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Streets of SW: Few Pedestrian Deaths but Still Dangerous

[Posted Friday, April 23, 2021]

Submitted by William Gallagher/SWTrails PDX

Even though a wide river divides Southwest Portland from East Portland, these two regions of our city have a lot in common when it comes to the safety of those who walk rather than drive this city’s streets.  

PBOT is no longer making “20 Is Plenty” signs, like this altered version on SW Hume Street, available to the public. The message on the new yard signs is "Slow Down." Photo by William Gallagher.

“Southwest Portland has the toughest streets to walk on in Portland. They’re uncomfortable and unsafe; just like in East Portland,” Scott Kocher told SWTrails PDX members in February. 


Kocher is a board member of Oregon Walks, unpaid pedestrian safety advocate, volunteer activist and personal injury attorney. He was offering a preview of the findings in the groundbreaking Oregon Walks Fatal Pedestrian Crash Report, released in mid-April.   

“The reason that people are dying in East Portland is similar to the reason that walking is dangerous and uncomfortable in SW Portland,” he said recently. “The reason a lot of people in Southwest don’t walk is because the infrastructure is bad.”  

Data in the report shows that the odds of getting hit by a car and dying is significantly higher for pedestrians in East Portland (east of the Willamette) than they are in West Portland (west of the Willamette). Researchers looked at three years’ worth of fatal pedestrian crashes–2017 to 2019–and found just one death while walking in Southwest (excluding Downtown), none in Northwest and 41 in Northeast and Southeast Portland. The disparity is even more striking east of 82nd Ave.  

These numbers are no surprise to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). In fact, much of the raw data examined and analyzed by Oregon Walks is publicly available from PBOT’s Vision Zero initiative. The stated goal for Vision Zero is “to eliminate all traffic deaths and injuries on Portland streets.” 

“PBOT has had Vision Zero for several years now. Good people are there but they just haven’t turned the numbers around in terms of crashes. They’re getting a fair amount of heat for that,” Kocher said. “My role is to make some noise.” 


In 2020, 54 people died in Portland in traffic. That’s the highest number of annual fatalities since 1996 and exceeds 44, the average number of traffic deaths for the three years studied by Oregon Walks. There's no available estimate of the number of serious traffic injuries last year, but according to the latest count, from 2018, there were 747 traffic injuries that year. In Southwest Portland, three pedestrians were killed in 2020 compared to just one pedestrian death in the previous three years. (See below.) 


“Everybody in Southwest Portland should say, ‘We’ve got the same problems East Portland has. Look, this situation is unacceptable. We want a toolkit for traffic calming on the smaller streets and better enforcement on the bigger streets until engineering solutions can be implemented.’ There’s a natural alliance between Southwest and East Portland. I would love to get the (pedestrian safety) advocates of these two areas talking,” Kocher said.  

(article continues below . . . )


PBOT Hopes to Extend, Expand Slow Streets Program

PBOT's Slow Streets program was initiated in the early days of the pandemic to accommodate increased pedestrian use of local streets by discouraging car traffic. Of the 105 designated Slow Streets in Portland, two are in Hillsdale, on Bertha Blvd (where it runs parallel to Capitol Hwy) and DeWitt/Cheltenham/Westwood to Terwilliger.

PBOT Project Manager Scott Cohen, in remarks to the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association (HNA) at its April meeting, shared that PBOT plans to extend the Slow Streets program as long as COVID restrictions remain in effect. Slow Streets materials will be replaced with what PBOT calls more "resilient" materials, such as concrete planters like the one in the first photo above. Slow Street signs will also receive an upgrade. The second photo shows the current signage. In response to a list provided by the HNA, Cohen said that more sites in Hillsdale could possibly receive the Slow Street treatment. More Hillsdale streets that might receive the Slow Streets treatment later this spring or summer include:

  • Chesapeak/Twombly from Hamilton to Fairmount

  • Boundary from Dosch to Sunset

  • Burlingame Ave from Capitol Hwy to Chestnut

  • SW 12th/13th Dr from Chestnut to Bertha

--Valeurie Friedman


( . . . article continued)

2020: A bad year for Barbur Boulevard 


One of the noteworthy findings in the Oregon Walks report is the disproportionate number of pedestrians killed on major thoroughfares east of the Willamette River.  

That may be changing. Of the city's 30 most dangerous High Crash corridors, Barbur Boulevard is one of only five such designated roadways located in Southwest Portland, yet there were three pedestrians killed on Barbur last year.  

Julia Hanczarek, 39, was hit by a car near Parkhill Drive on March 17. Miro Nik Brankovich, 51, was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Barbur near the Safeway store on June 4. Clayton Chamberlin, 66, was crossing Barbur at Southwest 30th in his wheelchair when he was hit and killed on December 16.  

Detailed reports on the circumstances in these fatal pedestrian crashes will eventually be issued by the Oregon Department of Transportation, perhaps sometime in 2022. 

Some details on these and all other crashes can be found at the valuable Bike Portland’s Fatality Tracker.   


Do you think it's important for pedestrians to feel comfortable walking in SW Portland? Let us know.


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