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Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Oregon Walks Still FIghting for a Meaningful Vision Zero in Portland

Editor's note: The Bicycle Transportation Alliance was a partner on our Bike to Work promotion last year, so we're particularly pleased to share this update on their work from the Alliance for Biking & Walking. Stay tuned for further announcements about how we'll be celebrating bike advocacy this year.
Portland Portland's Bicycle Transportation Alliance also offers bike safety classes. Photo by Will Vanlue/Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

Post by Tanya Snyder, reposted from the Alliance for Biking & Walking blog with permission. Last year, as Portland was getting ready to vote on a proposed street fee—one iteration of which would have given substantial funding to active transportation programs—the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Oregon Walks applied for a $10,000 grant from Advocacy Advance to get over the finish line. They got the grant and are making headway with elected officials—but things didn’t go exactly as planned. leah_treatBTA and Oregon Walks were hoping the street fee could provide the monetary muscle to back up Portland’s new Vision Zero goal. Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat (pictured, right) announced a year ago that the city would adopt a goal of zero transportation-related deaths in its next transportation plan. This January, she released that plan, promising more 4-3 road diets to reduce speeding and more rapid-flash crosswalk beacons that she said reduce walking deaths by 80 percent. It wasn’t all that advocates were hoping for. “it’s a very modest start,” said Gerik Kransky, BTA’s advocacy director. “Our campaign is still focused on a $20 million new revenue target. We had expected to be completely done with the street fee conversation by now.” Vision Zero and the street fee fell out of sync with each other a few months ago, when state officials let it be known that Portland’s attempt to pass a street fee was complicating Oregon’s attempt to pass a transportation funding overhaul, which would include a gas tax increase. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick agreed to put the street fee on ice while the state legislature could debate the transportation package. But that doesn’t mean BTA and Oregon Walks are sitting on their hands. “It’s not going to be a big shift now," said Kransky. "But we’re going to continue to push on other things, not just the funding.” It’s always good to have more than one arrow in your quiver, and BTA and Oregon Walks have plenty. Together, they’re about to launch a new report with recommendations for Portland and surrounding cities on how to craft a meaningful Vision Zero policy, complete with policy changes that don’t require big cash infusions: things like de-prioritizing Level of Service and re-allocating existing funds to priority locations for safety improvements based on crash data. That report will launch March 30 at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit—an event that attracted 110 people in 2010 and now brings together about 450. Director Treat will open the conference, along with Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives, who can give concrete examples of what New York City has done—and what Portland will have to do—to make Vision Zero a meaningful and achievable goal. If Portland can't match the specificity and commitment of New York’s Vision Zero policy, Treat's Vision Zero announcement runs the risk of turning into nothing but window dressing. “Even well intentioned public leaders can get high flying rhetoric out there but not necessarily have the action plan and follow through to back it up,” said Kransky. But BTA and Oregon Walks pledge to watchdog the issue, setting concrete benchmarks and calling the city out if it doesn’t meet them.