Population Growth Fuels Traffic Congestion and Fatalities

In January 1971 Oregon’s then beloved Governor Tom McCall urged travelers to visit Oregon often, “…but for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live.” Governor McCall’s plea sums up “The Portland’s Paradox” well. Abundant natural resources, stunning beauty, and relative isolation is why many people move to Oregon in the first place. Decades ago, Governor McCall knew Oregon would eventually be rediscovered and reshaped, and when that happened there would be no turning back.

We are far past the tipping point. Like it or not, Oregon will never be the same. Since about 2013, Oregon has been a top moving destination, according to a study by United Van Lines of 123,000 moves. During that period, 70% of Oregon interstate moves involve people moving to, not from, the Beaver State. Modern day pilgrims flock to Oregon for farm-to-table cuisine, fresh hop beer, award winning Pinot Noir, year-round skiing, biking culture, varied economy, mountainous terrain, a generally temperate climate, and Oregon’s fiercely independent spirit.

Serving as the state’s largest and most iconic city, Portland is responsible for attracting a significant portion of outsiders. In recent years, housing prices have skyrocketed, and the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro Metropolitan Area is now the 23rd largest in the U.S. Portland itself is now the 26th most populated city in the country, with a population of 2.35 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With so many moving in and few moving out, it is not surprising that the rate of traffic accidents has increased; however, it has increased to a disproportionately high degree.

Between 2015 and 2016, Portland suffered a two-fold increase in traffic fatalities involving vehicles and pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcycle riders. Though the crux of this can be directly tied to a high rate of new residents in a short amount of time, it does not help that there is now a much larger population of large trucks on the roads. In February of 2015, the Port of Portland lost its largest international shipping company. Hanjin of South Korea finally fled after 2 years of hinting that they would leave due to labor disputes. They carried 78% of container traffic to the port. Since 1933 the company had transported goods down the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Within the next few months, the city’s second and third-largest shipping companies followed suit.

Historically, Portland’s position along these rivers enabled the city to develop much faster than other pioneer cities. Today, the city lies in the 8th most congested metropolitan region. Seven Portland highway corridors are ranked as the most congested in the entire country, and the city hosts the state’s most dangerous intersection as well: Powell Boulevard and SE 122nd Avenue. Those in East Portland neighborhoods have experienced a fair amount of traffic-related fatalities; over half of all traffic deaths in the first half of 2016 occurred on roads in these neighborhoods that had posted speeds of over 35 miles per hour.

Common Accidents and Injuries

Many car accidents in Portland are triggered by regional weather such as rain, ice, mud slide and fog. Most commonly though crashes are caused by operator error. Driving at high speeds, driving while drunk, driving while high, driving without glasses, and driving while impaired by a medical condition are all common causes of motor vehicle accident crashes. In the big picture, drunk driving has decreased over the decades due to stiff penalties and social stigma. Sadly, emerging hazards such as distracted driving, driving while smoking pot and driving beyond the age to do so safely have picked up the slack. And, as commercial trucks comprise a greater percentage of Oregon traffic, crashes increase in severity.

The worst crashes, (those involving fatalities) are usually the consequence of dangerous driving behaviors such as:

  • Not yielding the right of way
  • Disregarding stop signs, traffic signals, or other traffic control devices
  • Drifting outside of lanes
  • Driving left of center on a two-way street
  • Straddling the center line
  • Improper lane changes
  • Following too closely
  • Going the wrong way on one-way roads
  • Improperly overtaking another road user
  • Improper turns

Severe injuries can occur as the result of these actions. Traumatic brain injuries, joint disorders, spine injuries, injuries to the extremities, and post traumatic stress disorder are common following a serious car accident in Portland. There are many steps that you should take following a car accident to ensure your claim has all the necessary information, and the best chance at being paid.

Hit & Run Accidents

Most motor vehicle collisions are simple unintentional mistakes of judgment involving relatively modest injury. No big deal if everyone is insured. If the other driver is not insured, it’s a bigger deal, but not criminal. Call police. Make a claim under your or your drivers’ uninsured motorist coverage.

