New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, unveiled a plan yesterday designed to eliminate pedestrian traffic deaths in America’s largest city. His proposals are worth looking at here in Oregon because they may contain lessons we can learn from here in Portland.
According to the New York Times, the focus of the initiative is stepped-up enforcement of existing laws combined with a proposal to lower the city’s speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour. “Our lives are literally in each other’s hands. Our children’s lives are in each other’s hands,” the mayor told a news conference Tuesday.
The strategy is called “Vision Zero” and is “adopted from a Swedish traffic safety approach that views all traffic deaths as inherently preventable,” according to the Times. De Blasio advocated these measures during his campaign last year, but they took on special urgency when New York “experienced a spate of traffic deaths, including three pedestrian deaths last month in fewer than 10 days” in the first weeks after the new mayor took office.
Here in Portland we are, in some respects, well ahead of New York in terms of traffic and pedestrian safety. Back in August 2012 the speed limit on 70 miles of Portland’s streets was lowered from 25 mph to 20 mph. As The Oregonian and other media outlets noted at the time, the move was designed to protect pedestrians and cyclists from Portland bicycle and car accidents. The program has not been perfect – an opinion column in The Oregonian on New Year’s Day stated that 10 Portland pedestrians died in traffic-related accidents during 2013. That article prompted a response a few days later in the same newspaper from Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick who acknowledged the problem and agreed that more funding for sidewalks and better traffic signals is needed.
It is especially interesting to note that the 2012 move to lower speed limits focused on out city’s Northeast, while the recent articles focusing on continuing problems both highlighted the Southeast. Anecdotally, at least, this would suggest that lowering the speed limit really does help.
As an Oregon bicycle and pedestrian traffic accident attorney I applaud Mayor de Blasio’s initiative and will be eager to see whether it achieves the desired results. Even in a bike-friendly city like Portland it is important to remind drivers that they need to slow down and pay attention to cyclists and pedestrians.
New York Times: De Blasio unveils plan to eliminate traffic deaths