Officials, citizens consider Foster Road safety issues

What happened when a room full of folks met with a gaggle of politicians and transportation officials about making SE Foster Road a safer place to walk and bike? Find out why YOU might be driving 25 MPH there, in the near future …

Long time Lents Neighborhood resident and supporter Judy Welch checks into the Foster Road Safety event.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In light of a trio of pedestrian deaths last year just west of SE 82nd Avenue of Roses – and many close calls – a “Who’s Who” of elected politicians, and a bevy of government officials, met with a room full of those who were hoping to solve safety problems along SE Foster Road, on September 14.

The meeting, called by Oregon State Representative Ben Cannon (D), District 46, brought out Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack, and Oregon Representative Mike Schaufler (D), District 48, to the Kern Park Church in the Foster-Powell Neighborhood, where they met with about 130 people.

Oregon State Representative Ben Cannon (D) District 46 moderates the discussion about Foster Road safety.

“We designed this event to allow our elected officials, and people working in agencies, to hear from people here in the Foster Road area,” Rep. Ben Cannon began. “It is important to us to hear about your traffic safety concerns.”

Mayor Sam Adams stepped up, thanked the elected officials for coming, and then pointed out a startling statistic. One of the three most dangerous [transportation] corridors in the City of Portland is SE Foster Road at SE 82nd Avenue. “One of the reasons I ran to become the ‘Transportation Commissioner’, before I was Mayor, was to prioritize safety.”

At the meeting, several local folks were called forward to give their testimony.

Testimony points out conflicting Foster Road uses
Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association Chairperson Erica Bjerning pointed out that she, and about 39,000 people who live along SE Foster Road, appreciate the improvements that have been made. But, she bemoaned a “conflict of usages” for the highway. “It’s a vibrant pedestrian neighborhood, and commercial district. However, it also serves as the ‘Happy Valley and Damascus Freeway’.”

Seth Richardson, of Meticon Bikes at 5925 SE Foster Road, calls for balancing freight and vehicle transportation needs with those of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Bicycle maven Seth Richardson of Meticon Bikes at 5925 SE Foster Road surprised many by not calling for SE Foster Road to be turned into a bicycle-only pathway.

“Transportation, operating efficiently, is essential for businesses,” Richardson began. He noted that his own business prospers because he can get often get same-day delivery of bike repair parts. “Being able to move items, at this speed, fuels business. Sometimes we forget that speed can help businesses provide a living wage for workers, giving these people the resources to build communities.”

While Richardson also said that as the neighborhood has become revitalized, the amount of automotive and pedestrian traffic has increased proportionally.

“Right now, our neighborhood has a highway running through it,” Richardson stated. “We have to create a balance between speed and quality of life, for the neighborhood in which we live.”

April Bertelsen, Pedestrian Coordinator, Portland Bureau of Transportation, talks about safety statistics in her presentation while Portland Mayor Sam Adams gazes at the numbers…and Kevin Cronin, Portland Development Commission looks on.

Foster a ‘High Crash Corridor’
April Bertelsen, Pedestrian Coordinator with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), showed a number of slides that outlined transportation conditions and concerns about SE Foster Road.

About speed: PBOT measurements show that 85% of vehicle speeds on Foster Road are about 38 mph – making it similar to other arterial highways posted with a 35 mph speed limit.

PBOT’s Mark Lear commented that the higher a vehicle’s speed when it collides with a pedestrian, “the lower chance there is of survival. Reducing speed is the number one thing, I would argue, that you can do on Foster Road, to improve safety.”

The presentation pointed the 2010 safety actions, to the pedestrian crosswalk at Foster Road and SE 80th Avenue – the site of a double-fatality crash last year – including installing new “Rapid Flash Beacons” and a “Pedestrian Police Traffic Division Enhanced Enforcement” at the location.

Adams said, about the project, “The street needs additional traffic signals – no doubt about it. But, this new equipment we’re trying out is far less expensive than installing a signalized stoplight.”

Portland’s mayor also called for transferring ODOT highways – and the accompanying funding for their upkeep – to City control. And, he added, State [road] facilities within the City should be managed to address safety and livability goals. Adams said he has requested from the State additional help to close “infrastructure gaps” in East Portland, including funding streetcars on Foster and continuing the “Safe Routes to Schools” program.

About 130 neighbors, business people and government officials gather to discuss how safety can be improved on SE Foster Road.

Safety improvement suggestions
Several attendees were given the opportunity to speak about their ideas for increasing transportation safety on Foster Road which included:

  • Post digital speed readouts along the road;
  • Provide continuous education via public relations – instead of police actions – to help drivers realize that pedestrians have the right of way at intersections;
  • Continue to phase in traffic control improvements along Foster Road;
  • Reengineer the intersection of Foster Road at SE Holgate Boulevard;
  • Install bicycle lanes on Foster Road; and,
  • Change State law to allow cities to set their own rules on state highways.

Rep. Schaufler responded to that last suggestion, saying that he is not in favor of granting cities the ability to set their own speed limits because of what he called “unintended consequences” – “perhaps some cities it might not be as sophisticated as Portland.”

Adams presents four-point plan
“The question is ‘How do we get there from here?’” Adams concluded. He suggested four ways to increase livability along SE Foster Road:

  1. Neighborhoods should work to get “synced up” with their business associations.
  2. Encourage more private sector investment in the area. “You’re not going to get more money for [street] improvements unless that we can show the efforts are successful. We’re not talking just putting in more coffee shops – but all kinds of businesses.”
  3. Encourage area neighborhood business districts to compete for “Main Street” designation.
  4. Support the State legislators who appeared at that meeting by “turning out for them”.

With that, Commissioners Fritz and Shiprack thanked all for attending, letting them know they’d heard the concerns expressed in the meeting.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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