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Amid spike in deaths City touts “foundation building” in first annual Vision Zero progress report

Posted by on February 28th, 2018 at 3:15 pm

(All graphics from PBOT’s 2017 Vision Zero Annual Report.)

We haven’t turned back the rising tide of deaths and injuries on our streets; but we’re getting better at analyzing it and we’ve laid the groundwork for future progress.

That’s the vibe from the Portland Bureau of Transportation as noted in their first annual Vision Zero Progress Report published yesterday. Stating that 2017 was, “A year of tragedy and foundation building,” the agency detailed their policy and project efforts and offered a sad recap of all the traffic deaths last year.

Here are our takeaways…

The clock is ticking

We’re almost three years into our Vision Zero era. The resolution passed by City Council in June 2015 committed us to achieving “zero deaths and injuries” by 2025. Don’t look now, but we’ve only got about seven years to turn this thing around.

As you can see in PBOT’s graph, the uptick in deaths began around 2010 and overall deaths have gone up each year since 2012. The 45 deaths PBOT counted in 2017 (there were six other deaths excluded because the person, “died of causes not directly attributable to a traffic crash”) were the most since 2003. To reach our goal Portland needs to take even more “aggressive measures” and have even more “courageous conversations” — to use the words of PBOT’s own Director Leah Treat from a Vision Zero Task Force meeting two years ago.

PBOT echoes that sentiment in the new progress report by stating that, “Eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2025, while achieveable, will require considerable continued effort by the City of Portland and residents.”

Deaths aren’t the only measure

The conversation around Vision Zero mostly revolves around how many people die; but let’s not forget all the survivors whose lives are changed forever by our dysfunctional relationship with motor vehicle use.

One stat that jumped out at me in the report was that 275 people suffered an incapacitating injury in 2016 (2017 numbers aren’t available yet, but given other trends it’s probably inching close to 300). That’s over five people per week. And that doesn’t even count all the stress and emotional trauma suffered by families and friends.

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A good effort on speeding

New yard signs seen in Montavilla neighborhood near SE 92nd Avenue yesterday.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Yes it’s a photo-op, but it’s also really important.
(Photo: PBOT)

The biggest bright spot in PBOT’s Vision Zero efforts thus far has been in lowering speeds. They’ve wrested authority away from the State of Oregon to change speeds on local streets, they’ve passed a new residential speed limit law, they’ve installed speed cameras, and they’ve worked with the Portland Police Bureau on regular enforcement campaigns.

While not directly related to speed policies, PBOT’s continued work to install traffic calming infrastructure — primarily through the neighborhood greenway program — is having a very positive impact on making people slow down. On a related note, they’ve also ramped up their speed-related educational campaigns. Earlier this month PBOT began handing out free “20 is Plenty” yard signs and I’ve already seen dozens of them in people’s front yards throughout the city.

Another bit of news from this progress report is that the City is developing a “Safe Speeds Save Lives” campaign that will launch this spring. They’ve already outfitted 1,000 vehicles in their city fleet with bumper stickers.

The who, when, and where

People who died in traffic crashes in 2017.

I’m pleased to know that PBOT understands this is whole thing isn’t just about policy and projects and data — it’s about people. Who dies and where and when it happens matter just as much as the more wonky details. Throughout their Vision Zero efforts I’ve noticed PBOT staff have put an emphasis on the people who’ve died. You can see most clearly in the graphics and reports they produce.

In 2017, fall was the deadliest time of year with October and November both recording eight deaths each. The median age of a person who died was 43 and victims ranged from 12 to 87 years old. In our own unofficial tally of last year’s fatalities we found that 60 percent of them (28 out of 47) happened after 6:00 pm and before 3:00 am.

We frequently cover the fact that the vast majority of Portland’s traffic deaths happen on big arterials (many of which are still unfortunately controlled by ODOT). In 2017, 69 percent of all deaths occurred on streets PBOT has labeled part of the High Crash Network. That number, “Indicates that street design remains an important factor in preventing traffic deaths and serious injuries,” reads the report. Demographics matter too. One in three deaths last year happened in a place with lower-than average incomes and higher than average amount of people of color.

Here’s a list of the 51 people who died on our streets last year (I’m including the six unofficial ones too):

There’s no hiding from this list. To say it will take, “Considerable continued effort” to make it disappear is a huge understatement.

Keep track of the City’s Vision Zero progress here.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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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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Justin
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Justin

Oh my God. Seeing the walking line match up with the driving line is actually pretty horrifying, to be honest. I imagine those are mostly just innocent people being run over by drivers. I didn’t realize it had gotten so bad. I might switch from walking to rollerskating when I’m not on my bike or in my car. I notice nobody got killed on rollerskates.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

We will not really solve this problem without one of two things. a) More enforcement of all traffic laws or b) stricter testing and retesting of drivers with the intention of weeding out 10% or more of the driver population. Just today I watched a car make a sharp turn across the tracks,20 feet in front a max train at speed, and two other cars go up short one-way streets to save themselves time. When you head out on the roads it is like getting a ticket to the circus and when you bike it is like getting a front row seat where the lions can eat you.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

There were those of us who said…

dan
Guest
dan

I suspect that changes in traffic deaths are pretty closely correlated with vehicle miles traveled in the metro and that the (pretty limited, in my experience) attempts at implementing Vision Zero policies are not really doing anything at all. I have _never_ seen anyone pulled over in the metro for a speed limit violation and agree with bikeninja that would be a good start, along with maybe enforcing the law that requires signaling turns.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Gotta be more like common sense countries that make it difficult and expensive to drive. And, while we’re at it, difficult and expensive to own a gun. Let’s go!

maxD
Guest
maxD

I would also like to see more enforcement and for Oregon / Portland to get serious about people driving without insurance. I realize there are equity concerns around this, but the consequences of continuing to let people unsafe vehicles, especially without insurance, is disastrous. Keep bolstering transit and bike networks and get uninsured drivers and unsafe vehicles off the road (in motor vehicles).

