Transit-oriented crime the prime concern voiced at Eastside MAX Meeting

Although the purpose of the meeting was to focus on developing “quality places” near the City’s original East Portland light rail stations, the topic of public safety kept coming up. See how you still have time to comment, online, if you act now …

At one of the two mid-November workshops focusing on outer East Portland MAX stations, citizens were asked to look at displays depicting of each light rail station, to ask questions of officials, and make comments.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Although the City of Portland’s newest light rail line won’t open until next year, the original MAX stations dotted across outer East Portland are passing their 25th year of operation.

On two evenings last week, members of Portland’s Bureau of Planning conducted “Outer East Portland East Portland Eastside MAX Station Communities Project Community Workshops” – part of a one-year study regarding the transit system.

Portland Bureau of Planning project leader, Tom Armstrong, talks about the information they’ve learned since starting the Outer East Portland East Portland Eastside MAX Station Communities Project about six months ago.

Seeks to improve station area development
“In this project, we’re looking at six of the Eastside MAX stations,” Tom Armstrong, the bureau’s project leader, told us at the November 13 meeting at Ventura Park School.

“We’re primarily focusing on how the areas around the MAX stations are growing and developing,” Armstrong continued. “What we want to do is improve the quality of the development, and the ‘quality of place’ around the stations. We’re also looking at ways to increase the safety and convenience for people to get to and from the stations.”

No condemnation to improved connectivity
After looking at the map of her neighborhood, one neighbor said she was alarmed that a new proposed street – or a path – ran across her yard.

“Are you here to tell us what you’re going to do; or, are you actually asking for real input in the process? If you’re really planning to for growth in my backyard, do you plant to talk with me about it before you do so?” the neighbor asked.

“We’re here, discussing it with you tonight,” replied Armstrong. “All we are showing on these maps is future street connections.”

He assured neighbors there would be no condemnation of property by the city for putting streets through people’s yards. “These connectivity improvements only occur when property is sold and redeveloped.”

‘Good development’ examples given
Another neighbor asked Armstrong to list examples of what the Planning Bureau would consider to be good, transit-oriented development along the MAX line.

“On the east side,” Armstrong responded, “the best example of success would be what’s happening around the Hollywood station. They’re building just off that station, and attracting new development there near the station, as well as on NE Sandy Boulevard.”

Development around outer East Portland MAX stations is challenging, says the Planning Bureau’s East Portland Liaison, Barry Manning.

The Planning Bureau’s East Portland Liaison, Barry Manning, added, “All of the East Portland MAX stations are really challenging. It’s difficult, because we’re dealing with infill development – there is an existing neighborhood context, and some level of density. Orenco Station is one to which people point as a model. But it was a green field before it was developed. We’re not dealing with that kind of situation.”

Manning pointed out that several of the Gresham-area stations show “pretty good development design” as well.

Each of the maps showed a circle drawn around the stations. “The radius is about a quarter mile,” explained Armstrong. “Between a quarter mile and a half mile [from the station], ridership drops off. That’s why we’re focusing on these areas, making them good, safe environments, so people will want to walk to the light rail stations and take MAX.”

Curbing freeloading riders
A neighbor asked, “What attempts are being made to curb the free ridership on MAX?”

Armstrong said, while he couldn’t speak for TriMet, the agency that runs Portland’s light rail, there was an announcement a few weeks ago about increasing the number of fare inspectors and security guards and the transit police on the system. “They also announced retrofitting and replacing the ticket machines, to give them better reliability.”

Manning added, “They’re talking about going to a new ticket machines – and a new style of tickets – next year when they open the Interstate 205 line. The tickets will be larger, sturdier, and credit card shaped.”

Crime and safety on MAX
“Can you give us any examples of safe, well-working MAX stations anywhere on the line on the west side or north side?” quizzed a neighbor.

“I understand your question,” Armstrong replied. “On the Eastside, we have what we have. The stations were built to state-of-the-art standards 25 years ago. Each new leg [of the light rail system] gets built a little differently. They’re trying to go back and retrofit the older stations with closed-circuit TV, and changing the shelter design.”

Outer East Portland neighbor Ralph Fullerton doesn’t mince words as he expresses his concern about crime in and around area light rail stations.

One of the 28 neighbors attending the meeting was Ralph Fullerton who spoke frankly about the crime issue. He said no station improvement plans will resonate with citizens until crime is reduced along the MAX lines. “It’s like you’re trying to make water run uphill. Nothing will change, until you solve that problem.”

A prime frustration with Fullerton, he told the group, is the methadone clinic at the NE 162nd Avenue and E. Burnside Street Station. “It used to be a Social Security Administration office; now it’s methadone clinic. I watch drugs being sold near the clinic every day.”

The audience erupted in spontaneous applause.

“It’s absolutely absurd that you would spend tens of millions of dollars creating the marvelous light rail system – and then give junkies a ‘quick pass’ to journey around our neighborhoods. You guys in the Bureau of Planning spend a lot of money – and I believe that you work really hard – but until you can reduce crime on the light rail system, you’re wasting money and wasting time.”

David Kelso, a developer with land near a MAX station says his investors are concerned about crime issues to the point that it hinders investment.

Says crime hinders redevelopment
Fullerton continued, saying he was sure that private developers wouldn’t put any money, “even 25-cents, into projects – until you stop thugs and hoods from walking on and going for a ride. It’s a big challenge to you guys.”

David Kelso agreed, saying he and his partners own 2½ acres near one of the light rail stations.  “We have very feasible projects that pencil out from a financial standpoint to build – but it’s getting difficult to get investors to buy-in, because of the high crime in these areas.”

Tell it to the City Commissioners
Manning announced that the Portland City Council was meeting at Midland Library on December 17 to consider the East Portland Action Plan. “In our discussions, TriMet issues were certainly on the table. Come and give testimony – we hope it will be geared toward the Action Plan – but people from East Portland are welcome to come and talk to City Council about their hopes and aspirations, including crime and safety.”

Armstrong added, “When we wrap up this project next year, we’re going to have another City Council meeting, and we’re going to be making presentations. The message that you just delivered is a powerful message. They need to hear, ‘You know what? This redevelopment isn’t going to work unless you fix the crime problem’.”

Next steps
Armstrong said their staff would take the ideas and comments they’d gathered from this round of community meetings and begin to craft specific proposals for changes and improvement projects. “Tonight’s meeting was really to check in with people about the direction we’re going, before we get too far down the road.  In this way we can make a mid-course corrections and refinements.”

He said the staff will work on recommendations, and bring back a report to the community by January or February.

Open for comment
The comment period remains open through next week. CLICK HERE to go directly to the bureau’s Outer East Portland East Portland Eastside MAX Station Communities Project web site.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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