Harvest Century September 22nd

Adventures in Activism: How one Portlander made the route to his daughter’s school safer

Posted by on January 31st, 2019 at 11:02 am

Car stopped at no parking sign in front of Bridlemile Elementary School in southwest Portland.
(Photos: David Stein)

Publisher’s note: This post is by southwest Portland resident David Stein. He shares the story behind a local project he worked on as part of the much-heralded PSU Traffic & Transportation Class. It’s a great example of how to identify and tackle a nagging street safety problem and we hope it’s an inspiration to some of you. Stein is also a member of the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee.

As a student project in the Portland State University Traffic and Transportation course, I decided to try improving a safe route to Bridlemile Elementary in southwest. In the class we’re told, “You have a PhD in your neighborhood,” and the leaders encourage us to make Portland a better place through a class project.

My PhD is in the Bridlemile neighborhood. I’ve lived there for over six years and have been active in the Bridlemile Neighborhood Association (including over three years on the Board of Directors and two as chair). For my project, I chose to improve SW 47th Drive, because my daughter goes to Bridlemile Elementary School. With only one road for entering and exiting the school, and Hamilton Park next door, traffic on SW 47th Drive can be challenging for everyone. Combining school busses, parents dropping off kids, and kids riding their bikes or walking to school with normal neighborhood and park traffic leads to a daily exercise in controlled chaos. Safety hazards include dangerous U-turns, reduced visibility due to parked cars and an underutilized traffic circle.

Here’s a map I created for my project presentation that lays out all the issues:

Seeing the chaos first-hand while walking my daughter to school last February as these issues were also being raised in BNA meetings, was eye-opening. There had recently been advocacy work around other projects for Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) due to funding from the Fixing Our Streets program that was being allocated at the time. Improving SW 47th Drive didn’t make the cut for that funding. However, there was enough community interest to put together a meeting for a variety of stakeholders later that month. So that’s what we did.

A group of residents, the school principal, representatives from the neighborhood association, and Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) Safe Routes staff met on a rainy morning to walk through the issues that were engineered into the roadway. Following this encouraging meeting everything was quiet – updates were sparse.

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With the start of the 2018-19 school year it was time to check back into the project and try to see what could be done to get some changes implemented. As luck would have it, the principal was already in contact with several nearby residents on this project and the Traffic and Transportation course would be an ideal conduit to see what could be done.

PBOT didn’t grant our request to make this an official sign.

After that, I went through the course’s iterative process of identifying the project, coming up with solutions (in line with what had officially been requested following the aforementioned walkthrough), and then contacting city officials. The last step was critical as PBOT was working behind the scenes on improvements to the road and had made a request to enable the installation of a marked crosswalk. During this process I was also in touch with the school and neighbors to keep them informed. After notifying the principal of the hang-up with the marked crosswalk, things moved quickly. There was a flurry of activity as details of the changes were announced. After some community input, several ‘No Parking or Stopping’ signs were installed along with a brand new crosswalk. In addition, there were lengthy explanations of some requested changes that weren’t implemented so everyone could understand the degree of consideration that went into this process.

And if you’re curious, I should mention that “No U turn” signs in low-volume residential areas are considered by PBOT to be ineffective, no matter how many times people request them (we requested them several times).

As a result of this project kids are safer going to and from Bridlemile Elementary School and Hamilton Park, on SW 47th Drive. The new crosswalk and marked car free areas improve visibility and make it clear that people on foot are in the area.

After going through this process, here are some key takeaways:

➤ Consistent communication is important for any project, and regular check-ins can help keep the project moving.

➤ Contact information is publicly available online and phone calls can be surprisingly productive. There were no secret handshakes or unlisted phone numbers required to make this project happen.

➤ Having an organized coalition within the neighborhood actually helped PBOT, since they don’t have the staffing or determination to push through a small project like this if there is resistance.

➤ There’s a need for long-term education and outreach for the traffic changes implemented by this project. It will take some time for parents to get used to dropping their kids off a bit further away from the school. Messages have been sent from the school about the changes though compliance is still lagging.

➤ One reason this project was implemented so quickly was the promise of having crossing guards, which are now in place before and after school which also serve to calm traffic.

➤ Finally framing this as a Safe Routes to Schools project definitely helped to get this prioritized within PBOT. BNA has improved communication with PBOT as knowledge of their programs, funding models, and internal priorities has become better known.

It’s been a few months now since these updates were completed. The new crossing is now staffed with a parent or staff member (including the principal at times) to assist kids and parents crossing the street. Compliance with the signage and road markings has improved as people became more aware of the changes (staffing of the crosswalk has helped with drop-off in the morning). It’s still not perfect, though there is a significant improvement in the traffic flow and feeling of safety for kids getting to and from school.

