Maria Schur loves the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood just fine the way it is; but even she was excited last week when the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) announced they’d finally break ground on a project that’s been eight years in the making.
“I’m biased. I think it’s a very special neighborhood. That’s maybe because I’ve lived here for 20 years,” Schur shared in a phone call Thursday. “But yes, I’m thrilled.”
Schur said walking to the store on SE Flavel and having to choose between mud and overgrown blackberries, or the street, makes the area feel like “The wild west… err, the wild south!”
The Brentwood-Darlington Multimodal Improvements project will spend $7.8 million ($4.6 from a federal grant awarded by Metro in 2017 and $3.2 from local Transportation System Development Charge funds) to fill gaps in sidewalks on both sides of SE Duke and SE Flavel streets between 52nd and 82nd avenues. The project will also build a new neighborhood greenway on SE Knapp and SE Ogden between 52nd and 87th, including a new signalized crossing of SE 82nd Avenue at SE Knapp and an enhanced crossing of 72nd Avenue at SE Ogden. According to a PBOT map of improvements coming to this neighborhood on Portland’s southern border that’s cradled by the Springwater Corridor path, a total of nine new crosswalks will complement the new greenway and sidewalks.
When a group of women — led by Lesley McKinley, Chelsea Powers, and Meesa Long (above) — stood up in 2016 to demand their neighborhood get the investment it deserves, I recall being shocked at the map they circulated. The map listed all sidewalks with red lines in a section of Portland’s southeast quadrant, and there was one striking, red-free rectangle. “That rectangle is Brentwood-Darlington, we are lacking in infrastructure,” Long said during a 2016 public hearing at Metro.
For the city’s part, the neighborhood wasn’t annexed into Portland until 1986, so several of the streets remain unpaved and the sidewalk network is a “complete hodge-podge” (to use Schur’s term). Because PBOT relies on developers to build new sidewalks with new houses; one house will have one, but the house next door will not (see photo below).
But for folks who live in the area, thirty years was long enough to wait for basic infrastructure. And when Long and her fellow activists came along, their persuasive testimonies earned the neighborhood a multi-million dollar federal grant, and was recognized with an advocacy award from Oregon Walks in 2017.
It has taken seven years to break ground in part because the City of Portland had to acquire property rights to build some of the sidewalks. Now they’re ready to get started.
For Schur, who leads “Hill Killer” rides in the neighborhood and is planning an alley-cat race this summer to share its charms, one of the most exciting parts of the project is the planned crossing of SE 82nd between Knapp and Ogden. It’s an offset intersection that requires bike riders to cross five lanes of high-speed traffic on an state-managed orphan highway.
“The scary part of that you have to play Frogger [to get across 82nd], which is nowhere near as fun as the video game version,” says Schur. “It’s just it’s too many lanes of traffic, and you end up waiting for a long time.”
At least we don’t have to wait longer for changes to finally arrive. PBOT says work is expected to start in the next month or two, and will continue through 2024.