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Across Oregon, traffic fatalities abruptly return almost to pre-recession levels

Posted by on July 31st, 2015 at 9:47 am

For Oregon’s roads, the first seven months of 2015 have been the deadliest since 2008.

That was the year nominal gas prices hit their all-time peak, which sent suburban housing markets and the financial sector that had financed them into a tailspin that eventually sent the world economy into recession.

Gas prices dipped for a year but returned to the high $3 range by 2011. Expensive gas and the weak economy combined with long-brewing changes in how people live and get around to create years of decline in the number of miles driven both in Oregon and around the country.

But after last November’s gas price plunge, the number of miles driven is on the rise again. And so, apparently, is the number of people dying on the road.

Troy Costales, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s safety division, said Oregon saw 238 road deaths through July 23, up from 165 in the same period last year.

“There are reports that traffic fatalities are up across the nation,” he added. “I wish neither was true.”

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The chart above comes from fatality data tracked by Costales’s team. (Unlike 2014 and 2015, the previous years include fatalities from the final week of July.)

In Portland, the long-term traffic fatality trend has been different: it fell rapidly in the late 1990s and, aside from a 2003 spike, has hovered in the 20s and 30s per year since. Numbers for Portland proper weren’t immediately available Friday.

“If the numbers are flat or going up, then that’s a stubborn problem and it’s time for some broader range of solutions.”
— Gerik Kransky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance

For the last two years, the Oregon Department of Transportation has faced calls from some safety advocates to rethink its traffic safety practices around a set of ideas developed in Sweden and known as Vision Zero.

“If the numbers are flat or going up, then that’s a stubborn problem and it’s time for some broader range of solutions,” said Gerik Kransky, advocacy director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. “Until we’re able to do something significant to address those high-speed, high-traffic roads, I’d imagine this is what’s going to happen.”

Kransky said he was disappointed that the state didn’t pass House Bill 2736, which would have created an external process to explore Vision Zero at the state level.

“We’ve heard a little bit of talk from our partners at ODOT that there’s talk of setting a target date for zero injuries and fatalities in their upcoming traffic safety action plan, and that’s great,” Kransky said. “My fear is that right now, we haven’t seen ODOT step forward with a willingness to pursue the solutions that are shown to work in other countries. … We’re not going to change the fatality rate in Oregon simply by setting a traffic date.”

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paikiala
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paikiala

Time to raise the gas tax, for a dedicated safety fund.

J_R
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J_R

Enforcement!

I regularly see motorists blowing through red lights. Speeds on urban arterials that I estimate to be speed limit +15 mph. You can’t go for a month without a story of a repeat drunk driving offenders driving drunk again. Crosswalk enforcement in Portland occurs for two hours a month with advance warning signs. Fines for most traffic offences are a few hundred dollars unless the judge knocks it down even further.

The PPB traffic team has only about 50,000 “interactions” per year which is fewer than 140 per day. Not all result in citations. Meanwhile, motorists in Portland drive about 10,000,000 miles per day. So, the chance of getting stopped is once for every 70,000 miles driven. There’s almost no enforcement.

El Biciclero
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El Biciclero

Wait, does this mean VMT correlates positively with roadway deaths? No way!

But if so, what does that mean? Just that there will always be some “constant” rate of fatalities per mile driven? Crowded roadways lead to frustration and greater risk-taking? Does it indicate design problems or behavior problems (and does one influence the other)?

Are there trends in road injuries/deaths when miles traveled (I like “trips taken” better) by other modes fluctuate?

So many questions, but it seems that more driving = more death regardless. Too bad most people have the “it’ll never happen to me” mindset, coupled with the “I’m careful, so my driving isn’t part of the problem” logic.

9watts
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9watts

This is so pathetic. I can’t imagine Swedish officials throwing up their hands like this.

Troy Costales, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s safety division, said Oregon saw 238 road deaths through July 23, up from 165 in the same period last year.

“There are reports that traffic fatalities are up across the nation,” he added. “I wish neither was true.”

Mr. Costales acts like he/his agency has no say so, no control, no responsibility over this matter. With friends like these who needs enemies?

Fatality Free Days, my ass.

ethan
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ethan

Today I saw someone fly past the bus in a no passing zone, going well over the speed limit. They must have easily been going 45MPH on NE 15th. When they hit a speed bump, they nearly went airborn.

