I’m sure your inbox and timelines are full of well-meaning organizations urging you to “be safe and be seen” this time of year.
These are important messages, but it’s annoying how they usually focus on vulnerable road users. It makes sense intuitively, but that paternalistic approach fails to address the elephant in the room — or should I say the huge, powerful steel vehicles in our streets.
“Dress up like a traffic cone if you want to survive winter!” these campaigns too often say.
That’s why I was very pleased to see the latest statement from the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “‘Be Seen. Be Safe.’ Traffic safety during the darker days of the year,” the headline reads.
The full text is below. Notice how the focus — first and foremost — is on people who drive cars and trucks (after a solid first sentence that’s generalized to all road users):
At this point the State of Oregon seems willing to try anything to change our dangerous culture of distracted driving.
To take a bite out of an alarming rise in traffic deaths last year — the 495 people who died was a 58 percent rise from 2013 — the Oregon Department of Transportation convened a task force and purchased unmarked patrol cars, published a report on the “epidemic”, and most recently the legislature acted to tighten a loophole in our existing distracted driving law.
Their latest effort will rely on friendly competition. Drive Healthy is the name of an initiative announced today that will pit individuals and organizations against each other to see who can be the safest driver. Similar to the Bike Commute Challenge, people will sign up online and have their results tracked via the Livesaver app and results will be posted on a public leaderboard. Once downloaded, the app runs in the background and automatically locks your phone when you drive (see screenshot at right). The fewer times you unlock the phone, the more points you get. The only functions available while driving are “Emergency Call” and “Passenger Unlock”.
Here’s more from ODOT and the DriveHealthy.org website:[Read more…]
Portland City Council just voted unanimously to enact an emergency state law to drop the speed limit on outer Division Street — a road recently referred to as a “death corridor” by City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
As we reported earlier this month, the move comes as the Bureau of Transportation reacts to a spate of deaths and injuries on the street. The move also comes as the latest example of PBOT flexing its Vision Zero muscles.
Since this passed as an emergency, it can go into effect immediately. PBOT crews will be out on Division Street tomorrow taking down 35 mph signs and replacing them with 30 mph signs. Once the signs are up, the new speed limit will be in place for 120 days. If all goes according to PBOT’s plan, they’ll never have to remove the signs. Upcoming changes to the street intended to slow people down are likely to reduce average speeds to an amount compatible with what the Oregon Department of Transportation prefers to see before granting an official, permanent speed limit change.
Here’s more from PBOT as shared in a press statement following today’s Council vote:[Read more…]
When a city says traffic safety is their top priority, it should be willing to do whatever it takes to make people drive more slowly.
In Portland that means taking a very close look at the Oregon Revised Statutes.
Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat announced today that her bureau will seek permission to enact section nine of ORS 810.180 which gives the city the power to set an “emergency speed” without going through the often onerous process of asking for permission from the State of Oregon. (Note: Another section of this same law gives cities the power to reduce speeds on certain residential streets, thanks to a lobbying effort by PBOT in 2011.)
Treat said they’ve decided to take this very rare step in order to keep people safer on outer Southeast Division Street. Back in December two people were killed while trying to walk crossing Division Street in two separate crashes just hours apart. The tragedies sparked outrage from local residents, activists and even top PBOT staff. One day after the deaths, PBOT Active Transportation Group Manager Margi Bradway called neighborhood leaders to talk about the city’s response. Those conversations led to the passage of $300,000 in emergency funding to do outreach and education in adjacent neighborhoods (which are populated by many people of Chinese and other descents who don’t read or speak English).
To continue their focus on taming Division Street, Treat said PBOT will bring an ordinance to Portland City Council on March 2nd asking them to support the move. The existing state law gives PBOT the ability to make this move, but we’ve never heard of it actually being done. [Read more…]
A bill that would establish an official State of Oregon Vision Zero Task Force got its first public hearing today. And it was heart-wrenching.
The eight members of the House Committee On Transportation Policy who presided over the hearing for House Bill 2667 probably didn’t expect the 8:00 am start time to attract testimony from nearly two-dozen people. And they probably didn’t expect to hear from people like Marina Hajek, the mother of a 10-year old boy who was hit and killed by a reckless, speeding driver while walking his bike across a street in Eugene 10 years ago.
Portland and the State of Oregon are both coming off a terrible year when it comes to traffic safety.
492 people died while using Oregon roads in 2016. That’s a 10 percent increase over the 2015 total and a whopping 57 percent jump from 2013 (when we lost 313 people to traffic crashes). In Portland 45 people died, marking just the second time since 1998 that we’ve had over 40 deaths in one year.
The combination of those grim statistics and the maturity of Vision Zero as a rallying cry and policy concept could make 2017 a watershed year for traffic safety. Or, it could just be more of the same: a bunch of plans, proclamations, protests and meetings. It’s up to all of us to make sure we move the needle.
This week there are four events that show how activists, a nonprofit organization, the State of Oregon, and lawmakers are responding to this urgent issue.
Tuesday (2/14) – Oregon Transportation Safety Committee Meeting
The Oregon Transporation Safety Committee is a governor-appointed tasked with advising the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Transportation Commission on all matters regarding traffic safety. They meet monthly in Salem. This month’s agenda includes reports from various ODOT liaisons, a discussion about a new speed program, an update from the head of ODOT’s Traffic Division Division, and the drafting of a proclamation to declare May “Transportation Safety Month”. Take a look at the agenda here (PDF).
The dangerous combination of right-hooks and large trucks have been one of the most pressing bike safety issues in Portland for the past a decade. We have lost far too many people because of this deadly combination.
So why aren’t we doing more about this well-known hazard? Like so many of Portland’s bike-related projects, the solution is in the city’s plans, but not in the city’s budget.
We were once again shaken out of our complacency with this issue when a man died while bicycling on North Interstate Avenue yesterday. Official details are still sparse, but it has all the trappings of a classic right-hook.
That horrible tragedy is just the latest in a long line of them.
In 2007 Brett Jarolimek and Tracey Sparling were killed within two weeks of each other when a truck operator failed to see them, turned right, and ran over their bodies. It happened again in 2012 to Kathryn Rickson on a busy bike lane just one block from City Hall.
After all three of those tragedies one of the main responses from the community was the need for safer trucks.
A group of people who’ve lost family members on Portland-area streets has seen the success of their peers in New York City and is preparing to launch a similar organization here.
“I really am interested in behavior change, cultural change.”
— Kristi Finney
If you know anyone who has lost loved ones to traffic — whether the victim was walking, biking or driving — Oregon and SW Washington Families for Safe Streets is building its network in advance of a planned Nov. 15 launch.
Families for Safe Streets has been a key force behind New York’s rapid adoption of a Vision Zero policy that prioritizes traffic safety over traffic speed. This spring, NYC transportation advocate Paul Steely White told us he’d “never seen a campaign have so much influence over elected officials in such a sort time.”
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Of all the ingredients that make up a dangerous roadway environment, most pundits and policymakers agree that speeding is one of the biggest threats. At a meeting of transportation advocates hosted by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick earlier this month, the scourge of speed was a constant thread through the discussion.[Read more…]