Finally, this project was the result of many people who put in a lot of time before, during, and after the actual project implementation. Without the help of Ryan Bass, Kurt Haapala, Carlos Hernandez, Brad Pearson, Lale Santelices, and many other dedicated people, this project would not have been possible.

[We hope you found David’s experience helpful and inspiring. Below is a PDF of his class presentation.]

PTTC - A Safe Route to School

— David Stein

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30 Comments
  • Avatar
    Eric Keller January 31, 2019 at 11:39 am

    They could probably put curb extensions at the T intersection to make u-turns much more difficult. It would also make crossing easier for pedestrians.

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      David Stein January 31, 2019 at 11:57 am

      That’s an interesting note as that solution never came up in conversations with neighbors or engineers. A feature of this project is that it was very inexpensive to implement, given that less than 60% of the roads in the neighborhood even have a curb (sidewalks are below 10%), getting an extension is a stretch.

      Yes, I laughed after writing that last sentence.

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      paikiala February 1, 2019 at 12:13 pm

      Curb extensions cost about $10k per corner without considering drainage impacts.

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    David Stein January 31, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for posting this Jonathan! This post is actually quite timely. With such a lively conversation surrounding the announced PPB enforcement action at Ladd’s Addition, this is an example of dangerous/illegal behavior by road users being addressed in a different manner by local residents (wasn’t just me).

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      paikiala February 1, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      Ladd Circle actually has reported crashes in the last 10 years, unlike any of these intersections.

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    ugh January 31, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Funny you mention the Ladd’s post. A common refrain was how there are no serious accidents or deaths in Ladd’s, so enforcement/attention is unwarranted…

    What’s the over/under on dozens of posts calling this out here?

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      David Stein January 31, 2019 at 12:57 pm

      Hopefully none because there has not been any PPB enforcement here as part of this project. My point was it’s similar in that the behavior is not compliant with the law yet different in how it’s being handled by residents and city bureaus.

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    OGB January 31, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    – Story shows picture of automobile driver ignoring sign.
    – Project involves installing signs.

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      David Stein January 31, 2019 at 1:05 pm

      The school has put a lot of work into letting parents know about the recent changes. Photos were taken before anything went out about this. Compliance with the signage, and crosswalk, have improved as people have gotten more used to them being there. Also having people at the crosswalk with flags (including the principal) at the beginning and end of the school day has helped shift this behavior quickly as no one wants to be told by the principal a second time that they need to drop their child off in the correct location.

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        Dan A February 1, 2019 at 10:11 am

        It’s fortunate that you have a principal willing to help out. When we lost bus service at our school, the principal’s only actions were to get the district to re-stripe the drop-off zone to make it more efficient for drivers, and to railroad our discussion with the district safety officer requesting that the school allow kids to enter through the single door in the back of the school, where half of the school’s walkers come from.

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        OGB February 1, 2019 at 2:56 pm

        I’m glad to know that the school is involved in encouraging good behavior. Usually when I pass any school at pick-up or drop-off time, it is completely a free-for-all. There’s no enforcement, no effort at education, but lots of signs/yellow curbs/etc. which people driving cars just ignore.

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  • Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
    Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike) January 31, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Nice job! I hope everytime you go by you realize that you have helped more kids walk and bike to school from now on. You can probably take credit for getting 10 future humans to get around a lot less in their cars because they were able to learn how to walk and bike to school.

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    Keith January 31, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Thanks to David and others involved! As resident up the hill from Bridelmile, I’ve witnessed the auto insanity before/after school (not to forget soccer on the weekends). This represents a solid step forward. I hope in the future we can dissuade more parents from chauffeuring their kids to school. I live about a 10-minute walk from the school and observe two totally opposite types of parental behavior in my neighborhood. Some drive their kids down to drop them off while others expect them to walk/bicycle. We need more of the latter.

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      David Stein January 31, 2019 at 10:37 pm

      Completely agree about the differing attitudes around how to get around the neighborhood. The good news is that quite a few projects are in the works this year and next to make it easier for people to leave the car in the garage or driveway. Some of those projects will encourage drivers to adhere to the posted speed limits (which have been going down now that SW Hamilton St. between Scholls Ferry and Dosch was lowered from 30 MPH to 25 MPH).

      To your point about driving kids to school I did try it once and vowed never to do it again as it took longer than walking with all of the other cars lined up. Walking ends up being just as fast with none of the frustration of waiting in line.

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      • Avatar
        Fred February 1, 2019 at 7:14 am

        Are schools part of the problem? I mean, can they do more to encourage parents to get kids walking and cycling? I think it’s fair to say that *every* school in Portland is a magnet for traffic chaos at drop-off and pick-up time.

