On the evening of Saturday, Jan. 21, 26-year-old Jason Lee Grant was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on Foster Road at SE 70th Avenue. Long dubbed the "Foster Freeway" by neighbors, this tragic incident further highlights the need to improve pedestrian safety in an area considered a high-crash corridor by Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT).
"And sadly, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the last until the city implements real safety improvements, such as safer crosswalks, more visible signage, and better lighting," laments Jeff Lynott of Foster Powell PDX. "Pedestrian safety has historically been overlooked in favor of keeping traffic moving quickly."
According to the city's Existing Conditions Report of SE Foster Road from May 2011, "approximately 26 percent of the corridor is lacking sidewalks or pedestrian amenities," and "the average distance between pedestrian crossing improvements (signals or pedestrian islands) is 1,120 feet, or nearly one-fourth mile."
Amongst the news of this recent accident and the negative city report, neighbors can find some closure—the driver responsible (53-year-old Jim Dean Patterson) for the hit-and-run has since come forward and faces two counts of failure to perform the duties of a driver—and tempered optimism for the future: In August, the city approved $3.25 million to go toward Foster Road safety enhancements, among other things, including "improved pedestrian and bicycle crossing safety and access" with a goal of enhancing "safety at high-crash locations on the road."
But, SE Foster is hardly the only place in town facing pedestrian safety issues, and its Walk Score ranking paradoxically highlights this fact. Ranked at 26 out of 89 Portland neighborhoods on Walk Score, Foster-Powell is in the top third of walkable neighborhoods, rated 10 points higher than Portland’s overall average, according to Walk Score's metrics.
Stretches on Sandy Boulevard need sidewalks fixed, 16th and East Burnside could use a pedestrian crossing, and pedestrians on North Williams have long been known to dodge both cyclists and motor vehicles. Even ped-friendly areas of downtown could be improved as highlighted by this comprehensive, interactive map where you can contribute your own problem spots.
Have a trouble spot in your neighborhood? Add it to Active Right of Way's map.
Many of these locations require the same attention. So, what can neighbors do to improve pedestrian safety on their own without waiting for government, or in Foster's case, almost 10 years since the 2003 streetscape plan-adoption to fund allocation?
NN put together a list of tools and resources that you can employ before another accident happens.
Being actively involved in your neighborhood is often the first step to creating change in your community.
Neighborhood Associations (NA)
Every Portland neighborhood has one and each association is a place where you can go to meet neighbors, learn about resources, voice your concerns, and learn how the city works. Traffic safety is a common topic as neighbors work together to improve their communities.
"As far as involving neighbors with efforts to prevent something like Jason's death from happening again, I think it all starts with awareness," says Lynott, who is also the SE Uplift Neighborhood Representative for the Foster-Powell NA. "Start at the local level and see how your NA can help. Folks should do research, too, as it will determine if streets in question are city roads, state roads, etc. This will determine if PBOT or ODOT would be involved. Then, I'd suggest contacting council members for more direction."
More direction can also be provided by neighborhood coalitions. There are seven of these overarching coalitions in the city of Portland that aim to assist NAs. Your coalition can provide you with additional advice and guidance for navigating the city's systems (like ODOT or PBOT) or point you in the direction of grants that might help spearhead grassroots projects. Whether you need leadership, education, or help with urban planning or communications, neighborhood coalitions can be a valuable resource.
Many who are familiar with doing work with the city question the effectiveness of going through "traditional" channels and processes. The above networks are great places to meet your neighbors, express concerns, and organize, but sometimes neighbors need to self advocate and create action if government progress just isn't happening.
"I'm disappointed to say there's a lot of acknowledgement of the problem [on Foster], but little follow through [on the government level]," Lynott states.
This is exactly what happened at the intersection of NE 30th and Killingsworth. After years of asking for a safer street crossing, concerned neighbors and small business owners (many of whom also resided in the neighborhood) decided to ignore the city's process and take action. As business owner and neighbor Tony Fuentes tells it, the city said neighbors could pay for it themselves, but the question still remained: If they raised the $10,000 for crosswalk markings and signals, would the city jump into immediate action? Sadly, the answer was no.
In 2006, local resident Ansula Press took up the cause and secured a $600 grant from City Repair. That small fund was combined with plenty of local sweat as neighbors picked up paint brushes and decorated each of the four corners of the intersection with colorful ground murals, creatively addressing the problem by making traffic slow down via street art.
The community’s own action and continued pressure on the city drew attention and earned the addition of zebra stripes in 2007. Looking to increase the visual impact even more in 2008, neighbors raised more money and installed mosaic planters, done in a Gaudí-esque style utilizing recycled ceramic and mirrored-glass bits as well as bicycle reflectors, crafted by artist and local shop owner Mary Tapogna of Hail Mary.
On each workday, volunteers came together creating a sense of community as neighbors collaborated to solve the problem themselves, ultimately leaving citizens with a direct connection to the success of the project. In 2010, the city was once again moved into action following the community's efforts, installing flashing crosswalk lights and bike corrals as the community repainted the corners at Killingsworth at NE 30th.
