Cyclist community pushing for more safety improvements on Portland streets


The recent death of a cyclist after a collision with a box truck on North Interstate Avenue in early February has renewed calls for the City of Portland to beef up its bike safety policies.

When Susan Kubota heard about the recent fatal crash, she thought instantly of her niece, Tracy Sparling, who was run over by a truck while on her bike downtown in 2007.

"It's very disheartening that this is almost 10 years since Tracy was killed, and these things are still happening," said Kubota.

Sparling was just 19 years old at the time of the crash. After her death, Kubota got involved in several bike safety initiatives, testifying repeatedly before city commissioners.

Kubota joined the city's cycling community in calling for additional safety improvements as part of the city's Vision Zero plan, which is designed to reduce fatal crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians.

Part of the plan addresses heavy trucks, and accidents cyclists often refer to as "right hook" collisions, where trucks turn right in front of bikes.

Jonathan Maus, publisher of the popular cycling blog "Bike Portland," has pushed the city to install protective rails on the side of city-owned trucks, and encourage private companies that contract with the city to install them as well.

The rails are designed to prevent cyclists from being run over by the truck's tires.

"I can think of four names off the top of my head in the last seven years that people have died through right-hooks with trucks that if there were side guards, maybe it wouldn't be the same result," said Maus.

Earlier this year, the City of Seattle began retro-fitting all of its trucks with side guards.

Seattle based its decision in part on a study from the United Kingdom, which found fatalities from side-impact collisions were reduced by 61 percent for cyclists after side guards were mandated.

"I think it says that we should do it, too," said Maus. "I think it says that it's not that difficult. The science is there, the data is there to back it up."

While protective rails on trucks are part of the city's Vision Zero Five-Year Action Plan, new Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman said there hasn't yet been funding allocated toward installing them, although he supports the idea.

"Given how many accidents we seem to have in this city and I'm sure elsewhere where people are killed or seriously injured by right turn, primarily right turn movements, this seems like a good device to save a life," said Saltzman.

Kubota, who continues to push for the city to install side guards, believes the protective rails could potentially have saved her niece's life, had they been installed on the truck that hit her.

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