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New city of Hillsboro study looks at strategies to eliminate fatal traffic crashes by 2035

Correction appended

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - A 2012 photo shows the damage after a driver smashed into a motorcycle at Brookwood and Cornell. The motorcyclist, Michael Lahmers, died at the scene. Hillsboro city planners are hoping the City Council will adopt a plan calling for zero traffic fatalities by 2035.  It was a bright Thursday October morning on the day that Michael Lahmers died. He never saw the truck that hit him.

Lahmers, 60, of Bethany, was riding his motorcycle along Cornell Road in October 2012 when he was struck by a pickup truck turning from northbound Brookwood onto westbound Cornell. He died at the scene.

Police said the driver of the truck, a 51-year-old woman from Aloha, had a flashing yellow signal and didn't notice Lahmers until it was too late.

Lahmers' death was one of more than 17 fatal or near-fatal traffic crashes in the city since 2009. In a recently released report, city planners are hoping to identify troubled intersections where serious crashes have occurred, in the hopes of stopping more people from being killed on Hillsboro's roads.

This month the city released its Transportation Safety Action Plan, which calls for Hillsboro to find ways to eliminate fatal crashes from the city's streets.

Have your say

The city is accepting comments on the TSAP about the plan until Friday, March 17.

You can read and comment on the city's transportation safety action plan online at Hillsboro-oregon.gov/tsap.

According to the study, the intersection of Brookwood and Cornell has had three times as many total crashes as similar intersections in other parts Washington County.

City engineers say they'd like the city to take steps that will lead to zero serious or fatal crashes by 2035.

It's a lofty goal, but Tina Bailey, the city's transportation program manager, said it can be achieved if the public gets involved.

"We want to get feedback about how people feel about that," Bailey said. "We want to hear about people's experiences in Hillsboro. Do these findings ring true? Are there other things we need to look at in the future?"


Most crashes occur at intersections

Between 2009 and 2013, crashes at the intersection of Brookwood Parkway and Cornell Road have resulted in one fatality and two serious life-threatening injuries, according to city data.

Now, city engineers need to figure out why.

"That's one of the things that we will be looking at in the future," said Tegan Enloe, traffic engineering project manager with the city. "The purpose of the study was to look at the city as a whole and look for trends for crashes that are happening, and then do a more detailed review. That's one sport that we should look at, now we have to drill down for more detail."

The city looked at crash data over a five year period, between 2009 and 2013. In that time, 17 people either died or were seriously injured on Hillsboro roads.

"The difference between a severe injury and a fatal crash can be slight," Enloe said. "It could be the differences in the environment and emergency response time."

Nearly half of all fatal traffic crashes in the city involved vehicles striking pedestrians as they crossed the road, Enloe said.

Fatal crashes in Hillsboro accounted for slightly more than one-quarter of all fatal crashes in Washington County, and about one-fifth of serious injury crashes, according to the data.

The city hasn't ever done a study like this, said Bailey.

Cities look at crash data on local roads regularly, said Enloe, but seldom look at the city comprehensively.

"It gives us a 10,000-foot-level view of Hillsboro, and helps us identify trends related to crashes," Bailey said.

The results were surprising, Enloe said.

While many residents might complain about speeding, Hillsboro has a significantly lower crash rate due to speeding than the state average. The same is true for drunken driving.

Crashes at intersections account for the majority of Hillsboro's crashes. More than half of all crashes occurred in intersections, compared to about one-third in the Portland area as a whole.

Just how to make those roads safer is a question that has yet to be answered. Enloe said some intersections with higher than expected crash rates, such as Brookwood and Cornell, might require changes to the intersection's design. For other areas, it might mean tweaking the timing of traffic lights, or better signs to teach drivers how to move through intersections better.

"It's hard to say specifics yet, until we have more detailed information," Enloe said.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - According to data, the intersection of Brookwood and Cornell has three times as many crashes as similar intersections in Washington County.

Officials plan to prevent fatal crashes

City planners have proposed a series of improvements, including better bicycle and pedestrian crossings, increased police enforcement, better timed traffic signals and redesigning some intersections

Just when those improvements might come isn't certain. Studies like the city is proposing are expensive, though Bailey said the city hasn't penciled out how much the study might cost.

"It really depends on how successful we are at finding funding to dig into this," Tina said. "It will definitely require outside resources to fund."

The city council will vote next month whether or not to adopt the plan.

The Oregon Department of Transportation and Metro have both said they'd like to move toward a zero fatality system over the next two decades.

"As a city in their jurisdictions, we contribute to their goal," Enloe said. "We can achieve more working together on the same goal than we can apart."

Enloe admits that reducing fatal crashes to zero is more "aspirational" than likely to happen, but she said that with enough hard work, Hillsboro's streets can be made safer for everyone.

"There are periods of time when there aren't crashes occurring, so we know that it's possible," Enloe said. "Is it an education campaign so people make smarter decisions, or are there other things we can do?"

The city is accepting comments on the TSAP about the plan until Friday, March 17.

You can read and comment on the city's transportation safety action plan online at Hillsboro-oregon.gov/tsap.


Editor's Note: This story has been updated to better reflect the number of crashes at Brookwood and Cornell. The intersection had three times as many total crashes as similar intersections in other parts of Washington County.



By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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