The cars slowed down at the pedestrian bridge at Southeast 136th Avenue and Division Street.
Maybe drivers were looking at a new colorful mural that decorated the concrete columns. Maybe they were looking at the small crowd of people gathered at the base of the bridge. Or perhaps banners hung from the top of the span, blowing in the wind, urged drivers to slow down.
Organizers and traffic safety advocates hope that message stays with all who drive through the area.
On Nov. 17, the grassroots advocacy organization APANO unveiled a set of murals embellishing two pedestrian bridges that cross Division Street.
“I'm sure many of you know, 129 people have been seriously injured on Division in the last decade and two dozen have been killed,” said Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who gave remarks at the unveiling ceremony.
The murals were funded in part by Metro’s Community Placemaking Grant, which aims to empower community members to make changes they want to see in their neighborhoods.
One of the hallmarks of the grant program is to support neighborhood needs with community-led initiatives. In outer Division, that means safety.
Eudaly said the murals are part of larger efforts to improve safety on Division Street, which is the most dangerous street in Portland for pedestrian injuries and deaths, according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Most recently, Loan Diep was killed while walking across Division near 138th Street – just two blocks east of the pedestrian bridge. The 54-year old woman was heading home after work on Oct. 10, when she was struck by two cars, one of which kept driving.
“The impetus of this [mural] came from wanting to really address pedestrian safety,” said Candace Kita, APANO’s cultural work manager. “This really calls attention to the bridges and serves as a way to highlight them as safe routes to cross the street.”
The murals were partially covered with a plastic sheet that danced in the brisk November wind. Rodolfo Redstone Serna, the artist who created the pieces, unveiled them to enthusiastic applause from community members.
Though he created the design for the murals, Serna considers the artwork a product of the community. He worked with students from Bridger School and David Douglas High School, as well as the project’s steering committee to choose images for the design.
“Both of the schools had pretty similar ideas,” he said. “A lot of suggesting friendship, community, unity and a lot of playfulness in the sense of using animals, characters, mythological figures from around the world.”
The collaboration resulted in a colorful medley of fantastical images: a vibrant painting of Bigfoot that stands two stories tall; images of children riding unicorns and dragons; under-the-seascapes and pastoral scenes; electric neon flowers and pink-and-green zebras.
The East Portland community helped bring these images to life. Serna shared his self-taught art skills with the young people and school children who helped paint the mural, too. He even invited neighbors who were just passing by to pick up a paint brush and add to the work.
“The intersecting of community, that's what this neighborhood is,” Serna said. “It's folks from different backgrounds coming together. To me, that's just as beautiful as these murals here.”
Future plans to improve safety along Division Street include more crosswalks and street lights, protected bike lanes, a safer speed limit and a raised median in the center of the road.
“We're not going to solve pedestrian safety with murals entirely, but it can keep the conversation going,” Kita said. “And it reminds us that there is continuous work that needs to be done to really make these neighborhoods safe for all residents.”
Visit the Community Placemaking grant program page for more details.
Visit our Community Placemaking 2017 grantees and 2018 grantees pages.
Metro’s investments, such as these placemaking grants, are strategically focused to help local communities create or sustain the vibrant places envisioned in the Region’s 2040 Growth Concept.
The work of the Community Placemaking grant recipients aligns with Metro's strategic plan to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion.
Read the strategic plan: