Commissioner Hardesty asks ODOT to create ‘school speed zone’ outside Cleveland High (UPDATED)

Students cross SE 26th Ave outside Cleveland High School on October 5th. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

*UPDATE: Hardesty’s resolution passed. Scroll to end of story for full recap of council meeting


Following the death of Sarah Pliner in a traffic collision at SE 26th Avenue and Powell Blvd on October 4th, two of the many emotions our community felt were shock and surprise.

How on earth could we have a school where hundreds of students cross a state highway every day, located adjacent to a deadly multi-lane state highway and it not be designated a school zone? When I talked to the Region 1 Oregon Department of Transportation spokesperson two days after Pliner died, one of the first things he asked me was, “Is it a school zone?” The fact that they didn’t know was not a good sign.

Turns out it’s not. That means there are no signs telling drivers they’re about to pass an area teeming with teens whose brains are not yet fully able to calculate risk. It also means the legal speed limit is 30 mph on Powell (a state highway) and 25 mph on 26th.

On Wednesday, on the eve of SE Powell Blvd Community Safety Forum that will be held at Cleveland High School, PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty proposed a City Council resolution that would change that. Here’s what the resolution will do (taken from Hardesty statement this morning):

  • Directs PBOT to install a school zone on SE 26th Avenue and requests ODOT create a school zone on SE Powell Blvd in both areas adjacent to Cleveland High School.
  • Asks ODOT to install school zones at all schools on state-owned highways in Portland.
  • Directs PBOT to pursue school zone installation at any street adjacent to a high school where the speed limit is higher than 20 mph, whether it’s a city street or state-owned highway.
  • Directs PBOT to propose additional safety improvements on other parts of SE 26th Avenue, Inner Powell and other busy state-owned streets. The bureau would use safety improvements called for in ODOT’s Blueprint for Urban Design, which the state agency does not apply consistently in the Portland area.
  • Directs PBOT to study the city’s freight routes and street classifications that may be leading large trucks to use SE 26th Avenue instead of streets that are wider and more appropriate.
  • Directs PBOT to work with ODOT to develop a thorough cost estimate for the improvements needed to bring Powell up to city standards for safety and maintenance, from SE 9th Avenue to I-205. Without an understanding of the true cost of transfer and a commitment to fund the full cost, a transfer will not make the road safer.
  • With a realistic cost estimate and adequate funding, these improvements could lead to a transfer of Powell to city control, using the recent transfer of 82nd Avenue as a model.
Source: ODOT

If a “school speed zone” is designated, the speeds would drop to 20 mph on both streets and related signs would be installed. PBOT says they’d get their signs up as quickly as tomorrow. It’s unclear how long it would take ODOT to follow suit — or if they’d do it all. Note that Hardesty is requesting that all schools on ODOT-owned arterials — not just Cleveland High — be designated as school zones.

In Oregon, state law requires that people obey that speed limit when special school zone sign lights are flashing or on school days between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm.

This is the most consequential request Hardesty is making of ODOT (but note that this is just a “resolution” which is not legally binding and carries much less weight than an ordinance). The other ones on the list are likely things ODOT will gladly do and/or is already working on. ODOT Director Kris Strickler said last week he wants to “quickly transform” Powell Blvd and that “no change is off the table.”

In a statement about the resolution released before today’s council meeting, Hardesty said, “I want to hold ODOT to their word and am optimistic we can work together as partners to make the streets around all Portland schools safer and start transforming Southeast Powell Boulevard.”

Underscoring the urgency for changes at SE 26th and Powell, a Cleveland High student was injured by a car driver on Wednesday. According to an email by school principal Jo Ann Wadkins, the student was hit while crossing the street on the way to catch a bus.

There will be a discussion about Hardesty’s resolution at today’s council meeting. I’m listening to it now and will update this story with new information as it comes out. I also expect to share a response from ODOT shortly. Stay tuned and refresh this page. All updates should be done by 12:00 pm today.


UPDATE, 11:20 am: The resolution has passed unanimously. Learn what happened at the council meeting below…

“It’s about time that we put safety of our kids in front of ODOT’s concerns.”

– Dan Ryan, city commissioner

Commissioner Hardesty kicked off discussion of the resolution by holding a moment of silence for Sarah Pliner and “other who’ve lost their lives to traffic violence.”

