Business district and neighborhood advocate for street improvement

Find out why the Midway Business Association and the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association again joined hands – this time, asking the City for street-improvement funding …

Members and guests introduce themselves, as the March Midway Business Association meeting gets underway.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
At the March meeting of the Midway Business Association (MBA), the membership gathered to network, and this month to elect their association’s leaders for the year.

But, the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Chair Mark White, main speaker at the March 12 meeting, was instead there to talk about improving SE 136th Avenue.

What makes SE 136th Avenue unusual, White told the businesspeople, is that it’s the last north-south connector street that goes all the way through from SE Foster Road to SE Powell Boulevard, just west of Powell Butte.

Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Chair Mark White decries the lack of streets and sidewalks in his neighborhood.

“All of the other streets dead-end into Powell Butte,” White said. “When SE Jenne Road was closed for construction, 136th turned into a freeway. There was tremendous traffic driving along this street, which is designated a ‘Safe Route to School’ for kids walking and biking.”

He pointed out that the road connects to nearby Gilbert Heights, Gilbert Park, and Alice Ott Elementary Schools. “There are no sidewalks; and, in many places, the blackberries grow into the road. You can’t walk along it without walking on this narrow street.”

What has galvanized community response, White said, was the death of a five-year-old girl who was hit and killed February 28.

> To see East Portland News’ coverage of this tragic event, CLICK HERE.

“Out of the numerous things that have happened in the neighborhood, since I’ve been president, this event has probably elicited the most emotional response,” commented White.

Mark White says the death of a five-year-old girl on SE 136th Avenue illustrates the need for more sidewalks along this busy street – but the lack of them wasn’t responsible for this tragic incident.

“At the same time, I think most people recognize that, in this particular instance, a sidewalk would not have made a difference.”

What it has made residents realize, White continued, “Is that that we don’t have sidewalks, crosswalks – in fact, we don’t have a lot a basic infrastructure. This particular incident brought that home to them. Whether it’s directly connected or not to the girl’s death – I don’t think that is the issue.

“The thoughts are, I believe, more along the lines that we are not going to accept this [lack of infrastructure] anymore.  This is unacceptable, and we need to do something.”

Oregon State Representative Shemia Fagan (D), Clackamas District 51 – she represents a small piece of Powellhurst-Gilbert, including that particular area where the little girl was hit – pulled together nine State legislators. “They signed a letter to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland City Council, requesting that they not cut the sidewalk project on Southeast 136th Avenue, and asked that the City reinstate that funding,” White acknowledged.

As more people “age in place”, having safer streets and sidewalks is important to the elderly, as well as kids, this neighborhood leader says.

Eldercare flourishes in the area
“In addition to that, people don’t realize that outer East Portland, as a whole, has 75% of all the adult residential care facilities in the City. That is a huge percentage. This means that folks who are most endangered from walking down the street, or being out and about, live in our part of the City.

“To not have sidewalks and basic infrastructure is totally not acceptable,” White emphatically stated.

Further, the lack of infrastructure has caused real estate property values to decline, White said. “I don’t know how it is for business property owners, but I’ve lost 44% of the value of my home’s property. My retirement is essentially gone. I don’t have a choice; I must age in place.

“Regardless of what people think, we’re not just all low-income housing here. There are tremendous numbers of people who have been here for decades,” White pointed out. “So, it’s really important that all that basic infrastructure, and that safety improvements be done, to support the community – as we age, and as our children get older.”

The MBA members agreed to sign on a letter requesting that outer East Portland infrastructure projects not be put on hold.

“I think the neighborhood association is hoping to harness public opinion and get the City leaders to fund [street and sidewalk] improvements here,” said Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Chair Mark White after the meeting. “But, I have to say, it’s so disconcerting to me that the only way to get the attention of Portland City Council is for a five year old to die. To me, that’s unconscionable.”

Mark White invites everyone present at the meeting to their April 8 neighborhood association meeting at Ron Russell Middle School.

Finally, White concluding by welcoming all MBA members – and other people interested in the topic, to the April 8th Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association meeting at 7:00 p.m.

They’ll have an update from the Portland Bureau of Transportation about the sidewalk project on SE 136th Avenue. And, nursing student Holly Heaton, who lives in Powellhurst-Gilbert, will present data she has collected for a health assessment on the neighborhood, for her college project.

The meeting is at Ron Russell Middle School, 3955 SE 112th Avenue. E-mail PGNA Chair Mark White at for more information.

Midway Business Association meets April 9
The following day at noon, come meet with the MBA, a business group dedicated to helping neighbors and businesses improve the southern end of outer East Portland.

Visitors ARE welcome, and the presentation is free (but you pay for your own lunch). Their meeting runs from 11:45 AM until 1 PM at Bill Dayton’s PIZZA BARON Restaurant on SE 122nd Ave., just south of Division St. For more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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