After years of red flags and community outcry, Portland’s transportation bureau announced Friday they will finally break ground on updates to Northeast Halsey Street between 112th and 162nd avenues (the Gresham border). PBOT also announced that effective today (Monday, September 13) they’ll implement a new speed limit on this this two-mile stretch of Halsey. The new speed limit is 30 mph, down from the current limit of 35 mph between 11th and 137th and 40 mph from 137th to the city limits.
In their statement, PBOT called the speed reduction move “decisive”, an “emergency”, and a “rare, dramatic step in the city’s effort to achieve Vision Zero.” PBOT Director Chris Warner used Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 810.180 (9) to make the change without waiting for Oregon Department of Transportation approval. Halsey is on PBOT’s high crash corridor list which means it has a higher than average incidence of fatal and serious injury collisions. Four people have been killed while using this section of Halsey since 2019. In 2020, a two-car collision resulted in the deaths of Cornelius Nevills and Gabrielle Greenwood and two other serious injuries. 11 days later, Aaron Gray was walking on Halsey when he was hit and left to die in the road by a car driver who didn’t even stop.
This section of Halsey begins just east of where PBOT and their partners invested over $5 million in new protected bike lanes and other safety-related updates in 2019. It has an all too familiar cross-section of a wide center turn lane and two wide general lanes next to substandard, unprotected bike lanes. In 2016, PBOT received $1 million from the city budget for new sidewalks and other safety updates. The need for a safer design of Halsey has been called out by the community for many years and was recommended for updates in the East Portland in Motion Plan in 2011.
In a city council proclamation in December 2016, PBOT called out the “very high rate of traffic crashes” on outer Halsey and added, “It is urgent that the City take steps now to respond to the community’s request for increased funding for education and outreach programs on Outer Division, and for two other high crash corridors, Outer Halsey and Outer Glisan.”
Now set to break ground in the coming weeks, PBOT’s Outer Halsey Safety Project will build two new crossings, add street lights, upgrade curb ramps and build about a mile of new sidewalks. The new crossings will be at 119th and 128th and will include concrete median islands and rapid flashing beacons. To pay for the project, PBOT will use funds from the $450,000 pot of general fund revenue Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty successfully lobbied council for back in June.
The new 30 mph speed will be in place for 120 days. PBOT will aim to have their safety improvements completed before then and adjust driving behaviors enough to make the reduction permanent. Since ODOT considers prevailing speeds in their assessment of speed limits, PBOT will often combine reduction requests with infrastructure changes intended to slow people down.
PBOT has used this emergency authority several times since early 2017 when tragedies and trauma on Southeast Division, coupled with strategic activism created so much pressure that PBOT and city council were forced to act. PBOT also invoked this statute to lower speed limits on Southeast Stark in 2018.
The big question is whether or not PBOT’s plans for Halsey will actually work. They’ve had some success reducing top-end speeding (10 mph or more over the limit) with this combination of lower speed limits and infrastructure tweaks. So far there’s been no mention of an enforcement strategy. Commissioner Hardesty is very supportive of radar camera enforcement and her budget amendment passed back in June specifically calls for the funds to be used on more cameras.
So far this year the Portland Police have tallied 47 traffic deaths, that’s 10 more than last year at this same date and it puts us on pace to reach a very grim total.
Asked by Willamette Week for a response to PBOT’s announcement about Halsey, Oregon Walks Executive Director said, “Northeast Halsey is designed like a drag strip, and this doesn’t change that… We’re not doing enough.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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