Guest Opinion: Personal reflectivity and pedestrian safety

(Photo: BikePortland)

By Matt Kalinowski. Matt is a writer and publicist who lives in Portland. He bikes for fun, exercise and convenience — very slowly and safely — on a hulking, 1965 Sears Spaceliner.  


Over a dozen European countries require pedestrians wear reflectors at night. When implemented, statistics universally show a 30–50% reduction in pedestrian fatalities.

There are certain statistical constants in human behavior. Worldwide, pretty much 75% of pedestrian traffic deaths occur at night, for obvious reasons — people are difficult to see at night. Of course, that 75% rate will vary depending on how many pedestrians are typically out at night, how many streetlights are installed, speed limits, area of sampling, etc. In Portland, a notoriously early town with low speed limits, around 50% of pedestrian fatalities happen at night or low-light conditions (and every Portlander knows “low light conditions” can mean high noon).

The go-to solution to improving pedestrian visibility is to add more streetlights. In Portland’s case, there’s a mind-boggling lack of streetlights. The city has been in violation of its own rules for decades which require “two sided lighting” on any street wider than 48-feet. By the city’s own estimates, only 61% of high-crash streets citywide have lights, and on the east side, a mere 22% of high-crash streets have adequate lighting. This neglect happened for decades and it will take a long time to remedy at extraordinary cost.

(Source: City of Portland)

Specific costs to install a streetlight vary depending on a number of factors (light style, dedicated or shared pole, wiring underground or overhead, etc.) but generally speaking, in the U.S., each new streetlight installed in an urban area costs $3,000 — $5,000. Portland currently has 50,000 streetlights, yet it’s pretty obviously underlit. Let’s make a general estimate and say we need to add 25% more streetlights citywide (12,500). That would cost roughly $37 million — $62 million and take many years to complete.

But there is one very simple, practically instant and essentially free solution to improving pedestrian visibility at night that many European nations have used for decades with excellent results — pedestrian safety reflectors.

In the dark, pedestrians can only be seen by car headlights about 50 meters (164 feet) away, but with a reflector it’s 350 meters (1,150 feet). It takes almost 100 feet to stop a vehicle traveling 30 mph and 140 feet at 40 mph (in dry conditions). That means a jaywalker starting across the street from over 1,000 feet away and not wearing a reflector will likely be hit, because they’re literally invisible until the car is within 200 feet. But with a reflector, the pedestrian can be seen almost 10x farther away and the driver can brake accordingly with awareness.

The graphic below from the Finnish Road Safety Council illustrates it quite well.

And best of all is this video from Texas A&M University demonstrating the stark difference between reflectors and non-reflectors in a variety of road situations.

It’s a matter of physics. No matter how careful and aware a driver is — pedestrians will be rendered invisible by the glare of oncoming headlights. Pedestrians will blend in with the dark environment until a car is right on top of them. Portland has spent over $1 million every year since 2018 to add new pedestrian flashing crosswalks — but as the Texas A&M video demonstrates — at a flashing crosswalk, a driver can barely discern which side of the street a person is on without a reflector.

Pedestrian Reflectors in Europe

The invention of the personal reflector is credited to Finnish farmer Arvi Lehti in 1955. They were quickly adopted and are now a basic part of culture, with hundreds of designs available, although there’s a great preference for the “snowflake” pattern, which was created in 1973 by product designer Kalervo Suomela. Even though no Finn would think of leaving home without their reflector, the Finnish Road Traffic Code imposes a 20 Euro ($22 USD) fine if a pedestrian is walking at night without one. They also observe “National Reflector Day” on October first every year as a reminder and an opportunity for the government to distribute hundreds of thousands of free reflectors.

The concept of pedestrian reflectors spread quickly to the other Nordic countries, where every child grows up with a reflector attached to them before they’re even old enough to walk. Regardless, many nations still remind their citizens about reflector use. Sweden has declared the third Thursday in October as “National Reflector Day,” roughly coinciding with the end of Daylight Savings Time. Other countries that celebrate their own National Reflector Day include Norway, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

The reflectors are yet another fashion statement, available in every shape and color to express the wearer’s personality and style, or to boost their favorite activities, sports teams or cartoon characters.

Modern 3M technology allows reflectors to be any color but still reflect bright white light. You might say it’s a great time in the world of pedestrian reflectors, as the one complaint that people used to have has been solved by the newest soft vinyl materials — no more annoying click-clack while walking.

Of course, medallion-style reflectors aren’t the only legal option. Many garments — hats, sweaters, pants — have reflective threads woven into them making it even easier to stay safe, visible and law-abiding.

However, studies show that medallion-style reflectors are among the most effective options because they’re typically worn at belt-level, in line with headlights, and they swing back and forth to catch attention. It’s been observed that if the reflector stays more static without obvious motion, there’s a chance that drivers will mistake it for a stationary road reflector and not a human.

The other most effective visual is extremities in motion; think reflective bands on ankles and cuffs.

Newer European Adopters and Statistics

While it’s impossible to extract before-and-after metrics in the Nordic countries due to so many generations using pedestrian reflectors as a way of life beginning at birth, there are some nations that more recently adopted the practice and can provide data. Among the latest countries to mandate pedestrian reflectors are Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, and Estonia.

Spoiler Alert: reflectors universally reduce pedestrian accidents 30–50%.

Poland

Poland mandated pedestrian reflectors in 2009. Before that, 60% of pedestrian deaths occurred in low-light conditions. Since implementation, they’ve experienced a 21% reduction in overall accidents in street-lighted areas and a 40% reduction in non-lighted areas. Fatalities specifically went down 33% in lighted areas and 37% in rural areas. Poland imposes a $25 fine if any pedestrian crosses a street without wearing a reflector. (There’s also a $76 fine if a pedestrian crosses a street while talking on the phone.)

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic made pedestrian reflectors mandatory in 2015. They have since experienced a 33% reduction in pedestrian fatalities, while at the same time, deaths in the other categories (drivers, passengers, motorcycles) stayed about the same — giving clear evidence that the reflectors were the variable responsible for the change. There’s a 2,000 Koruna fine ($90 USD) for not wearing a reflector at night.

Estonia

In 1992, Estonia first made it mandatory for everyone in a rural area to wear a reflector. After nearly 20 years of data proving effectiveness, in 2011 the country expanded the law to include cities as well. In the city, as in the country, pedestrian fatalities dropped 75%. There is a 40 Euro ($44) fine for not wearing one.

Lithuania

As the newest adopter aiming to modify public behavior, Lithuania currently imposes a heavy 140 Euro fine ($154 USD) for not wearing a reflector at night. The country celebrates “National Reflector Day” on the last Thursday of October. For 2018’s National Reflector Day, the police launched a PR stunt of handing out candles instead of fines to pedestrians caught not wearing reflectors — a grim symbol of their potential death.

A key component of Lithuania’s Vision Zero plan is educating citizens on the proper use of reflectors and reminding them to only use EU-approved reflectors, rather than rely on backpack charms or other objects that seem “shiny” but are inadequate for safety.

European Union pedestrian reflector standards require a surface area of at least 15 cm2 and a reflective capacity of CE EN 13356.

Back to Portland

Okay, you’re saying — so even though half of pedestrian fatalities happen at night and low-light conditions in Portland, you can’t compare us to those “dark winter places” so we wouldn’t have the same results.

Well, here’s some astronomical reality. In Portland, on Winter Solstice, the darkest time of the year, sunrise is officially at 7:48am and sunset at 4:30pm. Compare that with Warsaw: 7:44am and 3:24pm sunset. Or Prague where the sun rises at 8:00am and sets at 4:04pm on Solstice.

Portland winters are just as dark as Poland and the Czech Republic — where they each cut their pedestrian deaths by over one-third after mandating reflectors.

But, But, But, Civil Liberties and Freeeedom!

It’s weird and invasive to make Portland pedestrians wear a reflector at night, you might say.

Oh, come now.

There are numerous safety devices and behaviors that society requires of people in the name of public health and safety — all of them argued against as infringements of freedom. Seatbelt laws, motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets, bike reflectors and lights, gun safes and trigger locks in private homes, cell phone bans while driving. And of course, most recently, Covid masks and 6-foot social distance requirements.

As for penalties, were fines ever truly assessed in Portland during Covid masking time? Social pressure is strong in Portland. There were no citations needed and even anti-maskers begrudgingly wore them while complaining.

Covid masks are a great example of how quickly, in real-life, habits can change. Masking became second-nature very fast, as it would with pedestrian reflectors. This has been the same with all new safety requirements, in every culture.

