Video: BikeLoud advocates on SE Powell & 79th crossing

Earlier today I talked with advocates Kiel Johnson and David Binnig from BikeLoud PDX. We talked about the crossing of SE Powell on 79th and Kiel shared a few updates on BikeLoud’s lawsuit against the City of Portland, and a few other projects they’re working on. Please note: This is sort of a new format I’m working on where I can quickly jump onto a video call with newsmakers and story subjects and then turn it around and share it as a video.

The transcript of our conversation is below:

[00:00:00] Jonathan Maus: Hey everybody. Welcome into the shed. I’m here with, uh, Kiel Johnson and David Binnig from BikeLoud PDX. They have agreed to come on and chat a little bit about the crossing project on Southeast 79th at Powell and who knows what else other BikeLoud updates might be on the table as well.

So David and Kiel, thanks for being in here.

[00:00:19] Kiel Johnson: Glad to be here.

[00:00:21] David Binnig: Thanks for having us.

[00:00:22] Jonathan Maus: So David, you’ve taken a special interest in this crossing, right? Can you get me up to speed on why and sort of where things are at right now?

[00:00:31] David Binnig: Sure, , I, I got involved really as part of the, uh, Southeast Powell work group that, that, , largely Senator Taylor organized after Sarah Pliner was killed in 2022. , someone who does live in, in the South Tabor neighborhood reached out to me a little over a year ago about that intersection. , she knew I was on the work group and wanted to, , check in on what, what crossing improvements were being made there.

So that’s really when I started looking into. That particular intersection, But when I started asking questions about basically from my point of view, how, how does, how do people on a bike use this? Um, it was really hard to get answers.

You know, TriMet would say, well, we’re meeting with PBOT, we’re meeting with ODOT. So things are, things are still changing. So every month or two I would, I would check back, um, and kept hearing, well, we don’t know yet what the, what the designs are going to be. At the same time, obviously 82nd has become a big PBOT project, so I started going to the 82nd open houses that PBOT was holding and asking folks there, since the 70s Greenway is meant to be the, really the main bike route through that area, um, started asking, okay, what’s the, what’s the plan?

What does the bike route look like for this project? Quite dangerous crossing of Powell and then the folks with PBOT would say well, you know, TriMet’s running that project So we don’t know exactly what it would look like and that that was kind of up until about two months ago That was the status was just getting passed back and forth between agencies because no one no one could commit to what those designs were going to be Then as of a couple months ago finally got from PBOT a I think 30 percent design for the intersection and that’s where we could see Okay, there’s there’s a definitely a crosswalk closure on the east side.

There’s a median extension through there so there’s not going to be a direct bike route through and the type of signal was going to be a Rectangular rapid flashing beacon RFB the flashing yellow lights and that’s something that you know Even as of two month two months ago, PBOT was still telling me.

Well, we think it’s going to be a a hawk, uh, you know, the pedestrian hybrid beacon, the two, two red lights next to each other. So until very recently, no one was able to answer questions. When people were able to answer questions, it became clear that this wasn’t, uh, you know, up to the standard of safety or usability we would hope.

And that’s when we started writing letters, really.

[00:02:53] Jonathan Maus: Kiel, what can you, what can you bring into this? I feel like, um, David’s been really watchdogging this on a very, very close level back and forth. Uh, what, what can you, can you help us maybe zoom out a little bit in terms of the, the bigger context or some of the history of, of this crossing in terms of how you’ve seen it,

[00:03:11] Kiel Johnson: Yeah, I mean, this crossing really represents a collective failure of our transportation agencies to really address safety in a meaningful way. And this project has been funded for five years. Uh, you know, we’ve had staff turnover during that time. The The policies, uh, and guidance have been, have changed during those five years.

And, uh, and nobody really knows what’s going on. And, and because of it, we’re sort of getting this very mediocre crossing. That’s not up to, to safety standards, especially for such an important Greenway connection. Uh, you know, that, uh, uh, on a street that’s, we know is very dangerous.

[00:03:55] Jonathan Maus: David, can you put a finer point on. The sort of what we’re getting now question, what’s your main concern is it, is it the things that they might end up putting in are not going to be adequate or what are your main concerns with the design right now?

