Ten years ago, when I moved into Portland's Buckman neighborhood, I was aghast at how dangerous it was to cross Hawthorne Boulevard as it traversed the avenues numbered in the 20's, 30's and 40's. You took your life into your hands. The traffic was way too fast, and the drivers drove with blinders on. Trying to get from, say, the Cat's Meow on the south side to Noah's Bagels on the north was a death-defying act. I saw many a close call, heard many a screech of slammed-on brakes.
About a year later, the City Council passed some sort of plan or other that was supposed to help the situation. That was nine years ago. While we all waited around, a few neighbors started wondering why the city couldn't at least paint some crosswalks at the most dangerous intersections. With a straight face, the city traffic experts told us that that would be too dangerous because it would give pedestrians a false sense of security. More than once it was stated that the city was concerned about its own liability if someone was struck in a crosswalk.
All of which sounded supremely stupid to me. Meanwhile, the hazards continued unabated for nine long years. Last summer, an older gent was hit by a van and killed one afternoon.
Anyway, finally something is going to happen. Beginning this Sunday, Hawthorne -- formerly known as Asylum Street (you could look it up) -- is going to get a pedestrian safety facelift. The details are here. You can quibble with the specifics -- I'm sure we'll hear from you-know-who about the curb extensions -- but all I can say is, it's about darn time that something was done over there. We've built an entire faux city in the Pearl District and gotten our second one well under way in SoWhat while the residents of, and visitors to, Buckman and Sunnyside have risked their necks crossing Hawthorne.
Although Hawthorne's the center of attention in this project, it's not just about that main thoroughfare. There are also some speed bumps and other traffic "calming" devices going in south of Hawthorne -- most notably on Lincoln Street. Mount Tabor and Colonial Heights residents will learn to love 'em or hate 'em over time.
Of course, the big "improvement" that the city would like to add to Hawthorne is parking meters. The p.r. push to get the merchants there to sign off on that change will no doubt come on hot and heavy once the upcoming construction starts showing results. I hope they're smart enough to fight it. I know I'll think twice about going down there to shop if it's going to cost me a buck or more to park.
But that story's for another day. If you're in the mood this week, take a ride along Hawthorne to get the "before" picture. They have a little Second Thursday thing that's kind of nice. The place may never feel quite the same again after Sunday. And in some respects, that's a good thing.