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Statewide Survey: Oregon's a Tough Place for Pedestrians

Surely signs such as this won't be necessary to get Oregon motorists to slow down, pay attention and reduce the number of fatal crashes involving older pedestrians. Credit: Ariadna/Morguefile.
Surely signs such as this won't be necessary to get Oregon motorists to slow down, pay attention and reduce the number of fatal crashes involving older pedestrians. Credit: Ariadna/Morguefile.
September 10, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. – The U.S. Surgeon General decreed on Wednesday that walking should be a bigger priority to improve the nation's health – but in Oregon, both city dwellers and rural residents may be risking their lives just crossing a road.

According to The State of Pedestrian Safety report, released by Portland-based Oregon Walks, pedestrian deaths make up more than 16 percent of Oregon's traffic-related fatalities – and 26 percent in Multnomah County.

Noel Mickelberry, Oregon Walks executive director, says pedestrian safety means sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting and appropriate speed limits – but federal road maintenance funds have dwindled, and state money for road-sharing and safety projects is also scarce.

"In the most recent transportation package, there was no increase in the amount of funds, besides the one-percent that's required to go toward bikes and pedestrian infrastructure," she says.

The Oregon Walks report says more than half of fatal pedestrian crashes happen on roads with speed limits of at least 40 miles an hour. In addition to physical improvements to roadways, Mickelberry says speed limits and pedestrians' rights should be enforced as strictly as drunk or distracted-driving and seat belt laws.

The report adds that residents age 65 and older make up less than 14 percent of Oregon's population, but more than 22 percent of pedestrian deaths. AARP Oregon calls that figure "alarming and disheartening," and advocates for safer streets as part of its Livable Communities initiative.

"If you don't have the curb-cuts for a wheelchair, that also means a mom pushing a stroller is going to have difficulty," says AARP volunteer Elaine Friesen-Strang. "To encourage people to get out and walk more, we need to make it easier and safer for people of all ages and all abilities."

Friesen-Strang served on a recent workgroup for the City of Portland analyzing ways to fund more road maintenance and safety improvements. Another report on that topic is expected this week from the City Club of Portland.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR