ODOT will break ground on new phase of Outer Powell project next month

A rendering of what outer Powell Blvd will look like once ODOT’s project is complete. (Image: ODOT)

Southeast Powell Boulevard is one of Portland’s most dangerous streets. The entirety of Powell is on the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s High Crash Network map, but the easternmost section of the road has been home to its highest crash rates. With subpar bike lanes, cracked or missing sidewalks and poor visibility for people walking and biking, using active transportation on Powell is currently not a task for the faint of heart.

The $105 million Outer Powell Transportation Safety Project is set to bring much-needed changes to the dangerous arterial in the form of physically protected bike lanes, beefed up street lighting, sidewalk infill and enhanced pedestrian crossings with flashing beacons. The first part of this project was completed back in 2020, when the stretch from 122nd to 136th avenues debuted a makeover. But that was only a preview of the changes we should see on outer Powell in the coming years. Next month, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) will start making moves on the next phase, which will tackle the segments from SE 99th to 122nd and 136th to 174th Aves.

(A previous phase of work in fall 2020 created this new bike lane on SE Powell east of 122nd. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Outer Powell is another one of those roads in the Portland area that’s owned by the state instead of the City of Portland. Like other ODOT-owned roads in the area, Powell is technically a state highway, but as Portland residents has moved east and the city landscape has changed, it functions more like a local access corridor than a regional highway.

But there is hope ODOT’s safety project will be fruitful – not only because of the design changes it will bring, but because the City of Portland is set to take Powell over once the project is complete (similar to the recent jurisdictional transfer of 82nd Ave).

Of course, even after ODOT tackles outer Powell, there will be more work to do. As we wrote about earlier this summer, people who live east of 99th have felt neglected by road agencies who’ve promised safety changes that haven’t come to fruition.

Combined with the Division Transit Project which is well on its way to completion, as well as plans on the books for north-south corridors like 82nd, 122nd and 162nd, this part of the city is set for a much-needed transformation. East Portland is one of the most diverse areas in Portland, and it’s largely low-income compared to other parts of town. It has historically been light on accessible transit and safe routes for people to bike and walk, so these changes are really important for fully integrating east Portland into the rest of the city.

Stay tuned for updates as ODOT begins work on this project.

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Jim Schiffer
Jim Schiffer
19 days ago

This is certainly better, but the amount of conflict points (driveways) off of Powell in that area will probably make it still very dangerous to use. People making left turns will probably ignore cyclists – only a matter of time until an accident happens. I hope at least they keep the level of the cycling path consistent and not have it dip at every driveway like they do for the sidewalks currently. The bit of two-way cycle track on Vermont between 50th and 52nd in SW Portland is a good example of how miserable driveways can be to cycle over.

Fred
Fred
18 days ago
Reply to  Jim Schiffer

Amen, Jim. I absolutely hate hate hate that section on Vermont – it feels like you have a flat tire at every driveway. Whoever designed that kind of cycle-track has never ridden an actual bicycle.

William
William
18 days ago
Reply to  Jim Schiffer

What cyclists? There are none east of 82nd

ivan
ivan
19 days ago

I like the rendering of the “landscape buffer” with trees, but that width looks mighty narrow — too narrow, if it were a normal streetside strip, to allow for the planting of trees.

Are they just going to exempt that stretch from the rules, or are the dimensions of the rendering (with no measurements indicated) just a lot wider than I think it looks?

Adam
Adam
19 days ago
Reply to  ivan

The project website says it will be consistent with the completed 122nd to 136th section. What is shown in the picture doesn’t match what is actually there. The bikes lanes aren’t protected, they are narrowly buffered with small platic roll over curbs maybe 25% of the time. One one side the sidewalks are right next to the curb. The other side has a 2ft “landscaped” buffer between the bikelane curb and the sidewalk. Meaning 6in tall plants, no trees. It is always filled with glass and debris. I wouldn’t ride ride it and I’m probably in the enthused and confident category of rider.

ivan
ivan
19 days ago
Reply to  Adam

Thanks, that’s sort of what I feared. I wish the renderings of these projects would make some attempt to accurately portray the landscaping that is going to be possible, because I’ve seen this happen before.

