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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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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

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donel a courtneyeawristeRain WatersHello, KittyJohn Liu Recent comment authors
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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.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I don’t disagree with anything you wrote here. The common issue in most cities is a lack of overall funding and a total lack of willpower by elected officials to do what they can do with the means and powers at their disposal, and try to lobby for the things they know they can’t fix. This is true of Portland as well. But Oregon in general and Portland in particular have some unique issues that consistently seem to cripple any ability to fix transportation infrastructure. Specifically the legal hangup that transportation revenue can only be used on transportation projects (very few other states have this issue). But even more specifically that transportation projects can only be funded with transportation-generated funding. Legally it can be funded with money from any source, even in Oregon and Portland, and if it’s a priority, most communities and 49/50 states take money from police and prisons to build highways, but seemingly not in Oregon.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

True, PBoT could use more money. But look at it this way: street design is traditionally looked at as a mutable and uncertain political process or “compromise,” hashed out ostensibly with local input to appease varying interests. Airplanes, airports, gas stations, bikes (excluding the pennyfarthing), cars, bridges, for example, while maybe simpler with less social factors, are designed in very specific ways, primarily for safety, not to appease political interests (737 max notwithstanding). We know how to build a street that has very little chance of killing some one, but we choose not to, regardless of funding. We then pretend that this knowledge–and the inevitable associated injuries/deaths–is less important than, for example, a few parking spaces. Science is essentially ignored. When we ignore science, all we have is the loudest opinions.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

You suggest that safety should dominate over all other interests, which makes sense since that is your interest (and one of mine), while others might believe their interest should be predominant.

Hence the need for “compromise”, or as I think about it, optimizing between competing priorities. I can design a street that is very unlikely to hurt anyone, but it will not perform many of the functions of a modern street very well.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

If I said cars should be designed without rollcages or seatbelts because they add weight, you wouldn’t say well that’s just one of many interests, so let’s let the market decide. It’s a false compromise that pits slight inconveniences (eg parking a few blocks away rather than on street, driving a few more seconds or slightly more circuitous to get to a destination) with inevitable injury or death. Imagine if cars were built like we build roads in the US, with little to no safety considered in design.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Again, you are minimizing the concerns of others, because they are not yours.

If adding roll cages and seatbelts made cars less useful (perhaps by eliminating their ability to carry cargo), or added a huge amount to their cost, I’m sure it would be an issue.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I disagree with you here, Kitty. You’re saying that people will need to die, essentially, so that some people can drive fast – since that is their “concern,” as you put it.

I think safety should be the baseline, and we should build upward from that baseline. Drivers of cars and trucks should get to drive only as fast as what will result in ZERO deaths. But since voices like Kitty’s prioritize “interests” like going fast, those interests are now dominant, and motorists believe they should get places fast rather than everyone get places safely.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Kitty
I suspect you are playing devil’s advocate and are actually not making excuses for the high traffic death numbers. Could you be channeling the trucking and freight interests? For them speed is money and through-put is speed. Freight does not profit from vision zero. The profit from Wide fast roads.
It has been said that everyone who gets Amazon deliveries is complicit in the road carnage. I tend not to dilute blame to that extent. Some might say ODOT is Freight’s handmaiden.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

On the other hand, freight can (and should IMHO) be an integral part of street design. SOV parking does not really serve a public good, but delivery parking serves a wide range of people. Allowing and encouraging FedEx and UPS, for example, to advocate for safe street design with designated drop off locations is a win-win.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

It strikes me that in many cases, parking serves a broader swath of the public than does package delivery. Deliveries generally serve residents only, while parking serves residents and visitors alike.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Fred & Granpa,

What I am saying is that there are many considerations when designing a street. Safety is an important one, but it is not the only one, and there are plenty of things we do that make a street less safe, that are needed for it to function. A simple example is that eliminating all motorized traffic from a street would make it much safer, but not many serious people would consider closing 122nd to cars and trucks and buses, whatever the safety benefits.

How much to weigh competing factors in road design is a quintessential political exercise, just as it is in designing anything else in the public realm.

I do not oppose making roads safer even at the cost of other factors; I am not carrying water for freight or other interest groups. I do however strongly resist calls for excluding the public from the decision making process, even when the outcome is to my liking, because, at some point, the outcomes will stop being to my liking, and I will want a voice.

