[You can read all of the Mercury’s “Top Stories of 2021” here.—eds]
Following a year of empty streets and congestion-free commutes, Portlanders were back on the roads and, unfortunately, causing the most fatal crashes in over 20 years, prompting more investments in traffic safety. Portland’s regional mega-projects like the Interstate 5 Rose Quarter project also lumbered forward with community groups weighing in on how to best leverage the project for investment in Portland’s historically Black neighborhood.
Deadly Hit-and-Run Through Southeast Portland: An Oregon City man hit seven people with his car, killing one, in a rampage through Southeast Portland early this year. Paul Rivas, 64, faced 14 charges, which later rose to 31 charges, for driving through the Laurelhurst neighborhood and hitting six pedestrians and a bicyclist, never stopping to render aid. Rivas’s trial is planned for September 2022.
State Gives 82nd Ave to City: After several decades of community advocacy, the right mix of political leaders, tragic pedestrian fatalities, and funding spurred the transition of 82nd Avenue from a state-owned highway to a city-owned street. Currently owned and maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), 82nd Ave. has fallen into a state of disrepair due to ODOT’s prioritization of maintaining major highways like I-5 over streets that serve more localized populations, like 82nd. After two pedestrian deaths on the corridor in April, ODOT and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) struck a deal to invest $185 million to improve traffic safety along 82nd Ave. and transfer the street to PBOT. The formal governmental agreement to transfer 82nd Ave. from ODOT and PBOT is expected to be finalized in January 2022.
Future of Rose Quarter I-5 Expansion: In addition to aiming to alleviate traffic congestion in the Interstate-5 corridor near the Rose Quarter, the billion dollar I-5 Rose Quarter project offers an opportunity to revitalize Albina—the historically Black neighborhood that was partially bulldozed and bisected by the original construction of the freeway in the late 1950s. Community groups like the NAACP, Albina Vision Trust, and ODOT’s Historic Albina Advisory Board have differing opinions on the best way to leverage the transportation project for community benefit, like putting acreage around the project in a community land trust or moving the project along quicker to secure long term construction jobs within the Black community.
Training of New TriMet Safety Team Raises Questions: Following the racial justice and police accountability protests in 2020, TriMet began to reevaluate what security looks like on public transit. Following community input for TriMet employees who can respond to issues on the transit system without involving the police, the agency launched the Safety Response Team—a 24-person group that welcomes riders, deescalates possible conflicts, and connects transit users with other social services in the region. While the Safety Response Team members have social services backgrounds and are primarily tasked with assisting riders, transit rider advocates are concerned that the new safety team is still staffed and trained by Portland Patrol Inc (PPI), the same company that trains TriMet’s pre-existing security forces. “At this point, it really doesn’t matter what happens because the community has no faith in PPI,” said bus rider advocate Maia Vásconez-Taylor.