PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Locals living in East Portland have formed a group opposing recent changes to a major stretch of Northeast Glisan street, spanning 122nd to 162nd avenues.
The $400,000 Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) project included a reduction of car lanes from two each way, to just one.
Linda See of Glisan Commuters Initiative said the changes don’t represent the desires of many local residents she’s spoken with.
“They have taken away two traffic lanes. They have pushed the parking into the area of the street where it becomes a terrible line of sight issue for us,” she said.
See has been a resident of Northeast Portland’s Hazelwood Neighborhood for 20 years. She spearheaded the group of about 10 who oppose the changes, called the Glisan Commuters Initiative. The group has received the full support of Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, she said, some members of which are also associated with her group.
“The concern of this task force, which is a group of Glisan-area residents, is that we are not comfortable with PBOT’s rationale for what they’ve done to Glisan Street,” See said.
Chris Fisher is another member of the group. He says the rush hour traffic has caused traffic backups and slow downs that are a pain for his morning commute across town.
“I’m not against cyclists and people who use their bikes. And if somebody does agree with it, I would love to hear their opinion on it also. But I feel that the people who live in this area, and who have lived in this area for many years, should have a say in it. It should be taken to a vote,” Fisher said.
PBOT spokesperson Hannah Schafer said the agency implemented the East Glisan Street Update beginning last summer as a measure to improve safety, since the stretch of road is rated as the fourth most dangerous in the city for drivers.
“The rationale was really about safety. This is a street that people were dying on. And that’s unacceptable. As a transportation bureau, it’s our responsibility to make our streets safer for everyone who uses them. And so we need to make changes to allow for that,” she said.
Five people have died on Northeast Glisan Street in the last decade, according to PBOT’s website, and dozens more were seriously injured.
The agency is currently crunching the numbers to evaluate whether the recent changes resulted in a safer street, Schafer said.
“I had just heard back from our project manager who’s working on that and early, early numbers seem to indicate that speeds are slowing down, which means that it’s getting safer. And we aren’t seeing cut through traffic on neighborhood streets, which was one of the concerns that we had heard from the community.”
Schafer added that the authorization for the project comes from transportation plans focused on East Portland, known as East Portland in Motion and East Portland Action Plan.
The community input conducted for those plans were gathered in a variety of ways, Schafer said. That included holding open houses face-to-face with community members at local schools and community organizations starting in the early 2010s. PBOT also conducted informal online surveys, she said.
The funding for the the East Glisan Street Update, which totaled $400,000, came from Transportation Development Charges, General Transportation Revenue, a federal grant, and City of Portland Cannabis Tax, Schafer said.
Some East Portland community members support the recent changes, like the nearby Rosewood Initiative, located at Southeast Stark and 162nd. They are a community improvement non-profit that has weighed in favor of the lane reduction.
“Lane reductions and lane narrowing are proven methods for slowing people down. And it’s the speed that is the killer,” said Rosewood Initiative Director of Transportation Equity Kem Marks.
Marks said many vulnerable populations who can’t drive, such as children and the elderly, were at particular risk for getting hurt or killed with Northeast Glisan Street’s previous configuration.
The changes included adding a flashing beacon crosswalk in front of nearby Menlo Park Elementary School. Though there is a pedestrian bridge in place in front of the school, the added crosswalk represents the first instance of a wheelchair accessible mode of crossing the street at that location.
“These changes will also benefit drivers. Because people won’t be driving erratically, like you see on these wide roads where people are speeding, people are tailgating, people are weaving in and out of traffic,” Marks added.
It’s notable that a study from 2019 found that city streets that have protected bike lanes with a physical barrier between the bike lane and the vehicle lane tend to be safer, for both drivers and non-vehicle users, according to an article from Popular Science. A segment of Northeast Glisan Street now has similar protected bike lanes.
Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) is a non-profit that’s located on Northeast Glisan Street near 102nd. They expressed a somewhat mixed reaction to the changes.
“We welcome any updates that make transportation more accessible for our immigrant and refugee communities, however we are equally concerned about the safety consequences associated with transportation construction projects on major streets like Glisan,” a spokesperson for IRCO told KOIN 6 News in an email.
If PBOT’s spring evaluation of the initial phase of East Glisan Street Update significantly contradict the agency’s stated goals for the project, they may modify the design, spokesperson Hannah Schafer said.
PBOT’s evaluation guide lists reduction of crashes, lowering of average vehicle speeds, no increase in transit delays and no increase in peak travel time congestion as desired outcomes of the project.
Chris Fisher, of the Glisan Commuters Initiative, hopes that reverting back to four lanes may still be a possibility.
“This is just something they need to reverse and just make it four lanes. Like I stated before, we live in an overpopulated city. We have a lot of people moving to this area daily. And taking four lanes to two absolutely makes zero sense, in my opinion.”
Phase two of the project is slated to begin summer 2020 and includes updates to Northeast Glisan Street spanning 102nd to 122nd avenues. The west-bound segment for that stretch will get reduced to one lane, from Northeast 108th to 122nd avenues, while the east-bound stretch will stay two lanes. The improvements will also include the addition of multiple pedestrian-activated traffic lights at various intersections.
Much of Northeast Glisan Street has only one side illuminated by street lights. Installing lights on both sides of the street is something for which PBOT is trying to secure funding, Schafer said.
To get in touch with Glisan Commuters Initiative, email committee chair Linda See at firstname.lastname@example.org.