Pandemic Brings Welcome Traffic Calming to Busy Neighborhood Street

[Posted October 14, 2020]


Submitted by William Gallagher/SW Trails PDX


There are three words that Debbie Small and her neighbors on the extension of SW Bertha Boulevard parallel to Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway have learned to love: Local Access Only.


As a response to COVID-19 circumstances, the Portland Bureau of Transportation installed signs and barriers to discourage drivers from using this street west of the Hillsdale shopping district as a shortcut and to create safer conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists. Seventeen locations in SW Portland now feature Local Access Only and informational signs along with big, orange barrels as barriers to non-residential vehicle traffic.


Some people think Bertha Boulevard ends just after it passes under the bridge, at the intersection where it joins with Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. But it takes a jog, branching off BH Highway and continuing to SW 30th, providing a convenient cut- through for drivers.That’s why Small and her neighbors first petitioned PBOT to make their street part of the Neighborhood Greenway program with traffic calming features like speed bumps, bike lanes and shared use arrows (or “sharrows”).”


For the time being, at least, they got Neighborhood Greenway Lite.


“The change was significant and immediate” following the installation of the signage in late August, according to Small, the vice president of the pedestrian advocacy group SW Trails PDX, who lives on this section of SW Bertha Blvd. She estimates cars and trucks sometimes significantly exceed the posted 20 mph speed limit on this half-mile stretch of residential road.


families on the street in front of Local Access Only signs.
Moms and kids who live and play on SW Bertha Boulevard are fans of the effort to keep non-residential cars and trucks off their street with Local Access Only signs. Photo: SW Trails PDX

“Designating the street as Local Access Only eliminated the all-day vehicle traffic. Street traffic is now in line with what you'd expect from those that live in this section,” Small said, adding that since most of the people driving on SW Bertha live there, they are much more considerate.


“Besides walkers and bicyclists, we have a lot of young families on the street with kids learning how to ride bicycles and scooters. There are also Orthodox Jewish families who walk to and from the local Hebrew schools during the week, and to and from services on the weekends. We were concerned about the safety of non-drivers using the street as a common means of movement since there are no sidewalks,” Small said, regarding the original application to PBOT.


Residents are hoping that when the long-awaited, oft-delayed Red Electric Trail is built along this part of SW Bertha, there will be permanent speed limit reductions, shared road markings and speed bumps.


There are about 105 streets in Portland that have been granted Local Access Only status since May. Seventeen are in SW Portland. A complete list and map can be found at PBOT’s Safe Streets Initiative webpage.

PBOT is pretty responsive to neighborhood requests. If you would like to recommend that the street where you live be designated Local Access Only, you can email Safe@portlandoregon.gov or call 503-823-SAFE (7233).

Small and her neighbors wonder whether the efforts to limit and slow cars and trucks on their street will be made permanent. They are encouraged by PBOT Director Chris Warner’s statement in a press release last May: “When we reach the point that we can re-open, we want to make sure our transportation system is ready. Portlanders have made great use of their neighborhood streets to walk, bike, and roll during the pandemic. We’ve designed the Slow Streets|Safe Streets initiative (Local Access Only) to make sure they can continue to do this safely as we get back closer to normal.”


SW Trails PDX is a non-governmental organization that promotes safe conditions for SW walkers and bicyclists, maintains 47 miles of urban trails and advocates policies that prioritize alternatives to driving. For more information please see www.swtrails.org.


What changes from the pandemic would you like to see made permanent? Let us know.