Traffic accidents happen, the conventional wisdom goes, and there’s little that can be done to eradicate them.

“That,” Portland Commissioner Steve Novick said Wednesday, knocking down the straw-man argument he set up, “is not true.”

Portland can do better, he said, and city officials say a new “Vision Zero” goal is the path toward improvement.

On Wednesday, the City Council voted 4-0 to endorse a lofty vision of zero transportation deaths. In support of the effort, Portland accepted $150,000 in grants from the state to help develop a Vision Zero action plan with specific steps. The plan will take about a year to develop and will outline tasks to perform over two and five years.

But even with a plan in hand, city officials say they won’t have enough money to address all the problems.

“That’s heartbreaking to know that there are safety improvements that are needed all over the city for which we do not have the funding,” said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, whose husband died 38 weeks ago in a traffic crash on Interstate 5 while commuting to his job in Salem.

The City Council’s endorsement – with Commissioner Dan Saltzman absent – follows action by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which embraced Vision Zero in its February work plan. Earlier this month, activists – following three high-profile traffic crashes involving autos and bikes – called on the City Council to formally support the plan.

But supporters on Wednesday urged the City Council to set deadlines – anything short would simply amount to political window dressing.

Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, said the city should set a date of 2025 to achieve its vision.

Statistics show that Portland auto fatalities have dipped over the decades but deaths involving bicyclists and pedestrians has remained somewhat flat. In 1996, Portland had 59 traffic deaths (18 involved pedestrians and bikers). In 2014, there were 28 deaths (16 involved bikers and pedestrians).

“We cannot accept the consequences of not acting now, even if it costs us money,” Sadowsky said.

Novick said he wanted to discuss the “pros and cons” about setting a deadline. Pointing to the city’s “10-year Plan to End Homelessness,” which didn’t end homelessness, Novick questioned what would happen “when you can’t quite meet it.”

Novick and transportation officials highlighted national and international statistics to hammer home their point that some progress is possible.

In Portland, there were 6.2 traffic deaths per 100,000 residents in 2009.

In Seattle, the rate was 5.2. In San Francisco, it was 4. In New York, 3.9. And in Stockholm, Sweden, the birthplace of Vision Zero, the rate was 1.1.

“We have a ways to go in Portland, obviously,” said Margi Bradway, Portland’s manager of active transportation efforts.

— Brad Schmidt

bschmidt@oregonian.com

503-294-7628

@cityhallwatch

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