In letter to officials, advocates call for new crash committee, protected bus stops, and more

The unprotected bus stop on SE Calle Cesar Chavez where Jeanie Diaz was struck and killed. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

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.

The letter comes after a spate of traffic deaths and high-profile crashes that forced PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps to call a press conference on the issue earlier this month.

“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.

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.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

55 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
maxD
maxD
10 months ago

Generally nice and reasonable requests- all stuff that should be standard practice. This hardly seems like call to action. I was very disappointed by the apologetic, compromising statement:

“This does not affect vehicular throughput, is relatively low cost, and can be implemented immediately,” states the letter.

Cesar Chavez should have a road diet immediately, traffic throughput be damned! PBOT has bent over backwards for the last 20 years to not impact throughput. I realize they are a traffic bureau, but traffic is MORE than SOV’s, and transportation that is not safe is not worth the throughput. I wish these groups would more directly call for a reduction in throughput- call it a 6 month reset to study the actual traffic impacts so they can have informed decision making about the safety/throughput tradeoffs. Everyone should be comfortable acknowledging that traffic models are notoriously unreliable and will consistently point to a need for more throughput.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

You’re right, maxD. Look at streets that have gone from four lanes to two lanes, like SW Capitol Hwy (south of Barbur). It seems to have the same throughput as before it went on a diet, but what we see much more rarely are the aggressive drivers who absolute NEED to pass slower cars. What you allow on a street is what you get.

Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago
Reply to  maxD

The tone of that  statement may be a little disappointing, but also shows awareness that PBOT is much less likely to implement anything that affects vehicular throughput, and isn’t relatively low cost. Certainly not immediately. Do you believe that PBOT would respond and a more demanding and aggressive tone, with bigger asks?

maxD
maxD
9 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

Good question! I don’t think PBOT is going to be swayed by anything advocates say. IMO, the power of a letter to PBOT from advocates is to inspire and mobilize more broad, community support. In that vein, I think it totally counterproductive for an advocate group to couch a suggestion as worth considering only because it is cheap and easy and won’t impact cars. We are experiencing a crisis of Portlanders killing other Portlanders, and PBOT could do a lot to address that, and since they are in charge of the transportation network, they should! Ina matter of life and death, it is ok to ask for a reduction of SOV throughput! It is also OK to ask PBOT to prioritize spending on projects that increase safety.

I get that we live a transportation world that is the result of competing interests. I find it disappointing that transportation advocates are willing to support PBOT’s prioritization of throughput over safety.

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
10 months ago

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).

All good, but I find it infuriating that distracted driving—meaning, overwhelmingly, the use of phones while behind the wheel—isn’t mentioned. Every time I’m out, whether walking, biking, or driving, I see drivers using their phones.

Every. Damn. Time.

Have we collectively given up on even trying to change that?

dw
dw
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Remy

I was riding in my friend’s car going down Holgate a few weeks ago and I watched the person behind us scrolling through their phone while driving from ~130th all the way to 82nd where they turned and presumably kept playing with their phone. The worst part was the two cops who drove by who either didn’t notice or chose not to do anything.

The other day I was driving on the West side and saw someone stare at their phone the entire time they were making a left turn at Barbur and some other stroad.

Just this morning, I was biking and almost had someone almost run me over because they had both hands and both eyes on the phone while blowing a stop sign. Homie was holding the phone down in his lap too, like a middle schooler trying not to get caught.

That kind of behavior should come with a life-changing consequence, like a large fine and revocation of driving privileges for a time. It’s gotta be close to universal agreement that people shouldn’t be messing with their phones while driving, right?

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
10 months ago
Reply to  dw

We can look to other cities, states, and countries for public education and encouragement efforts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qNjt04bpQM&ab_channel=ioaspanosmylonas

C1B02C41-FAD9-412A-B5C9-9E3C8C85CEB9.jpeg
qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Remy

The mayor will be discussing that from his car in a zoom meeting during an upcoming commute.

Arturo P
Arturo P
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Remy

Good point. But in Portland it’s all about infrastructure according to the transportation advocates. Maybe we need to start enforcing our cell phone laws?

qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

It’s so tiresome to hear comments like that. It reminds me of seeing multiple commenters praising one another for not being part of the “BikePortland echo chamber”, as they prove it’s not an echo chamber.

Don’t you understand the irony of writing “in Portland it’s all about infrastructure according to the transportation advocates” in response to an article about several Portland transportation advocacy groups who are saying strongly that it’s NOT all about infrastructure, and recommending increased investigation, coordination, and education, plus more enforcement cameras and lower thresholds for triggering citations?

