This guest post was written by Adam Murray, a local musician and filmmaker who campaigned in support of a “road diet” on SE Division Street this past summer.
Two summers back, we moved from the Bay Area into a 1910 craftsman on Division St. We were in love with the place. There was only one drawback: Division itself.
It checked off every bad quality a street could have– speeding, numerous crashes, long traffic backups due to the challenge of turning left across two lanes of speeding cars, etc. With no parking or bike lane as a buffer, you had to pay complete attention while walking on the sidewalk. A hand gesture during a conversation could result in getting it tapped by a car going 50 miles an hour. We had to warn people before they visited. Planning for an eventual in-home daycare, we put a child-proof lock on the front door, but we were still concerned about parents and their children having to walk a few yards on the terrifying sidewalk for drop-offs and pick-ups.
As a four lane street, Division always felt off, like a highway going through a neighborhood will probably always feel. To catch the bus at a stop just across the street, my choices were: A) going far out of my way to cross safely, or B) waiting for a break in four lanes of speeding traffic (often while I watched my bus come and go). It was okay for driving, but it definitely encouraged speeding.
The worst part was walking on the sidewalk, which was terrifying. Cars whooshing by at 50 mph, a foot from your shoulder, and bikes squeezing past you on the sidewalk while you’re dealing with that. Every time we walked the dog was a nightmare.We caught wind of the potential to make Division what it always should have been, and we knew we had to help. We went to two neighborhood meetings a week apart, and between them, we witnessed a crash right in front of our house. It was a crash corridor, after all. Fortunately, no one was severely injured.
We upped the game and took informational fliers to all of our neighbors. I spoke with a few of them, and there was a lot of support for the changes. Joggers told me that Division scared them, and a few nannies and parents with strollers were understandably excited for a safer feeling street. I found out that the neighborhood had been pushing for a safer Division since the 70s!
One of my neighbors was opposed to the idea, because he thought some huge bicycle lobby was behind it. Which was funny, because there I was going around the neighborhood about it, and I’m physically incapable of riding a bike due to my disabilities. Bicyclists benefitted, sure. So did drivers, pedestrian students (preschool through college) at a dozen neighborhood schools and campuses, local stores, and the many residents of the Courtyard at Mt. Tabor retirement community. We all benefitted.
The neighbors I spoke with didn’t raise many concerns, but I imagine that some drivers worried that traffic would slow down. Well, it did, but not in a bad way; now, people go the speed limit. Earlier this year, Division looked and felt like a highway, so people sped.
Now, it looks and feels like a 35 mph street, which it always has been, and people go that speed. It hasn’t caused congestion, which is important to me as a driver, and it made the sidewalk feel safe for the first time. Our neighborhood is awesome now!
Advice for neighborhoods that are up for similar upgrades to their streets? Check out the research on this kind of road diet.
The traffic flow is minimally affected but the crash rates plummet. Then, come walk down the Division St. sidewalk between SE 60th and 82nd, imagining that traffic is going significantly faster, and that there are twice as many lanes of it, including one right up against the sidewalk you’re standing on. The change just makes sense; it’s a cheap and responsible way to make your neighborhood better. I for one couldn’t be happier with our new, improved Division.