PSU researchers share ‘promising practices’ to reduce crashes near homeless camps

Campers next to the I-5 exit ramp in North Portland. (Google Street View)

“Cities have shown they have the capacity and the resources to adapt quickly to new crises. These adaptations must prioritize vulnerable communities and underserved areas. »

According to a City of Portland report released last year, 19 of the 27 people killed in traffic crashes on the streets of Portland last year were homeless. This represents 70% of the total number of pedestrians killed and about a third of the total number of people killed in car accidents of any kind.

The staggering statistic sent shockwaves through Portland. Mayor Ted Wheeler’s solution was to declare a state of emergency and ban camping in so-called “inherently unsafe camping spots,” which include streets in PBOT’s High Crash Network and along highways. national and federal.

But homelessness and transport advocates said the move could cause further trauma by uprooting people and further criminalizing homelessness without doing anything to address the root of the problem.

That’s where a team of six students who call themselves Street Perspective from Portland State University’s Masters in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program came in with a research project titled, Safety interventions for homeless pedestrians. Angie Martinez, Meisha Whyte, Asif Haque, Nick Meusch, Peter Domine and Sean Doyle presented their findings at last week’s Friday Transportation Seminar hosted by PSU’s Transportation Research and Education Center.

This study focused primarily on the transport policy lens, but also looked at potential housing and shelter solutions.

Of Safety interventions for homeless pedestrians.

There are many potential reasons why homeless people are at increased risk of being killed on the streets, but one main factor is that they choose to set up campsites near freeway ramps and along arterial roads. Large vegetated buffers around highways are perfect for pitching tents, and thoroughfares are often close to services, stores, and other destinations. Unfortunately, they are often near many high-speed drivers.

The Street Perspective team spoke to people living on the streets and service providers working on the ground. They mapped the conditions after making site visits. They analyzed crash data.

One of their main takeaways was how harmful swipes are in these environments. Presenters pointed out how forcing people to move to areas with quieter car traffic can mean cutting them off from the services they depend on and the communities they have built.

“A lot of the negative effects of bullying and swiping are because of this loss of community that gives people a sense of stability and connection,” Sean Doyle, one of Street Perspective’s researchers, said during the presentation.

So what tactics does the Street Perspective research indicate that might work to help protect homeless people from traffic violence? Here is a recap of their “promising practices”.

Safe streets for all

At the start of the pandemic, the PBOT enacted the Safe Streets Initiative and installed traffic calming measures on select streets to give people more space to walk, bike and ride while social distancing. and staying out of traffic. The Street Perspective team suggests that PBOT address the traffic violence that homeless people face by applying similar measures to areas near essential resources where campsites are set up.

“Cities have shown they have the capacity and the resources to adapt quickly to new crises. These adaptations must prioritize vulnerable communities and underserved areas,” the presentation said.

Infrastructure

Investments in active transportation would not necessarily need to specifically target the homeless – as anyone walking or cycling in an area would benefit from safer infrastructure – but such investments could be prioritized in places where the homeless are disproportionately affected.

The Street Perspective study looked at three intersections in Portland (above) near homeless campsites where pedestrian fatalities have occurred (all three are on the PBOT High Crash Network): W Burnside St and NW 2nd Ave; NE Sandy St, NE Halsey St and NE Cesar Chavez Blvd; and NE Glisan St and NE 122nd Ave.

Although the details vary, the study found they all had inadequate crossings, missing sidewalks and catered to people driving cars at the expense of everyone else.

The types of improvements the Street Perspective team suggests for these dangerous intersections are the same treatments that PBOT has done at other intersections in the city, such as improving street lighting, improving the visibility of pedestrian crossings and speed reduction measures. Research suggests that wider implementation would provide a long-term solution to the dangerous conditions homeless people face on our streets, more effective than simply steering people away from the dangerous intersection without doing anything to address the problem. problem.

Better and more shelters

A motorhome on 33rd NE (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

While researchers say sweeping campsites isn’t a helpful long- or short-term solution to the crises our homeless neighbors face, that doesn’t mean it’s ideal to have people living next door. high collision corridors. But homeless people are not a monolith and will have different wants and needs for their future housing. There are potential steps the city could take to prevent deaths while giving people choice about where they want to live. This could include: providing places for car and RV camping, which offer more safety than being homeless on the streets (and which PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has already made progress on ); sanctioned campsites in safer locations; or small home villages and motel vouchers.


Students provide a more comprehensive list of proposed solutions in the full presentation which is available via YouTube. They also recognize the limitations of their work as it focuses primarily on transport infrastructure. To see real change, this crisis will need to be approached holistically.

“There is no single solution. Infrastructure alone cannot reduce speeds,” said a presenter. “Road safety is closely linked to shelter and necessities.