Pedestrian Safety in Portland Grows Thanks to Partnerships

December 10, 2009

One May morning just before lunchtime, I found myself sitting in a police squad car watching a woman in red do laps across a marked intersection.  Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Sharon White always likes to wear bright colors for pedestrian enforcement actions to help drivers see her.  Oftentimes drivers stop to allow Sharon to cross 82nd Ave, one of the less safe corridors for walking in Portland.  When drivers don’t yield for Sharon, they find themselves quickly pursued by a member of Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division.  Enforcement missions like these aren’t about writing tickets, acting Captain Bryan Parman will tell you.  “It’s about teachable moments.”  Portland ranked among the 10 safest regions for walking in Transportation for America’s recently released “Dangerous by Design” study.  You may know about our rocketing bicycle mode share and our city’s focus on “20-minute neighborhoods,” but behind the scenes, Portland’s inspirations derive from a broad network of partnerships and engaged citizens.

For years, the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) has actively worked with a cadre of groups to promote road safety, including the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Portland Police Bureau, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), Trauma Nurses Talk Tough, Elders in Action, ACTS Oregon, and TriMet to name but a few.  From these partnerships, innovative programs have formed. 

  • Share the Road Safety Class is a first-offense diversion course for road users who have impeded another’s right of way
  • Eye to Eye is a campaign that has raised awareness about our shared responsibilities on the road
  • WalkSmart Classes help senior citizens and recent immigrants feel more confident, safe and engaged as walkers
  • Safe Routes to School encourages walking and cycling through education and improved infrastructure

On Oct. 15, 2009, a Community Policing Agreement was unanimously passed by City Council.  This agreement between the WPC, BTA, and Bureaus of Transportation and Police, formalizes our ongoing efforts to develop traffic safety education, policy and enforcement measures that are both proactive and cost-efficient.  This agreement is one reason I was sitting in a police squad car one May morning before lunchtime.  The spirit of this agreement and other partnerships is sharing tools and ideas to inspire safe, welcoming roads for everyone.

We in Portland realize that we have much work to do to support and encourage walking, and to do that we know that collaboration makes the difference.  Everyone is a pedestrian at some point in the day, and we need everyone’s help to make our streets safer and more enjoyable for all road users.

About the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition:

The Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) is a non-profit community-based membership organization in the greater Portland, Oregon area dedicated to promoting walking and making the conditions for walking safe and attractive.  The WPC advocates for better laws, enhanced enforcement, more sidewalks and signed crosswalks, education programs, community improvements designed for pedestrians, and increased funding to support these activities.  For more information about the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, please visit