Brian Wong has long had concerns about safety on busy 82nd Avenue, which is also a state highway and one of the state's most dangerous roads. To advocate for better safety, he helped form the 82nd Avenue Improvement Coalition. As the Oregon Department of Transportation spends millions on safety improvements and begins a major planning effort to consider the road's future, Wong will serve on a Community Advisory Committee.
Here, he shares how their impressions of the neighborhood's safety and potential have changed since they bought their home in Montavilla in 1999.
On moving to the neighborhood
We both worked at Providence (Medical Center, on NE Glisan Street), so we wanted something close by. My wife's mom lives in the area and we wanted to be close to her. It was very convenient because it's right off I-205, off 82nd. It's super convenient to travel around, just a mile to work. And it was affordable.
I was rather uncertain at first. The first week we moved in, there was a house down the street that had a major drug bust and the SWAT team came and closed the road and I was wondering what we got into. The local business street, Stark Street, was all vacant when we moved in. We had that ebb and flow of small property crimes and nuisance crimes coming up 82nd.
Why they stayed
As we started to do family planning we were on the fence about whether we'd stay there.
But we looked around and the housing market had gone crazy. Even though we were both earning good wages at the time, and we'd end up with less house in a slightly better neighborhood.
We also saw signs the neighborhood was turning around. The business district was starting to pick up. We had gotten connected with our neighborhood association. We worked with Commissioner Dan Saltzman and the Portland Police on addressing prostitution and street crimes and got a program in place. It's still in place.
So nine years ago we decided to put our money back in our house. We remodeled our home and made it bigger. We're very happy with that decision.
On signs of hope
The spaces started getting occupied and there started being life in the business district. Things were walkable. We didn't have to get into a car. I had grown up in Woodburn, which is very rural, and the only way you can get around is in a car.
Now we walk down to the Montavilla area, the farmers market, three or four times a week and more in the summer. The Academy Theater is probably our favorite place to go to. The kids get to have pizza for dinner and we get to watch a movie together as a family, so that's a neat experience.
On fighting for a better 82nd
82nd Avenue is too difficult to navigate when you're not in a car. I would like to see more options available to navigate 82nd Avenue. I think it has tremendous potential: seven miles of north-south traffic that's uninterrupted, except for traffic lights.
If we could get more traffic besides vehicles on it I think the businesses would net a lot of benefit from it. It's so vehicule-oriented your options are limited as to what kind of business you can put on that boulevard. If a restaurant is going to set up there, they're not looking to the local community they're looking to what traffic they can draw from the interstate. They're not looking to the local community as customers.
So me and a couple of neighbors got together and said let's see what we can do. We created the 82nd Avenue Improvement Coalition. I serve as the chair. Our vision is to make 82nd Avenue a grand boulevard for the city of Portland to be proud of. We look to promote three things: livability, prosperity and functionality.
Our vision is to make 82nd Avenue a grand boulevard for the city of Portland to be proud of.
When I was on the neighborhood association, whenever we addressed a concern about 82nd Avenue with the Oregon Department of Transportation or Portland Bureau of Transportation, they'd always tell us to go to the other one. As far as most people are concerned, they don't really care who owns what part of the street. That was our biggest goal: to bring ODOT and PBOT into closer alignment.
The other is to build the political willpower to say, "Let's do something with 82nd Avenue." And this is why we're really excited about the 82nd Avenue Implementation Plan. We should be using that planning process to say, what does the local community want on 82nd Avenue?
On whether streets like 82nd Avenue are a necessary evil
Cities do need streets like 82nd Avenue. You need boulevards that move traffic and freight traffic up and down. But you also need a boulevard that fits into the community. And that's where 82nd Avenue is lacking. It doesn't fit into the community. If you were to ask anyone who lives along 82nd, they view it more as a barrier than a boulevard. You can't cross it. You can't walk alongside it comfortably.
(Some say) nothing can be done, but I say something can be done. Look at streets like Northeast Sandy (Boulevard), a former highway which they've modified to better standards in the Hollywood District. That's still moving traffic just fine. I think there's always something that can be done. It's about priorities.
Improving safety on 82nd Avenue
The Oregon Department of Transportation, which owns and operates 82nd Avenue, has two active projects considering the area's future:
- The agency will spend several million dollars over the next few years on a range of intersection improvements, safety and signal upgrades and paving along the 7.3-mile corridor. Learn more
- The 82nd Avenue of Roses Implementation Plan, a study to consider future safety improvements and the long-term future of the road, is also just beginning. Learn more
On the community's greatest strengths
When I was on the neighborhood association and they started redeveloping Stark Street, someone asked me what the magic was and I said, "low rent." The neighborhood is so affordable it's going to draw a diverse crowd to start businesses and buy homes.
We need to protect that affordability. I could see two great ways to do that: inclusive housing and raising wages. I hope that an employment zone and affordability could be an engine to maintain diversity in the community. There's no easy answer but being aware of it and always trying to maintain diversity is important.
And for the most part, Montavilla has complete sidewalks and good walkability index. You just need the businesses to show up. Give us the businesses and we'll walk there.
Hear more stories from 82nd and Division