Arturo P
Arturo P
10 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Really? Why no mention of proven traffic measures (traffic officers)? Do cameras work for impaired drivers or those without license plates? We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that speed cameras (although they clearly have a place) will be a panacea.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

Arturo, I wish I could say “We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” meaning we need infrastructure AND enforcement. Which we do. In practice we have trouble doing either one, but we need both. Let’s keep thinking in those terms.

qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

Why “really”? I was responding to your comment that  “in Portland it’s all about infrastructure according to the transportation advocates” by pointing out that that’s clearly not what the several major transportation advocacy groups believe, based on their letter.

I also don’t know why you say “we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that speed cameras (although they clearly have a place) will be a panacea”. Clearly the groups writing the letter don’t believe that, or they wouldn’t have included the several other strategies.

I think most people realize the limitations of speed cameras.

bjorn
bjorn
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

How are traffic officers proven to help, considering that people like Kruger rise high within the PPB? I don’t want someone like that deciding who to and not to pull over because it is pretty clear the outcome will be racist. Pretext stops don’t particularly make me feel safer, much better to have enforcement be based on the actual movement of the vehicle.

We can do a lot with automated enforcement, and license plates can and should be dealt with by towing any vehicle not displaying valid front and rear plates, something that parking enforcement could do without the need for a sworn police officer. By doing the enforcement when the driver is not present we remove a lot of the possibility of biased enforcement.

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  bjorn

We can tow the drunk drivers in the morning when we find them passed out in their cars.

And anyway, traffic enforcement is very different that pretext stops.

dw
dw
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

Transportation advocates are all about infrastructure because the powers that be and status quo are already all talking about enforcement and education. The traditional response to things like speeding in the US is just more cops. I don’t disagree that we need enforcement, but you can’t deny that the street environment affects the way people – even drunk people – drive. Infrastructure to steer the 99% of people who want to do the right thing, enforcement for the 1% that choose to act like turds anyway.

SD
SD
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

Police have never seriously enforced cell phone laws and are pretty bad about unnecessary cell phone or screen use while driving, themselves.

Arturo P
Arturo P
10 months ago
Reply to  SD

That can change IF the community demands it. But unfortunately Portland frowns on police enforcement of the laws meant to safeguard the community. That’s why we find ourselves in such a pickle.

SD
SD
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

To quote the Mapps, “I’m confused.”

Do you want to force police officers to do their jobs or do you want to give them unlimited resources to be as ineffective as they have always been at stoping traffic violence?

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  SD

It is very hard to force anyone to do anything that requires initiative, independence, judgement, and discretion.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

The community demanded it when we passed those cell phone laws cops never enforced.

bjorn
bjorn
10 months ago
Reply to  SD

unfortunately I think that Oregon’s cell phone law continues to have a loophole which allows police to drive distracted.

Dusty
Dusty
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

How can we police tens of thousands of drivers’ cell phone use everyday?

Streets can be designed to make drivers less distracted, drive slower, and make fewer fatal errors.

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  Dusty

Streets can be designed…

Indeed they can, and we are working on it, but rebuilding our street inventory will take a very long time and cost a lot of money. Fortunately, this is a problem that autonomous vehicles can solve for us long before the civil engineers do.

Dusty
Dusty
9 months ago
Reply to  Watts

The techno-fix fantasy of autonomous vehicles puts the expense and the onus for change on individuals, rich and poor alike. Public streets are for everyone. Besides, Toyota reps think “‘[t]here’s a lot of hype in this space'” and “it could take a decade to build an autonomous system.”  Even so, these will be programmed to not make errors, so won’t? Will they go slower and prioritize pedestrians and cyclists? All of the millions upon millions of cars and trucks will just be replaced by safe robot cars in a timely manner?

Here’s some safe tech that already works to make safer streets that doesn’t require everyone in the US buy a brand new car.

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  Dusty

Will these be…?

Will AVs be safer than human drivers? Almost certainly. They will also do a much better job at following speed limits and other traffic laws, so they will go slower than human drivers. Will they replace current vehicles overnight? Probably not. Is the tech overhyped? It certainly was, but that’s normal. I believe we’re currently climbing out of the “Trough of Disillusionment”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gartner_hype_cycle

If you are concerned with the idea that people will have to buy new vehicles, that’s going to happen anyway if we want to migrate away from fossil fuels. I believe that AVs are most likely to be deployed as fleet vehicles (like small buses or taxis), so they might actually help there as well. I think the most likely scenario is that there will be a lot fewer cars around in the future (so less need for parking and less need for private vehicle ownership).

If we get lucky on the timing, we might be able to just skip over the part where everyone has to buy their own (new) EV.