Therefore, my complaint with eawriste’s post is not the importance they place on safety, but the view that compromise is a bad thing, which is how I read the original post that I was responding to.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Public input is essential to any streetscape. I think the most salient difference in what we are calling “compromise” and what happens is this: The compromises that we make are not explicitly stated, ie we do not say, “Ok, we are all in agreement that we will maintain parking and car capacity and build a standard bike lane. This year we should expect x# of people to die and x# of people to be injured with this design based on similar facilities.” Rather, we pretend that this design might work, counter to all evidence.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I would totally support PBOT providing more information like this. Perhaps that would help people understand what the tradeoffs really were.

Now the reality of it is, in most cases the annual death toll in any given project area is going to be 0 (with a few notable exceptions). Would a predicted once-per-decade event that will (probably) happen to someone else really be convincing?

All that said, given that we are several years into VZ, why doesn’t PBOT routinely give us this sort of data?

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Injuries would be a much easier metric, but past deaths and injuries/deaths related to specific types of infra would also assist. PBoT discontinued providing VZ data, likely for reasons germane to this very topic. Doesn’t help their case when it’s crystal clear they’re failing based on longitudinal fatality data alone.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Are you saying that PBOT itself has a strong enough pro-auto mindset that they’d deliberately not provide safety data to make choosing the more dangerous option palatable?

I’m pretty cynical, but that doesn’t seem like PBOT’s style.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

If you were given a mandate to 1) not significantly affect parking 2) not significantly affect car capacity and 3) build bike infrastructure, would you build nothing in protest pointing to the gold standard design, or build what you could knowing it will be better than the baseline? Would you provide substantive data on how dangerous your design will remain? PBoT is in a very tricky situation.

 
Guest
 

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.

squareman
Subscriber

I love how she says, “and I’ve said this many times, but half of our fatalities are happening on ODOT facilities.” – well, okay, then half the blame, half of those deaths are on PBOT/City of Portland then. MATH!

Christian Samuels
Guest
Christian Samuels

Yep, Eudaly is a “Trump on the left”

X
Guest
X

DT is sui generis. Bad in ways that would be illegal if anyone had been allowed sufficient foresight. When we find out that Chloe went out to cheat at golf while frontline workers attended to an endless stream of virus-stricken citizens, then let’s talk again.

Make a case for any politician in US history more dangerous than the Occupant?

On January 20 I’m going to drink all day and burn stuff all night. Ding dong, etc.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

DT is dangerous because of the power of his office. If he was a Portland city commissioner, he’d be a lot less dangerous, and if Eudaly were president, she’d be a lot more. But fundamentally, the comparisons with DT are based on their narcissistic personalities and inability to work with others, rather than their willingness to cheat.

X
Guest
X

Lacking clinical experience, I don’t use the jargon. However I see Eudaly striving to achieve worthy goals, like speeding up public transportation, with whatever ability she has. She’s not afraid to be the public face of something that arouses hate in a vocal minority.

Trump is a careerist who is would put a pump in *your* spokes to keep his place in the hierarchy. If he had spent time in something like a city council, or the East Multnomah County Soil and Water Commission, he might have been weeded out of consideration for office, or he might actually be of some use. As president he serves only the powerful and will never pay for his breakage.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

“Narcissist” has a well understood meaning outside of psychology, and Eudaly is that.

Many of Eudaly’s goals were worthy, but it takes more than good intentions to be a quality leader. She was not generally effective, and she pissed off a lot more than a vocal minority. Is not like the election was close.

Thomas Pellichor
Guest
Thomas Pellichor

Don’t forget that the publisher of this very blog praised Eudaly all the way up to her lost election. The echo chamber isn’t only eye-rolling, it’s also deadly.

David Hampsten
Guest
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.)

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Thanks David. Jonathan can you verify these numbers? I know it’s a lot of work.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

It’s probably one of those projects best done by a google-docs spreadsheet with several people giving input and JM doing the final editing. Parts of Sam Jackson and Airport Way are actually non-city AND non-ODOT roads. What is the status of Going, Naito or Columbia, state or local? The I-205 path is ODOT but Market Street is city. Powell, Lombard, Barbur, Macadam, and 82nd are ODOT roads, but parts of Sandy and MLK/Grand are city streets. And so on.

qqq
Guest
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.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

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.

