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Portland Oregon Vision Zero Deep Dive

by Jim Wood

Why is Portland’s Vision Zero results trending in the wrong direction?  BocaFirst recently began profiling US cities’ Vision Zero implementation results and discovered Portland is about to miss their goals. That goal is eliminating roadway fatalities and serious injuries by 2025. This article is a Portland Oregon Vision Zero Deep Dive to provide information on the main reasons for the miss.


In May, 2023 we profiled Portland’s Vision Zero implementation results: Portland, Oregon – Vision Zero City Profile for Boca Raton – BocaFirst. Since then, we’ve been researching the issue in more depth. Also, we’re in touch with the staff at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to better understand their situation.

As a refresher, the city began their Vision Zero implementation in 2017 with a schedule of meeting their goal in 2025. The following table shows their latest status:

The Problems

The PBOT staff referenced a NY Times article for an overview of what they’re experiencing: The Exceptionally American Problem of Rising Roadway Deaths – The New York Times (nytimes.com).

“We know what the problem is, we know what the solution is,” said Caron Whitaker, deputy executive director at the League of American Bicyclists. “We just don’t have the political will to do it.”

In particular for Portland’s situation, they cite the following as needed to get their plan moving in the right direction.

Major street redesigns with safer speeds

Freedom to get around without driving

Basic needs (housing, access, substance abuse treatment, mental health service)

People-friendly vehicles

Following is a discussion of each of the above crash factors.

Major street redesigns with safer speeds

In Portland 8% of their streets contributed 70% of the city’s roadway fatalities in 2022. Also, the city has been very aggressive in reducing speed limits on their streets. Their goal is 20-25 mph for most streets. Only 8% of streets are now posted at equal to or greater than 35 mph, but in the last three years 46-75% of fatalities have occurred on these streets.

Miles of Street by Speed Limit

Represented as percentages of Portland’s approximately 2,100 miles of street

Most of the approximately 2,100 miles of streets in Portland have a 20 mph speed limit. (Graph excludes freeways and the less than 1% of streets that are 15 or 50 mph.)

Freedom to get around without driving

In 2022 pedestrians made-up 44% of traffic deaths and four people died while bicycling.

Basic needs (housing, access, substance abuse treatment, mental health service)

PBOT first started tracking traffic deaths involving houseless community members in 2021 when [they] found that 33% of all traffic deaths and 70% of pedestrian traffic deaths were people experiencing houselessness.

People-friendly vehicles

According to the above referenced NY Times article that compares countries, “In the U.S. in the past two decades, by contrast, vehicles have grown significantly bigger and thus deadlier to the people they hit.”

Contributing Issues

Contributing to the above major crash factors causing Portland to risk missing their Vision Zero goals are:

An overly optimistic schedule

While the city was aggressive in implementing some projects, there doesn’t seem to be a large planning correlation between bringing projects on-line and major crash reduction.

Organization issues

in the timeframe between Vision Zero planning starting and now there seems to be some organization upheaval. For example, the mayor and some city commissioners were changed. Also, the state representative on the Vision Zero task force was removed and then the task force was eliminated. This might signal shifting priorities.

Including state and county streets in goal

Although interstate highways were excluded from the city’s high crash network, state and county roads were included. These roads tend to have higher speed limits and the city does not have authority to make changes to them. Approximately 50% of fatalities occur on state roadways, which comprise only 12% of Portland roads.

Prioritizing low hanging fruit

the city seems to have chosen to schedule the implementation of projects directed at changing behaviors and lowering city owned street speed limits over more difficult but more effective projects such implementing protected bike lanes and protected intersections on high speed limit streets.


This article focuses on the main reasons Portland Oregon’s Vision Zero goals are at risk of not being met. The objective of the article is to provide the City of Boca Raton with information that is useful for creating it’s Vision Zero action plan. Hopefully this information will help Boca Raton avoid some of the problems encountered by Portland.

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