Presenting these parklike atmospheres does no one any good when the project gets built and then everyone is disappointed — they should make clear that it’ll be grass and shrubs. Or is this another PBOT-BES-PPR disconnect thing?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
19 days ago
Reply to  ivan

Ivan, why don’t you, Jim Schiffer and Adam ride the section of Powell from 122nd to 136th and give us a report back on how it was? Maybe give some ideas on how it could be improved on the new sections from what you observed?

Adam
Adam
19 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Can I give the snarky answer of actually build what they show in their presentation?

More realistically if they swept the bike lane more often and upgraded the protection it would be fine. As of right now the low roll over curbs make it function as a bike lane with a 1ft buffer. Some streets that is fine. I do feel like that is enough for Powell. If they made them straight sided curbs that you can’t easily drive over and actually installed them all the up to the edge of driveways (right now there aren’t any curbs within 20-30 feet of either side of every driveway) it would feel a lot better.

ivan
ivan
18 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Like Adam, I don’t really understand this response. The point isn’t that they did a poor job, the point is that they never intended to build what they depicted. I’m not really even sure why questioning this is controversial.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
18 days ago
Reply to  ivan

Adam & Ivan, my comments are not intended to be snarky. New roadways like outer Powell are designed by engineers who pretty much drive everywhere 100% and who are totally dependent on the input of bicyclists like you to make any useful improvements. The mere fact that they are even attempting to put in protected bike lanes of any sort was never their original intention – they only did it because I happened to be at that right meeting in 2013 or so when they were designing the painted bike lane and I pointed out that the same space could just as easily have curb-protected bike lanes – it was pure dumb luck that I as there and that they actually listened to what I had to say. We even discussed the types of curbs, the engineers, myself, and the stakeholders in the room (the meeting was at Human Solutions at about 126th & Powell). The ODOT engineers got some estimates and found the costs didn’t increase all that much with plastic curbs, so they went with it.

So any input you have on making it better needs to somehow get to the ODOT engineers designing the new sections – there is a really good chance they’ll listen to you.

ivan
ivan
19 days ago
Reply to  Adam

Just as an example:

A few years ago PBOT came to my little business association with nice diagrams and models showing a lot of trees being planted in the median of SE Division Street, east of I-205. Fast forward to today and the project is nearly done, with not a tree in site. Apparently PBOT forgot to discuss the trees with the Water Bureau so now there are no trees. So there is now more hot pavement and concrete in this area, and no more trees.

From recent testimony to City Council.

Christopher of Portland
Christopher of Portland
19 days ago

I was wondering what came of this part of the project since they sorta recently completed a bunch of work just east of I-205. Why they freshened it up just in time to redo it all is a mystery to me. I wish they would extend this protected or separated treatment over to 92nd. Riding east across the onramp slip lane is not safe with the uncaring drivers using it and seems like it would scare away a lot of riders before they even get to the new stuff.

Jake
Jake
19 days ago

I think that work had more to do with TriMet’s Powell Garage rebuild?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
19 days ago

The $105 million is for a total rebuild of Powell as a main street rather than as a stroad like outer Division, from I-205 to the Portland/Gresham city line just east of 174th. This doesn’t include the $30 million already spent to rebuild Powell from 119th to 136th. I agree, much of Powell is very scary to ride, particularly near any major intersection, but it’s even scarier to walk or cross, and this project aims to improve walking and bicycling at the cost of increased car congestion and slower car speeds. Unfortunately the city has pushed vastly increased housing densities to this area since annexation in the late 80s and the area has a lot of poverty and crime, as well as a long history of drive-by shootings, crashes, pedestrians getting hit, and so on. And no sidewalks, only little periodic strips of concrete here and there – most pedestrians walk on the highway, no choice really.

