We know that speed can be deadly. Alone or in combination with other factors, speed is a major factor in 47% of Portland’s traffic deaths. Traveling at excessive speeds has been consistently linked to higher crash risks. The faster people drive, the longer it takes them to recognize a dangerous situation and, once they have hit the brakes, to bring their vehicle to a stop.
Speed impacts the severity of a crash. A person walking struck by a person driving 40 mph is twice as likely to be seriously injured or die in the crash than one struck by a person driving 30 mph. In a city where people walking make up a disproportionate number of traffic deaths, reducing illegal speeding is critical.
Street design is integral to achieving the desired driving speed, directly influencing the driving speed that feels comfortable. Street and lane width, signal spacing, markings, buffers, curb extensions, and medians can all affect a driver's speed.
Plenty of people make risky choices while walking in Portland. There’s a couple of reasons why our main focus is on the choices people make while driving despite these behaviors.
The main reason we focus on driving is because motor vehicles are heavy and powerful, so the consequences of making risky decisions while driving are generally more severe than the consequences of making risky choices while walking. While walking outside a crosswalk may increase the probability of a person getting hurt or killed, this behavior poses little or no risk to others; this is generally not true when a person drives above the speed limit, impaired, or distracted, which is much more likely to hurt both the person behind the wheel, other passengers in the vehicle, and other people traveling on the street. With this in mind, we use our limited resources to focus on driving behaviors because it will have a bigger impact on overall traffic safety.
Our Vision Zero work is also guided by a general rule of thumb: when designing streets, we should make the safest choice the most convenient choice. Many of our streets do not provide enough places to cross, which increases the likelihood that people will walk outside of a crosswalk.
Additionally, PBOT’s latest 10-year crash analysis indicated that people walking legally in Portland, and hit by a person driving who fails to stop for them, is the number one cause of pedestrian crashes resulting in death and serious injury. While we would prefer that people cross streets only in marked or unmarked crosswalks, crash data indicate that focusing on improving crossing behavior is unlikely to generate much payoff in terms of traffic safety.
We know it’s frustrating and sometimes scary to see people making risky choices on the street. We regularly conduct pedestrian safety trainings as part of our Vision Zero work.
Enforcement is also part of the city’s approach to reducing unsafe speeding. If you’re curious, you can see where the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Officers are responding and where they are writing citations at this link: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/76503 .