Southwest Portland: No country for old pedestrians
Senior walkers seem few and far between on the streets of Southwest Portland even though, with one huge exception, this section of the city is the safest for pedestrians 65 and older.
The death of Ortrud Vatheuer early on March 19 on Southwest 45th Avenue is that exception.
It was revealed recently that while those 65 and older make up just 12% of the population in Portland, they die in 16% of fatal traffic crashes and in 26% when it's a pedestrian who's killed. Put another way, more than one of every four pedestrians killed in Portland since 2015 was past retirement age.
"(Those numbers) are not specific to Southwest, but an overall trend," according to Hannah Schafer with the Portland Bureau of Transportation. In fact, during the years studied, there were no senior pedestrian fatalities in Southwest Portland.
Part of the reason for the seemingly safer local streets may be the fact that it can be difficult getting around on foot in these parts. Fewer pedestrians due to inhospitable conditions — such as lack of sidewalks — means fewer pedestrian fatalities.
"I suspect that's the case. We've got lots of hills and no sidewalks," said Don Baack, a neighborhood transportation activist and charter member of SWTrails PDX.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation admits as much. According to a just-released final draft of the Southwest In Motion (SWIM) plan for pedestrian projects, "Southwest Portland has major gaps and deficiencies in walking infrastructure … the vast majority of Southwest Portland streets contain no dedicated pedestrian infrastructure. Busy traffic conditions on these streets make travelling on foot stressful and unsafe."
In other words, no sidewalks means fewer walkers. Senior or otherwise.
Statistics in this SWIM document prove what people in Southwest Portland have known for years, there are fewer sidewalks in this part of town than anywhere else. When it comes to the percentage of all streets with sidewalks, Southwest Portland has 25%, East Portland has 52% and Northeast Portland has 88%. Due to recent Transportation Bureau projects, a higher percentage of Southwest arterial streets — 33% — have sidewalks; think of the sidewalks added on Southwest Vermont and Multnomah Boulevard over the last decade.
In Southeast Portland, close to 90% of arterial streets have sidewalks.
Southwest Portland pedestrians are creative, according to the Transportation Bureau. "Without connected sidewalks and walkways, community members use … paved and gravel shoulders, stairs and informal trail connections."
SWTrails PDX is the organization responsible for much of this "supplemental pedestrian network." The brown signs designating trails were put there by volunteers over the years. Many active members are 65 and older.
Baack, who's in his 70s, has these three tips for seniors who wish to keep on walking. "One, wear a reflective vest. Two, don't walk on arterials. Three, walk on our trails. That's what they are there for, to keep people off the main streets."
Here's how PBOT defines arterial streets: Arterial streets serve major city centers and have the highest volume of traffic. Arterials carry the majority of traffic entering, leaving, and moving across the City. They carry mass transit and freight, and are the routes used by emergency responders.
Learn more at www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/40390
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