As traffic deaths pile up, frustration at PBOT boils over

Piling up. (Graphic: BikePortland)

“The problem isn’t our desire or ability to make the changes needed to make our streets safer… we simply don’t have the money to make the changes to our streets that we need.”

– Tara Wasiak, PBOT interim director

Eight people died in traffic crashes in Portland in the past seven days. So far this month, our streets have claimed 11 lives — the highest monthly total since records were kept — and we still have 10 days left in the month.

The killing of Jeanie Diaz by a drunk driver on Southeast Cesar Chavez Blvd Saturday is still in the headlines, yet five more people have lost their lives in crashes since. I woke up this morning to police statements about three fatalities since I went to bed last night.*

(*Update, 12:17 pm: Portland Police say a third person has died in the collision on SE Powell Blvd last night. Two of the victims were just 18 years old.)

Even before these last three deaths, at a meeting of the Portland Bureau of Transportation Bureau Budget Advisory Committee (BBAC) Thursday evening, frustration over the seemingly unending traffic toll boiled over with one member lashing out at the leader of PBOT.

Meanwhile, there’s simmering frustration and a sense of helplessness from Portlanders about what can be done to stem this tragic tide, local transportation advocacy groups have been all but silent, enforcement of traffic laws is a joke, Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps has chosen to spend his time meddling around with charter reform, our vision zero plan hasn’t done enough, and PBOT says they just don’t have the funding to make necessary changes fast enough.

It makes me wonder: Who will lead Portland out of this darkness and what is their vision for doing so?

“Putting up flashing signs that say ‘Drive Carefully’ is hardly a solution and I find it rather insulting.”

– Ignacio Simon, PBOT Bureau Budget Advisory Committee member

PBOT Interim Director Tara Wasiak (at her final meeting in that role as Millicent Williams is set to begin as PBOT Director Monday) acknowledged the recent deaths at the outset of the BBAC meeting. “We continue to have a tragic summer of traffic violence on our streets,” she said. And then Wasiak went to the same PBOT talking point we heard earlier this week. “Speeding and driving while under the influence continue to be two of the main factors and many of the crashes happening in the city.”

Wasiak then framed PBOT’s response in budgetary terms (she was a budget meeting after all). “As our budget problems grow, our ability to respond and make real concrete changes to our streets is diminished,” Wasiak said. “The problem isn’t our desire or ability to make the changes needed to make our streets safer, safer. The problem is that as as revenue declines, city council forces us to cut our budget we simply don’t have the money to make the changes to our streets that we need.”

BBAC member Ignacio Simon responded by lambasting Wasiak’s agency. “What have we seen since [making the Vision Zero pledge in] 2015 in terms of traffic violence and traffic fatalities?” he asked. And then before she could finish answering, he interjected, “The answer is we’ve seen a sharp increase., and putting up flashing signs that say ‘Drive Carefully’ is hardly a solution and I find it rather insulting.”

“What’s even the point of signing up to a vision zero pledge?!” he then asked. “I mean, what are you guys actually doing in terms of making our roads safer, especially for pedestrians?… I am ashamed in my fellow citizens in the city, who are not outraged that we’re seeing this level of traffic violence on our streets. I am ashamed. I am outraged. And I’m going to keep being outraged at you because you as a bureau are responsible for these things. And you will never stop being responsible for them until you start to take these things seriously.”

PBOT staff kept their cool and other members of the committee pointed out how PBOT is at the whim of political winds and City Hall is where Simon should point his passion.

Following these exchanges, committee members went through the brutal exercise of prioritizing which PBOT programs should be cut given the budget reductions the bureau faces.

In 2015 when the City of Portland adopted the vision zero stance that, “No loss of life is acceptable,” advocates pushed to include an amendment that would have set a firm date to reach zero deaths. But no one on City Council at the time, including former PBOT Commissioner Steve Novick, were comfortable with that strong of a commitment. They said the city lacked the necessary funding to reach zero deaths, and that there was too much political risk if they fell short.

Former Oregon Walks leader Noel Mickelberry was prescient when she testified at that 2015 meeting. “These deaths are going to continue to happen as long as we have streets that allow for it,” she said.

And in the same meeting, before voting to adopt the vision zero proclamation, the late Commissioner Nick Fish said, “I don’t want people to declare failure when you make progress.”

Almost nine years later and unfortunately Mickelberry’s statement is the one that has held up.


UPDATE, 2:30 pm: Commissioner Mapps’ office has shared a lengthy statement with BikePortland about the traffic death toll. Read it here.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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City lover
City lover
10 months ago

As a parent of two high schoolers it feels as if no place is safe. Not school, not the bus stop, not their bikes, not the car. As a former professional bike/ped advocate it saddens me that the place I feel they are safest is a car. I know it’s not true but the other safe places don’t feel safe anymore either.

former_nonprofit_board_member
former_nonprofit_board_member
10 months ago

the committee pointed out how PBOT is at the whim of political winds and City Hall is where Simon should point his passion.

