Locals happy with Local Access Only
There are three words that Debbie Small and her neighbors on the western extension of Southwest Bertha Boulevard off of Beaverton Hillsdale Highway have learned to love: Local Access Only.
As a response to COVID-19 circumstances, the Portland Bureau of Transportation installed signs and barriers to discourage drivers from using their street near the Hillsdale shopping district as a shortcut. Seventeen locations in Southwest Portland now feature Local Access Only and informational signs along with big, orange barrels as barriers to unwelcome vehicle traffic.
"The change was significant and immediate," according to Small, the vice president of the pedestrian advocacy group SW Trails PDX, who lives about halfway between Beaverton Hillsdale Highway and Southwest 30th on the half mile stretch of Southwest Bertha designated Local Access Only in late August. She estimates cars and trucks sometimes significantly exceeded the posted 20 mph speed limit on Southwest Bertha.
"Designating the street as Local Access Only eliminated the all-day vehicle traffic. Street traffic is now in line with what you'd expect from those that live in this section," Small said, adding that since most of the people driving on Southwest Bertha live there, they are much more considerate.
"The reduced traffic and speed have stayed consistent. Again, this is only anecdotal, but I am home a good portion of almost every day so I believe this is a fairly accurate observation," Small said.
Some people think Bertha Boulevard ends where it joins Beaverton Hillsdale Highway, but it continues to Southwest 30th and provides a convenient cut-through for drivers. That's why Small and her neighbors first petitioned PBOT to make their street part of the Neighborhood Greenway program with traffic calming features like speed bumps, bike lanes and shared use arrows or "sharrows."
For the time being, at least, they got Neighborhood Greenway Lite.
"Besides walkers and bicyclists, we have a lot of young families on the street with kids learning how to ride bicycles and scooters. There are also orthodox Jewish families who walk to and from the local Hebrew schools during the week , and to and from services on the weekends. We were concerned about the safety of non-drivers using the street as a common means of movement since there are no sidewalks," Small said regarding the original application to PBOT.
Residents are hoping that when the long-awaited, oft-delayed Red Electric Trail is established along SW Bertha, there will be permanent speed limit reductions, shared road markings and speed bumps.
The Neighborhood Greenway Projects began in the 1980s as Portland turned so-called Bicycle Boulevards into thoroughfares where pedestrians as well as bicyclists would get priority over motorized vehicles. There are about 105 streets in Portland that have been granted Local Access Only status since May. Seventeen are in Southwest Portland. A complete list and map can be found by doing a search on your computer for PBOT Safe Streets Initiative.
Small and her neighbors wonder whether the efforts to limit and slow cars and trucks on their street will be permanent. They are encouraged by what PBOT Director Chris warner said in a press release last May. "When we reach the point that we can reopen, we want to make sure our transportation system is ready," Warner said. "Portlanders have made great use of their neighborhood streets to walk, bike, and roll during the pandemic. We've designed the Slow Streets initiative (Local Access Only) to make sure they can continue to do this safely as we get back closer to normal."
SW Trails PDX is a nongovernmental organization that promotes safe conditions for Southwest walkers and bicyclists, maintains 47 miles of urban trails and advocates policies that prioritize alternatives to driving. For more information please see SWTrailsPDX.org.
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