After Hardesty laid out the proposal, Commissioner Mingus Mapps asked a few questions. One of those brought up PBOT City Traffic Engineer Wendy Cawley who clarified that if the resolution passes, the city plans to re-install the green bike lanes and bike boxes on 26th. This would be a fascinating move since PBOT agreed to a compromise with ODOT in 2016 that led to ODOT removing those same green lanes and boxes. Cawley said those could come in the “next few months.”

In addition to putting those bike facilities back in place, now that the resolution has passed, Cawley says PBOT will move forward with a new mid-block crossing with a concrete median on SE 26th north of Powell at the main entrance to Cleveland High School. This is likely a move to discourage students from using the dangerous crosswalk on Powell.

In comments before the vote was taken, Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “I was very surprised that we don’t have reduced speeds around all of our schools.” “That is probably going to come as a surprise to a lot of our state leaders as well,” he continued. “We should fix that. That should be part of our legislative discussion.”

Before he voted yes, Commissioner Dan Ryan said “It’s about time that we put safety of our kids in front of ODOT’s concerns.” And Mingus Mapps, who has a 12-year-old son, said making the changes outlined in the resolution “cannot come soon enough.”

Now that PBOT has marching orders from council, they still have to work with ODOT for the Powell Blvd portions of the requests. It remains to be seen how flexible ODOT will be and whether or not they’ll adopt this new school zone policy. All eyes (and ears) will be on ODOT Director Kris Strickler at Thursday’s community forum event.

Sensing the community’s ire toward ODOT and eagerness for changes, Hardesty urged folks to give ODOT Director Kris Strickler space for a partnership to develop. “This resolution is not about throwing [ODOT Director] Kris Strickler under the bus,” Hardesty said. “It’s about drawing a line in the sand about how we protect vulnerable people in the city of Portland.”


UPDATE: 12:45 pm: I’ve heard back from ODOT. Region 1 Public Information Officer Don Hamilton says the changes ODOT is working on (in partnership with PBOT over the past two weeks) are “significant.” Hamilton said more details will be released at Thursday’s forum. He also added that ODOT is already “updating painting and striping to improve visibility on key nearby intersections.” As for the school zone designation, he confirmed that ODOT will install one adjacent to Cleveland. We hope to have more details about this soon.

UPDATE, 10/20 at 8:00 am: Following the passage of the resolution on 10/19, PBOT says their crews will install new school zone signs this morning in front of Cleveland High.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Joseph Spaltzen
Joseph Spaltzen
1 year ago

Another sign for drivers to ignore while traffic enforcement is non-existent and license plates remain optional.

Like putting orange barrels on a gunshot wound.

Nick
Nick
1 year ago

Hopefully they can do some speed cameras too to provide an actual enforcement mechanism? I’m hopeful something will happen, but it just seems like there are so many steps to go through to actually cause meaningful change to the speed and way that cars drive around there.

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago

Not enough, unless it includes cameras.

This intersection needs full-separated vehicle and pedestrian movements. Install the bike boxes and then add an all-walk/bike scramble with no turn on red for vehicles.

Sigma
Sigma
1 year ago

“Directs Portland Police to vigorously enforce speed limits in school zones.”

I think you accidentally forgot to include the most important directive in the resolution. Because it was definitely in there. Right?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

The local neighborhood associations asked for a school zone around Cleveland the last time safety in the area was in the headlines. It would have been nice if PBOT had supported them at that time.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

I was involved in getting the Ainsworth Elementary school zone expanded. For years the flashing light was situated right on the same block as the school–it didn’t precede it!

After an effort that began 4 or 5 years ago, PBOT ending up moving the light just this last August. (They have also been great with SRTS improvements, the whole area around the school is much safer. That weird traffic calming bulb at Vista/Spring is my new best friend.)

But it’s ridiculous how much effort something like this takes. A couple of us wrote reports, identified a new pole where the flashing light could be mounted, contacted 823-SAFE (and our concern was rejected because the school was not at the same grade as the road!!!) …I finally gave up. And we’re persistent and have our acts together.

Eventually a new VP was brought in who was very concerned about street safety. A community member twisted my arm into trying one more time. I passed the stack of stuff onto her and she got it done! But it is a lift because it involves two big bureaucracies–PPS and PBOT.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

A bit of more bad Powell news: A Cleveland student was hit and struck crossing Powell at 26th on Monday, injured but not seriously.

