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City of Portland to remove hundreds of lamp posts from parks due to safety issues

The city plans to replace the light poles across 12 parks but has not yet secured the funding to do so.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The city of Portland is removing hundreds of light poles from Portland parks as part of its Light Pole Safety Project.

Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) said the city recently inspected 1,000 light poles, some of them more than 100 years old, and found that 243 of them across 12 parks were structurally unsound and needed to be removed.

Nearly all of the impacted parks on the list are in Southeast Portland.

At Mount Tabor Park, 81 of the park’s 216 light poles are slated to be removed. In Irving Park, 73 of the park’s 78 light poles are in the process of being removed, and in Sellwood Park, 17 of its 23 light poles have already been removed.

“If there's no lights in the park then I would feel like I couldn't come to the park even at dusk. It wouldn't feel safe for me,” said Carrie Holly, while visiting Sellwood Park on Friday. “I feel like that's even a bigger public safety issue than whatever happened to cause this to happen in the first place.”

The light pole project follows legal action taken against the city. As first reported by the Willamette Week, an attorney sent the city a tort claim last summer. It alleged the plaintiff was injured after laying in a hammock tied to a cement lamp post and a tree in Irving Park. The claim said the post broke and fell on the plaintiff. 

With that in mind, some park users are more understanding about what the city is doing.

“It is annoying to not have light when it's dark out,” said Rachel Weisshaar, while visiting Sellwood Park. “But even one catastrophic mishap is really catastrophic. That's probably what the city is trying to balance.”

The city estimates the project will cost $15 million to complete, but right now they only have $5 million slated to cover it. So while all the lights are coming out now, it's unclear when funding will be available to replace them. 

In the meantime, PP&R said they will have park rangers prioritize visiting the affected parks and also plans to close parks with diminished lighting early at 10 p.m.

The friends of Mount Tabor Park sent Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler a letter asking the city to slow the light pole removals on the grounds of safety and historic preservation.

“Turning off the lights is likely to lead to more crime and injuries and more lawsuits,” the letter noted.

KGW asked PP&R why they couldn't just repair the light poles in question. A parks spokesperson said their team evaluated that option, and it was not recommended. They added that to properly address safety issues with anchoring, would also require addressing the poles and their foundations.

It's a tough one for many park-goers feeling left in the dark.

“If they had hung [the hammock] between two trees and the branch fell are they going to cut down the whole tree?” asked Holly. “No, of course not. Well maybe they would, I don't know."

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