Besides, “infringement on liberty” is practically a cornerstone of what we call “public health policy.” There were years of battles, legal challenges, mass protests and angry death threats when U.S. states first started forcing motorcyclists to wear helmets. There was the same inevitable resistance to every other required safety policy we all take for granted now, like banning passengers from the back of pickup trucks and laws requiring seatbelts and bike helmets.

California passed its mandatory motorcycle helmet law in 1992, and it was preceded by endless roiling, divisive media coverage and angry protests. Surveys leading up to the measure’s passage showed only 46% of riders wore helmets, but within just one month of the law’s implementation, that had risen to 99%. Today, I doubt even a Gypsy Joker would get on the streets without a brain bucket.

Pedestrian Reflectors Open a Whole New Avenue for Entrepreneurs

Remember how many people launched a business manufacturing or importing all manner of Covid masks? Pedestrian reflectors offer the same potential. And naturally, prime use as a bit of corporate swag. Small business owners can jump on a wild new retail opportunity, with a potential 650,000 units sold (Portland’s population). Think medallion style reflectors in the shape of Oregon or a Doug Fir tree or the Cascadia Flag. Clothing retailers could add knit beanies and other garments with reflective threads to their inventory.

Reflector laws can open a whole new retail channel and contribute millions to the economy. I’d totally love to have a pair of trousers with reflective pinstripes.


Here’s the bottom line: if Portland wants to reduce its pedestrian deaths by a substantial amount, if they are truly dedicated to Vision Zero and trying all options in an effort to reduce traffic fatalities — then evidence proves personal reflectors are an excellent way to do it.

— Matt Kalinowski

Guest Opinion

Guest Opinion

Guest opinions do not necessarily reflect the position of BikePortland. Our goal is to amplify community voices. If you have something to share and want us to share it on our platform, contact Publisher & Editor Jonathan Maus at maus.jonathan@gmail.com.

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Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor

[Publisher’s Note: The paragraph that contained the data that Lisa references in her comment below has been deleted from the story as of 01/12/24. – Jonathan]

What bothers me most about this op-ed is Kalinowski’s perversion of the data presented in the Oregon Walks and BikeLoud PDX reports, work done by Scott Kocher, Vivek Jeevan and their collaborators. I wrote the articles covering those reports so, out of respect to Kocher and Jeevan, I am going to correct the misuse of their data and also put it back in context.

I suggest that readers take a look at those BP articles: “Information is at heart of Portland’s Vision Zero struggle and Mistakes not miscreants cause most pedestrian fatalities.

The Kocher et al Oregon Walks work looked at 48 pedestrian deaths which occurred between 2017 and 2019. They reviewed thousands of pages of police reports and analyzed the crash sites themselves, and ultimately concluded that “Police are generally focused on law enforcement, not engineering. Police reports generally provide little evaluation of infrastructure-related crash factors.”

My article, and Kocher’s report, noted how inadequate, to the point of being misleading, police reports are about the cause of the crash. As an example, one police report stated that a woman was killed in a “non-intersection,” shorthand, according to Kocher, for “ped’s fault.”

Actually, the driver killed the woman as she crossed the street in a mid-block, marked crosswalk. But there isn’t a check box on the police form for that configuration, only for “non-intersection,” so the report makes it appear like the woman was jay-walking. Kocher stated,

The ‘who was at fault’ game not only misses the real point (which is that the conditions are a setup for any number of predictably tragic scenarios), its cursory conclusions are often wrong.

On to Jeevan’s BikeLoud PDX report, which was based on the Oregon Walks report. Kalinowski writes,

Another key Portland statistic is that — according to advocacy group BikeLoud PDX which analyzed Portland Police Bureau data — 38% of pedestrians killed by a car are intoxicated, crossing mid-block, ignoring do-not walk lights, or not yielding to cars as required by law. In other words — drivers were not necessarily at fault.

That’s a misleading presentation of Jeevan’s data. Jeevan’s chart prominently states that “multiple causes can contribute to a fatality.” That is why his number of causes totals 200%. 75% percent of pedestrian fatalities involve a driver going too fast.

(For people who don’t like to do math in their head, 75% and 38% equals 113%, so obviously many crashes have more than one cause. But, at 75%, speed is by far the top cause.)
comment image

I could go on, but that is enough. I suspect that Kalinowski has motives other than a concern for pedestrian safety.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago

Hi – Matt here.

I apologize, I see you’re right about the stats, combining them since there’s overlap was an error, I didn’t account for overlap, so the “38%” is definitely not accurate, it’s considerably lower. Would it be more accurate to say “In as many as 21% of pedestrian deaths, the pedestrian was violating the law”?

I’m not a statistician and have rudimentary math skills. Here’s a scenario – an intoxicated pedestrian fails to yield to a car. Is there a way to express those combined variables of illegal activity?

Crossing outside of a crosswalk (21%) and crossing at a signaled corner against the light (4%) are distinctly different. So then is it then fair to combine them and say “25%” since there can’t be overlap in those cases?

Also, the main point isn’t Portland’s specific stats – the main point is that every time reflector laws are enacted, pedestrian fatalities drop 30-50%, whether their pedestrian deaths prior are 10 or 100.

In the first scenario of the Texas A&M video included in the piece, where the pedestrian is completely invisible due to oncoming headlights – would you ascribe “blame” to the driver if the pedestrian were hit?

🚲
🚲
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Will you next be advocating we all wear medallions so self-driving cars can “see” us?

PdxPhoenix
PdxPhoenix
3 months ago
Reply to  🚲

Better than them not “seeing” us, yes?

SD
SD
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Has anyone ever explained the principle that correlation does not equal causation for you? I would be happy to if you are interested.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  SD

That’s why I included the Czech Republic, where only one variable changed – and subsequently, only pedestrian deaths declined, while the rest of traffic deaths stayed the same.

I couldn’t find stats for Belarus or Latvia, the other recent adopters, but I think I only spent an hour per country. Maybe you can find those stats, and they will show no change or even an increase in deaths? Because until you do, it seems as rational people, we’re logically and objectively stuck with consistent evidence that deaths have universally decreased in real life once reflectors were adopted.

I think further, you’re saying that since it might be correlation, not causation, there’s a chance if the Finns all stopped wearing magic medallions, they may NOT have an increase in accidents?

Which would mean generations of Swedes, Finns, etc., have been brainwashed for 50-70 years into believing that being ***brightly visible 10x farther away at night*** doesn’t help prevent accidents.

You’re also suggesting that the Polish government was fooled by their own statistics measured in rural areas for 20 years, and then fooled by their statistics again when they expanded the law to cities.

And did you watch the Texas A&M video? It sure seems compelling that reflectors help lots, just using my eyeballs, not numbers.  

SD
SD
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

“Only one variable changed” in the Czech Republic in 2015?

This statement at face value is ridiculous, but is even more absurd when you look at the trend of declining fatalities since 2007 based on the numbers you provided. The rate of decrease was actually greater before 2015.

The rest of what you have written is too tangential to address point by point.

Look, you can say all you want that “it seems like it would make a difference” this is your hypothesis. That’s great. And you can look at countries that have done this and read about their experience, but “I only spent an hour per country” pretty much sums up the quality and depth of your position. Going from, “I have an idea” to “here is proof that my idea is correct” is a bigger task than you realize.

Jumping back and forth between stating that “reflector laws are proven to reduce fatalities” and “even if there is no proof, it’s common sense” looks like you think its ok to be deceptive to prove a point.

My guess is that you have no real experience evaluating epidemiological data and have lazily thrown together a bunch of stuff you googled. This couldn’t get you a C in a high school biostats class.

If you really care about road safety, there are a lot of great books, experts, podcasts, etc. that could give you a broader and deeper perspective on all of the factors involved in our current road safety crisis. I would encourage you to approach this topic with an open mind and learn as much as you can before launching a poorly informed campaign to have police chasing down people walking from their car to the grocery store at 5 pm in December because they aren’t wearing a reflector.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  SD

Correct, I have absolutely zero experience in evaluating epidemiological data, and I got consistent “C”‘s in every science and math class. I don’t claim to be presenting a scientific paper, just observation of other countries.

I’m merely a guy who almost hit a pedestrian last week on 82nd because he was invisible until I was almost on top of him, so I googled, and found many nations have solved that problem effectively and cheaply.

So your response to the Czech government would be – you guys are wrong about your reflector laws, they don’t help.

Bottom line – a dozen countries seem pretty convinced they work, and the Texas A&M video illustrates how well they work.

Phil
Phil
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

If you can’t see a pedestrian until you are almost on top of him, you are driving at a speed that is unsafe for the existing conditions.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Not according to the Finnish chart and the Texas A&M video.

