When authorities arrived at SE 72nd and Woodstock Boulevard in Portland, Oregon, the bullet casings recovered at the scene totaled 26 from two different calibers of weapon. One of the bullets struck a vehicle occupied by two employees of Portland Parks and Recreation, narrowly missing the driver's head. It was September 13, 2021, and this shooting was the culmination of a months-long epidemic of violence in the neighborhood of Mt. Scott–Arleta. Drive-by shootings had become an unwelcome regular occurrence, with assailants using the slip lane at SE 72nd and Woodstock as a means to avoid stopped traffic at the light while firing.
The slip lane had also become a source for reckless driving, endangering pedestrians walking to and from the mini-mart adjacent to it. Between the main intersection and the slip lane resides a triangular island of land, also known as the Arleta Triangle.
Since 2005, residents of the Mt. Scott–Arleta neighborhood have worked hard to improve the square, hosting community clean ups and gardening events; but by the fall of 2021, with bullet casings peppered across the concrete and a record number of violent events in the area, the community was tired. Something needed to change, starting with the slip lane.
Slip lanes are traditionally intended to expedite right-turning traffic; instead of pausing at a traffic light, the right hand lane will "slip" past the intersection by branching off in a curve.
An urban isalnd: Arleta Trianle in Portland. Credit: 2002 Maxar Technologies, Metro, Portland Oregon, State of Oregon, U.S., Geological Survey, Map of data 2022 Google.
As demonstrated in the Google Maps view above, a slip lane creates a small triangular plot of land separating the slip from standard traffic. While slip lanes have safety features for pedestrians, such as clearly marked crosswalks and crossing lights, the primary purpose for their existence is to reduce delays in traffic. Prioritizing traffic over pedestrians creates an issue in public safety, and the slip lane at Mt. Scott–Arleta is an example of that.
The history of the slip lane in Mt. Scott-Arleta goes back to 1892, when the Mount Scott streetcar line was added in Portland. To accommodate the streetcar's route and inability to make 90 degree turns, a slip lane was added to the intersection of SE 72nd and Woodstock Boulevard. Even after the Mount Scott streetcar line ceased operations in 1936, the slip lane remained, and with it, the Arleta Triangle.
In 2005, residents of the community collaborated in an effort to give Arleta Triangle Square a meaningful purpose by transforming the space into a welcome area for the community. Since then, neighborhood residents have labored to maintain the Arleta Triangle; by 2021, however, circumstances required out of the box thinking to address the violence.
In an effort to reduce gun violence and reckless driving in the area, members of the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association contacted the Portland's Transportation Bureau Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, with an idea: eliminate the slip lane at SE 72nd and Woodstock and expand the Arleta Triangle into a community square.
Closing the slip lane would divert vehicles to the light at the intersection, slowing traffic and mitigating any opportunity for reckless driving and more importantly, drive-by shootings. The project would further be low in cost and accomplished in part through the collaborative efforts of the neighborhood association and residents.
A community's vision: the proposed Arleta Triangle Square Project. (Rendering by PSU Center for Public Interest Design)
Commissioner Hardesty embraced the idea, and over a five month period, the Portland Transportation Bureau implemented a pilot initiative to slow traffic at the intersection by sectioning off the slip lane with plastic barrels. Additional barrels were placed within a six-block radius of the area as well. Data collected during the pilot period would demonstrate whether closing the slip lane benefited public safety.
While the program did not result in a complete end to the violence and speeding in the neighborhood, data showed a reduction of 64 percent in violence, a dramatic and very welcome decline.
The results of the pilot program were significant enough to green light the Arleta Triangle Square project. The slip lane was permanently closed; cement planters bordered the area, and only a short lane became available for vehicles exiting the parking lot of the mini-mart. By eliminating the slip lane, Arleta Triangle doubled its square footage and brought much-needed character to the intersection.
The Arleta Triangle Project nears completion. Photo by FAT Cupcake.
September 8, 2022, marked a turning point for the residents of Mt. Scott–Arleta. Nearly a year after the shooting the community gathered at Arleta Square unafraid and ready to celebrate the official unveiling of Arleta Triangle Square. Residents, friends, and even Commissioner Hardesty danced together on the vibrantly painted plaza. The rainbow sweeping the reclaimed slip lane captured the joy of the community who championed it.
"This is community safety. What was once a dangerous slip lane and an intersection plagued by vehicle and gun violence has been transformed into an active, positive community space," said Commissioner Hardesty. "I am so thankful to everyone that made this happen, starting with over a decade of community advocacy. Thank you to Mt. Scott Neighborhood Association, Portland Bureau of Transportation, American Planning Association, and all the partners that worked with us to make this pilot project such a success."
With the square's permanency cemented, Mt. Scott–Arleta residents now have a space to host events to further bring the community together. A stage is now situated at one end of the plaza; structures and seating gifted by contributing organizations further amplify the welcoming sentiment of the square. The success of the project, combined with its low-cost of only $30,000 due to the generosity of Portland organizations and community volunteers, has inspired city leaders to reproduce the plan in other areas of the city.
Considerations for Your Community
The Arleta Triangle Square project is exemplary of how public safety can be achieved through community and municipal collaboration. By prioritizing public safety over traffic efficiency, Commissioner Hardesty and the City of Portland made it possible for community leaders to realize a vision for the neighborhood they call home. Further, it encourages community investment by motivating organizations to contribute. The combination of these factors creates mutual good will and will create opportunity for more investment within the community, and enable existing businesses to thrive.
Share Your Work
APA wants to continue to highlight the work of planners in advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in communities around the country. We're looking for more examples of case studies to elelvate. Share your work by emailing email@example.com.
Buzzfile. Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association
David, Steve. "Safety Over Speek Week: Slip Lanes Would Never Exist If We Prioritized Safety Over Speed." Transportation for America, Nov. 5, 2019.
Dixon Kavanaugh, Shane. "How Portland Leaders Fumbled Through a Historic Year of Disorder, Violence, and Despair." The Oregonian. Feb. 20, 2022.
FHWA Office of Safety. "Well-Designed Right-Turn Slip Lanes"
Gaitan, Catalina. "SE Portland Neighborhood Sees 64% Drop in Shootings Amid Traffic-Calming Program." The Oregonian. March 7, 2022.
Garcia, Isabella. "Southeast Portland's Arleta Triangle Gets a Public Safety Makeover." Portland Mercury. Sept. 9, 2022.
KGW Staff. "Driver Narrowly Missed by Bullet in Portland Shooting; 26 Casings Recovered From Scene." KGW Channel 8
Maus, Johnathan. "Mt. Scott-Arleta Residents Celebrate Vibrant Plaza on Formerly Violent Street," Bike Portland, Sept. 9, 2022.
Michelle Helman Consulting, LLC. "Mt. Scott-Arleta Community Safety Project Evaluation Report." The Community Saftey Division City of Portland Office of Management and Finance.
Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association. "It's Been A Year, Let's Celebrate!" Aug. 25, 2022.
Thompson, Richard. Images of Rail: Portland's Streetcar Lines. (99-101). 2010 Aracadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina
Top image: The proposed Arleta Triangle Square Project. (Rendering by PSU Center for Public Interest Design)
About the author
Dina Walters is part of APA's equity communications team.