PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Following the fatal crash on Southeast Powell Boulevard, which killed Portland chef Sarah Pliner, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is calling for immediate safety fixes along the road and throughout the city.
Along with offering her condolences over Pliner’s death in a press release on Thursday, Hardesty called out the Oregon Department of Transportation, which currently controls the road, for not responding to previous community outcry about the state of the intersection.
“Every traffic fatality is one too many,” Hardesty said. “This was a preventable death at an intersection that [the Portland Bureau of Transportation], alongside [the] community, had previously advocated for substantial safety improvements to be made by ODOT, including a bike lane. ODOT opted for a different option and this intersection remains far too dangerous for pedestrians and bike riders.”
Hardesty also called on continued efforts to have Powell transferred to city control through PBOT, but transportation officials say that could take years and approval through the state legislature — urging quicker changes in the meantime.
“This doesn’t have to take years and years. There are safety improvements that can take place very quickly at the intersection if ODOT decides to do them,” said Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesperson Dylan Rivera. “It’s within our control to do something about these traffic fatalities, so we as a community need to work together with state agencies, with transit agencies, with county and other agencies to make progress on safety every week, every month until we limit traffic fatalities.”
Hardesty also asks for ODOT to work with PBOT to help figure out what it would take to improve Powell to higher safety standards.
“In the immediate term, we ask ODOT to listen to the asks from organizations like the Street Trust and local community members who know what needs to be done to make this intersection safer. ODOT can make changes to Powell and other urban arterials today,” Hardesty concluded. “Their own Blueprint for Urban Design lays out strategies for safer urban arterials that they can apply. ODOT must implement safety improvements as soon as possible for the safety of Portlanders and all who travel through our City.”
“It’s a very busy corridor,” said Don Hamilton, spokesperson for the Oregon Dept. of Transportation. “We’ve got a lot of heavy-duty trucks going through there, buses, commuters, and they’re all in there with bicycles and skateboards and students.”
After a cyclist was seriously injured in a 2015 crash at the intersection of SE 26th and Powell and another injured weeks later, ODOT underwent a years-long project along the corridor.
“That’s included new traffic signals along there, new crosswalks, better lighting, new signs,” said Hamilton. “We’ve tried to make a lot of improvements in here.”
However, after 50-year-old prominent chef and cyclist Sarah Pliner was killed by a semi-truck on her bike at the intersection Tuesday morning, some locals are calling for more to be done.
“We want emergency treatments here, so nothing happens even while we’re exploring next steps, like put it in now,” said Sarah Iannarone, executive director of The Street Trust. “I think they think that what they’re doing might be working, but we don’t think that what they’re doing is really working.”
The Street Trust focuses on safety and access for other modes of transportation in the metro — like cycling and walking. According to ODOT records, 126 crashes were reported along SE Powell between 20th and 28th from 2016-2020.
Only one was fatal and two crashes — not fatal — involved cyclists. In addition to wanting “high crash intersection” signs posted, Iannarone says with Cleveland High School students using that stretch daily, she believes more safety measures could be taken immediately.
“We put up fences or put up those concrete jersey barriers, I know all of the DOTs have those in their storage yards,” said Iannarone. “It just needs so much more care and attention to manage all of that activity and those various uses that people want to do in this space.”
“The most fundamental thing is to restore the bike lane on 26th Avenue, restore the bike box that was there before. Those are the very simple things that can be done with paint and striping materials,” said Rivera, “No matter where you are in the intersection, the beginning, the middle, the end, you know that this is somewhere I can expect to see someone on a bike.”
With the crash investigation ongoing, Hamilton says while safety is still top of mind, they need to know what exactly led to Pliner’s death to know what needs to be done specifically, to make 26th and Powell safer.
“Once we know just what happened along here, we’ll find out, if anything can be done to try to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Hamilton.
ODOT is also working to comment on Commissioner Hardesty’s statement.