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Vision Zero gains wiped out by surge in fatalities
A recent surge in traffic fatalities has stalled the progress Portland has been making on meeting its
Vision Zero safety goal.
Ten people have been killed in the last three weeks on city streets. At press time, the most recent fatality was a woman hurt in a July 14 hit-and-run crash in Southeast Portland who passed away Monday.
In late June, the number of people killed in crashes was down by almost half from last year. But as of July 13, the difference had been eliminated — 25 people have died on Portland streets so far this year, the same as this point in 2016.
"This is deeply saddening," Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera said even before the most recent fatality.
Any decrease would be potentially significant. Fatalities have increased two years in a row in Portland, jumping from 26 in 2014 to 37 in 2015 and 44 last year. And traffic fatalities are increasing nationally, too.
But the recent increase highlights the difficulties of achieving the Vision Zero goal of eliminating all fatal and serious-injury crashes by 2025. 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," Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman says.
But the sudden increase in fatalities shows just how unpredictable they can be.
At first glance, the recent crashes seem completely different from each other. In the weeks before the lastest fatality, two people in separate cars were killed on North Columbia Boulevard when one turned in front of 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; a driver died after crashing into a pole near the north end of the Broadway Bridge on July 13; and a pedestrian crossing Southeast Powell Boulevard outside a marked crosswalk was fatally stuck by a car on July 14.
Most of the crashes include factors identified in the Vision Zero action plan, however.
"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," Rivera says.
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," Saltzman says.
To read an earlier Portland Tribune story on 2017 fatalities, go to tinyurl.com/yadx447p.