Playing it safe: Dangerous streets around Portland's popular parks

Playing it safe: Dangerous streets around Portland's popular parks »Play Video

 PORTLAND, Ore. -- At Lents Park in Southeast Portland, Zachary, 7, and his buddy Jaden, 6, don't have a care in the world. Together they laugh and play and chase each other all over the playground.

But Zachary's mom, Mary Mannen, is very concerned about their safety.

"Cars don't watch at all," she explained.

Lents Park is bordered on three sides by busy streets, including Southeast 88th Avenue, Holgate Boulevard and 92nd Avenue.

"As summer goes on, it seems the hotter the days, the worse the traffic is just because of everybody trying to go and do things and they're not paying attention to the all the kids that are running out here," Mannen said.

Near Dickinson Park in Southwest Portland, Tony Hansen worries about speeding drivers too, especially since the main drag through the neighborhood, Southeast 55th Avenue, lacks sidewalks.

"It's very narrow," said Hansen, who doubles as Crestwood Neighborhood Association President and Head of the Dickinson Park Stewards.

"If you have two cars passing, pedestrians have to step off. There's a ditch on one side, brambles on the other," Hansen continued. "It's not at all safe."

In the shadow of the playground, Hansen also pointed to a blind curve.

"Right here is a dangerous spot if people are coming," he said, giving KATU a tour of the streets in his neighborhood. "Daily there's very close calls."

Both parents want safety improvements on the streets surrounding the parks, but by the numbers, Mannen and Hansen are the luckier ones.
Data uncovered by the On Your Side Investigators shows the dangers at these parks pale in comparison to other parks across Portland.

KATU looked through data from Oregon's Department of Transportation and pinpointed streets where people were hurt and killed while walking, biking, or driving within a quarter mile of Portland's most popular parks. KATU analyzed the most recent available ODOT data, from 2010 to 2012.

Maps: Crash zones around Portland parks

At Wilshire Park in Northeast Portland, we uncovered 32 injuries and crashes in three years. The majority of the accidents occurred along busy 33rd Avenue.

About a mile away from Wilshire Park, Grant Park in Northeast Portland had 51 accidents in three years. At least a third of those occurred on Northeast 33rd Avenue.

It's why Jess Hazzard, a mom of four, waits as long as it takes to carefully cross the street with her kids.

"With a stroller, it's kind of hard for me to get out in front of the stroller when the stroller goes out first so that's always a concern whether (cars are) going to see me or not," Hazzard said.

At Laurelhurst Park in Southeast Portland, the number of accidents jumped to 73. Nearly all of those occurred along Southeast Stark Street and 39th Avenue.
At Mount Tabor Park in Southeast Portland, we found 105 incidents in three years, with dozens occurring along Southeast 60th Avenue.

The On Your Side Investigators brought the findings to Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) spokesman Dylan Rivera. PBOT is responsible for safety improvements to streets, including crosswalks, signs and rapid-flashing beacons, among others.

"Crashes are always a concern to us," Rivera said. "We're building safer streets everywhere we can, especially where there are parks and schools and other places where kids need to go."

What is PBOT doing to make streets safer around parks?

According to Rivera, PBOT's Capital Improvements Program (CIP) includes at least $45 million for safety improvements, $36 million of which is slated for the Sellwood Bridge. That project includes wider sidewalks for people walking or biking to nearby Sellwood Park, Sellwood Riverfront Park and others.

Within the overall budget, Rivera said there is a smaller budget, worth about $812,000 this year, slated for projects within a quarter mile of Portland parks. Rivera said that includes work on the Northeast Sacramento Neighborhood Greenway, High Crash Corridor work on East Burnside from 14th to 32nd, traffic calming measures around Russell Elementary School in the Parkrose district, a path in Pier Park, as well as additional safety projects across the city.

"The real number is probably far greater than that, but we have not divided our capital improvements budget into those located near parks, or near bus stops, or near office buildings or other destinations," Rivera said via email.

Rivera said PBOT considers parks as "high priority destinations, especially for children and seniors." Rivera said PBOT also tries to include parks in planning its network of Neighborhood Greenways, the low traffic streets where the speed limit has been reduced to 20 mph. The speed limit around parks is typically 25 mph.

"We focus our limited safety resources where they are needed most - on the streets with the highest rates of crashes that cause severe injuries and fatalities," Rivera said.

The On Your Side Investigators also learned PBOT is planning to add, or upgrade, several crosswalks. A PBOT pedestrian crossing map, obtained by KATU, breaks down spots where the city plans to build new crosswalks, where they'll upgrade current crossings and where they recommend a new crosswalk should go but don't have the funding to build one.

Notice, no new upgrades appear to be going in on residential streets near Grant, Laurelhurst and Mount Tabor parks.

It's a frustrating waiting game for parents like Hansen, Hazzard and Mannen.

"This is where everybody gathers to hang out with their children in the summertime!" Mannen said. "So this should be the priority."

Q and A with PBOT'S Dylan Rivera

Q: Are these improvements only for crosswalks or other safety improvements too? If so, which improvements?

A: These are locations recommended for improved pedestrian crossings. The improvements could include marking a crosswalk, installing a pedestrian refuge island, installing a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFBs) or other treatments of that sort designed to make it easier and safer for folks on foot or in mobility devices to cross the street.

Q: For the crosswalks that are getting improvements, what are they and when will they be implemented (i.e. timeline)?

A: We are building 17 crossing improvements with RRFB's in East Portland with funding secured by Rep. Shemia Fagan (D-Clackamas) and Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson (D-Portland). Five of those locations will be operational by the start of school. Three of those locations are currently under construction including Southeast 120th and Foster, Northeast Glisan and 141st, and 122nd and Oregon. We will complete the remaining locations throughout 2014/2015. We also partner with TriMet to improve pedestrian crossings at four locations a year, near popular TriMet stops.

Q: Why were these locations chosen as places to add safety improvements or recommended for improvements?

A: The locations being improved in East Portland were on a list of locations recommended for crossing improvements provided to Rep. Fagan and Rep. Vega Pederson. The Representatives selected from that larger list based on proximity to parks and schools. Overall, the locations identified stem from our planning work in High Crash Corridors, East Portland in Motion, Safe Routes to Schools, etc.

Q: For the spots with recommendations but no funding, what's PBOT doing to secure funding?

A: In addition to working with partners like TriMet and Reps. Fagan and Vega-Pederson to secure funding, we apply for grants and dedicate local resources to improving safety for pedestrians.

Q: What is the cost for these improvements?

A: Pedestrian crossing improvements can run from $1,000 for simple striping work to up to $250,000 for a signalizing an intersection. Most of the improvements identified on the map will be in the $50-$150k range.

How to look at map data near your neighborhood park

1. Go to the Oregon Department of Transportation mapping website here:

Click on "Safety" in Layers option.

Select a year - choose "non-state" crashes for Portland city data.

Click "Apply"

2. Use your mouse wheel to zoom in to a location you'd like to see, or use the "Landmarks" search bar to focus in on the park of your choice

3. Click on the "i icon" to get information about each accident, including fatalities/injuries, vehicles involved and any contributing factors.