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
1 year ago

I am flabbergasted as why there is no school zone on all streets adjacent to any school. I live in Scappoose where we have one school adjacent to HW30. It has the signs with the flashing lights on the highway. The three other adjacent streets have the signs showing the time (School Days 7 AM – 5 PM). For the most part compliance with speed limit is high. The worst speeders are the moms in their SUVs dropping of one child and speeding to the other school a few blocks away to drop off another child. I have always thought that Oregon should like other states (Arizona Nevada etc.) where the speed limit in a School Zone is 15 MPH. I have seen a couple of people comment on the use of Speed Cameras. I spend a great deal of time working in other states along with Oregon and I have never seen a Speed Camera in any school zone. I ask myself why that is. I think school zones should be a HIGH priority for using automated enforcement.

mm
mm
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Calhoon

The city of Seattle started using speed-enforcement cameras at school zones 10 years ago, with an incremental roll-out. They will soon have cameras at 19 schools, including at least two middle schools and a high school.

J_R
J_R
1 year ago

As I have stated numerous times before on this forum, my children attended Cleveland High School and I regularly see motorists blowing the red light, usually westbound on Powell. As long as motorists see no consequences from blowing through red lights, do we really expect that a couple of school zone signs and a lower speed limit will do any good?

E N F O R C E M E N T. Without it the carnage will continue unabated.

Jeanette Tolley
Jeanette Tolley
1 year ago

Well, Hardesty’s been in office for nearly four years. A little late to slap a Band-Aid on it now.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago

It is getting very close to election time so need to show doing something and get name in the newspapers/tv/blogs.

Carrie
Carrie
1 year ago

This is all good news. Really good news — also look it actually doesn’t take major public engagement with the business community to install what everyone needs installed.

But “PBOT will move forward with a new mid-block crossing with a concrete median on SE 26th north of Powell at the main entrance to Cleveland High School. This is likely a move to discourage students from using the dangerous crosswalk on Powell.” — what? This, to me, feels like the same approach that ODOT had with their “let’s just shift bicycle usage to 28th” because it was easier than fixing the actual danger. I’d guess half of the CHS students live south of Powell Blvd. If they are taking TriMet they have to cross Powell (at 26th). If they’re going to lunch or soccer practice at the park, they have to cross Powell. Making it better get to the high school crossing 26th will be awesome (there used to not even be a marked crosswalk at SE Franklin). But to somehow think that this better crossing will discourage crossing of Powell blatantly and blithely ignores the practicalities of getting to that campus (and Clinton/Division, etc for the rest of us passing through).

James S
James S
1 year ago

Good in the sense that something safety-oriented is happening at all, and PBOT seems interested in doing its part quickly, but the central focus on the street safety issue turning into “Why isn’t this a school zone!?” as if that were the most salient problem and solution here is frustrating.
To be clear, these changes aren’t something I oppose. But they aren’t what I’d prioritize for highest impact on a list of possible changes to make, either. The imagination for road safety measures in the US already focuses so heavily on exhortions to voluntary, individualistic, probably unrealistic behavior alteration; I don’t want to see that message leaned into when there are other pieces of infrastructure designed to protect all people outside cars, at all times of the day, even if someone is driving without pedestrians and cyclists top of mind, that could be given prominence instead.
The city clearly has some understanding of how to install actual protective infrastructure at intersections, given work they’re doing on other road projects like Broadway, or Division. I wish one of those sorts of changes, one that directly enforces physical space between cars and other users, or minimizes time those road users are exposed to moving car traffic, could be the headline solution the commissioners were pushing for instead. Maybe they’ll play a bigger role in later logistical work with ODOT, but as far as public awareness and conversation, it feels like a missed opportunity.

Ted Buehler
Ted Buehler
1 year ago

Interesting that some high schools do not have school speed zone signs.

McDaniels High School lacks, even though it is on [former] state Highway 217/82nd Avenue of Roses.

https://maps.app.goo.gl/KdSSYdJYiBLAqkbJ7?g_st=ic

I’ve walked the 82nd Avenue of Roses in front of McDaniel quite a bit, and reported broken buttons, graffiti, rat carcasses, missing other signage, gravel in the roadway, etc. But I never thought to look for school zone signs…

It’s something new to look for and verify when doing walkabouts….

