This article was written by Steve Bozzone, Vice-President of the Oregon Walks board of directors.
Recently sidewalks and crosswalks are on everyone’s radar, but for a tragic reason. In a part of Portland that has precious few of either, 5-year old Morgan Maynard-Cook was struck down last week in the simple act of crossing a street.
Quite rightly, a lot of the public outcry surrounding Morgan’s death has to do with how much of her life would have been ahead of her. Regardless of our professional work, we are also mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Trying to imagine what Morgan’s family and friends are going through right now is almost beyond bearing.
“It isn’t very often that the consequences of a city’s budget and policy priorities are thrown into such stark, human relief.”
But some of it has also focused on the irony of how, just a few weeks ago, Portland’s Bureau of Transportation announced it would cut funding for just the kind of infrastructure that would make it safer to walk around Morgan’s neighborhood.
This despite fourteen pedestrian deaths last year alone, and in our supposedly “walkable city,” over 350 miles of arterials and collectors (roads with higher car volumes and speeds) still without sidewalks. It isn’t very often that the consequences of a city’s budget and policy priorities are thrown into such stark, human relief.
Who’s to blame? No one, and everyone. What Morgan’s and too many other pedestrian’s deaths underline is that ensuring everyone can walk freely and safely around our great city must no longer languish as an “optional” priority.
Let’s put aside the fact that over the next 20 years, the number of people moving here simply can’t be accommodated by the current system if everyone of age is driving a car. Put aside that over 15% of Portland’s population today is too young to drive. Put aside that our region is aging, and that by 2040 one in five Portlanders will be over 65 years old. Let’s also put aside the fact that more people walking around our great city means healthier and happier people, lowering the soaring costs of healthcare, cleaner air, slowing the effects of climate change, and reducing our crippling dependence on fossil fuels.
Those are all critical to our future as a city and as a nation, but they all pale in comparison with this: When any of our residents can’t or are afraid to do something as elemental as walk from one place to another, how great a city are we really? How free are we? Is the fettering of so many Portlanders, to the point where they risk and sometimes lose their lives getting from one place to another, really an acceptable tradeoff for shaving a few seconds off a car commute?
No. That’s not who we are. We have different priorities. We must have different priorities.
That’s why in the past two weeks, so many voices have joined together in calling for safer, more accessible sidewalks. Oregon Walks has joined with 17 organizations to call on City Council to guarantee immediate funding for the proposed cuts to the SE 136th Ave sidewalk project and to restore funding to the ADA curb ramp program.
Here’s how you can help right now:
1. Sign and share the online petition for safer walkable streets for everyone.
2. Attend the next Community Budget Forum and let City Council know that you value safe, accessible streets:
Community Budget Forum (website)
Tuesday, March 12th, 6:30pm-8:30pm
George Middle School
10000 N Burr Ave.
Portland, OR 97203
3. Read the sign-on letter (PDF) from Oregon Walks and our partners.