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At open house, east Portlanders get first glimpse at upcoming street projects

People had plenty of feedback to share at the first of two open houses held at Midland Library on SE 122nd Avenue last night.
(Photos: Caleb Diehl)

Scott Dalton’s wife was walking home from Safeway in December 2017 when a person driving a car struck and killed her.

“She was in the crosswalk,” he says. “One car stopped and the other car didn’t.”

Dalton, a retired journalist, has lived in east Portland near 117th Avenue, for twenty years. In that time he’s seen a steady stream of people die while walking or biking. This year alone, five people have been killed while walking in the neighborhoods east of I-205.

Dalton showed up at the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s open house Wednesday night hopeful that a slate of new projects will finally bring change to the neighborhood. In the past four years, PBOT has pumped $255 million into its “East Portland in Motion” projects, many of which will break ground in early 2019.

“There are sidewalks and bike lanes that are narrow. There are long distances between crossings. It’s not working and we need to rebalance that.”
— April Bertelsen, PBOT project manager referring to 122nd Avenue

Home to 165,000 people, east Portland stretches from 82nd Avenue out to city limits at 162nd. Much of it developed during the highway building boom of the car-crazed 1950s and 1960s. That inspired a sprawling grid of strip malls, car dealerships and fast food restaurants. In the decades after that, gentrification and displacement pushed many people out from inner northeast.

More of these Portlanders drive to work compared to commuters in the city as a whole. The alternatives are slim — a struggle through the network of five-lane, high-speed roads on foot, by bike or on unreliable buses. Bike lanes appear out of thin air only to morph into right turn lanes a couple blocks later. Sidewalks end without warning. It all adds up to a death toll everyone says they want to address; but so far the needle hasn’t moved.

The open house was held at Midland Library just off 122nd Avenue, one of the busiest — and notoriously unsafe – streets in the area. PBOT showcased a handful of new projects and collected feedback. The reception from the large turnout seemed mostly positive.

Concerns centered around the cost of the projects, whether the construction would affect their daily commutes and balancing out different modes. Walking safety seemed to be a big issue — specifically the fact that safe crossings along major streets are too spread out.

PBOT Project Manager Timur Ender (white shirt) fields questions.

The big center of attention was the East Glisan Street Update project. A large group of people clustered around PBOT Project Manager Timur Ender. The project includes eight new pedestrian crossings and buffered bike lanes that will take the place of lanes currently used to park cars. Residents had concerns about how the changes would the flow of auto traffic.

A project to tame outer Division, a notoriously dangerous stretch from 82nd to 174th ave, will be big on the list. It’s one of the deadliest streets in Portland. According to stats PBOT shared at the event, in the past decade 13 people were killed and 117 were seriously injured on outer Division.

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The central feature of that project is a raised median. The speed limit will drop from 35 to 30 mph. Bike lanes will be set off from the road with a buffer. The median and buffer zones will shorten crossing distances.

PBOT appears to be spread so thin these days that a hand-written sign is the best they could do.

Another major project will overhaul 122nd, a high-speed, five-lane corridor that spans six miles from SE Foster to NE Marine Drive. The bike lanes are narrow and an arm’s length away from speeding cars. Crossings are few and far between. Buses are often delayed.

There’s about $2 million set aside for this project for now, and the planners are looking for other funding sources. They’re taking input from community members on how to spend the money.

“There are sidewalks and bike lanes that are narrow. There are long distances between crossings,” says April Bertelsen, the project manager for 122nd. “It’s not working and we need to rebalance that.”

Another street on the high crash network, NE 102nd ave, will get more crossings and fewer lanes. The current recommended design knocks the five standard lanes down to three, with pedestrian islands in the center.

Linking those two major north-south corridors will be a revamped couplet of one-way streets, Halsey-Weidler. Those streets will get rapid flashing beacons, wider bike lanes and more lights and trees. The idea is to create a revitalized “main street” where people can easily walk to local businesses.

“Drivers need to change their habits, which they’re not too big on.”
— Scott Dalton, local resident

PBOT is also planning more than 30 miles of greenways in East Portland. One new neighborhood greenway will wind through Knott, Russell and Sacramento streets.

About half of the funding ($130 million) already allocated for these new projects will go to outer SE Powell Blvd. Another $47 million will fund various projects scattered around east Portland from Foster to Parkrose — a fact PBOT was happy to announce on a hand-written sign at the entrance to last night’s open house.

Much of the funding comes from the Fixing our Streets program, a measure voters approved in 2016 to generate $64 million in funding over four years. Other money comes from System Development Charges (SDCs), taxes on new development in the area. And some of it’s up in the air—it could come from grants or HB 2017, the recent $5.3 billion statewide transportation package.

Dalton was impressed. “PBOT really knows what they’re talking about,” he says. But he added, “we won’t know until we see it.”

He’s worried people who are used to speeding through the neighborhood won’t change their behavior, no matter how much infrastructure goes in. “Drivers need to change their habits,” he says, “which they’re not too big on.”

Hopefully, thoughtfully engineered infrastructure will change those habits for them.

These are just the highlights of East Portland in Motion. You can view the full list of projects here

PBOT will hold another open house, where you can comment on the projects, on June 5, 6:00-8:00pm, at Rosewood Initiative (16126 SE Stark St, Portland, OR 97233).

(CORRECTION: This story initial published the last name of Scott Dalton as “Palton”. That was a mistake. We regret the error.)

— Caleb Diehl, @calebsdiehl on Twitter.

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