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“Vision Zero”: there’s a big hole in the plan to eliminate Portland traffic deaths

“Vision Zero” is a traffic safety project that aims for the goal of zero traffic fatalities. It’s been adopted by cities worldwide – and now includes Portland, Oregon.

It’s a wide-ranging plan, with heavy emphasis on public education and prioritization of safety.

Vision Zero Safety Pledge: 

  • I will behave safely and courteously at all times on public streets, respecting and empathizing with other people’s need to get where they’re going and to get there safely.
  • I acknowledge that traveling on public streets can be risky, and I resolve to be alert to the surroundings.
  • I also recognize the role of the roadways, paths, and sidewalks as public space in the community, not only a means for travel, and resolve to share the road with all users, whether they are traveling to a destination or enjoying the street appropriately as public space.
  • I will be a good example, and I want my neighbors to slow down, say hi, and join me in spreading the word.

These are all great safety steps.

But there’s an obvious way to eliminate most of Portland’s traffic deaths – and it’s barely mentioned.

Reduce the Speed Limit.

Portland’s High Crash Corridors make up only 3% of the roads (based on centerline miles).

This 3% of roads are where 51% of pedestrian deaths and 36% of all traffic fatalities are happening.

Portland’s City Commissioners are well aware of the factor of speed in fatal crashes. Commissioner Steve Novick pointed out that pedestrians survive nearly 95% of car crashes with a vehicle traveling 20 mph.

Compare that to pedestrian crashes with a vehicle that is traveling 40 mph: pedestrians survive less than 20% of crashes. 

Vehicle fatalities are not wholly preventable as long as humans are behind the wheel. But statistically, lower speed = lower risk of serious injury or death.

Yet, there is almost no political will to try to lower speed limits – a historically unpopular position.

While Portland’s high crash corridors are addressed in the Vision Zero plan, the focus is “identifying HCCs helps the City (to) target limited resources for improved safety.

A possible “vehicle speed study” is barely mentioned.

“Vision Zero” has at its core a noble, important goal. Even attempting to reach it in ten years could save a lot of people from debilitating injuries and untimely deaths.

If “zero traffic deaths” is truly the city’s goal, then it’s time to honestly evaluate lowering–and enforcing–speed limits on Portland’s deadliest streets.

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