Across Oregon, traffic fatalities abruptly return almost to pre-recession levels

Across Oregon, traffic fatalities abruptly return almost to pre-recession levels

For Oregon’s roads, the first seven months of 2015 have been the deadliest since 2008.

That was the year nominal gas prices hit their all-time peak, which sent suburban housing markets and the financial sector that had financed them into a tailspin that eventually sent the world economy into recession.

Gas prices dipped for a year but returned to the high $3 range by 2011. Expensive gas and the weak economy combined with long-brewing changes in how people live and get around to create years of decline in the number of miles driven both in Oregon and around the country.

But after last November’s gas price plunge, the number of miles driven is on the rise again. And so, apparently, is the number of people dying on the road.

Troy Costales, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s safety division, said Oregon saw 238 road deaths through July 23, up from 165 in the same period last year.

“There are reports that traffic fatalities are up across the nation,” he added. “I wish neither was true.”

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The chart above comes from fatality data tracked by Costales’s team. (Unlike 2014 and 2015, the previous years include fatalities from the final week of July.)

In Portland, the long-term traffic fatality trend has been different: it fell rapidly in the late 1990s and, aside from a 2003 spike, has hovered in the 20s and 30s per year since. Numbers for Portland proper weren’t immediately available Friday.

“If the numbers are flat or going up, then that’s a stubborn problem and it’s time for some broader range of solutions.”
— Gerik Kransky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance

For the last two years, the Oregon Department of Transportation has faced calls from some safety advocates to rethink its traffic safety practices around a set of ideas developed in Sweden and known as Vision Zero.

“If the numbers are flat or going up, then that’s a stubborn problem and it’s time for some broader range of solutions,” said Gerik Kransky, advocacy director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. “Until we’re able to do something significant to address those high-speed, high-traffic roads, I’d imagine this is what’s going to happen.”

Kransky said he was disappointed that the state didn’t pass House Bill 2736, which would have created an external process to explore Vision Zero at the state level.

“We’ve heard a little bit of talk from our partners at ODOT that there’s talk of setting a target date for zero injuries and fatalities in their upcoming traffic safety action plan, and that’s great,” Kransky said. “My fear is that right now, we haven’t seen ODOT step forward with a willingness to pursue the solutions that are shown to work in other countries. … We’re not going to change the fatality rate in Oregon simply by setting a traffic date.”


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