TRIB TOWN: Neighborhood bristles at its role as a corridor for commuters
The Southwest Portland neighbors best known for fighting - and ultimately losing - a battle against the Portland Aerial Tram have found renewed energy in another effort.
The former Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill neighborhood association has given itself a new name that is both a throwback to the area's past and a symbol of its unified future. Now known as South Portland Neighborhood Association, its members are pushing hard to reclaim their streets from commuters.
South Portland is in a constrained space between the West Hills and the Willamette River, bordered on the west mostly by Southwest Barbur Boulevard and running from Interstate 405 south almost to the Sellwood Bridge. Before it was changed to Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill in the 1970s, it was known as South Portland, and was home to a large European immigrant community, including many from Eastern Europe.
Since the 1940s, the area has been decimated by the transportation demands of Portland's suburban residents. The Lair Hill neighborhood, which lies below Oregon Health and Science University, is cut in half by Naito Parkway and the western entrance to the Ross Island Bridge.
Both Naito and the bridge entrance were expanded in the 1950s and again in the 1970s to accommodate a growing suburban population's need to access downtown Portland. Commuters from Tigard and Beaverton speed down Naito Parkway at 45 miles per hour, right through the middle of the Lair Hill neighborhood.
'It (Naito Parkway) cut right through the heart of this neighborhood,' said Jim Gardner, who has lived in Lair Hill since 1975.
Gardner lives on the west side of Naito Parkway where, he says, he feels isolated from the rest of his Lair Hill neighbors. The Ross Island Grocery, a neighborhood landmark on Southwest Corbett Avenue, is inaccessible to Gardner and his neighbors. Because Naito Parkway is lined with barriers, neighbors are prevented from any east-west crossing.
On the southern end of South Portland, commuters from Lake Oswego and West Linn cram onto Southwest Macadam Avenue, making travel difficult for Ken Love, neighborhood association president.
'You should see it at 5 o'clock on a weekday,' Love said. 'It's bumper-to-bumper traffic.'
Studies called for change
The heavy traffic slowly travels past homes and businesses. Love is spearheading the push to get the city of Portland to implement some traffic calming changes that, he says, neighbors have been requesting for decades.
In 1978, the neighborhood successfully advocated for a city transportation study to cite possible solutions to the heavy traffic through South Portland neighborhoods. After the study was complete, however, the city did not have any funds to make recommended changes.
In the 1990s, Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill neighbors once again successfully advocated for an updated version of the study, which was completed in 2001 and called the South Portland Circulation Study.
It calls for reducing Naito Parkway to a local street with two lanes of traffic, parking on the shoulders, and connections to other, existing neighborhood streets. Commuter traffic would be redirected away from Lair Hill to Interstate 5, I-405 or the Ross Island Bridge, through new ramps.
The South Portland Circulation Study also calls for a smaller, simpler western entrance to the Ross Island Bridge, which would free land for residential or commercial development.
Love and other neighbors have met with Commissioner Sam Adams, who oversees the city's transportation bureau, about implementing the changes. Love says Adams has been receptive but has not produced any money from the Portland Office of Transportation.
Bridge funds debated
South Portland neighbors also received a promise from the City Council when it approved plans for the OHSU tram in 2003. As mitigation, Love says, the city promised to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over I-5 at Southwest Gibbs Street and to begin studying a way to improve connections to the Ross Island Bridge.
Commissioners secured $11 million in federal funds for the bridge, but neighbors and Adams disagree on what the money is earmarked for. Neighbors say $1 million to $2 million was supposed to go toward an environmental impact study on the Ross Island Bridge entrance.
'The council resolution said any money left over from the bridge would go to the study,' said Roland Chlapowski, transportation liaison in Adams' office.
Adams has instructed the neighbors to form a committee to figure out ways to reduce the cost of the pedestrian bridge so money will be available for the study and, in return, has promised them a say in the final decision.
But Love isn't backing down. He says he will keep pressuring Adams and other city leaders to reduce traffic through the neighborhood as soon as possible. Love wants the changes made before his neighborhood doubles in size, which it is expected to do once residential development along the South Waterfront is complete.