Joe Bike

Metro: Region is failing to meet transportation safety goals

Posted by on March 3rd, 2020 at 11:36 am

Facts don’t lie.

“Reducing vehicle miles traveled is critical to achieving safer roadways.”
— Lake McTighe, Metro

We know fatal and serious injury crash data for Portland is headed in the wrong direction, but how are we doing region-wide? Not good.

Metro, our regional elected government (also known as a metropolitan planning organization, or MPO) that oversees 24 cities across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, just released their first-ever, Traffic fatalities and serious injuries annual performance report. The report provides an analysis of fatal and serious injury traffic crashes in 2018 and compares them to past years and future target goals (because of the detailed data analysis, there’s a reporting lag of 1.5 to 2 years).

What they found won’t be a surprise for many of us, but the data is crucial to understanding where we are — and more importantly — how far we must go to reach our safety goals.

Metro set targets for fatal and serious injury reductions in their 2018 Regional Transportation Plan. To reach zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2035, the plan aims for a 16% reduction in deaths and serious injuries by 2020 and a 50% decline by 2025. “To be on track to meet these goals,” the report states, “fatalities and serious injuries needed to decline 7% from the base year (2015) to the target year (2018). However, fatalities increased 17%, and serious injuries increased 10%.”

Here are a few more key facts from the report:

— The annual average number of fatalities increased from 62 in 2015 to 75 in 2018, an increase of 17%.
— 41% of people killed were pedestrians, up from 35% in 2015.
— Fatality rates per vehicle miles traveled also increased from 0.6 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to 0.7, a 14% increase.
— The average annual number of serious injuries increased from 458 in 2015 to 512 in 2018, an increase of 10%.
— Serious injury rates per vehicle miles traveled also increased, though not as much as fatalities, from 4.5 serious injuries per 100 million miles traveled to 4.9, an increase of 8%.
— The annual average number of non-motorized (pedestrians and bicyclists) fatalities and serious injuries increased from 113 in 2015 to 129 in 2018, an increase of 11%.

In 2012, Congress passed the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “performance based planning framework,” which set targets and performance measures around safety as a way to hold MPOs accountable for how they spend federal transportation dollars. The Portland region did not meet targets on any of the five measures which include: Number of roadway fatalities, Number of roadway serious injuries, Roadway fatalities per vehicle miles traveled (i.e., fatality rate), Roadway serious injuries per vehicle miles traveled (i.e., serious injury rate), Combined non-motorized fatalities and non-motorized serious injuries.

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In addition to federal performance measures, Metro set 20 additional measures. Of those, our region met only two: the number of serious bicycle injuries and serious bicycle injuries per 100 thousand people.

“Based on the results of the performance measures,” the report finds, “the region is not on track for achieving its Vision Zero goal.”

Have a scroll of this chart from the report to help this sink in…

While we might find some solace for the flat trend line of bicycling fatalities and injuries, all others are headed way up.

Metro also compared how designated “Equity Focus Areas” (defined as “Census tracts with higher than regional average concentrations and double the density of one or more of the following: people of color, English language learners, and/or people with lower income.”) lined up with the data. While 56% of the population lives within the Equity Focus Areas, they suffer 64% of fatalities to people walking and 64% percent of all serious injury crashes.

This is not good.

For their part, Metro says safety remains their top priority. In an email about the report this morning, Metro Senior Transportation Planner Lake McTighe said, “Making greater Portland’s most dangerous streets safer, especially for pedestrians, is a key focus of the [2020 transportation investment] measure.” Asked how the agency will use this data, she explained it will, “continue to inform planning and policy.” One way they’ve created awareness is to have Metro staff provide monthly fatal crash updates to key policy advisory committees. McTighe says that’s an attempt to, “Remind decision-makers about the frequency and significance of roadway deaths and keep safety at the fore of policy discussions.”

And McTighe adds that Metro is aware that reducing the amount of vehicles miles traveled (VMT, a.k.a. reducing driving) “is critical” to safer roads.

Since Metro is failing to meet federal performance measures, will there be consequences for the agency? “At this time it’s unclear,” says McTighe.

In my opinion, this report should be used as a cudgel to push for reforms in how we fund and build our transportation network. If our leaders won’t listen to activists who’ve been yelling about this for years, maybe they’ll respond to these cold, hard facts; facts that make it clear what we’ve been doing is not working and people are dying and suffering life-altering consequences because of it.

What’s the solution? It’s staring us right in the face every time we get on a street: Too many people drive cars. It’s not enough to improve transit, walking, and cycling networks. We must be more aggressive in reducing the number of cars being used through a vast reduction in capacity (no one dies in carfree zones) and an increase in costs (driving is too cheap). Nothing else will work and waiting will only lead to more death and destruction of people and our planet.

