May 7, 2014 | Wweek.com-- To hear Mayor Charlie Hales and other city officials tell it, the streets of Portland are getting deadlier every day.
Driving is more dangerous. Pedestrians face bigger risks. Bicyclists have to summon courage to start pedaling. Kids heading to school are better off walking through the woods than braving the patchy sidewalks.
Hales has gone so far as to describe the safety of Portland’s roads as a “crisis.” Transportation Bureau director Leah Treat has gone further, calling Portland’s streets “a growing health crisis. This public health crisis is called ‘traffic.’ Last year, twice as many people died in traffic than in murders in our city.”
Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick are trying to drum up public support for a new “street fee” that would raise as much as $53 million a year to fund city transportation projects.
“Our concern about safety reflects the concern of the community as a whole,” Novick says. “We’re responding to public demand. We’re not whipping people into a frenzy by exaggerating the problem.”
But records tell a more complicated story.
There’s no clear evidence that driving, walking or bicycling in Portland is growing more dangerous. State numbers show traffic deaths in the city haven’t changed dramatically over the past decade. In fact, Portland is rated as one of the nation’s safest cities for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Without question, the city has miles of streets without sidewalks and scores of intersections without adequate crosswalks—many in East Portland, where some neighborhoods have gone decades without basic pedestrian improvements.
The Transportation Bureau is set to spend $316 million next year. City officials tell WW if they get a new street fee, $23 million a year will go to safety improvements.
Records show the Transportation Bureau last year only spent $18 million—6.7 percent of its $265 million budget—on projects that Hales and Novick say will save lives. City officials increased that number this year to $45.6 million, or 14 percent of its proposed budget.
“We are funding safety improvements now,” Novick says. “Just not enough of them.”
Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, says he’s seen city officials shift their message from road repairs to public safety.
“They’re not asking people to support some vague program,” Moore says. “They’re asking people to support a tax. So they have to ratchet the rhetoric up. Safety sells.”
Meanwhile, Hales has shortchanged traffic safety in his current READ FULL ARTICLE