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Grim final week of 2020 pushes traffic deaths to record levels

Posted by on January 4th, 2021 at 3:22 pm

Arterial streets in east Portland continued to claim lives over the holiday break. Five people died while using streets east of Interstate 205 between December 12th and New Year’s Day, pushing our annual total to 56*, the highest number since 1996.

According to our preliminary numbers (yet to be verified with the Portland Police Bureau or Portland Bureau of Transportation), automobile users were involved in 50 of the 56 crashes. The 2020 toll included 2 people killed while sleeping (one on a sidewalk, the other in a parking lot), 5 people killed while bicycling, 8 people killed while riding a motorcycle, 22 killed while driving an automobile, and 19 killed while walking.

Two days before Christmas, Portland Police say a 41-year-old man was walking in the bike lane on Northeast Halsey near 119th when he was hit and killed by someone driving a car. The driver didn’t stop. The location is just a few blocks east of the city’s recently completed Halsey-Weidler Streetscape project that brought protected bike lanes to the Gateway commercial couplet — but left a dangerous gap between 112th and 122nd.

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Screen grabs from KOIN TV story.

Street lighting guidelines from PBOT Vision Zero 2-Year Update (2019).

In a KOIN-TV story on the crash, a local man says a lack of street lighting might have been to blame. According to PBOT, the location fails to meet the city’s street lighting guidelines which call for every street wider than 48-feet to have lights on both sides.

On New Year’s Eve, just two-a-half miles south of that location a man driving drunk hit and killed 51-year-old Catherine Randolph as she tried to walk across SE 122nd near Tibbetts.

And less than 12 hours later on New Year’s Day, just a dozen blocks away on SE Division and 112th, 19-year-old Daniel Martinez died after he crashed his car into a pole.

We need to do much more than hope that 2021 has less bloodshed in store.

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Chart: BikePortland

Of particular concern in 2020 was how the number of deaths continued an upward trend — especially for people not inside cars and trucks. The number of vulnerable road users killed in 2020 was 34 (compared to 22 car users), that’s the largest number since at least 1996 (the earliest year we have numbers for at this time). Another troubling statistic is that 19 people died while walking (not including two people who were run over and killed while sleeping). This continues a trend of higher walking fatality numbers that began in 2017. In that year we also had 19 walking deaths, which was the highest since at least 1996. Since 2017 the number has remained high with 16, 17, and 19 deaths respectively.

In one of her final interviews before leaving office, former Portland transportation commissioner Chloe Eudaly was asked by Oregon Public Broadcasting whether there was anything she left undone at PBOT. Eudaly repeated her claim that the State of Oregon is largely to blame: “I know people like to criticize Vision Zero and think that it’s a failed program because we haven’t seen a dramatic reduction in traffic fatalities. And I’ve said this many times, but half of our fatalities are happening on ODOT facilities.” (Note: We are working to fact-check that claim, but an initial analysis of recent deaths does not appear to back it up.)

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And 12 days prior to that story, Eudaly spread more blame around in a story from Willamette Week:

Eudaly points to a persistent problem, what she terms the “glacial pace” of the city procurement process.

“Despite significant investments from PBOT in traffic safety improvements, without a commitment from other bureaus and the Oregon Department of Transportation, and inadequate enforcement from PPB, traffic fatalities continue to rise,” Eudaly tells WW. “Radar cameras are an effective, nonbiased and safe approach to traffic enforcement.”

Whatever the cause, these deaths are likely to continue unless we change course. Hopefully new PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty will accept responsibility for this public health crisis and make it a higher priority at City Hall.

*The Portland Police Bureau says 58 people died in 2020. I’m working to confirm the numbers and will clarify everything once our records request is fulfilled.

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

We know how to solve this problem. We know the conditions most crashes occur. We have the research to prevent these conditions. We have the research to build the safest designs. But for a decade the mayor, city council and PBOT continue to prioritize car capacity and parking over safe street design. Instead of focusing on PBLs, they focused on painting sharrows on residential streets. Sandy, East Broadway, Williams/Vancouver, Hawthorne, 11th/12th, 122nd, all continue to prioritize cars. Consequently, each year more people die and the bike modal share stagnates. The manner in which streets are designed is completely broken.

 
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Jesus christ, Eudaly. Now resorting to blatant lies to try to make herself look better. What a failure of leadership. I won’t ever be able to support her for any public office again after her absolutely shambolic display since losing re-election. Reminds me of a certain someone in DC.

