Opinion: Pedestrian safety needs greater attention
Even though a wide river divides Southwest Portland and East Portland, these two quadrants have a lot in common when it comes to the safety of those who walk rather than drive this city's streets.
"Southwest Portland has the toughest streets to walk on in Portland. They're uncomfortable and unsafe; just like in East Portland," Scott Kocher told SW Trails PDX members in February.
Kocher's a board member of Oregon Walks, an unpaid pedestrian safety advocate, volunteer activist and personal injury attorney. He was offering a preview of the findings in the groundbreaking Oregon Walks Fatal Pedestrian Crash Report, released in mid-April. The report can be found at Oregon Walks.
"The reason that people are dying in East Portland is similar to the reason that walking is dangerous and uncomfortable in SW Portland," he said recently. "The reason a lot of people in Southwest don't walk is because the infrastructure is bad."
Data in the report shows that the odds of getting hit by a car and dying is significantly higher for pedestrians in East Portland (east of the Willamette) than they are in West Portland (west of the Willamette). Researchers looked at three year's worth of fatal pedestrian crashes – 2017 to 2019 – and found just one death while walking in Southwest (excluding Downtown), none in Northwest and 41 in Northeast and Southeast Portland. The disparity is even more striking east of 82nd Avenue.
These numbers are no surprise to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, in fact much of the raw data examined and analyzed by Oregon Walks is publicly available from PBOT's Vision Zero initiative. The stated goal for Vision Zero is, "To eliminate all traffic deaths and injuries on Portland streets."
"PBOT has had Vision Zero for several years now. Good people are there but they just haven't turned the numbers around in terms of crashes. They're getting a fair amount of heat for that," Kocher said. "My role is to make some noise."
In 2020, 54 people died in Portland in traffic. That's the highest number of annual fatalities since 1996 and exceeds 44, the average number of traffic deaths for the three years Oregon Walks studied. There's no available estimate of the number of serious traffic injuries last year, but according to the latest count, from 2018, there were 747 traffic injuries that year. In Southwest Portland, three pedestrians were killed in 2020 compared to just one pedestrian death in the previous three years (see below.)
"Everybody in Southwest Portland should say, 'We've got the same problems East Portland has. Look, this situation is unacceptable. We want a tool kit for traffic calming on the smaller streets and better enforcement on the bigger streets until engineering solutions can be implemented.' There's a natural alliance between Southwest and East Portland. I would love to get the (pedestrian safety) advocates of these two areas talking," Kocher said.
2020: Bad year for Barbur Boulevard
One of the noteworthy findings in the Oregon Walks report is the disproportionate number of pedestrians killed on major thoroughfares east of the Willamette River. That may be changing. Barbur Boulevard is one of only five of the 30 most dangerous High Crash Corridors located in Southwest Portland, yet there were three pedestrians killed on Barbur last year.
Julia Hanczarek, 39, was hit by a car near Parkhill Drive on March 17. Miro Nik Brankovich, 51, was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Barbur near the Safeway store on June 4. Clayton Chambers, 66, was crossing Barbur at Southwest 30th in his wheelchair when he was hit and killed on Dec. 16.
Detailed reports on the circumstances in these fatal pedestrian crashes will eventually be issued by the Oregon Department of Transportation, perhaps sometime in 2022.
Some details on these and all other crashes can be found at the valuable Bike Portland's fatality tracker.
Bill Gallagher is the former editor of the Southwest Connection and a member of SW Trails PDX, a volunteer community group that promotes walking and biking in Southwest Portland.
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