Testimony on Vision Zero – Comments to City Council – March 9, 2015

Note: As a result of coordinated advocacy by myself and many other community members, Eugene City Council adopted Vision Zero – zero deaths and major injuries in our transportation system – as an official city goal in November 2015.

Testimony to Council – March 9, 2015

Thank you as always to all of you for your service.  I’m here to talk about a road safety concept known as Vision Zero, as in zero deaths.  Since my comments are somewhat relevant to the Capital Improvement Program, let me thank staff who were involved in it for their good work, on the CIP itself and the numerous plans that inform it.

Most of you know of my involvement in various advisory bodies on land use and transportation, as well as the Budget Committee, but I’m not here in any of those capacities.  Tonight I’m here as a person who walks and bikes, and espeically I’m here as a parent.  I would like to connect a recent event to our policies and priorities and expenditures, and offer thoughts about what we might do in response.

As perhaps everyone here now knows, on February 22, three children died tragically on Main Street in Springfield; they and their mother were hit by a truck while crossing in a crosswalk. John, McKenzie, and Tyler were 8, 5, and 4.  My daughters are 8 and 5.  I have crossed many of our streets with them on foot and on bike.

So I have asked myself:  What can we learn from this event?

First of all, this shouldn’t be labeled an “accident” as we typically call it.  In the words of BPAC member and UO planning professor Marc Schlossberg:  “This collision is not an accident or a one-off occurrence - it is a fatal collision created by the explicit design of the infrastructure.”  Those are shocking words, but I’m not here to shock. I’m here to inspire – specifically, to inspire all of us to support and plan and fund the design of less dangerous streets, and a less dangerous transportation system.

There are many lessons, but I’ll pick out one: I suggest that Council request staff to examine Vision Zero, an international movement to influence street design to protect pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.  As reported recently in Portland, Vision Zero -- as in zero deaths on the street -- is an attempt “to change our approach to design and policy for streets so that no one is hurt or killed while using them.”

This movement started in Scandinavia, but it has spread to municipalities in Europe and North America.  Seattle has an excellent Vision Zero plan.  Portland recently made a series of commitments also based on Vision Zero.  Since these are about the design of individual streets and crossings, they are relevant virtually everywhere. In the words of the creators:  “It is based on the simple fact that we are human and make mistakes. The road system needs to keep us moving. But it must also be designed to protect us at every turn.”

Now I understand transportation spending is tricky, with restricted funds and grants and project lists, and that it involves tough choices.  But I hope you will advise staff to advise you on the viability of Vision Zero as a city policy, and to look back at the CIP and tip the balance, this year or beyond, toward high-priority and shovel-ready projects that make our streets safer for everyone.  Let’s also keep these tragic deaths in mind as lessons for the broader context:  any prioritization we do under future bond measures for street repair; and the implementation details of our on-going gas tax proceeds -- restricted to be sure, but still with some flexibility.  If we expect citizens to these commitments, let’s make sure we have answers to key questions:  How are we prioritizing safety?  What are we doing to avoid a tragedy like the one on Main Street in Springfield?

This Council has made difficult decisions in favor of safety for all modes – I commend your approval of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan (PBMP), and of course your vote to pilot a so-called “road diet” on South Willamette Street. Having walked and biked that street with my 8-year-old and my 5-year-old, I know that the reconfiguration with bike lanes will be safer not just for people on bikes and people in cars, but it will also provide traffic calming and a badly needed buffer for pedestrians. There’s no reason that safety improvements like that should be limited to just a few streets. Everyone deserves them.

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