But sometimes, more is going on than just a crash. Sometimes, the driver at fault has reason to flee the scene. He may have an outstanding warrant. He may be uninsured. He may be intoxicated. If that happens, call 911 immediately. Record, photograph, and document the event the best you can without confronting the other driver if possible. He may be armed. All collisions are unfortunate, yet some can lead to dangerous conflicts. Be aware and prepared. Oregon requires motorists to try to find the owner and leave a note with identifying information even when a parked car is hit.

Oregon motorists must stay at the scene, exchange insurance and identifying information and render aid to those that need it to the extent aid can be given. In other words, call 911 and help how you can. It is a felony offense in Oregon to drive away from a car accident. If you have been hurt in a hit-and-run accident, contact experienced Portland personal injury lawyers at (503) 245-5677.

Personal behavior choices were a common thread in all 44 traffic deaths in 2016.

Intoxication by at least one party 55%
Involved excessive speed 32%
Hit and run 14%

Poor Road Designs Feed Traffic Deaths

Portland’s roads are outdated, crumbling and no longer able to absorb today’s non-stop bumper to bumper traffic levels and large influx of semi -trucks. As of 2017, Oregon high-speed roads do not properly distribute traffic and as a result, fatal car accidents have jumped considerably in recent years.

Portland has responded to by adding and improving existing dedicated bike lanes, medians, median refuge islands and crosswalks as part of a city-wide initiative to make streets safer for everyone, regardless of transportation mode. In April 2017, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed issuing $50 million in city bonds to repair roads and parks as soon as 2018 as part of a project called “Build Portland”.

Many of Portland’s roads and bridges are falling apart. Through this initiative, Mayor Wheeler hopes to address dire maintenance concerns and encourage future city councils to continue investing in safe roads and infrastructure. He would like to see his proposed $50 million bond deal grow into a $500 million bond deal that will help the city improve and maintain infrastructure over the next twenty years.

To paint a picture, it costs approximately $500,000 per mile to replace roads in poor condition. A road that is in fair condition can cost $150,000 per mile to replace. Until improvements can be made, the city’s fragile roads may be a factor in exacerbating injury car crashes. Attorney Richard Rizk and his team of personal injury attorneys can provide peace of mind following a serious injury accident. Call (503) 245-5677 or email rich@rizklaw.com.

As of 2017, Oregon high-speed roads do not properly distribute traffic and as a result, fatal car accidents have jumped considerably in recent years.


Commonly Asked Questions Car Accident Victims Want to Know

Medical Issues

Since the crash, I fear traffic. What should I do?

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The insurance company for the driver at fault wants to talk with me. What should I do?

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Your Own Insurance Benefits

How do I start Oregon PIP medical benefits?

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Fixing Your Vehicle

Who should fix my vehicle—my insurance company or the at fault driver’s insurer?

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Vision Zero

Vision Zero was adopted in 2015 with the goal of eliminating serious traffic-related injuries and deaths after Portland saw its largest traffic fatalities spike in fifty years. The initiative operates under the mantra that “One death on our city streets is too many.” Through changes in road construction and planning, the city aims to reduce instances of traffic-related deaths by taking into consideration all modes of transportation. With over 20 million miles traveled each day by car, motorcycle, bicycle, and on foot, this goal is almost insurmountable.

The initiative has targeted many aspects of road design throughout Portland, increasing safety by updating sidewalk and pedestrian crossing infrastructure, buffering left-sided bike lanes, redesigning busy intersections, and working on other ways to reduce traffic congestion and protect all road users. Vision Zero’s High Crash Corridor Program specifically targets the following high-risk streets:

High Risk Streets

  • – 82nd Avenue – 122nd Avenue
  •  SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway
  • NE Sandy Boulevard – Burnside Street
  • Foster Road
  • Barbur Boulevard – Marine Drive

Considering speed is a major factor in many deadly car accidents, legislation has also been introduced to reduce residential speed limits. House Bill 2682 seeks to lower 25 MPH limits on residential streets to 20 MPH. Approximately 3,000 miles of residential roads will be affected should this measure be approved by Governor Kate Brown.