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Volume 8, Issue 9


September 2010

Cassidy Ringwald tragedy points up need for active travel improvements

How many times have local residents wondered what it would take to get sidewalks on the narrow steep roads that connect our neighborhoods? Walking 113th and 119th has always been hazardous, and now with stops for TriMet line 50 on 119th, the need is even greater. The recent death of Cassidy Ringwald (see obituary) brings the problem into sharp focus.

119th St.
There's no safe place for pedestrians on streets like 119th, even though it has several bus stops. A small memorial to Cassidy Ringwald lies near the site of the incident.

Washington County Land Use and Transportation (LUT) spokesperson Anne Madden acknowledges that the county has been aware of the problem but says there's no easy solution. "It would cost over $100 million to fill in all the gaps in bicycle and pedestrian (bike/ped) facilities in the urban unincorporated areas (UUAs) of the county," she notes.

However, Andrew Singelakis, LUT head, has been talking to County Commissioners about a concept plan to bring improvements to 119th as quickly as possible. There may be funds available in the federal energy grant for some improvements. County representatives will be joining CPO 1 this week to discuss the situation and hear ideas from residents.

The county has depended in the past on development or redevelopment to pay for bike/ped facilities. When a new development is built, the builder is usually required to put in sidewalks not only adjacent to the new houses, but sometimes for several blocks and even at nearby intersections, because of the expected increase in traffic and the needs of the new residents.

But much of Cedar Mill and other communities in the UUA were built before the county required bike/ped facilities, and before people really recognized the need for them. Indeed, a US Department of Transportation Policy Statement points out that, "The post-war boom in car and home ownership, the growth of suburban America, the challenge of completing the Interstate System, and the continued availability of cheap gasoline all fueled the development of a transportation infrastructure focused almost exclusively on the private motor car and commercial truck…facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians, environmental mitigation, accessibility, community preservation, and aesthetics were at best an afterthought, often simply overlooked, and, at worst, rejected as unnecessary, costly, and regressive. Many States passed laws preventing the use of State gas tax funds on anything other than motor vehicle lanes and facilities." This is the governmental culture that we're just coming out of. County roads were seen primarily as places where motorized traffic needs to be moved along as quickly as possible.

The statement concludes, "There is no question that conditions for bicycling and walking need to be improved in every community in the United States; it is no longer acceptable that 6,000 bicyclists and pedestrians are killed in traffic every year, that people with disabilities cannot travel without encountering barriers, and that two desirable and efficient modes of travel have been made difficult and uncomfortable."

There won't be enough new development or redevelopment in these areas to bring about a solution. "It's almost certain that the next MSTIP (Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program) levy will include bike/ped improvements as a major element," says Madden. Voters will likely be asked to pass the next levy in 2012. This will be a big departure, since only roads scheduled for big improvement projects, like our recent Murray and Saltzman projects, have been accompanied with bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

None of this will come about quickly enough for many local residents, to be sure. Some have suggested a Local Improvement District (LID) project that would bring neighbors together to pay for improvements. A petition drive is being planned in the neighborhood near the recent accident. Nearly every response to the news about Cassidy's death included frustration with the lack of bike/ped facilities.

One of the biggest costs in constructing sidewalks in an area like 119th is the acquisition of Right-of-Way (ROW). However, much of that ROW on 119th is a rocky ditch, which although it's privately owned, is hardly an amenity that homeowners treasure. Perhaps many of the property owners will be inspired to donate or sell the land cheaply to the county to help the community.

One quick response from the county may be to put up some signs reminding pedestrians to walk facing traffic, rather than with it. We'll never know if this recent tragedy could have been prevented that way, but it might help remind people to take extra care until a permanent solution can be reached.

CPO 1's Connecting Neighborhoods subcommittee has been wrestling with just such problems. We're learning to work with the county, ODOT, and other regional and national partners to find ways to improve the options for active travel, whether it's sidewalks and bike lanes or alternative paths through neighborhoods that avoid car-laden routes altogether. We meet on the second Wednesday from 7-8:30 pm at the Leedy Grange Hall, and we welcome new members with constructive approaches to this dilemma.



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