Regional group seeks public input on road safety

An online map of the Salem-Keizer area is nearly covered in icons – each with a comment describing dangerous crosswalks, speeding drivers and deadly collisions.

“I have almost been hit by a car more than once and I have seen other people get hit,” reads one comment pinned to the intersection of State and Northeast High Streets downtown, where a pedestrian was killed in a December collision.

The map is part of a regional study asking the public to help shape local policy addressing pedestrian, bicyclist and driver safety in an area that sees an average of 3,700 crashes per year.

Citizens submitted comments to the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study, the metropolitan organization responsible for planning transportation improvement investments throughout the region.

The group said it will consider the comments as it drafts its “Metropolitan Transportation Safety Action Plan,” intended to create new policies that better protect pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

That study, led by elected representatives and transit experts from the region, opened its public survey in mid-March and is seeking public input until Monday, April 3.

The survey asks respondents to prioritize their focus areas, with options including distracted drivers and intersection safety. There is also a blank space for write-ins.

Respondents are asked to rate their feeling of safety while traveling in various places and conditions, such as a busy intersection or at night.

The survey also asks people to identify their preferred safety measures, including lower speed limits, increased education and separating bike paths from traffic.

Between 2015 and 2019, Salem-Keizer area roads saw an average of 18 fatal crashes and 100 serious injuries. That’s a 50% increase in serious injuries and deaths compared to 2007-2011, according to data from The Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments which staffs the study. 

Police have reported at least two fatal collisions in the Salem area this year. On Tuesday, March 28, a bicyclist was struck and killed after colliding with a car in the South Central neighborhood, according to a news release from the Salem Police Department. 

Between 2015 and 2019, the intersection of Northeast Liberty and Center Streets saw the most crashes with 100 total, according to data from the council

That was followed by Northeast Commercial and Marion Streets with 90, and Northeast Sunnyview Road and Lancaster Drive with 70, according to data from the council of governments.

Marking the map at Northeast Commercial and Center Streets, one commenter wrote that “Pedestrians have to be very wary of left turning cars off of Commercial. I have to watch for left turning the entire time I’m walking across the street. It is not a safe crossing.”

Salem City Councilors Virginia Stapleton and Trevor Phillips are on the study’s steering committee, as well as Sadie Carney, vice president of the Cherriots Board of Directors.

The group said it plans to publish the public survey results in late April, and will consider the public feedback when developing its long-term plan that will guide local policy and distribute federal funding for improvements.

Drafts of that plan will be open for public comment this summer.

Mike Jaffe, transportation planning director for the regional council, said the plan will be developed in compliance with the federal Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program, a potential funding option that they would apply for after the plan is completed next year.

The survey comes amid ongoing efforts to improve street safety. In November, Salem voters passed an infrastructure bond allocating $157 million to sidewalk and street improvements, including new bike lanes on State Street and a pedestrian walkway from Willamette University to the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge in Riverfront Park.

In January, the Salem City Council passed a motion to amend the Salem Transportation Plan to commit to eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries on city roads within the next decade, a concept called Vision Zero. 

“We have functioned under this idea that we are always going to have traffic-related deaths. We have come to accept that, and not question it. But I firmly believe that through a combination of design, education and enforcement we will be able to achieve the goal of zero traffic deaths and serious injuries here in Salem,” Stapleton said while introducing the motion. 

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.