Crossing SE Division near I-205. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)
Source: ODOT

Comparing the rise in pedestrian deaths to an epidemic that deserves a public health response similar to what we saw with Covid-19, the Portland based nonprofit The Street Trust has laid out a list of six steps Oregon should take to make streets safer.

“We need to tackle these rising death rates at the root (route) cause: the continued investment and prioritization of the automobile and driving alone at the expense of the health and well being of people, communities, the environment, and the economy,” wrote The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone in an article released Thursday.

The article was cheekily titled, “What Oregon Can Do to End Traffic Deaths (Besides Close Crosswalks),” (a reference to ODOT’s recent move to close over 180 crosswalks in the Portland region as part of an ADA safety initiative).

The push from The Street Trust comes as the number of people who died while walking on Oregon highways was up about 45% in 2022 compared to the previous year (see chart at right). That statistic gives this issue added urgency. And The Street Trust’s focus is well-timed because the Oregon Department of Transportation is well aware of the problem and is actively looking for remedies.

At a meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission on March 9th, ODOT Public Transportation Division Administrator Karyn Criswell shared a presentation on the Bicycle Pedestrian Safety Action Program, a proposed new program that would look to streamline severe crash responses, speed up infrastructure solutions, and redirect funding from car and truck safety issues directly to more pedestrian-focused projects. “Severe and fatal crashes involving people walking and biking have been happening far too often and they are on the rise,” Criswell told OTC members in her pitch for the new program.

“The numbers demand an action and w’re prepared to move in that direction,” said ODOT Delivery and Operations Administrator Mac Lynde at the meeting.

The Street Trust wants to keep pushing ODOT to do more and they’ve come up with six things they think Oregon could do this year to bend the pedestrian death curve downward:

  • Redirect resources from driving alone toward walking, biking, rolling and using public transit.
  • Be honest when we talk about “safety” and align spending with road user injuries and fatalities.
  • Enforce reduced speeds with traffic cams and implement fines equitably.
  • Establish community-led Fatal Crash Review Commissions to examine the root causes of crashes.
  • Develop a statewide ‘Orphan Highways’ Improvement Strategy and Plan.
  • Establish a task force for a statewide public health campaign around street safety.

Iannarone said she doesn’t expect masses of Oregonians to give up driving until viable alternatives are more robust, but she thinks, “A stated commitment to safety from our elected officials, a focus on community engagement, and coordinated safety investments across our siloed governments and agencies would be a start on the right track.” (Read more from her article here.)

For ODOT’s part, they hope to formally launch the Bicycle Pedestrian Safety Action Program later this year.

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