In the wake of a series of tragic crashes, injuries, and fatalities to people on foot and bike in the Portland region, now is the time to act. The unfortunate reality is that serious injuries and fatalities are happening on our roads on a regular basis. This is impacting vulnerable users at a much higher rate, with pedestrians making up over half of the fatalities on our roads last year. There is no one fix to our unsafe roads, but there are many things that we can, and must, do now. In 2014, there were 28 deaths in Portland due to traffic crashes and there have been 10 so far this year.
On June 2, Kari Schlosshauer, the National Partnership’s Pacific Northwest regional policy manager, joined our partners Oregon Walks, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and Community Cycling Center, for a meeting with Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick, and other stakeholders, where we called on the City of Portland to embrace Vision Zero, broadly, publicly, and immediately. Immediately following the meeting, Mayor Hales did so during a press conference and in a media release.
Here’s a great primer on what Vision Zero is, from the Vision Zero Network.
Our community-based organizations called for action on immediate steps the City can take to improve safety on our streets, including:
- Reduce speed limits citywide – Transportation Director Treat recently made a formal request to the Oregon Speed Zone Control Board seeking to expedite the process for setting speeds on city streets, allowing the city to take into account how and when pedestrians and cyclists use the road.
- Speed matters: at 40mph, only 1 out of 10 pedestrians survive, but at 30mph half do, and when speed limits drop to 20mph, 9 out of 10 pedestrians survive.
- Other innovative ideas could include “neighborhood slow zones” or “play streets” such as those recently piloted in Seattle. Play Streets include both school-organized and community-led play streets, and offer an opportunity to expand the use of our streets and provide more places for people.
- Launch a broad-based public education campaign on Vision Zero
- We must frame speeding in the same context as drunk driving and seat belt use. A sustained public dialogue is necessary, via signs on buildings, in buses, on our computers and televisions, enclosed in our utility bills, and more, that stresses the danger of what driving even five mph over the posted speed limit can do to a struck pedestrian or person riding a bicycle.
- Ensure greater enforcement of laws that protect people walking and riding bicycles – we were pleased to see the Portland Police Bureau at the table, and look forward to their continued engagement both at the table and on the streets.
- Examine and document all crashes and injuries on our roads, and work to determine a root cause analysis of what goes wrong on our streets and intersections, and why these crashes are happening.
- Ensure that enforcement is equitable and does not disproportionately impact communities of color, the demographic most likely to be injured while walking or bicycling.
- Prioritize our limited safety funding on engineering improvements
- Fix our highest crash locations and ensure routes to high-use destinations, such as schools and transit stops, are truly safe. We must focus our limited safety funding on engineering improvements along High Crash Corridors, our most dangerous intersections, and high-use destinations, especially in those areas that are historically under-served or that serve our most vulnerable populations, such as older adults and youth.
- Implement Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) and Leading Bicycle Interval (LBI) signals near schools, on high-use bikeways and pedestrian crossings, and in any location with vulnerable users, such as older adults and children. These signals allow pedestrians and bicyclists to get out in front of vehicle traffic, be more visible to drivers, and reduce turning movement conflicts.
- Other innovative ideas could include “daylighting” intersection corners. State law (http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.550) prohibits parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk at an intersection, yet this law is not enforced in Portland. Vehicles parked at intersections block sight lines for pedestrians as well as turning vehicles, including cars and bicycles, and contribute to unsafe intersection situations.
“And what’s not to like about providing parking for 10 customers where there used to be parking for just one?” – Joseph Rose, Oregonian
Most fatal crashes in Portland happen on just 10 streets, which the Portland Bureau of Transportation have designated High Crash Corridors. Though they represent only 3 percent of the roads in Portland, they account for 51 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.
Students from 36 elementary schools in Portland, in PPS, David Douglas, Centennial, Reynolds & Parkrose School Districts, must cross or travel along a “High Crash Corridor” to get to their school.
Vision Zero has the goal of providing a safe, multi-modal transportation system where no one is killed or seriously injured on our streets. We are pleased that the City of Portland has embraced the concept of Vision Zero, but like so many multifaceted problems, it’s not clear how it will be implemented. While there is no one fix to our unsafe roads, there are many things that we must start to do now.
We look forward to long term and sustained support for safety for everyone on our streets.
Download our full media release here (pdf).