Before heading over to the scene for a closer look, I wanted to share a few updates on the tragic death that happened on SE 26th and Powell yesterday.
First, the victim was 50-year-old Sarah Pliner, a well-known local chef and former restaurant owner. Pliner was behind Aviary, a French-inspired spot on Northeast Alberta. Before closing in 2020, Aviary was named Restaurant of the Year by Willamette Week in 2012. In a review from Conde Nast Traveler, the food was referred to as “inventive… that’ll quietly knock your socks off.”
I’m in touch with a close friend of Pliner’s who’s traveling today with her family in California. I hope to share more about her and share remembrances from those who knew her in a separate post. If you knew her, please reach out and share if you are able to.
Advocates have raised red flags about the intersection where Pliner was killed several times. Local nonprofit group Bike Loud PDX held an emergency meeting yesterday to talk about how best to respond this time. Much of the energy thus far is focused on the Oregon Department of Transportation, given that Powell Blvd is a state highway that has years of death and destruction in its past (stay tuned for a post about recent traffic deaths nearby). Many volunteers said they plan to attend upcoming meetings of state and city freight advisory committees.
The Bike Loud board released a letter this morning calling on local policymakers to act to make Powell safer. Board members outline their vision for the corridor:
“We want all people along the Powell corridor to enjoy full lives, free of worry that they will be maimed or killed while crossing the street whether on bike, foot or in a car. We want Powell Boulevard to have slower speeds, bike boxes, safe crossings, mode separation, and daylighting for vulnerable users. Finally, we want Powell Boulevard adjacent to Cleveland High School to be designated a school zone. We need all this now, before another person dies.”
Bike Loud’s letter also said the group will be working with Pliner’s family and surrounding community on a memorial. We’re not aware of any protest actions or mass bike rides, but we’ll share details about the memorial and other actions as soon as more information is available.
“The Street Trust is tired of issuing statements and offering condolences for the loss of life and limb due to government inaction on SE Powell Blvd. in Portland and are demanding immediate action – today – from local and state government to prevent future injuries and deaths,” the statement reads. “The Street Trust is demanding that the City of Portland and State of Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) cooperate to immediately physically separate from motor vehicle traffic all vulnerable street users including people on bicycles, pedestrians, and transit riders until a full investigation of yesterday’s killing is completed.” (Emphasis theirs.)
Employees of a nearby Burgerville walked out in protest after seeing the crash Tuesday. In a tweet they wrote, “Workers have walked off on strike at 25th & Powell over safety concerns. After witnessing a child [sic] be killed immediately outside the shop, body in full view of crew, workers demanded the shop be closed for the day. Corporate/HR denied this plea for compassion.”
State Rep. Rob Nosse represents the district where the crash occurred. BikePortland received this statement from Nosse this morning:
“That intersection has been a traffic and pedestrian challenge for far too long especially given that Cleveland High School is right there along with Powell Park. The city and the state have got to figure out a way to make Powell Blvd safer. I have been working with a group of neighborhood activists and leaders trying to figure out how to make a jurisdictional transfer of Powell Blvd from ODOT control to PBOT control or more simply stated from state to city. This tragedy is a call to redouble those efforts to find a way to make a jurisdictional transfer both politically and financially viable. Making Powell a city road rather than a state road gives our community a much better chance of preventing some like this from happening again.”
State Rep. Khanh Pham, who represents the district directly adjacent to where this happened, has made a statement about Pliner’s death. “My heart goes out to Sarah’s family and community. This is the 3rd death on this stretch of inner Powell in the past year. We as a state and city must fund safety improvements and jurisdictional transfer so no one else has to die or be injured,” she wrote on Twitter.
That transfer Rep. Pham refers to is likely going to be the focus of much attention in the coming weeks and months. As I reported yesterday, Powell ranked highest by Metro in a listing of state highway that all parties agree should be transferred to City of Portland ownership. I’ll go further into this topic in a separate post, but suffice it to say there is a ton of political inertia around this idea — especially given the recent precedent of the 82nd Avenue transfer. One little tidbit I’ll share now is that in January 2020, PBOT Director Chris Warner sent a memo to ODOT Director Kris Strickler. Warner seemed a bit frustrated and claimed that ODOT had lowballed an estimate included in a report about what it would cost to bring the road up to a “state of good repair” (a requisite step before it can be transferred). “Portland has hundreds of millions of unfunded safety needs,” Warner wrote, “We cannot accept additional liabilities without weakening our ability to meet the needs on the streets we own.”