City sidewalk plans encourage Laurelwood neighbors concerned about pedestrian safety

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - John Farmer stands on Laurelwood Avenue, where there are no sidewalks. A fatal accident last year led him to take pledges from neighbors in the hope of putting in speed bumps.Eighteen-year-old Harley Rocher was struck and killed by a vehicle on Jan. 13, 2013, while walking home from work on Southwest Laurelwood Avenue.

To this day, Beaverton police have no leads on the driver’s identity, said department spokesman Officer Mike Rowe.

As much as John Farmer, a 25-year resident of the narrow, two-lane thoroughfare, hates to admit it, the tragic event now seems like an inevitability.

“There’s been three (deaths) in the last 20 years,” he says. “When people go out to check their mail, I get scared to death. It’s kind of like, ‘Who’s going to be next?’”

Although his efforts to get at least one speed bump installed petered out after one too many setbacks, Farmer and his neighbors haven’t given up hope that traffic calming or safety features could be added to reduce pedestrians’ danger along the corridor between Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway and Southwest Scholls Ferry Road.

“I’m trying to do preventive maintenance,” Farmer says. “I don’t want this (tragedy) to happen again.”

The speed bump idea would require neighbors along Laurelwood, who are technically residents of unincorporated Washington County and don’t pay city taxes, to contribute around $3,000 for city of Beaverton crews to install. A proposal to build a sidewalk along the city-maintained street, however, is already in the works.

A five-year Capital Improvements Plan the City Council approved on Tuesday night includes a citizen request for a curb and sidewalk installation on the 660-foot stretch of Laurelwood that pedestrians and runners navigate at their own risk.

The three-citizen request is one of six resident-generated proposals in the CIP. The plan also calls for sidewalks on Nora Road from Galena Way west to 155th Avenue, 139th Avenue from Farmington to Sixth Street and additional speed limit signage on Jamieson Road between B-H Highway and Scholls Ferry.

At this point, only the Laurelwood sidewalk project is officially included in the CIP, but not until the 2015-16 fiscal year.

While that’s good news for Laurelwood neighbors, Peter Arellano, the city’s public works director, emphasizes a lot has to happen before concrete starts to pour. Neighbors will have to make their interest clear, while likely needing to sacrifice some of their front yards to accommodate a curb and walkway.

“They’ll have to be involved in the process,” Arellano says. “The city doesn’t own enough property to do anything about it. It’s one thing to work with residents to do a friendly acquisition of the property. It’s a whole other to go to court and fight for it.”

The city’s long-term goal is to have a continuous sidewalk from Scholls Ferry to B-H Highway, which filling the 660-foot gap near Farmer’s residence would complete.

“We’re talking about an all-or-nothing project to create a consistent sidewalk from Scholls Ferry to Beaverton-Hillsdale,” Arellano says, noting the wider segments of Laurelwood already have sidewalks. “Otherwise, there’s not much value to the project.”

In addition to neighborhood meetings, a feasibility study would include talking with Washington County officials about the possibility of collaborative funding on what Arellano estimates could be a $400,000 to $500,000 project.

“There’s no money funded until July 2015,” he says. “We’re not able to do much more until we get with the county and hold a neighborhood meeting or two and see what the level of interest is.”

George Gallagher, a Laurelwood resident who in 2004 got 90 percent of his neighbors to sign a petition in favor of speed bumps, got discouraged when he learned the city wouldn’t provide funding.

“The big hangup always seemed to be that we were unincorporated,” he said. “They were not willing to put anything into this street at all.”

He welcomes any renewed interest in making the street safer, with a sidewalk being preferable to speed bumps.

“I think sidewalks are safer for pedestrians,” he said. “There are a lot of ’em on here. The Jesuit High School cross-country team runs on this street. You can just see how dangerous it is.”

With the city’s plans and management from the nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market on Apple Way willing to consider a $1,000 donation to safety improvements (see accompanying story), Gallagher looks forward to seeing what can be accomplished.

“I think it’s very positive,” he said, noting Jesuit High School could have a stake in the project. “(Drivers) on this road are not courteous, for the most part. They don’t give you any slack on this road.

“It scares me.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A pedestrian is forced to walk on a driveway along Laurelwood Avenue due to a lack of sidewalks in the neighborhood.

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