PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Portland Bureau of Transportation says 70% of the pedestrians killed in 2021 traffic crashes were homeless. The city saw its highest number of traffic deaths since 1990.
PBOT released its Vision Zero Traffic Crash Report for 2021 Wednesday. It revealed a sharp increase in the number of pedestrians killed by traffic incidents and a significant jump in the number of people who were killed while they were inside a vehicle during an incident.
“Everybody is in a hurry, hurry, hurry here,” Yvonne Turner of Portland said.
Turner says she goes on the defense when she’s crossing Southeast 82nd Avenue and Powell in her wheelchair.
“People they will run the lights…they will not pay attention to the people on the corners, especially us shorter wheelchair people,” Turner said.
That intersection is considered one of the city’s “top 30 high-crash intersections” as mapped out in the Vision Zero Traffic Crash Report 2021.
“I didn’t realize that we were that high right here, but I knew 82nd was bad,” Turner noted.
Turner feels that now is the time for action.
“Either longer lights or some type of a signal so they can’t, they have to wait for us to get across, I mean, there has to be something they can do. I guess more pedestrian deaths would get action, but I think, you know, we should be able to do something about it before it comes to that,” Turner said.
“Some months are better than others. Some weeks are better than others. But as the year went on, we thought, gosh, this is really a high number of deaths on our streets,” said Dylan Rivera, PBOT spokesperson.
In 2021, 27 pedestrians, 27 people in motor vehicles and nine people on motorcycles died from traffic incidents. The only number of traffic-related deaths that decreased in 2021 was the number of bicyclists killed, which was zero in 2021.
Portland’s problem with traffic fatalities is not unique to the city. The United States has also seen an increase in traffic death rates in the last decade. However, Portland’s deaths are increasing at a higher rate.
Rivera suspects the pandemic has played a major role in changing people’s driving habits. He said with fewer people on the road early on in the pandemic, people might have grown used to driving faster. He said PBOT has seen an increase in reckless driving. Three crashes that killed six people in 2021 involved motorists driving the wrong way on interstate freeways. That’s higher than the average of one or two wrong-way-driving traffic deaths per year.
PBOT’s report says 60% of the deadly crashes in 2021 occurred on only 8% of streets in Portland. PBOT calls these streets the high crash network. Most of them are located on the east side of the city and all but one of the 30 high crash intersections are on 82nd Avenue or east of 82nd Avenue.
The one thing PBOT feels encouraged by is that since 2019, traffic deaths have stayed roughly even, or declined slightly, on streets controlled by the city. PBOT said state-controlled highways and freeways are where traffic deaths seem to be increasing. The city said 32 traffic deaths in 2021 occurred on state highways and more pedestrian deaths are occurring in areas zoned for industrial land or open space.
Rivera said he believes the fact that pedestrians are being killed in industrial areas and the fact that 70% of the pedestrian deaths that occurred in 2021 were homeless people show that more needs to be done to ensure homeless individuals are better protected near roadways.
“This number, 21 people experiencing homelessness at the time they were killed in a traffic crash, we hope will be a wake-up call to everyone to slow down and drive more safely,” Rivera said.
He said PBOT is also working with its partners in Multnomah County to better understand what dynamics may be contributing to homeless traffic deaths.
PBOT says Black and Latinx people were over-represented in 2021 traffic deaths when compared to the demographics of the city. The bureau also said 76% of traffic deaths occurred in low-income communities and communities of color.
Rivera said PBOT is grateful for the investment the Oregon legislature made in 2021 to improve traffic safety on 82nd Avenue. He said it will allow PBOT to take ownership of 82nd Avenue from the Oregon Department of Transportation and make the street a safer thoroughfare. PBOT is also in the process of acquiring Powell Boulevard from ODOT.
While there were several factors that played a role in the 2021 traffic fatalities, PBOT said it’s committed to making Portland’s streets safer so that more people make it home to their loved ones.
“The 63 total who were killed on our streets and highways in 2021 are not just a number either. These are people with families, colleagues, classmates, friends, and we should all take these really seriously and understand that we all have a role to play in helping reduce those numbers,” he said.
PBOT’s Vision Zero program aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on Portland’s Streets by 2025. Rivera said “Vision Zero” means no traffic fatalities are acceptable.
KOIN 6 News reached out to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler for comment on the number of traffic deaths reported in 2021. He did not respond to our request before publication. The story will be updated if we receive a response.