With so much energy being focused on streetscape improvements on Foster, and taking the long view on planning, outreach, design, and the vast potential, it’s become somewhat accepted that the tradeoff for a 2014 commencement of construction is a good, planful design that captures all the potential and needs of the neighborhood. In essence, after nearly 10 years of fighting for city money to fund the already adopted Foster Streetscape Plan, many in the neighborhood have begrudgingly given a thumbs up to a longer wait in exchange for a refreshed plan that promises to be more encompassing and demonstrative of Foster Road’s potential.
Somehow, though, that potential has been wrapped up in a planning process that has plain and simply neglected the safety of the neighborhood. When neighborhood association members from Foster-Powell and Mt. Scott-Arleta met with the mayor, his transportation planners, and PBOT staff a few months ago, the stated goal was to implement traffic and pedestrian safety improvements on Foster Road in the immediate future…not two years from now. This was in direct response to the hit-and-run death of Jason Lee Grant in January, which only added to the characterization of Foster Road as a high-crash corridor. With several pedestrians killed on the busy corridor in recent years, something needed to be done. And Mayor Sam Adams, with his staff and PBOT on hand, vowed to do something.
What did we get?
A day of traffic enforcement and the commitment from PBOT that the Foster Streetscape Plan would indeed be constructed someday. That someday has turned out to be at least a year and a half from now, perhaps even two and a half….and that’s if there are no more delays.
In the meantime, another pedestrian was hit by a car on Foster. While media and police reports indicate no wrong doing by the driver, and speed limits were being adhered to, the accident is no less devastating to a stretch of Foster that has not been able to stop the injuries and deaths, despite public outcry and pleads for change. At the same time, many reports have implied the victim’s alcohol intake may be to blame for the accident, a sentiment widely echoed in comments on various online news articles. Not only does that thought miss the mark and suggest a concerning disregard for human life, it speaks to how accepted the lack of pedestrian and traffic safety is on Foster across the city. The fact is, drunk or not, this is an accident all too typical in our neighborhood, and one that is avoided in many other neighborhoods with bars and intoxicated pedestrians.
Even if the speed limit was being followed by the driver, something went wrong. Perhaps it means that 35 mph is, indeed, too fast for Foster. Perhaps there’s something wrong when a driver cannot see a dark figure step into the street because of a lack of lighting. Perhaps it raises a red flag when, at least for those in the neighborhood that know, using a crosswalk would have made no difference because they are not lit or clearly marked. Perhaps being drunk had nothing to do with it, other than a convenient excuse to downplay the fact that pedestrians are hit by cars at an alarming rate on Foster.
So what now?
Going back to that March meeting with the mayor and PBOT, the neighborhood was told that money was the stumbling block in getting improvements made, as well as the disruption it could cause to future planning for the streetscape plan. Then, to put the ball back in the neighborhood’s court, they offered a compromise: get short-term safety improvements now, but lose money to fund the larger streetscape plan in the future. While this may have made sense from a fiscal policy standpoint, it also created a scenario where safety and long term planning/design for the neighborhood were exclusively linked, and the neighborhood was to choose one over the other. In reality, we didn’t have a choice at all, and the city has proceeded with their plans (the aforementioned day of traffic enforcement and planning process for the streetscape plan that’s two years from breaking ground).
And since…another pedestrian has been struck by a car on Foster. So do we continue as planned, or is there an alternative? While safety improvements are, indeed, part of the Foster Streetscape Plan, do additional and immediate improvements need to be part of that project? It appears as if that’s a false premise, and one that takes a city-wide issue of traffic and pedestrian safety and places it into the hands of a neighborhood. And while millions upon millions are being spent on other low-priority projects and the planning that goes into them, it’s laughable that something can’t be done now to prevent further blood-shed on Foster without jeopardizing the future livability of the long-neglected corridor and the neighborhoods on either side of it.
It seems reasonable to let the streetscape planning process play out in a way that’s comprehensive, engages the community, and gets it right for the future of outer Southeast Portland, all the while finding money to address a city-wide safety issue NOW. For a city with such high credentials for its planning, and often lauded by other cities as they model their planning on Portland’s, this should be resolved with relative ease. And as long as city money is being spent on pet projects with little or no relation to making the city safer and more livable in a fundamental way, this issue cannot be put on the back burner. Several people have died trying to cross Foster Road, and countless others have been injured — and to the extent the city directs resources to address it, it can be avoided. Drunk or not, within crosswalks or otherwise, pedestrians and drivers alike should be able to travel along Foster without fear of an accident. It is time this becomes a reality, not a long range planning goal.