Phil
Phil
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK
MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Seems quite “reasonable and prudent” to drive the posted speed limit in clear, dry, nighttime conditions – during which pedestrians are invisible until about 140 feet away, unless they wear a reflector.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

So it seems even though you believe that at night, people are invisible until they are too far inside the minimum stopping distance required by your chosen speed, you _also_ believe it’s somehow still “reasonable and prudent” to drive that _maximum_ posted speed at night. Maybe some self-reflection is in order.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  Phil

And I should add – invisible until 140 feet away, unless there’s headlights coming towards the driver, in which case the pedestrian is essentially invisible until about 20 feet away, as the Texas A&M video demonstrates.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

in which case the pedestrian is essentially invisible until about 20 feet away”

The way you keep describing such conditions suggests you see the presence of pedestrians under those conditions as an affront to you, the motorist, who might be forced to kill them.
But that is your bias. As many have tried to suggest here in these comments as well as in the previous round is that **if you can’t see the pedestrian, or don’t know if you can see them or not, then you are prima facie driving too fast for the conditions.**

Phil
Phil
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

So if I understand you correctly, it is reasonable and prudent to operate a multi-thousand-pound piece of machinery, through an area where pedestrians are likely to be, at a speed which is likely to kill or severely injure a pedestrian, in conditions where a pedestrian is essentially invisible until they are too close for your vehicle to avoid hitting them?

qqq
qqq
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Not according to the Finnish chart and the Texas A&M video

You’re totally wrong. The chart only shows visibility distance from a car to a pedestrian. It doesn’t address speed at all.

BUT, the description under that chart (from your link to the chart) DOES address speed. It says,  

When driving it is important to take extra time and care to look for pedestrians and cyclists and adjust your speed so you have time to react and stop when needs be.  

In other words, it says EXACTLY what Phil–whom you are disputing–says. It’s also what several people have pointed out is the law in Oregon.

So yes, you were driving too fast for the conditions, and should have been able to stop unless the pedestrian suddenly darted out in front of you–in which case a reflector might have made no difference anyway.

Further, the WORST visibility case in that chart shows a person with no reflector visible to a car without high beams visible at 50 meters (164 feet).

This chart (other sources are similar) shows total stopping distance (reaction time plus braking) of 164′ at 40 MPH. That’s faster than the legal speed limit (meaning upper limit) on 82nd, and on almost every street in Portland. At a more typical speed limit (30 mph) total stopping distance is only 109 feet:

https://nacto.org/docs/usdg/vehicle_stopping_distance_and_time_upenn.pdf

So while the Finnish chart shows reflectors increase visibility (which nobody is disputing) it certainly DOES not support your argument against Phil.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  qqq

The Finnish chart is a general guideline, so now getting down to arguing about whether a pedestrian would be impacted, or if the car would stop precisely 40′ away is getting ridiculous and far removed from real-life. Because the next ridiculous thing is then to argue about what color clothes they’re wearing without the reflector, or if their ABS is going to react properly and ensure that precise stopping distance, and how worn their tires are, etc.

It seems kind of desperate that you’re literally arguing that pedestrians being invisible in the dark is totally fine, that improving visibility should be opposed, and that those dozen countries that have reflector laws are misguided and their own stats showing before & after improvement are wrong.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

It seems kind of desperate that you’re literally arguing that pedestrians being invisible in the dark is totally fine, that improving visibility should be opposed, and that those dozen countries that have reflector laws are misguided and their own stats showing before & after improvement are wrong.”

Let me ask you this, MattK.
What have you learned from the dozens of comments replying to you-as Harry-Lime, not to mention the hundred(?) and counting in response to your piece here? Has anything anyone has written changed your view on these matters? Helped you see other perspectives on this matter-that-presents-so-open-and-shut-to-you?

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  9watts

Oh, goodness no, the response is exactly what I expected. Certainly nothing has changed my mind, because no one has addressed the dozen countries that embrace the reflectors.

The only thing that has changed is that I realize it’s not 38% of pedestrians who violated the law – it’s actually 25% of the total pedestrian fatalities who violated the law, while 13% of total fatalities were either/or also intoxicated.

Also, that whole paragraph can easily be deleted, because it’s not relevant, and people twist flat statistics into “victim blaming”. Goodness knows – an intoxicated pedestrian jaywalking in the middle of a street in front of a moving car – well, that could only be the driver’s fault.

There are also another 9 countries that require full reflective vests for anyone along a busy road, as in when changing a tire, etc. Even the sex workers in Spain are required to wear them along the road. There must be something about being visible that makes people safer in traffic. Hmmm….

And I’m so dumb I keep looking at that Texas A&M video and saying, “gosh darn it, look how impossible it is to see that pedestrian walking right in front of the car without a reflector, I never even realized but that video really has changed my mind about how great reflectors are!”

And I recognize that the concept of “accident” which means a driver is not at fault, doesn’t even exist here. No matter the situation – those 25% of pedestrians who didn’t yield to a car as required and stepped off the curb in front of a moving vehicle, expecting the driver to stop – all just the driver’s fault. The driver was plainly distracted or going too fast, no doubt violating the Nothing can happen between a car and pedestrian that isn’t somehow the driver’s fault and pedestrians don’t have a responsibility to follow laws or common sense. Cars bad.

All I’ve seen are attempts to knit-pick irrelevant bits of stats while ignoring all the others, as well as to knit-pick just how fast a car can stop, in theoretical imaginaryland.

As soon as I can come up with a new outrageous bike or traffic related topic, I look forward to submitting it and receiving the same response.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Thank you, Phil.

It is surprising how difficult it is to get this point across. If we all habitually sit in cars and reflexively comment to each other at the cocktail party how hard (impossible!!) it was to see those pedestrians, cyclists on the rainy night, then, yeah, we start to think that is how the world works, where the problem lies. But that is not how the world works at all.

Cars are in fact really hard to see out of at night, especially in the rain. Even for people with good eyesight, able to swivel their head without difficulty.

///But that is not my responsibility as a pedestrian!! /// That is a set of circumstances the person piloting said automobile should be taking responsibility for. I can be exhorted to wear retro-reflective garb to help said automobilist with his difficulties, and – no surprise – the statistics might even bear out the benefits to this clothing choice on my part, but that doesn’t take moral hazard into account, doesn’t begin to help everyone understand where the problem lies.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  9watts

But that is not how the world works at all.

Maybe it’s not how the world should work, but it is exactly how the world does work. We can certainly try to change that reality, but doing that requires understanding where we’re starting from.

And whether it’s my responsibility or not, it is absolutely in my interest to make it easier for drivers to see me when I’m walking or biking or driving.

SD
SD
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Wow. “Mr. Dunning-Kruger” nails it. The best thing to do now is to pull down this opinion piece, because it is mostly based on lies, and write a new piece on “How the self-inflicted trauma of bad driving causes drivers to lash out and blame everyone except themselves.” You would have much more insight and personal experience to draw from for the new piece, so you wouldn’t have to make up fake statistics.

Matt
Matt
3 months ago
Reply to  SD

I find it illuminating, and a bit strange, that the author didn’t lead their opinion piece (or even reference) with their 82nd Ave. incident.

Sure, it’s just one anecdotal incident, but given it was the impetus for this piece, it’s odd the details of the encounter weren’t detailed.

Given that the author seems to suggest that reflectors festooned on the pedestrian’s body would have avoided even this near miss, can we deduce that the pedestrian in this scenario was not exhibiting any of the 4 behaviors that, if they were, would mean that, as the author states, the “drivers were not necessarily at fault”?

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  SD

Fascinating. Now you’ve moved on to full censorship. That was quick. Don’t think about those dozen countries and their experience. Don’t pollute your mind with these devil ideas. This article is apocryphal, burn it!

SD
SD
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

It may have gotten lost in the thread, but this wasn’t a request of Bike Portland to pull down/ censor the article, it was a suggestion for you to address the multitude of inaccuracies that people have pointed out and write something that is more in line with your capabilities and experience. Misinterpreting statistics doesn’t help your argument, it just reveals that you don’t know what you are talking about.
Each time someone calls BS on a point you have made, it seems like you just respond by saying “but wait, there is more.” It’s tedious.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Dude, people _aren’t_ invisible, period. (Harry Potter is fiction.) You do your whole premise harm with hyperbole like that.

There _were_ photons that night and they _did_ bounce off the person toward your eyes. Are you sure that, for instance, your car was putting out enough photons per DOT standards — or, maybe, are your headlight lenses foggy from age and need polishing? Or did you have a burned out bulb? Or was your windshield too dirty? Or maybe you just have a vision condition that needs diagnosing? Do you not see the self-absorbed absurdity of responding to “I almost didn’t see that guy in time” with “everyone around me should be required to wear a thing (which, by Jove, I could maybe even sell them)”?

