The problem with Powell Boulevard

Looking north on the southeast corner of Powell Blvd and 26th. Markings in the road are from the police investigation into the collision. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Another senseless death of a vulnerable road user on an urban highway controlled by the State of Oregon has led to more pleas from advocates to make changes. And just now, the Portland city commissioner in charge of the transportation, Jo Ann Hardesty, added her voice to the chorus.

“Enough is enough,” Hardesty said in a statement Thursday. “In the immediate term… ODOT can make changes to Powell and other urban arterials today… ODOT must implement safety improvements as soon as possible for the safety of Portlanders and all who travel through our city.”

Hardesty said she wants to see changes like the ones suggested by The Street Trust in their statement yesterday. Specifically, they have called for a protected intersection design that would create physical separation for vulnerable road users.

Yesterday as I biked home from the intersection where Sarah was killed, I got a phone call from ODOT Region 1 Public Information Officer Don Hamilton. Hamilton knows SE Powell and 26th well. In 2015 he went so far as to attend a protest at the intersection held two days after a bicycle rider has his leg torn off in a collision with a truck driver at the same location.

ODOT Region 1 PIO Don Hamilton walking across Powell Blvd on 26th, May 11th, 2015.

“It’s premature to blame us… It is a busy road, there are a lot of dangers, and everyone needs to be very careful.”

– Don Hamilton, ODOT

Hamilton said he was aware of demands for accountability from The Street Trust and Bike Loud PDX.  “People are saying ODOT has to answer for what happened,” he said. “But we still don’t know what happened so it’s premature to blame us.”

“We need to know if Powell played a role, and if so, what role, before we can decide if there’s anything further we can do,” he added. “I don’t know if conditions on the road can be seen as a factor.”

According to our Fatality Tracker there have been 10 fatal traffic crashes on SE Powell between 24th and 62nd since 2017 — six of them are on the stretch between 24th and 37th.

(Graphic: BikePortland)

Regardless of what happened Tuesday, does ODOT not believe that the current design on Powell Blvd is inherently dangerous?

Hamilton carefully evaded that question and would only say: “If there’s something we can do we, we will do it. It is a busy road, there are a lot of dangers, and everyone needs to be very careful.”

Looking west from Powell toward 26th.

We still don’t know exactly what happened between Sarah and the driver of that truck. Because one party in the collision cannot speak for themselves, because there are many conflicting witness accounts that don’t add up, and because even video evidence doesn’t always show everything, there’s a chance we might never know.

What is clear so far is that the design of Powell Blvd at 26th Avenue and the safety of people who use it are completely at odds. It’s a ticking time bomb. And ODOT holds the fuse, a match, and a cup of water that could put it out.  So why do they just stand there and let it burn?

As I talked to ODOT’s Hamilton, he kept saying “It’s a very busy road… it’s so dangerous,” as if the road is a force of nature his agency has no control over. The same way someone might look at a school of sharks and say, “It’s a lot of sharks… it’s so dangerous.”

The difference in those two examples is that one we have control over, and the other we don’t. We — or in this case specifically, ODOT — has control over this situation. They decide how a road is designed. And design influences how a road is used.

PBOT Freight Advisory Committee this morning.

In this case, so far it appears that neither person involved in this tragedy did anything egregiously wrong.

At the Portland Bureau of Transportation Freight Advisory Committee meeting this morning, The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone said, “I want us to do everything that is possible to prevent these in the future. That is why I want to place blame on the infrastructure…. Because whether or not there is human error involved on anyone’s part, we need to do things as a community to prevent harm when human error is a factor.  Humans err, that is what we do.”

ODOT erred when they made an intentional decision in 2018 to make SE 26th and Powell less safe for cycling, so did The Street Trust when they went along with the compromise (which Iannarone apologized for at today’s meeting). There used to be a large, green-colored bike box on the corner where Sarah Pliner was killed. ODOT chose to remove that bike box and strip the bike lane of its legal status in 2019 (even after their own consultants told them widening the bike lane would be a feasible option). The purpose of a bike box is twofold: Provide space between drivers and bike riders during red lights, and to give a visual warning of potential bike rider/driver conflicts. A bike box probably wouldn’t have kept Sarah alive; but it doesn’t change the fact that ODOT made this corner less safe and now someone is dead.

I asked ODOT PIO Don Hamilton why ODOT removed the bike box. “We were trying to direct bicycle to a safer crossing on 28th. We certainly were not intending to make bicycle traffic less safe,” he replied.

So why not just put up signs pointing to 28th and keep the bike box? I asked.

“I see what you’re getting at,” Hamilton replied, ever cautious with how he chooses words during our conversations. “We made a decision to make sure that the facilities that we had at 26th directed traffic as best we could to 28th Avenue… You understand what we were doing right? I see your point though, when you remove something, are you are making it less safe? I get that. I see what you mean.”

