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Vision Zero: 'Commit to changing behavior'

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City's ambitious plan promotes safety for pedestrians, cyclists


TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - Cyclists kicked off Pedalpalooza earlier this month. As more people take to the streets by bike and foot this summer, city leaders are urging more mindful behavior by all. Getting to Vision Zero is a personal quest for city leaders. As Commissioner Nick Fish mentioned in his testimony last week just before the City Council approved the Vision Zero resolution, both he and Commissioner Amanda Fritz have lost someone close in a traffic incident.

At age 11, “I lost my mother,” Fish told the Tribune after Wednesday’s session. “She was killed in a car accident at the foot of our driveway (in rural upstate New York). She left four children. That’s one of the reasons it was especially meaningful to me personally to have had the chance to support Amanda (Fritz) during her struggle. I was sitting next to her in her office when the phone rang and she heard she lost her husband.”

Fish writes more about his experience in an essay published in Street Roots on Friday.

No matter how much heart city leaders invest in the ambitious plan, it will come down to public buy-in — a cultural mind shift, city leaders say.

“We need an attitude change,” Portland Police Sgt. Kelli Sheffer says. “Everyone’s going to need to participate, being aware of what’s around you and being mindful. If we could all do that, we wouldn’t need enforcement.”

As a private citizen, Sheffer says, she’d like to see the city adopt a positive message campaign rather than a negative one with shock value, like billboards in New York City — another Vision Zero city — that show victims of traffic deaths.

“To me, it’s kind of lost in all the blood and gore,” she says.

As a mother, Sheffer wants all drivers to be mindful when they get behind the wheel of a 6,000- to 8,000-pound vehicle. “We should be looking at everyone around us, but we’re such a self-centered society, we’re pretty much saying everyone else isn’t as important,” when drivers are impaired or distracted by food or cell phones or the radio, she says. “We can do all the engineering in the world and we’ll make a small dent, but we won’t achieve the goal.”

While the Portland Bureau of Transportation added a feature last week on its website that invites people to take the Vision Zero pledge — agreeing to not drive impaired, use caution in neighborhoods, adjust their speed during bad weather and other common-sense steps — that’s just one tool in their arsenal.

“I’m skeptical taking a pledge (alone) is going to fix anything,” Fish says. “What it’s going to take is a community-wide effort to effectively shame people into doing the right thing.

“Everybody knows when you drive and text it’s as if you’ve consumed the limit on alcohol. Everybody knows distracted driving results in accidents and injuries. Everybody knows distracted driving results in accidents and injuries. Everybody knows when you speed you lose certain control over your vehicle.”

It’s a matter of connecting the dots, Fish says: “Showing people the consequences of what their selfish behaviors are, which is literally people die.”

Fish and advocates compare the “shaming” campaign to the ones led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which included stern enforcement, tougher laws and grisly courses for offenders.

“Most of the injuries and deaths here are preventable,” Fish says. “Let’s collectively commit to changing behavior.”

Collective effort needed

While police resources are strapped, Sheffer says, it’ll take a concerted effort between the city, state, business leaders, community leaders, advocates and citizens.

“We’ll never have enough resources to manage (everything required of Vision Zero),” she says. “There is a lot that doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of enforcement.”

That said, Portland Police and the Portland Bureau of Transportation will hold a crosswalk education and enforcement mission on Tuesday in Northeast Portland.

Police will be enforcing the marked crosswalk at Northeast Glisan Street and 87th Avenue between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to raise awareness of pedestrian safety and Oregon traffic laws.

Drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk can be issued a warning or given a citation with a $260 fine.

People who jaywalk can receive a warning or citation with a $110 fine.

Now that it’s summer, more children and families are walking outside.

“Children are smaller and often harder to see in or at the crosswalk,” PBOT officials say. “Children don’t always make the most appropriate decisions about when and where to cross, and they frequently dart out or run to get across the street. Drivers need to make sure they drive at or below the posted speed limit especially around parks, pools, community centers and other similar locations and scan your environment watching for pedestrians in the crossing or about to cross.”

Police remind motorists that under Oregon law, every intersection is a legal crosswalk, whether it’s marked or unmarked. 

Drivers must stop and stay stopped for pedestrians when the pedestrian is in the motorist’s lane or the adjacent lane. Drivers must remain stopped until the pedestrians clear the driver’s lane plus the lane before and after it.

A bike lane and a parking lane are extensions of the adjacent motor lane.

Police and PBOT conduct enforcement missions once a month.

They’ve issued hundreds of citations and warnings this year. The two biggest actions were in March at Southeast 82nd Avenue and Cooper Street, where police issued 61 violations and four warnings; and in May at Southeast Powell Boulevard and 24th Avenue, where police issued 60 violations and two warnings.

Offenders were cited for failure to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian; using a cell phone; driving while suspended; driving uninsured; careless driving; failure to wear a seatbelt; and others.

The City Council last week approved a Vision Zero resolution, which includes naming a stakeholder committee to advise PBOT on law enforcement, education, public health and emergency response.

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

PBOT will use consultants and analysts to examine crash data that will generate specific policy recommendations and actions to reach Vision Zero by 2025.

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VISION ZERO

Vision Zero is a city-approved resolution and plan to move toward zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries in the next 10 years.