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Crash-related deaths dropped in 2018 for the first time in four years, corresponding with an increased emphasis on the Vision Zero Action Plan

COURTESY PBOT - One of the automated citation-issuing Speed Safety Cameras installed on dangerous streets in recent years.After years of increasing traffic fatalities, crash-related death in Portland dropped 24 percent in 2018, a significant decrease that transportation officials are at a loss to explain.

Although the decrease corresponds to an increased emphasis on the city's Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate all fatal crashes by 2025, Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera says the city is reluctant to claim credit.

"The number of crashes can vary significantly from year to year. One year doesn't make a trend. While we hope some of our efforts are having an effect, we think it's premature to point to any particular change as causing the fatality figures to change. We need to see what's happening at the national and state level for context, and see if patterns emerge over a number of years," says Rivera.

The numbers are nevertheless startling. According to preliminary figures, 11 fewer people were killed in crashes in Portland last year — with deaths falling from 45 in 2017 to 34 in 2018.

That is the first decrease since 2014, when deaths from 36 the previous year to 28, a reduction of eight or 22 percent. Last year's decline was larger, even though many more people were living in Portland then.

The largest decrease in 2018 was related to crashes involving only motor vehicles, where deaths of drivers and passengers fell from 17 in 2017 to seven last year. Pedestrian deaths also fell from 19 to 17. The only category to increase was motorcycle deaths, which jumped from seven to nine. Bike deaths held stable at two, as did transit-related deaths at zero.

The decline is a dramatic reversal from the past few years, when fatalities jumped from 28 in 2014 to 45 in 2017. That increase reflected a national trend blamed on more people driving because of a strong economy and continuing low gas prices. Those factors did not change in 2018, which makes the Portland decline that much more extraordinary, especially considering population growth.

Although Rivera does not want to speculate, the decrease in fatalities corresponds to the implementation of the Vision Zero Action Plan approved by the council in December 2016. The plan, which was drafted by the Portland Bureau of Transportation with the help of a 26-member task force, includes 32 specific steps ranging from street improvements to increased traffic law enforcement and public education. Among other things, it designates 30 streets in Portland when many crashes occur as a high crash network. It proposes major safety projects on two streets and five intersections within the network every year.

Since the plan was adopted, the council has reduced the speed limit on residential streets from 20 to 25 miles an hour, reduced the speed limit on Outer Division from 35 to 30 miles per hour, and authorized automated citation-issuing Speed Safety Cameras on dangerous roads, including Division Street, Marine Drive and 122nd Avenue. The transportation bureau has also completed a number of safety projects funded by the temporary 10-cent-a-gallon city gas tax approved by voters at the May 216 primary election.

The reduction in crashes involving only motor vehicles in 2018 is especially noteworthy. Not only did the number of fatalities drop from 17 to 7, they fell dramatically as the year progress. The first four fatalities happened in the first quarter of the year, while the other three were spread out over the remaining eight months.

According to PBOT, 21 safety projects on the High Crash Network roads are scheduled to start or continue in 2019. They include work on Outer Division, one of the most dangerous streets in the city.

In addition, Dylan says the bureau also plans to: continue the Safe Ride Home program, which provides free transit and discount taxi and ride-sharing company rides on holidays; expand the Street Team program, which provides direct outreach to the public on the High Crash Network streets; and launch a second citywide education campaign focused on the dangers of speed.

You can see and learn more about the PBOT safety projects scheduled for 2019 here.

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