Amid concerns for pedestrian and student safety near Southeast Powell Boulevard and reliability of buses, TriMet has taken the first steps toward changing routes for bus line 70.
Line 70 serves Southeast Portland, including stops near Cleveland High School, which many students rely on to get to and from school.
TriMet staff said the changes are partially in response to community input and concern following the death of Sarah Pliner, a bicyclist who was hit and killed by a truck driver at the intersection of Powell and SE 26th Avenue last October. Two other crashes involving pedestrians near Cleveland High School shortly after Pliner’s death also caused alarm, including one involving a student.
The repeat crashes don’t come as a complete surprise. Powell Boulevard is one of Portland’s high crash network streets—one of 30 streets in the city where the vast majority of crashes occur. According to data from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), at least four people have died and another 38 have been injured in pedestrian crashes along Powell, between Southeast 7th Avenue and Southeast Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard since 2011. The intersection of Powell and 26th Avenue, where Cleveland High School sits, is also considered a high crash intersection.
In an effort to keep students away from the dangerous intersection, TriMet is planning to re-route bus line 70 near Powell Boulevard between Milwaukie Avenue and Southeast 17th Avenue.
Many Cleveland students currently cross Powell Boulevard twice on the way to school and once again on the way home. Instead, students riding line 70 will be dropped off on the north side of Powell, the same side as the school, and avoid the need to cross Powell.
TriMet staff said families asked for students to be dropped off at Southeast 26th Avenue, but that would add congestion to a tight street that already has safety issues.
Tom Mills, director of mobility, planning, and policy at TriMet, told board members Wednesday, March 22, that students who use Line 10 tend to avoid the crosswalk near 26th Avenue and Powell, and instead walk behind the bus when exiting near the school, because it’s a shorter path.
“We are concerned that adding more buses to this intersection will create more of that behavior,” Mills said, noting cyclists also advised the agency to avoid adding any more large vehicles along Southeast 26th Avenue.
Instead, students would be dropped off at Southeast 21st Avenue.
“What we’re proposing is a seven-block walk,” Mills said, estimating the new overall distance is shorter for students than the previous route.
Line 70 would turn east on Powell to Southeast 21st Avenue, then head north on SE 21st to Ladd, before getting back on its current route on Southeast 11th and 12th Avenues, north of Hawthorne Boulevard.
The changes will also help the bus avoid freight train crossings at Southeast 11th and 12th Avenues, which lead to frequent, prolonged delays.
TriMet says because of the lengthy train crossings, Line 70 is the least reliable line in Portland for on-time service.
“The line is blocked several times a day, and sometimes, for more than an hour,” Mills noted of the inner Southeast train crossing at 12th Avenue. “When that occurs, we have to reroute the line up to Southeast 21st Avenue to Powell Boulevard.”
Aside from rerouting students and avoiding the freight crossings, Line 70 would also take a direct route through Sellwood, staying on Milwaukie Avenue, which becomes Southeast 17th Avenue, instead of splitting at Bybee Boulevard.
The ordinance also proposes upgrading Line 17, which serves Southeast Holgate and Northeast Broadway, to a frequent service line from downtown Portland to Southeast Holgate at 136th Avenue.
“I just hope that as this proposal moves forward, we do that type of education, especially with the students in that community, just so they understand this is a new change and this is how far you're going to have to walk,” board member Kathy Wai noted.
TriMet staff said they've met with the high school’s PTA and have been discussing the impacts with People’s Food Co-Op, a small grocer located on Southeast 21st Avenue, near Powell.
TriMet board members will vote on the proposed route changes later this month. The changes would take effect in late May.