Calling it an especially “unusual and tragic” year, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has released its annual review of traffic crashes. Among PBOT’s findings is that Black people made up 10 of the 54 recorded deaths, or 18.5% — more than three times their representation in Portland’s population (6%).
The 9-page report is part of Portland’s Vision Zero commitment to analyze and assess the where/how/when/why/whom of traffic fatalities. Unlike their statement in January that urged “caution and wellness,” and tried to put a positive spin on the highest number of road deaths since 1996, this report offered a more sobering view.
“PBOT recognizes that 2020 was a tragic year of loss and continues to stay committed to eliminating traffic fatalities,” it reads.
And while January’s statement said, “The year 2020 defied historic trends,” this report acknowledges that 2020’s increase in traffic deaths, “extends a trend that began locally and nationally after 2010.”
As for why we saw a spike in deaths, PBOT singled-out street design as a key factor. Speed, impairment, and “dangerous behaviors” were also listed. According to their analysis, 57% of traffic deaths occurred on the city’s High Crash Network, a list of the top 30 streets and intersections where deaths are most likely. This list includes just 8% of Portland’s total street network.
65% of the deaths took place in low-income communities of color. Combined with the disproportionate impact on Black Portlanders we mentioned above, this underscores the urgency of PBOT’s work with the Multnomah County Health Department to embrace a racial equity and public health approach to future investments and policymaking.
This year’s report also included a chart (at right) showing how 911 calls for traffic crashes dropped sharply compared to 2019 levels after stay-home-orders were first given March. The calls spiked up in May and have tracked closely to previous years ever since.
Of the 54 people included in PBOT’s tally, the median age was 36 and ages ranged from 1 to 81 years. 38 of the deaths were male and 14 were female. Twenty of the fatal crashes were on state-owned roads and 8 deaths happened on freeways.
54 deaths in our streets is a terrible number and shows how far we have to go to reach zero by 2025. But it’s worth noting that the actual number of people who died on Portland streets is higher than the official tally from PBOT.
The Portland Police Bureau recorded 58 total fatalities (according to information we received in a public records request). We have 59 on our tracker. The discrepancies exist because PBOT adheres to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reporting criteria that excludes deaths that are intentional (suicide and homicide), don’t involve a motor vehicle (car), are the result of a prior medical event, occur more than 30 days after the crash, or that happen in a parking lot.
This means official counts won’t include:
— 47-year-old Trecell Stinson who was killed by a driver on January 24th while sleeping on the ground in the parking lot of an apartment complex in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood on SE 92nd.
— 22-year-old Addison Loda who was on foot when he died in a collision with a MAX train operator on SW Yamhill Street on June 20th.
— A 35-year-old woman whose death while walking on the I-5/Interstate Bridge in September was ruled by the PPB an intentional act.
— A 50-year-old woman who died after she was crushed to death between a semi trailer and loading dock while walking in the parking lot of a freight company on Swan Island on MAy 14th.
We have four years to eliminate these tragedies. The trendlines are not good and something must change. Soon.
View the report here (PDF).
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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” PBOT singled-out street design as a key factor.” What is to be done when changes to street design are met with mistrust and are pushed back by members of the communities that are disproportionately affected? The 7th avenue plan and the Lloyd-to-Woodlawn Neighborhood Greenway project come to mind. I don’t mean this rhetorically. It seems that a lot of righting of past wrongs and a different approach entirely would need to happen to make these design changes successful. Successful being ones that are truly embraced by the neighborhoods they’re made in as well as actually preventing death and injury.
Tragic, yes, but not “unusual,” at least compared to 2019, or, really, with any year other than 2018, which itself seems anomalous. Auto deaths are the same as 2019, motorcycle deaths ticked down, and pedestrian and bike deaths are (sadly) on the same general trendline that they’ve been on since 2010.
We’ve got a clear problem, and our VisionZero interventions (if there have actually been any) have proven totally ineffective.
I’m curious if (and this isn’t a loaded question; I don’t know the answer) a lower percentage or possibly higher percentage of deaths and serious injuries have occurred on roads that have been subject to recent redesigns. In other words, have our recent Vision Zero innovations helped, done nothing, or actually harmed safety?
