PBOT Vision Zero July/August 2023 Newsletter


In this newsletter...

Evaluating roadway reorganization to improve safety

Images of NE Morris Street before and after roadway reorganization.

Roadway reorganization is one of the strategies Portland Bureau of Transportation uses to improve safety on our city streets. We repurpose roadway elements to create shorter crossing distances for pedestrians and reduce vehicle driving speeds. Specifically, some of the tactics we use include:

  • reducing the number of vehicle driving lanes and repurposing space for other uses such as turn lanes with pedestrian safety islands, bike lanes, and parking; and
  • transforming curb space into bike lanes, on-street parking, curb extensions, street trees, and bioswales.

Additionally, one of the major benefits of roadway reorganization is that it often reduces our streets from two to one vehicle driving lanes — thereby eliminating a double threat for pedestrians crossing the street. 

Lately, we've been focusing on speed reduction because it directly contributes to the severity of a crash. At slower speeds, it is easier to avoid collisions altogether and, when collisions do occur, it is less likely that people are killed or seriously injured. 

Chart illustrating the average change in top-end speeding between five street segments -- reductions range from -67 to -81%.

Evaluating application of these roadway reorganization tools in Portland over the last 10 years, Vision Zero staff found that on average we were able to reduce top-end speeding by 72% with minimal impacts on travel time and traffic on nearby neighborhood streets. (Top-end speeding refers to 10 mph or more over the speed limit.) For example, on NE Glisan Street we found an average of 67% reductions while on SW Capitol Highway we reported an average of 81% reductions. We're using this evaluation effort — and others like it — to inform how we redesign our streets to make our community safer. 

Visit our website to learn more about safety project evaluations, including full reports.

(Vision) Zero is the goal. A "Safe System" is how we get there.

Safe systems infographic of concentric circles labeled "safe people," "safe vehicles," "safe streets," and "safe speeds" with a person in the center.

In the past, a lot of traffic safety work focused on the individual behavior of road users. In contrast, a Vision Zero Safe System approach considers how the people who design, build, and manage the transportation network (that's us!) can prioritize the lives and health of people using the system. This transition is a fundamental shift in the way we approach traffic safety. 

The Safe System approach anticipates human mistakes. Together, elements of a Safe System keep the risk of mistakes low, so when a mistake leads to a crash, the impact on the human body doesn't cause serious injury or death.  

  • Safe speeds are the first layer of protection. People who are hit at slower speeds face less injury, whereas higher speeds are more deadly.  
  • Safe streets consider all people who use the streets and are designed to be forgiving of mistakes and human frailty.  
  • Safe vehicles are designed and maintained to prevent crashes and protect all road users — including those outside of the vehicles.  
  • Safe people using the road are alert, unimpaired, and comply with road rules. They take steps to improve their safety and the safety of others. 

Together these elements act as layers of redundancy to prevent crashes and ensure a safe transportation system.   

Learn more about the Vision Zero Safe System approach on our website.

How doohickeys, thingamabobs, and whatchamacallits help make our streets safer

PBOT installed detection units at the intersection of NE Lloyd Boulevard and 7th Avenue.

Ever wondered what those doohickeys, thingamabobs, and whatchamacallits on traffic signal poles are for? Well, it's likely they are one of the sophisticated tools our Portland Bureau of Transportation Signals and Streetlighting team operates to help people use our streets and cross intersections, manage traffic congestion, and improve our street network to better meet the bureau's priorities of safety, moving people and goods, and asset management. 

Some of these technologies operate underground while others are in the visible right-of-way (a legal term that we often use for "street"); some use cameras, while others use radar or electromagnetism. Regardless of the specific mechanism, it's important to know that PBOT does not use any sort of facial recognition in its operations. In fact, it's illegal!

Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, here's a breakdown of the cool instruments, gadgets, and contraptions you may spot when you're out traveling Portland's streets:

Radar detection

It's likely you've seen radar detection units before; they are sophisticated sensors (think grocery door openers) that look like white boxes located above traffic signals at intersections. We started installing radar detection units 10 years ago, and now you can find them at over 100 locations across the city. Radar provides our PBOT traffic engineers more information and is more reliable than other comparable technologies. That's a win-win in our books!

Loop detection

These underground circular wires are not weight sensors — contrary to popular belief! Instead, the iron in passing vehicles triggers the loop detectors' electro-magnetic field. Wow, physics! PBOT installs these systems in some of the intersections on the streets and, along with radar detection units, comprise the "bread and butter" of detection technologies at our intersections. We installed loop detectors at NE Lloyd Boulevard and 7th Avenue on the north side of Portland's newest bridge, Blumenauer Bridge, which opened last summer to much fanfare among pedestrians, cyclists, community members, and businesses alike.