But anyways, five of these recent fatalities have been on arterials in East Portland. There should be no more investment for the over-invested Inner Eastside, whatsoever, until Southwest and East Portland are brought up to remotely-serviceable safety standards. That means HAWK beacons and median islands at every potentially-dangerous dangerous crossing, and continuous sidewalks on all arterials and collectors.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

From the 2020 BP list of fatalities, I count 18/56 (32%) intersecting state roads. There are 4 others (7%) on MLK/Grand, but are they now city streets or still ODOT roads? (A road having a state highway number doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s state-owned and maintained – parts of MLK are city as is Sandy up until 105th.) At least 23/56 (41%) were in or on the edge of East Portland. Only about 6 (11%) were strictly on state highways – the rest either intersected city streets or were entirely on city streets.

The numbers for 2019, I count 17/51 (33%) intersecting state roads + 2 (4%) on MLK/Grand. 5/51 (10%) were entirely within ODOT right of way. 19/51 (37%) were in or on the edge of East Portland.

East Portland (EPCO) has almost exactly 20% of the city area and roughly 32% of the city population. It’s the part of the city east of 82nd from the county line north to Division, then east of I-205 north of there, to the Gresham city line (162nd, 175th, & 185th in various parts.)

qqq
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qqq

The “those happened on ODOT roads” excuse doesn’t impress me. If a significant number of deaths on roads in Portland are on ODOT roads, then that’s an issue the City needs to address. The City has an obligation to make sure that people can get from one spot to another safely within Portland. Since you often can’t get from one spot to another without at least crossing an ODOT road, if the ODOT road isn’t safe then the City needs to take steps to get ODOT to remedy that.

bjorn
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bjorn

This is definitely a big part of Chloe’s legacy. She said all the right things, but she wasn’t really willing to push for safety in a way that matched her rhetoric.

Jon
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Jon

These deaths appear to be the result of impairment (drubs/alcohol) and speed. I’m not sure what you can do to dissuade people from driving drunk unless you decide to enforce traffic laws. Based on the actions of our city government in 2020 law enforcement was not a priority. If folks find there are no consequences for breaking traffic laws they tend to continue breaking said laws. Just take a look at phone use during driving. Every time I I’m riding I see lot of drivers continuing to hold a phone and talk while driving. There are expensive fines for this but since we don’t have any officers enforcing traffic laws the only way you will get caught is if you crash your car and damage it so badly that you can’t drive it away from the scene. We need a lot more enforcement via officers or automated cameras or this death rate will continue to increase.

Fred
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Fred

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the outmoded commission-style system of gov’t in Portland is killing people. Portlanders need to kill this system before it kills us – it’s the root cause of every problem in this city.

I was riding my bike in Beaverton a month ago, in a nicely swept bike lane, and passed one of those sandwich-board signs on a sidewalk. I stopped to see what it was about and was shocked to discover that it was a place for Beavertonians to get information about leaf removal from their streets! The sandwich-board even had a little plastic compartment containing fliers, which you could take home to remind yourself of where to drop off leaves, thereby keeping your streets and sidewalks clean and safe.

The city of Portland can’t keep the streets clean, can’t facilitate leaf disposal (which is why Portlanders rake, sweep, and blow their leaves into the streets and especially the bike lanes), can’t provide sidewalks, or storm-water removal, or even pavement (mostly in SW and E Portland), or lighting. It took the city almost a hundred years to agree to provide ped and bike facilities on SW Capitol Hwy – a project now delayed by the pandemic.

It all goes back to Portland’s ridiculous, BS, amateur-hour gov’t, where we elect amateurs to do the jobs of pros and then wonder why nothing works here.

El Biciclero
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El Biciclero

…local man says a lack of street lighting might have been to blame.

I’d put at least some of the blame on too much driving in the bike lane… Was the victim just walking along in the bike lane instead of using the sidewalk, or returning to the driver’s side of their parked car?

John Liu
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John Liu

Crime and violence of many sorts are at record levels. Shooting, vandalism, break-ins, you name it. EaPo streets didn’t suddenly become more dangerous, ill-lit, over-wide, etc than they already were. Look for the common denominator(s). I think absence of law enforcement is one.

Rain Waters
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Rain Waters

In 15 years from awesome place to ride to a freakin meat grinder with billions wasted on administrative infrastructure.

GFY selves some more. . . .