A coalition of Portland nonprofits has signed onto a letter demanding more action on traffic deaths and injuries.
The letter was signed by leaders from six transportation-related advocacy groups including: Andando en Bici y Caminando, BikeLoud PDX, Community Cycling Center, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Oregon Walks and bike works by p:ear. It was sent to local and regional elected officials as well as leaders of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the Portland Police Bureau, TriMet, and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“It does not have to be this way,” reads the opening line. “There are likely many reasons we are facing this continued escalation of violence on our streets. However, what is most devastating is that we do not have a shared understanding of why.”
The main thrust of the letter is that the agencies we entrust with solving this problem are not working together. The letter applauds several ongoing efforts by PBOT, the County, ODOT, and local nonprofits, but says, “We continue to be in our siloes, not working together to crack this puzzle.”
As a “critical first step,” the signees want to create a regional “Fatal and Serious Injury Crash Committee with a diverse composition of members, both public and private, that analyzes every fatal and serious injury crash that occurs in our region.”
In addition to this new committee, they are making three other demands.
To address crashes like the one that killed Jeanie Diaz while she waited at a bus stop on July 15th; they want TriMet, PBOT, and ODOT to find the most dangerous locations for walkers, bikers and transit users and then, “harden the infrastructure by installing physical protection (concrete, steel bollards, etc) on sidewalks, crossings, and transit stops.” “This does not affect vehicular throughput, is relatively low cost, and can be implemented immediately,” states the letter.
To address speeding, the coalition wants more enforcement cameras and a lower threshold for triggering citations. Currently, cameras and police officers don’t cite until 10-15 mph over the speed limit. This coalition wants that reduced to 5 mph over.
To complement enforcement, they are calling for a “safe streets public health campaign” centered on the issues of speed, intoxication and houselessness (in line with a recent report by the County’s public health department).
Oregon Walks Interim Executive Director Zachary Lauritzen was the main organizer of the letter. In a phone call today, I asked him to respond to a sense of fear and urgency from many in the community who want more direct action and who are likely to see another letter and committee as falling far short of what’s needed.
“I think folks are right, we need to do a better job of that,” Lauritzen replied. He added that partly due to Covid, “we haven’t flexed those muscles very much and we haven’t activated our membership and volunteer corps and partners who’ve been doing that work for years.”
Lauritzen acknowledged that he too wants to see more public events like the rally organized on Southeast Powell Blvd after the death of Sarah Pliner in October 2022. “We need to do more of that, yes. And I think this [letter] is also something we can do at the same time.”
One group that is notably absent from the list of signees is The Street Trust. When asked why their name isn’t on the letter, Executive Director Sarah Iannarone said today’s submission of the letter caught her off-guard. “The Street Trust was meaningfully engaged in discussions about potential enhancements to the concept, offered substantial contributions to the development of the letter, and had provisionally agreed to sign, contingent upon improvements being made. Regrettably, I haven’t seen a final version so don’t know whether or to what extent our feedback was incorporated and/or attributed to us,” she shared in an email.
Iannarone stressed that TST has been pushing for reforms on many fronts since the death of Pliner last year and that she is, “somewhat encouraged by the progress we’ve been seeing.” Iannarone cited productive conversations with Metro and ODOT.
From here, this coalition plans to tag-team local council meetings and other feedback opportunities to speak out about traffic safety and amplify their demands.