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Metro: Region is failing to meet transportation safety goals

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.


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
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