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Portland makes improvements to bike lanes, roads, signals as plans jell

COURTESY PORTLAND BUREAU OF TRANSPORTATION - Portland Police and PBOT work to conduct crosswalk enforcements every month at high-profile intersections. Portlands Vision Zero work will combine enforcement, education and engineering to make streets safer for all users. Portland doesn’t yet have a formal Vision Zero plan — a yet-to-be-named task force will produce that by next summer, in conjunction with a public process.

Still, the Portland Bureau of Transportation is rolling out a number of bike- and pedestrian-safety projects this summer that have already been in the pipeline.

The efforts in the Lloyd District and East Portland — including paving, crossing improvements, widening of bike lanes and installing “rapid flash beacons” in targeted areas — will help kick off the city’s new commitment toward the Vision Zero initiative.

“We have a bureau-wide focus on safety,” PBOT spokeswoman Diane Dulken says.

Even without a formal plan, “We are moving forward on Vision Zero,” she adds. “We’ve committed as a city to the goal. We’re already working on education, enforcement and street design to step up our commitment.”

Portland is hardly alone in the Vision Zero effort.

A new effort called the Vision Zero Network launched in April in response to the nationwide movement, with the goal of inviting Vision Zero cities to share best practices.

Since New York City launched its initiative in January 2014, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.; Boston, Seattle, San Jose, San Diego and Portland have made formal commitments to Vision Zero.

Cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are looking into it.

“We’re looking at the growing interest — what we see as amazing possibilites and potential to support local cities in this effort,” says Network founder Leah Shahum, the former longtime executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition — similar to Oregon’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

Speed management, enforcement priorities and infrastructure are the city’s biggest priorities so far, Shahum says, according to the surveys she’s been sending officials in past months.

While Portland advocates support the city’s efforts (the BTA in particular called for Vision Zero), they do so cautiously, stressing the need for tangible results, not just lip service.

Shahum fully agrees. “The proof is going to be in the results,” she says. “The strongest aspect is that (a Vision Zero plan) does set clear, measurable goals. It does hold policy- and decision-makers up to a clear, measurable standard. Any Vision Zero goal that is not setting out those clear measurables isn’t a real Vision Zero goal.”

What others are doing

Here’s some of what New York City, Seattle and San Francisco have done so far with their initiatives:

• New York City has conducted outreach in schools, at senior centers, on the streets with “street teams,” and through their city fleet operators and taxis and for-hire vehicle companies.

The mayor last year secured statewide legislation to lower the city’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour.

The New York City Council also signed a package of 11 actions supporting their Vision Zero initiative, including strict consequences — a suspended license — for a driver involved in a crash that results in critical injury or death.

Public health is also part of the effort. The city’s Health Department promotes traffic safety messages through health fairs, educational activities for families of young children and outreach to primary care providers.

New York City’s action plan outlines a Vision Zero “scorecard” that residents can check any time for updates on the 63 initiatives their mayor’s office and various city agencies are undertaking.

The initiatives (in street design, outreach, enforcement, legislation and campaigns) get a status update every Monday morning.

For example, residents can see at a glance that the effort to install 20 speed cameras at new locations is complete; the effort to implement eight new neighborhood slow zones is two-thirds complete; and the effort to start any new street construction safety projects has not yet started.

COURTESY PORTLAND BUREAU OF TRANSPORTATION  - Crews installed a neighborhood greenway sign at North Michigan Avenue in April. Advocates are calling for more bike- and pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares like this, and for the city to discourage motorists from using them as cut-throughs.  • In Seattle, police officers, advocates and transportation officials last month started a little positive reinforcement for traffic law-abiding citizens. With state traffic safety grant funds, they bought a stack of $5 Starbucks gift cards and handed them out to drivers, bicyclists and walkers who were engaging in positive traffic behavior.

Seattle is also working on major changes for the city’s top three high-crash corridors, the specifics of which city leaders will announce July 15.

Jim Curtin, community traffic liaison for the Seattle Department of Transportation, says they’ll include some combination of road diets and lower speed limits.

When it comes to removing car lanes, “there are still folks out there who are opposed to any road diet, but for the most part, supporters have had really strong support,” Curtin says.

City leaders are making sure to conduct extensive public outreach, including sharing data from an existing road — at 75th Avenue and Nickerson Street — that was reduced from four lanes to one in each direction with a center turn lane.

New bike facilities and crosswalks were also installed, and as a result the percentage of drivers going more than 10 mph over the speed limit is down by 80 percent.

“The road works better for everyone,” Curtin says. “Drivers are still getting to where they want to go. ... Travel time has improved while the volume of traffic has increased.”

• In San Francisco, leaders have realized that large vehicles account for 4 percent of the walk and bike collisions but 17 percent of the fatalities.

They’ve developed a first-of-its-kind training program for drivers with large vehicles, requiring the training for companies that do business with the city.

San Francisco transportation and public safety officials are also working with local hospitals to better track pedestrian and cyclist injuries, a number of which are not captured in police data.

Better data will help city officials better prioritize projects and evaluate progress.

Portland efforts

In Portland, PBOT last week announced two projects aimed at making conditions safer for people who walk and bike. They include:

• In the Lloyd District, crews on Monday through Thursday were paving .4 miles of lane on Northeast 15th and 16th avenues, on the “superblock” from Multnomah to Weidler streets.

Crews also added a new marked crosswalk and median near the retirement community, and expand bike lanes from 5-feet to 7-feet wide with a 5-foot hatched buffer.

The project includes reducing the two lanes on Northeast 15th and 16th avenues to one in each direction.

The widening “is projected to have no impact on travel times for motor vehicles, while improving the safety and comfort of people traveling on foot and bicycle,” PBOT’s Diane Dulken says. “We’re working with the existing pavement to create a more people-friendly environment.”

The project was funded by Go Lloyd, through a portion of their parking meter revenue.

• In East Portland, PBOT crews later this summer will install 24 “rapid flash beacons” at designated High Crash Corridors — the worst spots in the city for collisions.

The solar-powered LED beacons will flash yellow when a pedestrian pushes the button, signaling drivers to stop and stay stopped until they’re across safely.

The first beacons will come online near Prescott Elementary (at 102nd Avenue) and Mill Park School (122nd Avenue).

“A driver is far more likely to stop for a pedestrian at crossings with beacons than without,” transportation Commissioner Steve Novick says. “These flashing lights can be a matter of life and death on busy, wide streets where the beacons will be installed. These beacons are a great example of the types of safety improvements that are needed to advance our Vision Zero strategy — certainly in East Portland, but also throughout the entire city.”



The Portland City Council in early June approved a Vision Zero resolution, which outlines the city’s aim to move toward zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries in the next 10 years.

The city will use a $150,000 state grant to develop the Vision Zero Transportation Safety Action Plan with guidance from a stakeholder task force.

The plan will undertake a one-year effort, informed by traffic crash data, to generate specific policy recommendations and actions to reach Vision Zero by 2025.

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