A truck driver makes a wide right turn from SE 26th onto Powell Blvd — the exact thing PBOT wants to discourage. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)
Map: BikePortland

The Portland Bureau of Transportation will redirect freight truck traffic off of SE 26th Avenue south of Powell Blvd. The plans were announced this morning at the monthly meeting of the PBOT Freight Advisory Committee.

It’s not the outright truck ban requested by some, but it could significantly reduce dangerous traffic at the notorious intersection.

PBOT Transportation Planner Zef Wagner told members of the committee that he and his team looked more closely into the issue following the traffic collision that killed Sarah Pliner on October 4th. Pliner was killed when she came into contact with a semi-truck driver’s trailer as he made a sweeping right turn from 26th onto Powell. “We found that 26th Avenue at Powell is incorrectly classified as a freight district street when it’s not actually adjacent to a freight district,” Wagner said. That fact gives PBOT the ability to change truck routing in the area.

Currently there are “Truck Route” signs on SE Gladstone telling eastbound drivers they can go either direction on 26th to access the interstate freeway system via Powell Blvd. Wagner said PBOT will change those signs and direct truck drivers south on 26th only, and then use Holgate to reach the freeways.

“We want to encourage them to use a more appropriate route,” Wagner said. And in the longer term, PBOT wants to find a direct connection between the Annex Yard and Holgate so they can avoid 26th, a narrow residential streets, completely.

Oregon Trucking Associations President Jana Jarvis was first to speak up with a question for Wagner about the plan. She was concerned what nearby freight companies would think and wanted to make sure PBOT talks to them before making any changes. “That has been identified as a freight route for a number of years and the bicycle route was not on 26th,” Jarvis said.

Later in the meeting, PBOT Planner Nubia Milpas Martinez spoke up to say she had just received a message and was asked to share it with the committee. It was from PBOT Bike Coordinator Roger Geller. Turns out he’d been listening to the meeting and heard Jarvis claim that 26th is not a bike route. “He wanted to mention that 26th Avenue is classified as a city bikeway and has been designated as such since 1990,” Milpas Martinez said. “It was one of the earliest striped bike lanes. He just wanted to make that known.”

“There has to be some agreement that the City of Portland is going to protect these freight routes because you’ve got to be able to move freight in and out of these locations.”

– Jana Jarvis, Oregon Trucking Associations

To Jarvis’ point, Wagner said talks with business owners are in the works and PBOT engineers have already done truck traffic counts and observations in the area. Given that, they feel confident that there are enough other streets to handle the UP rail yard traffic (which Wagner noted has created, “vastly increased activity in recent years”), but there will still be meetings and more analysis before the changes are made.

Jarvis still expressed concerns that a freight route might be taken off the table. “The larger issue is the fact that as traditional freight routes get gentrified, that puts pressure on the city and on the industry. There has to be some agreement upfront,” Jarvis continued, “That the City of Portland is going to protect these freight routes because you’ve got to be able to move freight in and out of these locations.”

Wagner reassured Jarvis that truck operators will still be able to use 26th between Gladstone and Powell, but the city’s effort will be to strongly encourage them to go elsewhere.

“This is more about finding the more appropriate route,” Wagner said. “We’re not saying don’t use the street at all. A lot of people in the neighborhood would like us to like ban trucks from all 26th Avenue. They’ve been saying that for years, and we’re not going to do that because they just don’t have another good route.”

That means some freight truck traffic will continue to use the problematic southeast corner of 26th and Powell.

In a BikePortland story last month, the owner of a trucking company and a retired ODOT freight division manager told us that corner is inherently risky for people on the street because of the length and turning movements of large trucks.

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