Oregon Walks Statement on Proposed I-5 Expansion

Oregon Walks has been fighting to improve conditions for pedestrians in our state for over two decades; we’ve learned to play the long game and the value of looking at a situation through a multitude of lenses. Our lives, like our roads, are intersectional, and we believe in surfacing multiple perspectives when addressing the question of how we invest public funds for public good.

In drafting our statement in opposition of ODOT’s proposed expansion to I-5 in Portland through the Rose Quarter, we have listened to and learned from many: the dedicated members on the Oregon Walks Plans and Projects committee who have been tracking this project since day one, the volunteers of the City of Portland's Pedestrian Advisory Committee who give their time and expertise to ensure safe pedestrian conditions in all city projects, the team at No More Freeways galvanizing active transportation activists organizing a passionate resistance to I-5 freeway expansion, and the leaders of Albina Vision Trust who are offering a beautiful vision and process for what could be done to rebuild what was once a thriving neighborhood and the heart of the black community in Portland.

In its current form, we oppose ODOT’s proposed expansion to I-5 in Portland through the Rose Quarter. Instead, we encourage ODOT to slow down the process to ensure that any I-5 plan and changes in the Rose Quarter:

 

Center the vision and voices of current and past residents and honor the history of the community that was forced out.

As an organization, we are learning to center racial equity in our policies and practices. We hold the belief that any discussion of urban design in this neighborhood should center the perspectives of communities most impacted by forced displacement -- removal -- from the predominantly black neighborhood of Albina. We believe ODOT has the opportunity to recognize the full adverse and disproportionate impact the building of I-5 has had on this community -and generally, highway projects have historically had on communities of color - by working with the Albina Vision Trust to create a cohesive, connected neighborhood over I-5. Any I-5 investment must answer Albina Vision’s call for truly buildable space above the freeway, connect 94 acres in inner NE Portland and be used to provide ample mixed-income housing, public parks and gathering areas and safe and attractive conditions for walking, rolling and other multimodal options.

 

Addresses the dire realities of climate change and the dangers of carbon emissions and what that means for our children -now and in the future.

Given that we know transportation emissions account for 40% of our total carbon emissions, a fact outlined in the City of Portland’s Climate Action Plan, we cannot support any plan that proposes to add to those staggering numbers. Widening highways is an outdated idea, one that we now know doesn’t result in vehicle traffic congestion relief. In fact, in a phenomenon known as induced demand, the opposite occurs: wider roads means more space for more single-occupancy vehicles and drivers of those vehicles are more than happy to take up that space, creating more traffic, and more carbon emissions. Doing anything that will degrade our planet for future generations is simply irresponsible.

Furthermore, children are already suffering the negative impacts of our freeway dependency; Harriet Tubman Middle School, where 68% are students of color, sits directly adjacent to the stretch of I-5 in question. There is concern that the air quality is causing kids to get sick. A PSU study found that the carbon emission levels are so dangerous that students shouldn’t be allowed to play outside. The current plans for the I-5 expansion call for an additional lane which would bring traffic just yards away from the school, ensuring that outdoor recess will never be something the students of Harriet Tubman Middle School can enjoy.

Prioritizes truly improving safety on our roads -and supporting Vision Zero goals- as the leading rationale for this project.

As proponents of creating communities where folks can get to and from where they need to go by walking or rolling, we are deeply committed to a world where the single occupancy vehicle is not the primary mode of transportation and therefore, is not the primary recipient of our scarce transportation dollars. This has been touted as a transportation safety project, but it does nothing to address the major source of Portland’s epidemic of traffic violence –our “High Crash Corridors,” where 51% of Portland’s traffic deaths and serious injuries occur. We cannot in good conscience justify spending this kind of money on “easing congestion”, if there were even any guarantee that it would- when it could instead be used to literally save pedestrian lives on roads like SE 82nd Avenue, SE Powell Boulevard, NE Lombard Street, and the other high crash corridors that ODOT operates within Portland. In contrast, this stretch of I-5 that ODOT is proposing to widen hasn’t had a single vehicle-to-vehicle fatality in the past decade.

Finally, we cannot support a design for surface streets through the Rose Quarter that accommodates large vehicles at the expense of pedestrian safety. For example, the current preliminary design shows many intersections with large corner radii with excessively wide pedestrian crossings, higher potential turning speeds and less space for queueing pedestrians. These new design elements conspire to create a space unsafe and unwelcoming to pedestrians. We urge ODOT to include the Pedestrian Advisory Committee’s recommendations, such as better mitigation measures for the steep grade of the Hancock/Dixon connection, phasing at signalized crossings to separate pedestrian crossing phases at proposed ramp locations, and retain the heavily-used Flint bridge. We encourage ODOT to present a design that is in line with current urban street design best practices and ensures safe and accessible multimodal mobility.

Lastly, Oregon Walks supports the Pedestrian Advisory Committee’s, No More Freeways’ and Portland Public School’s demand for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Rather than spend millions on a project that is detrimental to our pedestrian safety, climate justice, and community building goals, we look forward to collaborating on a future Rose Quarter project that creates an equitable and sustainable Oregon for generations to come.

 

Thank you to our friends for providing valuable insight as we crafter our statement: Oregon Walks Plans and Projects committee, City of Portland's Pedestrian Advisory Committee, No More Freeways, Albina Vision, Joe Cortright, and many others.