By Don MacGillivray

Over the last three year Vision Zero has grown to become one of the most popular new polices within Portland local government and it is becoming known to the state and federal government, possibly even more than road repair and transportation infrastructure. Deaths and serious accidents are now seen as preventable through government and community action.

The first Vision Zero resolution was passed in Portland in 2015. The first Vision Zero Policy Plan followed a year later and it was adopted late last year. It is quickly changing the local transportation priorities. The work is the result of a task force made up of 26 community advocates and city staffers from a diverse range of interests and organizations. Vision Zero will especially work to equitably address the safety needs of low-income and minority communities and ensure that they are not inappropriately the focus of law enforcement. There are currently 32 specific items from the Vision Zero Action Plan being implemented.

The basic strategy of Portland’s Vision Zero Action Plan is to decrease traffic speed through: lowering the posted speed, improved street design, posting reader boards, increasing automated enforcement, and by providing multi-cultural traffic safety education.

This work was made more important in 2016 with an exceptionally tragic year where 45 people died in local traffic accidents marking just the second time since 1998 that over 40 people died in a single year. In the same year 492 people died in Oregon road accidents. This is a 10% increase over the 2015 total and a 57% jump from the 313 lives lost to traffic accidents in 2013. Road safety is becoming an even bigger public concern than road repair and maintenance.

The correlation between excessive speed and serious injury or death is clear. Therefore the Portland Bureau of Transportation has requested lower speeds on twenty-one roadways in Portland. Those streets where accidents occur are the main target. Many of them are in East Portland and only a few would affect the Inner Southeast. The most notable is the change to 20 mph on Hawthorne Boulevard from SE 30th to SE 50th Avenue. Another is on Woodstock between SE 57th Avenue and SE 91st Avenue.

SE Division Street to the east of SE 82nd Street seems to be getting much attention. Over ten years, SE Division Street has had more crashes with fatalities or serious injuries to drivers than any other corridor in the city. There have been a total of 13 deaths and 117 serious injuries in that period of time. It had the fourth highest total of injuries for people walking, and the second highest total for people riding bicycles.

Outer SE Division Street is on the designated High Crash list due to the high rate of accidents and deaths on the street. These accidents on Outer Division Street greatly affect the diverse communities in the Jade District, the Division Midway Alliance and others in East Portland. Therefore on SE Division Street between SE 82nd Avenue and 174th Avenue the speed limit will be decreased by 5 mph from 35 mph to 30 mph. The street is also being redesigned with center medians and pedestrian islands. There will be educational programs and outreach for the many diverse groups in the area. Other locations are also receiving minor speed limit reductions. Speed cameras are being installed at those intersections where speeding is most frequent.

Safe Routes to School is also getting educational and outreach attention. This year five high crash intersections will be upgraded by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Oregon Bureau of Transportation.

Metro is including a Regional Transportation Safety Action Plan as part of the 2018 Regional Transportation Plan. It is their desire to eliminate transportation related fatalities and serious injuries for all users of the region’s transportation system by 2035.

Metro has a great video that explains the situation they are addressing. It notes that 586 people are killed or severely injured each year in the Metro area. Then it asks how many people killed per year is acceptable? And the last question is how many people in your family would be an acceptable loss? The intent is to illustrate that there should be no acceptable traffic fatalities. Since the violence is indiscriminate you or your family may be victims.

Rob Nosse, State Representative from House District 42, in the inner southeast has introduced HB 2667 that will establish a 17 member statewide Vision Zero Task Force to study and draft strategies that will address, reduce, and eliminate traffic crashes, particularly those with auto, bicycle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. This legislation is supported by: The Street Trust, Oregon Walks, and Oregon and SW Washington Families for Safe Streets.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer is also attempting to lead the nation toward Vision Zero policies. He descries the need for national assistance to end the “American carnage” on the roadways across the county. In fact there are other cities just like Portland that are implementing Vision Zero plans and policies. Congressmen Blumenauer’s bill would address both plans and their implementation by providing a limited number of grants to local government.

With all the attention given to automobile safety along comes the specter of driver-less cars. Portland is in the midst of many plans on how to accommodate this new wrinkle on local transportation. Autonomous vehicles will take human error out of the equation, but what about the driver operated vehicles that remain. The public has a right to expect that appropriate safety standards are adopted and met. Driverless cars should not only help us meet safety standards, but also help with our equity, climate change, and economic goals. In the end we must ensure that all streets are safe for people walking, biking, rolling, or driving.