Nick
Nick
19 days ago

Why stop at SE 99th and not bring it the rest of the way into the city?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
19 days ago
Reply to  Nick

Nick, I totally agree. It’s important for East Portland residents to be able to better and more safely connect to both Gresham and to inner Portland – to jobs, more housing choices, schools, and so on – and it’s far easier and cheaper to give inner Powell a road diet, to take away a traffic lane in each direction, add protected bike lanes, safer and far more frequent crossings, and better bus stops, and simply make inner Powell a main street rather than a major community barrier.

William
William
18 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

The people of outer Portland can’t afford to live closer in, that’s why they are in outer se. I’m one of them

Let’s Active
Let’s Active
19 days ago

Taylor, following the completion of ODOT’s project , it was originally planned to turn over jurisdiction of these Outer Powell sections to the City of Portland. Is that still happening? And those plastic separators pictured in the story are supposed to have flexible posts, at least in many places.
David: your comments are right on. This project has some great project elements for people walking.

Fred
Fred
18 days ago

One thing I’ve noticed about these 4-lane to 3-lane conversions (actually two travel lanes with center turn lane):

Often when I’m driving the speed limit in the travel lane, impatient drivers behind me will decide to exceed the speed limit and use the center turn lane as a passing lane. Once a truck driver did this and his truck tires threw a rock onto my windshield and cracked it – there’s often debris in the center turn lane.

It’s really important when creating these travel-center-travel configurations to include islands with hardened barriers at regular intervals, not only to allow a refuge for crossing bikes and peds, but also to ensure that any driver who is thinking about using the center lane to pass will decide not to – lest he eff up his shiny motor vehicle.

Since we all know that driving laws are not enforced in Portland, it’s essential that infrastructure keep drivers from doing stupid things.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
18 days ago
Reply to  Fred

In the current configuration, the same irate drivers are using the bike lane as a passing lane, which is dangerous not only for the usual reasons, but also because there are pedestrians in the bike lane. The new section from 119th to 136th makes passing extraordinarily difficult not only by narrowing the car lanes and adding a barrier at the bike lane, but also by adding periodic pedestrian islands in the turn lane. The new and continuous sidewalks help pedestrian safety considerably.

Cbr
Cbr
18 days ago
Reply to  Fred

They shouldn’t drop from 4 lane to 3. They need to add the extra stuff outside of the lanes and none of this would ever happen. They could also post a reasonable travel speed limit, not one that penalizes cars.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
17 days ago
Reply to  Cbr

Yes, make design decisions because a few drivers can’t be inconvenienced to actually follow the laws.
As a pedestrian that puts up with this garbage all the time . . . tough noogies! Whatever it takes to get drivers to pay attention to their driving and the world around them then great!

qqq
qqq
17 days ago
Reply to  Cbr

A lot of people wouldn’t call bike lanes, sidewalks and trees on a street in the middle of a city that’s lined with businesses and homes “extra stuff”.

Let’s Active
Let’s Active
16 days ago
Reply to  Cbr

You can’t add the “extra stuff” without taking one lane. Otherwise you would be bulldozing businesses to make space for what needs to be there.

William
William
18 days ago

Portland city council again with the fail, anyone who has driven the completed part of 122nd to 136th has saw how bad it has become. Now on Powell and 122nd they have no right turns on red and also on green because it’s a bike intersection, yet you will never see a bike ever in the area. They are also building a huge apartment complex at that same area. You already have to wait 3 to 4 lights to get through. Spend a a couple hours there, you’ll notice no cops around because of the traffic. It’s time to start making roads bigger than smaller. This city is such a joke and far cry from what it was 20 yrs ago. Democrats always winning office saying they can fix it. But really it’s you guys who have failed us. Let’s get some republicans in office and give them a shot for once. When u start having people on the west side of the river and inner east side making decisions for people east of 82nd you know it’s never going to be good

Matt
Matt
17 days ago
Reply to  William

Hahaha, yeah, give us a republican we can vote for. I’m waiting. I won’t hold my breath though. Your last president was a doozy and a half.