In response to E.P. and their "oblivious driver," my guess is that E.P. was an oblivious pedestrian… —Steven G.
Last week's column on pedestrian safety, or the lack thereof, generated a (comparatively) huge number of reader responses. None of these responses contained an actual question, mind you; everyone just wanted to bitch. But still: engagement!
The prevailing narrative in these screeds was clear: Despite the heroic efforts of sharp-witted middle-aged drivers, smartphone-obsessed millennials' unwavering attention to their Twitter feeds is causing a rising tide of accidents and near-accidents, illustrating the collapse of civilized society that began with the cancellation of Matlock and has only accelerated since.
A chart on Portland Bureau of Transportation's website that tracks pedestrian fatalities at first seems to bear this out—there were an average of 8.3 such deaths in the first three years shown, 2008-10. The average for the most recent three years (2017-19), however, was 17—a 205 percent increase! Are we witnessing the end of safe streets, decency and responsible lawn care?
Well, maybe not. Data on things that only happen 10 to 20 times a year can be pretty noisy, and that dip in fatalities around 2009 might well be random chance—with perhaps a little help from the Great Recession, which makes a dip around 2009 in pretty much every graph of everything.
Indeed, if we start our analysis in 1996 and use data smoothing to even out the highs and lows, we find that average pedestrian deaths in Portland have hovered stubbornly between 10 and 12.5 or so per year for the past quarter-century, with a slight swell since 2009 or so that pretty much tracks population growth.
Nationwide data from the multicity traffic safety initiative known as Vision Zero, in which Portland participates, tell a different story, however: While the top-line 35 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities since 2008 becomes a more modest 22 percent if you start the clock in pre-recession 2006, the U.S. numbers are big enough they can't be explained away as simple float within the margin of error. The spike is real.
I realize this will be a repellent conclusion for most of you, but it's possible Portland's safety efforts are (sort of) working, at least holding us steady at a time when the rest of the country is going downhill. Let's hear it for bureaucracy!