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East Of 82nd: City Struggles To Make Neighborhoods Walkable

According to the U.S. Census, many of Portland’s youngest residents live East of 82nd Avenue. Yesterday we looked at what fresh food is available in the area for families.

Today, in our continuing series, “East of 82nd,” we look at how easy it is for kids to walk in the neighborhood.

On Powell Boulevard at about 122nd Avenue I ran into Beverly Yonker and her one-and-a-half year old daughter Lyla. They often walk to the store and she pushes Lyla in the stroller.

Beverly Yonker: “We’re on our way to Walgreens on 122nd and Powell.”

Virginia Alvino: “Do you walk this a lot?”

Beverly Yonker: “All the time, almost every day.”

Virginia Alvino: “What’s it like?”

Beverly Yonker: “It doesn’t feel very safe, you have to kind of meander between the stores and the street, and it’s sort of a risk, but you do what you can.  So it’s not particularly pleasant, but it’s my mode of transportation.”

There are no sidewalks, and there isn’t even sturdy gravel to walk on. There are lots of potholes, though.

“It would be a million times easier on a sidewalk that’s for sure,” Yonker says.

East Portland is home to some of the most dangerous streets for pedestrians in the city. This area has seen nine pedestrian fatalities in the last two-and-a-half years.

The city’s aware that this part of the city needs more safe sidewalks.

“I mean, we know there’s a lot of need in east Portland, that’s pretty well established through a lot of the cities efforts in working with the community. Our maps show it, our demographics show it,” says Dylan Rivera, spokesperson for the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

Much of East Portland began as large tracts of farmland that were eventually annexed into the rest of the city. Developers moved in and started building apartment complexes in the post-1950’s era.

Lower sidewalk density is illustrated in this map.

Lower sidewalk density is illustrated in this map.

Coalition For A Livable Future

“We know the way neighborhoods were built there in that era, they were built with large blocks and without pedestrians and public transit users in mind. It was a very auto-centric era.”

Now, a high percentage of  the city’s youth and elderly live in these dense residential areas. So the city faces the challenge of a highly transit-dependent population, living in a poorly connected grid of streets, with incomplete sidewalk networks.  But there is progress.

The city is one year into its East Portland in Motion Strategy. After hearing from the community, city transportation leaders have prioritized safe routes for kids near schools.

They’re choosing stretches of roads that connect the most people to the most destinations.  The city is in the process of building almost seven miles of sidewalks in East Portland.

“We’ve applied for more grants in the last two years to improve sidewalks in east Portland, than we have for the central city.”

Walking to school is tricky in East Portland where many streets don't have sidewalks.

Walking to school is tricky in East Portland where many streets don’t have sidewalks.

Virginia Alvino/OPB

PBOT’s Dylan Rivera says these grants would also contribute to more crosswalks and bikeways. But many people who haven’t seen the changes, still feel ignored when projects don’t affect their route.

Powell Boulevard is a state maintained road, which means none of the city’s funding will go towards improvements. But fortunately for new mom Beverly Yonker, the state has allocated several millions of dollars towards safety improvements specifically on outer Powell, including flashing crosswalk signs and shoulder widening.

Construction is set to begin this summer.

It’s clear that this issue has a big impact on kids.

Fourth grader Josh Striedinger-Hubbard

Fourth grader Josh Striedinger-Hubbard

Virginia Alvino/OPB

Fourth grader Josh Striedinger-Hubbard walks to his school — Ventura Park Elementary. Now that it’s summer, sometimes he heads to campus to play on the playground with his friends. His east Portland neighborhood, around Burnside and 12oth, is full of kids.

Josh’s family just moved to east Portland about six months ago from a smaller, more rural town in Washington.

”Where I used to live we had to drive a lot of places, and I really didn’t have any friends, except for like far out in the country. So we had to drive like 20 minutes to get my friends, so I like this neighborhood a lot better.”

But for Josh, more people to see and more places to go, means having to take routes that aren’t always the safest.

“I’m fine with it. I just kinda like stick close to the side so cars can drive by.”

Fourth grader Josh Striedinger-Hubbard walks to his school. 

Fourth grader Josh Striedinger-Hubbard walks to his school. 

Virginia Alvino/OPB

Josh’s dad Steven Hubbard prefers his son to take some back roads through the neighborhood.

“And the reason we feel safe about this route right here, is our friend George runs two halfway houses, there’s one right here on this corner, and right here on the corner that we come out at. That’s where we get our lawn mower from and our weed eater, so the people that he brings in, they are trying to change and they are doing a great job.”

In Josh’s neighborhood, he faces even more challenges than lack of sidewalks. The streets are busy, and sometimes have reckless drivers.

“I think it’s kind of messed up when people are walking across the street to my school, cars still are turning. I don’t know what’s up with that. Like, hello we’re walking here, you know. Yeah, it’s just like what the heck.”

Dad Steven wishes there were better facilities for kids in the neighborhood. But he points out that, in many ways, people matter more than the infrastructure.

“The people in this neighborhood, they’ll have your back no matter what. If something happens to one person in this neighborhood, it happens to everybody in the neighborhood, and everybody’s here to help you out. So that’s what keeps us here and that’s what we like best about the neighborhood.”

So in the meantime, while the city takes notice, and starts to prioritize improvements to east Portland, the residents have each other to rely on.

Many of the sources for this series came to OPB via our Public Insight Network. Do you live or work East of 82nd Avenue in Portland? You can share your stories, photos and more on our tumblr.

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