For 11 months, traffic safety advocates and the city of Portland have been asking state officials to lower the speed limit on a 5.5-mile stretch of 82nd Avenue.
Last month, two men were killed by cars while trying to cross that very road.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation submitted a speed reduction request on the city’s behalf—from 35 to 30 mph—to the Oregon Department of Transportation on May 20, 2020. Nearly a year later, on April 10, Stephen K. Looser, 66, died in a crash in the 4900 block of Northeast 82nd Avenue. Anthony L. Tolliver, 30, died in a hit-and-run a block away, near Northeast 82nd Avenue and Alberta Street, on April 24.
Both men died on the stretch of 82nd where PBOT had requested the lower speed limit.
Advocates and elected officials are demanding the speed limit be lowered now.
“I’m joining community members and calling for immediate action and emergency actions,” says state Rep. Khanh Pham (D-East Portland). “We have to meet this situation with the same urgency that these recent fatalities demand and that our communities have been demanding.”
In March, WW reported on traffic fatalities disproportionately affecting East Portlanders, using data from an extensive report by the nonprofit Oregon Walks (“You’re Driving Too Damn Fast,” WW, March 17, 2021). A primary cause of pedestrian fatalities? Speed.
The other two are street width and lighting, which likely played a role in April’s pedestrian deaths. Black Portlanders are more likely to get hit due to their darker skin tone combined with poor street lighting. Tolliver was a Black man who was killed at night.
Safety advocate Scott Kocher reached out to ODOT last week to inquire about the stalled speed reduction request. Kocher also suggested an emergency speed reduction, or “speed zone order,” which would allow officials to reduce the speed limit on that stretch of road.
The response Kocher received from ODOT region manager Rian Windsheimer: “We are working hard to get these projects out as quickly as possible and understand the urgency.”
However, ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton tells WW the agency expects to reduce the speed limit on 82nd soon—and permanently.
“We’re now in the process of considering a permanent speed reduction for 82nd Avenue, 35 to 30 mph, between Killingsworth Street and Clatsop Street,” Hamilton says. “Starting an emergency speed zone request at this point would take longer than it will take to finish the permanent speed zone reduction analysis underway.”
Either way, Kocher says the speed-limit change is long overdue: “The people who live there are not just losing out on having a street that serves their needs, they’re dying. We’re at a point now with these crashes where we can say: Enough is enough. We need the emergency speed limit reduction and to cast a light on this as the emergency that it is.”
Pham wants to see state-owned highways within Portland city limits transferred to city control—and has sponsored a bill in the Oregon Legislature to do just that. In the meantime, she says lowering the speed limit on 82nd Avenue is the least that state officials can do.
“They’ve neglected 82nd Avenue for decades,” Pham says. “People have started to lose faith in the government to take action. They know that they can expect another pedestrian fatality this year because of how dangerous the streets are.”
On Friday, May 7, members of Oregon Walks and the community who’ve lost loved ones in fatal crashes will gather at Northeast 82nd Avenue and Alberta Street to urge the state to take action. Rep. Pham will be among the speakers at the rally. LATISHA JENSEN.