And no, it’s _not_ “reasonable and prudent” to drive the posted _limit_ (which, by definition, is a _maximum_) in the dod-gammed dark! (Please do not drive again until your bout of car-head subsides.)

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  360Skeptic

Weird how they’re invisible on the Texas A&M video.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Yeah, it’s almost as if video doesn’t capture the real world with complete fidelity.

Mr. Dunning-Kruger
Mr. Dunning-Kruger
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

where only one variable changed

Summary of vision zero-related policies and laws implemented in the Czech republic: https://www.cdv.cz/en/vision-zero.

Marked decrease in traffic fatalities is temporally correlated with implementation of vision zero policies/laws.

comment image

SD
SD
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Dear Bike Portland reader.
When someone tells you that one thing happened in 2015 (red arrow) that caused all subsequent decreases in traffic fatalities, you should not take this person seriously. When you take into account that the “one thing” wasn’t implemented until the following year, 2016, then this person has not only wasted your time but has also proven that everyone who took them seriously was a sucker.
https://english.radio.cz/rule-requiring-reflective-materials-unlit-roads-comes-effect-8233578

reflector
MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  SD

Yes, that’s how laws typically work and how they’re communicated. They’re passed in one year and then go into effect the following year, usually on Jan 1.

That’s why we say “Oregon decriminalized hard drugs via Measure 110 in 2020.” but of course, that didn’t actually go into effect until 2021.

A Grant
A Grant
3 months ago

I’m honestly curious as to how “intoxicated” is defined here. Where I live, one of our less than reputable automotive journalists took similar stats which identified X% of pedestrians killed by cars as simply having alcohol in their systems, then proceeded to label them stumbling drunks who were clearly at fault.

I fear the author has done the same by lumping those who were “intoxicated” amongst the 38% of pedestrians killed by drivers “not necessarily at fault”.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
3 months ago

Begs the question: Why did BikePortland post this when one of its editors can so easily refute it and has such misgivings about it? This is not a good look for integrity.

I'll Show UP
I'll Show UP
3 months ago

You’re highlighting the countries in Europe with, by far, the worst pedestrian safety records on the continent. The NY Times The Daily podcast had a great episode today about pedestrian safety. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/04/podcasts/the-daily/pedestrian-deaths.html

Why is it that countries who are not taking away pedestrian cell phones or mandating everyone buy certain products? Because they were not built around the car. They also have a recent series of articles around pedestrian safety that are well-researched.

None of their findings are showing that people’s clothing is what’s driving the problem. People generally wear the same clothes here versus the countries that actually have great safety records.

One interesting finding was that the prevalence of automatic transmissions is much higher in the US compared to countries with great records. Those counties use a lot more manual transmissions. This means that it takes one hand to drive here while it takes two hands to drive there on a culture-wide basis. Hard to get distracted when you don’t have that extra hand to do something different with.

Perhaps we should ban automatic transmissions? Seems like that would have a bigger impact. Also seems as unlikely as mandating that everyone buy certain products and are required to dress in certain ways.

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago
Reply to  I'll Show UP

Listening to the NYT Daily episode and then reading this Op-Ed really highlights how laughable this victim-blaming piece really is.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Take away the blame, and simply say – “whenever reflectors are adopted, pedestrian deaths drop by 30-50%”.

rick
rick
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

peak clown world. Will you wear unbreathable clothing in 105 degree weather in Phoenix, Arizona at 10:00 pm?

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

You can’t fairly conclude that without any US-based trials. Our safety challenges here are fundamentally different.

qqq
qqq
3 months ago

This opinion is a repackaging of comments advocating mandatory pedestrian reflectors someone (presumably this author) made in a recent BikePortland article.

In it, he attempts to rebut several arguments I and others made in that comment section. They’re no more convincing here than before.

The whole thing to me reads like a PR campaign from a lobbyist for the personal reflector industry–lots of statistics and graphics that look pretty good if you don’t analyze them.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
3 months ago
Reply to  qqq

PR campaign from a lobbyist for the personal reflector industry

No doubt the industry is worth hundreds of billions and financed by the government /automotive /highway construction industrial conspiracy, since we all know that such things like “common sense” and “personal responsibility” are simply social constructs of a systemic capitalist hegemony.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  qqq

Hi qqq. If you or anyone else is interested in writing up a counterpoint, I’d be happy to publish it.

qqq
qqq
3 months ago

Thanks, Jonathan. Earlier, I would have said that I appreciate that. But after re-reading the opinion piece, now I’m thinking that you actually should be LEGALLY REQUIRED to publish the counterpoint.

(Sorry, just kidding!).

PS Although you really would be legally required to publish the counterpoint if we lived in Genovia, Zamunda or Latveria.

(Sorry again!)

Seriously, the comments that have been coming in since your offer are doing a pretty good job of creating the counterpoint.

SD
SD
3 months ago

This is such garbage that it is a waste of people’s time to make a counterpoint that addresses all of the dubious claims. The best thing to do would be to ignore it. Unfortunately, we also have council members who are just as disingenuous and law makers who “just want to start a conversation” and a constituency of mono-modal pedestrian haters.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  SD

Seems that increasing pedestrian visibility 10x is always a good thing. I’m quite sure you also agree and would never bike in the dark without lights and reflectors, because you want to stay visible.

It also seems easier to shoot some random comments out in a forum, ignore direct questions, avoid addressing evidence that makes you uncomfortable, and then call for everyone to ignore an article and certainly don’t think about why it is that a dozen countries mandate reflectors…. And especially easier to avoid “wasting time” in writing an actual structured counterpoint article, with your legal name attached to it, explaining with data why those dozen countries are wrong in thinking their reflector laws help and how they’re interpreting their own data, and up to 70 years of experience, incorrectly.

I wonder why Poland expanded their law to the cities after seeing its effects for 20 years in the country… That could be a good paragraph for you to write in your counterpoint article, which I look forward to reading.

SD
SD
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Write something worth a response.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

ignore direct questions, avoid addressing evidence that makes you uncomfortable…”

back when you were still Harry Lime I asked you about bicyclist safety in The Netherlands where helmet use is basically nonexistent compared to the US, and I even included a chart.
https://bicycleaustin.info/forum/viewtopic.php?id=2449

Crickets from you.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
3 months ago

So basically you are asking all car drivers to carry reflectors to put on their clothing whenever they exit their vehicles? Cause once they stop driving they are a pedestrian too.

Walking from your parked car to that restaurant? You a pedestrian now. Let’s see those reflectors. Walking across the parking lot to the grocery store? Where’s your reflectors?

We can’t even get drivers to stop at stop signs or follow the speed limits what makes you think we can start getting every car driver to wear reflective clothing for once they leave their vehicles?

Or is this just going to be used to harass the poors and to excuse vehicular homicide? My guess it’s the latter.

Cason
Cason
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Wouldn’t everyone have more fun if reflective elements were a more common feature of clothing and outerwear in general? Then no one has to remember anything.

A Grant
A Grant
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

That’s one of my immediate thoughts as well. Say it’s a warm summer night. I’m walking downtown after having just enjoyed dinner and a show with my partner. I’m wearing what passes for my best suit. She’s wearing that little black number she loves so much. Is the expectation that we also wear reflectors in this scenario lest we get fined?

To be fair, I’m not of the complexion or demographic that would get stopped and fined for such a trivial offence.

John V
John V
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

It would become another checkbox on a police report. “Not wearing or poorly maintained personal reflector”. Pedestrian at fault.

X
X
3 months ago
Reply to  John V

I often choose to wear unappealing colors and materials just because motor vehicle operators are not always looking out and could use some help making decisions. This is self interest at work. However self interest also tells me that the people who will be in charge at any crash scene will not have my interest at heart and if they have a box to check for ‘wearing reflective material’ I’m that much more screwed.

dw
dw
3 months ago

I agree that reflective clothing is a huge boon to safety when walking. I see way too many people riding bikes without lights or reflectors too. Yes, we should have more streetlights, and yes, infrastructure should be better. But why sit around and wait a generation for that to happen? I have several jackets and pairs of shoes with reflective elements sewn in. They’re great.

I don’t agree that people should be legally compelled to wear reflectors at night. That sounds downright dystopian. In the context of US policing, reflector laws would be yet another reason for cops to harass and harm marginalized people.

Maybe a better way to go about it would be to require that outerwear have some kind of reflective material built in? Or run some public outreach to hand out reflectors and educate people about their benefits. But don’t give me a $45 ticket for forgetting to bring my little plastic medallion.