Traditional camera detection

These systems (that are more common in suburban settings) rely on video feeds to identify approaching vehicles and then tell the traffic signal controller to change. These systems are less reliable; consequently, there are only a handful located on Portland streets today.

Similarly, you may be familiar with Oregon Department of Transportation's TripCheck that offers real-time traffic information on road conditions through their live streaming cameras.

Pan-tilt-zoom camera detection

These camera detection systems are more common on Portland streets. We're placing a few dozen along SE Division Street for a total of more than 100 across the city. The pan-tilt-zoom camera detectors can — you guessed it! — pan, tilt, and zoom, and they do not automatically record video. What we really love about these units is that they give our traffic signal engineers the ability to observe our streets in real time. These enable "eyes in the field" that allow our teams to do "signal timing on the fly."

Emergency and transit vehicle detection

This detection system looks like it could be a tiny camera; but the detector is only looking for strobe lights and a code from a fire or transit vehicle. The units prioritize Portland Fire & Rescue, Portland Streetcar, and Trimet buses at many intersections we manage throughout the city. 

TriMet uses infrared emitters (on its standard buses) and cellular technology and artificial intelligence (on its FX high-capacity bus service) to give buses preference over cars at key intersections. This is commonly known as "transit signal priority." By shortening a red light or extending a green light, buses move through intersections quickly and more reliably.

Blue light detection

If you're a cyclist, you've probably seen blue lights associated with some bicycle signals. This technology is programmed to help people know that they have been detected at an intersection. Used often for cyclists, they also shine ("bright like a diamond") when any vehicle is detected or to indicate that the traffic signal will soon be turning green. 

While this list is not exhaustive, it provides a glimpse into the ways in which we're using detection systems to improve the safety and function of our intersections.

Featured safety tip: Left-turning drivers, be careful!

Diagram showing how left turns by people driving can be especially risky for people in crosswalks.

Left-turning drivers pose a high risk to people in crosswalks

Our crash data indicates that left-turning crashes are among the most common ways pedestrians are hurt or killed on Portland streets:

  • More than 70% of pedestrian crashes occur at intersections.
  • Nearly half of pedestrian crashes occur at signalized intersections.
  • 20% of pedestrian crashes result from left-turning drivers failing to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk at signalized intersections.

Results from Portland, along with New York City and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, indicate that left-turn calming improves pedestrian safety. Following a one-year evaluation, in 2020 we began using left-turn calming as a routine tool where recommended by our engineers. 

Left turn calming is intended to prevent or reduce the severity of crashes that occur when a driver turns left and collides with a person in a crosswalk.

We're sharing new safety tips in each newsletter. If you have a safety tip you'd like us to feature, please email it to us

Upcoming events

A family of four riding bikes at the Northeast Cully Portland Sunday Parkways event in June.

Aug. 12: Lotería Go! Community Bike Ride

Bike and play Lotería Go! (similar to bingo) to discover newly completed traffic safety projects in the Centennial neighborhood. You can play to earn a transit prize pack and a chance to win a year of free TriMet! Meet at Su Casa Super Mercado at 10 a.m. Easy-pace and no one left behind. Este es un paseo bilingue!

Aug. 17: New to Portland Bike Ride

Are you new to Portland? Want to become more confident riding a bicycle around town and meet new friends along the way? We'll be riding around Southeast Portland neighborhoods and end at food carts along SE Foster Road. Portland Bureau of Transportation will provide free bike and walk maps and other cycling resources. Low-stress, moderate pace — no one is left behind. Meet at Kenilworth Park at 6 p.m.

Aug 24: Southeast Bike Fair 

Join us in the courtyard at 72Foster. Activities are free and there’s something for everyone. Bring your own bike (especially if you need a quick fix) or borrow one of ours to participate in learn-to-ride activities. This event is hosted in partnership with REACH Community Development and the Community Cycling Center.

Aug. 27: Bike with PBOT – N Willamette Ride

Join Portland Bureau of Transportation on a guided bicycle tour describing the planned improvements on N Willamette Boulevard Active Transportation Corridor between Rosa Parks Way and Richmond Avenue. Plenty of stops along the way for discussion and coffee! Meet near the Dog Bowl on the Willamette Greenway at 10 a.m.

