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PBOT requests $650,000 to kickstart a safer N Columbia Blvd in St. Johns

Posted by on February 22nd, 2018 at 1:12 pm

That’s a school on the left, a highway in the middle, and three residential streets coming in from the sides. It’s so frustrating that people who live here are being held hostage by this dangerous road. It needs to be fixed ASAP.

Like so many intersections throughout our city, the crossing of North Columbia Boulevard near George Middle School in the St. Johns neighborhood is a ticking time bomb. It’s where teenager Bradley Fortner was struck and nearly killed by a driver while walking to school in 2016, and it’s the intersection that spurred Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Tina Kotek to host a town hall three months ago.

Rep. Tina Kotek at a Columbia Blvd safety town hall last year.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“None of us who live in north Portland need to be reminded we have a lot of accidents out here,” Kotek told a room full of concerned Portlanders back in November.

Now Kotek is lobbying for funds for upgrades that would make the crossing safer. The Oregon Legislature already approved $1.5 million for this intersection in 2017; but that money won’t filter down to the City of Portland until 2019. Hoping to get started sooner and make even more robust upgrades, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has requested and additional $650,000 from the city’s General Fund for the project. This money is needed so PBOT can “move forward as quickly as possible” and begin pre-construction design and project development.

In an update on the project sent to constituents earlier this month, Kotek urged people to contact Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman and tell them to support the funding request. The $650,000 ask is part of $55 million in General Fund requests made by PBOT in their FY 2018-2019 Budget submitted on January 29th. (During last year’s budget cycle PBOT received about $14 million from the General Fund out of a total GF budget of $602 million).

Here’s the project description taken from PBOT’s budget (emphasis mine):

This location has been the site of several serious injury crashes and at least one fatal crash and is on the city-identified High Crash Network. A near-fatality of a student crossing the roadway in August 2016 highlighted the safety issues at this location. State funding in the amount of $1.5 million secured as part of HB 2017 during the 2017 Legislative session will not become available to the city until 2019, and PBOT does not have available funding to dedicate to the project in the interim period. To meet the intended 2019 construction schedule, project development and design must take place starting as soon as possible. The requested $650,000 would cover PBOT project development and design costs through June 30, 2018. Combined with the secured $1.5 million in state funding, the total budget of $2,150,000 will also provide budget to add more comprehensive safety, access and structural improvements to the project scope. This project advances citywide goals including Vision Zero (eliminating traffic deaths) and Transportation System Plan mode share goals for walking and biking.


This is just east of the school and crossing in the first photo. Notice the poor sightlines due to the curve, all the large semis (it’s an ODOT-controlled freight route), and speeds of 45-50 mph.

Specific elements of the project that are under consideration include: a traffic signal and a manually activated hybrid signal at the intersection of N. Columbia Blvd. and N. Midway Ave.; the modification or removal of the existing carfree bridge that connects to George Middle School; prohibiting auto users from accessing local streets and/or restricting their turning movements; and upgrades to sidewalks and curb ramps.

Kotek also promised that speed reader boards are due to hit this section of Columbia next month and that PBOT plans to make a speed limit reduction request with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

If these funds are approved PBOT would start on the project this summer. After outreach, design and engineering work is done, construction would start in fall of next year.

Given the tragic crash history at this location and demonstrated public demand for changes, this project deserves to be funded. Furthering its cause is the fact that there’s a higher percentage of people of color in the immediate vicinity and median household incomes are $50,495 — that’s $4,500 below the rest of the city.

You can help push this project forward by supporting it through the budget process. Public hearings will start in April and the final budget is approved in June. Stay tuned. If you’d like to remind Mayor Wheeler or Commissioner Saltzman about it now, you can email them at and

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

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    maxD February 22, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    This is great news. This road needs a lot of help. In the update, the list things they will do includes modify the pedestrian bridge and remove the pedestrian bridge? One of the biggest shortcoming I see is all of the gaps in the pedestrian network. There should be a continuous sidewalk on each side of Columbia between the Peninsula Crossing trail and past the George Fox School

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    Todd Boulanger February 22, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    I agree – this is very good news.

    [Though do not expect 3M style speed radar signs to be very effective on a freight corridor…unless it is tied to effective enforcement…the CoV installed such signage on West Fourth Plain Blvd (old SR-501) in Vancouver a few years back and the freight truck operators just ignore it. Its a better tool for local arterials.]

    I hope that PBoT (and ODoT) give serious study to look at a road diet along the Columbia corridor…a 3 lane cross section would also help the “poor sightlines due to the curve” near the school…along with lower speeds etc.

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      maxD February 22, 2018 at 3:33 pm

      That is a great point Todd! I just checked it out on google maps, and it is absurd to have a 5 lane road running right past a school and through neighborhoods! This is the prefect spot for a road diet.

