joined Mayor Hales at a press event for
the SE 136th sidewalk project yesterday.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Standing on a dirt and gravel shoulder and squeezed between two parked cars, Mayor Charlie Hales announced yesterday morning that he intends to move forward with the sidewalk project on SE 136th Avenue.
Back in February, Bureau of Transportation Interim Director Toby Widmer said he needed more money for paving and he wanted to take the $1.2 million already set aside for the sidewalk to do more of it. That decision set off an outcry from the community. Even though PBOT is technically under the Mayor’s purview and Widmer is his hand-picked director, Hales distanced himself from the decision almost immediately. Then, less than two weeks later Hales faced even greater pressure when five-year old Morgan Cook was tragically killed by someone driving on that same road just a few blocks away from where the sidewalk was planned.
“If all we do is maintain what we have then we’ll leave behind the parts of the city that have nothing and that’s not right.”
— City Commissioner Steve Novick
Hales addressed Cook’s death in his comments yesterday. “The tragedy highlighted two conflicting problems in Portland’s transportation system. We have miles and miles of streets that need attention and paving; but we also have safety problems throughout the city, specifically pedestrian safety problems.”
Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick, who has been active on east Portland transportation issues since coming into office on January 1st, said we must be careful with balancing these needs. “There are people who say all we should do is just maintain the roads. Maintenance is important, but if all we do is maintain what we have then we’ll leave behind the parts of the city that have nothing and that’s not right.”
Novick put forward his “creative” idea to build new sidewalks. Current City code requires developers to build a new sidewalk with their project. But that creates a “patchwork quilt” said Novick. He wants sidewalk money from developers to go into a fund that would construct sidewalks where they’re needed most. (The Oregonian has more on this idea.)
PBOT Director Widmer said construction of the new sidewalk on SE 136th between Powell and Holgate will begin this fall.
Beyond that project, the issue of sidewalks in east Portland has become a state priority as well. Six members of the Oregon legislature spoke at yesterday’s event. They included: Senators Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland) and Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River), and Representatives Shemia Fagan (D-Clackamas), Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland), Jeff Reardon (D-Portland) and Jessica Vega Pederson (D-Portland).
Rep. Reardon, who represents much of east Portland said his district is short on “housing, bicycles, transportation, and economic development.” “It has been a very inequitable situation over the years and we’re very committed to addressing that.”
Rep. Fagan spoke passionately and with a strong voice. She thanked the family of Morgan Cook, saying, “They had every right to slam the door and grieve in private.” A mother of a young child herself, Fagan said, “I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to lose a child so I’m taking my marching orders from that family.”
According to Fagan, she and her colleagues have already begun discussions with the Speaker of the House and the Ways and Means Committee to find $3.6 million in state capital funds to build sidewalks on SE 136th. Fagan pointed out that there are 2,000 students who use the street to access local schools. “All of these kids need a safe route to school,” she said. “And these families are not just Portlanders, they are Oregonians and we owe them as well.”
Toward the end of the event, a man pulled up, got out of his car and started yelling at Mayor Hales. Richard Gagne, a local resident, expressed frustration at the lack of action from the City on traffic safety issues. “It’s sad it takes a child getting hit for anybody to step up and do something.”
There are two great upcoming opportunities to learn more and weigh in on east Portland transportation projects: PBOT is hosting a meeting on Monday (4/8) from 7-9:00 pm at Ron Russell Middle School (3955 SE 112th Ave) and several state legislators are hosting a Transportation Town Hall on April 27th with reps from ODOT, TriMet, and PBOT on hand to answer questions.