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Water Avenue business owner wants safety improvements, and PBOT already has some planned

Posted by on August 24th, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Matt Milletto of Water Avenue Coffee-2.jpg

Matt Milletto of Water Avenue Coffee, standing in the intersection where Tamar Monhait was hit Monday morning, is tired of the dangerous driving in his neighborhood.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Matt Milletto, the owner of Water Avenue Coffee, has seen enough. The death of 41-year-old Tamar Monhait just steps away from his front door has spurred him into action.

During the monthly meeting of the Central Eastside Industrial Council last night, Milletto stepped forward during the public comment period to share his concerns about the intersection of Water Avenue and Taylor. I wasn’t there but heard from a source in the room that he spoke forcefully about the need for something to be done. I met Milletto today to hear his perspective first-hand.

“We’re tired of seeing this. A four-way stop at this intersection would have saved a life.”
— Matt Milletto, Water Avenue Coffee

“I’ve owned a business here for 13 years,” he shared, as we sat in his popular cafe. “I’ve seen this neighborhood evolve and grow. It’s sad to see our streets turn into such a crazy place.” In an email he added, “I am distraught over it as it happens in front of my business, and it’s not the first time … a few years back another cyclist was hit in the same spot, and there are a string of other accidents in this area. My goal is to make Water Avenue one of the best streets in the city. Having literally named my business after this street, I feel I have a cohesive bond to the avenue and want to be a safe place.”

Milletto said dangerous driving is common in the area. One block to the north, people exit I-5 at Yamhill and are dropped into a bustling area full of walkers and bikers. “The mentality of drivers coming off I-5 and speeding to beat the train, etc. is staggering and very visible,” he wrote in an email. Because Yamhill doesn’t go through, many people drive south on Water Avenue and swing onto Taylor to go east — the same thing the driver of a large garbage did just prior to hitting Tamar Monhait on Monday morning.

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Tamar Monhait memorial.jpg

A memorial has sprung up at the site of the fatal collision.

Since the crash, Milletto has been reaching out to other business owners. So far he’s gotten support from the owners of Cargo, Boke Bowl, Bunk, and several others.

“We’re tired of seeing this,” he told me today. “It could have been avoided and it’s negligent to not do something. A four-way stop at this intersection would have saved a life.”

Matt Milletto of Water Avenue Coffee-1.jpg

Milletto added that because Monhait was well-known as an artist and employee in the central eastside, her death has touched a lot of people. “You look around at your employees and you wonder, who’s next? What if this was one of your employees? How outraged would you be?”

I also heard today that the Portland Bureau of Transportation already has changes in store for this intersection. Reader Greg Haun included us in an email exchange with PBOT regarding a safety request he initially made in October 2014. Haun made a formal request for crosswalks that led to PBOT doing an engineering analysis to see if they were warranted. They were. And the engineer recommended them being added to the City’s official Capital Improvement Project list. In a subsequent email from PBOT’s Eileen Dent (who tracks 823-SAFE requests), she told Haun the project is currently in design.

The City plans to install two marked crosswalks on Water Avenue. They will also build new ADA-compliant curb ramps at the corners and all three corners (the SW corner is undeveloped) will get curb extensions. New signage to remind road users about the presence of walkers is also planned. Completion of the project is expected this fall.

Reached for comment about the planned crosswalks, Milletto said, “That is good news.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of tomorrow’s vigil and my impressions of the collision based on video footage I reviewed today.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Adam
    Adam August 24, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    A crosswalk is not enough. At a bare minimum, crosswalks need need to be installed at literally every intersection in the city. A marked crosswalk here is just a bandage solution – this intersection and all of Water Av needs a redesign that prioritizes people over cars. Marked crosswalks don’t even prevent left-hooks! Crosswalks are still car-centric design – they instruct pedestrians exactly where to cross the street. True people-friendly streets would not have a highway off-ramp, angle parking, tiny sidewalks, nor door-zone bike lanes.

