By Midge Pierce
Portlanders know that maneuvering through town can be more guesswork than science and Thorburn St. winding around Mt. Tabor is uniquely challenging. At best, it’s merely confusing. At worst, it’s the scene of serious accidents, at least one of which turned deadly.
Now, after 30 years of increasing traffic and frequent mishaps, neighbors are cautiously optimistic that a petition with nearly 300 signatures will result in safety improvements along Thorburn St. A recent meeting between residents and a City traffic policy advisor is leading to updates in data last collected 20 years ago.
“We are pleased that the City is in the process of updating vehicle counts last undertaken in 1996,” says Debra Monzon, who instigated the latest safety effort.
“The next step is to investigate what can be done to reduce dangers along Thorburn.”
Monzon worked with Paul Leistner to convince the all-volunteer Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association to declare the street a priority issue.
The curvy stretch between 62nd to the light at SE Gilham is only half a mile, but packs a mighty punch sometimes literally into homes and property.
Residents are weary of midnight car runs that result in slamming brakes, screeching tires and vehicles ramming into trees and homes. Neighbors on the west side of Tabor complain of the airbrakes from heavy trucks coming down the hill toward the signal at Stark and 60th.
The narrow, winding road is not engineered for all the through traffic from I-205 it carries, according to Monzon. “It is classified as a neighborhood collector and minor truck route, meaning it was designed for local traffic only.”
She points out that it is a designated city walkway, yet there is no sidewalk or shoulder to walk on.
“It’s extremely treacherous. It is not functioning as designated. If there was new construction, a sidewalk would be required.” At present, she says, there is no new construction along the road which is supposed to serve students enroute to Mt. Tabor Middle School.
From East and West, Stark St. seems to disappear into the woodsy hillsides of the Mt. Tabor neighborhood. Cars driving along Stark St. to or from Montavilla or the interstate feed onto Thorburn.
Even the speed limits are perplexing. Speed limits along Stark St. all the way down to Sandy Blvd. are 30 mph but “advisory only” signs along Thorburn St. say 25 mph.
“I didn’t know these yellow advisory signs were not enforceable,” says Monzon. “People continue to treat it like a racetrack, flying around the turns.”
The last few years have seen unprecedented increases in traffic. Neighbors believe it’s a result of several factors including an improved economy that has simply added vehicles to roadways.
One couple who has lived on the street for more than 40 years estimates there is an accident or incident along the stretch every two weeks.
Over the years, the couple has experienced hit and runs on their property, skid marks in their yard, scars in their trees and lost sleep dreading that a vehicle might crash through their windows or doors. Those fears fade against the memory of the motorcyclist who spun out of control and died in their driveway.
They fought the good fight for several years, but as they got older, receiving no response from the City about their complaints, and believing ongoing incidents continued to receive insufficient notice, they positioned giant boulders in their front yard and parked a car as a barricade to absorb the impact of crashes that might otherwise smash into their home.
Enter Monzon, who, after five years living along the stretch, noticed the significant uptick in construction trucks and traffic. She says it doesn’t have to be so dangerous if basic safety elements were implemented.
“Now that the City seems receptive to our concerns, we hope to work with them to reduce the speed and volume of cars and the use of air brakes by trucks. Big trucks don’t belong on this street.”
After the I-205 on and off ramps at Stark St. were built in the 80s, traffic began to divert up Thorburn St. instead of veering down Gilham St. to the broader thoroughfare of Burnside that offers a direct route into the City. The odd way Thorburn is sandwiched between Stark on the east and west sides of Mt. Tabor adds to the confusion.
Some say clear signage directing inner City through traffic down Gilham St. to Burnside would be appropriate. Even adjusting the timing on intersection lights might help.
“We don’t pretend to know all the answers,” says Monzon. “But we do want the community involved as we seek solutions with the City.”