Ruth
Ruth
3 months ago
Reply to  dw

Perhaps, enforcement officers could simply be supplied with a stock of the danglers and give them out as needed. about 20 years ago, my then young child was given a reflective snap band by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s at the county fair.

J1mb0
J1mb0
3 months ago

I wear a reflective led sash when walking around, and I’ll buy these and wear it too. I suspect that I’ll still have close calls crossing the intersection near me in Tigard because of the anti-pedestrian culture that we have in suburban America. Even a 90% reduction isn’t enough – that still has people dying. The only way we can achieve Vision Zero is simple: no one can actually go over 20 MPH if they are on an non-separated roadway. Advocating for anything less than that is just devaluing human life and ignoring the laws of physics.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

a 90% reduction isn’t enough

Perhaps not, but it’s a great place to start. It is literally (and I mean this in the most literal sense) impossible to devise any sort of transportation system where no one will be injured or killed ever. Even if everyone were to walk everywhere, people will still die. That is as certain as any law of physics.

Accepting some level of mishaps in any ubiquitous and widespread system does not mean we “devalue human life”. It just means life does not have infinite value, and other things have value too.

Vision Zero isn’t something that can be achieved, it’s a goal to work towards.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Even if everyone were to walk everywhere, people will still die. That is as certain as any law of physics.”

Nonsense. Reading what you wrote I see no mention of cars. That is the only relevant parameter here. Take the cars out of the mix and – presto! – no more deaths.

Way stronger causal relationship than between retro-reflective garb and deaths.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  9watts

Take the cars out of the mix and – presto! – no more deaths.

I saw a woman fall and break her hip not too long ago walking on a path with nary a car in sight. I don’t know what happened later, but I do know that injury kills plenty of people.

Everything has some combination of risks and rewards, and different people are going to evaluate those costs and benefits differently. I read the post I was responding to as saying that any risk is unacceptable. That’s just not a tenable approach, especially in a world with finite resources. It’s certainly not how anyone who rides a bike approaches life.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Sure, people would still die. But if truly limited to walking speed, the deaths wouldn’t come from colliding with each other.

MarkM
3 months ago

Thanks, Matt! I appreciate you posting this. I’m always surprised that more people who walk at night don’t wear reflective gear.

Here is my hi-viz look when I was commuting on foot, and here is an excerpt from my post: “High-viz naysayers might say otherwise, but I can attest that the reflective straps and tape on my packs worked great during our dark, rainy, and windy winter days. I had two very close calls (hands-on hoods) with motorists. You can’t see my ankle straps.”

When I walked home after the BikePortland Happy Hour last night, I put on my reflective ankle straps one block from SE Ankeny. Over the next hour, I didn’t see anyone else wearing high-viz gear.

John V
John V
3 months ago
Reply to  MarkM

I’m not going to naysay wearing reflective clothing, but how do you square

I can attest that the reflective straps and tape on my packs worked great

with

I had two very close calls (hands-on hoods) with motorists.

?

It seems on an individual level, you don’t / can’t know if it “worked” at all, and the close calls would definitely cast doubt on that.

Over the next hour, I didn’t see anyone else wearing high-viz gear.

With that we can clearly conclude that your ankle straps keep people from wearing high-viz gear.

MarkM
3 months ago
Reply to  John V

I’m not interested in arguing or attempting to prove my assertion that some reflective gear makes you safer when walking (or riding) at night. If you’re interested, follow my link and the trail from there. I think you’ll see that I’ve got some credibility.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
3 months ago

Fun Fact: The day(s) in which the sun sets the earliest is not Dec 21st or 22nd, but between Dec 4th and Dec 16th. https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa/portland-or?month=12&year=2023

curly
curly
3 months ago

Hi Vis. Consider it a fashion statement and use it.
After riding for thousands of miles each year in the dark with Hi Vis, I still don’t know how many times it saved my life.

Paige
Paige
3 months ago

I’d be curious how the reflector requirement enforced against tourists from countries whose jackets/bags don’t have reflectors incorporated. Are they handing out small fines that often?

I just don’t know if it’s feasible to require reflectors here! Maybe? I think these are good things to get for kids, etc. Maybe it could become as ubiquitous as the Nordic countries over time. I think it would require a comprehensive campaign.

These might be excellent items for the counties and nonprofits to hand out to houseless people, though. Include them with safe use supplies or have them available to grab in all their locations.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
3 months ago
Reply to  Paige

Long ago I festooned my backpacks with reflective stickers and the like because I knew it was smart to increase my chances of being seen. I don’t need some legal “requirement” to do the wise thing to help me increase my chances of being safe.
So, when I visit those countries, I’m covered!
I agree with you that a public campaign could accomplish much to help people become safer. Afterall, do we really need another unenforced law to do the right and smart thing?

MarkM
3 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

RE: “I just don’t know if it’s feasible to require reflectors here! Maybe? I think these are good things to get for kids, etc. Maybe it could become as ubiquitous as the Nordic countries over time. I think it would require a comprehensive campaign.”

I think your statements above and the related comments from SolarEclipse are spot on.

Proud Jaywalker
Proud Jaywalker
3 months ago

This is just moving the spotlight away from the problem (too much driving) to the victims (everyone outside of a car). We are failing if we have to mandate safety equipment for people to go for a walk.

We really need to focus on getting people out of cars. This does the opposite.

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
3 months ago

Agreed. I still prefer my (mostly joking) idea of a giant ring parking garages around a city. Inside the ring people bike, walk, scoot, skate, ride horses (whatever) or use tightly controlled mass transit. Infrastructure (mass distribution, waste handling etc. gets buried). You’d have to rebuild everything, but that’s what this problem needs: a ground-up rethink of the city with the goal to design out the baked-in dependencies on our two-ton (or more) personal entertainment conveyances.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago

Thank you PJ! This is the key point in my view.

Michael
Michael
3 months ago

It’s always hard to talk about this sort of thing because it can very quickly turn into victim blaming. It’s a very small leap to go from, “You should take reasonable precautions to protect yourself in dangerous environments,” to, “It’s your fault you got hit by a car because you were wearing denim jeans and a black hoodie.” But I agree that taking reasonable precautions is a matter of personal responsibility. For instance, I may have the right of way to be in a crosswalk, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to close my eyes and blindly strut my stuff at the intersection of NE 82nd & Schuyler (Shoutout to Jo Ann Hardesty for the jurisdictional transfer and to PBOT for breaking ground on improving that intersection, by the way. Really looking forward to actually using it in the future!) and just hope that all of the motorists there can actually see me, are paying attention, and can physically stop in time for me to not get hit. When riding, I wear a Lumos lighted helmet for that extra bit of Christmas tree effect to make sure I’m noticed, and the turn signals are also super helpful in keeping me predictable. And if it’s dark and cold and/or rainy, I’ll wear my Proviz reflective jacket and Showers Pass dayglo rain pants so I can be as visible as possible. And yeah, the research shows that these kind of PPE measures work to make everyone safer, so of course we should foster a culture of acceptance and utilization of these measures where possible!

The thing is that these measures are the lowest hanging of the low hanging fruit, but (and this is where the victim blaming usually creeps in) the efforts to increase safety usually stop there. In industry we use something called the “hierarchy of controls,” which ranks safety control measures from most effective to least effective. PPE is at the very bottom of that hierarchy, so in almost all cases should not be the only thing holding up the safety system. The other controls are, in order, elimination of a hazard, substitution of a hazard, engineering controls, and administrative controls. What might those controls look like in the world of pedestrian traffic safety? First, look for ways to eliminate the hazard! That might be something like making an area a vehicle-free zone or removing on-street parking so that clear sight lines between a sidewalk and traffic lanes are maintained. Second, if the hazard can’t be eliminated, try to find an adequate substitute. Do you need an at-grade sidewalk on a highway, or would is there perhaps space to create a separated pedestrian path? Can you convert a crosswalk into an underpass or overpass? Is it possible to replace your fleet of trucks and SUVs with smaller and safer sedans, coupes, motorcycles, and bicycles? Engineering controls can look like extended curbs to create more visibility and shorten crossing time, chicanes and speed bumps to lower traffic speeds, and automatic braking technology. Administrative controls can be measures like lowering speed limits and ending the allowance to turn right (and sometimes left) on red. All of these things taken together can be much more effective than asking people to wear cute reflective medallions on their belt and have the added social benefit of not putting the onus of traffic safety on the traffic system’s most vulnerable users. Yes, make yourself safer with a $2 gadget from 3M and demand our government do better than has done.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  Michael

I agree. That’s why I pointed out the incredible lack of streetlights in Portland. I was hoping to come up with how many would have to be added every day to reach adequate lighting, but couldn’t figure that out. People wearing reflectors certainly doesn’t mean the city should just give up on street lighting.

