By Paul Leistner, Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and MaryLouise Ott, South Tabor Neighborhood Association.
Division St. between SE 60th and SE 80th is a dangerous place for pedestrians, bikes, cars and buses. Community members have complained about safety problems on the street for nearly 40 years.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) believes that a “lane reorganization” on this stretch of Division St. would help improve safety for everyone.
South Tabor Neighborhood Association (STNA) and Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA) have been working with PBOT to engage community members in a discussion of the possible changes. They want to hear from you as well.
This article is intended to increase the number of people who know about the proposed changes. Both the STNA and MTNA have set aside time at their February and March meetings to give community members a chance to ask questions and share their opinions and suggestions.
Currently, Division St. between SE 60th and SE 80th has two lanes going in each direction with no parking on either side of the street. PBOT has proposed a change that has worked on some other streets in Portland and in other cities around the country.
This change would restripe the street and have one travel lane in each direction with a dedicated turn lane down the middle and bike lanes on the sides. Pedestrian crossing improvements like crosswalks, better lighting, signs and other amenities also are being considered.
STNA has raised concerns about safety on Division St. since the early 1970s. A search of the archives found that in 1972, Mayor-elect Neil Goldschmidt visited the STNA meeting. He listened to community member complaints about hazardous traffic conditions on Division and recommended the group work with the City’s Traffic Engineer to find a solution.
STNA reaffirmed the high priority of improved safety on Division St. in its 1996 Neighborhood Plan, which was adopted into the Portland Comprehensive Plan. Recently, STNA members again approached PBOT to ask for help.
PBOT responded by examining data on Division St. and determined that the number of accidents and injuries make the street one of the ten most dangerous in Portland.
PBOT has made addressing safety problems on Division Street a high priority and has included the street in the City’s High Crash Corridor Program.
Last March, PBOT hosted an open house to help community members learn about conditions along Division (11th to 174th). STNA and MTNA representatives asked PBOT to partner with them to engage the community on specific improvements for 60th to 80th. After 40 years, a safer Division St. finally may be within reach.
This fall, community members gathered for meetings—September 26 and November 7—organized by STNA, MTNA and PBOT. It was hosted by Warner Pacific College. Participants discussed who uses Division, what’s working and what isn’t, learned about traffic calming and safety alternatives, and asked questions about proposed lane reconfigurations and about how to make Division St. safer.
The meetings found that Division St. has sometimes conflicting users. Cars drive down the street at high speeds. Some are local residents, some are accessing I-205 or I-84, others are commuters from East Portland and beyond.
The #4 bus line is one of the most heavily used lines in the city with 10+ buses an hour during peak commute times and four per hour other times. Police and fire emergency vehicles also use the street. Trucks make up about 5 percent of the traffic.
People on bicycles use Division St., but they often ride on the sidewalks to avoid the car traffic and make pedestrians feel unsafe (bike lanes coming from the east stop at 80th). Pedestrians walk along and cross Division to get to Mt. Tabor Park, Courtyard Plaza, Warner Pacific, Portland Community College and businesses along the street.
Major safety problems on Division include speeding and collisions. About 44 percent of drivers drive faster than the 35-mph posted speed. Rear-end, left-turn, and side-swipe crashes are the most common accidents.
Community members have identified a number of intersections that are dangerous for pedestrians to cross. Many described the high level of crashes and near crashes at 60th and Division.
Community members initially worried that lane reconfiguration would significantly reduce traffic flow and push drivers to cut through the neighborhood. It’s counter-intuitive for most of us to think that reducing the number of traffic lanes wouldn’t reduce traffic flow.
PBOT staff presented data from other streets in Portland and other cities where this has been tried. The data shows this type of reconfiguration reduces speeding, significantly reduces crashes, but doesn’t really decrease the capacity of the street for traffic flow.
National transportation authorities recommend this type of lane configuration for streets with up to 20-22,000 vehicle trips per day. Division St.’s volume is about 18,000 vehicle trips per day.
A similar configuration on Tacoma St. has worked fairly well with volumes over 25,000 vehicles per day. Capacity can be maintained because the two-way left turn lane allows left turning vehicles to make their turn without blocking the thru traffic. Cars use the turn lane to go around a stopped bus.
Participants examined alternatives, including more enforcement, signs, improved pedestrian crossings, flashing pedestrian lights, reducing the posted speed limit, and education of drivers.
Improved pedestrian crossings would help, but wouldn’t significantly reduce speeding and the number of collisions—especially those caused by people trying to make left turns from or onto Division.
Division’s current lane configuration requires expensive signals to accompany new pedestrian crossings because the pedestrian must cross four lanes of fast-moving traffic at one time.
Under the proposed reconfiguration, PBOT hopes to install rapid flash beacons at a fraction of the cost and has identified three locations to install these devices.
PBOT has funds available to do the restriping and could do it as soon as this summer. Some other improvements, such as crosswalk marking and lighting, flashing beacons, pedestrian islands, additional ADA curb ramps, traffic signal improvements, possible bus pullouts, etc. would require more funds.
PBOT joined with TriMet and ODOT to apply for grant that includes $500,000 to pay for these additional improvements and the staff feels that, given the high level of crashes and injuries on Division, they have a good chance of getting it. If they do, funds would be available in 2017.
By the end of the November 7 community meeting about three-quarters of the participants supported the lane reconfiguration proposal and encouraged PBOT to apply for the grant.
If the project goes ahead, PBOT assured participants that they will seek out community input to help determine that specifics of the design of any improvements, including input on where to put pedestrian improvements and other features.
Some community members are skeptical about the proposal, concerned that reducing the lanes would snarl traffic, push traffic into neighborhoods and create conflicts between buses and cars and bikes.
After 40 years of concerns, the people and the City are working together to improve safety for everyone on Division St. Continued community involvement is important to ensure whatever is implemented works and balances competing needs and uses.
A lot more information about the Safety Project,is at the PBOT website at www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/59284 or contact Clay Veka, firstname.lastname@example.org or 503.823.4998.
Share your thoughts about this project at the February and March STNA and MTNA meetings.
STNA: Thursday, February 21 and March 21. The meeting starts at 7 pm at Trinity Fellowship, 2700 SE 67th (rear entrance). Contact STNA at email@example.com or 503.774.7521.
MTNA: Wednesday, February 20 and March 20, 7 pm, at Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church, SE 54th and Belmont (entrance off 54th).