NE 7th Ave residents to PBOT: Keep cars out of our neighborhood

(Photos: Inset, Eliot Neighborhood Association; background, Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

There’s been a flurry of activity around the Northeast 7th and Tillamook project since the City of Portland met with a large group of concerned residents last Wednesday night.

As expected (and as requested by some neighbors) the Portland Bureau of Transportation followed up quickly with a new proposal that offers more traffic calming features. PBOT says that if the 60 or so people in the ad hoc neighborhood group let their crews begin construction on a project to remove the existing traffic circle and restripe the intersection with bike lanes, they’ll add two new speed bumps and a concrete planter to help slow drivers down.  

As of Monday morning, it appears many neighbors and safe streets advocates aren’t satisfied. So far, three letters have been fired off to PBOT and City Hall offices. They’ve come from the Eliot Neighborhood Association, the nascent “Safe on 7th” group, and nonprofit advocacy group Bike Loud PDX.

The three letters have two big things in common: They want more dialogue with PBOT before changes are made and they want the City to implement a project that will move us more quickly to adopted goals of less driving and more biking.

The Eliot NA and Safe on 7th both make it crystal clear that they want PBOT to install traffic diverters that drastically reduce the number of cars on the street (there’s even a petition to gather more support). Despite seeing around 4,000 to 6,000 cars per day, Tillamook is designated as a local street and city bikeway in PBOT’s Transportation System Plan. PBOT has said that ideally, 7th Ave would have just 1,000 car trips per day, but so far they haven’t been willing to do what it would take to achieve that goal.

Now they (once again) have strong support from some neighborhood groups to do that.

In 2018 when PBOT did the initial outreach for this Lloyd to Woodlawn Neighborhood Greenway project, they also had strong support from many neighbors (and biking advocates). But that support ran into severe pushback from some Black residents and leaders of the organizations who serve them. Faced with a choice of pushing back against Black residents saying the plan would “whitewash” and further gentrify the neighborhood, PBOT shifted the greenway alignment to NE 9th.

“The City is proposing a design that will work with the existing traffic volumes instead of trying to change the traffic volumes to meet the City’s published policy goals,” The Eliot NA letter states. “Our request is that PBOT only reopen NE 7th Avenue to vehicle traffic after traffic diverters blocking North-South through traffic are on the ground.”

“After just one week of closure…The environment has already shifted and our neighborhood actually feels like a neighborhood.”

– Safe on 7th

And the letter from Safe on 7th says, “The traffic island has been the finger in the hole of the dam. Removing it exposes the underlying design flaws on Lower 7th Avenue. This inevitably will result in a flood of high speed traffic through our neighborhood… the concern of this neighborhood is to reduce the speed and volume of cars at the intersection.”

Both the Eliot NA and the Safe on 7th group also urge the City to maintain the calm that their construction project closures have created. “The construction fencing has brought NE 7th much closer to meeting the City’s goals for the street and we would like to make sure we do not revert to the old condition,” says the Eliot NA letter. “After just one week of closure… very few cars are trying to use our neighborhood as an alternative throughway to MLK. Our community members and school children and passing cyclists are safer, and something special is happening – long-time neighbors are congregating on the street in the evenings and making connections we’ve never made before. The environment has already shifted and our neighborhood actually feels like a neighborhood,” says Safe on 7th group.

Bike Loud says they want PBOT to launch a Northeast In Motion planning process, which would, “Have the resources to begin with a robust community engagement process that brings in many diverse interests from the start and can better acknowledge the damaging history of past racist policies.”

Meanwhile, PBOT crews were at the intersection this morning doing initial surveys and inspections, but a project manager said they haven’t broken ground yet.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop.


UPDATE: 6:45 pm: PBOT has just released a statement saying construction will begin this week. They’re calling it “Phase 1” and will include removal of the traffic circle and the addition of the speed bumps and concrete planter outlined in their revised plan in light of recent resident concerns. PBOT’s statement also says they’ll monitor traffic volumes and speeds and “may include follow-up mitigation if necessary” and that if any future changes are made on NE 7th PBOT would be required to “re-engage the broader community to ensure that such an outcome would work for users along the entire corridor and reflect the priorities of historically disadvantaged communities.”

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Jay Cee
Jay Cee
13 days ago

Yes!! Permanent diverters on 7th!

bjorn
bjorn
13 days ago

Anyone know the weblink for that pro diverter petition?