There is no reason (aside from politics and money) that prevents us from improving transit right now. I believe that AVs are coming and they will fix a lot that’s wrong with our cities, but I’m not asking anyone to not make streets safer or pause transit improvements while we wait. These are parallel paths.

By the way, if the skeptic you quoted from Toyota says “a decade”, that’s practically overnight from an urban design point of view. How roads can we rebuild and new transit systems can we deploy in that time?

Dusty
Dusty
9 months ago
Reply to  Watts

If we’re talking about making streets safer then simple, cheap low-tech is going to be way more effective than hoping someday in our future, decades from now, the replacement of the entire fleet of U.S. cars and “light trucks” on the streets and roads will do so.

Just making the speed limit 20 MPH (and10 MPH in high mixed use areas) everywhere in Portland and forbidding right turns on red would create much safer streets and roads, and we can do it now(-ish).

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  Dusty

If we’re talking about making streets safer then simple, cheap low-tech is going to be way more effective

Great! Let’s do it!

Dusty
Dusty
9 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Yeah, let’s!

I’m meeting with my local neighborhood association next week to see about getting in PBOT’s “queue” to address the outrageously fast traffic down the street from me where lots of people dine. If all of us who cared about these issues took on a pet-project in our respective local areas we could probably get a lot done.

Foot Patrol
Foot Patrol
10 months ago

Get a transit improvement funding in for Cesar Chavez and climate resilience funding for increased urban canopy and rebuild it to the Civic Main Street recommendations in the Portland Transportation System Plan. It is a Major Transit Priority Street, Major City Walkway, and has entries in Regional Transportation Plan, etc. If Hawthorne can be reconfigured from three lanes to four, Cesar Chavez can too.

Design Elements: Civic Main Street design should typically include the following: wide sidewalks with a through pedestrian zone, a furnishing zone, and a frontage zone; closely-spaced pedestrian crossings; separated bicycle facilities; way-finding; transit priority treatments as needed; vehicle lanes; low vehicle speeds; medians and/or turn lanes as needed; and limited driveway access.

Arturo P
Arturo P
10 months ago

“However, what is most devastating is that we do not have a shared understanding of why.”

We do have an understanding. This isn’t rocket science. Remove all enforcement of our traffic laws, people drive recklessly and traffic violence increases dramatically. It’s just not that complicated.

Daniel Reimer
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

People were dying on the streets pre-2019. Enforcement alone won’t get Portland to Vision Zero.

Arturo P
Arturo P
10 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Reimer

Sure that is true. But when did traffic violence skyrocket? Last 3 years. Right after Floyd when we decided enforcement of our laws was to be eschewed.

socially engineered
socially engineered
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

Who do you mean by “we”?

Daniel Reimer
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

comment image

Traffic deaths have been on the rise for the past decade. Nationally as well. The lack of enforcement has made the situation worse but we’ve been headed down this path for a while now.

John
John
9 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Reimer

And not for nothing, but if one superimposed a population or vehicle miles traveled line on that graph, the wild claims that 2020 protests made police sad and that’s why traffic violence is so bad would be shown to be even more farcical. Clearly (well, maybe) we need some enforcement in some cases (I’m thinking missing plates, drunk driving maybe), but “enforcement” is not very well correlated to actual traffic violence, as you’ve shown.

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  John

…the wild claims that 2020 protests made police sad and that’s why traffic violence is so bad would be shown to be even more farcical

I thought you were a big champion of the “cops unhappy with protests on strike” explanation of things.

I’m surprised that you agree that some of those claims are not well established.

John
John
9 months ago
Reply to  Watts

No no, they are on strike (work slowdown) but what I’m pushing back on is the narrative that we have some apocalyptic level of new crime and traffic violence. Mostly what we have is nuisance crime and really blatant stuff like speeding being ignored, which causes a general feeling of danger.

I guess what I’m addressing is the nonsense people on here like Arturo and Yolanda say that amounts to we should be groveling at the feet of cops and if we only groveled harder, and said we sowwy many times, gave them a tank, and allowed disappearing homeless people, all our problems would be solved. In reality, we have a moderate bump in traffic violence which yes needs to be addressed but the reactionary solution of just doubling down on failed solutions is ridiculous.

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  John

No no, they are on strike

Since you believe that cops aren’t effective at enforcing traffic (any?) laws, whether they are or are not on strike is immaterial. How would you even know?

Whether you believe there is a new wave of crime and dangerous driving or not is one data point; other folks offer other data points, and taken together I believe the wider public has a sense that things have gone off the rails since covid hit.

Personally I attribute that in part to a shortage of cops (supported by evidence), but I also understand you disagree, and this isn’t the place to sort that out. But there is a collective political reality that will drive things in a certain direction for at least the next election cycle regardless of what you and I think individually.

