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Cleveland High principal worried about traffic violence on National Walkout Day

Posted by on March 14th, 2018 at 9:55 am

Sign from a protest outside Cleveland High in May 2015.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Today across America school students are walking out of class to bring attention to gun violence, the need for comprehensive reform of gun laws, and to say “Never again!” when it comes to school shootings.

Most Portland Public Schools administrators support the walkout. As a parent of kids in three PPS schools, we’ve gotten detailed emails and notices from each one in preparation of today’s actions.

Last night I heard from a parent of a student at Cleveland High School that the email sent by Principal Ayesha Freeman included a strong warning about a major safety concern that has nothing to do with gun violence. Freeman shared four specific items in her email aimed at getting parents and students ready. One of them was about SE Powell Boulevard — the state-controlled arterial road that runs outside the school on its southern side.

Here’s what Freeman wrote in her email:

I am asking that students do not stand along the Powell Blvd sidewalk due to the heavy traffic on Powell. I do not want any of our students to be hurt or injured as a result of the fast and heavy moving traffic on Powell. As you exit the building, please be mindful to exit along 26th, 28th, and Franklin. We will have staff members at 26th and 28th where those streets intersect with Powell to remind you to please not stand along Powell for your safety.

Keep in mind: Powell is always there and it’s a constant threat to Cleveland students and anyone who visits the school.


SE Powell just east of 26th with the high school on the right. The sidewalk visible on the middle-right is the one Principal Freeman warned students about.

As you recall, activists and parents of Cleveland High students have already been protesting the Oregon Department of Transportation’s mismanagement of Powell and SE 26th (which also borders the school). That intersection has been a repeat location of traffic violence. And now, for reasons that defy explanation, ODOT wants to make 26th even more dangerous by forcing the City of Portland to remove an existing bike lane and make the street even wider for motor vehicle users.

“I know my kids and his friends are at greater risk from constant, heavy, fast vehicle traffic right next to their school.”
— Carrie Leonard

It makes me wonder if Cleveland High parents — and parents from others schools across Portland — are more afraid of traffic violence than gun violence when they send their kids to school.

Carrie Leonard’s son attends Cleveland. She’s a longtime BikePortland reader, a daily bicycle rider, and an advocate for safer streets. I asked her what scares here more: traffic or guns?

“I know my kids and his friends are at greater risk from constant, heavy, fast vehicle traffic right next to their school,” she replied. “I know I’m at greater risk every time I go to an activity at his school — just getting there — than I am for anything bad happening while I’m there.” “But as a mom,” she continued, “I’m more scared of guns, because it’s so very much out of our control right now. Which I think also ties into my frustration with the vehicular traffic threat — there are known solutions and easy, quick fixes and I don’t see anyone with the means to implement those fixes standing up to the car/freight lobby to put the community’s lives ahead of ‘the way we’ve always done it.’

“I want PBOT to stand up and say ‘screw you’ to ODOT and do the right thing for safety, in the face of ODOT’s double-speak. I firmly believe that more guns are not the answer to gun violence and told my son that this walkout today may be the most important thing he’s ever done as a student. But I believe my advocacy for the bike lane on 26th and traffic calming on Powell may be the most important thing I can do for the long term health of our community.”

— 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

  • J_R March 14, 2018 at 10:28 am

    My children also attend Cleveland High School. I am often at the school for athletic events and scholastic activities.

    I frequently see motorists blow through the red light at 26th, most frequently westbound on Powell. Driving on Powell, I often have motorists pass me while exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph.

    I attended public meetings about the “Powell Safety Project” last year and earlier this year and wrote comments supporting a lower speed limit on Powell, camera speed enforcement, and red light cameras. There appears to be no interest on ODOT’s part for any of those things. Instead, they plan tree trimming and tree removal along Powell in hopes that will improve visibility of pedestrians. In all probability it will increase the openness of the corridor for motorists and encourage even higher speeds.