Phil Richman
Subscriber

Jonathan, As always, thanks for your diligent analysis on a very important issue. I’m most curious about what progress has been made in NYC & San Francisco. It looks like they’ve improved a bit…
https://visionzeronetwork.org/vision-zero-buoyed-by-progress/

and at least we are not LA, right? Looks pretty grim…
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-vision-zero-20180227-story.html

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

– In 2017, 69 percent of all deaths occurred on streets PBOT has labeled part of the High Crash Network. That number, “Indicates that street design remains an important factor in preventing traffic deaths and serious injuries,” reads the report.-

While street designs may well contribute to the CARnage, I’m not sure that the fact that most deaths occur on certain streets indicates that is the case. What fraction of cars travelling over 40 mph are on those streets? If it’s in excess of 69%, then the design may not be the issue at all, other than the fact that the street design allows for a speed that is known to be far deadlier than 20 mph.

It’s this sort of close-minded “we know everything we need to know” attitude that causes me to almost give up hope. The people implementing Portland’s Vision Zero program are the same people who took traffic law enforcement off the table without any supporting evidence that one could significantly reduce traffic death without significantly increasing enforcement. Has it ever occurred to the people at PBoT that maybe, just maybe, they are guilty of having a limited tool box and are failing at so much of their mission (see, for example, the increased number of traffic deaths and injuries coupled with the flat or decreasing cyclists and pedestrian mode shares) because not all problems are nails to be struck by their hammers?

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

The city has well-paid public relations staff in every bureau.

SD
Guest
SD

The increase in deaths is a morbid measurement of how long it takes the city to adapt to population growth.

Scott Kocher
Guest

It is the deaths of people walking that account for the increase. It will take all tools applied for all modes to actually get the numbers down.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Speed reductions on high crash corridors would help, especially coupled with serious efforts to reduce distracted driving. Reduced speeds increase distracted driving. Crash severity goes down but crash frequency could go up unless we can reduce the induced distraction. The resulting net misery is hard to predict. So far they only seem to be ignoring the distraction issue. All the people I talked to about that loophole they fixed didn’t even know it existed in the first place. They don’t even want to discuss the issue, as if it’s completely off the table.

igor
Guest
igor

I’m curious about what has changed since 2010 to cause an increase in fatalities. Is it more cars, bikes and pedestrians on the road? Is it faster speed limits? Less enforcement of traffic laws? Is the difference just statistical noise given the number of passenger miles we’re talking about?

Is there any research into the causes of the national or regional uptick?

Matthew in Portsmouth
Guest
Matthew in Portsmouth

Vision Zero should be a policy not just for the City of Portland, but for the State and every county and city in the state. All of these bodies, and their police forces and road agencies need to be onboard to develop a statewide coordinated approach to protecting the lives of the people in this state. That means that ODOT needs to stop kowtowing to freight interests and work with everyone else to make the roads safer for all users. Automated enforcement is absolutely essential if we’re not going to increase the resources being devoted to the multitude of different law enforcement agencies in the state. The advantage of automated enforcement is that it doesn’t discriminate between races, genders or economic status.

I often ask why we need so many different law enforcement and road agencies (among others) in this state. I really think we are over-governed.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Look at the map and list of where people died. The great majority of the traffic deaths were in East Portland or far North Portland, on high speed arterial roads. Focus on the location of pedestrian deaths and that is even clearer.

What’s different there? Primarily high traffic speeds and poor crossing facilities. Sure, there are fewer bike lanes, but that is not a significant cause of deaths.

We (PBOT, ODOT) urgently need to slow traffic (speed limits, speed displays/cameras, enforcement) and improve crossings (crosswalks, signals, lighting, bumpouts, refuge islands) on high speed arterial roads in E and N Portland.

Do those now.

Other infrastructure improvements like road diets and bike/transit lanes are needed but will take longer.

In close-in Portland, understand that the primary effect of bike infrastructure improvements will be to increase active modeshare, rather than reduction of traffic deaths.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

“We haven’t turned back the rising tide of deaths and injuries on our streets; but we’re getting better at analyzing it and we’ve laid the groundwork for future progress.”

This reads like satire aimed at our bureaucracy. Sad, dark satire.

Laying the groundwork. Always laying the groundwork.

People driving should fear for their savings account when they speed. But they don’t and they won’t unless Ted Wheeler et al. get comfortable with offending drivers who feel entitled to use our roads as their aggression outlet.

More enforcement. With fatality levels like we’re seeing, freezing enforcement is criminal.

rick
Guest
rick

Who was the last person who died on SE Division Street from 82nd Ave and to the east of 82nd?

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

Is this broken out by deaths-per-mile-traveled anywhere? Or deaths-per-trip? I feel like that would be a more relevant way for me, as an individual, to assess which mode of transit is the riskiest right? Am I thinking that through correctly?