    Make this block car-free. Tear down the highway off-ramp. Convert this block into a pedestrian plaza. No more bandage-solutions, PBOT; the people of Portland are sick of them!

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    • Chris I August 25, 2017 at 5:42 am

      We can maintain vehicle access but improve safety. Both this intersection and the freeway offramp intersection should have raised crosswalks. We need to send the message to drivers that they are no longer on the Interstate.

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      • Adam
        Adam August 25, 2017 at 9:18 am

        Agreed! Some of the worst places in Portland to ride a bike are the blocks near highway ramps. The Couch crossing of I-405 comes to mind.

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  • bikeninja August 24, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Go Matt Go, the proposed crosswalks and ADA curbs are not enough. Matt is right and the only possible near term solution is a 4 way stop at Water and Taylor. Lets all step up and apply pressure to PBOT until this becomes a reality. They probably resist , because of the fear that it might back up traffic at the offramp from I5, but we can’t sacrifice anyone else to the god of convenience.

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  • Buzz August 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Water Ave could use a good repaving and removal of the hazardous abandoned railroad track that stick up out of the pavement in various places. And the pavement on most of the cross streets is in even worse shape…

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  • Buzz August 24, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Another thing that makes this area much more hazardous is the freeway off-ramp traffic, I agree with Adam that it should go away.

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  • Justin August 24, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    I always go through this intersection whenever I drive to work and I’m always super nervous about the way car, pedestrian, and cycle traffic sort of jumble together around this part of Water Ave. There are a few places where I get paranoid about checking for cyclists and this is one of them. I can see how easy it would be to hit someone if your mind was on something else. Glad to hear they’re working on improvements. As the project is currently in design, I think it’s a good time to weigh in with our thoughts about it. Agreed that a cross-walk is not enough. This area has changed a lot. Water leads to OMSI, Springwater, waterfront, Tilikum, etc. The whole street needs to be designed. Is Eileen the best person to email with feedback on this project?

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    • catherine feta cheese August 27, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      Going south in the evening, I avoid most of Water Ave. because of the ramp danger & fast vehicles at intersections. Even though the bike lane route is on Water, I take 3rd or 2nd up to SE Clay, OMSI, Springwater instead.

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  • rick August 24, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    Isn’t there a sign posted on the adjacent river path that says, “Fast bikes use Water Ave” ? Water Ave should be no more than 20 mph.

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    • HJ August 25, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Just down by OMSI where the path becomes a real mess of unaware users of all sorts.

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  • Greg Haun August 25, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Credit for the request for crosswalks goes to the owners of the buildings on both sides of Water Ave, Beam Development. I was a tenant at the time, and was copied on the original exchange.

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  • Mossby Pomegranate August 25, 2017 at 9:01 am

    I’ve witnessed many close calls at that intersection while sitting at Hair of the Dog.

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  • HJ August 25, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Let’s be serious folks. The off-ramp isn’t going anywhere. It would be beyond unrealistic to get rid of. What does need to be addressed is how the traffic from it is handled. The current design worked for the traffic volumes 20+yrs ago. With what flows through there now the whole thing is just a mess.
    This is one of the few instances where I will actually agree that considering a lower speed limit would make sense. That said the lower limit won’t make any difference without enforcement in the area of traffic laws. This area tends to be a bit of a wild west of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians doing all sorts of crazy stuff. Drivers are often in a hurry or searching for parking. Cyclists range from skilled and hyper-aware racers to the most clueless, unskilled, and unaware you’ll see. Pedestrians, well, are pedestrians.
    We need enforcement to address drivers making unsafe turns, using cell phones while driving, and just in general creating hazards. We also need enforcement addressing cyclists that dart out when it’s not safe or flat out running stop signs.
    The infrastructure problems also need addressing. While I generally despise them this is an area where raised crosswalks could make some sense. They would force road users to slow down and use more caution at intersections. Like other commenters have said, drivers do need a reminder that they’re not on a freeway any more.
    The turn at Taylor in particular has become a major route, not just for cyclists but for drivers as well as it is one of the few that provides a light for crossing MLK. It’s definitely an intersection that’s overdue for a redesign. A SB left turn lane would be very appropriate as would a traffic light.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu August 26, 2017 at 11:05 am

