By Midge Pierce
Accidents mount as the City learns the hard way – through deaths and neighborhood ire – that you can’t address both safety and traffic flow in ways that satisfy everyone.
So far this year there have been two dozen car/bike/pedestrian fatalities plus numerous accidents involving injuries not deemed serious enough to report.
Even hit and runs between cars and cyclists are under-reported because of police backlogs, staff shortages and case priorities. (Note: If you have been involved in an accident in which police did not respond, you can self-report via: oregon.gov/ODOT/Forms/DMV/32.pdf.)
Some 300,000 commuters ply the city streets every day according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. The figure represents 55,000 more commuters than in 2000. By 2035, 550,000 commuters are projected.
Currently, some 18,000 commuters are cyclists enroute to work. PBOT would like to raise the percentage of bicyclers but admits work must be done. Under current conditions, future projections indicate a decline in the percentage of bicyclists vs. cars.
As the SE population burgeons, safe car/bike/pedestrian interface is critical. The issue hit Montavilla hard with the recent death of Erin Brenneman, beloved manager of Hungry Heart Bakery, who died from injuries suffered after her bike was struck by a hit and run driver.
To develop safety initiatives on high crash corridors like Stark, Sandy, Cesar E. Chavez, Belmont, Division, Hawthorne and Foster among others, City Council recently granted Vision Zero more than a million dollars. The state’s new transportation package designates funds for Safe Routes to School that include a four-mile stretch of Powell.
Small changes in SE are emerging. On Hawthorne, a pedestrian island now marks the intersection where young Fallon Smart was killed by a hit and run driver last year. On Powell, a desperately needed safe crossing near Cleveland High is finally operational. On heavily-cycled Ankeny, speed bumps and a diverter have been added.
Curvy, high truck and car-trafficked Thorburn now boasts 10 speed bumps to slow speeders short-cutting off I-205. Residents soon hope to address pedestrian safety on the street that lacks sidewalks and safe shoulders.
Neighborhood Associations have endorsed the 60s Bikeway route through Mt. Tabor and Biketown Portland celebrated more than 300,000 trips in its first year of sharing its bright, bulky orange behemoths.
Commissioner Saltzman praised the program for encouraging use of Portland’s “world class network of comfortable bike routes.”
That description may be debatable as Portland’s narrow streets were not designed for both cars and bikes. While one camp claims the City has a bias toward cyclists, others feel far more needs to be done to keep them safe.
The introduction of Neighborhood Greenways intended to keep speeds down, and can upset neighbors. Among both drivers and riders, many feel road-diets have hurt, not helped, tense situations. Busy commuting corridors can be nightmarish gambles.
A bike and car commuter recently commented that to get more people out of cars and on bikes, streets must become safer. “You have to separate cars and bikes first.”
PBOT bicycle safety rep Roger Geller spoke at a Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association meeting and warned, “Traffic conditions are only going to get worse.”
Distributing renditions of a series of speed bumps and bike crossings proposed for SE Lincoln St. between 12th and 60th, he said, “Our goal is to make conditions better for bikes on Neighborhood Greenways.”
The diverter proposed for Lincoln at 50th that would restrict cross-traffic turns caused uproar. Residents called them problem overkill that would increase neighborhood car cut-throughs and exacerbate dangerous backlogs on 50th and Division, an area that has seen unprecedented construction and growth.
(Some 400+ units are currently in the works along 50th, a number that could easily exceed 1000 in a few years.)
Trends show newcomers typically arrive with cars despite the City’s efforts to discourage automobile influx.
“So far everything PBOT has done, like narrowing Division south of 50th to one lane and the proposed articulated “slow” rapid transit makes things worse,” said a resident.
Tackling bike/car/pedestrian issues can be like touching the third rail – even for a journalist who daily witnesses dangerous driving habits, reckless cycling aggression and careless pedestrian crossings.
Especially with the sun so blindingly low in the sky during summer commuting hours, Portland is a danger zone without easy solutions.