On December 21st, 2021 a 70-year-old woman named Vivian Phillips was hit by a driver and killed while trying to cross Northeast Fremont in the bustling commercial district of the Beaumont neighborhood.
Since then, traffic safety on Fremont has taken center state at neighborhood meetings and tonight the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association (BWNA) board is scheduled to vote on whether or not a new diverter at NE Alameda Street should be part of the solution.
Despite the recent death and clear public safety problems posed by traffic in this area, some residents worry a diverter would make it too hard to drive through the neighborhood.
After discussing Fremont at their February meeting, BWNA invited Portland Bureau of Transportation staff to their meeting on March 10th. Among the many ideas to improve safety on the street, the one that has attracted most attention is PBOT’s proposal for a traffic diverter on Fremont at the NE Alameda intersection (adjacent to popular Tacovore restaurant, map link here). This is a very important intersection because Alameda Street (NE 37th Ave to the north) is the neighborhood greenway route through this area.
PBOT has already updated this intersection several times in the past to help it handle safe crossings of bicycle users and walkers. Since 2009 PBOT has installed painted crosswalks and crossbikes. And in 2020, the south side of Alameda was given the “slow streets” treatment with orange plastic barrels and “local traffic only” signage as per PBOT’s Safe Streets initiative.
Minutes from the February 7th BWNA meeting further describe the issues at Fremont and Alameda. “There have been incidents with bikes and vehicles which appear to be related to bikers yelling when vehicles don’t stop for them,” the minutes state. “Pedestrians in marked crosswalks have to wait for vehicles to stop – many just drive past and do not yield. Cones and barricades for Slow Street have had no impact and are typically moved to side of road.”
To boost safety of this crossing further, PBOT wants to build a diverter similar to the one on SE 20th at Ankeny: a curb with posts in the middle that prevents car users from crossing Fremont from Alameda, or from turning left from Fremont onto Alameda from either direction. The curbs would have breaks in them for bicycle riders to pass through. Another proposal would be to replace orange barrels with concrete ones to further restrict and calm auto users. (Note: PBOT policy guidance says neighborhood greenways should have a maximum average of 1,000 cars per day and counts on Alameda show that it currently has about 2,000 cars per day.)
In the March-April BWNA newsletter, board member John Sandie wrote about concerns some residents have with the proposal:
“These potential restrictions prompted concerns by a number of residents who use this corner as a key pathway to go west on Fremont because left turns are not permitted at the stoplight adjacent to Beaumont Middle School.”
One reason many drivers turn left onto Fremont from Alameda is that there is no left turn allowed onto Fremont from the busy intersection four blocks away at NE 41st adjacent to Beaumont Middle School.
It appears some folks in the neighborhood want to find a solution that will improve safety, while not inhibiting driver turning movements at this intersection. This is a very common refrain that has played out numerous times over the years. Everyone wants safer streets, but only if they can have them without any impacts to car driving.
On the other side of this debate are people who are desperate for safer streets and support PBOT’s proposal as a key step in the right direction.
On the table for a vote tonight is what PBOT says would be a pilot project. Before they put any diverter in the street, they would collect traffic data at 10 locations and share the data with residents and business owners. Then, after hearing feedback, they’d install the diverter with temporary materials (paint and plastic posts). They would then collect data for 6 months to see if it had the desired impact.
Due to the wide range of opinions about the proposal at the March 10th meeting, it was clear that the BWNA board was torn about whether or not to give PBOT the green light.
As has become common practice, PBOT has told BWNA they will not proceed with the pilot project unless they get a supportive vote from the board. (See correction below for clarification.)
After giving everyone two weeks to think about the proposal, BWNA decided to have an emergency meeting tonight (3/28) to hold the final discussion and vote. The meeting starts at 7:00 pm and is open to the public. You can find the Zoom link here.
UPDATE, 8:45 pm: The Board voted 7-4 in opposition to the PBOT pilot at their meeting tonight. Full story tomorrow.
CORRECTION: As we shared in an update to this story, despite what neighborhood leaders thought or relayed to the public, PBOT says they never told the BWNA board a vote would be the deciding factor for the project. We erred by taking BWNA meeting minutes and statements at face value and I regret any confusion this caused. — Jonathan Maus, publisher.