‘Making Powell Boulevard Safer for All’: Community gathers at Cleveland HS forum following deadly crash

Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 9:59 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - “Making Powell Boulevard Safer for All.” That was the goal for Thursday night’s community forum held at Cleveland High School. It follows a deadly crash at SE 26th and Powell that took the life of acclaimed local chef Sarah Pliner as she biked to work.

Last week the biking community gathered to form a human-protected bike lane and demand safety changes be made. On Wednesday, the Portland City Council unanimously approved a resolution that will create a school zone on Southeast 26th Avenue, with plans to put up signage as soon as Thursday. The resolution also asks the Oregon Department of Transportation to do the same on Powell, and at other high schools on state-owned highways. Ahead of the meeting, the 20-mile-per-hour school zone signs went up.

SEE ALSO: Bicyclists demand safety updates to deadly Powell Blvd intersection

The forum gave the community the opportunity to speak with local and state agencies about safety improvements on Powell Boulevard. Those that spoke at the meeting shared personal stories.

“My son commutes by bike to Cleveland High School and he uses the intersection at SE 26th and Powell every day to go to lunch at Powell Park,” said one mom. “When he started at Cleveland over a year ago he was 13 years old. Within a week he told me how unsafe that intersection was. He said ‘mom, someone is going to get hit’. There wasn’t enough room on the sidewalks for the kids. If you guys have been out there at lunch and seen those kids spilling out into the intersection. You see them darting between cars because there is not enough space for them to stand to even get across the street. On October 4th and 11:52 I got a text from him that said ‘I’ve been saying for a year now that someone is going to get hit at this intersection. Someone just got hit at this intersection’. I asked him if the person was ok and he said he didn’t think so. I was terrified to let my son bike home from school that day.”

“My son was traveling by bicycle on 45th and Powell, crossing in an intersection” said one mom. “Three lanes of traffic stopped for him and one lane of traffic sped through and ran him over on his bicycle. He suffered near fatal injuries from that accident. We are lucky in the sense that he is home and recovering, but there is no time left. We need action now.”

“I am 14-years-old and a student here at Cleveland and I saw what happened,” said one Cleveland High School student. “It was just horrifying and now it’s something that I have to go through in my life. I have seen death and some adults haven’t. It’s crazy. Something needs to change and something needs to happen here. Please and thank you so much for all you’re doing.”

At the meeting, local and state agencies shared long-term and short-term safety changes planned for Powell Blvd.

Oregon Department of Transportation Safety Improvements:

Immediate Projects:

  • Updating painting and striping to improve visibility of existing crosswalks and advance stop bars at SE 26th, 28th, and 31st Ave. Intersections (complete)
  • Encourage slower turns using striping at SE corner of 26th at SE Powell (complete)
  • School Speed Zone with permanent signing on SE Powell Blvd. These will reduce speed to 20 mph from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. near Cleveland High School (to be completed in November 2022)
  • Install temporary speed feedback signs to remind drivers to slow down (to be completed in November 2022)
  • Give pedestrians a walk signal before vehicles get a green light (leading pedestrian interval) and install traffic detection at SE 21st, 26th, and 28th avenues (to be completed in December 2022)
  • Improve sight line visibility where possible (trimming vegetation, removing trees, etc.) (to be completed in December 2022)

Near-Term Improvement Projects:

  • ODOT says it will stripe high visibility crosswalks at St. Ignatius School (SE42nd Ave) and Kellogg Middle School (SE 69th Ave) to be completed in 3-6 months
  • ODOT, PBOT, and PPS says the agencies will implement multi-modal safety education outreach initiative at Cleveland High School to be done in the next 3-6 months.

Longer-Term Improvement Projects:

  • ODOT and PBOT will initiate study to reallocate traffic lanes on Powell (e.g. travel lane reductions and other ideas) over the span of 6+ months.
  • ODOT plans to replace signal heads for visibility, paint high-visibility stop bars and trim vegetation for improved sight lines and visibility at 20+ locations between SE 8th and 88th Ave. over the next 6-9 months.
  • ODOT and PBOT will give pedestrians a walk signal before vehicles get a green light (leading pedestrian interval) and install traffic detection on Powell from SE 7th to 31st in the next 6-9 months and east of 31st will take over 9 months.
  • ODOT and PBOT are currently in the process of photo radar for speed zone enforcement, but it will take a year or more to complete due to material availability.
  • ODOT and PBOT are currently in the process of permanent speed feedback signs but it will take a year or more to complete due to material availability.

PBOT SE Powell Blvd and 26th Ave safety work and fixes

Short-term critical safety fixes:

  • Add bike boxes, stop bars, and cross-bike markings
  • High visibility crosswalks (complete)
  • School speed zone (complete)
  • Install warning sign with future upgrade to electronic sign
  • Pedestrian/bike head start
  • Tighten radius of southeast corner (complete)
  • Remove overgrown vegetation
  • Add green bike lanes with buffer

Mid-term to long-term shared work:

  • Evaluate freight classifications and truck routing on SE 26th Ave
  • Work with ODOT to figure out cost of jurisdictional transfer that achieves “state of good repair” and safe inner Powell
  • Upgrade signals to allow pedestrian/bike head start at all signals on Powell
  • New pedestrian crossing with refuge island at Cleveland entrance
  • Permanent speed feedback signs and speed cameras on Powell
  • Elevate bike lane to increase separation

Another point brought up was the possible transfer of power over Powell Boulevard from ODOT to PBOT. Officials said it would require work during the next legislative session and coordination with Portland. State Senator Kathleen Taylor said she and State Representative Rob Nosse can draft a bill to start the process and will be advocating for the transfer of power.

Speaking with those who attended after the meeting, they thought it was a step in the right direction.

“I’m surprised at how quickly action is happening on this particular intersection,” said Cathy Tuttle, who biked to the forum. “It’s stuff that should have happened a really long time ago. I am glad it is happening. The problem is we have so many streets that need to change really quickly too where children and people are walking to the bus, people in wheelchairs are going to the park. I want to say 40% of people in Portland are not in cars and yet our streets are designed for people in cars. We need to be able to protect those people the kids, the elders that aren’t or can’t drive. It is a step in the right direction, but it’s such a little step. It’s a big step in the sense that institutions like departments of transportation are very slow moving. I mean, they’re giant institutions that still protect people in cars but not protecting people on the street. It is a positive step in the right direction and I am really happy about that.”

“It was really emotional for me,” said Leslie Carlson. “I graduated from this high school and three of my kids graduated from this high school. Powell Boulevard has been a danger to students here for decades. So it was a nice night, but maybe a hopeful night because changes are happening really fast. I look forward to it being safer, slower, and better for the kids. I think this is a step in the right direction, but I think a lot of people are really upset and angry. This has been going on for a long time and so I feel like we need some time to vent those feelings. I think once the community goes beyond that we will be able to make progress.”

TriMet also spoke on possible safer bus route and stop changes to Lines 19, 70, and 9. They will be discussed in greater detail at an upcoming Cleveland High School PTA meeting next Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m.