Randy Haj
Randy Haj
12 days ago
Reply to  bjorn

Also “safeon7th.org”

Doug Klotz
Doug Klotz
13 days ago

Jonathan, I expected to see a discussion of the several-years-ago plan to make 7th a greenway, and the strong neighborhood pushback, including the Black community, that led PBOT to kill that plan. IIRC this pushback was in the stretch north of Fremont. How is this different? Are the supporters and detractors reversed south of Fremont? (I notice the Eliot Neighborhood stops at Fremont).

JV
JV
13 days ago

This is disappointing, but reading through the PBOT statement, it claims they will remove the double yellow stripe along NE 7th, which was promised as part of the original Safer on 7th plan, but has still yet to happen.

This would be a modest game changer if they actually did it, but their proposed plan for the Tilamook interchange still shows a yellow center stripe – what gives!

Watts
Watts
12 days ago
Reply to  JV

Removing the line will definitely change the feel of the street for the better.

Asher Atkinson
Asher Atkinson
13 days ago

Can we please just stick to the plan that was settled upon several years ago, rather than throwing a wrench into the mix and yammering on for another few years? I live in the neighborhood and ride along the proposed route on 9th often. Just last afternoon I crossed the Bluenauer bridge heading north, stayed on 7th to the construction diverter at Tillamook, then switched to 9th through Irvington Park up to Going, essentially following the settled route for that stretch. The calm transit through the park was especially pleasant with a lot of summer’s end baseball, parties, and strollers enjoying a perfect evening, and I so much look forward to an improved route with more accommodation for cyclists through the park. Aware of the renewed clamor to direct bikes to 7th I was puzzled by why any cyclist would choose 7th over 9th and avoid a jaunt up a calm street and through a jewel of a park, even it involved a tad more effort. Yes, traffic calming on 7th should be added to compensate for the loss of the island at Tillamock, and we should set some volume targets for 7th and mitigate as as needed, in due course, and as part of an inclusive process, but let’s not delay or detract from really positive changes already in motion along 7th and 9th.

Randy Haj
Randy Haj
12 days ago
Reply to  Asher Atkinson

Hi Asher, I think what the neighbors are saying is that their street is unsafe and PBOT has no plans to fix it, but needs to. I think it’s clear from the depth and breadth of concern that this is a serious safety issue for the neighborhood and bikers who continue to use 7th because of its more direct route, better grade and paving, and avoidance of Irving park and the inevitable conflicts between park users and commuter levels of bike traffic.

The community leaned the project was happening about two weeks ago and have already gathered signature, written letters, reached out to city officials, and set up a website (safeon7th.org). These are people who weren’t organized before, but the fact that they and their families can’t walk out their front door without 6,000 cars speeding through their neighborhood every single weekday led them to take time out of their lives to make their community safer.

PBOT never gave the neighbors who live here a chance to discuss alternatives to removing the traffic circle, which won’t fix the problem and could make safety worse. It was presented as either a 7th street greenway or one on 9th, without any discussion of changes on 7th if it wasn’t selected. The overwhelming feedback is that PBOT’s plans are not the right ones for the community and people who use this road so need to be changed with input from all stakeholders.

I realize the temptation to want to push things forward but this is a different discussion than happened in 2018 and is critical to get right for the residents and bikers who are put in danger by the current (and proposed) road design.

maxD
maxD
12 days ago
Reply to  Asher Atkinson

Asher,
I am glad you enjoyed a toodle through the park. The intention is not exclude people from slowly meandering through a park. I think I can help explain what the goals for 7th were, and why many are disappointed to see PBOT walk away from that. The $19M Blumenaur Bridge was planned to be the centerpiece of a north/south bike route that be a central spine for many pieces of the bike network. For this to work well, it needs to safe and direct. Safe means minimal conflict points with cars and pedestrians, good lighting, protected crossings of busy intersections. Direct means it will be efficient and easy to understand. This works for new riders who are learning to get around by bike and for people looking for an efficient route for their transportation by bike.
 
Here are some parts of PBOT’s proposal that ruin this vision:
 

  1. Allowing too many cars on 7th
  2. The ambiguous bike lane on 7th when PBOT’s intention is for bikes to take the lane
  3. Routing bikes into a pedestrian crosswalk
  4. having to jog over 2 blocks to 9th
  5. bisecting a park with a piece of transportation infrastructure- this either ruins the transportation piece or it ruins the park. A park is a non-directional, safe space for games, sports, kids, dogs- it is not a good place to have people cut through at 20-30 MPH.