[00:04:07] David Binnig: So it’s really three things. And I should say the, the intersection badly needs work right now. There are legal crosswalks, but there are no markings. So it is a place where we need, need improvements. And I understand why people are eager to get something in. Um, the, the three issues really are one, the East side crosswalk closure, which is, so if you’re standing, there’s a, there’s a tram at bus stop at the Southeast corner of this.

If you’re getting off a bus, they’re trying to go to the grocery store across the street. You would have to cross west across 79th, north across Powell, east across 79th, and then be where you, where you want it to be to begin with. And this is what, you know, ODOT has forced at a lot of places, uh, we have those three legged intersections at, uh, 50th and Powell, at, uh, Milwaukee and Powell, you know, places where pedestrians are, are just given the least respect where, where they just have to take the long way around.

The, the second issue, and the one that really impacts biking, um, is because of that east side crosswalk closure, there’s no direct path through the intersection, and there will be a median extension through that, that part of it, so people who are biking will have to do the same thing on what’s, again, meant to be the 70s Greenway route if you’re going northbound, have to cross You know, cross left to cross 79th, get up onto the sidewalk, cross at least to the median of Powell.

And then a frustrating thing is that TriMet and PBOT don’t actually agree, as of last word I’ve gotten from anyone, on how anyone will use it. PBOT thinks that it will be a three way crossing just like for pedestrians, where you’ll actually cross to the sidewalk on the northeast side, cross again, and then TriMet thinks that people will just angle across the, across the north half of Powell.

Um, I think the problem there, which they agree with when I pointed it out, but because there’s no, no crosswalk before that, drivers aren’t going to expect anyone there. So you’re setting up, you know, a situation for pedestrians where people either have to make a long, very long way around or are going to make a, and technically illegal crossing, , rather than wait.

You’ve got a situation for biking, , where no one No one at the agencies agrees on how it’s going to work at this really key crossing. And then the final issue that I know Kiel has, , been, been really focused on is that what type of signal they’re going to be using. , and again, using, , just a flashing beacon there, it draws attention to the, to the, the crosswalk marking.

But it doesn’t, it doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t create a walk light for a pedestrian or, , it’s safe to bike light for, , for someone biking through. And it also means that drivers don’t have to stop across all four lanes for, for someone who’s crossing. And I, I mean, I think about this now, cause I have a, I know Kiel’s got, I think a five year old kid.

I’ve got a four year old kid who loves to get around on her push bike. We go down to Creston Park, across Powell, and it’s really important to know that all four lanes of Powell are going to be stopped when I start across with a four year old. , at a flashing beacon crossing, if we start at an intersection, the folks on the, the, from the south, the folks on the north side, legally don’t actually have to stop driving.

They can keep going through at speed, you know, while someone is there with the child. So that’s why I know we’d really like to get any, any kind of signal that makes all the, all the drivers stop at once. So that, so that people walking or biking can know, know you can cross safely.

[00:07:34] Jonathan Maus: , go ahead, Kiel. You have something to add to that.

[00:07:35] Kiel Johnson: Yeah, we found a study, uh, that found that, uh, the rapid flash beacons have a compliance rate of, , 19 to 95%. So there’s a high degree of variability in sort of the compliance of people. So the stopping at the, the blinking yellow lights, , and that’s really concerning, especially on a street as busy and dangerous as pal.

[00:07:59] Jonathan Maus: So David, are these changes. That you’re tracking. Are they, are they imminent? Is this something that’s like going to construction soon? Is this something where you think there might be ability to pause? Is that what you’re working on to try to spread the word about like where things at right now?

[00:08:14] David Binnig: Uh, that’s a good question. As of. Two months ago, PBOT said the project was at 30 percent design. , TriMet said they’d be presenting 60 percent designs last week, I believe. ODOT, in their response to the letter that BikeLoud, APANO, and OregonWalk sent, um, said that it was already at 90 percent design. So again, you’ve got, you know, different, different agencies saying different things.

It’s been very challenging to sort out. I think, you know, I think it is fair to say that from all the agencies, there’s a sense of, you know, we’ve been working on this forever and would like to not have any more, uh, obstacles to getting something on the ground. I think the, as far as what, what I’m hoping for, at least personally.

