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Traffic fatalities surge, decrease from last year shrinks
Three people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Portland in the first three days of July, part of a recent deadly surge that slowed the progress the city is making on fulfilling its Vision Zero pledge.
Two weeks ago, the number of people killed in crashes had dropped almost in half from last year. By June 28, only 12 people had died on Portland streets this year compared to 23 by then in 2016.
But then seven people were killed in the five days between June 29 and July 3, including five motorists and two pedestrians.
By the end of the extended Fourth of July holiday weekend, the difference between the two years was less than 25 percent — 19 fatalities in 2017 compared to 24 by the same time last year.
"It was a tragic holiday weekend and a couple of extra days, that's for sure," says Portland Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
The increase highlights the difficulties of achieving the meeting the Vision Zero goal of eliminating all fatal and serious injuries crashes by 2020. The City Council adopted the goal in July 2015 and approved a Vision Zero Action Plan with 32 recommendations for meeting it late last year. A number of the recommendations are already being enacted. They include lower speed limits and installing cameras that issue speeding tickets on high-crash corridors, such as Southeast Division Street and 122nd Avenue.
And the 2017 Oregon Legislature gave Portland the authority to reduce speed limits on streets within the city limits to 20 miles per hour without seeking state approval.
"I still think we're making progress, and we will use the new authority to lower speed limits where it makes sense," says Saltzman.
But the sudden increase in fatalities show just how unpredictable they can be. They were almost all completely different from each other:
Two people in separate cars were killed on North Columbia Boulevard when one turned on front the other on June 29. One person died when a semi-truck hit two vehicles on Northeast Marine Drive on June 30. A man stepping out of his parked car on Northeast 122nd Avenue was hit and killed by a passing motorist on July 1. Two people died in separate crashes when their vehicles hit stationary objects in Northeast Portland on July 3. That same day, a man suffering a mental health crisis was hit and killed after breaking away from friends and running into traffic on Southeast 122nd Avenue.
Some factors identified in the Vision Zero Action plan were present in some of the crashes, however. They including speeding, driving under the influence of intoxicants, and improper lane changes. And three of them occurred on high-speed corridors in East Portland which have been targeted for safety improvements.
"In six days, seven people have been killed on Portland's roads. This is deeply saddening. The majority of these crashes were in East Portland, continuing the troubling trend of a higher crash rate in this part of the city. We know that the roads in East Portland are among the most dangerous in the city, and that is why we are focusing many of our Vision Zero safety efforts in this area," says PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera.
According to Saltzman, staff at the Portland Police Bureau's Traffic Division and PBOT's Vision Zero program review all fatal and serious injury crashes to determine their causes and develop strategies for reducing them.
"Distractions, impairment and speed are still the leading causes of crashes. If we could do away with them, we'd come very close to achieving our goal," says Saltzman,
To read an earlier Portland Tribune story on 2017 fatalities, go to tinyurl.com/yadx447p.