PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As part of a multi-year plan, safety upgrades are being made along Southeast 82nd Avenue in Portland — a street known for being dangerous for pedestrians.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation will be installing more speed reader boards along the 7-mile corridor, like the one recently placed near McDaniel High School on Northeast 82nd Avenue. The boards tell drivers to “Slow Down” and provide feedback on how fast they’re going.
PBOT says they’ll be adding new Advanced Transportation Controllers along 82nd Avenue as well. The technology allows traffic signals to be in better sync with one another and will enable PBOT to monitor and control the flow of traffic in real time.
The technology is expected to be installed at 18 intersections on 82nd Avenue, with the majority of the installations occurring later this week, PBOT stated in a release. Overall, PBOT and the Oregon Department of Transportation plan to add 21 new or upgraded crossings on 82nd Avenue to improve safety and fill many of the existing crossing gaps over the next several years.
According to PBOT, the new equipment will give pedestrians “head start signals” — an added protection for students getting to and from school. The pedestrian head start is a signal timing strategy that gives a walk signal several seconds before vehicles get a green light.
“Students at McDaniel High School who are, say, trying to catch the [bus]… they hit the button and then they are given about a three- to five-second head start and it allows them to get out into the crosswalk,” PBOT’s Reed Buterbaugh stated.
The change couldn’t come soon enough for Khanh Pham, the State Representative for Oregon House District 46 (Outer SE Portland), who’s been advocating for safety changes within the deadly 7-mile corridor of SE 82nd Ave. for years.
“We have kids who are crossing this five-lane highway to get to school. We have several elementary schools and high schools along 82nd Avenue,” Pham said. “In 2021, we lost two men in the space of two weeks, which was just heartbreaking for the community.”
Pham explained how every year, it almost feels like the community is bracing itself for what will be the next fatality as it’s become so normalized.
“That’s something that we as a community, we’re not accepting,” she said. “We cannot accept that as the new normal.”
Police say within the last 15 years, 20 people have been killed along the street. Rep. Pham tells KOIN 6 News she’s met the families of some of those victims.
“I am sick of issuing condolences to families. It is soul-crushing and I feel that’s what drives my urgency and my passion for advocating for these transportation investments… because otherwise, they’re just empty words,” said Pham. “I can’t keep issuing words of condolences to families and saying ‘We’re going to work to make it safer’ if we’re not actually backing it up with funding.”
Rep. Pham was a major part of the costly effort to transfer ownership of the street from the state to the City of Portland.
That change took place back in June 2022. After six months, the neighborhood is seeing the beginning of PBOT’s long list of improvements they say will happen over the next few years.
Portland Police Sgt. Ty Engstrom lauded the change but believes a big part of reducing traffic deaths depends on proactive traffic involvement — something the Portland Police Bureau hasn’t been able to do since its traffic division was dissolved in 2021 due to a staffing shortage.
“I think a number of things have to happen. PBOT’s doing all [it] can with the funds that they have to redesign roadway,” Engstrom said. “We just don’t have the capacity to get out there and do traffic enforcement and education from a law enforcement standpoint, and until we have a traffic division back, that’s probably not going to happen with any consistency.”
Engstrom says he believes the police bureau needs to get to a point of having enough staff to bring back the traffic division so they can focus on those dangerous roadways.
“There is a clear pattern of years where we had traffic division compared to the last couple [of] years where we haven’t had a traffic division — and our numbers have gone through the roof,” he stated.