Just how dangerous are Portland’s roads? Some of the statistics presented at this citywide meeting in the Lents Neighborhood may surprise you …
Speaking in the Lents Neighborhood’s Marshall High School Theater, Portland Mayor Sam Adams welcomes participants to the City’s Fifth Annual Transportation Safety Summit.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Portland’s Fifth Annual Transportation Safety Summit, a public meeting held last month in Lents, at Marshall High School, gave folks the opportunity to learn more about Portland’s transportation safety trends, find out about recently completed and planned projects, and rub shoulders with transportation safety professionals.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams kicked off a parade of speakers who each gave PowerPoint-illustrated talks.
“I’m the Transportation Commissioner for the City of Portland, and I have the great honor to serve you as Mayor as well,” Adams began. “It is absolutely fitting and appropriate that we are holding this fifth transportation safety summit here in outer East Portland.”
While Portland’s roads are safer than in the past, Mayor Adams says ever-increasing safety is the highest priority.
While projects undertaken by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has helped reduce injury and death on SE 122nd Avenue, SE 82nd Avenue of Roses, SE Powell Boulevard, and SE Foster Road, “We can make things safer; maybe not as safe as we like, but still safer.”
Adams stressed that safety is the highest priority. “When I talk about safety being highest, it means that, in terms of trade-offs, I am persuaded and have persuaded your City Council to prioritize safety over smooth streets.
“I’ve had few interactions that are more painfully awful than sitting with surviving victims of transportation crashes – or sitting with survivors of those who’ve been killed or were injured on streets and roads in Portland. It is horrific – I take it very personally. 337 people – more people that are here tonight – lost their lives in the past year because of transportation crashes.”
“Personal tragedies” that come from traffic accidents also add up to public costs, Adams says.
“If you do not know someone who has been injured or killed in a transportation crash in the City of Portland, you are still touched by these ‘preventable crashes’ because they cost over $100 million a year from health care and productivity losses. Transportation crashes are the number one cause of the job-related death. Injury from crashes is the number one cause of workman compensation claims.”
40% of all traffic jams in Portland come from accidents, stated Adams. “Unlike on-time congestion caused by construction-related delays – these delays are primarily caused by transportation crashes.
“Traffic safety is also important because the cost of our increasing obesity,” Adams opined. “We drive more than we should, instead of walking or biking. That translates into costs of $1,250 per household. The growing obesity epidemic, according to the 2010 Journal of Health Affairs, calculates the cost to be $147 billion nationwide which translates into that $1,250 per household. But 66% of Portlanders limit walking and bicycling due to their fears of danger from traffic.”
More than 200 people listen as Mayor Adams gives traffic accident statistics.
Vehicular deaths plummet
In 2010, Portland registered the lowest number of vehicle deaths since 1925, commented Adams. “There’s been a 75% reduction in motor vehicle fatalities, just in the last 10 years – and no bicycle fatalities in six of the last 12 years. And, there’s been a 2.5-fold decrease in children involved in bicycle and pedestrian crashes over the last 15 years.”
Adams concluded by indicating these reductions have come, in part, due to programs and policies that have flowed from past transportation summits.
Outgoing Director of PBOT Sue Keil thanks residents, City workers, and State “partners” for helping reduce traffic deaths in Portland.
Mayor Adams introduced the PBOT’s outgoing Director, Sue Keil.
“Over the last six years, I’ve been given the opportunity to continue Portland’s strong history of building and operating a transportation system that continually improves safety for all users,” Keil said, in her farewell address. “Almost all of our significant accomplishments have been as a result of partnerships, both in the City and with our external partners.”
Keil extolled those partnerships, noting that it’s more effective to work together, both in terms of results and reducing costs. “Working with the Oregon Department of Transportation on “high-crash corridors”, like 82nd Avenue, has reduced the danger for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. ODOT should have special recognition for their partnership with us.”
New PBOT Director Tom Miller says the department has been charged with providing Annual Performance Reports for traffic safety.
Showing images of high-crash corridors, new PBOT Director Tom Miller said, “I’m confident that this crowd knows that – whether you’re on foot, on bike, using the bus or light rail, or in a motor vehicle – you know how it feels to be on those streets. You all know that it doesn’t feel as safe as it needs to be. This isn’t an ‘intellectual thing’ – you can feel this.”
