Portland is on track for a record-breaking year of traffic fatalities.
There have so far been 62 deaths on Portland’s roads in 2021, the highest number since 1996. That number includes 26 pedestrian fatalities, the highest number of pedestrian deaths in 49 years, said Portland Police Sergeant Ty Engstrom.
And with December just starting, Engstrom said, “This is the wet, dark, rainy time of the year and unfortunately, we do get a number of pedestrian fatalities this time of year.”
Engstrom said that when the roads cleared because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people started driving much faster — up to 25 miles per hour or more above the speed limit. And they haven’t slowed.
“As we go out and work the freeways and major roadways in Portland, that’s what we continue to see: really fast driving,” Engstrom said. “And I think a lot of that is that our roadways are not as congested as they used to be.”
In addition, Engstrom said the Portland Police traffic division has been dramatically reduced, along with other cuts.
“It’s hard to ignore the fact that we have a huge number — record-setting number — of fatalities and we have very, very low numbers of police officers patrolling our streets,” he said. “At the beginning of 2021, staffing levels in the Portland Police Bureau were so low that they had to dismantle almost the entire traffic division.”
To help with some cuts, the Oregon Department of Transportation is using grant money to pay Portland officers to work overtime traffic shifts.
In 2015, Portland made a commitment to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets under the ‘Vision Zero’ project.
Sgt. Engstrom said some roadway redesigns and lighting enhancements have made some streets safer, but not everywhere.
“Right now we’re at 62 fatalities and that’s nowhere near zero,” he said. “So some things have worked, but not everything.”