The City of Portland has installed a novel set of traffic calming tools on North Commercial Avenue outside of Jefferson High School. The move comes in response to a spate of violence on the street that involved students.

In October we reported on an alleged hit-and-run at Commercial and Killingsworth that left a student injured and in the hospital. Later that same week, on October 18th, two students were injured in a shooting on the same street right outside the school. Then on November 14th, another student was injured in a shooting. In all three of these cases, the aggressors were driving a car on Commercial Avenue.

In what appears to be an attempt to calm violence by drivers, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has installed five sets of plastic curbs and wands between North Killingsworth and Alberta streets. They are rectangular in shape and vary in size. In three locations on the south end of the block, they are installed on both sides of the streets and create such a narrow opening that drivers can pass in only one direction at a time. The idea is that the fear of hitting these flexible plastic posts and curbs will make it less likely that drivers will speed to and from the school’s main entrance.

Stepping back a bit, this is another example of Portland using street designs to tamp down vehicle-based violence. Last summer Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a Safer Summer PDX program that included $2.4 million for, “place-based investments… to address environmental factors conducive to gun violence.” Wheeler’s emergency declaration on gun violence stated, “We will be expanding place-based interventions in neighborhoods that are caught in the crossfire of gun violence… interventions could include increased lighting, traffic diversion…”

Wheeler’s embrace of traffic-related interventions was in many ways a validation of former Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s efforts to find alternatives to armed police officers. Back in September, Hardesty helped usher in this new era of enforcement with the opening of a large public plaza in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood that was built on a former slip lane that had a notorious history of vehicle-based violence.

I’ve asked PBOT for additional details about the Jefferson High project and will update this post as soon as I hear back.

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