This excuse is trotted out perinnially by PBOT and its defenders but in reality it is senior PBOT management that decide what information and policy they spoon-feed to transportation-naive commissioners — and this has a very strong influence on de facto policy. This manipulative dynamic was made painfully obvious when Hardesty deferred to PBOT management on the Hawthorne reconstruction project and when Hardesty met with the BAC without any knowledge of the 2030 bike plan.

PBOT management knows.

Champs
Champs
10 months ago

This isn’t a defense of PBOT, but they are not the only bureau using that excuse and I think that there’s a kernel of truth to it. If you look around city code, you’ll find chunks that are houses of cards built on roles or offices that are easily shuffled out of existence. This code ends up “under review,” i.e. unenforced for years at a time, sometimes stretching back to Commissioner Eudaly’s term.

We keep pointing to charter reform as the fix but I’m still not sure if it was the system that broke down or if we’ve just had a raft of leaders that need to be shoved off the dock without a paddle. It’s hard to get five people on the council and now we will need thirteen.

surly ogre
surly ogre
10 months ago
Reply to  Champs

I agree. Charter reform is definitely not the answer. We need a decision hierarchy that is more human safety oriented and less car speed oriented.
If we want the conditions that are present in Newark NJ, Helsinki and Oslo, then we need to do what they have done. “They cut speed limits, changed street design, removed space for cars and generally made life harder for motorists…it takes more time to drive from one part of the city to another now and you have to pay money to use the road much more than you used to…Car parking charges were also increased – by 50% in downtown Oslo and 20% elsewhere – although thousands of spaces have now been wiped out to make room for 35 miles of new cycle lanes.
The city has reduced speed to a maximum of 30km/h outside schools and started trialling “heart zones”, where driving is banned in areas around schools…Along with narrower driving lanes, Helsinki has also built dozens of roundabouts and installed speed bumps since the 1990s to reduce speed” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/16/how-helsinki-and-oslo-cut-pedestrian-deaths-to-zero Hoboken director of transportation and parking, Ryan Sharp, said the city had deployed a number of initiatives to make certain intersections and roads safer — things he called quick implementation, high impact solutions.
“Things like trying to improve sightlines at corners by doing what we call daylighting,” he said. The city has commitment from its top elected leader, like the mayor or city manager, to set a goal of zero traffic deaths or severe injuries by a date, for instance,” she said. “We make them have a date, that they have a plan, that the plan has timelines, actions, deliverables, that there’s an equity component within there for racial and income equity. https://www.npr.org/2022/08/25/1119110757/traffic-deaths-car-accident-hoboken-new-jersey-vision-zero

eawriste
eawriste
10 months ago
Reply to  surly ogre

Just a quick note. I think you mean Hoboken, NJ, not Newark.

was carless
was carless
10 months ago
Reply to  surly ogre

Taxing car drivers and adding a few bike lanes will not be an effective solution, and heres why:

Both Helsinki and Oslo have comparable populations, less than half the metro population of the Portland metro region.

Each of those cities has a metro mass transit system with over 300,000 daily riders. Trimet in total has about 62,000 riders which is half of what the max ridership was before COVID. Ridership has collapsed.

Both cities are far more walkable and geographically smaller than the city of Portland.

Portland has a huge problem of being very, very low density. It has large streets, most of the residents live in a low density sprawl far from walkable neighborhood centers and do not utilize mass transit.

Trimet max system investments have been in the suburbs, designed to accomode downtown office workers; most of the city’s neighborhoods are not served by rapid transit. Therefore, most residents choose to travel by car as there is no good alternative.

The city doesn’t have nearly enough money to change things. It will realistically require tens of billions of dollars and decades of infrastructure investment. And if the metro continues to half ass things, it will have half assed results.

In the absence of the ability to make positive behavioral changes by shifting people out of their cars, this leaves enforcement as the only option to get people to follow traffic laws to improve safety.

maxD
maxD
10 months ago

PBOT’s excuses are not a great look. They can and should do more. During the design phase of the Greeley project, I asked them repeatedly to address the speeding on that street that caused a injury and deaths. I referenced Vision Zero and their own records of average speeds (over 55 mph!). PBOT’s response was that the Greeley project was funded with “Freight dollars” and and was not a Vision Zero project. Therefore, we get 12′-13′ lanes and the carnage continues. There was a cyclist hit at Greeley/Interstate just a couple of weeks ago. PBOT’s designs are explicitly to benefit freight and fast driving- their token bike and ped improvements ignore a whole suite of dangerous and substandard elements. EVERY SINGLE PBOT PROJECT should be a vision zero project. and every single PBOT project should create complete and safe infrastructure for pedestrians before bike, freight or SOV space is designed. PBOT has been squandering their resources for decades, and it is frustrating to hear them blame the lack of funds they have mismanaged for so long.

cct
cct
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Silos. A crew I spoke with today had no idea about something going on right around the corner. Management is the same; only recently had some staff come to the realization that other desks at PBOT were actively working against them. Throughput vs. Vision Zero, for instance. Changing the charter won’t end bureaucratic siloing, but hopefully not having a commissioner in over their heads who defers to those digging the silos will help.

