Special gravel coverage

St. Johns fatality fuels fire of neighborhood’s safe streets activism

Posted by on November 11th, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Riding in st johns

Riding in downtown St. Johns.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The death of an innocent man on the St. Johns Bridge last weekend has spurred — and renewed — activism around transportation reform on many fronts.

Tired of freight trucks and reckless driving holding their streets hostage, on Monday the St. Johns Neighborhood Association will host a forum to delve deeper into the issues of traffic and transportation safety. Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and representatives from the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation are slated to attend. Local residents passed out flyers for the event at last week’s protest ride; but SJNA Board Member and Chair of their Safety and Livability Team Travis Parker tells us the event was planned prior to the collision that killed Mitch York.

Parker and other volunteers with the neighborhood association have spent over a year on a coordinated effort to make streets in St. Johns safer. In October 2015 anonymous residents erected fake speed limit signs in a desperate effort to get PBOT’s attention and get people to slow down on a wide section of North Smith Street.

The neighborhood — on a peninsula formed by the Columbia and Willamette rivers about 10 miles north of downtown Portland — has grown and changed considerably in recent years as housing prices have skyrocketed in close-in neighborhoods. In addition to more people living in the neighborhood there’s been a significant increase in freight truck traffic as the nearby industrial port distict has hemorrhaged shipping container business.

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St. Johns is hemmed in by freight routes.
(Map: PBOT, 2008)

St. Johns is ground zero for freight traffic because it sits between two major industrial areas (Rivergate and northwest Portland/Linnton) and is bisected by Highway 30 — a designated freight and National Highway System route that’s managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation. The St. Johns Bridge is part of Highway 30 so it’s not surprising that neighborhood activists like Parker feel like their work is now more important than ever. Adding to the sense of urgency in St. Johns is a feeling that the emergence of projects that improve cycling, coupled with major demographic changes (related more to income, not race like we’ve seen in areas like the Vancouver-Williams corridor) could lead to a backlash against street projects with some people seeing them as nothing more than signs of gentrification.

For Parker and others organizing for safer streets, it’s all about preventing more deaths and injuries.

“In recent months we have had tragedies on two truck routes that place freight accommodation above all other users – especially vulnerable road users,” Parker wrote in a statement last week. “The St. Johns Bridge, where Mitch York was killed by a reckless driver October 29th, and Columbia Blvd, where high school student Bradley Trujillo was struck crossing before school, have freight designs that inherently do not dissuade reckless driving and seemingly restricts opportunities for improved safety and access for vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists, and ADA compliance.”

In addition to a focus on the bridge, Parker says he’s working with people from St. Johns and other adjacent neighborhoods who want to tackle various projects including: the creation of “better streets teams” and improving bicycle access and safety on North Willamette Boulevard.

At Monday night’s forum the goal will be to educate everyone on the latest projects and issues in St. Johns, listed to people’s concerns and perspectives, and map out a plan to realize shared goals. For more details, visit the event listing on our calendar or view the flyer on the St. Johns Neighborhood Facebook page.

Here’s the flyer:

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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  • Kristi Finney November 11, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    I know Bradley’s mother and have been just sick about Bradley’s injuries and the trauma and life-change forced upon this family. I can’t attend this event as I’ll be out of town mourning the loss of my own child, but I thank everyone involved in promoting road safety and insisting that the priority must be people and not trucks and their goods. SAFETY FIRST!

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  • Scott Mizée November 11, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Kristi, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your own child. Thank you for caring about those of us who are pressing forward here. We will remember you and your loss.

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    • Kristi Finney November 11, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      Thank you, Scott. Fortunately (or not) my mourning is five years down the road now. Our group Oregon and SW Washington Families For Safe Streets is hosting an event for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2016 on 11/20 in downtown Portland. We will be honoring and remembering all the loved ones lost and injured in Oregon and worldwide. Here’s a link to our group and more information. https://www.facebook.com/ORSafeStreets/
      Thanks again.

