New plaza springs up in former slip lane at SE 72nd and Woodstock

“Seeing the slip lane closed, the traffic calmer, and more people walking about and enjoying our neighborhood has left me with a renewed sense of hope.”

– Nadine Salama, resident

What began on a wish list from neighbors has become a reality.

This week transportation commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty announced the latest development in her effort to reduce gun violence and restore public safety in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood just south of Foster Road. 

The wide slip lane between SE 72nd and Woodstock Boulevard that used to provide a speedy getaway for criminals in cars and drivers looking to avoid red lights, is now closed off with 12 large concrete barricades. Arleta Triangle, a community space that used to be on an island surrounded by dangerous auto traffic, is now at the tip of a public plaza peninsula that has become the most high-profile element of the city’s effort to employ the principles of crime prevention through environmental design.

And future plans for the space look even better.

Led by Commissioner Hardesty, PBOT began this project last fall by installing 18 orange traffic barrels on streets around the park. The idea was to discourage people from speeding through the neighborhood and it came in direct response to residents who complained about dangerous driving related to shootings and other crimes.

One of the orange traffic-calming barrels.

The barrels are not that effective on their own. They are easily moved to the curb and when I visited on Wednesday, many of them already were (see photo). But when these traffic calming actions are combined with neighborhood relationships that have led to more trust and collaboration to tackle this public safety crisis, more significant change is possible.

It is no small task to close a large slip lane between two busy streets. It’s even harder when there’s a drive-through business smack dab in the middle. However, despite the presence of Discount Mini-Mart and its steady stream of customers in cars, PBOT has managed to pull it off.

Two weekends ago crews added new striping, plastic curbs and bollards, and the aforementioned concrete barricades to create the plaza. The $23,000 investment has yielded a new carfree space and a much quieter intersection. 

While I was there yesterday afternoon, I watched mini-mart customers drive up to the service window from the edge of the plaza on 72nd, then exit through a one-way lane PBOT carved through the east side of the plaza so they can continue onto Woodstock.

While it’s odd to have a carfree space bisected by cars, it seems to work fine and it’s a big improvement over the free-for-all that existed before. A worker at the market told me she doesn’t think the changes will stop people from driving dangerously (and even worried that drunk local bar patrons will crash into the barricades), but she did say it might prevent near-misses.

For local resident Nadine Salama, who spearheaded this collaboration with Hardesty’s office after witnessing shootings outside her home, the new plaza is a very welcome development.

“Standing in this same spot last August, when our neighborhood was experiencing a surge in gun violence, and seeing it deteriorate was heartbreaking,” Salama shared in a PBOT statement. “Today, seeing the slip lane closed, the traffic calmer, and more people walking about and enjoying our neighborhood has left me with a renewed sense of hope… I am looking forward to a hopefully wonderful summer in and with my community!”

Summer in the plaza will be even better when PBOT brings to life the full plans for the plaza. In drawings released this week (above), the city revealed plans (based on neighborhood feedback) that include painting the street and adding lights, trees, benches and even a performance stage. 

If you’ve feeling a bit of envy, Hardesty says she’s already working to bring a similar approach to public safety to other parts of Portland. “There is optimism we will be able to bring similar interventions to neighborhoods experiencing a high level of violence,” she said.

Stay tuned. And roll over to 72nd and Woodstock to check it out for yourself.

Elected leaders clamor for more details on Columbia River Crossing 2.0

Members of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program Executive Steering Group brought forth some concerns at the March 17 meeting.

As the clock ticks down toward the self-imposed deadline for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program to select a “locally preferred alternative”, a number of elected officials are concerned they aren’t being given access to the information they’ll need to sign off on a project design.

As soon as next month, the project team will be presenting one draft alternative, which will include a recommendation on the number of lanes the project will have, what interchanges at Marine Drive and Hayden Island will look like and what type of transit we should expect. So far, however, the advisory groups charged with providing feedback have been given very few details on different alternatives being considered and the trade-offs between them.

“Candidly, I must tell you that I’m pretty disappointed in the discussion here… I don’t think I’ve learned anything in the presentation yet today.” -Mary Nolan, Metro Councilor

It has been months since three options were presented for the primary segment of highway over the Columbia River, all of which are slated to expand I-5 over the Columbia River to ten lanes. After those were put on the table, the IBR team did agree to analyze what might happen to the highway’s design if transit use and congestion pricing were fully utilized in the project design, but so far we haven’t seen any evidence that alternative options will be presented.