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          Dan A February 1, 2019 at 8:08 am

          It’s going to get worse as the metro school districts continue to remove more buses.

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          David Stein February 1, 2019 at 10:11 am

          Part, but certainly not all. The bus schedule can be downright painful as they start running around 7am for an 8am start time. We could walk our daughter to the nearest stop at ~7:15am or walk/bike/drive her at 7:50am and she’ll be at school on time either way.

          At least in this neighborhood the infrastructure is terrible making the topography a bigger obstacle. The main road that kids use to walk to school (SW Hamilton) at least part of the way has no sidewalk, shoulder, or curb. Until a couple months ago the speed limit was 30 MPH and it is still used because it’s direct and there really aren’t reasonable alternatives. PBOT is planning on installing a crosswalk on a Safe Route to School along with speed bumps and some walkways but getting infrastructure like you see in inner NE or SE won’t happen in my lifetime.

          I can understand why many parents drive their kids to school. Sure they could do more to encourage walking and biking, which is part of what this project is about, but it’s not changing overnight. The good news is that unlike most patterns, each new school year represents a powerful opportunity to reset expectations and help everyone settle into a routine for the year.

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        rick kappler February 2, 2019 at 10:31 am

        When was the speed limit lowered to 25 on SW Hamilton Street between Scholls Ferry and Dosch? I thought it was already 25 by the school.

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          David Stein February 2, 2019 at 2:13 pm

          It happened a couple months ago. There was no public outreach of any kind that I could find. It was curious given how much PBOT has tried to highlight speed reductions are part of their Vision Zero efforts. The speed limit had been 30 MPH for the entire stretch, though there is a school zone between 48th and 45th that drops it to 20 at the beginning and end of the school day.

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    Holtz February 1, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Our kids went to Bridlemile many years ago. They took the bus… just as my wife and I took the bus to Sylvan/West Sylvan and Ainsworth. When I go by there now I am dismayed by the number of parents who apparently choose not to use the free school bus. I can’t understand it.

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      Dan A February 1, 2019 at 10:06 am

      Are you sure they still have the same number of buses? A few years ago in our neighborhood a traffic light was installed, and as a result the district cut bus service for 337 kids, some of whom live more than a mile away.

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      rick kappler February 2, 2019 at 11:45 am

      I’m not sure, but bus 55 from TriMet for SW Hamilton Street only runs twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon and it only runs weekdays and not on major holidays. Does any bus from TriMet run less often?

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    Tim February 1, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Traffic chaos at our schools is a disgrace. Cars illegally parked, drivers pulling in and out without stopping, looking or signalling. What makes it worse is that we expect our children to behave at school, but not their parents driving their children to school.

    Schools could actively discourage the drop off. Tell parents that children are expected to walk or ride the bus to school and driving children to school is allowed only under special circumstances.

    School resource officers are needed out front rather than in school (statistically the safest place for children). No heavy handed enforcement action is needed. Just an officer to walk down the sidewalk and reminding driver that this is a no parking zone and to put their cell phones down.

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    Austin February 1, 2019 at 11:16 am

    This is awesome, nice work.

    My wife and I are currently just trying to get our kid’s school to put cones out at drop-off/pick-up and even that has been a rough road. They are very encouraging, but the follow-through hasn’t been ideal. And this is with parents offering to do all of the work.

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    paikiala February 1, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Shattuck is programmed to get updated traffic calming from BH to Patton.

    BTW, the point of a mini-roundabout is so large vehicles, like school buses, can still turn. That location is PBOT’s test site. A more traditional version would still enable large vehicles to drive over the circle.

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    Nick February 1, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    I bring my 2 year old son to Hamilton Park often and have noticed the recent improvements. Thanks for your good work.

    Hamilton is a real problem. The lack of bike lane or sidewalk likely contributes to fewer kids biking or walking to school. The topography certainly plays a role (all hills surrounding the school) but it is nerve-wrecking to bike down Hamilton w my son in tow feeling cars breathing down my back.

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      rick February 2, 2019 at 12:47 pm

      Have you tried the cycle-cross route of using Trail # 1 that parallels BH and Hamilton ?

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        David Stein February 2, 2019 at 2:10 pm

        That’s not a good option if you’re hauling a kid – more hills, less direct, and the staircase are all challenges that might be good for training but aren’t practical otherwise.

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  • TonyT
    TonyT February 3, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    I’m surprised by your “car stopped” caption. It’s a driver who’s stopped. Just as it’s a driver who hits someone WITH a car.

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      X February 4, 2019 at 10:12 am

      You got me to go back and look at the photo and I noticed a bike rack is obscuring their license plate. Is this a case of a bike user ignoring the law, or a car user ignoring the law?

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