I hope that we can, best case would be that we could get a safer design that lets, lets people make a direct straight line crossing, that everyone understands how to use it, and the drivers will have to stop. That’s what I’d like to see. Um, I think there are a lot of, uh, other things that we could hope for, you know, if there are limitations on what’s possible.

One, , you know, there is this, this 82nd project going on. So can we, can we build something and make sure that it’s going to be compliant with making it a greater, greater crossing in the future? , even if that’s not happening right, right now, there’s also just being able to get answers about how this happened, what the process is, how this impacts any other crossings going forward.

, so on the crosswalk closure. I know P BOT has said throughout the process, we wouldn’t have done it this way, but it’s an ODOT road. And so I asked ODOT, why are you, why are you requiring the crosswalk to be closed? And they said, we’re going to refer you to P BOT for, for any, any answers on this project.

, so just, it’s very hard, you know, as an advocate, it’s hard to ask for better things in a helpful way. If the agencies won’t tell you why they’re doing it, The way they are. , so that’s at the minimal level, you know, if ODOT would say, here’s, here’s, here’s the policy basis for this. And right now they’ve just been stonewalling, frankly, and trying to avoid answering any questions about why the design is the way it is.

[00:10:19] Jonathan Maus: Yeah, that’s interesting or frustrating. You have not just a tricky design on a big arterial crossing of a bikeway, but you have the multiple jurisdictional crossings. Boundary issue that seems to come up a lot. That’s really frustrating. Um, Kiel, can you zoom out a bit and help people understand sort of like the context of this within like the 82nd Avenue, the huge investment that the city’s making an 82nd Avenue.

I know that a few months ago you and someone else went and tried to bike Like north south, right? Because the, the thinking is that there’s not going to be a big dedicated bike lane on 82nd. Uh, so the, so you and other folks have been wondering, okay, well then what are the options, right? And this, this crossing at 79th would be a big part of that.

So can you help folks on like, what’s the context within the 82nd Avenue project

[00:11:07] Kiel Johnson: Yeah. I think that the seventies Greenway, which is the Greenway where this connection is happening. Is really important to sort of improving bike ability and livability around East Portland. , and having that full connection is really important. And right now we basically have two separate greenways, , and they’re divided at Powell because you can’t safely cross a Powell.

So,, we have these two very. , separate systems that, that aren’t connected, and if we don’t have a safe crossing, they’ll continue to not be connected. , and that will just make them a lot less useful.

, and I think that, you know, one of the things that we’re also very concerned about is, uh, repeating the same mistakes that we made at 26th and Powell. Where Sarah Pliner was killed and we see a lot of the same sort of decision making and thought processes going into these crossings as happened there, where ODOT is trying to redirect people onto sort of narrower streets and say like, Oh, you’re not going to be crossing at, at, at several sections and, and making those sections less safe by saying, putting, crosswalk close signs.

, for instance, uh, and what happened at 26th and Powell was the state required or told the city that you have to remove the bike lane on 26th, remove that bike box that created a lot more visibility for, for people riding bikes. And then two years later, somebody was killed at that intersection. And so we really don’t want to see a repeat of that.

We want to see the state should be. You know, incentivizing cities and local jurisdictions to make even safer improvements. But what’s happening is the opposite, where the state is requiring cities to make less safe improvements.

[00:13:01] David Binnig: I would agree with that. As someone who’s been really focused on Powell, um, the way that this seems to be echoing what happened at 26th, I know, , Bike Portland’s reporting, Michael Anderson wrote a story back in 2015 where he talks about. Asking ODOT, , officials, you know, why, how does it make it safer to close this crosswalk?

And Shelly Romero says, well, I would, I would go to 28th if I were biking. And I, I had really hoped, you know, with that, that moment of willingness to talk about making Powell safer, that we would see some, , change from ODOT and how they were approaching it. And instead, you know, nine years later, we’ve got the same people saying, well, people, people will just go around to the other side of the street.

[00:13:42] Jonathan Maus: well, but in this case, I mean, it’s an interesting analogy. Um, in this case though, David, right. If they, they do want to build actually something, I’m curious from your perspective, the thing that they’re planning to build, can you just be clear? Do you think it’s an actual, is it an improvement? Is, in other words, would you see it as maybe one of the things that could happen here is like, okay.

