Over two dozen people stood outside the headquarters of the Oregon Department of Transportation in downtown Portland on Thursday night. As rain pelted their jackets and umbrellas, a collection of activists and friends and families of people that have died while using Oregon roads demanded actions to improve safety.
The event was organized by Livable Streets Action, an affiliate group of BikeLoudPDX.
Candles were placed on rocks just outside the main entrance of ODOT’s Region 1 headquarters on NW Flanders and 2nd Avenue. A ghost bike was locked to a lamppost. Many of the people who showed up held signs that read “RIP” and had 409 stick figures — one to represent each death on Oregon roads so far this year (a 22 percent increase over last year). One of the signs was taped to the entry door of the building.
While this vigil was aimed at drawing attention to traffic victims in general, it was also a memorial for Martin Greenough the man who was killed in a hit-and-run on NE Lombard on Saturday night.
Grabbing the mic as everyone huddled together, Dan Kaufman, a volunteer with several traffic safety groups, said the 22 percent increase in deaths over last year is “unacceptable.” He said poor road design was to blame for most of the carnage and that they were all preventable. “Some might say these deaths are just a part of the system and we have to accept it. We are here today to demand change, and the first place we’re starting with is the agency that’s in charge of the roads,” he said.
Other speakers echoed Kaufman’s focus on road design and a desire to change the culture at ODOT. Chris Anderson, who launched a Vision Zero political action committee last spring, said the only solution is a change at the top. “If you want safer streets,” he told the crowd, “we need to make sure the governor knows that [ODOT Director] Matt Garrett and the rest of ODOT leadership aren’t cutting it and they do not represent Oregon’s interests.”
Specifically, Livable Streets Action is calling for ODOT to transfer jurisdictional oversight of Lombard and other state highways to the City of Portland. They also want ODOT to embrace and implement the Vision Zero approach to traffic safety.
Regardless of what happens at ODOT, Monica Maggio (Martin Greenough’s housemate), said change will only start when we hold ourselves accountable. “And that starts by having a conversation. Have a conversation with somebody you think it’s going to be hard to have that conversation with. We need to get these issues of street safety, bike safety, and car safety on the radar of a lot of pepole. Try to talk to someone every day.”
Activist Joe Rowe said roads should be designed with the expectation that everyone makes mistakes, similar to how air safety is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). “Instead, we design roads for faster trips times, and that’s not vision zero,” he said.
BikeLoudPDX Co-Chair Ted Buehler said the tragedies that brought people together today were the result of, “A long series of decisions made at all levels of government.” “It’s important,” he said, “That from this day forward we look at how we can influence our leaders and let them know this is not acceptable to us and we want these problems fixed. Not just deliberated. Not just politely consider.”
Buehler said the “bicycle constituency” needs representation and he hopes BikeLoudPDX can be the grassroots organization that Portland has been missing for the last 10-15 years.
Here are more photos from the event:
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – email@example.com
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