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[Study] The Most Dangerous Places for Cyclists in Portland

Posted on June 21, 2021 in

Portland is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the United States. Not only is cycling a popular pastime for many Portlanders, but it is also how over 22,000 commuters get to work every day. While Portland may be ahead of other cities in its bike infrastructure and is attempting to transform its bike paths, it can still improve rider safety.

From 2015-2019, there were 2,420 bike crashes in the Portland metro area, according to crash data from the Oregon Department of Transportation and Washington State Patrol.  Additionally, fatal traffic crashes, in general, have increased sharply during the pandemic – the 54 deaths that occurred in 2020 were the most in Portland since 1996.

It’s clear that, despite the city’s focus on bicycle safety, cyclists are still at risk.

So, what information do cyclists need for a safer ride?

We worked with data visualization firm 1Point21 Interactive to analyze five years of crash data in the Portland metro area.  We identified where bike crashes are most likely to occur, what causes them, and which intersections are most dangerous for cyclists.

Where Do Crashes Occur?

The majority of bike crashes in Portland occur in two places: bike lanes and at intersections.

Bike Lanes

During the study period, 66 percent of crashes occurred on roads with some form of bike infrastructure (such as regular lane, protected lane, bike-only path). Only 14 percent of Portland’s street mileage contains any kind of bike infrastructure.

By comparison, roadways with no bike lanes – 86 percent of all road mileage – saw just 43 percent of crashes.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that bike lanes are more dangerous – rather it reflects that cyclists prefer riding on roads with bike lanes.  However, this data does serve as a good reminder for cyclists that they should still be aware of their surroundings – even when riding in a bike lane.  Bike lanes are proven to increase safety on the road, but they don’t guarantee it.

Additionally, not all bike lanes are made equal. For example, protected bike lanes separated from traffic by an actual barrier are much more effective in preventing traffic fatalities than painted bike lanes, for example.

Intersections

Regardless of the bike infrastructure, intersections are the most dangerous places for cyclists in the Portland metro area.

Just over 84 percent of Portland-area bike crashes took place at intersections (including driveways).*

When compared to all other crashes (any motor vehicle collision not involving a bicycle), cyclists are much more likely to be struck at an intersection than occupants of motor vehicles.

*The numbers don’t add up to 100 percent because one crash can take place in two different types of bike lanes. For example, if a crash occurs at an intersection of a bike lane and a roadway without a bike lane, it  counts as one of both.

What Are the Most Dangerous Intersections for Cyclists in the Portland Area?

As previously mentioned, intersections are among the most dangerous places for cyclists. We mapped hotspots in the metro area to highlight high-crash intersections and discovered that many are in popular cycling areas including Downtown Portland (132 crashes) and Inner Southeast (215 crashes), while others can be found across the metro area.

The 20 most dangerous intersections in the Portland metro area, ranked by crash volume from 2015-2019:

Rank Intersection City Bike Crash Pct Bike Injury
1 NW Broadway and NW Hoyt ST Portland 10 67% 10
2 S Moody Ave and S Sheridan ST Portland 6 55% 6
3 NW 20th Ave and NW Everett ST Portland 6 60% 6
4 N Broadway and N Flint Ave Portland 5 83% 5
5 SE 7th Ave and SE Hawthorne BLVD Portland 5 22% 5
6 NE Couch ST and NE Grand Ave Portland 5 16% 5
7 N Broadway and N Ross Ave Portland 5 100% 5
8 SE 24th Ave and SE Ankeny ST Portland 5 63% 5
9 NE 1st Ave and NE Broadway Portland 5 24% 5
10 N Going ST and N Interstate Ave Portland 5 17% 5
11 E Main ST and NE Brookwood PKWY Hillsboro 5 8% 5
12 SE 7th Ave and SE Salmon ST Portland 4 33% 4
13 NE Multnomah ST and NE Wheeler ST Portland 4 44% 4
13 SW Capitol Highway and SW Vermont ST Portland 4 44% 4
15 SW Greenway and SW Hall BLVD Beaverton 4 29% 4
16 NE Going ST and NE Martin Luther King Junior BLVD Portland 4 20% 4
17 SE 8th Ave and SE Sandy BLVD Portland 4 17% 4
18 NW Division ST and NW Eastman PKWY Gresham 4 8% 4
19 NE 181st Ave and NE Glisan ST Gresham 4 5% 4
20 NE Andresen Rd and SR 500 Vancouver 4 50% 2

When Do Crashes Occur?

Bike crashes are seasonal – spiking in the summer when Portland weather is most accommodating to cyclists. 32 percent of bicycle crashes take place between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. – during rush hour. The number of crashes peak at 5 p.m., likely when most commuters are heading home from work and traffic is at its worst.

What Is Most Likely to Cause Bike Crashes?

In the majority of crashes, the driver, not the cyclist, is responsible for causing the bike crash.  This data proves wrong the common stereotype of reckless cyclists.  In fact, drivers were almost twice as likely to cause a crash than cyclists were.

Most often, drivers failed to yield the right of way to the cyclist; this led to more than half of the bike crashes from 2015-2019. In contrast, only 11 percent of crashes were caused by the cyclist’s failure to yield.

What Type of Collision Is Most Likely to Occur?

Collisions are most likely to occur while one or more participants are crossing paths or changing directions/turning at an intersection. 63 percent of crashes resulted from one or more participants turning and 26 percent from hitting the other participant at an angle, like a T-bone crash. Only eight percent involved participants traveling on the same road (sideswipe or rear ends).

What Is the Outcome of Bike Crashes?

Cyclists, unfortunately, are almost always the ones who suffer injuries or death – and suffer at least some type of injury in nearly every crash. From 2015-2019, 30 cyclists were killed in collisions with cars in the Portland area. During that same time, no driver was killed in collisions with cyclists.  Only two percent of drivers involved in crashes suffered any injuries, compared to 98 percent of cyclists.

Safety Tips for Cyclists

Because bike crashes are most common at intersections and in bike lanes, take the following safety precautions:

  • Before you go anywhere, get familiar with the city and its bike infrastructure through this map geared towards cyclists in Portland. The map helps you plan your route by identifying the types of bike lanes and locate safer options for cyclists.
  • Know you have safety resources available to you at all times.
  • Ride safely and predictably.
  • Assume that a motorist doesn’t see you and make your intentions extremely clear through signaling and eye contact.

Data Overview

Bike crashes for Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, and Clark counties from 2015-2019 from the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Washington State Police.  

Bike lane analysis is limited to the city of Portland only.

Methodology available upon request.

If you would like to report or republish our findings, please link to this page to provide a citation for our work.