Friday, February 2

Can Powell Ever Be Safe?

There have been several Powell Blvd Streetscape Plan meetings to allow ODOT to
"continue to allow SE Powell Boulevard to serve vehicle traffic movement while also improving the safety, accessibility and the aesthetic environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders." (never mind that this is an oxymoron)
The effort is impressive. PDOT printed out huge maps of the entire stretch from the Ross Island Bridge to the I-205. Not surprisingly, the lions share of the comments were focused on the portion west of 20th. This is most likely because nobody with any choice would dare walk or ride a bike near east Powell. Those few who do are unlikely to be aware of meetings such as this. There were several mentions of creating traffic islands, bike paths on sections of McLaughlin where it crosses Powell, better signals, and more clear crosswalks. There were several comments about making safer connections between Cleveland High School and Powell Park at 26th, and creating access from 26th to 21st behind the park. Many people are similarly unhappy about crossing in the 40s and 50s given the bike crossing at 42nd and the high transit use at 50th. But the single hot button issue was how to deal with Powell and 17th. This area is a no-mans land because the Union Pacific tracks cut off access east-west, and the arterial cuts off access north-south. This completely cuts off Brooklyn from the rest of Portland. One woman I spoke to had spent an hour desperately trying to figure out how to get across. The current proposal is to rebuild the pedestrian passageway alongside Powell so that it sits closer to the road. This is one which I spoke out against because the lack of connections makes it equally unpleasant no matter how high it is above the street. Auto traffic has never been shown to reduce crime. People just drive by when something happens if they see it at all.
The other options for crossing the tracks (such as the pedestrian bridges) are laughable in their accessability. I spoke with several PDOT representatives on this and heard a lot of doubt that Union Pacific would be open to a new crossing. This is because they constantly move trains in and out of the switching yard and they have legitimate safety concerns. I heard one option that a new crossing could be made at the expense of removing a different one. So I proposed sacrificing a grade crossing on Division (there are currently three) if it allowed us to switch it with a crossing at Powell. However the folks at Wednesdays meeting appeared much more willing to talk strongly with Union Pacific. It's simply not acceptable that we should have the equivalent of two highways bisecting southeast Portland.

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