In many ways it is a small thing: the installation of tiny sensors on lampposts, first at a few key intersections and, later, around much of the city. But the Portland Bureau of Transportation believes that what it calls “Smart City PDX” is an essential step toward making the city safer for everyone who walks, bikes or drives a motor vehicle.
As outlined in a recent article in The Oregonian, the initiative initially will involve “installing 200 sensors along three high-crash corridors on the city’s eastside… The traffic sensors will provide real-time 24/7 data to transportation staff, giving bureaucrats accurate information on the number of cars or pedestrians crossing a road at a given time and how fast people are driving.” This is in contrast to the city’s traditional reliance on “volunteers or infrequent traffic surveys” to collect similar information.
The Oregonian notes that the project is scheduled to last for 18 months, but it is easy to envision a situation in which this kind of data collection is expanded and becomes a regular part of the city’s planning process. Considering the number of accidents we have seen in recent years involving pedestrians and cyclists, any improvement in the data surrounding our streets is to be welcomed. The paper quotes the head of the PBOT saying that the information gathered through this project “will help city leaders ‘improve street design’ and make streets safer for all.” According to The Oregonian as of mid-June “at least 17 people have died on Portland streets in 2018.”
As a Portland lawyer dedicated to helping accident victims navigate the justice system I welcome anything that will give all of us a better understanding of how traffic and pedestrians navigate our streets. Our courts are here to help people hurt in an accident get the justice they deserve. Collecting data that helps us understand how our streets are used is a key element in fixing the problems that we all know are present – and, equally importantly, fixing them in a timely and cost-efficient manner. Projects like Smart City PDX, if well-run, can do a lot to help us identify problem spots throughout the Portland area.
All of that said, as a matter of both law and privacy protection it is important that the PBOT be transparent about both the exact nature of the data being collected and the extent to which it will be available to the public both for general reference and for use in potential legal proceedings. This effort to make our streets both smarter and safer is something to be welcomed, but as with any initiative that involves the government collecting information about the public, transparency will also be essential.