Chris Warner should resign, and PBoT needs an audit of street designs that have directly led to death/injury. Hawthorne perfectly encapsulates how PBoT 1) misleads public on the effects of a design 2) garners support for a preconceived design that prioritizes car capacity and parking and 3) perpetuates lower modal share and higher death/injury. PBoT is a failing institution.
Maybe PBOT needs to re-elevate safety to be their top priority.
EDIT: As soon as I clicked Submit I realized we didn’t get better results when it was their top priority.
Portland, much like most of the rest of the USA, is a city of “missed opportunities”, rapidly becoming a low-status community. It seems to keep trying to operate like a small city of 350,000, with staff of small horizons, rather than a major city of 650,000 that thinks big. Long gone are the days of valiant and innovative city planners who risk their jobs to transform the city – now everyone is in their own little shell, trying to avoid getting laid off, waiting for retirement.
I’m pretty darn cynical about biking and PBOT sometimes (it’s sort of needed in my job), but I’m not feeling the vibe of your comment. Regardless of how I feel about a politician or agency leader, I think calling for people to resign is a bit over-the-top unless they’ve like committed some sort of crime or lied about something. Not only is it uncalled for IMO, it’s just rude.
And while I have some peeves about Hawthorne and I think PBOT made some very serious process errors and the whole thing reveals some concerning things about PBOT, the advocacy community, and so on — I think from a work product perspective the agency actually did some really good analysis. I feel like a lot of folks in that building wanted to find a way to make the bike lanes work but given bureaucratic and political constraints, they just couldn’t make it happen on that specific project.
I respect your sentiments but lashing out at Warner and PBOT like this just doesn’t feel right to me. Maybe it’s because of the wild week I’ve been through personally and professionally with the whole comment section saga. Maybe a different tone will move things forward faster. I don’t know. Just wanted to share. Thanks for your work and comments.
Perhaps we can both agree that a fundamental change needs to happen in PBoT, and that the status quo has not worked for a decade? When and how do we hold PBoT accountable?
I think we may disagree on “rudeness.” Public figures, elected or not, nice or not, should be held accountable for their results. Remember, Portland is the only city that has had a significant decline in modal share, along with a record road death rate (57 in 2020). Those indicators are very telling. Chris Warner has been the director for several years and assistant director since 2016. When an organization, regardless of what type, has a failing record for as long as PBoT has, it is time to remove its leadership.
Quick note: sorry, I wasn’t following the comments on comments article this week, and hope this doesn’t make it any worse ;). I can’t imagine how stressful managing comments can be.
I agree with much about what you are saying earwriste, my comment was only to step back and consider tactics and tone. Given where the tenor of debate and politics and activism is in the US right now, where we had a fricking insurrection and there’s serious intel on people who want to assassinate Biden and members of Congress, I just don’t feel like “time to remove leadership” is a good thing to be saying. One thing I’ve learned is that style often overshadows substance.
Ok yeah I see what you’re saying. Perhaps, during normal (non-pandemic, non-violent milia) times it would be easier to simply say, “We need new leadership,” without implying any violence or hyperbole. Man I miss normal times.
I’m trying to say PBoT’s means for evaluating and implementing projects leads to predictable outcomes, regardless of opposition/support. When safe design elements are nearly always precluded by traffic counts and the assumption that car capacity must be maintained, not reduced, then we will nearly always end up with stagnating modal share and increase in injury/death. That outcome is a direct result of policy and actions at PBoT administration. I see no reason to accept that without wanting a change in said policy and administration.
From the report:
“The increase in traffic deaths in Portland extends a trend that began locally and nationally after 2010 (see Figure 4). Street design continues to be a factor in many traffic deaths that occur in Portland. In 2020, 57% of traffic deaths occurred on the High Crash Network (see map below in Figure 5). This indicates that continued investment in this network is important in preventing traffic deaths and serious injuries. Recent crash data trends confirm that continued focus on speed, impairment, dangerous behaviors, and street design is critical in eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries. Recent crash data trends confirm that continued focus on speed, impairment, dangerous behaviors, and street design is critical in eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries.”
