In recent weeks, we have seen a wave of crashes resulting in serious injury or death to bicyclists and pedestrians in the Portland area. While the circumstances surrounding these individual cases vary, we believe that the true fault lies with the road infrastructure itself.

Whether we’re traveling by foot, bike or car, our roads are literally killing us. Nationally since 2009, there has been a 51 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities. The first six months of 2021 brought an increase in U.S. traffic fatalities of more than 18 percent, compared to the same period a year before. These tragedies are preventable. The time is now to redesign our streets to be safer and more compassionate for all.

Most roads are designed for speeds much higher than the posted speed limit. This creates conditions that make it too easy for people to drive too fast. The tragedy is that engineers know how to design safer roads. The solutions – such as reducing lane width by a foot – are often simple and economical, but there must be the political will. Road design must prioritize for the safety of all users above the ease of motorists to travel at deadly speeds, which, when it comes to a pedestrian’s chances of surviving having been struck, is above 25 mph. (This is not far below the most efficient speed to maximize the volume of traffic flow.)

Fortunately, a consensus is emerging that we need to rebalance our transportation systems away from this self-destructive dependence on single-occupant vehicles and toward a far more diverse array of transport options.

Locally, we can do our part by supporting local and regional investments in safer infrastructure projects. There are some recent good examples: The new roundabout near the University of Southern Maine has calmed traffic and will be less expensive to maintain over time. The new design for the Interstate 295 off-ramp onto Veranda Street not only provides a far safer “T” intersection, but also includes bike lanes, crosswalks and a new waterfront park to boot. These are win-win solutions that should be applauded, but we need to do more.

We don’t need to wait for huge and costly projects, however, to create safer streets. At the intersection of Baxter Boulevard and Preble Street, a “slip lane” has been removed, slowing cars as they turn onto Baxter and making the pedestrian crossing much shorter, in addition to widening the Back Cove Trail. While associated with a bigger project, this type of improvement can be made quickly and easily with paint and traffic cones. Slowing cars in residential areas can be done with low-cost temporary interventions, which allows for testing of methods before spending millions of dollars on more typical road projects.

The Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee stands by to support our City Council and mayor in meeting the needs of our community and creating streets that are safer, more vibrant places to be.

We hope that the new council, voted in by an overwhelming desire for equity, justice and fairness, will address the inequities present in the current design of Portland’s streets. We can, and must, make our streets safe for all regardless of their mode of transport, be it by foot, bike, wheelchair, scooter or, indeed, by car, the people of Portland should have the ability to get where they need to go without fearing for their lives. The time is now to create a high-quality network of bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly roadways, for equity, for the planet and for the safety of all of us.

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