By Gabe Frayne
Among the inconveniences wrought by the Coronavirus pandemic, one that is ever more bothersome to residents of the North Tabor neighborhood is the increase in freeway noise off I-84, which runs along the neighborhood’s northern boundary.
Particularly after dark, the high-pitched revving of motorcycle and muscle car engines reverberates through area streets like a NASCAR event with no finish line.
“Everybody who lives on that side, all of us can hear it,” says one elderly tenant of the Center Commons (an over-55 residence), pointing to the wing overlooking the freeway, as she sat outside with friends on a warm spring evening.
“You gotta turn up your TV because if you open your windows it’s just, oh wow!”
“I keep my windows down quite a bit because I don’t want to ruin my neighbors’ hearing,” her friend adds, chuckling.
There is no air conditioning in any of the Commons’ apartments according to management.
Whether the noise is attributable to racing or simply hobby joy riding is difficult to ascertain since Portland Police Bureau (PPB) does not keep a database of citations issued.
It is clear that the situation in North Tabor, and other Portland neighborhoods as well, presents more than just a nuisance-level problem on occasion.
“Usually I notice it from probably 10 pm to midnight –that’s when you can definitely notice street racing. You can hear the high revving of the engines and the gears,” explained Sarah Mongue, North Tabor resident and member of the North Tabor Neighborhood Association Board.
“I came home late one night from a friend’s house between 10 pm and midnight and driving to get off on 58th Ave. I was definitely in the middle of a street race happening,” she said. Mongue says she has witnessed street racing recently on NE Glisan St. between the 58th Ave. exit and I-205.
Tom Thomas, another North Tabor resident attending the meeting, said, “It’s not particularly racing that I know of, but it’s just like there seems to be a free pass for people to travel the speeds they wish.”
Indeed, there might well be a correlation between a lack of law enforcement and excessive speeds on the area’s roadways.
An email sent to the Oregon State Police (OSP) inquiring why its dashboard showed no citations along the western end of I-84 in recent months brought the reply that, “OSP focuses primarily outside of city limits in the Portland metro area” and a suggestion to contact the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO).
An email sent to MCSO brought a reply saying, “I would suggest directing your inquiry to the PPB” since “we don’t pick up jurisdiction until about I-84 and NE 191st Ave.”
The response from PPB highlighted a litany of staff reductions and re-ordered priorities in the wake of the pandemic and last year’s nightly protests.
A spokesman for the Bureau noted: “Our chief made the decision to send traffic officers, many of whom rode motorcycles, back to precincts to answer day to day calls for service. When they are able, they still do traffic enforcement.”
The spokesman noted that earlier this year the PPB Traffic Division was disbanded, a move that almost surely appeared as a green light to the city’s late-night auto enthusiasts.
Meanwhile, PBOT’s Vision Zero project, dedicated to “saving lives with safe streets,” reported earlier this year that in 2020 “20 deaths occurred on State of Oregon highways in Portland, including eight on interstates, compared with an average of 14 from 2016 to 2019.”
The news release suggests that the increase is partially attributable to an increase in speeding due to lower traffic volumes, but now that traffic has returned to pre-pandemic levels, it appears other factors may be contributing to the impunity of late-night road racers.
Vision Zero is strongly supporting two bills in the Oregon Legislature – HB 2530 and HB 3357 – that would make it easier for the City to install fixed speed safety cameras on city streets.
“These cameras have proven to be a cost-effective way to dramatically reduce dangerous driving on our streets,” according to Portland Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is quoted on Vision Zero’s web site.
“This is a great example of how…we can make our streets safer for everyone, without relying on police for enforcement.”
However, speed safety cameras are not workable on freeways, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation, nor would they have any effect on reducing noise from vehicles that are tricked out to produce maximum engine decibels.
Oregon law requires a muffler, limiting engine noise to no more than 91 decibels, be installed and working on all vehicles.
It seems, then, that the proven method of controlling both excessive speed and excessive noise on Portland’s freeways is still the dance of blinking lights in the rearview mirror.