Other than this vague paragraph, PBOT does not indicate what they are doing or will proactively do to reduce the crash rate. They are just passively reporting information. So I must say I see eawriste’s point – one would expect the agency in charge of designing and building most of Portland’s streets should also be reporting on how they are going to fix those same streets given adequate city investment. But instead I see a passive report – gee wiz, lots of people died, we need more money – and no guts.
So JM, how would you fix this situation?
Well it is just a specific kind of report David. The idea is to just recap 2020 deaths and it follows a pretty basic template. I don’t think it’s the place they would list out a bunch of policy steps and recommendations. They have other more strategic docs and reports for that type of stuff.
I really don’t think PBOT lacks the ability or the tools to do what’s necessary. I think what we’re missing is the right public/political/advocacy/leadership ecosystem to be bold and pursue a strong vision with the type of unity and mutually respectful coalitions it will take to get there. We’re so fragmented right now with PBOT being defensive and not having a big transportation advocacy group hitting on all cylinders and a media outlet (hi!) that has not always done the right things to unify and build the community, and with schisms in the activism scene.
And if we want to “fix this situation” it won’t — and shouldn’t — be guys like me leading the charge. I can hold down my little corner of things, but we need different leaders with different backgrounds being empowered to reform the system.
I’m hopeful Commissioner Hardesty and her staff, working with advocates, can help put this together. Going to take a lot of work to find a vision and then do the organizing it takes to rally around it. I’m here for it. I’m constantly sharpening my tools of amplification and education. Everyone has something they can bring to the table. We need everyone to gird for battle as soon as the marching orders come out. The problem is I just don’t see any marching orders nor do I see the person/group who might issue them! Time will tell.
JM, it’s not just a recap – they are asking for more money, several times, but they aren’t saying how it will be used. And of course their budget is being cut, as revenues for PBOT have declined. In addition, the visual propaganda they are employing is distorting: Figure 4 shows that while Portland’s crash rate is rapidly trending upward, it’s still well below the national rate. Why would any city as small and compact as Portland compare themselves to a national rate, and not to similar cities or the state rate? Do they figure the people reading this report are morons?
I don’t think replacing Chris Warner is the answer. It seems reactionary. It may feel good to say but really won’t us help us attain the goals we want. Part of the problem with Portland is our weak mayoral system which puts council members in charge of bureaus in which they have little experience or knowledge and they change frequently. The last thing we need to be doing is changing the bureau directors “willy nilly”. I hope we can move to a city manager system where we have dedicated professionals not politicians in control of the various city departments. I know Mingus Mapps is supportive of a city manager system.
I’ve heard others argue for the same, but it has never been clear why a city manager would improve things. What would a city manager be able to accomplish that our current system cannot?
One ramification of such a change is that commissioners would not be able to “go deep” with a particular bureau, and I fear a city manager system would simply transfer power from elected officials to unelected appointees, making out city less accountable. Why wouldn’t that happen?
I am open to learning more, and am ready to be convinced.
Here’s a link to Mingus Mapps page on charter reform in Portland. One section is devoted to our management structure. Main point is that the weak mayoral system has commissioners competing and focusing on their own bureaus rather than the being concerned with the city as a whole. And it arguably encourages micromanaging by commissioners.
Traffic violence is a massive problem and “dangerous behavior” on the part of drivers is a routine part of my week on my commute to and from work. Just last night, at SE Hawthorne and 7th, a location noted as high crash by PBOT and where I’ve been threatened before by drivers, I again felt my life was on the line.
A driver who had taken up the bike box on northbound 7th while at a red light was not pleased when I performed the recommended two-stage left turn and informed them they were in the bike box. As they took off speedily with the green light they verbally engaged me, and I returned the favor letting them know they had been in the bike box. As often happens with drivers in a hurry, they met another red light at Madison as I trailed behind on the bike lane. They then put their car in reverse (as indicated by the white lights that came on next to their brake lights) and slightly backed up as I entered the parking lot adjacent to the bike lane fearing an intentional act was about to be committed by the driver. They may have noticed I had my GoPro on, they backed up slightly more but then took their car out of reverse when I accused them of threatening me. They then continued northbound on 7th driving the speed limit and made a right turn onto Taylor and into the US Post Office parking lot. I lurked through a parking lot just south of the Post Office parking lot and made a right turn onto Taylor as well. The driver saw me from afar and called me a “little bitch”. I proceeded east and monitored their activity noting that they stayed in the parking lot another minute or so. It was clear they were not going into the post office at 7 pm. They ultimately exited the parking lot (perhaps when I was out of their view) and headed west on Taylor and out of my view.
