SE Division Street is undergoing significant updates from 80th Ave towards 174th Ave. In addition to numerous safety enhancements, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) will replace a continuous painted center turn-lane with a raised center median. Adding these dividers to busy streets provides substantial public benefit. They restrict left turn traffic to predictable places, protect crossing pedestrians, and provide space for added street trees. Perhaps more than the other benefits, community members enthusiastically awaited the expanded green spaces proposed for the center of this project. Unfortunately, PBOT is unable to provide most of the trees intended for SE Division Street.
Adding trees between multiple lanes of opposing traffic has several advantages. Visually it reduces the width of a road and can help reduce speeds by changing the character of a street. Additionally, generations of road designers have valued the sunshade and wind-breaking benefits that median trees provide. Consequential, PBOT staff intended to incorporate large numbers of trees into the Division Street redesign. However, decades of city infrastructure buried underground derailed plans to add them to the center of the road. “We originally planned on adding trees in all of the center medians coming to SE Division. However, during the design phase, we learned that the majority of proposed tree locations would be in conflict with an underground major water transmission line and also sewer infrastructure in certain areas.” Explained John Brady, Communications Director with PBOT.
PBOT will not forgo all center medians trees on SE Division. In total, crews will plant twenty new trees in the middle of the road at locations that do not conflict with underground utility lines. Montavilla will have a small cluster of trees between SE 84th and 85th Avenues. Crews will start construction on that segment of median in the coming weeks.
Because PBOT cannot provide the expected number of trees in this project, Brady said they are shifting that portion of the work out to neighboring streets. “Since we are not able to plant as many trees as originally planned on SE Division, we will be working with the City’s Urban Forestry division to fund a planting project on adjacent side streets north and south of SE Division.” That project will add over 200 street trees within the public right-of-way. Tree planting work will occur in 2022 and 2023. Brady concedes that this is a compromise to PBOT’s original vision. “We recognize this won’t have the same effect as adding trees directly on SE Division Street, but it will help with overall air quality, stormwater management, and combating the heat sink in this part of East Portland.”
The twenty new street trees on SE Division will not be alone forever. As properties redevelop along the roadway, the City will require the construction of wider sidewalks with street trees. This approach will take decades to achieve the same green-scape initially imagined for the busy street’s renovation. However, it is the best option available at the moment. Perhaps as City engineers plan new utility line projects, they will consider shifting infrastructure away from the center, allowing for future planting of greenery between the vast expanses of pavement.