However – if it takes multiple years and $50 million to add those streetlights, each year more pedestrians will be killed while the city is catching up. Real-life stats show a consistent 30-50% reduction when reflectors are mandated, whether the pedestrian deaths are 10 or 100.

Unless someone can find stats for a country that adopted them and did not experience a decline, then the proof of their effectiveness remains. There’s a good reason why Poland mandated them in rural areas only, then after 20 years realized they work in cities too, expanded the law, and saw a 75% reduction in urban pedestrian deaths.

It’s similar to covid masks – in every state that mandated them, there was a dramatic decline in infections measured before and after.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

Harry Lime/MattK,

Let me try this thought experiment with you:
We are in Sarajevo or Tehran or Odessa or Gaza. Lots of shooting, snipers, skirmishes, day and night. The bodies are piling up. Some higher up decides to mandate flak jackets. Arguing that this will save lives.

White space for emphasis.

Or we could do something about the guns, the shooting.

We have in this country a predisposition to focus on the (wrong) end of the pipe: curbside recycling, taxing the purchase of bicycles, homeless sweeps, racial profiling. We never seem able to grasp the larger problem and tackle it rather than some downstream symptom. And what is worse, as Proud Jawalker pointed out, is that by focusing on a ‘supposedly easy’ facet we take attention and responsibility away from the source of the problem.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Michael

but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to close my eyes and blindly strut my stuff at the intersection”

check out the work of Hans Monderman. That is pretty much exactly what he set out to make possible/safe in The Netherlands.

Vans
Vans
3 months ago

At least 2 lights each front and rear, also camera’s front and rear, GPS and helmet, 24/7, 365, period.

Bonus reflectors added and on some of my gear FTW.

Matt
Matt
3 months ago

The advocacy for mandatory reflector use by everyone walking is laudable.

However, I think the paragraph regarding pedestrian “fault” in collisions with pedestrian fatalities is confusing. It’s argued that the statistics find that in 38% of the fatal incidents “drivers were not necessarily at fault.” Yet, the very next sentence quotes the person overseeing the statistical review as declaring “the top causes of pedestrian deaths are mistakes made by sober, everyday drivers.” Then, the next sentence of this piece states “no matter how experienced, careful, and aware a driver is, they can’t avoid pedestrians they can’t see.”

Yet arguably the pedestrian behaviors listed for the 38% — intoxicated, crossing mid-block, ignoring do-not-walk lights, or not yielding to cars as required by law — won’t necessarily be mitigated by the use of a medallion reflector. Each of these 4 behaviors appears to include a suggestion of unpredictability, actions that if carried out by a pedestrian wearing reflective cuffs, bands, and medallions may still lead to dangerous outcomes. Additionally, the 38% isn’t 38% of the total fatalities because, as the study notes, multiple causes can contribute to a single fatality.

The same statistical review found that drivers’ “speed excessive to conditions” occurred in 75% of pedestrian fatalities.

So, upon reflection, one wonders if a pedestrian who is sober, doesn’t cross mid-block, doesn’t ignore do-not-walk lights, and yields to cars as required by law should be the focus of too much scrutiny of supposed culpability in a city where a surfeit of drivers exhibit speed excessive to conditions.

People are dying on our streets at a staggeringly tragic rate. It doesn’t take a snowflake to realize that driver behavior is at the core of any chance to reverse and reduce this sad reality.

qqq
qqq
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Those are all good points.

Even more basically, it makes no sense to me to argue one the one hand that high percentages of pedestrians are killed due to their ignoring laws that protect them, then on the other hand saying that a new law (mandatory reflector wearing) will protect them.

Also, the fact that a driver who kills a pedestrian wasn’t found guilty of breaking any laws doesn’t mean that the pedestrian did–which seems to be part of the author’s position. But even if they did get themselves killed because they broke laws, are they the type of person that would wear a reflector because it was mandatory? I don’t think so.

And going beyond that, a high percentage of pedestrians killed either ARE wearing reflectors, or are killed in broad daylight. Like you said, wearing reflectors doesn’t mean a pedestrian behaving dangerously still won’t be killed, and it certainly doesn’t mean a pedestrian wearing a reflector and behaving safely still won’t be killed by a driver.

Matt
Matt
3 months ago
Reply to  qqq

While I don’t oppose the concept of mandatory reflectors, I agree with the sentiment shared here in the comments that this policy would be used by far too many people to support an illusion that the deaths on our streets are prominently the result of unsafe behaviors exhibited by folks not in automobiles. So, before we mandate medallions, it seems sensible and proper to implement procedures, policies, or rules which address driver behavior. Besides, curtailing speeds on our streets will not only benefit pedestrians, but everyone who rides or rolls.

The same statistical review found that 0% of the pedestrian fatalities were caused by a pedestrian distracted by an electronic device. However, we are inundated with the tired trope of public opinion (and advertisers) that pedestrians are distracted, inattentive, and oblivious. We don’t need any further misbegotten cultural beliefs regarding pedestrians.

Ultimately, as personally prudent as reflective gear may be, this focus on pedestrians clothing avoids the crux of speed in street safety, fuels a fiction, and exonerates the automobile from the prominence it plays in making our streets absurdly deadly.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
3 months ago

Masking (which protects other people if you’re sick) and bike helmets or pedestrian reflectors (which protect the wearer) are not the same thing.

As much as I’d love it if all peds had reflective stuff on – I accept that it’s *my* reponsibility to not hit them even if they don’t. Choosing the right speed for the conditions and my light’s capabilities is my responsiblity.

Meanwhile I mask on transit/in stores (I was COVID positive last June without symptoms – I only found out because so many people at my workplace were getting sick so I tested – the mask meant that I had a greatly reduced risk of spreading it), wear a helmet when I ride (the scrapes on the upper left side after my crash 12 years ago would have been gouges in my scalp – good enough reason) and lights/reflective stuff to help others see me.

Damien
Damien
3 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Choosing the right speed for the conditions and my light’s capabilities is my responsibility.

I would like to repeat and shout this over and over again – I don’t think it gets brought up enough (i.e., always, in these sorts of conversations). Especially because, lest we forget, it’s the law to only drive as fast as is safe for conditions. Conditions in an urban area, particularly Portland, include intoxicated pedestrians wandering around anywhere at any time, under any lighting wearing any colors, gloomy rain or glaring shine.

A driver who fails to drive at a speed appropriate for those conditions is not driving lawfully.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Damien

This may be the law, but it’s basically unenforceable except in the most egregious of circumstances.

Damien
Damien
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I disagree.

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Unenforceable sort of implies that there are no consequences for this behavior, by which I think you mean that cops aren’t pulling people over who are driving below the speed limit, but above speed that conditions warrant.

However, and this is entirely enforceable, in the event of a crash caused by speeds that are too high for the conditions, legal consequences should follow. Maybe our legal system is not in the habit of doing so, but if pedestrian crash statistics are real, then such crashes are happening frequently. Are the legal consequences following as frequently?

Enforcing this law wouldn’t require any threat to civil liberties (such as a reflective fabric or jewelry) or expensive infrastructure upgrades.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Unenforceable sort of implies that there are no consequences

And, as far as I can see, there are not, and imposing such consequences would be very difficult because it would require making an objective determination of a “safe” speed for a set of fleeting circumstances, which will always be a matter of interpretation and opinion.

In egregious circumstances, such a racing along an icy road, perhaps it would work, but in everyday conditions, the posted speed limit is the only thing that matters on a practical level. It is objective and clear.

When people start getting tickets for driving “too fast for conditions” without violating the speed limit and without an obvious hazard, I may change my opinion about this. But until they do, I consider this law a dead letter, interesting only to armchair safety activists.

Damien
Damien
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

…imposing such consequences would be very difficult because it would require making an objective determination of a “safe” speed for a set of fleeting circumstances, which will always be a matter of interpretation and opinion.

Again, disagree.

Did the automobile collide with something or someone? Then it was being driven at an unsafe speed. This seems (in most circumstances) very easily objectively determined to me.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Damien

Did the automobile collide with something or someone? Then it was being driven at an unsafe speed. This seems (in most circumstances) very easily objectively determined to me.

The law requires you to drive at a speed that is “reasonable and prudent”. If you hit something, does that automatically mean that your speed was unreasonable or imprudent? I once backed into a pole that was hard to see. Is that prima facia evidence I was driving unreasonably fast? I was going less than 2mph at the time.