Dusty
Dusty
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

Rapid population growth: “From 2000 to about 2018, the region gained an average of 30,000 residents per year.” Oregonlive

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  Arturo P

Nonsense!

What we need is a Department of Redundancy Department to discuss things ad nauseum.

SD
SD
10 months ago

It it ridiculous that bus stops don’t have bollard protection from drivers that lose control of their cars. The savings in replacing bus shelters may cover the cost of the bollards.

Keviniano
Keviniano
10 months ago
Reply to  SD

Ridiculous, but entirely by design. Lots of infrastructure in the roadway “clear zone” is intentionally made to crumple or break when a motor vehicle collides with it, to reduce harm to the vehicle operator.

Of course, in this case, a bus shelter is specifically intended to shelter people, so they should definitely be made to withstand a collision in hazardous settings.

Just another case of people in cars being prioritized over vulnerable road users.

dw
dw
10 months ago
Reply to  Keviniano

Breakaway design for stuff like highway signs on freeways makes sense. But doing the same thing on city streets is totally asinine. If you choose to drive in a way that causes you to lose control of your vehicle and run into something like a sign, bollard, or bus shelter, you should absolutely have to suffer the consequence of ruining your car. Modern cars are engineered well enough that nobody inside the vehicle is going to be seriously injured if they’re going under 45ish mph. If they’re going faster than that in the city then the clear zone and breakaway signs aren’t going to help, they’ll just smash into a building.

cct
cct
10 months ago
Reply to  Keviniano

Ridiculous, but entirely by design. Lots of infrastructure in the roadway “clear zone” is intentionally made to crumple or break when a motor vehicle collides with it, to reduce harm to the vehicle operator.

Entirely this. The roadside infrastructure is designed by regulation to prevent injury to the occupants of the vehicle who have left the roadway.

The rest of us are already breakaway so engineers don’t worry that we’ll hurt the driver too badly..

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
10 months ago

“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,” 

This comes across as very passive aggressive.

I’m no fan of the strongly-worded letter approach (it has a near perfect track record of failure in PDX) but this response suggests that TST is not interested in working with these other organizations on an equal basis. And when put in the context of the bizarre statement of gratitude directed at ODOT during the traffic homicide press conference, one wonders what TST’s overall mission is these days.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago

Ya know what would be better than yet another committee? – a gov’t body with the actual power to direct changes pursuant to a crash, in the way the FAA can issue “airworthiness directives” after an aviation incident.

There is the kernel of a good idea in responding to EVERY crash, which is also what the aviation sector does. But absent power to direct changes, the effort will be performative, like everything else we do in Portland.

Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I was with you up until that last sentence, Fred.

surly ogre
surly ogre
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Fred is 100% right. This is why airline travel is so safe. it is super bad news when an airplane crashes and hundreds of people die. Crashes are investigated, there are black boxes, and airlines / airplane manufacturers are held financially liable.
Imagine if ODOT, PBOT, Multnomah County, METRO, Tesla, GM, Ford, all had to pay every time a serious crash occurred. Reducing Crashes would become their focus, not congestion, convenience, speed and throughput.

Aaron
9 months ago
Reply to  surly ogre

Imagine if every time there was a fatal crash that section of roadway was closed completely until there was an investigation and design change made to that street with the goal of preventing crashes of a similar nature. Would it be incredibly inconvenient for drivers? Yeah, but getting killed by cars is also pretty inconvenient for the non-drivers, and if you repeat that process enough times then eventually vision zero starts to become an attainable goal within reach instead of just a pipe dream.

John
John
9 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

And even better, instead of putting a human-death based clock on it, we do that whole thing for any traffic incident that might have ended in death if circumstances were slightly different. A crash into an empty bus stop, for example, should cause the same reaction as a crash into a bus stop with a person in it.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

And who will have power to direct change with a fractious 12 member council and a weak mayor?

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Status quo, look out!

mc
mc
10 months ago

Although I’m a lil’ bit encouraged by this, I’m more angered that we’ve to organize & demand elected public officials & taxpayer funded gov’t agencies to do their jobs and fulfill their responsibilities to public safety.

Meanwhile, public safety is the first words out of the mouths of many of these same people & orgs. when it comes to people experiencing houselessness.

At this point, I’m seriously considering moving somewhere where elected public officials and gov’t orgs. actually give a flying f! about the citizens, do the job the people pay them to do and aren’t completely incompetent or dysfunctional.

This is gas-hole culture, death & destruction is just acceptable collateral damage of the great American “Freedumb” brought to you by the automobile corporations.
“Hey. it’s dangerous out there, maybe you should buy an SUV, a big truck, a fast & highly maneuverable car of one these highly crash tested station wagons.”