I also saw this on reddit today, which sums things up neatly:
We have been on ODOT Region 1 for years about the intersection at 62nd and Powell. They refuse to do anything about it, because transportation engineers are wed to the mathematical outputs of models and incapable of questioning the inputs of those models or the qualitative policy decision behind the model itself. “

Engineers have blinkered vision, but management is the one putting the blinkers on.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  cct

“management is the one putting the blinkers on”

And the lawyers.

PacificSource
PacificSource
10 months ago

as someone who lost a dear loved one a couple years ago in a traffic “accident” in Portland, I am wondering other things that can be done. honestly, I would love to see the driving age increased, too many 16-22 year old boys out there causing havoc on our streets with their undeveloped frontal lobe. My dear person was killed by a young “man” driving recklessly who had just got his license. he just got 3 years in prison which is he currently serving, NO ONE WINS in these situations, so many lives ruined

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  PacificSource

I have no personal objection to raising the driving age, and agree that young driver judgement is not always good, but some things to consider.

First, many people need to drive to get around, so a higher driving age would impact young people and their families who live, work, and attend school outside areas that have good transit service.

Second, one of the goals of raising the drinking age to 21 was to provide more “space” between learning to drive and introducing alcohol into a person’s life, with the goal of reducing drunk driving in teens. I used to think we should switch it, and allow drinking at 16, and driving at 21, but now that I better understand the impact of alcohol on developing brains, I no longer think that.

Third, driving, for better or worse, plays an important role in social development of teens. This concern resonates more with me now than it did 20 years ago because of the other strong forces negatively influencing social interactions between young people. Again, this may be less of an issue in urban areas.

I’m not disagreeing with you, and there is probably no right answer, just encouraging you to reflect on a larger, more complex picture. I think as long as human-driven cars underpin so much of our transportation system, we’re going to be wrestling with these issues.

I’ll add I am genuinely sorry for your loss.

blumdrew
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to change the driving age, but it should be generally more difficult to get and keep a driver’s license. And it should probably be standardized in every state. Some states are disconcertingly lenient, though I can’t find the source I saw on that now

First, many people need to drive to get around

Depends on how you define “need”. Most, if not all high schoolers in Portland can get around without a car. In fact, they already have a free bus pass. Getting a car/license is primarily a marker of social prestige, rather than a literal necessity especially as a high schooler. Finding ways to change that is actually incredibly important, and just throwing up your hands and saying “well some people need it now” is a bit silly in my opinion.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  blumdrew

High schoolers on westside cannot get around by bus.

Will
Will
10 months ago

Depends on the high school. I see a lot of Lincoln High students come to school from the other side of the hill either on the MAX or on the bus.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Will

Many students can get to school by bus or MAX. It’s designed around that. But if you want go somewhere on the weekend, at night, during non-rush-hour (say mid-morning or afternoon), westside bus service is very limited.

If you have an after school activity, a sport or club, you are out of luck.

Luke
Luke
10 months ago

Investments in bus services–with greater frequency (more buses) and better bus stops (not just having a signpost on the side of the road)–are some of the fastest ways to increase transit ridership.

blumdrew
10 months ago

I’m not so sure, but let’s look at it by neighborhood. To qualify, a bus had to have roughly 30 minute service – which is arbitrary, but the lowest frequency I generally consider to be usable in general.

Downtown: obviously great service
Pearl: streetcars, 77, 17, 20
Goose Hollow: 6, red/blue MAX, 24
NW District: 15, 77, 20, N/S streetcar.
Arlington Heights: 20
Hillside: 20
Sylvan Highlands: 20
Homestead: 8, 12, 56, 54, 94
Forest Park: nothing
Northwest Heights: nothing
South Portland: N/S Streetcar, Orange MAX, 34, 12, 56, 54, 9, 19, 17
SW Hills: nothing
Hillsdale: 54, 56, 44, 12, 94
Bridemile: 54, 56
Hayhurst: 54, 56
Multnomah: 44, 12, 94
Maplewood: nothing
Ash Creek: nothing
Crestwood: nothing
Far Southwest: 12, 44, 94
West Portland Park: 12, 44, 94
Markham: nothing
South Burlingame: nothing
Marshall Park: nothing
Collins View: nothing
Arnold Park: nothing
Linnton: nothing

Some of these are a bit of shoulder cases. For example, Hillside has service on the 20 but only on the far southern border. Still, most high schoolers can probably manage that walk (of course there are exceptions).

12 out of 27 neighborhoods (44%) with functionally no bus service is pretty bad, but by population it’s not quite so bleak. Those 11 neighborhoods have about 41,000 people in them. West Portland has around a quarter of the cities population which pencils out to 160k or so. In these terms, about a quarter of Westsiders don’t have functional bus service. Yes, that is a lot! It’s bad that there are 41k people in the city who face awful service and continual cuts.

