What began on a wish list from neighbors has become a reality.
This week transportation commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty announced the latest development in her effort to reduce gun violence and restore public safety in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood just south of Foster Road.
The wide slip lane between SE 72nd and Woodstock Boulevard that used to provide a speedy getaway for criminals in cars and drivers looking to avoid red lights, is now closed off with 12 large concrete barricades. Arleta Triangle, a community space that used to be on an island surrounded by dangerous auto traffic, is now at the tip of a public plaza peninsula that has become the most high-profile element of the city’s effort to employ the principles of crime prevention through environmental design.
And future plans for the space look even better.
Led by Commissioner Hardesty, PBOT began this project last fall by installing 18 orange traffic barrels on streets around the park. The idea was to discourage people from speeding through the neighborhood and it came in direct response to residents who complained about dangerous driving related to shootings and other crimes.
The barrels are not that effective on their own. They are easily moved to the curb and when I visited on Wednesday, many of them already were (see photo). But when these traffic calming actions are combined with neighborhood relationships that have led to more trust and collaboration to tackle this public safety crisis, more significant change is possible.
It is no small task to close a large slip lane between two busy streets. It’s even harder when there’s a drive-through business smack dab in the middle. However, despite the presence of Discount Mini-Mart and its steady stream of customers in cars, PBOT has managed to pull it off.
Two weekends ago crews added new striping, plastic curbs and bollards, and the aforementioned concrete barricades to create the plaza. The $23,000 investment has yielded a new carfree space and a much quieter intersection.
While I was there yesterday afternoon, I watched mini-mart customers drive up to the service window from the edge of the plaza on 72nd, then exit through a one-way lane PBOT carved through the east side of the plaza so they can continue onto Woodstock.
While it’s odd to have a carfree space bisected by cars, it seems to work fine and it’s a big improvement over the free-for-all that existed before. A worker at the market told me she doesn’t think the changes will stop people from driving dangerously (and even worried that drunk local bar patrons will crash into the barricades), but she did say it might prevent near-misses.
For local resident Nadine Salama, who spearheaded this collaboration with Hardesty’s office after witnessing shootings outside her home, the new plaza is a very welcome development.
“Standing in this same spot last August, when our neighborhood was experiencing a surge in gun violence, and seeing it deteriorate was heartbreaking,” Salama shared in a PBOT statement. “Today, seeing the slip lane closed, the traffic calmer, and more people walking about and enjoying our neighborhood has left me with a renewed sense of hope… I am looking forward to a hopefully wonderful summer in and with my community!”
Summer in the plaza will be even better when PBOT brings to life the full plans for the plaza. In drawings released this week (above), the city revealed plans (based on neighborhood feedback) that include painting the street and adding lights, trees, benches and even a performance stage.
If you’ve feeling a bit of envy, Hardesty says she’s already working to bring a similar approach to public safety to other parts of Portland. “There is optimism we will be able to bring similar interventions to neighborhoods experiencing a high level of violence,” she said.
Stay tuned. And roll over to 72nd and Woodstock to check it out for yourself.