Word that a recent Vision Zero enforcement effort yielded more than 40 citations in just two hours is a reminder both of the program’s importance and of the larger role that our laws and courts play in ensuring the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists.
According to the advocacy organization Bike Portland “the Portland Police Bureau wrote 43 citations (for 61 separate violations) and handed out 23 written warnings… between 6:00 and 8:00 pm on Southeast Hawthorne Blvd between 12th and Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.” As the organization notes, this is a busy area, yet its car-focused traffic design ”hasn’t changed in decades.” It added that the Vision Zero enforcement action took place just a few blocks from the spot where a 15-year-old was killed last August while trying to cross the street.
Vision Zero is an initiative underway in Portland and a number of other cities with the goal of eliminating pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. As bike Portland notes: “unless we stop normalizing dangerous behaviors, introduce more safety regulations on car owners and redesign our streets to encourage safer behavior, this game of cat-and-mouse between police and road users will continue.”
As a Portland lawyer with extensive experience litigating car crashes I applaud this approach. It is also important to remember, however, that our civil code offers important tools that attorneys and courts can use in addition to criminal sanctions as part of the effort to make our streets safer.
For cyclists, for example, the key section of the Oregon legal code is ORS 811.050. This requires drivers “to yield to a rider on a bicycle lane.” Two similar sections – ORS 811.025 and 811.028 – offer similar protections to pedestrians.
The more fundamental question, however, is: when will drivers really share the road in the way that the law requires? The large number of citations issued by the Vision Zero operation in such a short period of time is a reminder that even in famously bike-friendly Portland it can be difficult to get drivers to show cyclists and pedestrians the respect they deserve. As figures compiled by the ODOT illustrate, after spiking at the beginning of the decade cyclist deaths in Oregon have been declining steadily for the last several years. To maintain that trend requires that all of us focus on safe driving every day, and not merely when a Vision Zero enforcement team comes to our neighborhood.
Oregon DOT – Bicycle Safety Page
ORS 811 – Rules of the Road for Drivers
ORS 811.050 – Failure to yield to rider on bicycle lane