      Agree. Yamhill off-ramp is staying. It is the only off-ramp to the Central Eastside, which needs freeway access – it is an industrial district, after all. The off-ramp intersection has a four-way stop, which reduces traffic conflict. The intersection of Water & Taylor needs the same treatment, at least a four-way stop. PBOT needs to recognize the connected pattern of traffic going through these two intersections.

      I also think there should be traffic-calming devices to slow drivers and make them more aware of pedestrians. Corner bump outs (with bike lane cut through), sharply raised crosswalks (that make it very uncomfortable for a car or truck to blow through the stop sign). I don’t think there is room for center pedestrian curb islands (not enough room for trucks to turn). Better street lighting.

      Whatever you feel is appropriate, write to PBOT, the PBOT Commissioner (Saltzsman), and the Mayor’s office. I would not like to see the city move forward with improvements to this intersection that fail to include a four-way stop and traffic calming.

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  • Toadslick August 25, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I appreciate that the owners of these businesses on Water Ave are aware that many of their customers are vulnerable road users. This stands in stark contrast to the business district on our new 20s greenway.

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  • Joe August 25, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    so sad and yes ppl drive way to fast on this street.

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  • Justin August 25, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    We could actually get rid of the offramp here. If you take the I-5/I-405 fork to the left and exit into city center you can go across the Hawthorne bridge for easy driving access into the area. It might just be the time of day, but I never see this off-ramp super busy.

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  • B. Carfree August 25, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    I’m left wondering how painting in a handful of crosswalks does anything to make violent left crosses any less likely. If not, what was all that Vision Zero noise about if PBoT won’t address deaths by changing the facts on the ground to make them less likely where they have occurred?

    I guess there’s no capacity for shame at PBoT, which is a shame for the entire city.

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  • rachel b August 26, 2017 at 12:34 am

    It’s the drivers, and the situation is ridiculously out of control and must be seriously addressed. Was almost killed by two separate drivers today who I witnessed OVER MILES of driving, staring down at their phones the entire time with only quick glances at the road. Thick (though easily moving) traffic at 6:30pm on 43/Macadam and Powell/The Ross Island Bridge. A honk did nothing to raise their heads or change their selfish, dangerous, reckless behavior. Their driving was completely erratic. I see this enough to call it the new normal in Portland now. I want them off the road. We need enforcement. We need enforcement. We need enforcement. I want them off the road.

    RIP Tamar and many thanks, Matt.

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  • Carrie August 28, 2017 at 7:35 am

    It’s been three years since the greenway RFB and crosswalks on SE 19th and Bybee were in the design phase and they still haven’t been installed. But no one’s been killed there [yet] and heaven forbid we do something BEFORE something happens. I’m just saying — a project in the design phase means it’s still years away.

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  • bArbaroo August 28, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    I work at the south end of the road, near where the Springwater Trail starts. I complain to police and PBOT about reckless driving problems in this area on a regular basis. Sometimes they are responsive but mainly the problem continues due to lack of enforcement when it comes to reckless driving: speeding, cutting blind corners at high speed, cell phone use, confusion (being lost and making unsafe u-turns), even doing doughnuts in intersections.

    The CEIA area needs to remain accessible to trucks, cars, etc but it also needs to have more safety infrastructure for peds and bikes. That includes more speed limit signs posting slower speeds, and way finding signs that direct through-traffic safely through the district. The Central City Plan and Greenloop planning have only slightly touched on this but it has been part of the discussion. It would help to have more bike/ped folk advocate for change in this “industrial sanctuary” as it continues to grow as an employment district.

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