Ted Buehler

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Ted Buehler

PBOT staff informed BikeLoud in 2015 that school speed zones were typically created for elementary and middle schools but not for high schools. Hopefully, this will change and real barriers to dangerous driving will become the norm in speed zones (e.g. more than just signs and paint).

Kath Youell
Kath Youell
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Hopefully all this means ODOT and PPS will look at Creston and Grout Elementary’s. Both have boundaries that cross Powell and the school zone areas should reflect that!

Laura
Laura
1 year ago
Reply to  Kath Youell

Yes!!! And next year Arleta will add students north of Powell.

Laura
Laura
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

We don’t have a school speed zone for Creston- that backs up to Powell and kids in the boundary area have to cross Powell if they want to walk or bike. Cars routinely run our red light crosswalk at 47th. And all go well beyond 30 mph. With the private Catholic school right there too I think a school speed zone between 42nd and 50th makes sense.

Ted Buehler
Ted Buehler
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Soren — did BikeLoud request school zone speed limits on SE Powell at Cleveland HS in 2015? I don’t recall. If we did, then any children who have been injured by cars there in the last 7 years should have good grounds for suing ODOT for neglect….
Ted

Ted Buehler
Ted Buehler
1 year ago
Mark Linehan
Mark Linehan
1 year ago

One factor in the Sara Pliner tragedy apparently was a very large truck turning from SE 26th to Powell. Tractor trailers should be banned from 26th to eliminate the risks associated with that turn. The designated freight route between the Brooklyn rail yard and eastbound Powell should be via Holgate and Milwaukie, which are built for large vehicles.

SE 26th is a “Freight District Street” in the Portland Transportation System Plan. It’s too narrow and the turns to/from Powell are too tight. It should be removed as a freight route.

Olivia
Olivia
1 year ago

Does it occur to anyone that drivers increasingly speed and blow through red lights because this city has made commuting by car an insane battle? Why should we have to operate our vehicles at bicycle speeds to increase safety? How about coming up with solutions that put some onus on pedestrians and cyclists to keep themselves safe? Those kids dash across traffic trying to catch the bus all the time. I drive through there every day AND I was a Cleveland student dashing stupidly into traffic to catch a bus almost 20 years ago. Hire crossing guards. Work with Trimet to come up with better pickup and drop off solutions. Install pedestrian bollards so they can’t dash into the street or something but stop making our commutes more difficult. The streets are for cars. Sure, create bike lanes if you want, but stop trying to shape motorist behavior around bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Not everyone is privileged enough to afford to work/school and live all in biking, walking, or bussing distance from one another. Also, do some research. So many of our city’s methods for “traffic calming” increase driver frustration and agitation and don’t lead to safer outcomes.

Boyrd
Boyrd
1 year ago
Reply to  Olivia

People are going to rage in cars no matter what. You can’t possibly build enough car infrastructure to eliminate all congestion, so why try? Instead try to create road designs that reduce the likelihood of serious injuries or fatalities when drivers do go ballistic.

You’re trying to sell a protection racket.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Boyrd

Sadly, lots of people seem to be under the illusion that just building more stuff will solve our difficult social problems (more roads, more class A housing, more bike lanes, more transit, more jails, more shelters). Theoretically, it might work, but, as you point out, in practice simplistic solutions to complex problems are rarely effective.

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  Olivia

You are the one operating a deadly weapon around people, so it is your responsibility to operate that weapon as safely as possible.

This is why your speed matters:
https://www.ite.org/technical-resources/topics/speed-management-for-safety/speed-as-a-safety-problem/

Are you actually blaming children for making mistakes around traffic? Please don’t kill anyone because you are late for work.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  Olivia

get a bike! Or a HOP card!

Kath Youell
Kath Youell
1 year ago
Reply to  Olivia

Driver frustration and agitation are rooted in the marketing of cars, where the road is clear and clean even in urban areas. Take your frustration out on the people who sold you a crock of lies, not on the people that are not protected by a car’s shell.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Kath Youell

I don’t think it is the marketing; I am exposed to very little auto marketing, and I get frustrated and agitated when I drive in the city (one of many reasons why I try to do as little of it as possible).

I think most drivers are most frequently frustrated with other drivers, not with pedestrians or cyclists.