— 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 productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

52 Comments
  • Avatar
    Bikeninja March 3, 2020 at 11:59 am

    What a total failure on Metro’s Part. Looks like mother nature may do the job for them. The Corona Virus seems to be kicking the rug out from under happy motoring and happy flying. The roads on the West Side looked like it was a holiday today, and airline traffic is collapsing like a house of cards.

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      Chris I March 3, 2020 at 1:08 pm

      Wouldn’t people avoid public transit, in favor of private car trips instead? I get that overall travel will drop, due to cancelled events, but I haven’t noticed a difference in traffic, at least out here in east Portland.

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        Lowell March 3, 2020 at 2:34 pm

        My roommate has a friend coming up to visit in a couple weeks, and he has chosen to drive here instead of take the train due to coronavirus concerns. So yeah…

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    q March 3, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    In Table 1, there’s a line, “Number of bicycle fatalities” with fractional figures (2.2, etc.). It should either be whole numbers, or it should be “…per x miles traveled” or something similar.

    The scary thing to me is that the only categories that improved were in bicycle injuries, and my fear is they may have improved because more bicyclists who got hit died. That’s why I’d like the “bicycle fatalities” figure corrected, to see if that’s true.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty March 3, 2020 at 12:04 pm

      Look at the column headers — those are multi-year averages.

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        q March 3, 2020 at 12:42 pm

        So for example, the “2014-2018 actual” is 3.4 per year? That does make sense. I was seeing that the pedestrian fatalities and motor vehicle fatalities were whole numbers, not fractions, but I guess now that’s because they’re so much larger numbers than the bicycle fatalities, so it only made sense to include fractional amounts on the low bicycle numbers.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty March 3, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    I like that the report (or the parts reproduced here, anyway) don’t screw around and try to hide the truth: we are not making the progress we’ve decided we want.

    I wish other agencies would be as starkly self-critical. (Climate Action Plan? Bike Plan?)

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    Jason March 3, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    “It’s not enough to improv transit”… me, I impov transit all the time. 😀

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    Jim Lee March 3, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    The stark truth is that VZ promoters lacked the fundamental understanding that traffic deaths are proportional to VMT in the first order.

    VZ harps on about second and third order things that have little or no effect on deaths caused by motor vehicle trips.

    Vision Zero promotion has been and is almost entirely about virtue-signaling among the transportation elite.

    So…Vision Zero forever!

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      Middle of the Road Guy March 3, 2020 at 4:22 pm

      “look at how woke I am”.

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    cmh89 March 3, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    Measuring bicycle statistics against per hundred-thousand is flawed from the get-go. Metro can “improve”their performance in the metric by just waiting for more and more cyclist to give up ( as more and more do every year).

    All of these numbers should have the estimated mode share as the denominator. Of course, that would just make them look worse.

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    John Lascurettes March 3, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    “no one dies in carfree zones”

    I seem to recall a train-related death here and there, but I get your point.

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      Jason March 3, 2020 at 1:01 pm

      What is a single unit of train? 😉

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        David Hampsten March 3, 2020 at 3:31 pm

        Caboose? Carriage? Train Unit? …

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          Jason March 3, 2020 at 3:33 pm

          Oh, I’m sorry, judges were looking for “car”.

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    idlebytes March 3, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    Too bad their analysis didn’t include any details about vehicle types on the road and their factor in road deaths. I think we’ve hit a turning point where safety or the feeling of safety for the person inside the car is making it less safe for everyone outside the car. It’s not like this is a local problem where we’re just not doing enough to design safer roads and everywhere else in the country is seeing declining numbers. Numbers are up all over. In places trying to achieve vision zero goals and those trying to make it easier to drive.

    There doesn’t seem to be much push at a federal level to update safety standards to consider how a vehicles size and shape can make it more dangerous for everyone else even other drivers. I wonder if a class action lawsuit will be what is required to force change.

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    JeffS March 3, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Vote on it. Put it on the ballot.
    No cars for anyone.

    Meanwhile, you keep supporting adding more people to an area with an already broken transportation system. I’m sure that will end well.

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      q March 3, 2020 at 12:52 pm

      I don’t see anywhere in the article or comments where anyone is arguing for “no cars for anyone”.

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      Jason March 3, 2020 at 1:02 pm

      Please explain how the transportation system is broken?

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        Evan March 3, 2020 at 2:46 pm

        It’s hard to explain with words, the best is to experience it by yourself. Roll I-5 north at 5pm and you’ll see.

        Seriously though, people are dying trying to get from point A to point B. That is a broken transportation system.

