One of the deadliest stretches of road in our city will see radical changes beginning today. According to The Oregonian automated speed cameras “will be activated along the 3/4 –mile stretch of Southeast Division Street between 148th and 162nd avenues.” This comes just four days after the city council voted to lower the speed limit along a broader stretch of the road, running from Southeast 87th Avenue to 154th Avenue.
While the speed limit cameras have been in the works for some time (a state law approving their use was passed in 2015) the choice of Southeast Division as the site for one of the first sets installed is evidence of how much of a problem this stretch of road has become. Last week The Oregonian quoted Dan Saltzman, the City Commissioner who oversees the Portland Transportation Bureau, referring to Southeast Division as “a death corridor.” The newspaper noted that of Portland’s 44 traffic fatalities last year five took place on this one stretch of road. The 2016 tally of fatal Portland auto accidents was the highest since 2003, and the concentration of so many deaths in such a small area made a strong case for action.
According to KGW the city transportation division “used a little-known state law to enable the Portland City Commission to quickly lower the speed limit. Commissioners used their emergency safety authority to reduce the speed limit with Thursday’s vote.” Normally it is state officials who control the setting and changing of speed limits. The move drops the speed limit in the area from 35 mph to 30 mph, but it is only effective for 120 days. Saltzman and other city officials said the statistics along Southeast Division cried out for immediate action. The city government hopes state officials will move to make the new lower limit permanent before the four-month measure expires and are preparing to file required paperwork requesting the change.
As a Portland personal injury attorney I am pleased to see our local officials moving in such a clear and decisive manner to address this problem. As KGW notes, the Southeast division corridor “has 50 percent more crashes than the city average.” At a time when Portland is working hard to implement the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate deaths on our city’s streets it is essential that local officials do what they can to make the plan work.
As The Oregonian notes: “a 2011 study of traffic fatalities by the AAA Foundation showed that a pedestrian’s chances of surviving being hit by a car are greater at lower speeds, but those chances begin to diminish faster when the car is traveling in excess of 32 mph.” So even though the difference between 35 and 30 on a road like Division may not seem like much, there is a compelling public policy argument for making the change. Combine that with the increased enforcement that the automated speed cameras will offer and we can all hope that this notably dangerous area of our city is about to get a good bit safer.
City of Portland: Vision Zero Information Page