Thoughts On Vision Zero

A common sense view of well intentioned transportation laws


There has been much discussion in Portland about Vision Zero — an initiative by the city to make roads safer.

The intention is spot on, but governmental understanding of the psychology of road use is dead wrong.

There are many micro-reasons why accidents occur in Pdx. Most can be summed up as: Neighborhoods are dense, and Portland is the home to many varying forms of transportation, including but not limited to: angry emo bicyclists, overly confident pedestrians, stoned indecisive drivers, road hogging buses, “too old to be skateboarding” skateboarders, motorcyclists, and flame throwing bagpiping unicyclists. Also, there’s sometimes naked people.

Side note on this, but when weird is on stage, it’s no longer weird, it’s an act, Portland.

For the record, I ride a motorcycle as well as a bicycle, drive a jeep, and am bipedal. So, I have no transportation bias or agenda.

Reasonable people can (and do) argue that it’s futile to attempt to have all of these forms of transportation coexist safely. I’m one of them — in favor of segregation, opposed to inclusion. I agree with @Pdxcantdrive. Bike roads should contain bikes, and car roads cars. But then again, I also want to eliminate most all road laws and signs, so there’s that.

But it’s not that simple, and these solutions are not obtainable.

The problem is a fundamental flaw in Portland’s understanding of road psychology — how our roads are actually used. Not how they should be used. This overarching view informs the micro-solutions. Like most of my views on other issues, I think common sense law and deregulation tend to work best. Building more speed bumps and lowering the speed limit to human running speed are band aids. It’s treating the symptoms, not the problem. Often these treatments create other problems – Feeling the traffic lately?

Applying common sense law to road rules, I ask a simple question…

In a car vs pedestrian collision who wins?

Fact: when you play car vs anything, the car generally always wins.

Why then would we ever write a law that gives anything other than a car the right of way?

Emboldening pedestrians, bikers, motorcyclists, or any other form of transportation in a weaker position than a car is a mistake. It leads to the poor decisions that lead to accidents. Living on Division St., one of the roads targeted by Vision Zero for “improvements”, I’ve seen the following scenario unfold multiple times: A pedestrian confidently struts across the street only to be t-boned by an automobile going 30mph. Logically, a person should never step out in traffic. But he boldly walked right out into oncoming traffic because he had the confidence of the law behind him. He’d been told it is his right of way.

And it’s not just painted crosswalks. Oregon actually has a law stating every street corner is a crosswalk whether one is painted or not. This is the most dangerous of laws.

Other scenarios unfold in similar fashion. Portland has gone to great lengths to give bicyclists power. Again, good intention, bad execution. Some bike laws are as insane as telling pedestrians to walk out in front of an oncoming car. We’ve actually told bikers that cars will come to a full stop and wait for them to pass on the right before they turn right!

Does it not make more sense for the pedestrian to wait for the car to pass? For the biker to wait for the car to turn? As a reminder, cars outweigh people.

You can see common sense law in place in other cities. Know what happens to pedestrians in Boston that step off the curb when it’s not their turn? No, you don’t, because it doesn’t happen. People there know better than to step in front of a moving vehicle because the drivers there don’t obey the law. Pedestrians have been conditioned by their environment that they will die an awful public death.

Again, this is not an argument of how drivers should behave. This is a common sense view of how they do behave.

Making streets safer is a worthy idea, but all the speed bumps in the world won’t make a difference if people continue to be emboldened by illogical laws that give them a false sense of security.

It’s survival of the fittest out there.

It’s time our road rules were informed by the laws of natural selection.

Give cars the right of way in all instances. They are bulls in a china shop.

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