Sept. 2: SW Strolls

Connect with your neighbors during a community walk every first Saturday of the month! We’ll enjoy nature along the #7 urban trail created by SW Trails, then take a stroll along the newly paved and accessible section of SW Capitol Highway. Meet at Little Gabriel Park at 9 a.m. for Section A or Barbur World Foods at 10 a.m. for Section B.

Sept. 10: Southwest Portland Sunday Parkways

Celebrate community on Sept. 10 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Southwest Portland Sunday Parkways! This iteration of the beloved Portland event will include a 2-mile multi-modal route along with a 1.5-mile walking route. You can hop on at any point and head in any direction you choose. 

Take our survey and share your perspectives on transportation priorities

Portland Bureau of Transportation staff smoothing concrete for a new ADA-compliant curb ramp.

We’re interested in hearing your thoughts on the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s budget and revenue priorities. As you may know, PBOT has been cutting its budget for years, and is facing additional cuts this year.  

As PBOT considers what to cut, along with ways to bring in more money to better support the transportation system, the bureau would like to hear perspectives from people who are interacting with the system in different ways in their daily lives.  

We invite you to take an online survey (about 10-15 minutes) about our work, budget, and revenue sources. The survey will close on Monday, Aug. 14.   

Your feedback will be added to other input informing the development of budget and revenue strategies during this time of constrained resources. This work will continue into the fall (and beyond). Thank you for your participation!  

Join a community listening session on Aug. 8 to understand coming changes to city government

A sunny day at lively Pioneer Courthouse Square with people seated in Adirondack chairs in clusters as MAX trains pass by.

The City of Portland is changing its election system and form of government that voters approved in 2022. Starting in 2025, we'll have:

  • ranked-choice voting,
  • geographic districts,
  • a bigger city council, and
  • new leadership roles.

Join a virtual listening session on Tuesday, Aug. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. to learn more, provide input, and suggest areas for research and recommendations.

Interested in more? Stay up to date on the city's transition by signing up for email updates.

Metro 2023 Regional Transportation Plan: Share your views through Aug. 25

Three students crossing a crosswalk with an adult, heading towards a park, wearing rain gear and backpacks.

It’s time to update Metro's 2023 Regional Transportation Plan! This is your opportunity to share feedback that will guide decision-makers as they finalize the policies, strategies, and projects shaping Portland transportation (driving, transit, biking, and walking) through 2045. 

Lear more and share your feedback now through Aug. 25!

Remember to say crash — not accident!

“CRASH” in a stylized handwritten, yellow marker font type above “ACCIDENT” in a light, strikethrough yellow font type.

We’re inviting our community to change the way we talk about crashes. We want to shift the broad cultural perception that crashes are inevitable and remind each other that they are predictable and preventable. A Vision Zero approach refuses to accept traffic violence as a byproduct of “just the way things are.” So, will you join us?

Read the full blog post to learn more about why we use the word "crash" rather than "accident."

Free Vision Zero pins, stickers, brochures, fliers, and yard signs

A pile of white and orange Vision Zero pins.

Help educate family, friends, neighbors, your school, or your organization about Vision Zero — Portland's commitment to eliminate serious and fatal traffic injuries.

These materials are available in English, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Vietnamese, Somali, and Lao. 

If you're interested in making a bulk request, please email us.

What we're reading

  • Federal Highway Administration highlights efforts to improve safety for people walking, bicycling, and rolling made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law (Federal Highway Administration)
  • Unsafe streets: The dangers facing pedestrians (CBS News)
  • This is the most dangerous time to be a pedestrian in over 40 years. These charts explain why. (CNN)
  • Why isn’t there a Canadian traffic safety crisis? (Bloomberg CityLab)
  • Denver's default speed limit has been reduced (9News)
  • Racial and ethnic disparities in traffic deaths revealed in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report (Smart Cities Dive)
  • Will "happiness" be the next key transportation metric? (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Journal)
  • ‘A dangerous combination’: Teenagers’ accidents expose e-bike risks (New York Times)
  • U.S. cities are failing their female cyclists (Bloomberg CityLab)
  • It’s time to let cyclists use crosswalks (Mother Jones)
  • We need a Department of Sidewalks (Slate)
  • Regulation: trapped under trucks (ProPublica)
  • Now is the time to speak up for safer vehicles (Streetsblog)
  • The impossible paradox of car ownership (Vox)
  • The City of Portland lives out its safety culture (Federal Highway Administration)
  • Portlander honored as North America’s 2023 dispatcher of the year (OPB)