Jan 4, 2024 - News

2023 was the deadliest year for traffic fatalities in Portland

Illustration of a stop sign with a memorial wreath.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Fatal crashes over the holidays marked 2023 as the deadliest year on record for Portland traffic in the last three decades, according to Bureau of Transportation officials.

Why it matters: Despite the city's efforts to reduce speed limits and increase police presence along high-crash corridors, it seems Portland is no closer to reaching its goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2025 — part of its multimillion-dollar Vision Zero project.

Driving the news: Seven traffic-related deaths between Dec. 24-31 raised the number of fatalities last year to 68 — up from 63 in 2022 and 64 in 2021.

Of note: The exact number of deadly crashes is preliminary and subject to change as the city's transportation department and the Portland Police Bureau's Traffic Division reconcile data after investigations conclude, Hannah Schafer, a PBOT spokesperson told Axios.

  • For example, the count does not include those who died from a medical event (like a heart attack) while driving.

Zoom in: Of the deaths that occurred during the holidays, all took place in what transportation officials designate as "high crash networks" — streets and intersections where the majority of the crashes in the city take place and which are known for faulty street design and speeding.

  • Three of the deaths happened along NE 122nd Avenue (one being a hit-and-run) where officials said an average of five car crashes happen on the street every week.
  • Last year, PBOT received a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to make safety improvements on NE 122nd by adding protected bike lanes, enhanced crosswalks and raised medians.

However, construction on those improvements isn't expected until 2026.

By the numbers: Nearly three-quarters of pedestrian deaths and serious injuries on Portland streets occur at night, and 55% of pedestrians killed were experiencing homelessness at the time, according to data from the Vision Zero Action Plan update for 2023-25.

  • Officials also point to speeding and vehicle size as major factors for collisions.

What's happening: PBOT is expected to receive $112 million over the next five years from the Portland Clean Energy Fund for climate-friendly projects, but the agency is still facing a $32 million budget deficit that will impact road infrastructure and management.

  • That's why it's asking voters (and the city council) to reinstate a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax on the ballot in May that would fund new street lights, repave streets and fill potholes.
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