ODOT often has no trouble seeing what we mean. They just usually don’t agree with our solutions.

At the intersection where Sarah died, the solution must address how truck drivers turn (or if they’re allowed to continue doing so).

Today, the way truck drivers make the turn from northbound 26th to eastbound Powell is extremely dangerous. A ticking time bomb. Several very knowledgeable people I’ve spoken about this recently have said the same thing: “I can’t believe this doesn’t happen more often.”

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Andrew
Andrew
1 month ago

Even saying “It is a busy road, there are a lot of dangers, and everyone needs to be very careful” is very telling. Powell and the rest of the legacy urban highways in Portland (and nationwide) are dangerous for non-drivers by design. Every single street, road or highway that has ever been designated as a “throughway” or the like exists to give preferential treatment to cars and trucks moving as quickly as possible through the area. This has always come at the cost of safety and comfort for people outside of automobiles. It will never change until the preferential treatment to automobiles if fully taken away – because that is the root cause of the danger.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew

As much as we criticize ODOT with US 26 at 26th, PBOT has just as many busy double-lane super dangerous stroads (for example, 122nd and outer Division). It would be an interesting experiment that would be watched nationally if the city banned all city streets from being double-laned, that every city street must be one-lane only in each direction, preferably with a 15 mph speed limit, with the rest of the street width being used for purposes other than traffic flow.

Psmith
Psmith
1 month ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

But the serious injury and fatality crash rate has been far higher on ODOT orphan highways. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I recall that ODOT roads account for a low percentage of total miles of roadway in the city but have a disproportionately high number of serious crashes.

Sequoia
Sequoia
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew

It’s especially telling when you consider the other words he failed to say such as “the result of the way we design roads or or lack thereof any design that considers other road users, people or that there’s a high school and public park right next to our busy, dangerous road.”

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago

Where does this intersection rank in the listing of the most dangerous within the city of Portland? How about among ODOT intersections within the city?

jim chasse
jim chasse
1 month ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

It is not on the list of the top 30 High Crash intersections in the City of Portland. Portland’s High Crash Network | The City of Portland, Oregon (portlandoregon.gov)
This intersection was upgraded several years ago.
All of the High Crash intersections on Powell are from 82nd Ave. east to Gresham.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago
Reply to  jim chasse

Thanks Jim.

While it looks like no intersections on Powell west of 82nd make the top 30 most dangerous overall, in the top 20 worst for pedestrians, 31st & Powell is #8 and 21st & Powell is #13. None of Powell shows up for the top 20 worst bike crash intersections; 102nd & Burnside is by far #1, followed by a variety of locations near downtown and in inner northeastern Portland.

Of course, with 46,000 intersections, it’s rather hard for any deadly intersection to make the top 20. How do you prioritize fixes? There’s only so much money though, never enough.

Maybe the city needs to put in warning signs with skeletons of skulls, “this intersection is deadly, proceed with caution”, but then there would be so many signs that no one would pay attention to them, just like they are apparently ignoring signals right now.

Do bicyclists in Portland ever run red lights?

jim chasse
jim chasse
1 month ago
Reply to  jim chasse

My mistake. the intersection at Cesar Chavez and Powell is the single High Crash intersection listed in the top 30 that is west of 82nd Ave.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago
Reply to  jim chasse

One map has it, the other does not – it looks like the rankings change annually. It’s not listed in the PBOT top 30, but PBOT isn’t publishing dates for their lists (the one listed uses 2015-19 data).

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 month ago

Maybe if ODOT chose safety over speed, safety over efficiency, safety over convenience, there would have been a different outcome. Sarah is right. the infrastructure is the problem. ODOT paid someone to design it like this. And ODOT operates it like this. ODOT places the safety of people who walk and ride bicycles at the bottom of their priority and speed, efficiency and convenience of large trucks at the top.

D2
D2
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Ironically, Powell is hardly an efficient journey in a car despite the higher speed limits. Without a focus on light timings or priority basically no one is winning on that road.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  D2

That’s the paradox of “stroads” in a nutshell.

Matt S.
Matt S.
1 month ago
Reply to  D2

On light timings. I think they’re intentionally not timed so people can’t speed through.

Carrie Leonard
Carrie Leonard
1 month ago

Just yesterday, driving southbound on SE 26th, I observed a car driver encroaching upon the E-W & N-S sidewalks, at a red light, when there is a signed no turn on red there. When the light turned, they bullied the multiple pedestrians who were using the crosswalk. I see this behavior regularly at this intersection and I rarely saw it when the bike boxes were there. If ODOT was truly about safety of all users, they would admit this mistake (that you Sarah at The Street Trust — it means a LOT) and change it. Tomorrow.