You say that like the city isn’t constantly advocating for safer designs on and around ODOT infrastructure. All of 82nd and Powell come to mind. Heck ODOT wouldn’t even allow the city to change speeds on Burnside, a PBOT controlled road, citing the 85th percentile rule even though they acknowledge it’s outdated. How about ODOT forcing PBOT to remove a bike lane on a PBOT controlled road because ODOT allowed the city to install a traffic signal at a nearby intersection on Powell. There’s also the reduced size of bicycle lanes on Rosa Parks specifically around I5. The list goes on and on.

Whether or not her cited number is exaggerated or not it’s pretty clear ODOT is constantly working against the City’s goals to make our roads safer.

qqq
Guest
qqq

I can see how you might think from my comment I’m not aware that the City already does advocate, but I am. I’m also not trying to imply that the heart of the problem isn’t ODOT.

Your “ODOT is constantly working against the City’s goals to make our roads safer” seems totally accurate. It could even be argued that that may be the single main obstacle to making Portland’s streets safer. That would mean the City needs to do even more to fix that problem. It’s wrong for ODOT to put the City in that position, but that’s what ODOT is doing.

My personal experience with some PBOT staff is they immediately go to the “That’s ODOT, not our responsibility” excuse, sometimes even in cases where it’s actually NOT ODOT’s. And when it IS involving an ODOT road, PBOT hasn’t been willing to help me at all.

bjorn
Guest
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
Guest
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
Guest
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.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

To help me better understand, can you give a good example of a decision made by a commissioner in a bureau that is not inherently political, but rather is the sort of technical decision a manager should have made, and is at odds with the decision a good manager would have made? How would that have played out if managers answered directly to city council, rather than a single commissioner?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

In most major US cities, the bureau directors are answerable directly to the appointed city manager, who in turn answers only to the whole city council, the people who appointed him or her. A city manager is typically a professional, often a public works engineer but sometimes a public administrator, the top bureaucrat. Naturally they wield a lot of power. If they are smart, they keep bureau budget details hidden from city councilors (and pretty much everyone else too), but instead direct the staff needed to carry out city council directives.

Portland (and Columbus Ohio) are unusual in that they don’t appoint city managers and assistant city managers, but instead directly elect them to office. (The Mayor of Portland is effectively the city manager in term of their powers, but as Fred rightly points out, they are not often trained very well to do their jobs – usually they are very second-rate.)

No matter which type of system you have, there’s always a lot of room for both improvement and corruption.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

While Hardesty may be the PBOT commissioner, only the mayor has the power to hire or fire the PBOT director and (certain members of) the most senior PBOT staff – technically the PBOT director is really only answerable to the mayor. If there was an appointed city manager, he or she could legally hire or fire nearly anyone within the bureaucracy (in reality most staff have certain legal protections from sudden dismissals.)

citylover
Guest
citylover

The sandwich board and fliers for leaves sounds like Portland of the 90s-early 2000s. I think the lack of sufficient tax revenue to effectively run our government/schools from Sizemore et al have caught up with us. I know it’s popular at the moment to do, but I’m not sure you can pin everything that’s wrong with the city on the Commission-weak Mayor system anymore than you can blame the tax issues we have on the Ballot Measure system: both Progressive (from the 1920s big-P progressive era) in their time, but have led to some great, and not so great outcomes.

El Biciclero
Guest
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?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I’m not sure, but it looks like the already-too-narrow sidewalk may have been blocked by new construction.

John Liu
Guest
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
Guest
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. . . .

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Reminiscing to a time that never existed.

donel a courtney
Guest
donel a courtney

Nah pretty sure the city has gone downhill, look around. Have you been on the 205 path? Noticed the increased traffic on old, unimproved roads with poor sightlines? The entitled, speeding motorists? The trash everywhere? The empty shell of downtown which used to serve as a playgroud for the entire state, that people have just written off? The people with guns in the street protesting whatever it is? The angry young men driving around and shooting each other all over East and NoPo. It’s a new kind of denier, the “everything’s fine” crowd.