ODOT has just released a statement from Director Kris Strickler following last week’s death of Sarah Pliner at on SE Powell Blvd (State Highway 26).
Here’s the full statement:
“Powell Boulevard (U.S. 26) was originally established and designed as a highway to move freight and people through Portland quickly and efficiently. Recent incidents on Powell, including a tragic death on Oct. 4, are evidence that this road cannot, and should not, function as a traditional highway anymore. It’s time to make changes to ensure the safety of all users.
I have directed our team to evaluate possible options to quickly transform Powell into a safer roadway.
Recognizing that travel speeds dramatically affect the likelihood and severity of crashes, last year we reduced the speed limit on Inner Powell to 30. We also built pedestrian islands and signalized crosswalks that help make the currently-designed road function more safely by making bicyclists and pedestrians more visible. But the truth is that the design of the facility is so focused on traffic movement that more changes are needed.
In recent years, we’ve slowed traffic speeds, added protected crosswalks, installed wider bike lanes, and reduced travel lanes on our urban highways in Portland. We’ve even transferred ownership of an ODOT road to local control. To keep our community safe, no change is off the table.
To connect Oregon communities and connect Oregon to the rest of the region and the world, ODOT spent the last century building highways. These highways are and will remain essential as they continue to carry millions of Oregonians and billions of dollars of commerce every day. Our communities, businesses, and state need freight access in order to continue to thrive, but we know that we can increase safety for all users and still serve the needs of our communities and our state.
If changes result in slowing traffic down, I believe that is an acceptable tradeoff. My hope is that most people would make the same choice.
There will be a community forum on Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. at Cleveland High School. Representatives from the Portland Bureau of Transportation, ODOT, Portland Public Schools and TriMet will be there. I will be there as well. ODOT will be prepared to discuss ways we can make swift and meaningful changes to Powell Boulevard at this event. I encourage you to attend and bring your suggestions.”
Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation
This is an amazing statement for an ODOT director to make so soon after a collision like this. Especially since his own agency spokesperson said just last week that it was “premature” to blame ODOT for what happened. It makes me think ODOT is feeling very exposed in terms of their responsibility for what happened. After all, in 2018 the agency made an intentional choice to remove bicycle infrastructure from the exact corner where Sarah Pliner was hit and killed just a few days ago. Those changes made the intersection less safe for bicycle riders, while doing nothing to prevent bicycle riders from using the intersection.
This could be a golden opportunity to make substantive change on Powell Blvd. Or it could be a savvy PR move from ODOT to try and cover up a bad news cycle. Time will tell. Stay tuned for more coverage.