But still – most high schoolers on the westside can get around by bus.

maxD
maxD
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I am encountering an increasing number of conflicts with uber/Lyft/door dash drivers who seem to have no clue what the rules of the road are. Could Oregon/Portland require drivers get a CDL? Would there be a way to fine the corporation if driers were found to in violation? It seems crazy to have people with basically no training and no accountable using our streets to earn money.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

I agree with you, maxD. There should be extra licensing requirements for these gig drivers, and their employers (Lyft, Uber, etc) should pay for it.

eawriste
eawriste
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Hey maxD, NY state requires a CDL of sorts, the Taxi and Limousine Commission. All taxis and for-hire vehicles (e.g., Lyft) are required to have a special license plate etc. This does make them slightly more accountable since one can “report” them to the TLC. In reality it’s not very effective. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have something like that in OR or requiring a CDL isn’t a good idea. I do think automated enforcement does a very similar, but more effective job.

Incidentally, NYT buses also have cameras that report cars parked in the bus lane for x amount of time which results in an automatically fine. I’d like to see something like that in OR.

maxD
maxD
10 months ago
Reply to  eawriste

Thanks for the insight, very good to know!

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I define “need” as not having a reasonable alternative. Most of Oregon, and many parts of Portland fit this description.

It seem silly to you, but it probably isn’t to a family actually wrestling with these issues.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Anybody who “needs” to drive at 16 (and no, they do not, I have lived in the west side, they can take a bus), also just as much “needed” to drive when they were 12. So that is a non argument. There are more important things than 17 year olds driving their asses across town for a baseball game.

I’d be willing to entertain some sort of waiver for rural people with no bus service and death trap roads.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  John

John, tell me what bus I take to get downtown from Portland Heights at noon.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago

You have to walk or – better – roll down the hill to Hillsdale where there’s a bus every couple of minutes.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Though I agree with you about the lack of bus service on the west side generally.

John
John
10 months ago

Why is a high school kid going downtown at noon?

Don’t get me wrong, there should be better bus service everywhere, but when it doesn’t exist I don’t think driving is the solution. As mentioned, they can get to a bus by foot or bike and then it’s easy. Do that. Barring that, maybe don’t go downtown if it’s that hard to get there. Or make it a very infrequent thing. This whole thing where we build up these lives that end up having a dependency on driving at 16 just seems like nonsense. I don’t know what Shannon from BP will do when her kids are that age, but her whole thing seems to be about deciding if you really need to do that frivolous drive across town every other day. Maybe don’t. Maybe we don’t need that if good transit options aren’t available.

But also, if a kid is supposedly responsible enough to drive at 16 (doubt), they are responsible enough to take a bike to the nearest bus stop and ride.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  John

Why is a high school kid going downtown at noon?

Really? Did you just skip over your teenage years?

blumdrew
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You and I may have different definitions of reasonable. I can’t really think of too many places in Portland where I would feel like I properly need a car to live my life. There certainly are places I would struggle, particularily in the areas of East Portland without close-ish access to a grocery store, but I reckon I could make do.

It seem silly to you, but it probably isn’t to a family actually wrestling with these issues.

What do you even mean by this? I think it’s silly to imagine that any significant portion of high schoolers need a car. In my own life, the people I knew in high school who had cars and drove lived in the suburban parts of the city but chose to drive rather than take a bus. Did they need to do that? Or was it a marker of status to have a car and use it, rather than taking the bus? I’d lean the latter. And it’s incredibly important to change the prevailing social norms around driving – especially in high school – to break the ongoing cycle of car dependent behavior.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  blumdrew

Blum, I’ve uploaded a TriMet map zoomed in on southwest. Any bus line with a hollow circle has limited, rush hour only service. The 51, for example, has a six-hour mid-day service gap from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

Look at the Bridlemile neighborhood (sits under the SW Portland label). How is anyone who lives there supposed to get around by bus at night, mid-day or the weekend? There are no sidewalks, Scholls Ferry is particularly dangerous to walk on, and Fanno Creek runs along BHH to the north, resulting in limited street connectivity. Dosch doesn’t have a sidewalk. Hamilton is missing sidewalks. Patton doesn’t have a sidewalk and is very dangerous to walk along.

Don’t misunderstand me, I support Forward Together, I think they did a very thoughtful job of redesigning the network. But about five years ago I found my thinking shifting:

1) I stopped feeling guilty about driving. I don’t have another way of getting around. My husband bike commutes, I can’t. Neither can the man across the street with Parkinson’s, or my 90-year-old neighbor. I love public transit, I love the bus, but it is not available to me enough to be useful.

2) I love downtown Portland, and used to spend a lot of time there. But a few years ago it occurred to me that downtown might be missing me more than I was missing it. We went to our favorite restaurant last night, it was half empty. It’s too bad, but it is also out of my hands and I’m not going to spend the last couple decades (knock on wood) of my life frustrated and angry about things I have unsuccessfully put a lot of effort into trying to change.

So I drive, I would rather be in a bus.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

You and I may have different definitions of reasonable

You are a young fit healthy childless male (I presume). You may see things differently if you have a family, get older, become less fit, become temporarily or permanently disabled, or take a job that requires some element of driving or requires attendance at odd hours.

