With pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on the rise here in Portland, something I wrote about earlier this month, safety questions are increasingly becoming part of our city’s political agenda. As The Oregonian noted in a recent article, 2016’s “year-to-date death toll is nearly twice the seven fatalities recorded during the same period last year.” As a result, attention around this issue is increasing.
It is especially noteworthy that eight of this year’s 13 fatal crashes involving a cyclist or a pedestrian have happened in East Portland neighborhoods, according to a Portland Bureau of Transportation official quoted by the paper. At a time when the city is trying to implement the “Vision Zero” program, which aspires to eliminate pedestrian deaths on Portland’s streets by 2025, the rise in fatalities is especially unwelcome. With luck it will also serve as a spur to action.
According to the newspaper, city officials have plans to install many more flashing yellow lights at crosswalks, particularly in East Portland, as part of the Vision Zero project. The city also plans to make alterations to curbs and median islands in an effort to make key crossings more pedestrian and bike-friendly. The paper reports that the city recently installed rapid-flash beacons – “devices that light up for drivers to see pedestrians, who, in turn, hear ‘yellow lights are flashing’ in English and Spanish” – in 16 locations around the city, building on a program that has brought 34 of these devices to East Portland alone since 2012.
As is so often the case in situations like this, however, the long-term issue is funding. The Oregonian notes: “without grant dollars from Metro, the regional government, or the State Legislature, the (Portland Traffic) Bureau can only afford to install two beacons per year.”
As a Portland attorney specializing in pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries I urge Portlanders both in and out of government to give this issue the attention – and funding – it deserves. We can only make our city a safer and more humane place to live if we all pull together by being more aware of one another whenever we are driving, and by funding the safety devices that help remind drivers when they are entering intersections or other areas where pedestrians are likely to be present and, potentially, in danger. Vision Zero is an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable one provided we all do our parts.