(Photo: Elly Blue/Flickr)
On Wednesday, we brought you news of the first “communique” from newly formed activist group The People’s Department of Transportation (PDOT). Their video featured on-the-street interviews and commentary that was critical of a new wall erected by the Oregon Department of Transportation in the middle of NE 82nd street.
The wall is in place between NE Jonesmore and Wasco streets where 82nd crosses Interstate 84. The activist group PDOT (not to be confused with the official PBOT with a “B”) characterized it as a “rogue wall” that, “divides Portland” and “inconveniences thousands.”
“While we are disappointed that some people didn’t join the conversation until the project was nearing completion, we remain convinced that we have employed a public, collaborative process to achieve a well-considered remedy.”
— Jason Tell, ODOT Region 1 Director
After watching the PDOT film, I contacted ODOT Region 1 Manager Jason Tell for an explanation. Tell explained that the new barrier is part of a “comprehensive solution” to what he referred to as a “historically dangerous section of 82nd Ave.” According to ODOT, this barrier wall was put up to discourage people from crossing this busy stretch of 82nd mid-block and the idea is to “channel” them to marked crosswalks at signalized intersections.
Ironically, this same wall that has become the ire of this new activist group (and many in the community judging from comments on their story and ours), was featured in a presentation by Tell at the recent Transportation Safety Summit and held up as a shining example of community collaboration.
Tell said the wall is the result of a more than two year process working with neighborhood groups, public transit riders, community leaders, and officials from TriMet and the City of Portland. “We incorporated all voices from the community in an effort to find a solution that created a safer roadway for everyone – pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.”
The $382,000 project (funded by ODOT, City of Portland, and TriMet) also includes widened crosswalks and relocated bus stops (for more on the project visit ODOT’s website).
Tell acknowledged that not everyone supports their solution, but said that’s to be expected with any project. He continued:
“And, while we are disappointed that some people didn’t join the conversation until the project was nearing completion, we remain convinced that we have employed a public, collaborative process to achieve a well-considered remedy.”
As evidence that the new median barrier had buy-in from locals and various stakeholders, Tell forwarded me nine letters about the project. The letters were dated between September and November 2008 and signed by representatives of TriMet, the Portland Police Bureau, the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, Central Northeast Neighbors Inc., Madison South Neighborhood, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, and the Montavilla Neighborhood Association.
Here’s a rundown of sentiment expressed in those letters:
- TriMet expressed “full support” for the wall.
- Central Northeast Neighbors said “the installation of this fence would make it safer for all modes of transportation… and will benefit everyone in the community.”
- Police Chief Sizer said she supports the idea because it is in line with the principals of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (a.k.a. CPTED). “It will send a message that orderliness is expected and the environment is being cared for,” she wrote.
- Dave Smith, Chair of the Madison South Neighborhood said he and his neighbors support the project. “We believe that this structure can be a beautiful addition to our neighborhood as well as serve to increase safety throughout this corridor.”
- The Willamette Pedestrian Coalition letter expressed some reservations about the proposed fence, saying it could have “unintended effect of increasing speeds” through this area, but they stopped short of opposing the plans. “If installed, the fence needs to be high enough to remove the challenge for youth to climb over but should not be the ‘great wall’ which would partition the street setting and exacerbate other crime and safety concerns.”
- The letter from PBOT said they support the concept of a “pedestrian gateway treatment” and that head traffic engineer Rob Burchfield said the idea “has merit.”
- Sandra McDaniel from the Montavilla Neighborhood Association wrote that they do not support the fence idea. Instead, they wanted a mid-block crossing installed (she cited a 12-3 vote in favor of that idea). “We believe we can do better with changing our [neighborhood’s] image. In our opinion, the fence plan would not further that goal.”
“This is not something we got to because we liked it… We got here because in the end saving people’s lives is the most important thing. No one likes to feel constrained or forced — but this was the cost effective thing to do that would save people’s lives.”
— Mayor Sam Adams
It’s important to note that these letters were written before the wall was actually installed. It’s also worth noting that, as the Pedestrian Coalition’s letter pointed out, crossing mid-block at this location prior to the installation of this wall might have been dangerous — but it was entirely legal (as per Portland City Code 16.70.210).
The Oregonian reported today that the design of the wall was vetted through a series of workshops and written comments. ODOT community spokesperson Shelli Romero told The O’s Hard Drive blog that, “This is the one that was chosen overwhelmingly… It’s what the community said it wanted.”
Elly Blue, a citizen activist who put together the PDOT video, remains steadfast in her criticisms:
“It’s scandalous to see urban design used again and again, under the vague guise of “safety,” to respond to issues stemming from poverty by dividing neighborhoods with physical barriers.
It’s also interesting to note that most of the people who seem to favor the wall do so because it makes it easier to drive through the area and more difficult to walk through.”
I spoke with both Tell and Mayor Adams about this issue more today. I asked them if there were any measures considered that would have dealt with the speed and volume of motor vehicle traffic (the bull in this China shop as Mikael Colville-Andersen referred to it).
Tell said yes, a lot of different options were looked at but none of them were viable. Since this corridor is “designed to handle traffic,” he said, they were reluctant to send this traffic onto neighborhood streets. “We want it [motor vehicle traffic] on bigger arterials.”
Mayor Adams told me his was skeptical of this solution when ODOT first brought it to him. “I was skeptical at first so I brought it to PBOT staff and questioned all their assumptions and analysis. After a lot of looking at raised crosswalks, rumble strips, speed bumps, and so on, this is what it came down to.”
Adams echoed Tell’s feeling that diverting traffic off of NE 82nd and onto what he called “substandard neighborhood streets without sidewalks” would be not be a good solution. Adams said both he and Tell arrived at this wall “reluctantly.”
Adams said, “This is not something we got to because we liked it… We got here because in the end saving people’s lives is the most important thing. No one likes to feel constrained to forced — but this was the cost effective thing to do that would save people’s lives.”