Kath Youell
Kath Youell
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Did you grow up in the US? Because I’m talking about ingrained exposure for decades, not whether you see ads now as an adult. It’s part of our car culture that the roads wil be freshly wet and clear.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Kath Youell

I did. I also used to feel that way on my bike crossing, say, the Hawthorne Bridge when a group of slow cyclists (back when there enough cyclists to matter) or pedestrians was in my way. Also when hiking behind slow hikers. Or when in a lengthy ski lift line.

I don’t think it’s a marketing thing.

PS
PS
1 year ago
Reply to  Olivia

What an absolute mess of an argument. The justification of actions that could kill people (i.e. red light running and speeding through pedestrian areas) because your perception is the city is to blame or the people on foot or bike in that area when you drive through must have more privilege than you is abhorrent. Hopefully Cleveland is doing a lot better job cultivating skills of critical thinking, empathy and rational decision making now than they were two decades ago.

Damien
Damien
1 year ago
Reply to  PS

Hopefully Cleveland is doing a lot better job cultivating skills of critical thinking, empathy and rational decision making now than they were two decades ago.

Cleveland ’05 alumni here (gosh, does that mean Olivia and I were classmates?), just to say that at that time, they had a Theory of Knowledge/critical thinking class that was top notch, and I suspect we’d be in much better shape politically/as a country if it was a core class instead of being a one year class in one of the “smart kid” tracks. But maybe I’m also bolstering your argument by admitting that class was not core curriculum…

…but otherwise in full agreement with your sentiments!

PS
PS
1 year ago
Reply to  Damien

Yeah, I was trying to be as diplomatic as possible, but my intent was “obviously you skipped the IB track”.

Opus the Poet
1 year ago
Reply to  Olivia

Streets are for people, not just people in cars. In fact paved streets were introduced and paid for by cyclists, previous to this streets were left dirt so as not to cause injury to horses’ hooves (and pedestrians were just left to deal with the mud and horse manure). Previous experiments with paved streets were not successful as the horses slid on the iron shoes and the stone pavers of the time. This was all covered in the book Roads Were Not Built For Cars by Carlton Reid. Personally I have ridden a bicycle on Roman roads built around the time that Jesus was supposed to live and they had ruts made by chariots and wagons, showing that heavy vehicles were tearing up the roads even in 1st Century BC.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Olivia

“How about coming up with solutions that put some onus on pedestrians and cyclists to keep themselves safe?”

That’s the system we have now, to a ridiculous degree.

“Stop trying to shape motorist behavior around bike and pedestrian infrastructure.”

That’s hardly ever done currently. It’s the other way around–biking and walking behavior is shaped almost entirely around motorist infrastructure. Powell is a perfect example. So are the vast majority of streets in Portland.

Joseph E
Joseph E
1 year ago

This was something I noticed when moving to Oregon from California. On the one hand Oregon has lower speed limits for elementary school zones (20 instead of 25). But Oregon often has no school speed zone at all for high school or middle schools, while it seems more common in California.
And in Oregon the school zone often ends right at the corner of the school! In California it was common for the speed zone to extend an additional block in each direction, providing a larger zone of low speeds around the school.
I would recommend that Oregon have a policy of school speed zones around every school, with permanent speed limits (not only in effect at certain times) for simplicity and legibility, and they should extend at least 200 feet from every corner of the school, or 1 block, up to 1/4 mile. This should apply to State highways and arterial roads as well.

Andrea Capp
Andrea Capp
1 year ago

This would be a great spot to have all lights turn red when pedestrians are crossing (plus no turns on red) with a pedestrian crossing after each north/south and east/west vehicle crossing. Waiting for all directions of traffic to go is too much if you’re panicking about catching a bus on the other side of the street. I hope all the changes mentioned in the article are made quickly. It’s wild that this hasn’t happened sooner.

Kath Youell
Kath Youell
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea Capp

That would be a fairly cheap change to implement, I would think. I love it!

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea Capp
Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

I’m partial to tofu scramble myself.

Yeldy Faotana
Yeldy Faotana
1 year ago

Too little too late. Hardesty is desperate for media attention because her record at PBOT is extremely lackluster and the election’s a few days away.

Laura
Laura
1 year ago

I am following this VERY closely. Creston elementary school kids cross Powell at 47th and there have been deaths and major injuries there also. We have to extend these demands beyond Cleveland HS to elementary and middle schools.

John L
John L
1 year ago

It is frustrating to learn that PBOT could have taken these steps (and probably more) all along.