Yes, I also see car drivers encroach on the bike boxes all over town. Yes, paint is not protection. BUT I think it does matter. I think that it at least indicates that our ‘government’ or ‘society’ *expects* a car driver to WAIT for the other road users. That yes, they DO get to ‘go first’.

FWIW, this bolsters concerns I already had about the work ODOT is doing on Hwy 43 on the west side of the Clackamas River near Oregon City. They are building a MUP with the expectation that cyclists will be encouraged (forced?) to use it (which would involve crossing OR 43 TWICE in 0.5 miles if you’re a cyclist heading south bound) or we get to share a roundabout with freeway merging traffic. Guess where the blame is gonna lie when someone gets hit there? The cyclist who didn’t use the meandering route?

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  Carrie Leonard

Thanks for the heads-up on that crappy MUP design. I can tell you right now – there’s no way I’m stopping to press a beg button and crossing OR 43 *twice* within a half-mile. I’m taking the lane.

Doug Klotz
Doug Klotz
1 month ago

The two photos show how ODOT radically cut back the SE corner, resulting in a much larger corner radius, to allow trucks to more easily make the right turn northbound. This not only allows car drivers to speed around the corner, but arguably allows truck drivers to take that corner at a higher speed. They even acquired land on that corner to move the sidewalk back for their larger vehicle turning area.

PTB
PTB
1 month ago

There’s just no reason for semis to be using inner city streets. I work very near here. There are regularly 53′ High Cubes being pulled around, and quite quickly, too. That’s absolutely insane.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago
Reply to  PTB

The reason is that the rail yard the trucks depart from is right there – unless you’re proposing we move the rail yard out of the inner city….

maxD
maxD
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

There was some talk of moving the railyard to Camas…

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  maxD

Brooklyn (and North Portland) yards are both Union Pacific. The line through Camas is BNSF so that won’t work. Moving the Brooklyn yard south to Clackamas or even Canby would make sense.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

Time to nationalize the railroads, I guess.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Absolutely that rail yard shouldn’t be there. This is a perfect case for invoking Eminent Domain.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

And thus began the 100 Years Legal War, the biggest cash transfer from government to legal firms in our nation’s history, an epic in which nothing was changed.

Seriously, if you want them gone, write them a check. There is some number that will convince them it’s worthwhile, and it is almost certainly lower than the cost of forcing them to move.

Karstan
Karstan
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

Watt, we often disagree. But fwiw, I think you often make good points. Here we agree completely. There’s a number that would convince them to move their yard to a spot that much closer to I-5 or I-205 and outside of the city core. It would be a win-win for everyone.

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

That’s a great idea, actually. Down to Clackamas or Canby. It would also eliminate the stopped trains at Division-11th-12th.

Unfortunately, the railroads have more power than God.

Bill
Bill
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

I mean I think there would be plenty of support for that as well

PTB
PTB
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

I know the rail yard is right here. I’m not a quarter mile from it as I type this and I watch trucks rumble down the street all day, every day. They rumble right by the Fred Meyer day care facility, they rumble up 21st crossing Lafayette which sees a ton of cyclists, peds and CHS kids headed to the MAX, they rumble by Powell Park and rumble by CHS. Move that shit out of the city, definitely. I think it’s total madness that we allow semis anywhere in the city. A 53′ trailer is massive and shouldn’t be on city streets. No semis.

James X
James X
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

We can deliver all that lumber via cargo bikes. This is totally plausible.

Aaron K
Aaron K
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

The only part of the Brooklyn Intermodal Terminal accessed by 26th is the Annex. This is a nonessential truck area removed from the rest of the rail yard with no safe entrance or exit routes, and in the aftermath of this death should be closed.

maxD
maxD
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron K

Aaron K, 100% agree! Close the annex, and define the only truck route as Holgate to Milwaukie

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  PTB

I was on the #17 when one of those container trucks turning from SE 28th onto Holgate clipped the rear of the bus. The noise and impact almost gave me a heart attack lol. These trucks really don’t belong on neighborhood streets.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  PTB

There’s just no reason for semis to be using inner city streets. 

None except the nearby railyard. Until UPRR moves their operations out of the urban core, there will be heavy trucks moving containers out of the yard.

I’m sure they’d move if the city cut them a large enough check, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.

Matt S.
Matt S.
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

Maybe just allow homeless folks to setup camps near the railroad, the drivers will feel unsafe and UP will relocate operations to the suburbs out of fear…

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

If we prohibit trucks from turning onto Powell here, where are you proposing to move that action to? Coming out of the rail yards south of Powell, there are few alternatives besides putting them on even more residential streets….

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

There are not schools on all those other residential streets.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago
Reply to  Serenity

No one from the school has been hit. Kids live in those residential streets and play on those residential streets. Many of us bike on those bike designated residential streets.

