Reexamining Public Policy in the Wake of Oregon Bike Accidents

A recent fatal cycling accident to our north in Washington State, has prompted some careful thinking concerning the way cyclists are treated by the public policy process. In the wake of this month’s Portland bike accident that landed former star University of Oregon and NFL quarterback Joey Harrington in intensive care, this is clearly an issue that merits attention on both sides of the Columbia River.

A fascinating column published recently in the Seattle Times addresses this issue in the wake of a fatal Washington cycling accident in a busy part of Seattle. Seattle, like Portland, has a reputation for being a cyclist-friendly city. Yet a biker there died late last month while riding in a marked bike lane after an “SUV sped across traffic, slammed into him, and fled,” according to Times columnist Alan Durning.

Durning writes that car crashes killed nearly 1100 people in Idaho, Oregon and Washington during 2009 alone, adding that “car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death among American children and young adults, and the group of pedestrians most in jeopardy is seniors.” As a way of beginning to deal with these problems Durning proposes a simple public policy solution: reduce the regulatory barriers that can make it difficult for municipalities to lower speed limits in critical areas.

“In almost all of these deaths, speed is a critical variable,” he writes. Durning cites Oregon as a model in this regard, noting that earlier this year “Oregon passed a law giving cities discretion to reduce speed to 20 mph on residential roadways.” Communities in Washington, he notes, are often precluded from taking similar action by state regulations.

From the perspective of an Oregon bicycle accident lawyer it is good both to see our state’s efforts commended by our neighbors to the North and to know that Portland and surrounding Oregon communities have these flexible policy tools at their disposal. Courts are here to help victims obtain justice in the wake of a Washington or Portland bike and car accident – but by far the better solution is for all of us to work to ensure that accidents do not happen in the first place. Using local knowledge, and local political authority, to make sure that our roads suit cyclists’ and pedestrians’ needs is an excellent way to start.

Seattle Times: In wake of cyclist’s death, let cities lower speed limits without red tape