Safety advocates raise alarm at plans for SE Powell crossing at 79th

    A bicycle rider waits for a chance to cross SE Powell at 79th. View is looking south. (Aaron Kuehn/Instagram)

    Doing it right is more important than getting it done quickly. That’s the message road safety advocates have for the Oregon Department of Transportation after learning about imminent plans to finally build a new crossing treatment on Southeast Powell Boulevard at 79th.

    Crossing marked in red.

    This crossing (see map at right) has always been risky. It’s not just the four lanes of fast, state highway traffic on Powell you have to worry about. 79th is also a small, forgettable road at this location and on the south side it emerges from a frontage road. At just 700 feet west of roaring 82nd Avenue (another state highway), most drivers barely notice 79th at all, much less a person waiting to walk or bike across it.

    That’s why a new crossing was first identified and funded in 2013 and neighbors have been pushing for years for a safer way across. And now, with a major investment coming to 82nd Avenue and the importance of 79th as the designated route of the 70s Neighborhood Greenway, this key north-south route is more important than ever.

    It’s also why last week, three local nonprofits sent a letter to the three agencies that have a say in what happens here: the Oregon Department of Transportation, TriMet, and the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

    “We are writing to convey our concern that current designs for improvements at SE 79th and Powell will not create a crossing that is direct, safe, and comfortable for all users,” reads the letter, signed by leaders of Oregon Walks, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), the Vestal Elementary Bike Bus, and BikeLoud PDX.

    The groups point out that SE Powell is one of the deadliest streets in Portland and that plans on the table don’t go far enough to help people get safely across it.

    As you can see in the images, the crossing currently has no marked crosswalks. According to the letter (based on plans obtained by BikeLoud PDX via public records requests), ODOT plans to install a “Crosswalk Closed” sign on the eastern corners. That closure would limit crossing options for walkers and bike riders and would, “Add out-of-direction travel and increase pedestrian exposure to traffic by requiring up to three separate crossings to reach the bus stop at the southeast corner of the intersection,” the letter states.

    BikeLoud says they’ve asked ODOT, PBOT and TriMet to explain why the closure is necessary, but have not heard a satisfactory response.

    Making matters worse, TriMet’s plan for the crossing appears to differ from ODOT’s (TriMet has oversight due to their Powell-Division Corridor Safety plan), and would have bike riders cross at an angle, northeast across Powell. “If professional planners disagree on how the design will be used, it is unlikely to be clear to ordinary road users, either for cyclists using the crossing or for drivers watching for crossing cyclist,” reads the letter.

    ODOT plans to install a flashing beacon on the western crossing of the intersection, but advocates say a four-lane state highway with a record if crashes like Powell requires a full signal or some other treatment that requires drivers to stop on a solid red phase.

    In addition to a stronger crossing treatment, the advocates say both crossings must remain open. They also want the agencies to get together and hash out a better plan.

    “The time for action is now, the current plan would continue to reinforce the car-first design of the Powell corridor, and building it as currently envisioned would lock in that compromised design for decades to come.”

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