“There’s a bit of almost a giddy feeling when you think about how many things are going to happen.”
— Kem Marks, The Rosewood Initiative
2018 could go down in history as an inflection point for east Portland. After years of activism and advocacy — and planning and politicking by local governments — a part of our city that has been historically neglected since it was annexed a half-century ago is slated for an infusion of transportation infrastructure investment the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
Tonight (5/16) at an event on SE 122nd Avenue, the Portland Bureau of Transportation kicks off the first of two open houses that will feature nearly two dozen projects and programs aimed at making east Portland streets safer and more convenient. Between projects slated to break ground this summer and next, there’s so much going on it’s hard to keep up.
Since the East Portland in Motion plan was adopted by Portland City Council in 2012, PBOT estimates they’ve delivered $255 million worth of projects (see PDF below). Between 2018 and 2019, the City’s Fixing our Streets Program alone will invest an estimated $22.4 million in 19 projects east of 82nd. Earlier this month, PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee member Jim Chasse (a veteran east Portland activist) said the City was “very generous” when it agreed to a request by the East Portland Land Use and Transportation Committee to spend $15 million in Transportation System Development Charges on languishing active transportation projects (which have since been leveraged to $28 million).
“It’s a great thing to see, there’s a bit of almost a giddy feeling when you think about how many things are going to happen,” The Rosewood Initiative’s Director of Transportation Equity Kem Marks shared with me today in a phone interview. “I think the main feeling out here is — it’s about bloody time!”
Marks says this stream of projects is the direct result of blood, sweat and tears from advocates who worked the process for years to line them up. Planning efforts like East Portland in Motion and the East Portland Action Plan’s Bike Committee helped identify projects, make them a priority, and then push them onto appropriate lists. But perhaps more importantly, these efforts have helped organize, mobilize, and radicalize a slew of activists who have become some of the most effective at swaying City Hall — even from neighborhoods many miles away from it.
Here’s a look at just some of the projects and plans in the pipeline:
E Portland funded projects_Poster_5-16-18
–> PBOT has a slew of changes coming as part of their federally funded $6.5 million East Portland Access to Employment & Education (EPAEE) project (which seriously needs a better name). The project includes: the 4M Neighborhood Greenway which will run on SE Market, Mill and Millmain between SE 92nd Avenue and SE 130th Avenue; sidewalks on SE Cherry Blossom Drive between Market and Washington; two other neighborhood greenway projects that will run north-south on the 100s between SE Bush and NE Fargo and the 150s between SE Powell and NE Halsey. SE 106th will also get several improvements: a two-way cycle track between SE Main and Stark, and new sections of paved path to fill in gaps at NE Wasco, NE San Rafael and between Division and Market (near Cherry City Park). Construction is slated to begin in 2019.
–> The East Glisan Street Update project will reallocate space on Glisan between I-205 to NE 162nd (city limits). As one of the lynchpins in the emerging outer northeast bike network via the Gateway to Opportunity project, PBOT will redesign the current cross-section of Glisan. Instead of the classic, dangerous arterial design of four standard lanes, a center turn lane and on-street parking lanes on both sides; PBOT will restripe it with two standard lanes, a center turn lane and unprotected, paint-only buffered bike lanes.
Unfortunately, PBOT says physically protected bike lanes aren’t in the budget. At the May 8th Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting PBOT Project Manager Timur Ender said the agency is, “Actively searching for funding internally; but I don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver.”
–> PBOT just kicked off their 122nd Ave Plan, which aims to “improve pedestrian and bicycle access and support better transit” on the notoriously dangerous arterial between SE Foster Road and NE Marine Drive.
“I worry people are going to die if we’re encouraging people to bike where cars are going so fast.”
— Sarah Iannarone, Bicycle Advisory Committee member
For Marks and other people who care about safe streets in east Portland, the next challenge is to make sure these projects are substantive enough to move the needle. There’s a reason so many people are hurt and killed while using east Portland’s arterials: they’re wide and straight and they encourage fast, unsafe driving.
PBOT’s Timur Ender got a taste of that concern after he presented some of these projects at the Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting. Committee member Sarah Iannarone, who lives near SE 148th and Powell, bluntly pointed out that, “I worry people are going to die if we’re encouraging people to bike where cars are going so fast.” Iannarone said she’s an “intrepid cyclist” but has all but given up cycling near her home because it’s so unsafe. She wants PBOT to lower speeds on arterials with bike lanes to 20 mph.
And Kem Marks with The Rosewood Initiative says their work will now shift to making sure these projects are as “transformative” as possible. “We want these projects to really make a difference, not just be band-aid projects,” he says. Marks is “skeptical but optimistic” about PBOT’s efforts to tame east Portland arterials. He wants to see PBOT do something like Better Naito in his neighborhood. “Are they willing to go and do something like that in this part of town?”
Learn more about these and many other east Portland projects online and/or at one of the two upcoming open houses. There’s also a PBOT-led ride tonight at 6:00 pm to explore future neighborhood greenways.
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