In my recollection, the 2018 process culminated with PBOT promising to create a greenway that used 9th and went AROUND Irvington Park and made improvements to 7th that would make it safer to use on a bike. So far, PBOT is failing.

Watts
Watts
12 days ago

They’re calling it “Phase 1” 

Anyone remember what happened on Clinton? A two phase project was promised, with phase 2 including a diverter at 12th as well as a few other components.

PBOT simply canceled Phase 2, and that was that.

Patrick
Patrick
12 days ago

Whenever I see a road closed sign but “bikes allowed” my heart sings with joy! The construction bike routing and the lack of cars has made the majority of 7th Ave quite pleasant. I remember how people on bikes used the traffic circle: some cut in front of it instead of going around the circle (I have also done this maneuver but have since decided it wasn’t quite worth the risks). If cutting in front of the circle was one of the problems, the circle could include a elongated end going downhill to direct the traffic up & around the circle. If the plants block the view, different trees or plants could be used. It seems overkill to fully demolish and try something new when “tweaks” to the intersection would work.

Joseph E
Joseph E
12 days ago

I rode on NE 7th again, taking my daughter back to school from the dentist in the Lloyd. This time we stayed on 7th all the to Going; often I turn right at Skidmore when heading home, since the hill is gentle that way and we live near Skidmore. But actually it was fine crossing Prescot with the light.

Currently the most car traffic was between Knott and Fremont. The most annoying part was right before Irving Park, when we were headed uphill and a few cars were slowed down behind us. But the section north of Fremont was very calm, even with no diversion, at least in the morning. Perhaps it is worse in the afternoon?

Right now, diversion at Tillamook, as we see now during the construction and again at Morris between Knott and Fremont would be enough to make this my preferred north-south bike route in the whole area.

I think this should be reconsidered, instead of the previous plan for diverters right in the middle of Fremont and Knott where businesses on the corners would be more impacted. Instead the diversion can happen where the east-west greenways are crossing – including near Failing street, which ought to be a greenway, and at Going to reduce traffic near King school.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
12 days ago

I certainly don’t speak for Black Portlanders, but I recall at least one Black person at last Wednesday’s meeting who expressed quite an impassioned concern with drivers speeding through and not stopping in crosswalks for (Black) pedestrians. Seems pretty relevant to “the priorities of historically disadvantaged communities”!

Doug Hecker
Doug Hecker
12 days ago

Wait a minute, this just seems like a group of neighbors grouping together against what has already been stated with the black community. I wonder how many folks from the black community are on or in safe on seventh? I think we are doing a disservice by not mentioning those prior conversations that were in the recent past.

Mark McClure
8 days ago

Three days ago, I had a nice conversation with a resident who lives on NE 7th. During our conversation, I mentioned that a motorist many years ago crashed into a tree that was in a traffic circle on NE 33rd, just south of NE Klickitat. As I recall, the motorist was a GHS student. I see on the news that another crash occurred this morning at the same location. Could a crash of this type also occur on NE 7th?

I haven’t been following the recent NE 7th (NE 9th) stories too closely, so I apologize if this scenario has already been discussed.

Mark McClure
7 days ago
Reply to  Mark McClure

For the record, I was incorrect about the earlier crash on NE 33rd. A neighbor informed me that the Grant High School students were driving north on NE 33rd and crashed into a tree across from the T-intersection with NE Siskiyou. My wife said it was on a Thanksgiving day, but we don’t recall what year. I haven’t been able to locate any other details.

FWIW, and not related to the original story, when I’m waiting for my bus heading south on NE 33rd, I occasionally see bicyclists take the lane and come down the hill from NE Fremont. Although they’re able to keep up with the vehicles, it looks very dangerous to me.

Eric P Deer
Eric P Deer
2 days ago

As someone whose commute and home are impacted by this poorly thought out damning of 7th avenue I would like to point out some things you may not be aware of. 1: since the barricades have gone up my corner has seen an increase daily of 75 more cars on 9th avenue. 2: 20 plus more cars running the stop sign on Thompson at 9th. Where is the plan to mitigate this traffic? 3: if a stated intention of this plan is to make it safer for students to get to and from Irvington elementary, how does more traffic closer to school help?
I get there aren’t any perfect solutions but maybe looking just a little more abroad than your own views would make for better “planning”.