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    • Doug Hecker March 14, 2018 at 11:37 am

      Where would you like to see the traffic on the state highway go? Greenways and neighborhood streets would be the answer but I’m not sure people would like that. I do wonder what the percentage of PBOT’s efforts are due to lack of funding for the police bureau? Cops on the streets would change the way people actively transport but much of our money goes to the “housing crisis.”

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      • Chris I March 14, 2018 at 11:53 am

        They can stay, but they need to follow the laws. Automated enforcement is revenue-neutral or revenue-generating. This sounds like a great spot for speed and red light cameras.

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        • Doug Hecker March 14, 2018 at 6:00 pm

          The facts that PBOT provides are roughly 5 accidents over an 11 year period from 25th-28th. 1 our of every 2 years that didn’t result in a death seems rather low to me. But once again, more policing would change the guess-stimate numbers that people are throwing around in regards to people speeding and running red lights.

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          • idlebytes March 15, 2018 at 10:14 am

            “1 our of every 2 years that didn’t result in a death seems rather low to me.”
            I bet the people in those accidents wish it were lower. How are any injuries or deaths from unsafe road conditions and speeding acceptable in your mind? Just the cost of having cars? Seems to me that if these are preventable collisions we should work to prevent them.

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          • Dan Kaufman March 16, 2018 at 12:32 pm

            Do you think it should be higher? I think zero every decade should be and is an attainable target.

            The death counts near Cleveland High School are actually comparatively extreme.

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      • Matthew in PDX March 14, 2018 at 12:16 pm

        When I was learning to drive a car (way back in the dark ages on another continent) it was a very serious violation to speed in a school zone, which included any street bordering a school – the speed limit was 20 km/h whenever scholars were entering or leaving the premises. If there is a school entrance on Powell, the limit passing the school needs to be 20 (or lower) when students are entering or leaving.

        Speed limits here, and everywhere in Oregon, should be enforced automatically by red light/speed cameras – which don’t discriminate based on any characteristic of the driver or vehicle.

        I was riding my bicycle home from work the other day, in a new 20 mph zone, and realized I need to be careful not to exceed the speed limit on my bicycle (going downhill) – speed limits apply equally to bicycles after all.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty March 14, 2018 at 12:25 pm

          There is no school zone around Cleveland, sadly.

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          • austin March 15, 2018 at 12:05 pm

            Whoa, that’s crazy…

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            • Dan A March 19, 2018 at 2:46 pm

              From an email conversation I had with Douglas Bish, Traffic Services Engineer at ODOT:

              “The law currently allows an agency (road jurisdiction) to place a reduced school speed limit at a school crosswalk but does not require them to do it. Whether an agency does this or not is up to that agency. The guidance on placing school speeds has some language about traffic signals and basically says it is unnecessary to place a school speed zone at a traffic signal because the traffic signal stops the traffic and creates safe crossings for school children. A traffic signal creates the safest crossing for pedestrians.

              Many times to advise motorists that school children might be present at different times of day an agency will post the school advance signs even though the speed limit remains unchanged. This is often true of school crosswalks away from a school. The idea behind trying to limit when school speed limits are used is to not overuse them and possibly then where they are used the school speed signs are more noticeable and respected. “

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      • Spiffy March 14, 2018 at 12:55 pm

        “Where would you like to see the traffic on the state highway go?”

        it should go to limited access highways, such as a freeway like Hwy 84… there should be no freeway style roads like Powell existing pedestrian-level within the city…

        alternately those that need inner-city access should be on a bike, bus, or train…

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty March 14, 2018 at 1:01 pm

          Or it can stay where it is, and drivers can go slower.

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        • Doug Hecker March 14, 2018 at 6:05 pm

          Portland didn’t want the Mt Hood highway and probably is still living in that mistake. Many places in deep SE don’t have how the timeliness or availability to use busses or trimet. I also don’t see many of my Brentwood Darlington neighbors picking up their bikes to ride to downtown with me in the mornings. I see auto users instead. If it isn’t practical, people won’t use it.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty March 14, 2018 at 7:08 pm

            I agree that it would be pretty awesome if inner SE Portland had been flattened and replaced with a major highway. It’s just another example of NIMBY’s blocking progress.

