Rohgzhao Zhang had only lived in the US for around a year on the night his life ended on outer Division Street.
The 65-year-old moved here in order to create a better life for his family in China, according to Duncan Hwang, associate director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), but it hadn't been easy.
"It took him a long time to find a job," Hwang told the Mercury Thursday. "He finally found a job as a dishwasher."
Part of the money he earned went back to family in China, but now that's ended. Zhang was run down while making his way home from work on December 7. He was trying to cross SE Division street near 87th, a stretch that has long been flagged as a safety hazard.
When he didn't show up at home, Zhang's wife went out to look for him.
"She saw the police cars at the intersection, but couldn't talk to them because she didn't speak English," Hwang says.
It's a heart-rending account, and there are 40 more like it this year—the bloodiest on Portland streets since 2003.
Now, after Zhang and another man, Myit Oo, were run down on outer Division hours apart on December 7 (spurring protests by transportation activists) Portland officials are moving with some urgency.
On Wednesday, Portland City Council approved $300,000 in funding that will go partly toward trying to stem the tide on outer Division, which has seen five fatalities this year alone.
The money's not for the sorts of infrastructure fixes that lead to provable safety results—things like road diets that decrease auto lanes, slower speed limits, and stepped up traffic enforcement. The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has plans to re-sculpt outer Division in coming years, but aside from new speed cameras at 156th and Division, not much is slated immediately.
Instead, the money will go toward an unspecified education effort, aimed at familiarizing the Jade District's many immigrant residents with the area's high-speed, high-volume roads, and how best to navigate them (there will also be education aimed at stretches of Halsey and Glisan).
"Our point of view is we can't wait another year or two years for this [safer infrastructure] to come, and we can't do nothing in the mean time," Hwang says. "These stats are hitting our community really hard."
Here's a rundown of the spending council approved this week.
Not everyone's impressed.
The disbursement might be the most nimbly we've seen the city act lately regarding traffic violence (unless you count removing guerrilla crosswalks near daycares). It came about during a conference call Mayor Charlie Hales called for on December 8, the day after the two recent fatalities on Division.
In that call—which included Hales, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, PBOT Director Leah Treat, Police Chief Mike Marshman, and others—officials discussed what could be done immediately to stem the tide on Division, according to PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera. They settled on using a chunk of Portland's contingency fund for education and outreach.
Rivera says that such outreach is considered a "best practice" when changes to a road's design are planned. But he's unable to cite any stats or studies that show education alone will improve the dire safety numbers on Division. He notes PBOT is taking the concrete step of fast-tracking the installation of speed cameras, which have been shown to curb speeds, by six months.
Asked what an educational campaign might look like, both Rivera and Hwang couldn't say. A strategy will be decided on in coming days. Hwang said he'd be in favor of creating foreign-language maps pointing out the safest places to cross Division, and bringing them around to restaurants and other businesses in the area. Part of the money might also be put toward creating street signs and way-finding signs in other languages, in order to help people get around.
"There is real value in education," Hwang said, adding that neighborhood residents need to be brought to the table to discuss future safety improvements, which might include pedestrian islands, medians, and crosswalk beacons. PBOT officials have said they're not interested in the same "road diet" they instituted several years ago on another part of Division, though that change is credited for lowering both speeds and crashes.