BikePortland.org

Portland region faces tragic spike in road user fatalities

A 1.8-mile stretch of SE Stark has seen four deaths since July.

Graphic by BikePortland with data from Portland Police Bureau.

Despite our Vision Zero plans, projects, and proclamations, the Portland region is failing to curb traffic deaths. The City of Portland and Multnomah and Washington counties are grappling with alarming spikes and fatality trends in 2020 — even with a major traffic reduction due to the pandemic and with four more weeks left in the year.

The Portland Police Bureau announced over the weekend that 27-year-old Daniel Lopez-Herrera died in the hospital on Friday. On November 17th just before 7:00 pm, Lopez-Herrera was walking in the painted crosswalk on SE Stark at 160th (in photo above). That location is a well-known danger spot and Lopez-Herrara was using a crossing treatment that was installed just two years ago. Despite this “safer” crossing, he was struck by someone driving a car. The driver didn’t stop to render aid and police are still trying to find them. Lopez-Herrera left behind a wife and three young kids who are devastated by the loss of their father.

SE Stark Street between 122nd and 160th is wide, straight, and deadly.

According to our tracker, Lopez-Herrera is the 50th person to die while using Portland streets so far this year. This equals our 2019 total, which was the highest number of fatalities recorded by the City of Portland since 1997. Four people have died on a 1.8-mile stretch of SE Stark Street in the past four months.

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Zoom out to the county level and the picture looks just bad.

Communications Director for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Chris Liedle says fatalities are up 41% so far in 2020 compared to 2019. According to Liedle, the East County Vehicular Crimes Team (ECVCT) — a specially trained unit with members from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Gresham Police Department and Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office that investigates serious and fatal vehicle crimes and crashes in Gresham, Fairview, Maywood Park, Troutdale, Wood Village and unincorporated Multnomah County — has recorded 24 deaths this year. Between 2016 and 2019 the ECVCT recorded 14 fatalities per year on average.

“Multnomah County has seen an increase in traffic fatalities on our roads this year,” County spokesman Mike Pullen shared this morning. “It seems counterintuitive, because we know there are less drivers on the road this year due to the pandemic… These grim fatality statistics should remind all of us that we need to use caution and obey traffic laws if we want to get home safely.”

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Source: Washington County Sheriff’s Office

Last week the Washington County Sheriff’s Office released a statement saying November, “Has been a particularly dangerous month.” The statement was spurred by six fatal crashes in 19 days. The most recent one on November 25th happened when a man driving a Dodge Caravan hit and killed 79-year-old Carol Goeden while she walked across a street in North Plains. It happened at a quiet intersection and the driver stopped at a stop sign prior to the collision. “The van’s windshield may not have been fully defrosted at the time, obscuring the driver’s view,” said the Sheriff’s Office, who cited the driver for careless driving and driving without a license.

Statewide numbers also paint a grim picture. Despite hundreds of thousands of fewer trips due to the pandemic Oregon is on pace for one of its deadliest years on record. As of today 439 people have died on Oregon roads, just 2% lower than the total at this time last year. Despite a stated focus on safety, the yearly trends are headed in the wrong direction. Between 2012 and 2015 an average of 332 Oregonians died on our roads. Between 2016 and 2019 Oregon averaged 436 traffic fatalities per year — a 31% increase from the previous four-year period.

These numbers should be a wake-up call to agencies, elected officials, policymakers and advocates. As I shared last month, we are saying and doing a lot to address this issue, but it’s not nearly enough. It’s time to get uncomfortable and do bigger — potentially more controversial things — to address this public health and safety crisis.

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