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  • Joe Adamski November 11, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Freight is one issue. The huge influx of Washington to Clark County commuters has increased significantly, pushing the route (Skyline, Germantown, bridge, North Portland) to capacity. The quest for shaving a few seconds off a commute leads to high speed traffic through an older, dense residential community. Adding to the general lack of enforcement are low threshold drivers, lacking license, insurance and a sense of civic responsibility. My sense is that enforcing existing statute would create a traffic backlog, which in turn would force folks to reconsider that time/money discussion that currently encourages long commutes. St Johns suffers the effect of that neglect.

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  • wsbob November 11, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    I’m glad to see the St Johns neighborhood association encouraging improvements to street safety in town and associated with the use of the bridge.

    Hazards and other traffic congestion problems in this neighborhood are personal for people living there, and their needs and concerns should carry comparatively more weight in the crafting of good decisions for changes favoring functionality and livability, than should that of people living outside the neighborhood.

    Members of that association likely have some ideas about how much compromise in functionality and livability the neighborhood should be prepared to endure in the interest of fast, efficient freight transport. And they likely have some ideas also, about how amenable the functionality of the St Johns bridge should be to people having need of crossing it by bike or walking. What do they think about the volume of motor vehicle traffic across the bridge, the mph speed at which the state allows it to travel by way of posted speed limits, and the effects of traffic routed to the bridge through the neighborhood?

    I’m not a big fan of gentrification, though I have an idea city halls like it for the tax money that kind of development represents to city budgets, compared to more modest development. A preference of neighborhood residents for more modest and affordable housing and businesses than the Pearl or Mississippi Ave have come to offer, shouldn’t have to mean the neighborhood must not expect safe, enjoyable streets upon which to walk and bike to work, school, shopping, and for recreation. Some happy medium should be possible.

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  • K'Tesh November 12, 2016 at 4:19 am

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…

    ODOT Knew

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  • Jen November 12, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Thank you for the coverage!! The neighborhood appreciates you!

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  • Kevin November 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

    How about stricter laws actually enforced for bikers. Tired of bike lanes being used as a suggestion just for some biker to pop up on the side walk or ride in traffic. Getting goods and services around is of greater need than bikers

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    • Kevin November 12, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      Your comment is petty.

      We can have both, but I’ll tell you this — “enforcing bike laws against bikers” isn’t going to do anything (or potentially very little) to make significant impact to the safety of vulnerable road users. That is going to come through design of roads, enforcement of traffic laws, and a shift in culture as it relates to how automobiles and trucks operate on our streets, and through our neighborhoods.

      (By the way – I’m tired of bike lanes being used as turn lanes or parking spots for vehicles as that’s not their intended use.)

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    • Chris I November 12, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      Step out of your car and try to see the world from someone else’s perspective for once.

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    • q November 12, 2016 at 10:56 pm

      Kevin–1. How do bikes on the sidewalk interfere with vehicles associated with delivery of goods and services? Are they interfering with freight trucks that are also driving on the sidewalks?

      2. If “Getting goods and services around is of greater need than bikers”, then how about some restrictions on passenger cars? They get in the way of vehicles delivering goods and services more than bikes do. Have you ever seen a bike going slow in the fast lane on the freeway?

      3. Do you realize people on bikes are as likely to be on their way to jobs associated with providing goods and services as are people in passenger cars? And when they arrive, they don’t take up a parking space?

      4. Do you realize that bike lanes ARE just a suggestion, legally, in many instances?

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      • q November 13, 2016 at 5:47 pm

        Are there really two “Kevins”? I was replying to the bad Kevin.

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        • Kevin November 14, 2016 at 3:47 pm

          Yeah, apparently. I think the system only locks the registered user name (?), but I don’t really want to post with that name. I’m a subscriber, at least.

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  • Peter November 12, 2016 at 11:52 am

    I don’t see why freight trucks can’t be forced to go 25-30mph, even on designated freight routes. Would barely add any time to their trips and vastly improve safety (if it were enforced, of course).

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    • Jeff November 15, 2016 at 6:31 am

      This is such a good idea. They should honestly be designed with a speed cap. Something that big going that fast can never bring any good!

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