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City Council and PBOT will seek $300,000 for outer Division safety ’emergency’ – UPDATED


They heard you.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland is on the verge of releasing $300,000 from the city’s general fund for “emergency Vision Zero improvements” on outer Southeast Division Street.

The move comes after a spate of deaths and injuries on Division east of 82nd Avenue — including two fatal collisions within hours of each other nine days ago.

Division is home to seven of the city’s top 30 high crash intersections. This year alone five people have died and three people have sustained serious injuries while using the street. Seven of those collisions happened on outer Division between 124th and 156th.

Pressure has been building on PBOT for the past week to do something.

Last week nine bereaved family members (including two women who lost their sons at the same intersections on Division where people were killed on December 7th) signed a letter demanding immediate action.

And this past Saturday, dozens of volunteer activists used hay bales and their own bodies to slow down traffic on the notoriously dangerous thoroughfare. “PBOT won’t fix it, so we will,” proclaimed event organizers from Bike Loud PDX.

The $300,000 investment was confirmed today via a City Council agenda item that will be heard at their meeting on December 21st. We have also confirmed the action with a staffer in Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick’s office.

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The ordinance is being presented by Novick, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Nick Fish — which means it already has the three votes it needs to pass.

The money will come from contingency funding in the City’s general fund. These are funds held aside by the city in case projects cost more than expected. Specifically the agenda item calls for “emergency Vision Zero improvements and community engagement efforts on Outer Division.” We don’t have all the details about what the $300,000 will do, but we’ll update this post when we know more.

Asked about the ordinance today, Novick’s office said the idea for emergency funding came from PBOT Director Leah Treat and it was Mayor Hales’ idea to use contingency funding.

Interestingly this is a very similar approach to dealing with a traffic safety crisis that former Mayor Sam Adams took in October 2007. After two people died while biking in the central city less than two weeks apart, Adams called an emergency meeting and held a press conference at City Hall. At that meeting PBOT staff unveiled plans for installing the city’s first bike boxes at 14 high-risk locations. About five weeks later Adams got $200,000 in emergency funding (through the same contingency fund method being used by Hales and Novick).

In a story published yesterday in the Portland Mercury, PBOT dismissed the major lane reconfiguration (a.k.a. “road diet”) that Bike Loud PDX is calling for. Instead, PBOT called for much less controversial measures like medians, refuge islands and crosswalk beacons. (They were already planning to install speed radar cameras at 156th.)

There are a lot of things PBOT can do to tame outer Division. The question is, what measures will they take? And will it be enough to mitigate the clear and present danger posed by this deadly street?

The ordinance will be at City Council on Wednesday (12/21) at 10:15 am.

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UPDATE, 1:45pm: We’ve learned more context about next week’s ordinance. Commissioner Novick’s transportation policy advisor Timur Ender said it came about after a conference call convened by Mayor Hales on December 7th, the day after the two fatalities. Hales wanted to know what PBOT was doing and he wanted to move up the timeframe. “After looking at all of our efforts (engineering, enforcement, etc.),” Ender shared with us via email, “we realized we had room to improve our education and outreach efforts.”

Next week’s budget item, he added, is specifically related to funding for, “culturally-specific engagement and outreach about safety in the Jade District, and multi-language, multi-modal signs on Outer Division.” The money will also be used for traffic safety classes in languages spoken in the adjacent community.

At the council hearing next week PBOT will outline its future plans for outer Division which will include speeding up speed camera implementation and other safety-related projects. PBOT plans to dip into its General Transportation Revenue (gas tax) to supplement the emergency funding request.

More details coming next week.

UPDATE, 2:35 pm: We have learned more about the $300,000 educational effort. PBOT Traffic Safety and Active Transportation Division Manager Margi Bradway says the request (which includes more safety education, information, signs and more lighting) came specifically from APANO (the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon). Both of the people killed last week — 51-year-old Myit Oo and 65-year-old Rohgzhao Zhang — were elders in the community and their families have been in touch with APANO. We’ll share another update after speaking with APANO’s leader.

UPDATE, 3:30 pm: The full text of the ordinance (PDF) has been released:

… This stretch of street east of SE 82nd is also located near Portland’s Communities of Concern. In addition to Outer Division, Outer Halsey and Outer Glisan have very high rates of traffic crashes. The traffic deaths and injuries on these three corridors greatly impact the community in the Jade District and East Portland.

It is urgent that the City take steps now to respond to the community’s request for increased funding for education and outreach programs on Outer Division, and for two other high crash corridors, Outer Halsey and Outer Glisan. This community-based education will be complimented with traffic signs and traffic safety information in different languages. Although this budget request will focus primarily on education and signs, PBOT will use this money to leverage engineering improvements on Outer Division, Outer Halsey and Outer Glisan.

And here’s the breakdown and timeline of the actions PBOT will take in partnership with APANO…

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

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