It’s better than nothing, but we’d like maybe some verbal commitment that it’s going to get even better in the, in the very short term or where are you at with the

[00:14:08] David Binnig: Yeah, I think, I think both of those, I think both of those are true. I think the current design plans are absolutely an improvement over what things look like right now, because right now there are unmarked crosswalks across a place where we know people speed through four lanes. I think the concern about, , building, building the current design is that it’s taken, you know, a decade to get this project.

So if we, if we build something, it’s going to, I think, likely lock in whatever gets built. For a long time to come. So if there’s, and that’s why, you know, that’s why I’m, I’m hoping that, , Peabody is looking seriously at this as well, because. , if this is going to be the route for people biking through the area for, for years to come, um, you know, building it this way, I think, is going to set up a situation where there’s not a lot of, of, uh, interest necessarily in improving it, unless that commitment is happening, uh, pretty quickly.

It’s gonna set up a situation where, you know, folks are pouring concrete to close off, uh, that east side crosswalk and block, , a likely bike route across it. You know, how easy will it be to reopen after the fact, Hey, we need to, you know, open up a gap in this median. Cause if you ask ODOT about current crosswalk closures on Powell, in some cases, the reason for the crosswalk closure is, well, there’s a, uh, Jersey barrier that blocks access.

Like ODOT will say, even the fact of a Jersey barrier being sitting in a crosswalk, like I could push it out of the way if that were the problem, but they will use that as an excuse to not make it better. So, yeah, , the current plans absolutely would be. Would be an improvement over what things are.

, and my worry really is that they would, you know, building them as they are without a commitment right now to do something better makes it likely. I think that that will be stuck with something that doesn’t work, , nearly as well as it should for people biking, for people walking, for people crossing with families.

[00:16:01] Jonathan Maus: if people are concerned about this or want to learn more, would they just, uh, go on the bike cloud website? Like how, how can folks get engaged with this?

[00:16:12] Kiel Johnson: We have the BikeLoud Slack, we have a Powell channel, , you know, connecting with that, sending us an email. Um, and , we’ve got our eyes on it and we’ll, you know, continue to look for opportunities for people to, to have input in, in this planning process.

[00:16:28] David Binnig: I think getting involved with by cloud or with Oregon walks, who’ve also been great at following Stefan Powell. Um, you know, I would recommend to anyone who cares about this stuff. Uh, I do also appreciate that, uh, you know, elected, uh, officials, especially Representative Pham, has been, been really, , reaching out on this.

I know, you know, Rob Nosse wants to get, get involved on this as well. So I appreciate that we do have, you know, some folks in government who are, who are trying to get, get some eyes and, and get some clarity on what’s happening as well.

[00:16:58] Kiel Johnson: Yeah. And I think that we have a big opportunity in the upcoming, you know, legislative session where they’re going to be hopefully bringing up a big transportation funding package. And you know, if that’s our time to advocate for, you know, jurisdictional transfers and more state funds to go into these, uh, really dangerous high crash corridors.

[00:17:20] Jonathan Maus: Uh, since I have you here, Kiel, , are there any updates on the bike bill lawsuit?

[00:17:25] Kiel Johnson: Yeah, yeah, we’ve got a, , a trial date for the bike bill lawsuit, , for people that maybe are, are new. , the bike bill was a bill that was passed in 19 , 70, , that sort of requires whenever a street gets rebuilt in Oregon that it has to include bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. , and we’ve found a list of a bunch of streets where the city has failed to do that.

And so we’re suing the city to hold them accountable to, , The laws that they’re supposed to be following, , and we should be getting a bunch of documents, the bike lab will be sort of looking through, the planning documents for a lot of these street designs, , and we’ll be engaging the city in some sort of mediation over the next year, , and if we’re not able to resolve it by then, we’ll go to trial on April 7th, , 2025.

Um, yeah, so it’s a really big thing that BikeLoud’s working on, uh, and holding the city accountable to its existing laws. , another really big thing that we’re working on is Sandy Boulevard is getting rebuilt in the next two years from about 14th to, I think, 27th. , and we’ve been working with a PSU team, , to sort of help figure out how to advocate around that.

