An Innovative Approach to Safer Streets

Most visitors here already know that Portland Oregon is one of America’s most bicycle friendly cities.  Many also know that the city is committed to Vision Zero, the Swedish initiative to design and build safer roadways.  What many readers may not know is how Vision Zero is actually implemented in an effort to keep bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists safe while moving about.   I didn’t, but I know more after reading about efforts in Portland to integrate Vision Zero into urban planning and safe street initiatives.

Through data gathering efforts at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), officials here have learned that more than one half of all traffic fatalities in their city occur on just 8% of the city’s streets and intersections.  They’ve mapped this out and dubbed it the “High Crash Network.”  Here’s what it looks like on a map:

Portland's High Crash Network - Map PBOT

Portland’s High Crash Network – Map PBOT

That map was developed from data plotted from all crashes involving motor vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists from 2005-2014 using a sophisticated GIS system.  There’s a screen shot shown below.  If you want to play around with the data yourself, you can do so by following this link.  You can also pull up the data for individual classes of road users like bicyclists.

The underlying data, courtesy PBOT

The underlying data, courtesy PBOT

Portland  officials used the data and map to come up with the 30 most dangerous stretches of road and the 30 most dangerous intersections in their city.  They studied each data set individually and came up with a series of fixes geared towards each individual roadway segment.  The fixes are varied.  In some cases they are as simple as lower speed limits.  In others, turn lanes are being removed.  One short stretch of cross street is being replaced with a pedestrian plaza.   Curbs are being extended and turn lanes are being tightened to force motorists to slow down.  Bike lane connectivity is also being built.

Vision Zero is mostly about the built environment.  Here, curb extensions, a center median, warning lights and a mid-block crosswalk all add to pedestrian safety.

Vision Zero is mostly about the built environment. Here, curb extensions, a center median, warning lights+signs and a mid-block crosswalk all add to pedestrian safety.

Portland just adopted Vision Zero last year and many of these changes are still in the design and planning stages, so it’s too early to gauge how it’s  all working.  Regardless, the city’s comprehensive and common sense approach to implementation bodes well for all road users.

I’d like to think that other cities are doing something similar, but I suspect most are not.  Portland is one of only a handful of US cities that have adopted Vision Zero. What happens in Portland doesn’t need to stay in Portland, though.  Vision Zero makes sense for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists.  It also makes sense for cities who want to attract new residents, more of whom will walk and bike with the passage of time.  It’s time for the rest of America to reject the failed “there’s nothing we can do about it” mentality of collateral damage on our nation’s highways and streets.  We can save lives.  It isn’t that difficult.  If Portland officials are successful, we all win.

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