Screenshot of online meeting. DOT Sec Buttigieg is in lower left corner. Portlander Michelle DuBarry is on lower right holding a photo of her son Seamus who was killed by a driver while he walked across a north Portland street in 2010. (Source: Michelle DuBarry/Families for Safe Streets)

 “The fact that USDOT took the meeting in the first place is a sign of progress, though, and I think we all left with a sense of guarded hope.”

– Michelle DuBarry, Families for Safe Streets

North Portland resident Michelle DuBarry is part of the group no one wants to be in. She’s a volunteer with Families for Safe Streets, a national nonprofit with a chapter in Portland that’s supported by The Street Trust. She and the other brave activists in this group share stories of grief and loss from traffic crashes that killed their sons, brothers, sisters, daughters, moms and dads.

Just last month DuBarry and others in the group stood on a corner of SE 122nd Avenue as traffic roared by to share how unsafe streets have impacted their lives. And last Friday, DuBarry found herself in a Zoom room talking to the most powerful transportation leader in the entire country; US Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The online meeting was set up by Assistant to the Secretary and Director of Public Affairs Dani Simons (who has a connection to Portland as a former director of communications for Motivate, the company that runs Biketown). Also on hand was US DOT Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg (who you might recall from our 2011 interview) and other top DOT brass. The event was likely part of the DOT’s ongoing work around the National Roadway Safety Strategy, an effort funded by President Joe Biden’s recently passed infrastructure law that took a step forward back in October.

DOT released no press statement about the event, but DuBarry shared a thread about it on Twitter over the weekend. Here are the four things she and other bereaved parents asked Buttigieg and other DOT staff to do:

1. Safety regulations for large trucks and SUVs to protect people *outside* of the car (Intelligent Speed Assistance, Automated Emergency Braking, & hood/bumper design standards)

2. Mandatory side guards for large trucks. The EU, Japan and many other countries have long mandated side guards. Research shows these can reduce bicyclist fatalities by 50-74%

3. Change the way speed limits are set. Did you know that current US speed limit setting practice is to raise the speed limit when more than 15% of drivers are driving faster than posted signs?

4. Street design standards that prioritize safety of all road users (not just drivers). So many of our loved ones would still be with us if our roads were designed better, with narrower lanes, raised crosswalks, physical barriers between cars and pedestrians/bicycle riders etc.

Asked to share more about the meeting, DuBarry told me she came away with mixed feelings. “It was devastatingly sad but also gratifying to be in a space with federal transportation policymakers,” she said. “The fact that USDOT took the meeting in the first place is a sign of progress, though, and I think we all left with a sense of guarded hope.”

And DuBarry and other members of Families for Safe Streets won’t let them forget about it. They’re working on a follow-up letter that will outline their requests.

With the road death crisis at an all-time high and with one of the most sympathetic and progressive slates of DOT staff we’ve ever seen, now is the time to push forward on these issues. We’re lucky these folks are brave enough to tell their stories to these powerful policymakers. Now let’s hope change is coming so no one else has to ever join them.

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