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Metro report: Road carnage costs region more than congestion

Posted by on June 20th, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Arterials kill.

Using ODOT traffic crash data and their own data on transportation infrastructure Metro’s State of Safety report has found that roadway collisions cost our region $958 million a year — that’s significantly more than congestion.

The report also lays bare one of the nagging issues for local transportation planners and a central theme of the Mayor Sam Adams administration: Portland’s large, multi-lane arterials are unsafe. In what report authors refer to as one of the “most conclusive relationships” in the study, they found that a disproportionate amount of the serious crashes in our region occur on arterial roads.

Streets like Tualatin Valley Highway, 82nd Ave, SE Powell, McLoughlin Blvd (in Clackamas County) have much higher rates of fatalities and serious injuries than neighborhood streets or even freeways.

The report found that Between 2007 and 2009, there were 151 fatal collisions in the Portland Metro region, killing 159 people, and an additional 1,444 collisions resulting in incapacitating injury. In total, the report says, those collisions cost the region $958 million a year in property damage, medical costs, and lost productivity, “not to mention the pain and suffering from the loss of life.”

By comparison, Metro’s very influential 2005 Cost of Congestion report found that traffic jams could cost the region $844 million a year in lost productivity by 2025.

Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder says that making road safety improvements, “could help the economy more than fighting congestion.”

The 104 page report was put together by Metro along with a “Regional Safety Workgroup” made up of federal, state and local transportation agencies, researchers and safety specialists. It was spurred by Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which calls for a 50% reduction in fatal and serious injury traffic collisions by 2035.

Here are a few of the key findings:

  • Arterial streets have the highest rate of fatal and severe injury crashes, for all road users: motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • Crash rates rise on surface (non-freeway) streets with more lanes, and are significantly higher on those with six lanes or more.
  • Surface (non-freeway) streets with four lanes or more have particularly high fatal and severe injury crash rates for pedestrians.
  • Speed is a contributing factor in 26% of serious crashes, while aggressive driving is a factor in 40% of serious crashes.
  • Alcohol or drugs are a contributing factor in most fatal crashes.
  • For pedestrians, fatal and severe injury crashes happen especially often after dark.
  • Nighttime serious pedestrian and bicycle crashes occur disproportionately where street lighting is not present. 79% of serious pedestrian crashes and occurring at night and 85% of serious bicycle crashes occurring at night happen where lighting is not present, as compared to 18% of all serious crashes occurring at night. [This puts an interesting twist on the tendency of authorities and the media to blame victims in these collisions for wearing dark clothing.]

Beyond documenting the financial and tragic toll roads take Metro crunched the numbers and published many interesting charts and graphs to put this problem into perspective. One chart shows the rate of serious collisions (fatal or serious injury) in all 28 cities in the Portland metro area. Portland came in 9th and six of the top 10 are in Clackamas County.

Unsafe conditions on our major arterials is one of the biggest takeaways from this study. The chart below shows serious crashes by type of roadway:

Despite making up just 19% of the total system, 49% of all serious collisions happen on 4-5 lane arterial roads:

Wider roadways are the location of a disproportionate number of serious crashes in relation to both their share of the overall system (Figures 3-4 and 3-5) and the vehicle-miles travelled they serve (Figure 3-6). The crash rate increases dramatically for roadways with 6 or more lanes.

Another interesting conclusion in the report was that congested (non-freeway) streets are safer. The report states, “The serious crash rate per vehicle-mile travelled is highest for uncongested non-freeway roadways.” (This comes just a day after PBOT told us they had to increase auto capacity in the Williams Ave Safety Project because they are worried about congestion.)…

Interestingly, the report found that Portland has 68% of the region’s serious bicycle collisions, as well as the highest rate of serious bicycle collisions per capita and per vehicle mile traveled. (52% of those collisions happened on arterials.)