At the project’s Executive Steering Group meeting last week, Metro President Lynn Peterson signaled there could be problems ahead given the lack of details that have been presented to the group so far.

“I’m concerned that if we’re just going to get one recommendation based on a series of assumptions that it’s not actually going to allow us to see how the three components…play out in different ways,” Peterson said. She said she wants the group to be presented three different scenarios that they can examine more closely. “I think it’s going to be a shock to the system if there’s just one recommendation without a narrowing down.”

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Program staff have been guiding officials toward just one preferred alternative for several months. “One of the concerns with bringing multiple things forward is, it complicates the next step in the process,” Program Administrator Greg Johnson said, alluding to the supplemental environmental impact statement process the project will head into next. “What we’re doing is trying to get into the stadium, and there’s a lot of decisions within that stadium.”

The 2011 final environmental impact statement for the failed Columbia River Crossing project actually included two different alternatives for the Hayden Island/Marine Drive interchanges, pointing toward a false urgency to narrow things down completely at this stage. So far, most of the options being considered look very similar to the preferred alternative from that project, with proposals like an immersed tube tunnel (in use regionally in places like Vancouver, B.C) having been discarded last year by the project team.

Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty also pushed back on being presented one concept that’s moving forward.

“You’re telling me you’re doing all this work, but I don’t see it…and you’re telling me this is a major decision point, but it’s not that important because it’s going to change later.” she said. “I don’t delegate decision-making to my staff.”

She also raised the issue of having to get approval from other Portland City Council members when they are busy with work on the budget in May. “I think you’re putting unrealistic expectations on me,” she said of the current timeline. “If I’m this confused about the decision that you’re asking me to make in July…can you imagine how confused my colleagues are going to be.”

Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar described the locally preferred alternative as a starting point before the project is put through the “meat grinder” that is federal environmental policy review. “The decision we’re being asked to make this summer is not to pick an alternative to build. It is to pick an alternative to test,” he said. Right now in Seattle, Sound Transit, the regional transit agency on whose board Millar serves, is currently seeking comment on a draft environmental review of a planned light rail line; along a key segment of that line Sound Transit has selected no preferred alternative but is studying a whole slew of options.

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At a Metro Council work session on the project earlier this month, Councilor Mary Nolan, the only council member who voted against advancing funding for the project earlier this year, also expressed frustration with a lack of information.

“Candidly, I must tell you that I’m pretty disappointed in the discussion here. I had come to this conversation hoping that we would have a lot more detail from the project team than we seem to have. I don’t think I’ve learned anything in the presentation yet today,” Nolan said near the end of the work session.

If those details are to be fully fleshed out, they will only have a few meetings to do so before the self-imposed deadline to select a locally preferred alternative. The question is whether the rush to meet that deadline will leave any important considerations left unexamined. If any elected leaders are feeling pressured to make a decision they aren’t ready to make, things could get complicated, fast.

Commissioner Hardesty asks supporters for feedback on priorities, accomplishments

Hardesty with PBOT Director Chris Warner at Ned Flanders Crossing opening in June 2021.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has opened up a survey that asks her supporters how she should prioritize her efforts in 2022. Among the eight options to choose from are, “Climate Change and Reducing Harmful Carbon Emissions” and “Transportation and Pedestrian/Bike Safety.”

While those two seem to have the most direct implications for readers of this site, all of them have a major impact on the experience of anyone biking around the city.

The survey (which is a campaign tool and requires respondents to share an email address) also includes a list of achievements and then asks which of them she should “protect and expand”. Transportation policy items on the list include: “Daylighting 300+ Street Corners”, “Transformation of 82nd Ave”, and “Implement Pricing Options for Equitable Mobility”. We covered Hardesty’s daylighting investment back in November. The “transformation” of 82nd she references has to do with the $80 million in funding granted to the City of Portland to upgrade the arterial and take over ownership from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The other transportation accomplishment she mentions is POEM, the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s set of recommendations aimed at making driving more expensive that was adopted by City Council last fall.

And just like her list of priorities, all of the achievements listed by Commissioner Hardesty — policing, public health, denser housing, energy grants — have strong connections to bicycling and mobility.

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