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Is there any good reason for these trucks to drive on residential streets in the first place?

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago
Reply to  Serenity

Point being: there is no good reason for semis to use residential streets, and even less reason for semis to use residential streets with schools on them.

 
 
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Trucks can take Holgate to McLoughlin, or 21st to Powell. No schools on the corners there, and neither is significantly out of the way.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to   

No schools on the corners there

Except the preschool on 22nd.

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

They should only be allowed on Holgate for yard access.

Psmith
Psmith
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

The designated freight route in Portland’s TSP is Holgate Blvd crossing the tracks and going to McLoughlin Blvd. 26th Ave is not a designated freight route.

Alexander Harding
Alexander Harding
1 month ago

You know how you prevent curb hopping? You put in a fucking bollard (or five).

Trucks can turn across the 200000 thru lanes.

Aaron K
Aaron K
1 month ago

An alternative to trucks hopping the curb, or the traversable truck apron that ODOT installed, which is a curb that doesn’t damage truck tires when they drive over it, would have been to set the stop bar further back on the left turn lane on Powell to give trucks more room in the roadway to turn. This was done in the left turn lane on 26th, but not Powell. There is plenty of road width for trucks to make turns at this intersection, but the cars are in the way. The cars should be held back from the intersection instead of having trucks driving over the sidewalks.

D2
D2
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug Klotz

I feel like a design akin to a flattened roundabout might have been a better choice. A truck can roll their trailer up onto it a bit in an effort not to cross multiple lanes of traffic, but both trucks and cars would not want to hit an off camber curb at high speed.

Karstan
Karstan
1 month ago

Thanks as always, Jonathan. The statements from Hamilton are so frustrating, and as Andrew pointed out: telling. How can Hamilton not see that Powell is a busy road because it’s DESIGNED to be a busy road. Removing safety improvements like bike boxes, etc. is a signal to drivers that this area is for them and them only (something he sort of seemed to get from his other quote). Drivers can (and do) drive 40-50mph with impunity if they wish to.

It is a deliberate choice by ODOT for Powell to be a dangerous, high-speed corridor of auto traffic through this neighborhood. Powell doesn’t have to be this way.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Karstan

How can Hamilton not see that Powell is a busy road because it’s DESIGNED to be a busy road.

Because it’s not. Powell has been an important transportation corridor since the city’s birth, and was plenty busy before it got today’s design. The current design may well contribute to the number of users, but if those vehicles weren’t there, many would be on other less appropriate streets (just as SE Brooklyn is getting a lot of vehicles trying to bypass a congested segment of the street; look at a map to see how it works). There aren’t a ton of high capacity east-west routes through that part of town, or which provide access to downtown from Gresham.

There are lots of things ODOT could do to make Powell safer, but many are incompatible with moving a high volume of vehicles, and there just aren’t that many good alternatives.

Any solution needs to look at the bigger picture.

Karstan
Karstan
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

but many are incompatible with moving a high volume of vehicles, and there just aren’t that many good alternatives.

Why do they need to be compatible with moving a high volume of motor vehicles? Why is moving a bunch of large heavy machinery around more important than human lives? Because some people used to drive some horse-drawn wagons up and down a dirt path that was here 150 years ago? That feels like a bit of a stretch.

These are deliberate choices that are being made. You are making the exact same mistaken presumptions that ODOT and PBOT make every day. Every person that has been maimed or died along this stretch is the direct result of policy failure.

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Karstan

Add a dollar or three (phased in of course) to the gas tax. The volume of traffic will drop. Just like Union Pacific will move for enough money (smart folks have been working with UP on that for years btw) people who drive will not, if you keep making it more expensive.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

Really? Gas is more expensive than ever right now and it doesn’t seem to make one bit of difference in traffic volumes or to the people who are still buying giant trucks and SUVs.

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  FDUP

No, gas is not more expensive now than it ever was. The sticker price is higher, but that elides the effect of inflation since the dawn of the petroleum age. The real price is what we should be paying attention to.
And your concern that folks are driving as much as they were when gas cost half as much is valid, but that is simply a reflection of the elasticity of demand. Add a dollar or three or six/ gallon, and you’ll see how VMT changes.

Sequoia
Sequoia
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

Just stop subsidizing it and externalizing all the costs of production including pollution. Make the consumer pay the full price at the pump.

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Sequoia

that is an excellent starting point, but a stiff and rising tax is just as important since this is not 1952 but 2022, and climate change is going to wreck everything if we don’t do everything we can to slow it down, stave it off.

