Streetscape Approved 5-0

Yesterday the City Council approved the Foster Streetscape Plan, greenlighting $5.25 million in pedestrian safety improvements for Foster Road between 50th and 90th Avenues.

The unanimous vote comes after more than a decade of activism by neighborhood leaders and small business people seeking to make Foster Road safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

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The most controversial element of the plan is the "road diet" that would shrink the street's profile for 24 blocks of the 40 block project area. The current configuration has two travel lanes in each direction. Once completed, the new profile would have a single travel lane in each direction, plus a center turn lane. The additional space would also allow bike lanes in both directions.

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Introducing Oregon’s newest State Senator, Michael Dembrow

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Dembrow was appointed to the Oregon State Senate after three terms in the House.

Earlier this year, when Senator Jackie Dingfelder stepped down from the Legislature to work for Mayor Charlie Hales, Michael sought and won the appointment to serve the remainder of her term in the Senate.

senatordembrow2014In the process, he inherited about 60,000 new constituents, including almost all the residents of South Tabor, Foster-Powell and Mt. Scott-Arleta, plus a sizable chunk of Lents.

He was kind enough to talk with Foster United about what motivates his political involvement, where he sees this part of Southeast Portland going, and how he intends to engage with 60,000 new constituents who may not know him yet. (more…)

City Council Approves Additional Federal Dollars for Foster Streetscape

Today the City Council approved an additional $2 million in funding for the Foster Road Transportation Safety & Streetscape project. That amount will be added to $3.25 million already identified for the 2.2-mile long project.

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Dan Bower and Mark Lear present PBOT’s recommendations on federal transportation funding to Mayor Hales and the City Council.

The Council approved PBOT’s recommended project list for the Metro Area’s Regional Flexible Funds for Fiscal Years 2016-2018. That recommendation now goes to the regionwide Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT), where it is expected to receive final approval next month.

The Council’s full funding recommendation also included $8.3 million for transportation improvements in East Portland, $1.9 million for improvements to SW Barbur Boulevard, $6 million for improvements in the Central City, and $3.7 million for freight access improvements at Swan Island and Rivergate.

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick told the Council that “investments that make it easier to walk, bike and take transit also contribute to improving our economy. They’re not just about liveability. They’re not just about reducing our carbon footprint. They’re not just about safety. They’re also about economic development.”

The Foster Road project made the final cut with unusually broad public support, which included Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, Oregon Walks, OPAL Environmental Justice and The Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Local citizens submitted more than 150 public comments in favor of the project, far outpacing support for any other project in the region.

Road Diets coming to Division and Glisan Streets

As Foster Road waits for its own traffic calming measures, the City is moving forward with help for our neighbors to the North.

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Construction begins on NE Glisan Street near where Heather Fitzsimmons was killed last winter.

On the evening of January 29th, Heather Jean Fitzsimmons was crossing NE Glisan Street, using the marked crosswalk at 78th Avenue. She was hit and killed when a driver pulled around another car that had stopped to let her cross.

Heather was 29 years old and worked in the after-school program at nearby Vestal Elementary School. The driver was not charged.

Locals have been upset about reckless driving in this area for a long time, and following Heather’s death, resident Benjamin Kerensa began documenting the dangerous conditions and lax enforcement in the area. His video of the scene was picked up by the Oregonian and has more than 5000 hits on youtube.

After a series of public meetings and enforcement actions, this month PBOT began rebuilding the roadway on NE Glisan between 60th and 82nd Avenues.

When completed by this fall, the former four-lane configuration will be replaced by a single lane in each direction, with a center turn lane. This kind of street profile is considerably safer for pedestrians because it avoids the type of “multiple threat crash” that killed Heather Fitzsimmons. (more…)

PDC Disbands Lents Citizen Advisory Committee

A few weeks ago, the PDC quietly disbanded the Urban Renewal Advisory Committees –the citizen committees that advise the agency in its urban renewal areas. That includes the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Advisory Committee, which has guided our 9-neighborhood, $245 million urban renewal area since 1998.

According to the PDC, the URACs are intended “to involve citizens, urban renewal area (URA) stakeholders and/or project partners more directly in planning, program development and decision making.” Agency policy is that the PDC “believes that meaningful, timely, effective public participation is essential to successfully implement PDC policies and projects.”

pdc_2PDC staffer Justin Douglas talked to me about what led up to the change in policy.

“PDC has been undergoing significant downsizing as an agency. We’re just as committed to public participation as we were before –but due to financial constraints, the URAC system just isn’t a sustainable model for us.” He said that due to budget cuts, the five full-time public participation staffers the agency had a few years ago are now down to one.

I also spoke with John Notis, the now-former Chair of the LTCURAC. He told me that the URAC has become ineffectual and that it “just doesn’t do what it used to do, for many reasons.”

Former Foster-Powell Chair Tracy Gratto has represented Fo-po on the URAC for the last three years. She agreed that the PDC has rendered URAC participation a largely meaningless exercise. “They haven’t asked us to make a decision in months,” she says.

