The Portland Bureau of Transportation envisions that in just a few short years, East Portland's Gateway district will evolve from a poorly connected high-crash area to a good friend of cyclists and pedestrians.
In all, Gateway is home to 13 transportation projects slated for completion by the end of 2019. Those should make it a safer and easier place for residents to get around.
The area has many wide streets with multiple lanes of traffic, where people tend to drive faster, meaning more people are hit and killed.
"A high proportion of (injuries and fatalities are) in East Portland, where we do have these major roads cutting through across the area," says Hannah Schafer, transportation bureau spokeswoman. To address the problem of traffic fatalities throughout Portland, the city created Vision Zero, an effort to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero in the next 10 years.
East Portland stands out compared to the rest of the city.
According to the transportation bureau, a person walking in East Portland is more than twice as likely to be struck by a car than those in other parts of Portland. In the past 10 years, 478 crashes were reported on Northeast Halsey Street between 122nd and 162nd avenues; 19 of those resulted in fatalities or near-death injuries.
Planned projects will bring new bike lanes, reduce the size of streets, and promote biking, transit use and walking versus car dependency.
In the Gateway area, bounded by Interstate 84 to the north, East Burnside Street to the south and Interstate 205 to the west, only 1 percent of commuters get around by bicycle.
"There's a lot of things going in that will make it easier for people to ride their bikes," says Linda Robinson, chairwoman of Friends of Gateway Green and member of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association. Gateway Green is a new mountain biking park between I-84 and I-205. Robinson is 73 and started riding regularly at 65. She refuses to ride on Northeast Halsey Street because of fast traffic and debris in the bike lane. "Speaking as an older person who rides their bike ... I put it on the rack and go somewhere else. But I will ride if (the projects) make it safer to get around."
The Big Jump
In January, Portland was one of 10 cities selected to win a Big Jump grant to work with PeopleForBikes on improving bicycle infrastructure in the Gateway area, as part of the "Gateway to Opportunity" project.
PeopleForBikes, a Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit, will provide the equivalent of $200,000 in technical support, in addition to $50,000 in matching funds or financial commitments from local organizations.
Eighty cities applied. The kickoff of the nationwide event will take place in Madison, Wisconsin, in June.
Last fall, the city responded to a challenge posed by the nonprofit, which it had worked with previously on The Green Lane project to install protected bike lanes. Protected lanes are designated for cyclists so they don't have to intermingle with motorized traffic.
For the Big Jump grant, PeopleForBikes asked applicants to pinpoint an area with roughly 20,000 people where bike ridership can be tripled within three years.
"Because of the short timeframe of three years, we had to figure out, where do we already have a lot of projects going in and where does it make sense to do this," says Timur Ender, the transportation bureau's special projects manager. Ender says the "sheer number of projects" happening in the Gateway area, backed by City Council and urban renewal funding from the Portland Development Commission, made it a logical place for a Big Jump application.
Not very Portlandia-like
In its application, the bureau called the area "very car-oriented and quite different from the 'Portlandia' image of Portland many read about in travel blogs."
Better transit access was an important factor in addressing the area's needs, in addition to the high number of fatalities, according to Kyle Wagenschutz, director of local innovation with PeopleForBikes.
The bureau plans to closely link transit to the project so people can more seamlessly and safely get from one place to the other without a car.
"We're very intentional about the role of transit," Ender says. "Because ideally the vision we have is that someone can go to their house anywhere in the area, use the neighborhood greenway, connect to a protected bikeway, use the rapid flashing beacon to catch the bus to go downtown ... that all of these transitions between various modes of transport can happen seamlessly and with very limited interaction with motor vehicles."
Neighborhood greenways are designated low-traffic and low-speed streets where cyclists and pedestrians are given priority.
Serving the underserved
The project also aims to address "historic inequities."
"That's part of the Vision Zero process. We're going to intentionally focus on areas that have not received benefits and services that other parts of the city have received," Ender says.
East Portland is among the most diverse areas of Portland; more than 40 percent of the population is non-white.
Residents have long been deprived of safe ways to walk and bike through the area, Ender says. "I think people in historically underrepresented communities want options," he says.
In its application, the bureau says the city has trouble reaching such communities to let them know about enhanced crossings or new neighborhood greenways.
The bureau plans to use "culturally appropriate translated materials" as a strategy to increase ridership.
Additionally, Portland's Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization will work with the bureau by hosting meetings, community outreach or introducing newly arrived refugees to bicycle options as part of their orientation to Portland, says Kaitlin Barker Davis, IRCO spokeswoman.
IRCO's main office and its Africa House are located in the Gateway district. Africa House provides services to African immigrants and refugees in Portland. Davis says the organization has worked closely with the city to help improve transportation safety, access to transit, safe routes to school and connections to parks and open spaces for immigrants and refugees living in Portland.
"We believe this project will help people in our neighborhood to reach destinations like parks, schools, transit centers and libraries safer with more options," Davis says.
In an unveiling of sorts, the bureau is adding the Gateway area for the first time to its Sunday Parkways program that begins in May. In its 10th year, the program holds five events a year in selected neighborhoods where it opens a traffic-free route so people can see the area from a different perspective.
"Sunday Parkways bring people to the party," Ender says. "Basically, where we do infrastructure investments, we specifically try to choose the route so that it travels on neighborhood greenways ... so it can show off some of the investments we have made."
Many of those investments aren't visible yet, so Ender says it'll require "imagination of what's to come."
"The funding is there," Schafer assures, saying "it will transform" Gateway.