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.”
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.”