Sure, you may never do those things, but many people will, and it helps to at least understand that there is a broader perspective and that most people aren’t really that unreasonable or brainwashed.

I actually agree about the need to change norms, but I don’t think that’s possible (in the general case) in the world we’ve built. Too many areas are impossible on any practical level to provide “good enough” transit service to (and I’m thinking more broadly than the core of Portland, but as Lisa has pointed out, we can’t even do it here).

Of course what can be built can be rebuilt, but that’s a long, slow, and very, very expensive process.

Craig Giffen
Craig Giffen
10 months ago
Reply to  PacificSource

My grandma was hit by a high school in the mid 1990s by a 16 year old kid who jokingly swerved to hit her…but actually did. They told the sheriff that all three of them in the cab were looking for a lighter that dropped on the floor of the pickup.

The sheriff didn’t do anything (“the kid was white as a ghost…he’s suffered enough” is what I heard) and my grandma was never the same after that.

That moment made me grow to have a big chip on my shoulder when it comes to both cops and teenage drivers.

SE 34th
SE 34th
10 months ago
Reply to  PacificSource

It’s not just young drivers. It’s all drivers. A close relative is a TriMet bus driver, and they can see into people’s cars from the elevated bus seat. They report that 30-40 percent of all drivers at any given time are actively using their phones. They see 2-3 people blow red lights/stop signs blatantly every shift.

Kitten
Kitten
10 months ago

Sorry PBOT, not buying what you’re selling anymore. This is not a problem you can design your way out of. It’s not your budget being too small. It’s Portland Police being chronically understaffed and a DA who has unilaterally decriminalized bad driving, and any accountability because… BLM?

blumdrew
10 months ago

The fact that PBOT’s entire speed safety camera strategy consists of 12 total points is absolutely humiliating. Why not install one in every place where a person gets killed by a speeding driver?

That page also mentions that citations are for going 11 to 20 mph over the posted speed limit… which is pretty crazy. Portland has done a reasonable job of lowering speed limits (though not good enough), but that fact that someone could be going 40 mph down outer Stark and not get cited is insane. Made even more insane by the fact the PBOT acknowledges that 40 mph means an 80% likelihood of serious injury or death.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Does anybody know what is the hold up with adding cameras? The handful they’ve talked about getting installed is a joke. What is slowing this down? It should be a no brainer.

Same with the egregious margin. Any idea what is their excuse for that? I used to think 5 or 10 made sense for calibration issues or whatever but from what people have said even that isn’t true. There is no reason to knowingly not cite people for even one half of one mph over the limit. It’s the limit, people should not go over it ever.

eawriste
eawriste
10 months ago
Reply to  John

“Fingers have been pointed at a problematic vendor, camera procurement problems, technical (electrical) issues, the bottleneck caused by the Portland Police Bureau’s involvement (an issue that is behind us thanks to recently passed legislation), and as we reported via a city audit in 2015 a lack of cross-bureau coordination might share also some of the blame.”

https://bikeportland.org/2023/03/17/traffic-cameras-coming-to-82nd-powell-and-a-lot-more-places-by-the-end-of-this-year-371544

https://www.wweek.com/news/2019/08/28/speed-cameras-save-lives-so-why-does-portland-have-only-eight-of-them/

SD
SD
10 months ago

There is a lot of blame to go around.

Lew Frederick and Susan McLain should be at the top of the list of people with blood on their hands for enthusiastically diverting state transportation resources to freight moguls and asphalt mongers, while starving modern human transportation.

To move the needle, it will take a coalition. Khan Pham has consistently been one of the most effective leaders in this space. It would be fantastic to see others truly rally to her side and form a coalition that explores all possible options and creates a united front to weather driver hysteria.

Electeds need to realize that with solidarity and cooperation they can create a system to diffuse blame for the good but unpopular actions rather than the current situation where they are always blaming each other for their constant failures.

Our current council and most of local media are so weak-minded and desperate that they look for any chance to exploit misinformed moral panics and stick a knife in whatever agency or group that puts their neck on the line to make progress. Not to mention that the PBA and its associated trolls like People for Portland have a diehard contingent of shut-ins that shout “Portland is dying” on command. Whatever private jobs they’ve been promised for selling out Portland can’t come soon enough.

It probably won’t work with a single leader. The real dedicated public servants need to come together and have each other’s back.

cct
cct
10 months ago

local transportation advocacy groups have been all but silent,

This is NOT true – at least in SW. local activists have been badgering PBOT about traffic safety, pedestrian deaths and risks and what PBOT intends to do about it.

You know who HAS been silent? The office of Mingus Mapps.

I know of at least two people who have writtten and spoken to Jackson Pahl, a Mapps spokesperson, about these issues; often over several months. He has simply stopped responding to both people.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  cct

He has simply stopped responding to both people.

