I don’t know how much this gets talked about in most of the country, but it seems to be a big topic in Portland. How do we make our city safer for people to get around in?
I think one of the best answers to that question is this: give priority to the most vulnerable people.
While we, as in the rest of the U.S., have a long way to go to really make this a reality, Portland has taken some definite steps to help give more vulnerable road users priority in certain situations.
As above, we are starting to have more and more rights of way given to more vulnerable users, such as cyclists and pedestrians. Markings which designate clearly that someone other than automobile drivers have priority in a situation, and to notify the automobile drivers of their presence: in this case, to prevent cyclists getting hit by drivers who are turning right at an intersection.
Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a while to catch on…
I posted before about these walk signals (sorry for the bad picture, I keep meaning to get a better one, but haven’t had a chance yet). Something as simple as just showing a count until the light changes gives everyone in the intersection a clear idea of how long they have to get where they are going, and thankfully in practice, I usually see people slow down ahead of time, rather than try to put the gas pedal to the floor to get through at the last second. I’m seeing these going up all over town, even way out in nowhere land past 82nd :D
Portland recently got some federal funding for building and repairing sidewalks throughout the city, giving pedestrians even more safe, easy routes to move around.
We also just got federal funding to finish a streetcar loop on the inner East side, giving pedestrians easy access to transit, and connections to buses and MAX, taking public right of way from automobiles and giving it to a slower, more predictable form of transportation.
We will be doing a test-run of a separated cycle path near Portland State University, potentially with more to come if things go well. This protects cyclists from moving automobiles by giving them their own dedicated right of way.
We’ve also done things like make it illegal to make a turn in an automobile until pedestrians crossing the intersection are a full car-lane away from you, and drivers are required by law to stop for pedestrians who are crossing the street at a marked or un-marked crosswalk. In practice, this works pretty well on small streets where the speed limits are low, but cars on larger roads like Powell (which doubles as a highway and is managed by the Oregon Dept. of Transportation) traveling at 40mph often don’t bother to slow down for pedestrians even when they clearly see them, so pedestrians often just have to wait for a break in traffic or find a crossing with a traffic signal.
Most of the speed limits in inner Portland are between 20-35mph, even on main arterials, which helps to prevent accidents (people have more time to react), and greatly reduces the chance of serious injury, should an accident occur (at 20mph, only 5% of automobile/pedestrian collisions are fatal, as opposed to about 90% at 40mph).
Portland has created hundreds of miles of bike boulevards: that is, smaller streets which have traffic calming and redirection devices to keep automobile traffic speeds and volumes down to a minimum. This gives both bicycles and pedestrians a quieter, slower, safer environment to travel in.
Along the west waterfront from the Steel Bridge nearly all the way to the new South Waterfront development. The Eastbank Esplanade, which extends again from the Steel Bridge to SE Division ST (soon to go past the Steel Bridge all the way to St. Johns). The Springwater Trail, which connects the end of the Eastbank Esplanade to Gresham.
As the city of Portland has said, as you make the city safe for the most vulnerable, you make it safer for everyone. That has been made obvious by the fact that in 2008, we had the fewest traffic fatalities Portland has ever had since they began keeping track in the 1920s. Not only that, but you make the citizens of the city feel more at ease, you make the city feel more livable, and you give more options to people as to how they can get around.
Seems like a win-win-win to me. We have a ways to go, but we are definitely making steps in the right direction in Oregon and specifically in Portland.