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          Chris I March 3, 2020 at 3:23 pm

          Then transportation has been broken from the dawn of humanity.

          If I-5 north is ever free-flowing at 5pm, we’ve done something wrong and/or terrible (like a major freeway expansion in the middle of a neighborhood). It’s okay for capacity to be maxed out during peak travel times. Building for no congestion at peak times is a good way to waste billions of dollars.

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            Jason March 3, 2020 at 3:40 pm

            I agree with this. No matter how much capacity you build in, it will always be saturated at peak times. Maybe people should try alternative forms of transport instead of stubbornly insisting on single car driving. I have no sympathy for the majority of folks stuck on the freeway at rush hour. Even when it’s me. We all know better. Part of the underlying issue is the daily commute from Vancouver to Hillsboro and all points between. I just can’t be sympathetic to that. I bike 11 miles one way to work. I’m as happy as can be.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty March 3, 2020 at 3:42 pm

              If it works for you, it will work for everyone.

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                Jason March 3, 2020 at 3:50 pm

                That’s what the motorists say! 😉

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            Evan March 3, 2020 at 4:20 pm

            Just to be clear, I’m anti freeway and anti building for capacity. Just because I think the system is broken, does not mean I think building more lanes would ever help. Also- humans were hunter gatherer for about 200,000 years without congestion before the agricultural revolution that brought us cities and roads about 10-15,000 years ago. So maybe we’re not on the same page about the dawn of humanity.

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              Chris I March 3, 2020 at 4:27 pm

              I mean, people used to get eaten by wild animals while hunting and gathering (work), now they get crushed to death by 6,000lb man-made beasts while going to work.

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                evan March 3, 2020 at 4:46 pm

                Yes, but one of those systems is natural (evolution- or getting eaten by a tiger while working) and one of those systems is man made. (traffic deaths by other humans) So when we say the system is broken, we are referring to a man made problem. I think my favorite quote on the subject is “traffic is not like the weather, we can do something about it” – Charles Crumpley ( not sure if this was originally his quote ) The point is that we don’t have to accept traffic deaths as normal, and we can design and choose to enforce our way out of it.

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              Jason March 3, 2020 at 5:42 pm

              Anti freeway… Yes, go on…hunter gatherers… Yes, currently reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Barack… Go on…not on the same page about dawn of mankind… So are you Francis Ford Coppolla to my Arthur C Clark? Nevermind, you probably don’t get it.

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                lurker March 6, 2020 at 2:17 pm

                I think you meant “So are you Stanley Kubrick to my Arthur C Clarke?” Interestingly Kubrick and Clarke *worked together* on the screenplay.

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          Jason March 3, 2020 at 3:35 pm

          I live in Portland. Why would I do that?

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        Evan March 3, 2020 at 2:53 pm

        On another note, I believe some enforcement would help. It does not matter how safe the street design is if someone can gasshole over it. Someone driving in the better Natio bike lane, someone driving in the bike lane on Williams, someone threatening people on NE Broadway with their truck, cars getting stuck on the I-205 bike path. Sound familiar? I especially like red light cameras because I feel we have a people running lights problem, but also because they are color blind.

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          Jason March 3, 2020 at 3:51 pm

          Red light cameras are literally the only citations that PPB issues to motorists; change my mind. You’re right about the enforcement.

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    David Hampsten March 3, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    So vision zero aside, how does Metro stack up against other similar metro regions? Are there any largish ones of over 2 million people with good numbers?

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      Evan Manvel March 3, 2020 at 3:53 pm

      Helsinki metro (1.5 million) and Oslo metro (1.3 million) are doing quite well on traffic safety.

      One driver dead in Oslo; otherwise no road fatalities in city limits.
      Helsinki no pedestrians killed, and only I think 3 road deaths.

      They’re similar to Portland area:

      city limit populations in the 600,000s
      more Northern (between 45-61 latitude)
      wealthier than their country on average
      with “cruddy” winter weather
      significant numbers of white folks
      lots of cars but also other choices

      https://usa.streetsblog.org/2020/02/11/another-city-eliminated-non-driver-deaths-in-2019/

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty March 3, 2020 at 3:58 pm

        Do the Finns and Norwegians enforce their traffic laws?

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          Middle of the Road Guy March 3, 2020 at 4:25 pm

          That would be racist due to the unequal outcomes of mostly Northern Europeans getting cited.

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            Jason March 3, 2020 at 5:43 pm

            Northern European is a geographic region, not a race nor an ethnicity.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty March 3, 2020 at 7:31 pm

              Tell that to the Vikings.

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                Jason March 3, 2020 at 7:38 pm

                Unless you mean the football team, that instruction is cannot be completed.