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            • Doug Hecker March 14, 2018 at 8:01 pm

              Funny how we use NIMBY when it comes to the things we want NF the things we don’t. But in any regard, what is your definition of inner SE? I don’t think Powell would be part of anything “inner.”

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          • Dan Kaufman March 16, 2018 at 12:35 pm

            People are basically doing 20-mph at rush hour. I am not sure why the limit needs to be much if any higher than that the rest of the day especially when you consider that lives are at stake. Priorities.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty March 14, 2018 at 12:28 pm

      ODOT has no interest in limiting speeds on inner Powell; they refused to even do a speed study as part of their “safety project”. 30MPH would be much more appropriate for the type of landuse the street has.

      Instead, they are trying to transform into a forestry (or, deforestry) department as if it is the trees themselves that threaten to kill.


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  • Peter Hass March 14, 2018 at 11:12 am

    It’s so dangerous along the Cleveland side of Powell. I wish the speed limit was lowered to 20 along that stretch like it is in other school zones.

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  • Phil Richman March 14, 2018 at 11:53 am

    What is it that allows for such high speeds in a school zone? Is it because it’s HS vs Middle or Elementary? What would it take to extend the safety boundaries to include high schools? Are there other states where the laws have changed to include high schools? Are there other communities in Oregon that may be on board with reducing speeds around their high schools? The status quo is not OK.

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    • paikiala March 15, 2018 at 9:25 am

      High Schools don’t typically have 20 mph school zones in Portland.

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      • Dan A March 15, 2018 at 9:52 am

        But they do all over the rest of Oregon. Anybody know why that is?

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  • Caitlin D March 14, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    Well put, Carrie!

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  • Shoupian March 14, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    “I want PBOT to stand up and say ‘screw you’ to ODOT and do the right thing for safety, in the face of ODOT’s double-speak” – PBOT is doing quite the opposite. Leaders of PBOT are enthusiastically working with ODOT to widen I-5 through the Rose Quarter.

    When the Powell-Division BRT was choosing potentially alignments, taking a travel lane in each direction on Powell for BRT was not even an option on the table. Neither Metro or PBOT advocated that idea; they went along with ODOT to get along. That option would have brought significant travel time saving for the BRT project and tame this violent arterial. Now the BRT project is dead and Powell is still one of the most dangerous streets in the city.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty March 14, 2018 at 1:06 pm

      The project would probably also be dead if they tried to put it on Powell, so the end result is the same.

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  • X March 14, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    “. . .of the people, by the people, for the people. . .”

    Whose street is it?

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty March 14, 2018 at 7:11 pm


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  • Dan Kaufman March 16, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    What’s going with the bike path removal in front of Cleveland high school is infuriating becuase it reduces safety.

    About one Cleveland High School student a semester is put in the hospital by automobile wrecks near campus according to a vice principal at CHS. Recently, one of these students happened to be my son. We got to spend a day and a half in the ICU, as well. I don’t know when the last time a kid was shot near CHS.

    So yes, I am (and I should be) more wary that my children will be run down than gunned down. And yes, I am very concerned and heartbroken about ALL gun violence, which, I acknowledge, IS a very different kind of violence than preventable automobile wrecks).

    But these life-changing and fatal wrecks can be prevented if we put safety first on our streets. Unfortunately, our state highway department, legislature, and many (if not most) Oregonians, have a different priority. We are directing billions towards freeway enhancements while just a small fraction of that towards safety enhancements on our most persistently deadly roadways.

    I remain optimistic because I know we can do better.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty March 16, 2018 at 6:21 pm

      Even if ODOT put safety second, it would be a great improvement.

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