The “funny” part about it is that I saw where they started and ended their trip. Their entire trip was ~1 mile long, from their driveway to the parking lot they parked at.

So, they drove wrecklessly and nearly hit some people walking, just to move about 1 mile, a distance that’s easily walkable, along a road that has a frequent service bus route.

Obviously they must be sooooooooooooooo important for endangering people to get somewhere 30 seconds faster than the bus, but I wonder if they would have the incentive to do that if 1) on-street parking was eliminated, in favor of bike infrastructure 2) the parking lot they drove to was redeveloped into something useful and 3) if the price of gas was twice as high.

I wonder which of those would have the most effect getting that maniac out of their car and into civilization, like a normal person?

Mike Quiglery
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Mike Quiglery

Americans are highly stressed, angry, paranoid, distracted. Watch out. It’s dangerous out there and likely to get worse.

Anne Hawley
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Anne Hawley

This is tangential, but I’m curious: what is the relationship between these new higher VMT numbers and “peak car”? After every article about how car ownership and drivers’ licenses are dropping off, there’s at least one comment saying, “It’s the recession, stupid. Watch what happens when the economy recovers and/or gas prices go back down.”

Are those commenters right?

ethan
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ethan

I took a screenshot of the chart from 2008-2015 and overlaid an upside down gas price chart from the same time period over it. It’s amazing to see how closely it matches.

Lower gas prices = more dead people.

Beth
Guest

Damn. I sure miss 2007.
Dinosaurs took a long time to die off, and they didn’t go quietly.
The dinosaur of our propped-up car culture — and the manipulated supply and demand that supports it — will go much the same way.
Ride defensively, and be careful out there.

spencer
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spencer

ODOT needs a change at the top. This is unacceptable. Fatality free days are a farce.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Folks, it’s all good to post comments of outrage and affirmation here on bikeportland, but it’s a bit of an echo chamber here.

Make sure you also share your opinions with people that can do something about it.

Mayor Charlie Hales
mayorcharliehales@portlandoregon.gov

Commissioner Novick
novick@portlandoregon.gov

Your Senator
https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/senate/Pages/SenatorsDistrict.aspx

Your Representative
https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/house/Pages/RepresentativesDistrict.aspx

Governor Kate Brown
http://www.oregon.gov/gov/pages/index.aspx

Tell them your outraged that more of us are dying on the streets, and that they’re responsible. They’re slacking on things like
* More enforcement of speeding and traffic violations.
* More enforcement of DUIs.
* Better messaging.
* Better engineering.

Write now, write often.

Tweet now, tweet often.

& come to the BikeLoud/Liveable Streets event tonight if you’re able.
http://bikeportland.org/2015/07/30/new-livable-streets-subgroup-bikeloud-will-commemorate-road-deaths-modes-154421#comments

Ted Buehler

rick
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rick

Is it a surprise? How many streets, stroads, and roads have lower speed limits compared to 2007? Only a handful.

Brett
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Brett

Generally good journalism and data science to note when a graph is not zero scaled so your audience knows you’re not trying to “lie with statistics”.

WAR
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WAR

No not a gas tax! If we charge a Gas Tax it will be much more expensive for me to transport my 10k Fred sled with my BMW to the country.

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

Perhaps now with below market rte fuel prices and a chance for a decent income millennials have taken up driving and longer commutes…and the driver behavior of their parents?!

I love car sharing…but just not the $1000 deductible Zipcar now has for its low mileage users (those that do not choose to pay an annual fee to reduce the deductible.) If one were a poor driver, car sharing would be an expensive service…

(Any demographic analysis yet on this data?)

Jeff Bernards
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Jeff Bernards

How about digging a little deeper into the numbers, 1/3 of accidents are alcohol related. The bike community seems to perpetuate the drink at every opportunity (meetings & events) mentality. Maybe it’s time to set an example of just having a meeting or event and not making alcohol the main focus. I look at some of the posters for different rides or meetings and the first thing I see is “Free Beer”.
Legal Marijuana is only going to making the driving while impaired worse. Get ready for the fatalities numbers to increase even more. Good Luck out there.

Jeff M
Guest
Jeff M

“That was the year nominal gas prices hit their all-time peak, which sent suburban housing markets and the financial sector that had financed them into a tailspin that eventually sent the world economy into recession.”

Gas prices caused the housing and financial markets to crash? Thank you, Rick Santorum, for your contributions to economic theory.