Miller pointed out that both as Commissioner, and now Mayor, Adams has focused on traffic safety by creating lists – such as the “10 most dangerous corridors”. To help improve traffic safety, we’re focused on the ‘Three E’s’: Engineering, Enforcement and Education.”
His Bureau has been charged with creating “Annual Performance Reports”, Miller announced.
“The first three are focused here in outer East Portland, on 122nd Avenue and Foster Road, where you’ve had some challenges and some fatalities last year, and where we’ve begun to improve those corridors. And, 82nd Avenue also needs attention. These are the first three corridors [on which we’re issuing] performance reports. By the end of calendar year 2011, we will have focused reports for all 10 corridors.”
Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division Captain Todd Wyatt says, “No one expects to be in a traffic crash.”
Next up was Captain Todd Wyatt, from the Traffic Division of the Portland Police Bureau – who said all traffic crashes are unexpected.
“Traffic crashes affect all of us; while 26 deaths in Portland is the lowest number in a long time, it’s still 26 deaths too many,” Wyatt told the assembly. “Regardless of what mode in which we move about across city Portland, and we have a lot of choices here, everyone has to think about safety. We need to talk about wearing their seatbelts, using crosswalks safely, and about being seen and being safe.”
Pedestrian safety tips
Wyatt said he agrees with the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition’s “double wave” – once, to make eye contact when one is about to cross the street; the second friendly wave follows as one crosses the street.
“I hate to say it, it may upset some people,” observed Wyatt, “but most of the pedestrians killed in crashes – most of the time, it was the pedestrian’s fault. I’m sorry, but I want people to know this, so they’ll learn to cross the street safely. I don’t want to see any more pedestrian fatalities. Make sure that your actions are predictable, and that you are following the law.”
The most common phrases heard by Traffic Division investigators when interviewing drivers involved in a pedestrian-struck accident, Wyatt said, are:
- I never saw them;
- They came out of nowhere; or,
- I just didn’t have time to stop.
Other safety tips:
As a pedestrian, don’t stand between the double-yellow lines while crossing the street;
- Cross the street “predictably”;
- As a driver, wear seatbelts correctly;
- Slow down, obey the speed limit; and,
- Don’t be a distracted driver.
“One final thing,” Wyatt concluded. “Drive sober. There is no reason to drive impaired.”
Transportation Safety Summit participants head for breakout sessions after the formal speeches.
The formal presentations concluded with ODOT Region One Manager Jason Tell thanking the City’s Transportation Bureau for being a good partner.
“It takes all of us to continue improving transportation safety,” Tell remarked.
With that, participants exited the theater and sought out the breakout sessions that most interested them. These sessions included:
- East Portland in Motion
- Safe Routes to School
- High Crash Corridors
- Pedestrian Safety
- Bicycle Safety
Nick Christensen, President of the Lents Neighborhood Association, fills out a comment slip at the “High Crash Corridors” breakout session.
At one of the breakout sessions, held in the Marshall High Cafeteria, Nick Christensen, President of the Lents Neighborhood Association, shared his thoughts on the summit.
“First, it’s great to have this many people here our neighborhood. It is important we’re talking about East Portland challenges tonight,” Christensen said.
“One of the reasons I’ve come to High Crash Corridors breakout discussion group is that they’re talking about the ‘3-E’s’. To those, we need to add a fourth ‘E’ – and that is Economy.
“We need to have jobs, and businesses and stores for people to walk to,” Christensen pointed out. “Otherwise these Neighborhood Greenways – the new name for bike lanes – do little good; it’s a waste of money. because people won’t be using them. We need to have a strong economy in outer East Portland. Until we have jobs, and have businesses for people to go to on these great new bike boulevards, being connected doesn’t do much good.”
You can see all the slides presented at, and access a wealth of information from, the 2011 Transportation Safety Summit – by visiting the City’s official webpage: CLICK HERE to be connected to it.
Participants look over maps showing where Portland’s “Neighborhood Greenways” are proposed to be constructed.
© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News