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    Go By Bike February 22, 2018 at 3:03 pm

    The insanity of past planners who thought it would be enough to just build a “pedestrian bridge” over roads like this should be seriously examined and diagnosed. When the roads that are next to your community make it so you cannot even walk outside perhaps a more accurate term instead of community would be prison.

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      Joe Adamski February 22, 2018 at 8:04 pm

      I was told by a friend years ago that the bridge was built as a result of one of his nephews being hit and seriously injured. Now we repeat the process, again a result of a kid being badly hurt. The difference is now we have the benefit of 50 years of hindsight, seeing the result of poor design and planning. You are correct about isolated community being imprisoned rather than connected. Consider that half of the 11,000 population of St Johns Neighborhood are out along Columbia and do not have safe or easy access to the assets of the community. Along with Fessenden and like many car-centric neighborhoods, creating safe access to pedestrians and cyclists are first steps in building community.

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        Gary February 23, 2018 at 9:38 am

        “half of the 11,000 population of St Johns Neighborhood are out along Columbia” How did you come up with that? Without any data other than a map, I think it’s safe to say a tiny fraction of 11k are on the north side of Columbia. Maybe close to half are on the west/north of St Louis/Fessenden? I don’t think everyone on that side of it is in the same situation, though.

        None of which is to argue your actual point, though. You are absolutely correct that both of those corridors (along with Lombard/Ivanhoe, which I’m just south of) are major obstacles to community connectivity. Glad that they’re making progress, but especially in the case of Columbia it’s hard to see that barrier ever being fully overcome.

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          Joe Adamski February 23, 2018 at 11:35 am

          actually there are many large apartment complexes that access off Columbia, as well as the community north of Columbia. I was surprised when I heard that at a ST Neighborhood Association meeting, but the person making that claim backed it up. I can find that info if you need validation, but even if it were 10%, that would be 1100 people denied safe access. I took the census numbers from

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    Gary February 22, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    “The requested $650,000 would cover PBOT project development and design costs through June 30, 2018.”

    “the final budget is approved in June.”

    Either they’re going to spend 650k REALLY fast or one of these is in error. I assume that’s the budget through June 2019?

    Anyway, much needed project. I just hope they don’t screw it up with half-measures.

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    Lester Burnham February 23, 2018 at 8:06 am

    If this became a new “hot” neighborhood you can bet things would change. But as long as it’s just poor folks, well they can wait a little longer for safety.

    The hypocrisy in this city is nauseating.

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    vtrc February 23, 2018 at 9:52 am

    It’s kind of ridiculous living on the inside of those turns. We do have the little speed-reader-board dealies, since they’ve been installed my neighbors and I get a car in the front yard every 18 months instead of every 6.

    And as much as I love to bag on ODOT for freight-bias, my problem isn’t with Trucks on Columbia. It’s the auto traffic that’s bonkers on both Columbia, Fessenden, and anything that connects the two.

    I’m really excited to be following Donna Cohen’s group on Facebook because she’s doing such a great job on Fessenden. Hopefully we can drive PBOT and ODOT to make these streets suck less to cross. Right now they are miserable for every mode of transportation.

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    Matthew in PDX February 23, 2018 at 11:26 am

    I sometimes feel like I am the only one driving at or below the speed limit along N Columbia Blvd. I often drive along here from I-205, the speed limit is 40 mph from NE 80th Ave to N Argyle Way when it increases to 45 mph. I always use my cruise control to ensure I don’t creep over the limit (I’ve checked my speedometer and it’s accurate), and I am often passed by cars going much faster than me.

    I favor more enforcement by liberally using speed and red light cameras. Unfortunately, many groups, including ACLU (I believe) don’t like cameras because they don’t photograph the driver and can’t, therefore, provide evidence of who was driving. The Australians resolve this by issuing a citation to the registered owner of the vehicle, who then pays the fine and has points deducted from his/her license, or signs the affadavit on the back of the citation identifying the driver. If the latter option is taken, the DMV will send a new citation to the identified driver stating that he/she was identified as the driver of the vehicle. If the vehicle is registered to a corporation the fine is triple unless they ID the driver. I don’t know about other people, but I pretty much know who drives my car and when.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think our legislators, law enforcement and prosecutors are willing to go the hard yards to do what it takes to make our public roads safe for all users. They seem to empathize with one group, motor vehicle operators, over all others.

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    mark smith February 23, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    The road is wider than 26 in most places to the coast. Yeah, people will drive as fast as they comfortably can.

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    eawriste February 24, 2018 at 5:08 am

    One project ODOT should prioritize instead of widening freeways concerns N Portland. Given the current limitations of the St. John’s Br (eg. no bike infra), another multi use bridge across the Willamette just south of Sauvie’s Is. would enable the St. John’s to be a local bridge without semis as well as improve shipping routes to Washington Co, reducing shipping through N. Portland and the central city.

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    paikiala February 26, 2018 at 10:33 am
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