I’ve had a similar experience.

eawriste
eawriste
10 months ago
Reply to  cct

So, unfortunately there is likely more than a bit of Realpolitik here. A relatively small proportion of the population who vote do so with traffic deaths in mind. Mapps, and the rest of the council, know they can ignore deaths until it reaches the TV news. The TV news provides the common perception: lack of police enforcement and lack of funds for capital projects (it’s what most people believe already). People then pressure the council to increase the budget for the PPB and road paving. This cycle perpetuates road deaths.

My response from Mapps was the same. They don’t have the money. Reading this should not make you despair. There are solutions: Tell Mapps, council members and the director of PBOT we need cheap solutions now. Street space can be redesigned in a very short timeframe with pennies and volunteers if PBOT decides to let them.

Michael
Michael
10 months ago

Hot take: Every death, major injury, and case of significant property damage (not sure where that threshold should be drawn) on public rights-of-way should result in an automatic root cause analysis, including remedial recommendations, and those recommendations should be legally binding and take precedence over other projects. Right now, the police only investigates to determine if a crime was committed (and even then, their record is spotty) and for insurance purposes. But in the Netherlands they go that extra step to try to figure out what factors led to the tragic result, which gives them visibility and the political capital to actually follow through on fixing these kinds of chronic safety issues. Until we do the same, senior career and political leadership will remain blind to the true scope of the problem they face.

Who’s up for creating an initiative petition?

eawriste
eawriste
10 months ago
Reply to  Michael

In the original 2016 VZ report one of the goals was to develop a multi-agency rapid response team.

This is from the 2019 report:
-After every fatal crash, evaluate crash factors, determine whether immediate safety improvements are needed, and identify whether a plan (and/or funding) is in place to address the site.
-Where feasible, put swift, temporary traffic and operational changes in place

There was no reference to the objective in the 2022 report.

Randi J
Randi J
10 months ago

We need to ask what had changed in Portland ? It’s not like our infrastructure has gotten worse. But we did essentially eliminate all traffic enforcement….we elected to not enforce laws against criminal behavior such as speeding, drunk driving, driving cars without plates, we elected to allow (and enable) dangerous street side camping. This is what changed and along with it came a horrendous amount of traffic related injury and death.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  Randi J

Oh wow, did I miss an election where we elected to do those things? Or was it basically unilateral actions of PPB and Wheeler? We never voted to have PPB quiet quit because we hurt their feefees. We didn’t vote for pbot to take 50 years to install 10 traffic cameras and plastic bollards.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  John

Sorry, John, but we *did* elect a couple of city councilors who directed those exact things. Remember how the PPB budget was deeply cut? What did people think would result from that?

Remember that in Portland – until 2024, at least – we elect people who are not just representatives who make policy but actual managers of agencies who make operational directives like ones Randi mentioned. I couldn’t believe it when a former city councilor responded to complaints of car-camping in my neighborhood by saying that police could do nothing at all if a car showed evidence of someone living in it.

We need to keep the politicians away from day-to-day operational decisions and keep them safely debating and passing ordinances. Our city has suffered way to much from these whipsawing edicts.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

The car camping issue is not “day-to-day operational policy”, it is intertwined in much larger legal issues surrounding homelessness.

I’ve never seen any evidence that City counselors have the bandwidth to be making day-to-day operational decisions in the many bureaus they oversee. I just don’t think that happens. They hire bureau directors and bureau management to make those decisions.

Budget realities and legal frameworks are not going to change when there is a city manager insulating bureau of staff from political leaders.

Yolanda S
Yolanda S
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Actually the car/RV camping IS mostly an operational issue. Time, place and manner restrictions CAN be instituted according to the Martin v Boise court decision. It’s just that Eudaly and Hardesty chose to make our streets a camping free for all in their ideological approach to homelessness.

Champs
Champs
10 months ago

Here is the original Swedish law:

“no one should be killed or seriously injured within the Swedish road transport system, and the structure and the function of the road transport system must be brought into line with the demands this goal entails.”

Here is the Vision Zero statement:

No loss of life is acceptable

Neither of these mean zero deaths. They only mean that road designers have to stop making grim decisions about how many people are expendable, because not even one is okay.

It is obvious that Portland is failing, even at this realistic benchmark. So has every other US city to adopt this policy. It seems like American exceptionalism applies to all kinds of violence.

This is my own dead horse to beat, but the computers in everyone’s pocket make every neighborhood street a through street. Moving cars into collectors and arterials makes the flow more predictable and just maybe puts a limit on the space for people to drive dangerously.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Champs

This is another facet of the problem automation could plausibly solve.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Ironically, automation is what makes it easier to cut through side streets. It’s the automation of navigation Champs pointed out in that very post, highlighting the foolhardy optimism that automation is just going to inherently solve all our problems. In reality, it will be abused to create new and unexpected problems if left to tech bros to implement.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  John

Automation will allow cities to enforce traffic rules in ways that are impossible now. Those rules could include things like not cutting through neighborhoods.

There is a categorical difference between driving a car and giving someone a map. That’s the difference between what Champs and I are referring to.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I hope that’s right, but I just don’t have any good reason to expect it to be.

