Implementing Vision Zero for Portland’s Growing Community

When I drive into Portland from suburbia, I plan for two things: a 20 minute drive that can turn into an hour during rush hour traffic, and wanting to shove bamboo shoots up my nails trying to find cheap and easy parking. This may sound extreme, but if you live outside of downtown Portland, you are probably laughing and may be giving up a virtual high five. In all seriousness, transit in the Portland area is something that has been growing in concern. With 132,000 new households projected by 2035, PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation) is looking at how the City of Portland can keep traffic and pedestrian injuries low while the area continues to grow. Enter in Vision Zero Portland.

Vision Zero is a program that was first adopted in Sweden in 1997 to address the pedestrian fatality rate. Since it was put in play, the percentage of pedestrian traffic injuries/fatalities have gone down 30%. PBOT  developed and implemented its own Vision Zero plan in 2010, promoting the education and importance of why such a plan is needed. So what does Vision Zero focus on? Here are the 5 focuses:

  • Planning for a lifetime: Designing and budgeting not only for the present moment, but for the the following lifetime of care and maintenance.
  • Preserving investments: Identifying and resolving issues before they become serious and costly.
  • Coordinating Activities: Coordinating and leveraging joint resources for street investment.
  • Optimizing Operations
  • Innovate, Communicate, and Collaborate on Preservation

How does this translate into action? Currently the City is working on multiple projects that tie into the Vision Zero plan. This includes maintenance on the 16% of the 156 bridges owned by PBOT rated as poor or very poor. It includes the preservation of pavement, addition of curb extensions, crossing islands, landscaped medians,  rectangle rapid flash beacons, and the potential lowering of speed limits. It is PBOTs hope to create what they call “20 minute neighborhoods”, where everything a person needs in relation to goods and services may be accessed within a 20 minute walk from their home.

Is Portland trying to eliminate driving? Perhaps, though it may be more accurate to surmise that they are working to make the city more accessible to all families. The PBOT Vision Zero plan discusses the yearly financial burden of transportation costs, which are the second largest share of household costs after housing. It is noted that between 2000-2012 nationally, combined housing and transportation costs increased 44% as income only grew 25%. According to PBOT, the average Portland household pays $13,375 per year in transportation costs, the 18th highest for large regions in the U.S. PBOT has said,”To accommodate the growth of Portland residents we must start using the streets more efficiently. This includes shifting people to transit, walking, and bicycling, and creating complete neighborhoods where people can access their goods and services without driving.” A noble goal, but one has to wonder, with this increased accessibility, will we be seeing an increase in transportation fare within the city? Also, how will this effect transportation into downtown Portland from areas such as Beaverton, Hillsboro, or Oregon City?