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Checking in on ODOT’s Outer Powell Safety Project

Posted by on October 1st, 2020 at 2:19 pm

New curb-separated bike lanes on SE Powell are also concrete – making them smoother and set-apart from roadway pavement.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation is putting finishing touches on the first phase of the Outer Powell Safety Project — a $20 million rebuild of Powell from 122nd to 136th. The project has added four new crossings as well as physically protected bike lanes that vary between curb-protected in the street and sidewalk-level facilities.

With $17 million from the Oregon legislature and another $3 million from Metro, this project is the first of three phases that will cover all of Powell from Interstate 205 east to 174th (Portland city limits).

ODOT is currently in design for the remainder of the corridor which will be consistent with the just completed section. Construction on the other sections is due to begin in 2022.

Last week ODOT released an online open house and shared an update with the East Portland Action Plan’s Land Use and Transportation Committee on September 16th. The sense of pride and excitement about the project was evident from both activists and project staff.

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“I’ve been out several times recently and it is so wonderful to see this stuff in person,” ODOT Community Affairs coordinator Hope Estes shared at the EPAP meeting. “We saw a woman pushing a stroller and her son who was with her, walking outside of a stroller several feet behind her. And I remember watching her from across the street and thinking that would not have been a safe activity in this area just a year and a half ago, because there would not have been a sidewalk for this person.”

As you can see in the before/after images (by ODOT), the old cross-section had six lanes — two general purpose lanes, two bike-only lanes, and two on-street auto parking lanes. The new cross-section has three general purpose lanes (one of them a center turn lane), two bike lanes, and new sidewalks on both sides of the street.

In a video released by ODOT (above), local activist and EPAP committee member Jim Chasse said, “One of the most important things is it gives us access to our business centers, which are kind of spread out… Now we’ll hopefully be able to see the 8-80 age group out here.”

One woman in the video, resident Teresa Soto said, “It’s going to be a beautiful boulevard.” Those are big words for Powell and illustrate the dramatic changes this project has made to the street.

After riding the new segment several times, Chasse told me he’s happy with what ODOT has completed so far. “I really like the concrete bike lanes. They give me a vibe that says this is ‘my space’ and make for a surprisingly smooth ride.”

Also at the recent EPAP meeting a PBOT staffer confirmed that the city has received support from ODOT to reduce the speed limit from 35 to 30 mph.

Once ODOT is done with this project, they’ll hand over ownership and maintenance responsibilities to the City of Portland as part of a jurisdictional transfer that was ordered by the legislature in 2017.

Learn more about the project and share your feedback at ODOT’s online open house which is available through October 18th.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Alex
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Alex

Much better! Now do west of 205, please.

Kittens
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Kittens

Ok, I hate to always be so negative but $20M in infrastructure and $0 for enforcement is my takeaway. No one is going to abide by 30mph except during congestion. The rebuild of Powell was sorely needed and welcome but I worry about this engineering-driven capital-intensive approach.

Look what happened on Cully Blvd; years ago we built out the street with the finest (over) engineered road money could buy and today it remains unsafe and inhospitable due to flagrant disregard for speed or parking restrictions.

Sidewalks bike lanes and bioswales are pointless without regular sweeping, parking enforcement and routine speed patrols to back them up. Engineering and construction can only do so much, we must respond to the reality of how people experience and use the the facility.

Eric Leifsdad
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Eric Leifsdad

I’m wondering how many trees they cut down for this road widening. Drivers have too much space, completely straight and unimpeded. They’ll be over 30mph easily and someone will get killed there.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

The sections of “6 lanes” described are rare on outer Powell, including between 122nd and 136th. Even your ODOT before photo shows a 3-lane road: 2 travel lanes and 2 narrow bike lanes. No sidewalks, no curbs, and no marked parking (or even space for it.) Just a rural soft shoulder. No center turning lane either, so when someone in a car wanted to turn left, the traffic behind would use the bike lane as a car passing lane. Pedestrians also used the bike lane as a sidewalk, and there are lots of pedestrians in the immediate area.