Google maps and Waze are absolutely automation. They’re an automated navigator that instantly knows the shortcuts and side streets you could never get from a paper map while you’re driving. And for all the nice things that brought, it made our tiny little neighborhood side streets more dangerous. And most likely induced demand, as those extra routes let more cars get through, making transport issues all harder.

The easy automation that could help is traffic cameras, though they won’t solve the cut through problem. It’s not actually illegal to cut through and that’s the problem.

What we need is automated enforcement that nobody can take side streets to get around slow traffic on an arterial. And by automation I mean concrete barriers. Good old analog technology.

Andrew S
Andrew S
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Interesting thoughts about automation here. I’ll offer up a counter solution for cut thru traffic: rather than change the algorithm/rules, change the input data. If the primary players artificially restrict their routes, there’s room for a competing app to include those cut thrus and offer users lower travel times. We can change the input data by making sure those cut thru routes are indeed slower than arterials (diverters, lower speed limits, etc).

Daniel Reimer
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

And how many more people have to die before that becomes a reality? We have known solutions that exist today.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Reimer

How many people die each year because of traffic cutting through neighborhoods? I’ll grant you there may be the occasional year where the number is not zero.

Zack
Zack
10 months ago

PBOT is only one piece of this mess. A driving reason behind the rise in wreckless behavior is the lack of enforcement. Traffic Division was reinstated this year, right? What in the hell have they been up to?!? No one will follow the speed limits if there are no consequences for breaking the rules. And don’t you DARE reply to this with some “well that’s what happens when you defund the police” nonsense because it’s fact that we did NOT in fact defund PPB. People had little respect for police before 2020 and since then, no respect has been gained because they simply do not care about making this city safe for its inhabitants (of which, they are not).

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  Zack

There’s one motorcycle cop who patrols SW Multnomah Blvd one various days, usually mid-day. He is a lone traffic-law enforcer – the only one I’ve ever seen in Portland. I don’t know where he came from or why he’s there, but I’m glad he is there and we need more like him everywhere in the city.

Mark Linehan
Mark Linehan
10 months ago

Last fall, I was knocked off my bike (but luckily not hurt) by a driver blasting through a red light. This crash happened at an intersection on SE Division where PBOT just spent a lot of money both implementing protected bike lanes and reworking the traffic lights.

I am glad for the new bike lanes on SE Division and other safety improvements throughout the city. But my conclusion from this crash is that no practical amount of infrastructure work can mitigate inattentive or reckless or impaired driving. We need a complementary approach. I think that is more traffic enforcement, supplemented by vigorous public education.

PacificSource
PacificSource
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Linehan

to add insult to injury, you were riding to an event to memorialize those who’ve been killed by vehicular violence!!!! How close you came to being added to that statistic is terrifying. glad you weren’t!

qqq
qqq
10 months ago

In regard to late Commissioner Nick Fish saying in 2015, “I don’t want people to declare failure when you make progress.”

Given how much worse things are now than in 2015, if Nick Fish were around today, I could easily see him saying, “Since we’re not only not making progress, but going backwards, I think we can definitely declare failure now”.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
10 months ago

I’m going to start using the term “Abusive Drivers,” and I have no problem with making their names public and shaming them. I wish there was a way to easily access the data, but once these people eventually kill someone and are arrested and booked, it’s all too common to see that the people who are responsible for butchering people with their cars have an extensive history of moving violations, DUI’s, uninsured driving, and suspended licenses. As some of the comments in this thread make clear, the “right to drive” mentality is so deeply entrenched in our society that we’re willing to turn a blind eye to dangerous criminals (there’s no other way to describe them) getting back in possession of a deadly weapon they have already demonstrated they have no business possessing. What would it take to pass a driving “Three strikes” law? When traffic deaths are at an epidemic level, we need to take a serious look at who the chronically abusive drivers are and lock them up. In the same way most of us agree there are people in society whose patterns of behavior clearly demonstrate they cannot have access to a gun, there are people who cannot and should not have access to a car, and if they still choose to drive, the only way to protect the rest of us is to lock them up.

SE 34th
SE 34th
10 months ago

As someone who has been riding my bike for transportation and fun here for 20 years, I have to say I, too, have reached a breaking point. I have been slowly been eliminating road ride routes based on the likelihood of encountering aggressive and dangerous drivers, and this has left me with just a few routes I’m willing to do on my own. My joy of riding has lessened as the geography in which I’m willing to ride has shrunk. I carefully plan where I’ll take my e-bike when I’m running an errand, to avoid the same kind of dangerous driving behavior. What’s worse, I’m *always* on high alert for vehicles and drivers that may cause injury or my death when I ride. This is no way to live.

