Lents neighborhood road safety activists make some noise

Screenshot of @whatstherushlents on Instagram.

I am often asked the question: “There’s a traffic safety issue in my neighborhood, what steps can I take to raise awareness and fix it?”. I feel like a grassroots effort in southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood is a great model for how to answer that.

Launched in March, 2002, the Whats The Rush, Lents? website has an impressive amount of timely, relevant information. The Instagram account is also worth following. I wanted to learn more, so I asked the person behind it a few questions via email. (They wanted to remain anonymous, “for the few neighbors who think we’re anti-freedom.”)

What is your goal?

I want Lents (and all of East Portland) to be a pleasant place to live, walk, and bike. 

What inspired you to create this website and IG account?

I didn’t set out to create a website initially. I was on a simple fact-finding mission to see what went wrong in Lents, and what, if anything, could be done to address some of the hyper-local pedestrian/traffic safety issues I was seeing. 

A little background on me: I moved to Portland in 2007 and have lived in NW (23rd area), NE (Killingsworth/26th), and SE (first on 67th and Steele and now near 104th/Harold). In 2015, Lents was one of the only neighborhoods where I could afford to buy a home. My best friend had also recently bought a home here, so Lents is where I landed. Overall, I love Lents and want to see it thrive. I also love to walk. I have walked home to Lents from PSU, and also to the South Waterfront to take the tram up to OHSU. In 2019, I also explored nearly every neighborhood in Portland while taking photographs for a client project (yes it was for a client, but mostly I did it because I really love exploring Portland and I just wanted to do it).

Having had these experiences walking in other parts of the city really solidified my sadness around what we lack. It’s also disheartening to know that long-term residents have never had access to some of the most basic pedestrian infrastructure (e.g. sidewalks) that residents in other areas simply expect. I think many neighborhoods in east Portland are in a similar boat. Still, I do love it here, it’s just that safety is a real concern. My closest friend who lives in Lents used to cycle everywhere, but since moving out here, she very rarely feels comfortable biking to PSU (where she occasionally teaches), or to the grocery store, so she relies on her partner to drive her.

Ultimately, I knew that to get anything done, I would need more voices, and we would need a focused, cohesive narrative to share with PBOT and elected officials.

Screenshot of What’s The Rush Lents homepage.

Who’s behind this effort?

After doing some independent research and putting together an outline of possible solutions, I reached out to neighbors (most were acquaintances, a couple were strangers) to get their feedback, suggestions, and anecdotes. My first concern was my own street (104th) where a car crashed into my neighbor’s yard but then the project quickly expanded as I spoke with more neighbors who had good ideas and felt like there was nothing that could be done. Overwhelmingly, people said the same things: It’s not safe to cross 103rd, people ignore stop signs, people don’t stop at crosswalks, people drive extremely fast on Harold. I met a neighbor on Instagram who lived at 111th (who has since moved) who confirmed that neighbors living near that intersection were experiencing the same frustrations with the lack of regard for pedestrian’s safety, so I added that intersection to the outline. They provided suggestions for that specific intersection based on conversations with neighbors and what they were seeing. An acquaintance (now a friend) living on 103rd provided some great feedback and suggestions for that street, and so on. Once the website was live, I sent it out to more neighbors and asked them to spread the word and share a quote or anecdote that I could publish on the site. 

Why is this not just going through the local neighborhood association? 

To start, we decided to focus on a very small area of Lents (92nd–111th on Harold and a few specific streets South of Lents Harold where there have been major issues). We limited it so that (1) the work would be more manageable (2) we could see if it’s worth the hours of unpaid effort, and (3) we could better create a specific foundation for like-minded folks to build upon.

There is a lot of time that goes into researching what PBOT projects are (theoretically) in the works, and gathering information from neighbors on what would work on specific streets, and specific events that have occurred because, at least in part, traffic calming measures are missing on their streets. I hope that we will expand someday, but we would need more people with a similar level of dedication to make that happen. Currently the website is also a hub with links to resources for neighbors so that they can independently put pressure on the City to make changes on their streets if they see a need. I am very open to expanding it as more people express interest in being involved.

The downside of doing this independent of, say, a neighborhood association, is that there are still a lot of people in the neighborhood that do not know about us and haven’t had the opportunity to comment on what they’d like to see happen on their streets.

We did reach out to Green Lents to see if they had any suggestions for some of the specific areas we were focusing on, and they were able to share some useful information and feedback to help improve our case.

And anything else you’d like to share? 

We are getting speed cushions on SE Harold this week! I truly do not know if the existence of the website helped push PBOT to get the project moving, but I don’t think it hurt!


This is a great example of how someone can build awareness and connect with other neighbors around road safety issues. And yes, I can confirm that PBOT has just installed a bunch of new speed bumps on SE Harold between 92nd and 122nd. So far, I’ve heard rave reviews. One reader called them “A very welcome addition,” to the neighborhood.

WhatsTheRushLents.org

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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wortkisser
wortkisser
1 month ago

I live on 117th less than a block off Harold. We moved into the neighborhood in January 2020 because it was the only area of the city that my partner and I could afford to purchase a home in. Last May I started biking to work (I work in Central Eastside Industrial). I very much enjoy my commute to work and back. That beings aid, without a doubt one of the most dangerous stretches of my commute is the stretch from 117th to 92nd on Harold. I’ve seen it all. Cars racing each other, vehicles blowing stop signs, giant trucks impatiently passing cars, doughnuts in the 111th intersection, etc. Last week when I returned home from work and saw that there was a crew adding speed bumps I was simply elated!

donel courtney
donel courtney
1 month ago

Wow, what a great story and effort!

OregonRainstorm87
OregonRainstorm87
1 month ago

I live near 82nd and woodstock, so lents adjacent and the problems listed in this article are rampant in my neighborhood too, especially the running of stop signs, speeding through the neighborhood, I like to blame people cutting through to avoid traffic lights but even my most immediate neighbors drive like freaking maniacs (my second day living here, one almost hit and killed me). We don’t let it stop us though and we as a family still bike all around, it is unfortunate that the friend listed in the article has given up. It took us a while but we found a lot of great routes to get us where we need to go via bike, including in Lents where my partner works.

that being said, I would love to know actual SOLUTIONS on how to combat these issues… we can’t tear up the roads & rebuild them, we can’t stop drunk drivers, people are so distracted now a days as driving (if I see one more video where someone is recording themselves driving, I am going to give myself a brain aneurism). Besides having a cop stationed at every stop sign to ticket drivers who blow through them….

Daniel Reimer
1 month ago

What’s the end game here? For PBOT to put speed bumps on every single neighbor streets?

Frank Perillo
Frank Perillo
27 days ago
Reply to  Daniel Reimer

The speed bumps simply don’t work. I live on a NE street with them and people drive as fast as ever. Only now you have to listen to their cars banging and scraping over them. Complete waste of time and money.

Chrystal
Chrystal
29 days ago

This is my neighborhood I live at 92nd and Flavel! Thank you for sharing the website and Insta account!