I asked Tracy how she was notified of the change in policy, and she said that due to a recent illness she was unable to attend the June URAC meeting. Although she had an inkling that a change in PDC’s policy on public participation was being discussed, she had no idea such a drastic change was imminent. (more…)

Public Comment Period Now Open – Metro Holds Public Hearing on Regional Flexible Funds

Last night, Metro held a public hearing that could have a big impact on funding for the long-delayed Streetscape improvements to Foster Road.

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The 90-minute meeting of JPACT –the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation –was held to hear from the public on a proposed list of projects being considered for the upcoming round of federal transportation dollars –a.k.a the “Regional Flexible Funds” for fiscal years 2016-18. (more…)

Bus Riders Unite! calls 82nd & Foster one of the Worst Bus Stops in Portland

Last week, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and Bus Riders Unite! led the final meeting of their East Portland Bus Stop Prioritization project. The result was a list of the three worst bus stops in the City –a short list that includes one busy and chronically bad stop at 82nd and Foster.

portlands_worst_bus_atop_1The two-year long project involved an extensive public process, described as “Survivor-style” by the seriously great portlandafoot.org blog. The end result was that a broad group of transit users identified the East Portland bus stops in most need of upgrades.

On that short list: the sliver of sidewalk on the north side of Foster where hundreds of riders get on or off every weekday.

BRU! activist Eavan Moore told me that the stop’s heavy usage easily justifies a shelter, but there isn’t space to accomodate one given the narrow sidewalk there.

“Widening that sidewalk, by extending it into the street and/or by extending it into the adjacent parking lot, is a critical first step to making other improvements,” she says. Eavan would also like to see a garbage can, a posted schedule and better lighting too, but everything hinges on finding a way to create more space in the substandard sidewalk.

Purchasing part of the Wells Fargo parking lot to expand the sidewalk and bus stop is possible, but acquiring privately-owned right-of-way can be expensive, and hasn’t been something that’s been discussed so far by PBOT’s Foster Streetscape committee.

That’s not surprising, given the meager resources the City has allocated to that 2+ mile project.

Similarly, there’s a lot of competition for space within the existing roadway — making expansion there problematic too. The current configuration includes four auto through-lanes plus a center turn lane. The City’s 2010 Bike Plan anticipates bike lanes being added to the mix, and the 2009 Streetcar Plan includes a future Streetcar line here as well. So far, the Lents Neighborhood Association has opposed any reduction in auto lanes in the area.

It’s possible that the ongoing Foster Streetscape project could take these improvements on, but time is running short. None of the eight different possible street profiles considered by PBOT and the Streetscape committee for this area have included plans for expansion of these sidewalks beyond the current 5-foot width. (See http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/425424 at pp.9-11)

Other options could include requesting funds for improvements from Tri-Met or the PDC, but either of those paths could take years to see results on the ground.

But the activists working on the East Portland Bus Stop Prioritization Project expect to be involved for the long haul.

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OPAL Executive Director Jonathan Oster told me that the project is intended as a first step, enabling “the people who actually ride the buses in East Portland to identify, assess and prioritize the most important bus stops that warrant improvements in terms of amenities and infrastructure.” He says that the project screened more than 150 bus stops to identify 20 for further assessment. Of those, riders from the community chose the top 3 in need of immediate help.

The other two stops on the “3 Worst” list are both on SE Powell Boulevard: One is at 122nd and the other is at 127th. Both of those locations have similar issues to Foster and 82nd: inadequate space, poor lighting and amenities and terrible access for people with disabilities.

People looking to get involved in the movement for better bus stops or other aspects of advocacy for transit riders should get in touch with Bus Riders Unite! here.

The Other Main Street: 82nd Avenue

 While we’re still in the midst of discussions about the future of Foster Road, the whispers of improving another street in need are just beginning. If neighborhood activists get their way, 82nd Avenue will be next on the list for a major revamp.

For better or for worse, Foster neighborhoods are also 82nd Avenue neighborhoods. Foster-Powell’s unique shape means that half of their population lives about 1/2 mile from  82nd Ave. One of Mt. Scott-Arleta’s most beloved bars, the Lion’s Eye, fronts 82nd Ave. And Lents, in it’s quest to be the Town Center of the future, needs to bring people across the 82nd divide. This can be challenging given the physical barrier the street poses.

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Foster Streetscape Diary #4: The Amazing Migrating Project

It may be getting colder outside, but discussions of the future of Foster Road are heating up. Tomorrow (Thursday), the Citizen Advisory Committee will meet for the fourth time, 6 to 8 pm at SE Works, 7916 SE Foster. Foster United will post audio from the meeting here for those unable to attend.

The Amazing Migrating Project

Among the most discouraging recent developments is the complete abandonment of Foster Road from 50th to 52nd Avenues.

While looking at street profiles last time, PBOT Project Manager Mauricio Leclerc told the committee that the first two blocks “need a lot of capacity” and that “it’s going to be very hard to do much” because of the current 5-lane cross section. He also said that there wouldn’t be a need to extend the bikeway to 50th, since neither 50th nor Powell have bike routes currently.

Foster at Night (more…)