When it comes to the cause of serious bicycle crashes, failure to yield the right of way is the most common…

Check out this map that shows the location of all serious injury and fatal bike collisions between 2007 and 2009;

The report also laid out a number of implementation strategies to improve safety. Here area few of them that caught my eye:

  • A regional arterial safety program to focus on corridors with large numbers of serious crashes, pedestrian crashes, and bicycle crashes.
  • Safety strategies that match solutions to the crash pattern and street and neighborhood context, rather than an approach of simply bringing roadways up to adopted standards
  • Policies that reduce the need to drive, and therefore reduce vehicle-miles travelled
  • A focus on safe cycling facilities and routes, particularly in areas where serious crashes are occurring
  • More detailed research on the relationship between land use patterns and safety

That first bullet point is essentially what PBOT is already doing with their High Crash Corridor Program. Kudos to them for identifying this problem years ago and acting on it. Hopefully this report adds urgency to their effort and builds the coalition working on it.

I can’t help but think this report is a very big deal. It’s one thing for advocates, the community and a Mayor to talk about this stuff; but it’s another thing entirely for our metropolitan planning organization to publish an official report with such revealing data and strong recommendations. This report should be used by everyone from citizen activists fighting for neighborhood projects to politicians looking for cover to do the right thing.

— Learn more at OregonMetro.gov and download the full report here (25mb PDF)

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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emily.bronteEl BicicleropaulWellsChris I Recent comment authors
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Chris I
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Chris I

There it is, in black and white. Until congestion costs the region more than injuries, everyone using congestion as a reason to fight a project needs to admit that they don’t care about the economic impact of injuries for a given stretch of road, knowing that they cost more than the congestion they are so alarmed about.

Carl
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Carl

Excellent list of recommendations, Jonathan.

I’d add one more: occasional sting operations that ticket drivers who fail to yield ROW at high-conflict intersections. There are still a lot of drivers (and some cyclists) who don’t get how crucial ROW is to safety. 48% of all collisions is a pretty clear indication that this deserves special attention.

9watts
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9watts

Thanks, Jonathan!

And just to toss out one of many reasons the speeds on our arterials are slightly higher than they used to be is that PGE & other utilities paid to have the lights retimed on Portland’s arterials to get car traffic flowing faster, ostensibly to ‘save gas’ and obtain carbon offset credits for a Boardman power plant. Ha.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
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Kiel Johnson

I would like to see a follow up study called “How Stories About Potholes Distort The Public Debate About Transportation”

Rol
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Rol

Now that saving lives is so economical, maybe it’ll be deemed worthwhile!

Better hurry though guys, only 23 years left until that 2025 deadline!

meh
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meh

Congestion is only looked at from lost productivity, not from environmental impact.

What is the cost to the environment to miles of cars idling on the freeway 0or any street for that matter) going nowhere?

There is a benefit to having traffic move rather than sit.

And can we get away from using “carnage”. This isn’t carnage. It reports on the cost of all collisions whether involving casualties or not.

Carnage is:
1. Massive slaughter, as in war; a massacre.
2. Corpses, especially of those killed in battle.

daisy
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daisy

One note about the contributing factors to serious and fatal bicycle crashes: according to the report, alcohol and drugs can be driver or cyclist, but failure to yield and excessive speed are driver-only.

9watts
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9watts

“making road safety improvements, ‘could help the economy more than fighting congestion.'”

Just think of the dividend from phasing out our over-dependance on cars. We could/will have both. Win-win.

Kevin Wagoner
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Kevin Wagoner

Do you think it is reasonable to expect ODOT and PBOT to reduce the speed limit on Barber around the pinch point areas on the bridges near the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway turnoff?

dwainedibbly
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dwainedibbly

I would like to see the data normalized for vehicle miles travelled. I think it might help to make the point that multi-lane arterials are more dangerous by taking away the argument that “Of course 6+ lane roads have more crashes, they carry more vehicles.”

Gregg Knowles
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Gregg Knowles

Nice rewrite of the Metro press release (verbatim in some parts) there, JM. You getting a paycheck from Metro now?
http://news.oregonmetro.gov/1/post.cfm/crashes-cost-more-than-congestion

jrd
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jrd

give me convenience or give me death

Mark
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Mark

I like the graph that shows the relation between congestion and non-freeway serious crashes. Easing congestion makes the roads more dangerous. Adding lanes = safety fail. Williams anyone?

