PORTLAND, Ore. — Apart from a constant flow of cyclists, the intersection of Northeast 7th Avenue and Tillamook Street was relatively quiet Sunday morning. However, those who live in the neighborhood described the street as a freeway for speeding cars trying to bypass the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“They honk at people. They’ve honked at me. They scream at people. The behavior is really out of sync with what you’d expect a driver to behave like in a residential area,” explained Robbyn Peters Bennett, who’s lived in the Eliot neighborhood for eight years. “It makes it an incredibly dangerous environment.”
To improve safety and visibility, the Portland Bureau of Transportation said it is removing a traffic circle and large tree at the Tillamook Street and 7th Avenue intersection and putting in crosswalks and bike lanes.
According to Bike Portland, a news outlet focused on city transportation, about 4-6,000 cars use Northeast 7th Avenue every day. PBOT is hoping to get that down to 1,000 or less. They said this will also make it easier for cyclists to access a new Congressman Earl Blumenauer Bicycle Bridge. However, neighbors fear their plan will only make things worse.
“We are concerned that right now the traffic circle is the only mitigation that we have against speed and it’s an actual, physical impediment that prevents cars from going faster,” said neighbor Rose Francis.
“I know there’s not going to be a perfect answer, but I don’t think that what they came up with is functional because they didn’t talk to us in the first place,” added Jerry Thompson, whose car has been hit by oncoming traffic on 7th Avenue.
Another neighbor told KGW her car was totaled a few months ago by a drunk driver going too fast down 7th Avenue.
“We got to do something down here,” said Thompson.
Last week PBOT met with about 70 neighbors at the traffic circle to hear their concerns. PBOT told KGW the meeting was productive and they’re now working on an updated design for the road.
“When do you ever have a situation here where almost every single neighbor is upset about the island being removed for a variety of reasons, but the underlying reason is that we have an over-utilized road in a neighborhood that was historically African American and is now interracial but still is neglected,” said Peters Bennett.
After the meeting, PBOT sent neighbors a new design and said they’ll come back once the traffic circle is removed to put in speed bumps.
“At this point even the additions that they’ve added ... while we appreciate that they’re trying to do something to address our concerns, it's very last minute. There’s no time for us to engage on the technical aspects of how effective we feel that will or won’t be,” said Francis.
“They need to pump their brakes and reconsider what the real needs of the neighborhood are,” said Thompson. Neighbors were told PBOT will begin work on Monday and they have until then to sign off on the new construction plan.