Vision Zero: Portland’s Response to Traffic Deaths Spike

Posted on behalf of RizkLaw on Jul 11, 2016 in Auto Accident

“One death on our city streets is too many,” reads Vision Zero’s tagline. In a noble attempt to tackle the recent surge in traffic-related deaths, the City of Portland launched a special initiative. Vision Zero was officially adopted in June 2015 with the goal of eliminating serious injuries and deaths caused by traffic accidents. The short and sweet tagline offers a clear glimpse into the project’s long-term goals.

Vision Zero

The idea behind Vision Zero began in Sweden back in 1997 and is founded on the belief that even one traffic death is too much to pay for mobility. It was adopted by the Swedish government as the official road policy and shifts blame for traffic casualties from drivers to the entire transportation system, partitioning responsibility for accidents among various factors, including the general design of the roadways, their infrastructure, technology, and law enforcement.

Vision Zero not only shifts the blame from drivers to the entire roadway system, it changes the thought patterns of roadway engineers when drafting safer roads. One of Sweden’s Vision Zero policy architects, Professor Claus Tingvall, believes road systems should be designed according to the premise that humans will make mistakes. The science behind designing roads should take these errors into consideration to maximize safety.

This course of action seeks to make streets safer by protecting the users of the roads who are the most vulnerable. By modifying crosswalks, curbs, and medians, streets become safer for pedestrians and cyclists. There were 2 cyclist fatalities last year, and many more bicycle injury claims in Portland. Streets that function in favor of the least-protected users are streets that keep everyone safe.

Vision Zero policies have seen widespread success in Sweden, cutting pedestrian fatalities by almost 50% from what they were before they were enacted. Similar policies spread to Norway and Denmark, and have also been adopted by Mayor Bill DeBlasio in New York City. By including Vision Zero into future road development plans, Portland hopes to see some of the same success.

Is it working?

Portland’s Vision Zero advocates picked a tough battle. Over 20 million miles are traveled in Portland each day, by car, motorbike, regular bike, and on foot. There is tremendous accident potential all over the city on any given day, particularly in high-crash areas downtown and east of the Willamette River.

Vision Zero hopes to complete a transportation system that is “safe and easy to navigate for all ages and physical abilities” to achieve an idealistic goal of zero traffic-related deaths and injuries by 2025. The plan is to improve road conditions by raising awareness of the importance of safe driving and fixing roads that are accident magnets. Streets such as SW Barbur, SE Division, and NE Lombard account for nearly half of the deadly crashes that occur each year.

Rapid flash beacons that alert drivers to pedestrians crossing the street have been installed in a number of sections of busy streets in East Portland. There are plans to continue adding them throughout the city, as well as installing more greenways and fixing the deteriorated conditions of high crash corridors, while also lowering speed limits and adding more law enforcement, among other street enhancements.

Curbing traffic deaths by making roads safer for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and people who rely on public transportation sounds like a smart idea in a city that is seeing some of the worst traffic accidents in its entire history. Roadways, however, are not the only source of the city’s traffic woes. Increased population, excessive drinking and driving, recreational marijuana use, construction, and shipping all play a role in creating dangerous driving conditions. Still, it’s refreshing to witness city officials taking action to resolve one of the city’s most urgent issues.

The Future of Vision Zero

Considering the city highly encourages public transportation and cycling, Vision Zero is a progressive measure that was warmly received last year and continues to win support. PBOT currently aims to complete specific Vision Zero action plans by October 2016.

Vision Zero Task Force members responsible for creating these plans include representatives from a variety of organizations, including AAA, Multnomah County Health Department, ODOT, Portland State University, Oregon Trucking Association, Portland Fire & Rescue, Elders in Action, Oregon Walks, Portland Police Bureau, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and others.

Two things are certain: first, accidents will continue to occur. It’s just a fact of life. People are prone to making mistakes. While such measures can work to reduce the number of deaths, nothing can completely prevent accidents, short of making motor vehicles illegal. Second, the spike in traffic accidents is influenced by a number of different factors that are perhaps too grand for Vision Zero’s scope.

In the event that you or someone you care about is injured on Portland’s roads, you always have legal rights that can help you and your family get back on your feet. Rich at Rizk Law is your Portland traffic attorney and personal injury specialist. Contact Rizklaw at (503) 245-5677 for a free legal consultation, or shoot him an email at