According to Fuentes, also the owner of the nearby Milagros Boutique, the key to this favorable outcome was a combination of citizen organization and action as well as being outspoken. "You can't just ask for favors, but offer to help and ask them [the city] to help you," Fuentes says. Set priorities, make sure your demands are specific, and demonstrate that your community is willing to do heavy lifting on its own, with or without city support, Fuentes continues. You don't need the backing of your NA or coalition (although it can't hurt and coalitions can help leverage finances under their nonprofit statuses), but simply power in numbers. Keep in the ears of the city officials in charge—even "be a nuisance"—because officials must remain responsible to the citizens, Fuentes asserts.
Willamette Pedestrian Coalition
"A nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting walking and making the conditions for walking safe, convenient, and attractive for everyone," WPC is a great resource to help citizens report problems as well as find places in your neighborhood to get involved or utilize resources for advocacy and education.
The following are city-supported solutions and resources available to all community members. But, as exemplified above, city solutions are often long and onerous processes that require quite a bit of citizen involvement, so be prepared to advocate for yourself while pursuing the following governmental organizations.
Safe Routes to School (STRS)
Oregonians concerned with their children's safety, whether walking or cycling, to and from school can apply for project grants through the federally funded Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. Managed by ODOT, funding is available for both infrastructure and outreach projects.
Portland Safe Routes to School
Related to SRTS is the Portland Safe Routes to School, which serves "almost every elementary and K-8 school in the city," Portland's STRS official website states. Since launching in 2000, "we've completed engineering plans at 28 schools and 40 schools receive our education services." Fittingly, the program is funded by the city "through increased traffic fine revenue and general fund dollars," and community members can report school safety problems by phone or email. "Calls and requests from school principals are prioritized," so working through your school's community can expedite requests.
PBOT and Portland Police Bureau Crosswalk Enforcements
The two city departments conduct planned and publicized crosswalk enforcements approximately once a month where a pedestrian repeatedly crosses the street. Drivers who fail to stop are issued warnings or citations. According to PBOT's Dan Anderson, "Locations for crosswalk enforcement actions are selected from a variety of sources including community requests, crossings that occur along designated high-crash corridors, recommendations from Portland Police, and suggestions from PBOT traffic engineers. The majority of the crosswalk enforcement actions take place at a marked crosswalk during the day" and "are an effective way to communicate pedestrian right of way laws to both drivers and pedestrians." (Find statistics from recent enforcements here.) For an better idea of what these look like, watch the Portland Police in action:
"Community members can suggest locations for a crosswalk enforcement action by calling 503.823.SAFE, PBOT’s Traffic Safety and Neighborhood Livability Hot Line," Anderson continues. "We look for locations with significant pedestrian activity or pedestrian generators nearby like TriMet bus stops, parks, schools, coffee shops, etc., and sufficient flow of vehicle traffic during the time when the crosswalk enforcement action will be conducted."
PBOT Educational Tools
Anderson also offers an extensive list of PBOT tools available online as well resources citizens can use to educate schools, groups or organizations about pedestrian safety.
- Every Corner is a Crosswalk: An animated about Oregon crosswalk law.
- Portland Walks: Be Safe Training: The informational film is available online, but PBOT’s Sharon White can come out to any community group and give a 50-minute training as well as provide supplemental information and answer questions about pedestrian safety. White can be contacted at 503.823.7100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Plus a wealth of other city information related to pedestrian safety, activities, education and more.
Another government department that can offer advice or refer you to the right place would be Metro, which handles regional planning for transportation. Promoting livable communities, Metro has resources related to planning for pedestrians and creating pedestrian-friendly main streets.
If you have concerns you'd like to share, use the above resources to find your neighborhood association and attend an upcoming meeting, or participate in one of several PBOT events happening in March.
- For neighbors of SE Division, there will be a high-speed crash corridor safety open house on Wednesday, March 7 at Harrison Park School (2225 SE 87th Ave.) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. (with an overview presentation at 7:00 p.m.) with opportunities to learn more about area transportation safety and give feedback to PBOT.
- 2012 Transportation Safety Summit: Hosted by PBOT the sixth Transportation Safety Summit is an opportunity to learn about transportation safety efforts in Portland, showcase your group's work, and network with agency and community leaders from 5:30-9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13 at Jefferson High School (5210 N Kerby Ave.). The event is free; RSVP here.
Despite plenty of areas that could benefit from improvement, Walk Score still ranks Portland as the 12th most walkable city in the nation, while U.S. Census numbers put the Portland-Vancouver area amongst the 10 safest regions for pedestrians. But, you know your neighborhood better than any statistic (especially if that statistic is at least 12 pedestrian fatalities on Foster Road since 2000), so it's up to you to educate your neighbors and advocate for the changes that need to happen in your neighborhood.
Do you have a resource or success story to share? Sound off in the comments.
Disclosure: Jeff Lynott is also a contributor to Neighborhood Notes.