SilkySlim
SilkySlim
1 month ago

I live just a couple blocks south of Powell, at 35th and Holgate. This will sound way overly dramatic, but Powell serves as a de facto Northern Border for me. Crossing it is unpleasant enough (and I’m not even getting into the danger element) that I head other directions. Woodstock and Sellwood are my stomping grounds instead. I mean this isn’t 100%… I will get brave and make it to Little Beast for a beer, but I’ll visit Double Mountain and Gigantic 10x more often.

One radical vote for tunnels underneath.

Matt S.
Matt S.
1 month ago
Reply to  SilkySlim

I work on Powell at 31st, I can’t stand spending any time of the street—the traffic, the homeless, it’s all so depressing.

soren
soren
1 month ago

In this case, so far it appears that neither person involved in this tragedy did anything egregiously wrong.

Unless you have information that you are not sharing with us, it seems premature to make this statement.

Walter in Portland
Walter in Portland
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

Jonathan does say “so far”. I thought this statement was good because it means he’s not jumping to blaming either party. Instead he wants the conversation focused on the road design and not the details of this specific accident. Before this statement, there was the implication that the driver must be at fault.

Steve
Steve
1 month ago

“so far it appears” It appears that way why?

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 month ago

ODOT has a “Blueprint for Urban Design” (from 2019 ? :/) the document states: “This directive is mandatory for all urban projects planned, designed, constructed and maintained on the state highway system as defined by the six urban contexts within the Blueprint for Urban Design.” there are 355 instances of ‘bicyc’ or ‘bik’ in the 153 page document.
there are 9 instances of the word SHALL in this document. here are some good ones:
“This directive establishes that the Blueprint for Urban Design is the definitive resource for urban design on the Oregon state highway system and it SHALL be used to plan, design, construct and maintain highways in urban locations under jurisdiction of the state… Where design guidance and criteria in the 2012 Highway Design Manual or other ODOT manuals do not align with design criteria within the Blueprint for Urban Design, the Blueprint for Urban Design SHALL be the governing guidance and criteria until such time that all other manuals are updated to include the content found in the Blueprint for Urban Design….
The Blueprint for Urban Design shall be used on all urban projects as defined by the urban contexts listed within it.
For projects that have not completed the Design Acceptance process, but are in the latter stages and nearing Design Acceptance Package submittal, the State Traffic/Roadway Engineer shall make the decision for the use of the Blueprint for Urban Design as the primary design criteria for the subject project upon region request…
On-street bicycle lanes shall include the widest street buffer that can be accommodated and should include physical separation (e.g., flexible delineator posts) where feasible. Consider raised bicycle lanes where appropriate. When a raised buffer is used to protect the bicycle lane, the width should be 6 feet if parking is adjacent or if signs or other features are anticipated.”

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Which is pretty much what they did on rebuilding Powell from 119th to 136th, even though the street is one lane in each direction plus a center turn lane with periodic pedestrian islands, plus they added badly-needed sidewalks.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

More from ODOT’s urban design blueprint from the section on design for the “urban mix” environment, which describes most of inner SE Powell:

“Bicycle and pedestrian facilities should be relatively wide and comfortable to serve anticipated users. Where low speeds cannot be achieved, practitioners must consider a buffer between travel lanes and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.”

Pedestrians, bicycles, and transit are supposed to be given a “high” modal consideration in this environment, while freight is considered “low” priority. The actual conditions of inner Powell are exactly the opposite.

danielc
danielc
1 month ago

That intersection used to be a lot more dangerous before they introduced left turn lights, and that only happened after those two back-to-back incidents so many years ago. I liked how they put in those bike boxes, but was really confused as to why they got rid of them when they declared 28th to be the designated bike route and shortened the curb for pedestrians. Something changed over the last few years as I started seeing more large trucks making that turn onto 26th from Powell to get to the train yard. They even added boxes so cars would not stop at the line to accommodate those wide-turns. There needs to be an alternative route for these trucks, it’s too dangerous for such a tight turn. I still ride 26th northbound but now only take 28th southbound.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  danielc

 Something changed over the last few years 

What changed is that the rail yards got a lot more busy, which is part of the reason the decision to have the FX cross the tracks was so daft.

The Brooklyn Yards are focused on intermodal traffic, which means containers be transferred to and from trucks. More (and bigger) trains means more containers and more trucks.

This trend seems likely to continue, and PBOT seems powerless (or unwilling) to mitigate the problem.

Justin in Hillsboro
Justin in Hillsboro
1 month ago

Would this section of town have been safer if the Mt. Hood Freeway was completed back in the day? Powell gets so much non local traffic. If there is one thing freeways are good for it is separating auto and truck traffic from other road users. Obviously there were plenty of negatives with the plan but surely it would have kept a lot of large commercial vehicles off surface streets.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 month ago

You can thank Goldschmidt and his construction company buddies. More profit in choo choo tracks than in freeways.

James X
James X
1 month ago

Yes, it would have undeniably been safer.

