Metro reports spike in traffic related deaths

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The agency hopes to have zero fatal traffic related crashes in 2035.

Metro’s two-year progress report shows a spike in traffic related deaths. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In a two-year progress report, Metro is reporting a spike in traffic related deaths, but the agency is not losing hope.

From 2015 to 2019, Metro had a goal to reduce traffic related deaths by 11%, according to the regional transportation safety strategy update released last June. However, traffic deaths increased 34% in 2019.

The report details progress the agency has made from 2018 to 2020 to implement its overall strategy.

This includes addressing systemic racism in transportation and safety, designing roadways for safety, and reducing speeds and speeding.

“It’s not a one solution approach,” said Lake Strongheart McTighe, Metro’s senior transportation planner. “There’s many tools and proven best practices that have been shown to work that need to be implemented.”

Metro set an ambitious goal to reach zero traffic deaths by 2035.

According to the report, the agency is not on track to meet that goal considering at least 319 people have been killed in traffic crashes in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties since the end of 2018.

On average, there are more than 23,000 crashes in our region each year that result in injury. The report notes that 38% of the people killed in traffic crashes in 2019 were walking.

When asked if it’s still possible to reach zero traffic deaths, McTighe said, “I do think it’s possible. … It takes funding to bring roadways up to standards and make sure that there are sidewalks, bicycle facilities, medians, roundabouts – things that can we know can make roads safer.”

Metro also dedicated a full page of its progress report to address systemic racism and how it ties into traffic safety and enforcement. The agency said that Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color are more likely to be killed in a traffic crash.

“It is a goal in our regional plans to reduce those inequities and to address historic harms caused through systemic racism and other types of inequities,” said McTighe. “Make sure that everyone region has the ability to travel safely. No matter who they are.”

According to a Multnomah County’s transportation crash and safety report, Black people are twice as likely to die in a traffic crash within the county.

In 2020, Black people also accounted for 18.5% of traffic deaths in Portland, said the Portland Bureau of Transportation in a similar report. That’s three times higher than residents’ share of the city’s population.

The coronavirus pandemic has also given Metro another situation to factor on the road.

When more people started working from home, there were fewer cars on the road, but more drivers saw it as an opportunity to increase the speed limit with no bumper-to-bumper traffic.

“One of the things that we’re tracking is how travel patterns trends and safety going to change as a result of COVID,” explained McTighe.

Due to a time-lag in crash data availability, only preliminary fatality numbers are available for 2020, said Metro. Preliminary serious crash data for 2019 was available in early 2021.

McTighe said that the backlog can pose a problem when implementing solutions because the information is from years past.

“We do look at the at the fatal data as it’s coming in, but before we can do that full analysis and what streets these (crashes) were all occurring on, it takes more time. By that time, cities, counties and Metro are all making funding decisions about where to put safety dollars,” said McTighe.

She added, “We’re using 2019 data to make decisions about projects that will be funded in 2024.”

Despite the uptick in traffic related deaths, McTighe noted that the region has one of the lowest fatality rates in the country. The report said that’s due to more trips made by walking and bicycling and fewer and shorter trips made by driving.

Metro suggests for regional partners to continue lower posted speeds and engage the public to demand safer streets and increase regional collaboration, among other examples.

The agency will compile future progress reports every few years to access what has worked and what still needs improvement.

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