Portland’s Vision Zero goals ‘a change in thinking’

Portland works to become a city with zero traffic-related deaths

The City of Portland has an ambitious goal: to eliminate serious traffic injuries and all deaths on city streets within the next 10 years. (KOIN)
The City of Portland has an ambitious goal: to eliminate serious traffic injuries and all deaths on city streets within the next 10 years. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The City of Portland has an ambitious goal: to eliminate serious traffic injuries and all deaths on city streets within the next 10 years.

For years, the city has collected data on the most dangerous roads and devised possible ways to fix them. Now the city has joined a program called Vision Zero to help achieve its goal of becoming a city with zero traffic-related deaths.

“It’s a change in thinking,” PBOT Safety Manager Gabe Graff said.

Graff is leading Portland toward its Vision Zero goals. The program uses perspective from police, fire officials, the court system, ODOT, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the health department to help prevent future crashes.

Speed, problems at intersections, roads with high crash rates and alcohol and/or drug use are the leading causes of crashes in Portland. (KOIN)
Speed, problems at intersections, roads with high crash rates and alcohol and/or drug use are the leading causes of crashes in Portland. (KOIN)

So far, analysts have determined 4 top culprits: speed, problems at intersections, roads with high crash rates and alcohol and/or drug use.

The intersection at SE 122nd Avenue and Stark Street is one of the most dangerous spots in the city. It appears 5 times on a list of Portland’s 25 worst intersections.

Billie Pugh was one person killed at the intersection when a drunk driver ran a red light and crashed into her. The suspect, Lashai Williams, is serving 8 years in prison.

And she’s far from alone. Data shows 62% of all fatal crashes in the city are drug or alcohol-related. So, how can the city overcome this problem? One idea would be to lower the legal limit for drunk driving from .08 BAC to, maybe, .05 BAC.

“Maybe partnering with specific bars that provide safe rides home to drunk patrons,” Graff suggested. “There’s a host of ideas other cities are using.”

A Vision Zero study showed 54% of fatal crashes in Portland happen at intersections where speeding, running red lights or failing to yield was the cause. To bring that rate down, the city could put in more flashing beacons at crosswalks or lower speed limits.

The city is currently waiting for state regulators to give them permission to cut the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph at the intersection of W Burnside Street and 48th.

“There are trade-offs with safety, but other cities have shown that you can make significant process, make roads significantly safer, save lives without making a city impossible to navigate,” Graff said.

Over 50% of fatal crashes in Portland happen at intersections where speeding, running red lights or failing to yield was the cause. (KOIN)
Over 50% of fatal crashes in Portland happen at intersections where speeding, running red lights or failing to yield was the cause. (KOIN)

Vision Zero came to life in Sweden where traffic fatalities have dropped by 30% since 1997. In Stockholm, the fatality rate is 1.1 per 100,000 people. Portland is currently at 6.2, which means 26 more lives are lost every year. Since teaming up with Vision Zero, New York has dropped its rate to 3.9, and in Seattle it’s down to 5.2.

But Jonathan Maus, who runs Bike Portland’s website, is skeptical about the Vision Zero plan. He says, for years, the city has had data that shows what causes crashes.

“If you read the Vision Zero website and learn about Vision Zero, that’s what it is: ‘we won’t stand for another death or injury,’ it’s very clear,” Maus said. “But what the community gets from its public servants and city is meetings, long-range planning processes, public outreach… all the same stuff they’ve heard about every other issue that nothing’s gotten done with, or is not moving as fast as it needs to.”

To get the ball rolling, the city says it needs money.

“The city has known for almost 30 years that we’re under-investing in our streets, and our streets are deteriorating,” City Commissioner Steve Novick revealed.

Novick proposed a $64 million gas tax collected over 4 years to fix Portland’s road poblems. Just under half of that money is slated for Vision Zero safety improvements.

“The truth is, it won’t stop the bleeding,” he said. “It will slow the bleeding in order to really address the problem. We need over $100 million a year over the next 10 years.”

Portland’s Vision Zero Task Force will meet Tuesday, February 23 to prioritize a road improvement plan. They plan to present a comprehensive plan to the city in the fall.

If you’d like to sign the Vision Zero Pledge to drive safely, click here.

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