Improvements at Reiche seen as vital for Portland neighborhood

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PORTLAND — When Judy Watson’s daughters walk to Reiche Elementary School alone, their mother insists they take a long route that ensures they cross the street on well-marked crosswalks.

When they all walk together, they take a direct route that is shorter, forcing them to step well into the street to look for traffic before crossing without a crosswalk.

Watson would like to see that change with the addition of crosswalks and other measures to make sure pedestrians are safe as they move around the neighborhood.

City Councilor David Marshall and city staff are collaborating with the Reiche Parent Teacher Organization and West End Neighborhood Association to respond to concerns like Watson’s. They hope to improve access, enhance safety and better utilize space at the school and community center.

Marshall will host a community forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Reiche Community Room, 166 Brackett St., to provide information and get feedback from residents about the city’s five-year capital improvement plan and improvements around Reiche, which was built in the 1970s.

“Reiche is in many ways the heart of the neighborhood. Whether it’s the school or the community center, the building serves as a gathering place for our residents and provides a space for our community to connect with each other,” Marshall said.

He said the city’s capital improvement plan calls for $3 million to be spent on Reiche improvements in 2016. Residents have concerns about pedestrian and traffic safety on the crowded streets around the school, and there are issues within the school that need to be addressed, he noted.

Visitors to the community center pool during the day must walk through the school cafeteria. Additionally, office staff have a hard time monitoring the front entrance because of its configuration, and access to the second floor is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Marshall said.

“It needs an investment in order to solve some of these design issues and improve safety and handicap accessibility,” he said. “… The facility is really indispensable.”

The next step, Marshall said, is to use $60,000 to hire an architect to create drawings of possible renovation plans. He said he may ask that money be allocated from a fund set aside from the sale of Martin’s Point for school improvements.

Watson, co-chairman of the Reiche PTO, estimated about 150 of the school’s 311 students walk to school and another 20 or so families drop off their children by car. The school uses one bus to transport students.

Watson said pedestrian safety is an issue she brought to the attention of city officials at the beginning of the school year. She said she was surprised and appreciative of the city’s quick response to make fixes where possible, as well as the commitment to look for solutions to long-term issues.

Bruce Hyman, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator, said the city developed a short-term action plan to make the trip to and from school safer for students. City crews trimmed tree branches that were covering school zone lights and painted stop lines at intersections around the school to make them more visible.

The city also upgraded crosswalks from a two-line style to a more visible black-and-white style resembling piano keys, Hyman said.

“(Parents) felt there were some crosswalks needed leading to the entrances of the school,” he said. “We’ve expedited the installation of a couple crosswalks and will install more.”

Hyman said the city will take a closer look at long-term traffic management and pedestrian safety in the area and is examining pending crosswalk requests. He said safety is a top concern in the area because of the narrow, busy streets and the high volume of students walking to school.

“It’s a pretty chaotic area out there in the morning and afternoon,” he said.

Watson said it is important neighborhood residents are involved in the process.

“(The school) really is the center of this very vibrant neighborhood,” she said.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.