Kristi Finney-Dunn
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Kristi Finney-Dunn

Thanks for sharing this, Jonathan. I’m looking forward to reading the whole report. Very interesting and eye-opening so far. And the results already make me mad, so that’s good, too.

nuovorecord
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nuovorecord

Given that safety is a major reason for building the CRC, this report would seem to poke a major hole in that argument, no?

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

Now there should be fewer logical reasons for Portland to not convert any 4 lane arterials into the safer 3 lane with bike lane layout – it’s safer for drivers to have a center turn lane etc. this would address a lot of the east west arterials.

Champs
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Champs

To be a little facetious, doesn’t this also make an argument for more freeways? In the Moses highway plan of the 50s, Powell would be subsumed by the infamous Mount Hood Freeway, as would the other named arterials (excluding 82nd somehow).

Wells
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Wells

Awhile back, ODOT ex-director Grace Crunican promoted the notion that median islands on 5-lane arterial boulevards were unsafe and should be removed. This sort of planning philosophy is akin to adjusted stoplight timing to achieve a constant traffic flow, ie, NON-motorized modes of travel shall NOT be factored into street design. Grace Crunican moved on to Seattle where traffic, already horrible, will worsen if her designs are constructed. The plan is to redirect high volume traffic and trucking from suitably commercial corridors into residential neighborhoods and districts, the equivalent of closing Front Avenue and redirecting traffic on Couch to 10th/11th and back on Clay/Market. Her design for the new Alaskan Way sans viaduct will be another traffic nightmare there and adjacent Western and 1st Aves. She’s loved in Seattle because she pretends to be environmentalist though the waterfront park design is absurd. Crunican was politely informed her services were no longer wanted (ie fired) from ODOT and Seattle DOT but has finagled the position of BART director in San Francisco among unsuspecting progressives who’ve only recently come to realize how destructive their 200mph high speed train would be to Peninsula communities.

paul
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paul

I expect different people will read the report in different ways.

The “sky is not falling” person will point out that, overall, the roads have become substantially safer over the past 10 years, by almost any measure, and the our region does very well in comparison to other regions.

The CRC advocate might argue that the CRC will reduce congestion on the freeway and thus lighten the load on arterials that are used to avoid the freeway. Hence, more and less congested freeways = safer traffic.

Some read the relationship between greater lanes and higher fatalities as a reason to convert 4 lane streets into 2 lane + center turn lane. But the characteristics that are associated with crashes may be mainly linked to arterial status, not the number of lanes; e.g. the number of lanes could be a spurious variable (most arterials already 4 or more lanes).

Same point with congestion–the reason that congestion is negatively related (only the top category, btw) to safety is simple, cars are driving faster in suburban and rural areas when the road is uncongested. It’s not clear this has any relevance to Williams.

Face is that most of the crashes are occurring in Clackamas and Washington Counties, on roads being used by commuters who are rushing to get home and are driving too fast and following too close.

Most fatalities are pedestrians attempting to cross arterials, which means we need to work on pedestrian crossings, build lighting and bridges to get pedestrians past the arterials. Speed matters, but it seems to me what really matters is figuring out how to have peds and cars coexist safely, and speed is only part of the equation.

If you read the report, a few other things jump out, and few are related to road infrastructure, bikes vs. cars, etc

1) ALCOHOL. It’s a factor in over half of crashes. The best way to make our roads safer is to reduce drunk driving.

2) AGGRESSION. The second most common factor and the overwhelming favor in rear-ends.

3) TIMING. The most dangerous times are rush hour most days and, no surprise, 2 am on Saturday when the bars let out.

Things are seldom simple when it comes to human behavior.

El Biciclero
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El Biciclero

We just need to create several of these… on some key freeways and arterials.

emily.bronte
Guest

best part of this post is most of the crashes are occurring in Clackamas and Washington Counties, on roads being used by commuters who are rushing to get home and are driving too fast
thanks
Regards
Emily.Bronte