In June 2015, the Portland City Council made a commitment to eliminate traffic deaths by the year 2025. Called Vision Zero, the plan was to execute improvements to the city’s roads and overall traffic system to curb severe accidents that result in serious injury or death. Despite Vision Zero’s heartfelt intentions to reduce traffic deaths throughout the city of Portland, traffic fatalities have only continued to climb in the first half of 2016.
Vision Zero Overview
“One death on our city streets is too many” is the initiative’s tagline, which defines its goal in each city where it has been adopted. The vision seeks to change how accidents are perceived, from mere accidents to incidents that are preventable when we all take responsibility. Cities like Austin, Boston, Chicago, LA, NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, Fort Lauderdale and Washington DC are all taking part in their own version of Vision Zero with mixed results.
NYC has experienced success with their initiative, with Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing 2015 as their safest year in recent times. Fatalities dropped 66% since 2013, the year Vision Zero was inaugurated. Pedestrian deaths reached a historic low of 134 that year. This is a huge success in the most populated city in the US. Unfortunately, Portland, Oregon doesn’t get bragging rights.
What’s been happening
If New York can experience success with Vision Zero in the States, it is expected that other cities can follow suit. Unfortunately, Portland’s own Vision Zero has not been as effective in the year since it was introduced. As of August 2016, 31 people have died on Portland roads while Vision Zero initiatives were being drafted. Many occurred on the dangerous sections of roads, or high crash corridors, that the project was introduced to improve.
Vision Zero works to protect everyone using public roads, not just drivers. A huge part of the project is to make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Certain roads are especially dangerous for those most vulnerable to serious injuries on the roads. There are six streets in Southeast Portland alone that are deemed extremely dangerous for cyclists. Yet some accidents are completely unpreventable just by making roads more inclusive.
On August 20th, at Southeast Hawthorne and 43rd Avenue, a teenage pedestrian was struck while legally crossing the road. Traffic stopped, but a driver swerved illegally into the left turn lane and struck the victim at 55-60 miles per hour. That particular stretch of Hawthorne hadn’t had a fatality in 12 years. Irresponsible and reckless driving behavior is not something any public policy can block. This tragedy highlights a shortcoming of a policy that seeks to improve infrastructure and lower speed limits to make traveling safer. If Vision Zero is going to be effective, it must instigate a cultural shift in how we all collectively approach transportation.
Why are there More Traffic Fatalities?
There were several other incidents as well considering a total of 31 died in just 9 months. Fatalities were up 9 percent in the first six months compared with the same stretch last year, which only extends that continuing surge in traffic fatalities that began in 2014. Unlike many of the other “focus cities” listed above, Portland has been experiencing many changes that affect traffic flow.
At around the same time Portland was adopting Vision Zero, the US Census Bureau reported that the city had a population of over 630,000 residents, a number that had grown 1.9% from July 2014 to July 2015. The greater Portland region, consisting of seven counties, nears 2.4 million people, and the city is 13th among US metro areas with the largest increase of new residents coming from other states.
Rapid population growth sparks the need for additional housing, which must be built fast. In Columbia County, residents have seen acres of unused land being transformed seemingly overnight into communities. There is a high demand for homes in the quiet suburbs where there is a low level of crime. Over 20 years, the population grew from 83,000 to 140,000. This growth strongly correlates with the increase in traffic accidents between 1997 (816) and 2015 (5,000+).
In Portland, the economy has picked up in the last couple of years and more people are on the roads. People getting paid more is going to lead to them traveling more. Another incentive is the cost of gas, which is much lower on average than it was last year. The more miles people travel per year, the more accidents take place.
It could be years before the traffic situation stabilizes around our great city, so it pays to remain calm and alert at all times behind the wheel. Should you ever experience an injury on Portland’s roads, contact RizkLaw to explore personal injury litigation. Call (503) 245-5677 for a free legal consultation.