And they’ve just finished a, about 40 page existing conditions report, , that we hope to publish and get out to people soon. So Stay tuned for that as well.

[00:18:51] Jonathan Maus: Great. Thanks, David. Are there any next steps on the, on the crossing thing we were talking about?

[00:18:57] David Binnig: Uh, right now on the crossing, I know that, uh, Representative Pham’s office is reaching out to ODOT and to the agencies to learn more, and the street trust, uh, Sarah Anne Arone is coordinating a conversation, uh, tomorrow getting some of the agencies together. So I think those hopefully will, uh, be some good opportunities for people, people out, you know, other than by cloud, uh, to ask, ask questions of those agencies.

And again, hopefully find out more about what the plans are, what the constraints are, what those options are going forward.

[00:19:29] Jonathan Maus: Good. I really appreciate your work on that. Thank you. And then, uh, either of you or Kiel, what about summer plans? Anything folks should look forward to from BikeLoud in the summer? Sure.

[00:19:40] Kiel Johnson: Uh, yeah, we’re working on, we’ve got two things. Uh, one is we’ve applied for a Portland Clean Energy Fund grant for our bike buddy program, uh, that would fund that for three years and give us our first employee to sort of help manage and grow that program, which would be really exciting. And so we’ll find out about that in June.

, and then we’re also looking to, create some bike ambassadors or one bike ambassador position that could really help organize and, you know, create more bike social groups, , around town, , especially around the different districts, , as we approach the city council election.

[00:20:17] Jonathan Maus: Cool. Sounds good. Uh, before we go, David, I gotta, I gotta just shout out your really nice map in the background that I see. Nicely

[00:20:24] David Binnig: Oh yes.

[00:20:26] Jonathan Maus: available

[00:20:26] David Binnig: it from bike Portland. You can get your own for

[00:20:29] Jonathan Maus: nice, nicely done. It’s a good, good looking frame there. I appreciate you coming on. Thanks for sharing. And, uh, we’ll see you out on the streets. Hopefully maybe at bike happy hour this week, if not next week.

[00:20:41] Kiel Johnson: Cool. Thanks so much, Jonathan.

[00:20:42] David Binnig: having appreciate it.

This is a new way of sharing information. I would appreciate your feedback on how to make it better! Thanks. – Jonathan

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, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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1 month ago

thank you for continuing to cover this, everyone! We frequently cross as this “crossing” and I even just recently contacted the city on my own to ask, wtf is up with this “crossing”, as it is so dangerous and seems to be whole inadequate to any pedestrian safety standards (esp with the new touted greenway infrastructure). The fact that this has been deemed sufficient for decades is alarming. my low traffic cross walk to get to my local park as better & safer infrastructure than Powell.
I will say, I am greatly sensative to Powell in general as I know someone who was killed in a hit and run on upper Powell in 2020. I think of it as a cursed road but one unfortunately that I have to cross.

29 days ago

There actually is a funded project that is being constructed soon to improve the crossing with a full median down the middle, a pedestrian and bicycle marked crosswalk, and a flashing beacon that people can activate for crossing the street. This article is about what I consider a very misguided attempt to say that is “not good enough” and if they’re successful the project will have to go back to the drawing board and will be delayed for years. What the project is planning to do might not be ideal, but it is totally adequate and consistent with most other pedestrian crossings on Powell (better than most of them, actually), it is badly needed and has been for so many years, and is even more urgent now that there is a bikeway on 79th Ave leading right up to it. Stop making the perfect the enemy of the good, people!

1 month ago

I wish the city would put a signal in at SE 75th and SE Powell as well as fixing SE 79th. There’s a N-S crosswalk at the East end of that intersection that I’ve seen so many people almost get smeared in, both on bikes and on foot. It currently has overhead signs but I wish it had the on-demand flashers that other crossings seem to get.

Jerrod Corrones
Jerrod Corrones
24 days ago

This is my neighborhood and the last thing we need is BikeLoud flexing their privilege to remind us all that perfect is the enemy of good.

I’ve seen this play out many times before in Portland and I fear that we’re going to end up with an even worse design thanks to this group’s meddling.