Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 17th, 2018 at 9:20 am
The timing is curious: On the eve of a planned rally from concerned St. Johns residents who’ve been clamoring for years for street safety upgrades, the Portland Bureau of Transportation announced yesterday that a long-awaited project is set to move forward.
PBOT says they now have the official “notice to proceed” from the Federal Highway Administration to begin Phase 2 of the St. Johns Truck Strategy. The project — part of a package adopted by City Council in 2001 (yes, 2001) — aims to create safer conditions and crossings in the neighborhood. It includes buffered bike lanes, caution signs and flashing beacons at three intersections, a new “HAWK” signal (where road users can push a button to activate an overhead signal) at the intersection of Fessenden and Charleston, and other measures to reduce auto user speeds.
As we reported a year ago, activists have become frustrated with PBOT due to what they say is a lack of progress. A group called, Citizens for a Safe and Attractive Fessenden, St. Louis, and Lombard has used Facebook to organize rallies and other events following the lack of implementation of the project. Many people in that group were part of the 17-month public planning process for the project that wrapped up in 2013 with a host of recommendations.
PBOT says construction for the $5 million project will begin early next year. Here’s more from their announcement:
The $5 million Phase 2 will provide a variety of traffic calming tools to discourage cut-through truck traffic and improve safety for people walking and biking on N. St. Louis-Fessenden in the St Johns neighborhood. Phase 2 includes a High Intensity Activated crosswalk beacon (HAWK) at the intersection of N. Fessenden and Charleston. Installation of this signal is a high priority for the surrounding neighborhoods. To meet this community need, PBOT worked closely with state transportation officials to include the HAWK signal as part of Phase 2.
The St. Johns Truck Strategy aims to encourage the use of designated freight routes around the St. Johns neighborhood and discourage use of neighborhood streets as cut-through routes. As funding has become available, PBOT has completed design elements of the strategy. In 2012, PBOT completed three design elements as part of Phase 1.
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Donna Cohen is the leader of the neighborhood group pushing PBOT to make these improvements. She showed up to a north Portland transportation meeting last month with a few other volunteers wearing bright yellow shirts emblazoned with “SAFETY for St. Johns” on the front. Cohen has organized four speakers to testify at this morning’s City Council meeting.
Cohen is tired of waiting. She says PBOT has promised to deliver on this project before. “This project has been delayed three times,” reads a flyer Cohen passed out last month. “We’ve had one hit-and-run death and two hit-and-run injuries on fesenden in the past 1 1/2 years. Would this have happened if the changes had been done? The city needs to move ahead with construction now!”
Despite yesterday’s announcement, Cohen says the rally is still on. “My first reaction is, good.” she shared on the group’s Facebook page upon hearing the news. “My second reaction is – we scared the shit out of them. My third reaction is – I need to see all the features of the plan listed, which they are not. My fourth reaction is – we must do what we planned tomorrow!”
You can watch the testimony here starting at 9:30 am today.
UPDATE, 10:30 am: Here’s how the testimony went down… Four women spoke at the outset of this morning council meeting. They expressed frustration at the years of delays. One woman said, “Portland has a lot of really difficult issues right now, but here’s something that’s been studied, there’s money for it, and everybody wants it. Why don’t we just starting making it now?”
76-year-old Ruth Llewellyn-Dix said she crosses Fessenden at Charleston several times a week to work at the nearby community garden. “At first I would walk,” she said, “But now I’ve resorted to driving [because it’s so unsafe]. But even driving is problematic, I have to turn right and then turn left to get across.” “Please have no more delays,” she continued. “After all, I’m not getting any younger and I wish to enjoy my trips to the garden, especially with my grandchildren.”
At the end of their testimony, PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said a contractor has been chosen and the work is set to begin this coming January. “We’re still skeptical,” one of the women said. “I’m not skeptical,” Eudaly replied. “There’s always potential for other delays, that depends on the contractor, but it really does look like things are proceeding.”
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