How People Died in a Near Record-Breaking Year of Portland Traffic Deaths

The Portland Police Bureau counts 33 pedestrian deaths so far this year. That’s the most since 1948.

The number of people killed on Portland roads jumped in 2021—and it’s only getting worse in 2022, according to annual statistics released by the Portland Police Bureau on Monday.

By Monday, there had been 31 pedestrian deaths in 2022, a number not seen since 1952. Another death occurred that night, hours after the Police Bureau sent out “a plea to motorists to be safe.” A person crossing was killed by a driver on Sandy Boulevard in the Argay Terrace neighborhood of Northeast Portland. And on Thursday evening, as sleet began to fall on the city, a person was killed walking across West Burnside Street at 22nd Avenue.

“It is clear, that despite advances in technology, infrastructure, education and awareness, we are still not solving the problem and our traffic fatalities are at epidemic levels,” said PPB spokesman Lt. Nathan Sheppard.

The Portland City Council adopted a “Vision Zero Action Plan” in 2016. It had a “goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2025″ through “better street design, education, and public involvement,” according to a letter from then-City Commissioner Steve Novick.

Three years later, the city commissioner overseeing transportation, Chloe Eudaly, noted a lack of progress. “2019 has been a particularly tragic year for traffic safety in Portland so far...we need to refocus and recommit,” she wrote.

That year, the City Council embarked on another pedestrian safety plan, PedPDX, which “affirms walking as a fundamental human right” and set a goal of “zero pedestrian crashes resulting in death or serious injury.” But the plan could take as long as two decades to implement, it noted.

Advocates hotly debate the causes behind the death toll.

Earlier this year, WW reported on Police Bureau statistics showing that traffic stops were down 90% from before the pandemic. A police spokesman blamed that decline on the bureau’s decision to disband its dedicated traffic unit in February 2021 and send those officers to patrol. The city’s struggle to recruit new police officers to fill vacancies is well documented.

“Pedestrians are paying with their lives for government failure to address this crisis,” Portland nonprofit Street Trust said in a statement released Wednesday.

The consequences have not been felt equally. Black people were killed in traffic accidents at roughly double the rate of white people in Multnomah County, according to a county report. In 2021, 70% of pedestrians killed in Portland were homeless, according to the Street Trust statement.

It’s not yet clear whether Mayor Ted Wheeler’s much-publicized order to sweep homeless camps from alongside high-traffic roads reduced the number of unhoused people killed by cars.

Here’s how people died on Portland roads in 2022, according to data from the Portland Bureau of Transportation:

20 drivers

11 motorcyclists

26 pedestrians

4 bicyclists

(These numbers differ from those released by the Police Bureau. PBOT excludes people who die “intentionally, in an act of homicide, more than 30 days following a crash, or in a crash not involving a person driving,” says spokeswoman Hannah Schafer.)

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