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Despite PBOT’s promise, St. Johns residents plan City Hall rally today – UPDATED

Posted by on October 17th, 2018 at 9:20 am

Engineering drawing (by Ty-Lin International) of St. Louis Avenue between Pier Park Place and Smith Street.
(From: St. Johns Transportation Concept Development Project Summary Report – October 2013)

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.

Donna Cohen has pushed for this project for over five years.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

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.


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.”

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

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Go Donna!

My favorite part of this ordeal was when the city told our neighbors on the Lombard S curves that the Fessenden project would cut into resources for their safety projects. Good times.

Steve Hash
Steve Hash

Now, if there is just a way to calm Washingtonian driver cut-thru…


The closing of most of the port traffic resulted in significantly more trucks on our roads. This is an often ignored partial cause of these problems. But the bureaucrats don’t like to talk about that….

Bald One
Bald One

Although, I’m sure the median islands help pedestrians crossing the road (Fessenden), I suspect the median islands they have designed here actually will increase the hazards to bicycles using the bike lanes on Fessenden. Pedestrians need support to cross this road, and the HAWK will help, but for cyclists cruising along Fessenden in the bike lane, when no pedestrians are around, to have to contend with a chicane-like center of the road median, a bike lane that veers temporarily into the gutter at the intersection and is paralleled by the fast moving auto-traffic also veering around the median, I think this design is worse for cyclists and is more dangerous than no median. These medians provide a pedestrian refuge, yes, but they do not slow auto traffic, and instead make the whole transaction of a car passing a bike around a median more dangerous as we all know that most drivers don’t slow but just go into NASCAR mode around these medians. There is nothing about the new design that slows auto speeds.
More vehicles turning, more obstacles, but no slowing of traffic.

The bike lane that exists mid-block outside of the parking lane, but then cuts into the gutter at each cross street intersection, with no stop or otherwise need for bikes or cars traveling along here to slow, creates additional hazards for the bike. Especially if there is another vehicle waiting to pull out from the side street into traffic and has nosed their way beyond the curb to see, thus putting their bumper into the bike lane. Not to mention that the new restricted parking area at each end of the block where the bike lane has been bumped out to becomes attractive real estate for cars and delivery drivers looking for a quick illegal parking location – they would never double park the bike lane in the old configuration, but the new configuration has this added detraction of a long stretch of unoccupied curb. This is a bad design for cyclists and makes the road less safe for us, even as it improves safety for pedestrians trying to cross.

The city needs to find a better design that doesn’t toss cyclists under the bus when it comes to road re-design for pedestrian crossing safety.


The bigger question is, when are they going to build a bridge across the Willamette from Hey 30 to St John’s that actually makes sense location-wise?

Any idiot looking at a map can see that the obvious location for a bridge carrying freight traffic would span the river just north of Linnton, connecting to N Lombard nearer to where it intersects with N Columbia.

This would bypass the residential and business core, and keep freight out of the neighborhood.

Why this area only gets one bridge is beyond me, especially when it’s the only bridge for 10 miles in one direction, and FORTY FIVE miles in the other. *Insert eyeroll*


“…the median islands they have designed here actually will increase the hazards to bicycles using the bike lanes …”

Q1. How fast are you riding that bike?

Q2. How has the island on St Louis at Central made the bike lane there less safe?

Shifting the vehicle lanes (all of them) around the island (toward the roadside) seems prudent to me. Also, just because the bike lane shifts toward the roadside, does not mean it forces you to ride in the gutter, contrary to your statements.


Another comment from a local just seething with annoyance about Fessenden.

A 25mph speed limit and 3-4 four way stops would totally solve the issue. In the event of a true freight emergency where they NEEDED Fessenden we could even temporarily run out and cover those stop signs.