Weirdly, I’ve spent a fair bit of time riding on rural roads and highways in Eastern Oregon for the past 4 years, and the drivers there are amazingly polite and careful around bikes with just a few exceptions. Something has gone fundamentally wrong on the streets of Portland. I don’t know how to fix it, but I do hope a critical mass of us has reached the bottom of what we’re willing to tolerate.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
10 months ago
Reply to  SE 34th

I just spent 10 days touring in the Wallowas, John Day, and Painted Hills area – my 3rd bike trip out there in 4 years – and it is indeed Bicycle Heaven. Drivers were considerate, and the reception was warm everywhere I visited. Re-entry to Portland was jarring.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
10 months ago

If I was a stranger to Oregon and not a former resident who lived there off and on for 22 years, I’d say that the vast majority of Oregon voters and their elected legislators are by and large libertarian Republicans hell bent on fucking up their own state.

In 1992 they passed a measure that largely rolled back property taxes in their two largest cities, Portland and Eugene, to the point that neither city would subsequently be able to build any more public streets to speak of, since any revenues raised for street repairs would be siphoned off to pay for police, fire, parks, and so on.They then passed a measure to lock up people convicted of relatively minor crimes (3 strikes and you’re out) – not only requiring tax payers to buy new prisons and pay for expensive incarceration, but also removing fellow taxpayers from paying taxes by serving time, and having subsequent prison records and the loss of income for decades.Then they passed laws legalizing various drugs but without any addiction treatment – encouraging Oregon drivers to drive dangerously – while raising speed limits, allowing everyone to drive 10 miles per hour over, and to carry concealed handguns.So why are we surprised by this downward cycle 30 years later?

After 30 plus years of budget cuts, PBOT’s response seems to me to be reasonable, given the dumb and naive local voters and politicians they have to deal with.

bernard jakobson
bernard jakobson
10 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Or feminist Democrats.

PTB
PTB
10 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Surely we’d have different problems if the 90s anti-tax revolt hadn’t happened, but I feel like measures 5/47/50 don’t get brought up enough when budget/funding issues get talked about. I pay more in taxes in East Portland than *some* long time owner friends in inner NE (whose homes have much higher assessed market values than mine).

Andrew Kreps
Andrew Kreps
10 months ago

I just got passed by someone going approximately 70 in a 25 at 52nd and woodstock. I was out walking the dogs. They were illegally passing a car on a double yellow. One misjudge and I’m the next statistic on the internet.

We have the technology and knowledge to stop reckless driving. Let’s bloody do something about it.

Randi J
Randi J
10 months ago

Here’s an informative news article of the surge of traffic violence in Portland:

From article:
“ Portland Police Bureau (PPB) call the number of deadly crashes this week, and even this month — shocking. Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) deputies said they’re on pace to have more fatal crashes this year than they’ve had in over a decade.

And they believe many of these wrecks, some caused by street racing, others by drivers allegedly under the influence, were entirely preventable. “

https://www.kgw.com/article/news/local/uptick-fatal-crashes-portland-washington-county/283-435741aa-a4ef-4c66-8d50-ea45305d91e5

Carrie
Carrie
10 months ago

There’s also the intersection of climate anxiety and climate change deaths, frustration with our governments to react and change our infrastructure to change our behavior, and then danger and death when we individuals do our best to change our own uses of the status quo. (We can add in some intersections of gender and race in there as well, while we’re at it). The overwhelming pushback to these changes feed our dispair and the ongoing battle against hopelessness. And it just keeps getting worse and worse — in the 10 years since I moved here that’s been the climate/traffic policy/results trajectory. And to add to the chorus — we know what some solutions are, but there isn’t the will to enforce current traffic laws and upend our transportation system to actually meet that damn pyramid that PBOT says they use.

There’s also something going on with the City environment that I just can’t figure out. The last two summers we’ve done some major car travel from Portland to parts of Montana and the reckless/fast/selfish driving switch has an obvious on-switch once we get within 60 miles of the city. It’s clear as day.

Chris
Chris
10 months ago

The excuses of not being able to afford enforcement are tiresome. In many ways, this is a math problem. Let’s say a speeding/traffic violations enforcement officer costs $100,000 a year (pretty generous given all costs). This person receives 3 weeks of vacation. This leaves 245 working days, which means this person costs $408/day for the 245 days working. To pay for the $408/day, they would need to write 3.4 tickets a day at a $125 average (a pretty low average based upon a quick search of speeding tickets in Portland). When I am out and about for an hour going to the store, I easily witness 3.4+ speeding violations in that hour.

This is not a problem of not being to afford enforcement. This is a complete lack of desire. Hiring five to ten enforcement officers would make a quick dent in this problem and they would easily pay for themselves by just writing tickets each day they work.

blumdrew
10 months ago

All the buses listed there run both on Saturday mornings and between 11 and 2 on weekdays. And I don’t really think it’s particularly dangerous to walk from say the corner of NW Verde Vista and Beuhla Vista to Burnside in Hillside to catch the #20.

how do I get from Portland Heights to downtown at noon by bus?

You can’t, as I’m sure you’re aware. The lack of service on the 51 is pretty shameful, especially because it’s the descendant of one of the most popular streetcars in the city (or at least in the city’s imagination) – the Council Crest Line.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  blumdrew

When talking about networks, it’s best to look at a map.