Traffic crashes and fatalities are on the rise in Multnomah County, reaching epidemic levels. People who are Black or people who live in East County are at nearly two times the risk of being injured or killed in a traffic incident compared to their White or inner Portland counterparts.
This data reflects the embedded inequities in Multnomah County’s transportation system and infrastructure:
In east Multnomah County – where there are more underdeveloped areas with poor lighting, inadequate sidewalks and fewer crosswalks – the rate of years of potential life lost from traffic injuries are nearly double that of inner Portland, according to an analysis by Multnomah County Community Epidemiology Services. Years of potential life lost is an estimate of how many years a person would have lived had they not died prematurely.
Exclusion laws, redlining and gentrification have resulted in more Black, African American, and African immigrant/refugee populations living farther from city centers and in underdeveloped areas in east County. The disparity between Black and White Multnomah County residents is staggering: The death rate from traffic crash deaths among Black Multnomah County residents is nearly twice that of non-Latinx White residents.
“This is something that I’ve noticed personally,” said Anthony Bradley, executive director of the nonprofit Play Grow Learn. “Several years ago on Christmas Eve, one of our clients was struck while crossing in a lit-up crosswalk and broke her collarbone.”
Play Grow Learn offers youth and family programs and services, primarily to the African American community and low-income families in Portland. They are also a valued partner with Multnomah County’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) and Community and Adolescent Health (CAH) programs and have led several traffic safety initiatives in the community.
“We conduct walk audits and teach young people how to be critical thinkers when it comes to traffic safety,” Bradley said. “With regards to traffic crashes and pedestrian safety, there are more incidents based on race and gender. We address this through community awareness, education and personal safety initiatives.”
Play Grow Learn’s individual programming and community-wide initiatives work toward one of REACH’s focus areas: improving the built environment to create safe and accessible places for physical activity.
The link between health and the built environment is significant. For example, environments that are more spread out require people to get around by car; this leads to more time sitting, increasing the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Further, more vehicles means more air pollutants and higher risks for injury.
In order for people to exercise outdoors, they need to be able to do so easily and safely. Hazards like high-traffic areas, unsafe sidewalks and inadequate lighting prevent people from feeling safe outside. Underdeveloped areas that lack safe infrastructure have deadly consequences.
REACH works with Play Grow Learn and other partners, including the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), to improve the built environment.
A recent initiative with PBOT involved placing new signs in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood. If you have spent time there this fall, you may have noticed new decals on roads and sidewalks, directing pedestrians and bike riders to various community spaces. These decals, posted in English and Spanish, are a result of Safe Routes to Everyday Places, a partnership between REACH and PBOT.
The decals guide people toward health clinics, parks, schools and grocery stores. They are part of an initiative to make biking and walking in high-traffic neighborhoods safer and easier by providing safe pedestrian routes to essential community spaces.
The next time you’re in Cully, look out for the decals and other built environment projects that help make walking and biking in our neighborhoods safer and more accessible.
Learn more about other REACH initiatives at /reach.