Portland cut off its nose to spite its face. Now we’re dealing with the effects of 50+ years of growth that hasn’t been acknowledged, shoehorning 2020s traffic volumes into 1960s era infrastructure.

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  James X

Citation needed. Freeways themselves are safer, but every road around them is less safe due to driver behavior. Here’s a great example from Seattle:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlV0WhZorxQ

More discussion here:
https://pedestrianobservations.com/2012/09/03/quick-note-are-freeways-safer/

I don’t think we can conclude that Portland would have fewer pedestrian fatalities if we built the MH Freeway. It certainly would have obliterated much of the neighborhoods around Powell and Division, so I guess there would be fewer residents to kill and maim? Silver lining!

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

Yes, every neighborhood is “safer” if you just bulldoze everything in it ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Dan Packard
Dan Packard
1 month ago
Reply to  James X

Yes, we need more freeways to un-hinder impediments to movements of my giant diesel belching, rip snorting GMC truck. I want to plow thru Portland even quicker and the hell to anyone walking, bicycling, or just trying to enjoy life.

Because that is “growth”: more costly infrastructure, home property & business removals, knock down the trees, pave over the grass, cement the land, add on-ramps, off-ramps, auto users, noise, pollution, congestion, maintenance, etc . . .

Faster, faster. Run, run, run!

Watts
Watts
1 month ago

Would this section of town have been safer if the Mt. Hood Freeway was completed back in the day?

Powell IS the Mt. Hood Freeway.

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

I found a diagram with the three options they were considering for this area. Of course, the lines they have on the map would be 10x wider in real life. Cleveland HS would have been another Harriet Tubman school situation:
comment image

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

I briefly worked at PBOT where they had a small library of unbuilt freeways. The final plans they had for the Mt. Hood Freeway followed the red line on your map.

Doug Klotz
Doug Klotz
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

The “Division/Powell” route must have been chosen, because ODOT began acquiring ROW for that. They tore out all the businesses on the south side of Powell from 52nd to 82nd, andbought a bunch of houses, and demolished some in the area between Division and Clinton, from 6th to 50th. Some are now parks (Piccollo) or community gardens (Ivon and 38th)

qqq
qqq
1 month ago

“Obviously there were plenty of negatives”–Understatement of the Week.

And today, after decades of another freeway cutting neighborhoods in half, we’d be scrambling to find the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to do the projects–overpasses, pedestrian connections, sound walls, lids, moving schools–needed to put a dent in the negative impacts, and that should have been part of the original budget but weren’t.

And while that was happening, ODOT would be asking for a billion dollars because they’d claim they didn’t make it wide enough, and maybe another billion or two because it’s dumping too much traffic onto the freeways it connects to, so they need widening also.

EP
EP
1 month ago

I think of a racetrack every time I see a traditional, right angle curb replaced with a wide radius curve, with a sloped curb cut, like the one here on Powell. They are installed in the name of “truck turning radiuses“ and other silly reasons ODOT cooks up. The end result is drivers going faster, and being more careless, as there is no damage penalty for hitting the curb and hopping up on it. I think all curbs should have a giant steel bollard/pole that sticks up 6 feet out of the ground. Slow down, drive carefully, or pay the price.

CC0C96F7-9BE0-4B7C-8E52-08300B19C705.jpeg
Steve Cheseborough (Contributor)
Chezz
1 month ago

Thank you for following up on this story, please stay on it!
I’m puzzled by your repeated metaphor calling Powell “a ticking time bomb,” though. Unlike most time bombs, this one has already exploded several times.

Steve Cheseborough (Contributor)
Chezz
1 month ago

Sure, I realize you were rushing to get out this important story.
I might be available to do some editing for you sometimes! Call or email if you want to discuss that.

Middle of the Stroad Guy
Middle of the Stroad Guy
1 month ago

Is there a real reason the speed limit can’t be lowered to 25 and enforced with several speed cameras and red light cameras at every intesection?

soren
soren
1 month ago

Is there a real reason 

Your neighbors are the reason.

Like it or not, Portland is an SUV/(personal truck)-centric city and the prevailing biases and cognitive dissonance of this majoritarian culture are the main barrier to addressing traffic violence.

I personally see little hope for meaningful transformation given the changing demographics of inner Portland (e.g. the fast increasing affluence of inner Portland residents and the displacement of precarious classes to the periphery). Many, if not most, active transportation advocates also seem to be wedded to a “market-based” reformism that is so entangled in Fordist capitalism that there is little interest in the redistribution needed for meaningful transformation (profit and its negative externalities are the basis of Fordism). It’s also darkly comical how “market urbanists” often point to Hidalgo’s Paris as an example of what we should be doing here while steadfastly ignoring the fact that her government is a coalition of socialists, communists, and radical environmentalists. The fight against SUV culture is intensely political and anti-capitalist, ATMO.

