by Don MacGillivray

The days when the car was king in the inner city are slowly passing. The nation is becoming more concerned about the safety of our streets and roads in addition to their maintenance and congestion.

Parts of Europe have made great strides in improving road safety even with higher use. In Stockholm, Sweden there are only 1.1 traffic deaths per year per 100,000 residents, a decrease of 30% over the last 20 years.

In Portland, the figure is 6.2 deaths per 100,000 with an average of 62 deaths per year, but it has declined in recent years. Recently the United States Council of Mayors adopted a resolution saying “no loss of life on city streets is acceptable” in an effort to encourage cities to address road safety.

The Vision Zero project started last summer and the drafting of the plan is expected to be completed this September. It will be a plan driven by data, it’s objectives will be measurable, and the results will be reported to the city and the public as they become available. Implementation of the plan will be completed in 2024.

According to data, motor vehicles are involved with 83 percent of accidents, bicyclists 14 percent and pedestrians only 3 percent. Arterials and collector streets are the location of 79 percent of Portland’s accidents.

Even thought bicycles and pedestrians are involved in the least number of accidents, they are most likely to be seriously hurt or killed. Within SE, the east-west arterials are the most dangerous.

Accidents are most likely to happen during the evening rush hours between 3 pm and 7 pm. This is especially true for motorized vehicles as their interaction among of bicycles and pedestrians is so problematic.

The ages most at risk of having accidents are those of the younger generation and people of middle age. Most of the accidents are caused by speeding or the use of alcohol and drugs.

Another significant issue is the design of our street system. When first built, it was impossible to anticipate usage and we still can’t foresee future changes, but with 200,000 new residents coming to Portland in the next 20 years, the changes will be significant.

Lowering the speed limit may make the auto less of a threat to everyone using the road. The risk of a fatality in an auto accident at 10-15 miles per hour (mph) is 2%, at 20-25 mph 5%, at 30-35 mph 45%, and above 40 mph 85%.

An ignition interlock device will be available for those that are known to drive under the influence of alcohol and various road improvements will be examined, but high on the list will be the separation of cars from bicycles and improving pedestrian walkways.

Traffic calming ideas will be used in many locations such as curb extensions and median islands to make streets safer for pedestrians.

Pedestrian-activated flashers at mid-block crossings will be increased along with speed reader boards to remind drivers of their travel speed.

Neighborhood Greenways are another program that may greatly improve safety and makes the experience of walking, biking, riding the bus, and motoring more desirable.

This fits into the Portland Plan’s concept of the 20-Minute Neighborhoods where 90% of residents live within an easy walk or bike ride from the goods and services they need.

Education and awareness plays a critical role in this program along with the use of enforcement efforts. Safety education and publicity will help people to understand changes.

Driver education for new drivers along with more frequent driver testing will be used for those who need it.

Vulnerable populations are twice as likely to be involved in accidents. All Portland residents, from the oldest to the youngest as well as those with physical disabilities must be able to move safely.

The life and health of Portland’s residents are our highest priority. Children, the elderly, people of color and people in low-income communities face a disproportionate risk of traffic injuries and fatalities as do pedestrians and bicyclists.

In 2014, half of the people who died in crashes in Portland were pedestrians. The majority of crashes between bicyclists and drivers occur at or within 50 feet of an intersection.

Portland Bureau of Transportation is committed to using new techniques and technology for optimizing traffic signals to improve the safety and efficiency of the transportation system.

An effective enforcement initiative will include Portland Bureau of Transportation and Portland Police developing shared safety objectives and implementation strategies, as well as expanding the use of speed cameras, cameras at red lights and photo radar especially at dangerous locations.

Working from home via the internet reduces the need to commute by car. While the prevailing thought is that saving lives is expensive, in actuality saving lives is much less expensive when compared to the cost of a life lost.

To learn more about Vision Zero there will be a panel discussion with Metro Councilor Bob Stacy and four local experts at the Metro Regional Center at 600 NE Grand Ave. Tuesday, May 10, from Noon to 1 pm. 

The panel will discuss best practices of implementation road safety from the information learned at the recent 2016 Vision Zero Cities Conference.