South Burlingame resident leading fight for safer streets near Taylors Ferry Road
A short walk from his front door, Caleb Spiegel can hear the whir of engines from the commuters on Southwest Taylors Ferry Road. It's 4 p.m. on a Monday, which means any minute, a flurry of cars will parade down his residential street, all trying to evade the nearby Taylors Ferry and Terwilliger Boulevard intersection.
Across the street, a red lawn sign reads "DRIVE LIKE YOUR KIDS LIVE HERE."
"I seem to have opened Pandora's box over here," Spiegel said, recounting months of him hounding the Portland Bureau of Transportation about the speeds, unsafe conditions and spillover traffic onto adjoining residential streets from Terwilliger Boulevard and Taylors Ferry Road. It's a notably busy intersection.
Since moving into his South Burlingame neighborhood about a year and a half ago, Spiegel said he quickly noticed an unusual volume of traffic on Southwest 4th Avenue.
"I started noticing lots of cars driving past my house," Spiegel, a kindergarten teacher, said. "They were just going too fast. We noticed they were trying to avoid that intersection at Taylors Ferry and Terwilliger."
Spiegel said GPS applications like Google Maps and Waze are diverting cars onto residential side streets like his, to avoid waiting at the busy intersection. That's made for an unusually high volume of traffic on roads where children play and residents walk their dogs.
Spiegel convinced PBOT to measure the traffic on his and two other streets that feed onto Taylors Ferry Road, as well as a side street that connects to Terwilliger Boulevard. During a 24-hour time period, 133 cars were clocked headed north and 274 were headed south, meaning 407 cars were counted traversing Southwest 4th Avenue, the bulk of them during afternoon rush hours. The daily trip data PBOT collected shows that on one day, more than 25% of southbound cars were driving faster than the 20 mph speed limit.
"I have a 9-year-old kid, and we don't have sidewalks over here," he said. "I started talking to some neighbors about it and they had similar concerns but had struggled to get the city to do anything about it for years. Nobody is stopping, they're not even slowing down. My wife has almost been hit a number of times. I worry about my son. On my little block, we have four families, and one of the families won't even let their kid out in the yard because a car has driven through their front yard."
Spiegel recounts a crash on Taylors Ferry Road that left a vehicle flipped on its side in flames. In 2016, a Southwest Portland high school student was critically injured after being hit by two different SUVs while trying to run across Taylors Ferry Road on a rainy night.
Aside from the cut-through traffic, he said vehicles rarely drive the speed limit on Taylors Ferry Road, making it dangerous to pull out from his street. To make matters worse, the cars that exit Terwilliger to cut through during peak traffic hours often use Southwest Carson Street, which is partially unpaved, leaving a consistent cloud of dust each time.
Around 4:15 p.m. on a Monday, he watches as a late model red sedan does just that. The car exits Terwilliger, crosses the gravel on Carson Street, then makes a quick turn onto Southwest 4th Avenue, only to sit and wait for an opening in traffic on Taylors Ferry Road.
"That probably saved him about 20 seconds," Spiegel said. Drivers often cut through the residential side streets to save time, but often end up spending more time waiting on his street.
Jean Gunther has lived in the South Burlingame neighborhood for nearly 30 years. She said traffic on Southwest 4th Avenue has skyrocketed over the past year.
"They know they can cut through the whole neighborhood," Gunther said.
It's clear why cars are cutting through. The line of traffic waiting to make a left turn onto Taylor's Ferry spans several blocks. On a green light, only a fraction of the cars get through. Some end up sitting through more than one traffic light cycle before being able to turn.
"It's not just people avoiding the light, it's people who've been sitting at a light for four to five minutes," Spiegel noted. "They're stuck at this light and so they're angry and they're frustrated. The speeds and danger go up exponentially on hotter days."
He's yelled at a few drivers to slow down, only to be yelled and cussed at in return.
He's gotten support from the South Burlingame Neighborhood Association, which he's a member of, to pressure the city for help.
Spiegel said the issue is threefold: Speeding cars on Taylors Ferry Road, combined with traffic navigation apps that send cars to his road and the ease with which cars can turn onto Southwest Carson Street, makes for an unsavory combination.
PBOT officials are aware of the issues with the Taylors Ferry/Terwilliger intersection.
"We know that this is a problem," Hannah Schafer, a communications coordinator with PBOT, said. "The neighborhood has expressed concern about this intersection to us."
Schafer said the traffic signal is old, as are many of the traffic lights throughout the city.
"We know that there's aging infrastructure there, but they haven't had to make any adjustments to that signal in the last 18 months," Schafer said. "We have a lot of aging infrastructure traffic signals in the city, and we just don't have the resources to replace them all."
Replacing a traffic light usually costs $1 million or more, according to PBOT.
Spiegel knows the light near his house isn't the city's top priority, but he's pitched low to no-cost options for safety improvements, to no avail.
He's asked for increased traffic patrols on Taylors Ferry, but said the road lacks a wide enough shoulder for police to pull a car over. He's asked for Southwest Carson Street to get "local access only" designation, to avoid the high volume of traffic on Carson and Southwest 4th, but the city has declined. He also wants to see rubber pylons installed to prevent left turns onto Carson.
"I want to deal with this issue before somebody else gets seriously injured or killed," he said. "This is a serious issue."
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