Forget Portugal, next it will be Hoboken

Don't let the car haters of Portland City Hall see this one. In the news this week, the city of Hoboken, New Jersey is being singled out as a model of good planning because it hasn't had any traffic fatalities in seven years. And it has a "Vision Zero" public relations campaign going, just like Portland. You can bet the bike children in the Portland "transportation" bureau will be pointing to Hoboken as the reason why Portland needs to make life even more miserable for people who drive cars.

But everybody needs to take a deep breath and examine the Hoboken story carefully. The main reason being given for the reduction of traffic accidents there is that the city has eliminated parking close to intersections. "Daylighting," they call it. 

While Hoboken's plan has numerous components, including lower speed limits and staggered traffic lights, daylighting is often credited as one of the biggest reasons its fatalities have dropped to zero.

Ryan Sharp, the city's transportation director, said when roads need to be repaved, Hoboken takes the additional step of cordoning off the street corners to widen curbs and shorten crosswalks. It's already illegal to park at an intersection in Hoboken, but drivers often do anyway if there aren't physical barriers.

Some of the new concrete structures are equipped with bike racks, benches and even rain garden planters that help absorb stormwater runoff. If there isn't enough money for an infrastructure solution right away, the city puts up temporary bollards.

Sounds a lot like Portland, which has been building out curb bubbles for decades. And yet Portland's traffic deaths aren't going down; they're moving in the other direction. Why? Maybe it's because the two cities are vastly different.

Hoboken is one of the most densely populated places in the country. It's called the "Mile Square City," with an actual land mass of a square mile and a quarter, and yet its population is around 60,000. You could fit 106 Hobokens into Portland, whereas Portland's population is only 10 times that of the New Jersey city. 

The streets in Hoboken are almost all narrow residential city streets, with a single main drag, and only a street or two on the edge of town that you could even think of racing on. The streets are so narrow that they're mostly one way. There is no equivalent of 82nd, or 122nd, or outer Southeast Stark or Division, where most of the pedestrians are dying in Portland.

And one thing nobody seems to be talking about amidst the Hoboken hoopla is whether traffic laws there are beng enforced. Here in Portland, cops are scarce, and traffic cops even scarcer. Our version of "Vision Zero" unfortunately includes "Traffic Cop Zero."

I'm happy for Hoboken, which I covered as a newspaper reporter for a short while many decades ago. It's sure a lot nicer now than it was when I was there. And if they've made it safer for pedestrians, great. But when the Portland street-blocking brigade tries to sell you something based on Hoboken, think before you buy. It's apples and oranges.


  1. Can we assume their cannabis tax revenue (if any) is far less as well?

  2. Portland will never achieve zero pedestrian fatalities as long as we have so many homeless who don't care if they live or die and drug heads who don't know if they are dead or alive, wandering around the streets paying no attention to traffic signals or traffic. Just sayin'


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