A new crosswalk may be right around the corner


Clarion photo Ashley Lytle

A student crosses the street at the location of the proposed sidewalk

By Emily Diamond, Editor-in-Chief

Recent collisions and speedy traffic on Powell and 26th have caused parents and administrators to worry for students’ safety. Powell Boulevard, also acknowledged as US26 highway, has a 50 percent higher pedestrian crash rate than citywide and has had six fatal pedestrian crashes in the past 10 years.

“I worry about the fast traffic,” Principal Tammy O’Neill said. “Powell is its own huge beast.”

According to Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Powell Boulevard from Southeast 20th to 34th serves 35,000 cars and trucks per day, not accounting for transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians.

“Potential factors that contribute to these crashes include poor visibility of cyclists and pedestrians, limited sight distances, frequent turns, and side streets that are close together,” the website reports.

O’Neill gathered a group of concerned parents and established a committee called “Families for a Safer Powell” that aims to improve safety at Cleveland and Powell in general. The committee unites the district and school with community members and parents to advocate with government agencies about enforcing safety measures.

“The two most recent bike accidents at the corner of SE 26th and Powell, as well as the fast moving traffic and large number of pedestrians and bicycles at that intersection, have been a catalyst for convening our committee,” said Rebecca Friedenwald, president of the PTA and a board member.

The group is in support of installing a marked crosswalk at the intersection of SE 26th and Franklin as well as implementing other safety measures to reduce potential accidents.

“Hundreds of kids, teachers and parents jaywalk across SE 26th every day,” said Friedenwald.

“Although we can do all the work in the world to educate kids and adults and tell them to walk across the crosswalk, human behavior often says to cross at the easiest spot,” O’Neill said.

Many students also believe traffic safety is a prominent concern. “Building a crosswalk should be a priority because everyday students and teachers cross the street at that intersection and it creates a dangerous environment for both people driving and people walking because of the absence of a crosswalk,” senior Lily Davis said.

The dangerous traffic and lack of safety was a major contributing factor to one family’s decision to send their children elsewhere. “We chose not to send our eldest to Cleveland and will not be sending our 13 year old either mainly due to to safety concerns,” said parent Tama Rubin.

Through O’Neill’s and the committee’s advocacy, the city of Portland hired a traffic engineer that performed a Powell Boulevard Safety Audit. The team spent one week in the field observing traffic behavior and transportation and determined there was a need for a crosswalk and other improved safety measures.

ODOT is also concerned about traffic on Powell. As stated by the ODOT site, project elements include “three enhanced pedestrian signals to alert drivers that pedestrians are crossing, high visibility striping and center islands, a wider pedestrian waiting area on the southeast corner of 26th and Powell, new signals at many intersections, improved street lighting,” and more.

“We need a different vision for Powell. Students and faculty need to know that they have a strong voice,” said Dan Kaufman, facilitator of Families for a Safer Powell.

The project on Powell is expected to be constructed in 2017 and aims to reduce serious crashes while minimizing traffic. This plan correlates with Portland’s plan called Vision Zero, which hopes to achieve zero deaths and serious injuries on the roadways by 2025.

Now that most parents, administrators, community members, and traffic engineers have come to a consensus about safety improvements, the main issue for installing a crosswalk is lack of funding.

“It can’t be installed until some unfunded capital improvements are completed, namely getting rid of the parking lot driveway on SE 26th,” said Friedenwald. “We are now on a list for these unfunded improvements.”

Since Powell Boulevard is a registered highway and owned by the state, Cleveland High School and Families for a Safer Powell aren’t able to contribute their own money; the funds come from taxes.

O’Neill believes we should accommodate for the growing population in Portland by allocating more money towards infrastructure. “I understand that money is short everywhere but traffic safety items and pedestrian and bike safety items are part of the infrastructure,” O’Neill said. “When more people move into a city, we need better and more efficient infrastructure components that make the city livable.”

With more funds, it is hoped the project will proceed timely. Ultimately, parents and community members simply want to ensure students’ and civilians’ safety.

“We have a right to expect that we would have safety measures to both slow down the traffic and make sure we can cross in ways that are safe for everyone,” O’Neill said.