Lisa Caballero (Asst. Editor / SW Correspondent)
Editor
Reply to  soren

the “s” word will land you in the trash every time. I check regularly, but your comment will have a delayed posting.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago

“steadfastly”?

Will
Will
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

SUV?

Matt S.
Matt S.
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

I feel like Portland’s bike gold years were in the 2010s. When many educated, but broke people were moving here from all over. They rode their bikes because it was economical, they lived close in because they could afford it, the downtown core was attractive.

Now those same Millennials have bought houses, had kids, and can’t carry two kids and grocery’s on a bike in the suburbs.

Or they moved back home to wherever they’re from to live in their parent’s basements and play Nintendo.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago

Seeing how quick ODOT is with damage control here, they must be worried the public is catching on to their role in perpetuating these deadly conditions. The only question is how many more deaths it will take for them to finally install proper safe infrastructure and/or bring the road up to a good enough state of repair that PBOT can finally take it over. ODOT supposedly prefers to have “orphan highways” like Powell under city control anyway; I’m surprised not to hear anything from Hamilton about this.

qqq
qqq
1 month ago

A huge problem with ODOT is its communications. In my own experiences with ODOT over the years, and from what I recall with previous articles here, getting honest communication from ODOT is rare.

Don Hamilton’s job clearly isn’t to communicate, it’s to deflect blame away from ODOT. It’s common with “Public Information Officers”, “Communications Directors”, etc. Organizations so often have those because they do not want direct communication between the public and the sfaff who are doing the work/making the decisions.

Bill
Bill
1 month ago

“Let’s not blame ODOT until we know what happened”

Give me a break, literally anytime there is a street that is particularly harrowing to cross, it is managed by ODOT. ODOT managed roads are hugely, disproportionately dangerous. Anyone who has every crossed Powell (or driven on Powell) knows that it is dangerous .

mary
mary
1 month ago

Hardesty wants to take over control of Powell Frontage roads between 52nd and 82nd so that she can make them into city lots for homeless. That action will force drivers on Powell to make U-tunes in turn lanes on Powell instead of turning onto Frontage roads to make the change in direction. Imagine how dangerous that is going to be.

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  mary

And your source for this claim is … ??

Chris Shaffer
Chris Shaffer
1 month ago
Reply to  mary

What evidence do you have that Hardesty has proposed turning frontage roads into homeless camps? And even aside from that, it would be easy to prohibit u-turns on Powell.

James X
James X
1 month ago
Reply to  mary

From what I’ve seen the homeless have already taken over these lots. Portland has surrendered hundreds of acres of public property to private parties who only seek to abuse it. Imagine what we could do with these spaces if we cared for them and treated them with respect?

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  James X

“Portland has surrendered hundreds of acres of public property to private parties who only seek to abuse it…” Yes, they’re called parking spaces.

Matt S.
Matt S.
1 month ago
Reply to  James X

Least it keeps them out of the neighborhoods.

Steve Cheseborough (Contributor)
Chezz
1 month ago
Reply to  mary

Wow. You managed to get a diatribe against the homeless and the wonderful, people-focused Commissioner Hardesty into this discussion of street safety. I guess that’s some kind of accomplishment.

Fuzzy Blue Line
Fuzzy Blue Line
1 month ago

All of the commenters here are barking up the wrong tree taking potshots at ODOT. Remember that ODOT takes their marching orders from the LEGISLATURE not PBOT, Portland City Council or activist groups. As has been reported elsewhere ODOT would jurisdictionally transfer inner Powell over to the City of Portland tomorrow but PBOT doesn’t want it until millions of $ are spent upgrading inner Powell just like outer Powell. Your ire should be directed at the LEGISLATURE & your elected legislators not ODOT.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago

No one wants to admit that they keep voting for the same legislators in every election and keep hoping for different outcomes.

Matt S.
Matt S.
1 month ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

It’s because the alternatives would be disastrous. Reproductive rights, gone. Right to work state, yup. Relaxed gun laws, indeed. Climate action, nope.

I vote for Tina not because I want to, but because the other two will be worse. I know she’s not a legislator, but you get it…

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago

The city already has a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog. If you think it takes too long to get potholes fixed now, wait until PBOT takes on even more maintenance liabilities. PPB’s budget is currently at its highest ever though–maybe we could divest some of that cash ?

soren
soren
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

I find it galling that people who claim to support transportation mode shift give credence to this “Fix Our Streets” propaganda. People walking and rolling can have safe routes without spending billions on “potholes”.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

Just making a point about people who complain about potholes one minute and demand PBOT assume even more liabilities the next. We could have safe routes and smooth streets if we taxed the value of the land and allowed more mixed-use development.

soren
soren
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

and smooth streets

This is one of the primary asks of a motoring majority that is irredeemably hostile to mode share shift. Carrying their water to appear reasonable does not work.

if we taxed the value of the land and allowed more mixed-use development.

