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Is Portland really a safe walking city?

November 13, 2009

By Patrick Emerson
Oregon Economics Blog

The Oregonian reports on Portland having received a rating as one of the safest walking cities in America—Portland was #9. But is it really a safe walking city?

The methodology is seriously flawed. It is clearly designed to make a political point and not provide meaningful data. The way they compiled the ranking was to divide the number of pedestrian deaths divided by the number of people who walk to work. What you would ideally want is some measure of total pedestrians or, better yet, total pedestrian-hours.

Proxying this by using walking to work may seem like a good idea, but I doubt that it is. Clearly walking to work is very, very highly correlated with urban density but may not be correlated with the population who walk for any reason at any time. So you skew the statistics and, not surprisingly, very dense cities look safe and sprawling cities do not. Which is, I imagine, their point.

Now, I hate sprawl as much as the next guy, but it is not necessarily bad for walking safety in general. Yes, you can’t walk to get everywhere, but walking around inside the little cloistered neighborhoods that were the rage before the new urbanism ethos kicked in is probably pretty safe.

What sprawl is bad for is walking in general. I don’t think conflating the two is helpful.

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Discuss this article

bud November 13, 2009

That totally debunks the study. These lists have becoem too cheap. Soemone needs to do a list of bad lists. Great idea. I am glad I thought of it.

dieselboi November 13, 2009

I think Portland is a great walking city. Sometimes much safer than being on a bike or car. Most of the city has sidewalks and crosswalks and such. When you do get out to the neighborhood, you do have to be careful when crossing non-marked intersections or 4way stops, but like with all things, being aware of your surroundings if the first step to safety. Heck, you can get run down by a crazy driver anywhere.

I’ve walked all over this city and while I have my complaints about some specific intersections, I feel it is a safe town to walk in. Keep your eyes open. While you may think you have the right of way, a car is larger and will hit you and probably get away with it with today’s laws.

Max November 13, 2009

Obviously, SW Portland wasn’t included. They should take a look at Capitol Highway, Taylors Ferry, Scholls Ferry, Oleson Road, Farden Home, etc.

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