Traffic barricades that created a carfree work zone at the intersection of Northeast 7th and Tillamook are gone — and so is the safer street many local residents have always wanted. But the project those barricades were erected for in the first place is incomplete.
On Wednesday, a contractor working for the Portland Bureau of Transportation removed dozens of plastic barriers and “road closed” signs. The move came after a traffic circle with a large tree planted in the middle of it was taken out of the intersection as part of a neighborhood greenway project. Over objections from many nearby residents, PBOT moved forward with this project and maintains that the circle and tree led to poor visibility and made the intersection more dangerous.
“That tree was the finger in the hole of the dam, and we’re seeing evidence of that right now,” said nearby resident Rose Francis at the intersection yesterday, as drivers drove over a patch of smooth pavement where the tree and traffic circle used to be. Francis has spent months organizing in the neighborhood against PBOT’s plans for the Lloyd to Woodlawn Neighborhood Greenway project. The removal of the circle was a chief concern of the grassroots Safe on 7th! advocacy group. When PBOT pushed forward with the project, the City promised that the work zone barricades would remain up until the traffic-calming elements were in place.
In an October 10th letter to residents, PBOT Director Chris Warner wrote, “We will not remove the traffic control barriers until those additional safety measures are in place.”
That promise has been broken.
“The message you get when driving here is that this is like 15th [a high volume neighborhood collector street nearby], that you should just book it right here like this is a through-way street,” Francis said. In an email to PBOT yesterday, Francis wrote, “You have ripped this intersection wide open.”
In response to a tweet this morning, Zachary Lauritzen wrote that he goes through this intersection six times a week carrying children in a cargo bike. “It was GLORIOUS w/o cars during construction,” he wrote. “When that came down this week, it was genuinely striking how much less safe it is/feels thru there.”
PBOT has completed some elements of the project. There are new curb ramps and larger pieces of sidewalk on the southern corners that guide bike riders through the off-set intersection. Two speed bumps approaching the intersection from the south have also been installed. But a key piece of the calming plan — a large concrete planter that’s supposed to be installed just north of where the tree used to be — is still not there. In a statement on Thursday PBOT said the planter will be installed next week.
On Thursday, a statement from PBOT read, “We apologize for taking the traffic control barriers down before the work was complete. We are working with the contractor to get that put back up as soon as possible.”
There’s also a lot of striping and pavement markings that are not yet on the ground. Those include five zebra-striped crossings, a left-turn box for cyclists, and green paint to mark the bike lane. PBOT says they are working with the contractor, “to determine whether they can complete the striping work at the intersection in the next few weeks.”
During my observation of the intersection yesterday, it was clear this is a very busy cycling corridor — and will become even more so due to its direct connection to the new carfree Blumenauer Bridge less than one mile away. And while drivers behaved relatively well while I was out there, Francis is worried that the changes — even once the project is done — will have disastrous consequences.
“We’re incredibly concerned about the safety of our street. Nothing about this design makes it safer,” she said. “We’re thinking of buying a radar gun to measure speeds.”
Below is PBOT’s full design for the project, which they say will be complete by spring 2023: