When Portland Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty used traffic calming tools to address a spate of gun violence in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood last fall, many people scoffed at the notion. “People are shooting at each other, and she’s putting orange barrels in the road?!” is how many of the derisive comments sounded.
But not only did people who live in that neighborhood appreciate the approach (which included much more than traffic-related interventions and was a multi-bureau effort that included Portland Parks and the Police Bureau), it was also backed up by public health research.
Now Hardesty’s office must be feeling even more validated, because last week Mayor Ted Wheeler gave a serious nod to those tactics in his emergency declaration to combat gun violence:
“We will be expanding place-based interventions in neighborhoods that are caught in the crossfire of gun violence… these efforts will work with communities to identify environmental changes to interrupt gun violence. These interventions could include increased lighting, traffic diversion, or the use of non-law enforcement personnel to maintain positive environments in public spaces.”
In his Safer Summer PDX plan, Wheeler said his team will address gun violence with a three-pronged approach funded by $2.4 million that would include, “place-based investments… to address environmental factors conducive to gun violence.”
The best example in Portland of these “place-based interventions” is the new plaza that has bloomed in the place of a former slip lane on SE 72nd and Woodstock. In that project, Hardesty worked with the Portland Bureau of Transportation to reduce driving access in a location that had been the site of many speeders — who were all too often fleeing a violent act or in the midst of one.
This additional injection of political and financial capital from the Mayor’s office should raise urgency around the idea that the causes of — and solutions to — gun violence and traffic violence are often closely linked. Put another way, if we calm the streets, we calm the violence.
“In some areas it might be as simple as improving lighting at an intersection,” said Stephanie Howard, the director of community safety for Mayor Wheeler, in a phone conversation last week. Howard, a former trial attorney in the Denver, Colorado public defender’s office, said they’ll be looking to fund creative approaches to traffic-related interventions.
“This is a problem that requires all angles to find solutions to. There is no one approach that is the right approach,” Howard said. “It’s going to take every kind of intervention, and this really is about trying to find the most impactful interventions that we can.”
When asked specifically about Hardesty’s efforts in Mt. Scott-Arleta, Howard said,
“What we endorse wholeheartedly is collaboration to solve these problems. If bringing bureaus together that can play a role in this overarching problem is effective, which I think it is, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to bring all hands on deck to use every tool we have to to address the drivers for this kind of gun violence.”
We’ll watch this effort closely to see how/if street interventions materialize. For more on the gun violence plan and emergency declaration, see Mayor Wheeler’s website.