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Portland launches Vision Zero efforts


Task force, citizens' pledge are two first steps

Amidst lots of testimony from advocates, Portland City Council voted Wednesday morning to officially adopt Vision Zero — an initiative that aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

"This is a vision that will guide all aspects of our work," said Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation."Our legislative agenda, transporation investments, maintaining what we already have or making safety improvements we need, and how we spend the money on safety improvements the most efficient and effective way."

The Vision Zero resolution — which Mayor Charlie Hales called for two weeks ago — includes naming a stakeholder committee to advise PBOT on law enforcement, education, public health and emergency response.

PBOT Director Leah Treat said she has drafted a list of 20-25 committee members so far, including, state and city officials and private and advocacy interests.

"We're looking to cast a very wide net to make sure all modes and all interests have a seat at the table," she said.

The council also voted Wednesday to accept a $150,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation to develop the Vision Zero Transportation Safety Action Plan.

According to the grant application: "While safety is a component of many of PBOT's projects, the City of Portland lacks a comprehensive plan and strategy to address safety. This (Transportation Safety Action Plan) will lay out a plan that is comprehensive, aggressive and developed with a broad coalition of partners."

The plan will undertake a one-year effort, informed by traffic crash data, to generate specific policy recommendations and actions to reach Vision Zero by 2025.

"We have a ways to go in Portland, obviously," said Margie Bradway, PBOT active transportation director.

Consider the statistics:

• The number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed on Portland's roadways each year has remained flat over the past 20 years. On average, 12 pedestrians and 2 bicyclists have died each year.

• Last year of the 28 people killed in crashes in Portland, half were pedestrians, and more than half happened in East Portland.

• There was an all-time low of 7 people killed in crashes last year in Portland. This year that number is at 8 so far.

• Portland is among the cities with the lowest fatality rates per 100,000 people. New York City is at 3.9; San Francisco 4.0; Oakland 5.0; Seattle 5.2; Chicago 6.0; Portland 6.2; Milwaukie 7.0; Los Angeles 7.7.

• Portland is home to about 15 percent of the state's population but suffers from 22 percent of the state's crashes.

The council also approved an amendment to the resolution to address racial profiling in any VisionZero enforcement efforts, to ensure that communities of color aren't disproportionately impacted.

That idea came from Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, in his testimony.

Sadowsky, who is part of a VisionZero Network along with seven other cities, also asked the council to set a target date, with a measurable goal and interim benchmarks, "Otherwise it is simply window dressing."

Novick said he would hold off on setting a date, and wants to talk to his colleagues involved in the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness.

"What are the implications of setting a goal; what happens afterward when you can't quite meet it?" he says.

Commissioner Nick Fish agreed. "By any measure, that was an enormous success," he said. "We moved 13,000 people off the streets into homes. But if we're setting a goal we can't reach, we're setting ourselves up for failure."

Commissioner Amanda Fritz, whose husband was killed in a head-on crash on I-5 last September on his way to work, also said it would be impractical to set a timeline now.

"I don't believe we can set an actual target date," she said. "We will know when we get there. But we can't set a timeline because we don't have the funding. That's heartbreaking. ... That's part of this conversation — what do we as a community want to pay for. We know as a community how to engineer for safe streets."

Fritz said it was hard to listen to the emotional testimony by Noel Mickelberry, executive director of Oregon Walks, a pedestrian advocacy group.

Mickelberry was tearful as she recalled hearing about the pedestrian who died after being struck on the Burnside Bridge on Sunday as she was enjoying a bike ride and walk around Mt. Tabor on her anniversary.

"Thirty-eight weeks ago today I was in a similar situation to the one Ms. Mickelberry was talking about," Fritz said. "No one was doing anything wrong, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have to engineer for these things happening."

Fish said he lost someone close to him in a traffic death when he was 11. He told the Tribune afterward that it was his mother, Julia Fish, killed in the driveway of his home in upstate New York, leaving four children behind. He writes about the experience in an essay that will run in Street Roots on Friday.

"No one should have to experience that," Fish told his council colleagues. "Ever. No one fully recovers from that experience. At the end of the day if we can prevent something like that from happening – drive slower, put their goddamn cell phone aside, drive like on every street there's a chance there's a chance a child will be chasing a ball … that doesn’t seem to me like a big imposition."

Treat and Bradway highlighted the actions the city has been taking and will be pursuing to implement VisionZero.

They include:

• Installing 20 rapid flash beacons in East Portland,

in addition to the 24 that have been installed there since 2014.

• Seeking persmission from the Oregon Speed Zone Board to expedite the process for setting speeds on city streets, taking into account how and when pedestrians and cyclists use the road. While that request is pending, the city recently successfully reduced speeds on Southeast Division and Burnside, which are both classified as High Crash Corridors.

• Lobbying for House Bill 2621, which would allow Portland to install fixed photo radar safety cameras to reduce speeding on the city’s High Crash Corridors. The 10 designated High Crash Corridors make up just 3 percent of the city’s road network, but they account for more than 50 percent of pedestrian fatalities in Portland. The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in Room H-174 of the State Capitol Building in Salem.

• Including in the city budget $8 million for maintenance and safety improvements on 122nd Avenue in East Portland and $2.8 million for safety improvements on East and West Burnside.

• Dedicating $300,000 in the city budget to begin to expand Portland’s Safe Routes to School programs to middle and high schools. Council adoption of the 2015-16 budget is scheduled for Thursday.

• Launching a new website, VisionZeroPortland.com, which includes the Vision Zero Crash Map, an interactive map that displays 10 years of injury and fatality data for people walking, biking and driving. It also includes maps showing locations of existing and funded East Portland rapid flash beacons. Starting Wednesday, it also includes the Vision Zero Pledge, so all Portlanders can sign on.

Recent fatalities

In the past two weeks, two pedestrians have died in Portland crashes.

• On June 3, Washington State University Vancouver math professor Thomas Gazzola, 55, was struck and killed by the driver of a pickup truck while he was jogging on a residential street in Northeast Portland. The driver, Richard Earl Dryden of Longview, Wash., was arraigned on accusations of driving under the influence of intoxicants and assault. He's scheduled to be back in court June 18.

• On June 14, George Carlson, 36, was hit and killed by the driver of an SUV while walking on the sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge. Douglas James Walker, 59, of Beaverton, was cooperative and allowed to leave. Police say Walker "possibly suffered a medical event which caused him to leave the roadway." The crash also injured Bridget Larrabee, 35.

To read the Vision Zero report, released by Oregon Walks and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance: http://ourhealthystreets.org/visionzero/.