Allowed?

A market that profits from scarcity and boom-bust cycles will never build enough. What is needed is not more deregulation but rather mandates.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

Many neighborhood greenways are full of potholes, which hardly encourages more people to take up bicycling. “Deregulation” when it comes to racist zoning laws is good, actually.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Banning studded tires would go a long way towards lessening the deterioration of our roads. Another legislative issue that is simply being ignored in Salem.

Matt S.
Matt S.
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

I reported a pothole on my street via PDXreporter, it was fixed two weeks later. I kid you not.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt S.

Hard to tell if you mean “two weeks later” as good or bad lol

Psmith
Psmith
1 month ago

Very well said. The solution, just like Outer Powell and 82nd Ave, is for the legislature to allocate sufficient funding (likely over $100 million) to enable not just a jurisdictional transfer but also the needed maintenance and safety investments. There is plenty of transportation funding sloshing around at the state level that would otherwise be frittered away on freeway expansion projects. Instead, they should pay to fix up the orphan highways and transfer them to the cities.

Nick
Nick
1 month ago

It’s premature to blame us

The buck has to stop somewhere right? I wonder what agency is in charge of this road and intersection.

James X
James X
1 month ago

We still don’t know exactly what happened between Sarah and the driver of that truck.

Then proceeds to jump to every convenient conclusion confirming all of the author’s biases. Disappointingly typical.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 month ago
Reply to  James X

Powell is a known High Crash Network Street. This exact intersection has had gruesome truck–cyclist crashes before. ODOT does not generally prioritize the safe movement of people outside of cars and/or trucks. Connecting the dots here isn’t that hard.

Alexander Harding
Alexander Harding
1 month ago

ODOT and PBOT need a well funded rapid response team. Something like this happens, engineers and road builders need to set up trailers on site and be designing a safer intersection as they’re pouring the concrete, 10 feet away, in parallel. We’re talking no-sleep, on-call crisis management except for traffic engineering.

Karstan
Karstan
1 month ago

If we cared about lives more than money/perceived convenience that’s exactly what they’d do. But between the perceived convenience of driving huge SOVs and freight industry money, we’re all SOL.

Matt S.
Matt S.
1 month ago

I’ve read a few stories about this tragedy, but I guess I’m missing the details of who was driving and riding where.

Was Sarah riding on 26th or Powell? And was the truck on Powell or 26th and turning? Did someone run a red light?

I’m not trying to play the blame the victim game or anything, I’m just confused on the details.

Sequoia
Sequoia
1 month ago

How did you come by that information? In another comment, you mentioned there were conflicting reports by eye witnesses.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago

I don’t want to compromise the legal case, but if the truck driver was making a right turn from 26th north to Powell east, that raises multiple questions about this incident, and a lot of it depends on the relative position of the vehicles b/f the collision, and who was or wasn’t complying with the traffic signals/directives at that intersection. Unfortunately there is only one participant left alive now to respond. Again, my deepest condolences.

Doug Klotz
Doug Klotz
1 month ago

Are you folks aware that State Senator Kathleen Taylor, Rep Rob Nosse and Rep. Karin Power are hosting a discussion about 26th and Powell, on Oct. 20, 6 PM at Cleveland High School Auditorium, at 26th and Powell. They are inviting ODOT and PBOT reps to be there. Be prepared to let them know how you feel about what they’ve built and what they’ve NOT done to make this, and other state highways safe for all users!

Sequoia
Sequoia
1 month ago

I plan to spend most of the day Monday observing and documenting the number of trucks, traffic violations, close calls / near misses, etc if anyone would like to join me.

FDUP
FDUP
1 month ago
Reply to  Sequoia

That was ambitious of you, and I am totally in support; how did it go?

Mark McClure
1 month ago

Thank you for your continued coverage of this tragic collision, Jonathan.

Yesterday, when I was on a long photowalk along SE Powell Blvd and SE 82nd Ave, I was reminded once again how dangerous both of these roads are when crossing on a bicycle or foot. I agree with the short-term actions and long-term changes The Street Trust is calling for.

My father (RIP) was a long-haul trucker. I shouldn’t speak on his behalf, but I think he would say driving semis on urban “orphan highways” is problematic, and even more so if you’re hauling doubles or triples. I know my dad was always fearful of being involved in a tragic collision such as this.

David Lewis
David Lewis
1 month ago

One other thing ODOT could do is to copy California (I believe), and require skirts on all semi-trailers. If the truck that did a right hook on Sarah Pliner had had them, she might have had broken bones, but would very likely still be alive.