If the Oregon Department of Transportation hoped to alleviate pressure around their management of 82nd Avenue with the announcement of a $3.35 million investment, they were wrong. ODOT made the surprise announcement Friday just hours before a planned rally demanding safety upgrades to the notoriously deadly state highway.
In addition to the new funding, ODOT confirmed they would grant a City of Portland request to lower the speed limit from 35 to 30 mph — a request filed by the city nearly one year ago and only acted upon now because two people died at the same intersection within two weeks of each other last month.
“That announcement was no accident,” Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said during the rally (which was held online). “It happened because ODOT knew we were organizing, that we were going to put pressure on them, and that we were no longer going to allow the platitudes.”
Since the death of Anthony Tolliver and Stephen Looser at 82nd and Alberta, a broad coalition of advocates, community leaders and elected officials have come together to demand changes on 82nd. In addition to Hardesty, other speakers at the rally included Oregon State Representative Khanh Pham and State Senator Michael Dembrow.
“These streets should be connecting us, they should be bringing communities together — they shouldn’t be dividing us and they definitely shouldn’t be killing us.”
— Khanh Pham, Oregon state representative
Among these electeds and a host of nonprofit leaders at the rally, two themes emerged: A boiling-over of frustration at ODOT’s negligent stewardship of a road that has morphed in recent decades from highway to neighborhood street, and an agreement that the $3.35 million isn’t nearly enough to hasten its evolution from car-centric thoroughfare to a more people-centered place.
“Enough is enough!” said rally host Ashton Simpson, the leader of Oregon Walks and a resident of east Portland. “It is time to make one of the deadliest roads in our city finally worked for the community it literally cuts through.”
Representative Pham is another leader with roots in east Portland. She lives just blocks away from 82nd and her young daughter crosses it every day on her way to school. On April 27th, Pham publicly called for “emergency and long-term interventions”. “This is just a downpayment,” Pham said at the rally. “I’m committed to making sure that we do everything we can.” As a local resident, Pham spoke to the mental impacts the street has. “The stress that comes from having to live next to these roads, it’s just too much,” she shared. She also touched on the lengthy struggle to have ODOT make significant changes on 82nd. “Community members are so jaded. We’ve been talking about this for years and they don’t see us taking action. They see the government saying platitudes, but not taking action. So I’m committed… these streets should be connecting us, they should be bringing communities together — they shouldn’t be dividing us and they definitely shouldn’t be killing us.”
Commissioner Hardesty is another local leader with both personal and professional connections to 82nd Avenue, a road she referred to as “the most unsafe street in the City of Portland to try and cross.” In her address to rally-goers, Hardesty said, “Automobile violence is really on the increase,” and that she and other elected leaders, “Have an obligation to address it using every tool we have.” Hardesty called ODOT’s $3.35 million a “drop in the bucket” and said Portland demands that the state cough up the $185 million to bring 82nd up to “good” condition so that it can be transferred from ODOT to PBOT ownership. “There’s no way we’re going to add to our $6 billion dollar maintenance backlog by taking on debt that the state should have been responsible for… We need ODOT to be a partner, and not a dictator of transportation systems in the City of Portland.”
Oregon Senator Michael Dembrow called 82nd Avenue a “wall between parts of Portland” that should be “a bridge between neighborhoods.”
Advocates used the rally to encourage everyone to take action and send a message to state legislators via this “Save 82nd Ave Now” online form. Oregon Walks also shared this handy “advocacy toolkit” to help keep the momentum going.
Thomas Ngo, a board member with The Street Trust, lives one block away from 82nd. He said ODOT can never claim to believe in transportation justice until they act more swiftly to remedy 82nd’s ills. “ODOT needs to put their dollars where their climate action and racial justice talk is. This is not about intention, it’s about outcomes.”
That comment is important, because it’s not as if ODOT hasn’t invested in 82nd. In the past decade ODOT (and PBOT) have spent $27 million to make it safer and they’ve got another $26 million on deck for the next five years.
In the short-term ODOT will ask their bosses on the Oregon Transportation Commission to authorize $10 million in funding for 82nd Avenue and other pedestrian safety projects on urban highways statewide. “These safety funds will allow ODOT to move promptly on improvements at several priority locations around the state where additional investments will make the most difference,” the agency said Friday.
ODOT has only released details of projects on 82nd. We expect to know more about other locations prior to the OTC meeting this Thursday (5/13).
In addition to the speed reduction on 82nd, ODOT says the $3.35 list of projects will include: new rapid flashing beacons at NE Pacific and SE Mitchell to be installed this summer; digital speed feedback signs “that increase driver awareness” at 10 locations; lighting, signage and striping upgrades at NE Wygant, SE Cooper and SE Hawthorne; and new crossings (with lighting, signs, and striping) at SE Mitchell, NE Webster and NE Alberta.
ODOT has also promised to hire an “independent reviewer” to assess all ODOT pedestrian safety programs, “with an eye toward delivering improvements more quickly on those roads with safety issue trends.”
ODOT says the projects on 82nd will be completed by fall of this year. For victims like Anthony Tolliver and Stephen Looser, it’s much too little, far too late.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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