Yours reminds me of an argument Jonathan once made asserting that speed contributed to every collision because it is impossible for things that are not moving to collide. I categorized that argument as “arguably true but of limited utility”.

If you hear of someone being ticketed violating the basic speed law while driving under the speed limit, absent some unusual road condition, we can talk about how easily the law can be applied. Without that, your argument seems purely hypothetical.

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Again, I’m referring to consequences obtaining to a crash: unless (for example) a helicopter drops a piano in front of the car, it seems eminently reasonable to expect drivers to take responsibility not to run into people or other objects in the roadway, and the evidence is simply that a crash occurred!

You may feel this is uncomfortably close to a presumption of guilt, but I’m talking about cases in which the evidence is physical and factual: a heavy equipment operator has collided with an object. That’s objective in itself, or at least, as objective as many other kinds of cases the justice system adjudicates.

If you can determine that a pedestrian rammed into the *side* of a passing car, that’s less clear, for sure, but we have a justice system capable of determining these grayer areas. Interpretation is the purpose of the justice system!

Right now, consequences for too-fast driving are the exception. Every driver knows this, and that of course has an effect on the drivers’ behavior. That’s bad.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Charley

we have a justice system capable of determining these grayer areas. Interpretation is the purpose of the justice system!

Despite thousands of crashes daily, each of which presents objective, concrete proof that the basic speed law was violated, neither of us has ever heard of a single case where a driver was punished for doing so.

Based on the vast balance of evidence, I can only conclude that the law does not work the way you suggest.

Karl Dickman
Karl Dickman
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I know more than one person who has been ticketed for driving at 35 mph on a road at the border of SW Portland and Lake Oswego, even though the posted speed limit is 35 mph, precisely because the police officer believed that 35 was too fast on that road given the dark and rainy conditions that day.

SD
SD
3 months ago

It is irresponsible to conflate hopes of safety with the impact of creating a law that would disproportionately harm specific groups of people. Setting aside the embarrassing overstatement of causation that undermines the writer’s credibility, this opinion will just fuel the large number of drivers who reflexively blame everyone except themselves and are hungry to over-regulate a minority they find frustrating. Anti-pedestrian laws and infrastructure are commonplace in the United States at a time when this country should actively be doing everything in its power to increase the amount that people walk.

These empty mental calories for haters wrapped in a cynical appeal for safety can only set back real safety initiatives. The mob of visually impaired drivers on nextdoor that refuse to stop driving and just ran over someone’s cat will feast.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  SD

See my pinned comment at top, regarding “embarrassing overstatement of causation.”

EP
EP
3 months ago

I have a cargo bike with a dark grey frame, and a black fabric canopy. I massively upgraded the reflectivity this fall in anticipation of the winter darkness. Some reflective tape products I would HIGHLY recommend are:

Oralite Flexible SOLAS M82 1404 1″ tape. This is SUPER reflective, made for boats/people out at sea, and frequently used on motorcycle gear. Get the kind that is stretchy for curved and fabric surfaces. I’ve got this on the front and sides of my canopy, on the black fabric and on the clear pvc vinyl.

Oralite V82 is very reflective, and great for the curved & compound surfaces that a bike frame has. Yellow works great for the sides of a bike, red works for the back of fenders. Also, if you cut diamonds of this, you can wrap them around your spokes to make little triangles that add reflective movement to make you even more visible to motorists.

I bought some of the Oralite HIP with little reflector cells, but it really is just for perfectly flat surfaces like a sign, or something with a gradual curve, like an orange highway barrel. It wants to lift up off the frame if there’s the slightest hint of a compound curve.

I topped all this off with a fluorescent yellow vest with high-viz white stripes. Yeah, I’m not too “urban cool” anymore, but I am 1000x more visible in the dark, and that’s about the most proactive approach to my personal safety that I can take.

Betsy Reese
Betsy Reese
3 months ago

I am really happy to see this article.

When I was living off-and-on in and outside of Stockholm in the ’70s I saw these pedestrian pocket reflectors, as well as the hinged low side reflector flag for bikes (e.g., https://www.safetyreflector.fi/) everywhere.

Literally everyone on bike had a side reflector flag out night and day.

They had excellent rural bus service near me, and therefore often pedestrians walking alongside the road in total darkness, which is before 9 AM and after 3 PM in winter. Every pedestrian used a pocket reflector. Every Swede had one attached to a string about 15″ long, pinned inside the pocket of their coat. When they went outside, they pulled out their reflector and dropped it. It bounces around against your hip as you walk, and looks like a bright flashing strobe light in headlights from a great distance.

When I moved to Portland in 1982 I imported pocket reflectors and side flags for bikes from Talmu in Finland. I met someone at PBOT to suggest helping distribute them. They’re cheap, and can be imprinted with a logo. The person I spoke with told me that Portland did not have a pedestrian traffic fatality toll that would warrant anything like that, and that those couple of pedestrians who did get killed annually were “drunk” or otherwise would not have been saved by being more visible.

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  Betsy Reese

Yeah – in 1982 they didn’t have such a pedestrian problem, now it’s inarguably extensive.

Revive your connections – you could make a mint. There doesn’t have to be a law for any organization to pass out good ideas and keep you safe for free.

In fact, various groups around the US have been giving away reflective devices. PBOT would be smart to just do it, which isn’t as controversial as making an actual law. Just do it because they care, and logic + stats supports the idea.

https://lnnnews.com/rothenberg-law-firm-launches-free-reflector-belt-initiative-to-safeguard-pedestrians/

https://www.deseret.com/2006/10/26/19981609/gift-of-10-000-reflectors-aids-salt-lake-pedestrian-safety-efforts

MarkM
3 months ago
Reply to  MattK

RE: “In fact, various groups around the US have been giving away reflective devices. PBOT would be smart to just do it, which isn’t as controversial as making an actual law. Just do it because they care, and logic + stats supports the idea.”

Matt, respectfully, I think you need to do some more research. I’ve got a shoebox full of blinkers and reflectors from various local organizations: AARP, Lloyd TMA (now GoLLoyd), Kaiser Permanente, Regence BCBS, and PBOT.

My PBOT blinker with a clip is labeled “pedpdx.com” (for https://www.portland.gov/transportation/planning/pedpdx) and my orange ankle light tube is labeled “PBOT Vision Zero.” I’ve also got two reflective ankle bands from BPOT labeled “Best Bike City in the USA, Thanks Portland!” I’m not sure how old those are, though.

As I recall, I obtained the PBOT items when I was a PBOT Transportation Options Ambassador. At the time, I helped PBOT with their safe-street crossing events and Ten Toe Express walks. I think I got the other items at different Sunday Parkways events and from my former employers (BCBS, KP).

MattK
MattK
3 months ago
Reply to  MarkM

I mean PBOT giving away a population-wide amount in schools and libraries just as other countries do during their National Reflector Days, not tiny amounts at promotional events.

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
3 months ago

Hoo boy.

Ruth
Ruth
3 months ago

I walk to work in the dark 9-10 months out of the year. I have bright yellow coats and vest and a couple of light yellow-green umbrellas that I carry. I still would buy these in a heartbeat.

I see many other pedestrians. The vast majority are dressed in dark clothing. They are poorly visible on grey rainy days and are not visible on dark stormy nights. (Don’t get me started on dark-garbed cyclists racing the wrong way on a one-way street, unlit, at O-dark-thirty in the morning!)

Crocodile tears about personal freedom and profits for the reflector companies are bushwa! Yes, drivers bear responsibility (so does the pedestrian; we all do). My life is more important to me than trying to convince drivers to slow down, get off the illegal cell and see me, let alone look for someone in dark jeans, black sneaks, dark jacket and navy stocking cap.

You stick by your principles and prance around in dark clothing in the dark. Blame the driver on the cell phone when you’re hit. (You’re right even if you’re dead.) I plan on living to an even riper mean old age than I’ve already attained.

As for cost, a quick search found multiple companies offering these to commercial customers for logo promotional supplies at prices from $0.30-$0.80 per piece depending on quantity. E-Bay has multiple sellers offering 12-packs of danglers at $5 to $9 per pack. I don’t think cost is really going to be a huge issue.

Finally, yes, when they get out of their cars, drivers & passengers become pedestrians. Yes, they should be lit up also. And all of us should have our noses out of the cell, be alert to our surroundings, and look both ways and behind before entering a street.

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago
Reply to  Ruth

And I’m sure that drivers always see you, and you’ve never had any close calls, right?

A Grant
A Grant
3 months ago
Reply to  Ruth

You stick by your principles and prance around in dark clothing in the dark. Blame the driver on the cell phone when you’re hit.”

