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News Blog: Pedestrians over age 65 at greater risk of dying in Portland traffic crashes

Vision Zero Portland logo

(July 30, 2019) Older adults make up an increasingly large proportion of pedestrian traffic deaths in Portland based on an analysis of crash data since 2010. 

In the last five years, adults ages 65 or older made up 26% of pedestrian traffic deaths in Portland, compared to 16% in the prior 5-year period:

Pedestrian Deaths age 65+ Portland

 

Older adults make up approximately 12% of Portland’s population, indicating that they are increasingly overrepresented in pedestrian deaths.  

People 65 and older make up 16% of total traffic deaths in Portland since 2010. 

“Our streets need to serve everyone, including people who are older and can no longer drive safely,” says Bandana Shrestha, Community Engagement Director for AARP Oregon. “Aging in place can be a wonderful option, but it becomes much harder where people must navigate wide, fast streets that lack convenient and safe crosswalks.” 

Older pedestrians particularly vulnerable  

 

A majority of older adults killed in Portland crashes since 2010 were walking or using a mobility device at the time of their death:

ped deaths portland

 

This finding aligns with state and national data. In Oregon, adults over age 50 were 64% more likely to be hit and killed while walking compared to people under 50 according to a recent analysis supported by AARP. Across the U.S., pedestrians age 70 and older have the highest per capita death rates. Incidence of older pedestrian deaths has been attributed to several factors. This includes when older pedestrians don’t have adequate space or time to cross the street at a slower pace, when older pedestrians have difficulty identifying safe gaps in which to cross traffic, or because older pedestrians are more fragile.

National data also show that pedestrian deaths have increased 51% from 2009 to 2018 at the same time that they fell in Europe. The surge in pedestrian deaths may be related to the increasing prevalence of SUVs, which are twice as likely to kill pedestrians in a crash. 

“Every traffic death is a tragedy, but it’s especially alarming to see so many older adults dying in crashes,” says Chris Warner, Transportation Director. “This is another reminder that we need to keep designing and managing our streets with the most vulnerable people at the top of our minds and creating a safe street system, and that we all need to look out for each other when traveling.” 

 

Safe speeds especially important for older adults 

Travel speed is a key predictor of traffic crashes and injury severity, and becomes even more important with age. A 30-year-old pedestrian hit at 40 mph has a 36% chance of dying, while a 70-year-old’s chance of death is nearly double that, at 70%. 

Speed is a leading contributor to traffic deaths in Portland and a focus of the city’s Vision Zero work to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. 

Since 2017, PBOT has: 

  • Lowered speed limits on residential streets to 20 mph and reduced speed limits on an additional 121 miles of street
  • Installed eight automated speed safety cameras at high crash locations and expects to install more cameras as soon as next year. 
  • Launched the citywide Struck campaign in 2018 and renewed the campaign for 2019. 

In addition to protecting pedestrians, focus areas for Vision Zero include designing streets to protect human lives and creating a culture of shared responsibility. PBOT's newly adopted PedPDX Plan describes additional tools and actions to improve pedestrian safety. 

This work will become even more critical as Portland grows older and more grandmas, grandpas, retirees, and other older adults share the city’s streets, requiring care and patience on the part of all travelers. 

 

Every intersection is a legal crosswalk

Under Oregon law, EVERY intersection is a legal crosswalk, whether it is marked or unmarked. People driving must stop and stay stopped for people walking when the pedestrian is in the travel lane or the adjacent lane.

The most common cause of crashes resulting in death or serious injury to people walking is when they are walking legally and struck by a person driving who fails to stop. People driving can do their part by having more patience, driving at or below the posted speed, continuously scanning the environment looking for people walking and bicycling, and being ready to stop as needed. PBOT reminds Portlanders to watch for people walking at all hours of the day or night, and that it is illegal to drive in the center turn lane.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and Portland Police Bureau (PPB) will conduct a crosswalk safety education and enforcement action tomorrow, Wednesday, July 31, at the marked crossing on East Burnside Street at 16th Avenue, from noon to 1:30 p.m. to raise awareness of pedestrian safety and Oregon traffic laws.

Education and enforcement actions such as the July 31 event are a key part of the City of Portland’s citywide effort to achieve Vision Zero, the goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

Learn more about rights and responsibilities for crossing streets in Oregon (in EnglishEspañol); and view the results of previous actions.

Portland is committed to ending traffic violence in our communities. Through the Vision Zero program, the City of Portland and our partners are working to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on our streets.

To request a Vision Zero community briefing, enforcement action in your area, or any non-urgent traffic safety concerns, call the 823-SAFE Traffic Safety Hot Line at (503) 823-7233, or submit a non-urgent Traffic Safety Hot Line request at https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/79389


Data details: 
The analysis includes all reported crashes that occurred within the City of Portland (including highways) from 2010 through July 30, 2019. Data from 2010 through 2017 is from the Oregon Department of Transportation. Data from 2018 through July 30, 2019, is preliminary data from the Portland Police Bureau. View more information about Portland crash data.