On Jan. 6, 11-year old Luis Medina was struck and killed by a car while he was crossing the street in Gresham. Four days later, 11-year old Rhianna Daniel was struck and killed by a car while crossing the street in Corvallis. Both children were in marked crosswalks when they were killed.
These deaths are devastating to their families, their teachers, their friends, the first responders and hospital caregivers, and, yes, to the drivers. Compounding the tragedy of the loss is the fact that these deaths were absolutely preventable. Without thoughtful action to prevent them, we will see more children killed by cars in our communities.
Last year, Oslo, Norway, with a population the size of Washington, D.C., had zero pedestrian fatalities . Exactly one person died in a traffic collision in Oslo last year, and that was from driving his own car into a fence.
Oslo’s extraordinary reduction in traffic violence came not through scolding drivers to be careful, put down their phones and avoid alcohol. Nor did it come through shaming victims by suggesting they should wear more visible clothing and pay more attention to cars. Instead, Norwegian leaders are saving lives through intentional policies and infrastructure design that protect pedestrians and cyclists from drivers, and protect drivers from one another.
For example, Norwegian cities are embracing “heart zones” (hjertesones) around schools, which prohibit cars in the area immediately surrounding schools and establish sites for student pick-up and drop-off a short distance away. Anyone who has tried to keep their elementary-aged child or toddler from running into a parking lot will recognize the value of physically separating cars from people. In addition to creating a safe space around schools, these heart zones reduce congestion and build community.
The Bend City Council is now barreling toward a $190 million transportation bond on the May election ballot. Approximately two-thirds of the proposed projects aim to expand and widen roads to allow cars to travel faster, including $37 million to add capacity to Reed Market Road. As someone who commutes from a rural neighborhood into and through Bend, I will benefit from many of these projects, especially the construction of a railroad overpass on Reed Market.
The proposed bond also includes several important safety projects. The biggest is $24 million to construct protected or buffered bike lanes and complete sidewalks on 12 key north/south and east/west routes. City Councilors Gena Goodman-Campbell and Barb Campbell deserve enormous credit for fighting to include these projects in the bond list.
However, other city councilors have questioned the value of safety and succeeded in watering down key projects. One such project, the Local Residential Safety Improvement Program, which would invest in “sidewalk construction, lighting, and safe routes to schools,” was slashed from $16 million to a mere $4 million.
Compare this to the more than $30 million set aside to pay for eight new roundabouts and signals, or the $13.5 million to expand Aune Road near Crux Fermentation Project and the Korpine industrial site. Clearly, the bond’s proposed project list does not prioritize making it easier or safer for families to reach their neighborhood schools, parks and shops by foot or bicycle.
$190 million — not counting the several hundreds of millions more in state and federal dollars dedicated to wider, faster highways — is a high price to pay for incremental safety improvements.
I have not decided if I will support the transportation bond, but whether it passes or fails depends largely on people like me who care deeply about our kids being able to cross a street without dying. That means going beyond signs and flashing lights. It means boldly committing to infrastructure that prioritizes the safety of our children.