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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Charlie Hales Keeps Hearing About Sidewalk Cuts

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 11:59 AM

Mayor Charlie Hales is receiving scads of reasons to reconsider the proposed scrapping of a Southeast Portland sidewalk from this year's transportation budget—a move that would free up cash for road paving.

Not that he needed them.

The matter has been a flashpoint since 5-year-old Morgan Cook was struck and killed while crossing SE 136th Avenue on February 28. That's eight days after Toby Widmer, the Bureau of Transportation's interim director, suggested the city should waylay plans for a sidewalk a few blocks away from where the girl died. In the tragedy's immediate aftermath, Hales issued a statement saying safety has to be the city's "North Star" in transportation planning, but stopped short of saying he'll push for the walkway.

Now 18 local organizations have sent the mayor a letter urging him to fund the project, along with curb ramp projects Widmer suggested axing. And a coalition of state lawmakers representing East Portland have chimed in, too.

Their March 1 letter reads, in part:

The Portland Bureau of Transportation recently revealed its plan to remove $1.2 million slated for sidewalk construction on SE 136th Avenue in order to fund street paving projects in other parts of the city. East Portland's lack of basic infrastructure was brought into stark and horrifying reality last night. We trust that you agree: this is unacceptable.

Capping off the pressure is an online petition by Portland advocacy group Oregon Walks asking Hales and the rest of city council to:

• Improve transportation safety for everyone by reducing conflicts between people driving and walking, until we reach zero deaths ("Vision Zero").

• Commit to funding sidewalks, crosswalks, and curb ramps for people with disabilities.

• Build an equitable, accessible Portland in which children can walk safely and people can move and age with dignity.

As of this morning, the petition had gathered 635 "signatures," many referencing the young girl's death.

For all that, Hales isn't taking a hard stance on the project. The reason we're even talking about cutting the sidewalk, after all, is that the mayor assigned Widmer to come up with the funds to pave 100 miles of bruised and battered city streets. The back-to-basics approach was a big part of Hales' campaign rhetoric and has continued to loom large as the mayor grapples with up to $25 million in needed budget solutions.

"He was not 100 percent for (the sidewalk project) before the terrible tragedy, nor is he now," Hales spokesman Dana Haynes told the Mercury on Monday. "Paving is a safety issue and that’s why it’s got to be on top of the list."

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