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            q March 3, 2020 at 6:50 pm

            Everybody everywhere who gets cited for speeding is European. Or at least Rushin.

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              Jason March 3, 2020 at 8:08 pm

              I’m Latvian over here.

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        Evan Manvel March 3, 2020 at 3:59 pm

        But if you think only U.S. cities can be similar:

        Two of the earliest Vision Zero cities with the largest per-capita transit trips stand out from the pack: New York City and San Francisco. Traffic fatalities have decreased significantly in the two cities [2014-18]. [From 2014-18] traffic deaths [fell] 28 percent in New York City and 41 percent in San Francisco. (The historically low numbers in the two cities look good even when you only count the drop in pedestrian mortality, too—with a decrease by 46 percent and 34 percent respectively.) [note: SF and NYC numbers went back up in 2019 – and these are city proper numbers, not Metro areas]

        On average, the 11 metro areas with over 40 transit trips per capita have relatively low traffic fatality rates, with 5.7 fatalities per 100,000 residents. Those 11 cities include Boston, D.C., Honolulu, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

        Overall, the 108 U.S. metro areas with more than 500,000 people average 9.9 fatalities per 100,000 residents. Size (and sprawl) is a factor: As the chart below shows, the relationship between transit trips and fatalities is tighter for metros over 2 million people.

        https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/09/cities-with-more-public-transit-trips-have-fewer-road-fatalities/569857/

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          Lake McTighe March 6, 2020 at 1:11 pm

          Figure 1-12 from Metro’s 2018 State of Safety Report compares annual fatalities for metropolitan regions with population over 1 million.

          Roadway fatalities per capita in the Portland region are less than 40% of the US average and less than half the State of Oregon’s average. In general cities, counties, regions, states and countries that limit sprawl, have more transit, walking and bicycling and less vehicle miles traveled per capita have lower fatality rates.

          https://www.oregonmetro.gov/sites/default/files/2018/05/25/2018-Metro-State-of-Safety-Report-05252018.pdf

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    K March 3, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Along with fixing existing conditions in the Portland region, Metro, cities, and counties need to be fully engaged to prevent developing suburban areas from exacerbating the problem. Too often, land use planning begins with traffic analysis to determine how to best accommodate vehicular travel. The land use, urban design, and active transportation elements (walk, bike, transit) tend to be secondary considerations. I fear that future suburban development will create future high crash corridors that will keep these trend lines going in the opposite direction from what we aspire to achieve.

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    B. Carfree March 3, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    If reducing traffic violence is a serious goal and not just a virtue signal, then at some point there has to be some reduction in the ability of motorists to kill people. That’s likely going to involve creating less space for them to roam and forcing their speeds down. It may also involve restrictions on what types of vehicles are able to access some streets and some time restrictions.

    It’s time for metro to start working on such plans. People who are addicted to car use will scream loudly, but they should just be told that their access will not be reduced unless motorists continue maiming and injuring people.

    Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 has at most a 3% chance of causing lasting health damage (including death). Lifetime exposure to cars in the US has greater than a 50% chance of causing injury or death, yet everyone is very agitated over the virus. Time to deal with the sacred cow or admit we really don’t care about lives lost or destroyed on our roads.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty March 3, 2020 at 11:49 pm

      Leaving aside the fact that you are inappropriately mixing risks (cumulative lifetime injury risk is not comparable to mortality rate from an emerging epidemic*), one reason we might be willing to tolerate a higher risk from autos than from coronavirus is that cars are quite a bit more useful to us than coronavirus is.

      *A more appropriate comparison might be cancer.

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        B. Carfree March 4, 2020 at 5:33 pm

        Are cars actually useful? They have been identified as a major source of sedentary lifestyle diseases, an actual epidemic of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke and obesity. Their tire, brake and tailpipe emissions cause massive health damage, including brain damage and lowered IQ. The average speed is only 24 mph and falls to about half that when the time spent working to pay for it are added in.

        So, they massively damages society. They harm the health and well-being of the users. They are massively subsidized and they don’t end up going any faster, on average, than a healthy cyclist or anyone on an e-bike. I think the “usefulness” is an illusion that is fed by ignorance, ill health and more than a little laziness.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty March 4, 2020 at 6:27 pm

          Yes, cars and other automotive vehicles are quite useful, and not just for the ignorant and lazy.

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    El Biciclero March 4, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    I’m waiting for officials to collectively throw up their hands and say there’s nothing left to do but ban non-car travel.

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    Jason March 6, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    lurker
    I think you meant “So are you Stanley Kubrick to my Arthur C Clarke?” Interestingly Kubrick and Clarke *worked together* on the screenplay.Recommended 0

    Of course, you are correct.

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