PORTLAND — When police respond to calls in East Bayside, they face a major obstacle: the legacy of 1960s urban planning.
Back then, planners broke up the area’s street grid, created dead-end roads and situated housing projects like Kennedy Park and Bayside Terrace on urban islands, segregating them from other neighborhoods.
Now, when police are called to the area, they have to weave their cruisers along several streets before reaching their destination. then, any suspects have long scattered.
“They are gone before I get there,” said Gayle Petty, the senior lead police officer for the East End.
The city plans to change all that this year.
It will widen two walking paths so police can drive cruisers on them and have quick access to the area. It also plans to add outdoor lighting and landscaping and remove a stockade fence that can provide a hiding place.
If the paths are safer, more people will use them, say city officials and neighborhood leaders.
“It turns out to be really good to have a lot of pedestrian traffic,” said Belinda Ray of East Street, who works as a community organizer for the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization. “People are less likely to commit crime when they are being watched.”
Portland is using $89,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money to improve the path between Fox Street and North Boyd Street. The city will also extend the path west to connect with the Bayside Trail, now under construction. Portland Trails will manage the construction project.
In addition, the city will widen the path between Fox Field and the adjacent basketball court. That path connects Fox Street with Kennedy Park.
That project is being funded with $60,000 in Community Development Block Grant money and matching funds from private donors, including the Portland Red Claws basketball team and Walmart.
It will include new outdoor lighting, landscaping improvements around Fox Field and improvements to the basketball court. The project will add lights to the court and create two junior high school-size basketball courts.
Both projects are expected to be complete before November, said Penny St. Louis Littell, director of the city’s Planning and Urban Development Department.
The work is part of an approach to crime prevention that goes by a couple of names: “defensible space” and “crime prevention through environmental design.”
Dave Rogers, a civil engineer from Seattle who toured East Bayside last week as part of a planning project involving outside experts, said Portland is taking the right steps.
Rogers said that planners and police agencies across the country have learned since the 1960s that the conventional grid of city streets provides the best level of safety by creating long sightlines and giving police quick access.
Now, he said, communities must spend money to reconnect streets that were chopped up in the ’60s. “It is undoing what was done.”