Why do I bring this up?
1. Traffic/motorist/driver violence ought not be something we only consider when someone dies or is maimed. As was discussed at the TREC presentation today, the subjective fears of folks on bikes and those walking and rolling is just as important and valid as actual physical harm. The incident I experienced last night is hardly unique to me or that part of Portland. Obviously, Black folks in outer parts of Portland are targeted even more.
2. “Subtle” transgressions like vehicular invasion of crosswalks, bike boxes and other rights of way are traffic violence. Revving/accelerating by is another example.
3. If PBOT and our leaders do not fix our infrastructure diseases the public health crisis of traffic violence will continue to get worse. Anything short of a holistic approach to infrastructure reform is an abdication of duty.
SE Hawthorne is in the middle of name free space in the inner SE. It seems to me that there is a gap between rhetoric about “traffic violence” and the geographic focus of some transportation safety advocates/activists.
I don’t always agree with you soren, but I think you are spot on here. There’s that nice-looking void of fatalities in inner SE, and yet that’s where most of the activist focus always seems to be.
As I’ve said multiple times in this comment forum, I think that precisely zero funds should be allocated to any projects in inner SE until streets in East Portland and Southwest (which is so hostile to active transportation that nobody even attempts to do so for fear of their lives) can be brought up to a remotely-acceptable status.
i don’t always agree with myself either. the responses to my participation here often makes me feel like a pariah but my participation comes from a desire for altruism and from self abnegation (i almost never advocate for things that would benefit **ME** personally on bike portland).
I agree to some extent. They recently replaces all of the pedestrian ramps a the intersection of SE 6th and SE Stark. The old ramps were not perfect, but they were functional. I think the priority should be building ramps where none exist and filling gaps in the sidewalk network before we upgrade ramps from 85% to 100%. Note that they did not create curb extensions or diverters and this was not a component of a paving project- they just ripped out the old curb ramps and built new ones.
However, there are a number of gaps in the bike network. PBOT built so much of the bike network by focusing on low-hanging fruit and trying to piggyback on other projects so that the network is riddled with deficiencies. Our bike network is mix of gold-plated segments and shoestring & bubblegum segments with plenty of locations where it just vanishes for a stretch. This can work OK for veteran cyclists or along daily routes, but we will never ever ever inc crease ride share with good segments lone. We need a complete network. Yes, it must include East Portland and SW, but we need to also focus on filling gaps and connecting safely to destinations (schools, job centers, shopping streets, etc)
Zero as an absolute number is only a rudimentary understanding of the policy. I think that presentation is a disservice to people who are receptive and bait to the people who are hostile. We can do better.
At the next level, we should acknowledge that we cannot prevent black swans like the recent Buckman rampage or that even an unlimited budget would not retrofit every lane mile of city streets by 2025. Zero is simply the acceptable number of deaths as a consequence of decisions made going forward.
It would be nice if every city bureau was like that, but I’d settle for consistency from PBOT at this point.
At a higher level, there needs to be a bigger picture. Removing people is as compliant with Zero as it is malicious. It doesn’t align with the city’s goals of mode shift and it isn’t justice. We need policy to be human.
Should we look at increasing enforcement? The current approach does not seem to be working.
It took me my whole life to grasp the concept of “multi-factorial” causation without a “proximate cause” or a “catalyst”—things people are naturally drawn toward searching for. Enforcement had, and should again have a role to play, not the primary role, but a role. At my Moms house in Oatfield, Clackamas, the drivers are better behaved.
And have they really done anything? I mean besides some restriping and some plasticy things on bike lanes? I mean—has any big time concrete been actually poured with bikes and pedestrian usage as the primary goal. They redid Foster by my house and the result is STILL pedestrian unfriendly. It’s better, but the sidewalks are still narrow(ish) and still between 83rd and 89th, there’s only one pedestrian crossing.
I don’t see any new bike trails. I don’t see barely any new crossings for pedestrians given the huge need for them.
