By Garlynn Woodsong | CNA Board Member, SW1 Land Use & Transportation Committee Chair
In early August, a mother and her son, a student at Vernon Elementary School, were traveling on North Portland Highway (Hwy 30) when she lost control of her vehicle, it crossed the center line and impacted with an unoccupied truck and fifth-wheel on the opposite shoulder.
The car burst into flames, and both vehicle occupants died in the resulting fire. Police report the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed before impact.
A year ago, this space reported on the Columbia/Lombard project that Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) had embarked upon to study conditions along those roadways, and recommend safety improvements.
Since that time, absolutely no safety improvements have been made to Lombard Street, meaning nothing prevents future tragedies such as this one from occurring again, and again and again.
It’s an unsafe highway, and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) does not appear to feel any motivation in the slightest to fix it to make it safer for travelers and nearby residents.
On the contrary, ODOT appears to feel its only required role is to justify why continuing the status quo is the only outcome they’re interested in.
The time has thus come to remove North Portland Highway from ODOT’s jurisdiction, and to transfer responsibility for the roadway to PBOT. This will free the roadway from needing to meet ODOT standards, and allow for alternative design solutions to be implemented.
Concordia Neighborhood Association suggests the facility be put onto a “road diet.” The roadway cross-section would have a continuous sidewalk, street trees and a two-directional cycle track on the south side next to the neighborhood.
Then add another row of trees, on-street parking, a single eastbound traffic lane, a median with trees and turn pockets at intersections, and a single westbound traffic lane with a shoulder/ break-down lane.
The trees would limit the ability of traffic to cross the center line, reducing the severity of crashes. With only one lane in each direction, the temptation to speed to pass other vehicles would be eliminated and, with lower speeds, would also come fewer crashes and deaths.
A protected cycle track and new sidewalk would allow bicycles and pedestrians to travel east and west along the corridor safely and comfortably. The trees would provide shade to reduce the urban heat island effect, where large expanses of asphalt cause excessive heat on hot summer days. They would also help to capture pollution, trapping it on their exposed leaf and branch surfaces until it can be washed away in the next rain.
It’s past time to stop making excuses for why bad designs have to remain. It’s time to start building the safer future that we need to manifest to stop the senseless deaths on this blood-stained piece of local infrastructure.
Garlynn Woodsong lives on 29th Avenue, serves on the CNA board and is an avid bicyclist. He also is a dad who is passionate about the city his son will inherit. He is the planning + development partner with Cascadia Partners LLC, a local urban planning firm. Contact him at LandUse@ ConcordiaPDX.org.