If the driver is on a cell phone you could be lit up like a Xmas tree and still be hit.

Phil
Phil
3 months ago

While agree with a lot of the earlier comments pushing back on the idea that we need to require pedestrians to wear reflective gear, I also like to do what I can to protect myself from cars when I’m out and about. I always have a helmet, lights and reflectors when I bike, but I have noticed that what I wear when I’m a pedestrian is often lacking in bright or reflective details.

Would anyone care to link their favorite reflective items that I could add to my shoes, jackets, hats, etc? I’d prefer something that I could attach permanently or semi-permanently (so I don’t have to worry about remembering it) but that also doesn’t look dorky.

Cason
Cason
3 months ago

It’s nice to see some data on this and some real examples of places that went through a change in reflectivity habits.

It seems like there are a ton of reflective options and little add-ons that weren’t widely available 10 or 20 years ago. (Think fabric stickers, zipper pulls, appears black but reflects white)

I’d love to have an article showing off a lot of cool reflective ideas, especially ones that are personally expressive and ones that blend in to everyday fashion.

For not sticking out too much, the Showers Pass Timberline rain pants come to mind. (The articulated knee trim is very reflective, but barely noticeable in normal lighting.) https://showerspass.com/products/mens-timberline-pant
But it would be nice to see things than span all price ranges and work with casual street clothes.

Stop victim blaming
Stop victim blaming
3 months ago

Did you see what she was wearing? She was practically begging for it.

Oh shoot, I got stuck late in the office and forgot my high vis at home. Guess I deserve to die – it’s my fault operators can’t be bothered to keep their eyes on the road.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
3 months ago

It’s like someone putting on a deer costume with antlers on their head and going out to wander around the forest during hunting season. Afterall, those pesky hunters should be able to determine a real deer from someone disguised as one moving through the trees.
You of course are very entitled to wear what you want, but do you want to risk dying to prove it?
Wear your high vis or not, it’s your life. It seems odd that such a minor little thing to help prevent something more drastic from happening is so beyond your capacity.

9watts
9watts
3 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

Yikes!

Dave
Dave
3 months ago

Remember–we (the USA) are a society that would rather let the drunk, the blind, and the developmentally disabled drive than build proper and reasonable mass transit. Those of us who walk and cycle should remember that; we need to be at least temporary anti-motorist bigots and light and reflectorize ourselves sufficiently to account for their mental shortcomings.

Champs
Champs
3 months ago

Visualize a world in which walking down the street without a reflector is illegal, but living in a tent on it is a protected constitutional right.

SMH.

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago

Any law mandating reflector use for pedestrians would be unconstitutional, a clear violation of the privileges and immunities clause.

Feel free to cite motorist laws all you want, but there is a very hard and clear line between walking and mechanical forms of transportation.

So promote reflector use all you want, but any attempts to make walking in the dark illegal are going to fail.

J_R
J_R
3 months ago

I typically carry a flashlight that I can aim toward a car as it approaches and, if need be, can shine directly into the eyes of the driver if he doesn’t seem to be paying attention.

I just returned from walking the dog in my neighborhood and observed one motorist roll past a 30-inch, octagonal, retroreflective sign (i.e. a STOP sign) at 15 mph. It probably just jumped out in front of him unexpectedly and wasn’t sufficiently visible because of the darkness. /s/

mhl@mlinehan.us
mhl@mlinehan.us
3 months ago

There are lots of iron-on and stick-on reflective patches and tape on the market. I’m partial to the ones made of 3M Scotchlite reflective material.

Salzman spoke reflectors are a simple way to make your bicycle much more visible from both sides. These are 3-inch long round pieces made of Scotchlite that you slip onto your spokes.

Fred
Fred
3 months ago

Here’s a better idea than forcing everyone to wear reflective clothing:

Create a program that educates people walking at night to carry a flashlight or even a cellphone and activate it to shine a light while crossing the street.

When I am driving and I see a pedestrian wearing a flashing light on the sidewalk, I’m annoyed by it b/c my attention is drawn to something completely unnecessary: a driver is no threat to a person on a sidewalk.

Military bases around the world used to have this rule (maybe some still do): carry a flashlight and turn it on when crossing the street or walking a road with no sidewalk.

X
X
3 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Should a person also have a flashlight by the bed for the thankfully rare event of a person driving a motor vehicle into their house? Reflective nightwear? Helmet? This is kind of sarcastic but here we are putting the responsibility on people outside the car. Where does it stop?

Charley
Charley
3 months ago

In these United States, any such law would be simply polishing the turd of a dysfunctional transportation system: minimal impact and maximal soiling.

The idea that the high cost of heavy machine operators’ constant failures should be borne by any citizen walking in public past sunset is insulting to logic.

If I were enjoying a nice evening in my front yard, and happened to walk across the street to say hi to my neighbor, without donning protective gear, I’d be a criminal. And all because drivers can’t be bothered to take responsibility for their actions? Give me a g~ddamn break.

Start with making drivers responsible for their actions. I can’t even believe I need to say this.

John V
John V
3 months ago

I’m willing to accept that everyone wearing a reflector will reduce pedestrian deaths. Also, if everyone wrapped themselves in Christmas lights, that would help further. And even better, if pedestrians just refrained from walking at night, or better yet, any time of any day, that could even more reduce traffic deaths. And if kids stayed home from school or wear bullet proof vests, that would reduce school shooting deaths. And to the main topic of this website, if we all stopped riding bikes, cyclist fatalities would plummet.

This oped just completely misses the point. The issue at question is about who we think should be allowed to use the road. What’s not being said, but implied, by this article is that pedestrians don’t belong, roads are for cars, and we cannot do anything to hinder drivers. We couldn’t possibly do anything to slow down drivers, improve visibility on the roads, or anything like that. If you’re out there as a pedestrian, it’s on you to do what you can to protect yourself because drivers are a force of nature we can’t, and shouldn’t try to, control.

Lisa put it well, “I suspect that Kalinowski has motives other than a concern for pedestrian safety.”

TakeTheLane
TakeTheLane
3 months ago

It sounds great! Now if some entrepreneurs can get reflectors displayed for sale at the checkout stands at my local Fred Meyer, I’d buy at least one for the backpack I use to haul my groceries on my bicycle.

Toadslick
3 months ago

I love this idea! Maybe with enough shiny baubles dangling from my pockets and a reflective and brightly colored outfit, I’ll look so ridiculous that drivers will slow down as they gawk.

Do you have any other tips on how I can simp for the most selfish, polluting, and destructive form of transportation?

I misplaced my crosswalk flag, so I totally understand if a driver mows me down while they were looking at their phone.

TakeTheLane
TakeTheLane
3 months ago
Reply to  Toadslick

So, fashion is more important than safety, and it’s better to malign car drivers than help them drive more safely. Ever consider becoming a far right politician?

X
X
3 months ago

Most of my travel is by bike. My bikes have 360° displays of shiny things, as well as mounted lights. Maybe that’s why my worst bike v. car things were in full daylight, with good visibility and dry pavement.

1) Maybe the reflectors help at night.
2) Car drivers are more likely to see a headlight at night than to notice a daytime bike rider. A headlight might be a car.
3) Motor vehicle operators often neglect their duties toward daytime road users who are in full view and acting legally.

Because of this third item I use a daytime headlight that is pretty rude. I point it down when meeting people outside cars.

Any member of government working for me should spend their time clearing up the muddy issue of MV operator responsibility. There’s nothing in the Constitution that allows mayhem just to cross the town. An operator facing a stop sign should be on the hook for any bad thing that happens, and the budget for little shiny things should go for required stickers to remind them of that.

Karl Dickman
Karl Dickman
3 months ago

Any time the law requires drivers to turn on their headlights, the law should also lower the speed limit by 10 mph. I am open to 5. The reasons outlined in this op-ed provide ample justification: visibility at night is much worse, but stopping distances are the same. Requiring lower driving speeds at night will thus reduce the likelihood of all kinds of collisions, and reduce their severity when they do occur.

Dusty
Dusty
3 months ago

This Op-ed is a continuation of a conversation I started on Nextdoor, “The predictable traffic deaths in Portland continue: 72 people were killed on Portland streets in 2023.”

“Matt K” expressed on this Nextdoor post that he did not actually want a mandatory reflector law and purposefully speeded 9 MPH over the limit if police weren’t around. What I gathered was he thought people like myself who argued for changing our traffic infrastructure to make it more safe, but were against a mandatory reflector law, were hypocrites and not truly interested in saving lives on the street.

I don’t know if his comments are still up there as he blocked me from responding.