For a couple of days in November, you may have seen one of these white silhouettes along the Portland roadsides.
The silhouettes—about 130 of in the Portland metro area—represented victims of motor vehicle crashes. They were created by Oregon and SW Washington Families for Safe Streets.
Families and friends of the crash victims marked the locations of traffic fatalities two weeks ago, in honor of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
The fate of Portland’s traffic death markers
Within a couple of days, the group was told that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) had started to remove the human-sized markers.
The group had notified ODOT about the monuments to traffic crash victims, but didn’t get permission from the state agency.
ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton told a reporter for the Bike Portland blog that the memorials were too distracting.
“Things that are causing distraction for people on the road or are obscuring important safety information or creating some kind of safety hazard.”
The first four were removed after an ODOT staffer drove by one of the white silhouettes placed in a median.
“He was driving home, and it started him. It was alarming.”
It IS alarming.
It is alarming that so many drivers are surprised by pedestrians on streets.
That is not to say that ODOT’s position is inherently wrong.
There’s a strong argument to be made for eliminating roadside distractions. And, although Oregon does make roadside advertising space available, it is regulated and controlled.
“State highways are not a bulletin board.”
But it is hard to believe that ODOT, which states it’s mission as providing a “safe, efficient transportation system that supports economic opportunity and livable communities for Oregonians” doesn’t see the value of drawing public attention to the horrifying number of preventable traffic deaths.
Other states have found value in marking traffic fatality locations.
South Dakota’s Department of Transportation installs Fatal Accident Markers where fatal crashes have occurred since January 1, 1979.
Fatal crash markers can provide a valuable public service.
They show us where people are dying—too often, on the same streets—and force us to consider the deadly serious ramifications of dangerous driving.
Portland has committed reducing traffic deaths by identifying High Crash Corridors—the 3% of the road network where 51% of pedestrian deaths and 36% of all traffic fatalities occur—via the Vision Zero project.
After speaking with ODOT representatives, Oregon and SW Washington Families for Safe Streets removed a number of the monuments themselves.
We applaud the efforts of the group (who received national media attention for their project). Even though their white silhouettes were only in place for a few days, they contributed to an important public conversation about preventing traffic violence.