash in 2010.
There have been WDoR events in Portland in the past – in fact, three years ago Mayor Ted Wheeler officially designated November 17th World Day of Remembrance after hearing from activists like DuBarry who have a personal experience with traffic violence. (Organizers of this year’s event have chosen to follow the international WDoR community’s lead and observe it on November 20th.)
But Tuttle said she thinks Portlanders could seize on the opportunity to commemorate WDoR more than they have in the past. Tuttle said that when she worked as a safe streets advocate in Seattle, she valued the day as a chance to organize and create more awareness about traffic fatalities and how to prevent them.
The main ask from advocates at this event will be directed at the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), which owns and operates many of the most dangerous arterial streets in Portland. Seamus DuBarry was killed on ODOT-owned N Lombard St in 2010, and Sarah Pliner was killed by a truck driver while trying to bike across ODOT’s SE Powell Blvd in October, sparking a local reckoning about street ownership and how to make sure vulnerable road users are safe.
Many advocates want ODOT to make a jurisdictional transfer of its streets to PBOT ownership so the city can operate these streets as neighborhood corridors that see a lot of bike and pedestrian traffic and not the state highways they were first built to be. But some people are looking at another way ODOT can make its Portland streets safer: by following its own guidelines.
ODOT has a Blueprint for Urban Design which outlines engineering standards and specifically emphasizes keeping vulnerable road users safe. On WDoR, organizers will ask ODOT to make sure they’re keeping their streets up to their own standards.
“Nearly half of all Portland fatalities happen on a very few ODOT streets and [following their Blueprint for Urban Design] will save lives,” Tuttle wrote in an email to BikePortland about the event.
Tuttle pointed out that activists aren’t only concerned with ODOT. They also want to hold the Portland’s transportation bureau responsible for their own part in local fatalities.
“Frankly, people and their families who suffer after traffic violence don’t give a damn who owns the road,” Tuttle said.
While Powell is owned by ODOT, 122nd Ave is another high-crash corridor that’s operated by PBOT. Meeting at the intersection of both of these large, car-dominated streets will give people an opportunity to see how dangerous it is for people walking and biking in east Portland and also to take a look at some of the projects ODOT and PBOT have planned to make the area safer.
Event organizers hope this can be an impetus for change.
“There’s just too much. Too much serious injury. Too much death,” Tuttle wrote to BikePortland. “Death that upends the lives of the victims, their friends and families, the witnesses, the first responders, the circles grow and grow of death and life-altering injury that we’ve decided is a reasonable price to pay for driving cars without consequences…we have chosen not to invest in a reliable 24/7 transit system, bike share network, sidewalk network, long distance fully protected bike network.”
There are WDoR events happening in cities across the world. You can find out more about events in the United States on the Vision Zero website. Stay tuned for coverage from Portland’s event.