In Seattle and San Francisco cars are required to stop at almost every intersection either with a stop sign or signal.
During broad daylight (lord forbid at night) I took a walk on the other side of Lents, there are no sidewalks anywhere I walked. Because it had rained if you wanted to move from one subdivision to another with the dastardly layout there you have to walk on 112th or Harold and the narrow gravel roadsides are full of puddles so you have to walk in the road with not a single other pedestrian anywhere and a bunch of surprised drivers who I imagine ask “why is this fool walking here?” SoI turned around and walked back over 205 to the land of sanity—and by that I mean sidewalks.
The inner east side industrial is no cake walk either. If you want to walk for a mile in any direction there almost all of your crossings are a scramble as cars don’t have signals or stop signs.
Hey Don, I’m very familiar with the area you’re talking about. The Foster road redesign also illustrates PBoT’s approach quite well. I remember seeing Nick Falbo’s PBL design and being optimistic that families would be able to ride on Foster one day. Keep in mind that concrete would be entirely unnecessary in creating safe protected intersections along Foster. Bollards and paint and a few planters would have transformed that street overnight. Then PBoT decided to maintain parking and design the street with unprotected bike lanes.
Many safety advocates have waited for a decade and held faith that PBoT is simply waiting for a leader and their safe design elements will immediately spring forth. I am skeptical of this hope. The process of evaluating a street has been so centered on traffic counts and parking that it is now an expected pattern. Instead of providing a safe place for all modes, safe design elements such as protected bike lanes are often precluded at the outset by various reasons (eg transit delay) that very often simply boil down to car capacity.
It is very possible that even IF a commissioner arises, who believes safety of all modes should be the first priority in street design, PBoT’s policy will still prioritize maintaining car capacity and parking (perhaps we saw a hint of this on Hawthorne). Avoiding research on safe street design as policy is a safe administrative decision, one that only disappoints a small minority of people who care about safe streets, and one that has no impetus for change.
I think they misunderstand what “tragic” means. Tragedy is when (often due to ignorance) forces outside your control cause harm, and entail both a transition from ignorance to knowledge and a reversal of the protagonist’s fate. a tragedy is relying on a shady accountant while that accountant takes your money, and the moment of epiphany when you wake up and understand what has happened, and that the consequences (bankruptcy, homelessness, etc) can’t be changed.
PBOT, through their policies and inaction (calling the number of deaths a tragedy when those deaths are the result of actions, directly or indirectly, that could have been foreseen by agencies such as PBOT and ODOT) is a way of minimizing their responsibility and is good cover for not taking corrective action now.
We are not ignorant. we know the choices we made have put us in this situation. The map highlights obvious racial and socio-economic disparities (who is killed and where). It is not a tragedy. it is a consequence of the systemic racist and classist attitude about what matters less: black and brown lives, and the lives of people in lower-socio-economic conditions.
If we – as a society – cared, this could be changed – and given that change is possible underscores the fact that this is not a tragedy. To pretend it is a tragedy rather than a failure of those who have a duty to serve (i.e. public sector employees), is a grave disservice.
It’s probably worth remembering that the dangerous streets of E Portland were built for a primarily white audience; if they were a product of racist attitudes, it was anti-white racism. More likely, they were built according to the design philosophy of the day, which is what always happens. E Portland is, in effect, an early inner suburb of Portland, and its layout (and consequent problems) reflects that.
The fact that PBOT has not rebuilt the street network in E Portland is likely to less a product of racism, and more a reflection on the staggering cost to do that, and the likelihood that those who live there don’t want their main travel corridors narrowed and slowed (I’m happy to look at evidence that they do).
I think the problems are less about whose lives are valued, and more about a very complex web of challenges combined with limited resources. (This is the same reason why SW Portland still has no sidewalks… i.e. not racism.)
“Limited resources” is a convenient answer/excuse whenever authorities don’t want to do something. Even if you believe people don’t want their travel corridors narrowed (which I’m not sure I do – especially because people in those communities are the ones who are dying), that does not take away from the duty or responsibilities of elected officials and administrators. If City Council, PBOT and ODOT wanted to exercise leadership on the issue, they’d take action (because it is the right thing to do, even if it is unpopular) to curb fatalities. so, then, why aren’t they?