PSU teams with community on Portsmouth safety project

Example of temporary roundabout that will be installed in the Portsmouth neighborhood.

A mini-roundabout could be coming to a dangerous intersection in the Portsmouth neighborhood of north Portland later this year thanks to an inspiring partnership between the César Chávez K-8 School community and Portland State University.

The intersection of North Portsmouth and Willis has been known for years as a hotspot for crashes and near misses. When a school student was hit by a driver in 2020, local advocates stepped up and nominated the intersection to be part of the Better Block PSU pathway program. As we’ve shared in the past, leaders with nonprofit tactical urbanism group Better Block have forged close ties with PSU urban planning students and the school’s Transportation Research & Education Center (TREC).

The program gives community leaders a chance to submit project ideas that, if selected, will be given the attention of graduate planning and engineering students — as well as professional consultants and transportation agency staffers. In this case, the Portsmouth-Willis intersection was submitted by William Francis and Hanna Howsmon from the Community Cycling Center and Sam Balto, a noted safe streets activist and former César Chávez teacher.


This trio brought more than a project idea to the PSU process. They brought community knowledge, relationships, and buy-in. Once the project was chosen for review by PSU students in the fall of 2020, it was chosen to move onto the second phase of the pathway and became a capstone project for a PSU Civil Engineering course taught by professor Evan Kristof.

Kristof assigned the project to thirteen of his graduate engineering students. Led by Kristof and student Raymond Poss (who now works at Washington Department of Transportation), the team started by collecting community feedback about the intersection (with a big assist from the Community Cycling Center, who delivered surveys by bike on their food deliveries in the neighborhood).

They heard many people say they avoid Portsmouth because it feels so unsafe. “Muchos no respetan las señales de alto (Many do not respect the stop signs),” was a common refrain.

The team then developed three possible alternative designs: a mini-roundabout, curb bump-outs, and a raised crosswalk. They scored each of these (and a “no-build” option) against a list of criteria. In the end, they chose the mini-roundabout (with bump-outs a close second) and then set forth with community members to garner design ideas on how to make it functional and aesthetically pleasing.

The 13 PSU students shared the final, 49-page presentation of the project with professor Kristoff earlier this month. We assume they received an A!

Armed with all the required feedback, data and engineering work, the last step is to receive a permit from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (whose staff helped on the project) to host a three-day community event to install the roundabout.

“We’re looking to host this community event in the fall, before the school re-opens, so we can bring the community together to collaborate and raise awareness of traffic safety around César Chávez,” said Better Block leader Ryan Hashagen. “This is an opportunity to showcase what the community and PSU students have to offer, and engage the city in discussing a long-term solution to pedestrian safety.”

If you’d like to get involved with the installation event, contact Hau Hagedorn with TREC at

Excellent work project team! We can’t wait to see how it turns out.

The project team.

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