A group of people hold up an orange sign reading vision zero.
Transportation leaders and advocates at a press conference Tuesday, June 29. Isabella Garcia

Transportation officials and advocates celebrated the approved transfer of 82nd Avenue from the state to the City of Portland during a press conference Tuesday morning.

The busy street, which was originally constructed as a state highway, is owned and maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Transportation safety advocates have urged for the transfer of ownership from the state to the city—which would mean the street would stop being maintained like a highway, and start being maintained like the city street it is—for over a decade. The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), while interested in gaining ownership of 82nd Ave., would not accept the transfer of the street without ODOT first addressing the overdue maintenance and costly investments the highway needed.

It wasn’t until April of this year, when two pedestrians were hit and killed by drivers on 82nd Ave. just two weeks apart, that years of advocacy turned into significant action. In early June, ODOT and PBOT announced a plan to transfer 82nd Ave. to the city. The plan uses $70 million from ODOT, $35 million from PBOT, and $80 million from the Oregon Legislature to pay for the street’s infrastructure updates.

The Oregon Legislature approved the plan last Friday. PBOT will take ownership of 82nd Ave. by the end of this year, and construction on the street is expected to start in 2022 and last four years.

Speakers at the event praised community advocacy and, particularly, the efforts of state representative Khanh Pham—whose district includes 82nd Ave.—for the swift action.

“For so many years, I was the community organizer who was out on these streets talking to parents whose children had to dodge cars to get to school, or businesses who are struggling to find people to cross the street and slow down to actually support their businesses,” Pham said during the June 29 event.

The transfer of 82nd Ave. will include pedestrian safety infrastructure like crosswalks, improved lighting, and sidewalks. Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees PBOT, also said the investments in the street will include improvements to public transit. Line 72, which runs along 82nd Ave., is Portland’s busiest bus line.

“[TriMet General Manager Sam Desue Jr.] and I are going to be tied at the hip because transit is going to look a lot different after we transform 82nd Avenue,” Hardesty said. “We’re going to be talking about high speed transit, and we’re going to be talking about building 82nd for the future we want, not the past we have.”

A man stands behind a podium. He is smiling while talking.
Ashton Simpson of Oregon Walks speaking during the press conference. Isabella Garcia

With investments for 82nd Ave. secured, Pham and other community advocates are turning their attention to additional East Portland streets where similar pedestrian safety improvements can be made.

“Guess what? 82nd isn’t it,” Oregon Walks Executive Director Ashton Simpson said. “We’ve got 122nd to look at, 102nd, 162nd—we’ve got a whole bunch of roads in this town.”

Simpson emphasized the need for equitable investments throughout the city, particularly in East Portland. A study by Oregon Walks revealed that 50 percent of pedestrian deaths due to drivers from 2017 to 2019 occurred east of 82nd, despite that area of the city containing just 28 percent of Portland’s population. Additionally, 28 of PBOT’s 30 high-crash intersections—intersections with the highest number of reported collisions—are east of 82nd Ave. where many Portlanders of color live.

“If you’re not talking about [equitable development], then you’re not doing your job right,” Simpson said. “Equitable development means not only bringing in active transportation infrastructure, but also asking the question of how do we keep people from being displaced when we bring that infrastructure in.”

Pham echoed the need for local and state officials to invest in anti-displacement efforts, like placing property in a land trust and creating caps on housing costs, for Portlanders who live along 82nd Ave.

“There is so much potential on this street to build mixed-use affordable housing that can ensure these families can stay on this street,” Pham said. “I know, as a community organizer, all of the families whose hard work has made this part of the city so vibrant, so beautiful, and so diverse—we need to make sure they get to stay here.”