Portland residents are protesting plans by Portland Parks & Recreation to remove lights in city parks without having enough money to replace them immediately.
The bureau has already taken down some light poles following a Feb. 22 announcement that 243 poles in 12 parks have been declared structurally unsafe. That prompted criticism from representatives of the neighborhoods that include Colonel Summer Park and Sellwood Park during a March 9 meeting of the Southeast Uplift neighborhood coalition organization.
“Colonel Summers Park is totally dark at night now. If someone’s making a lot of noise there at night, I’d be afraid to approach them in the dark,” said Andrew Eisman, past co-chair of the board of the Buckman Neighborhood Association.
According to Eisman, all of the lights were removed in the park in that neighborhood between Feb. 28 and March 2.
“If it’s a question of safety, it’s much more dangerous in the park at night now,” said Eisman, noting the only lights in the park now are at a small shelter and the tennis courts, which must be switched on by players and then turned off at 10 p.m.
More recently, Friends of Mt. Tabor sent a letter to Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan opposing removal of light poles in that park, which is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. The lampposts are mentioned three times in the successful 1990 application for the listing.
“Adding distinctive charm and illumination is the period lighting system comprised of eighty-eight single concrete standard lampposts that follow the drives and some of the main interior pathways throughout the park. These lampposts give off a soft, friendly light, reminiscent of gaslights, especially in the interior forested areas where they serve as a reminder of the original design of accessibility,” one reference says.
“We think the bureau should put the removal on hold and conduct some public hearings. The board believes it’s a bad idea to take down the lights without having the money to replace them,” said chair Steve Law.
“The parks bureau is saying it’s a safety issue. But it’s much more unsafe to remove lights from the park, especially for women walking through there at night,” said John Laursen, a member of the board of the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association, which is separate from the Friends support group.
The bureau reportedly launched a Light Pole Safety Project after someone who strung a hammock between a pole and a tree in a park was injured when the pole fell. The bureau said it inspected 1,000 poles, some of them more than a year old, and identified the structurally unsafe ones that need to be replaced.
Although some poles have already been removed, the bureau has not identified the full amount of money to replace them. Replacement costs are estimated at $15 million, but the bureau has only identified $5 million.
Until all the light poles are replaced, the bureau will prioritize visits by Park Rangers in the affected parks. The bureau is also exploring opportunities to maximize the use of remaining lights to keep affected parks as bright as possible. In addition, Ryan, who oversees the parks bureau, directed it to close affected parks at 10 p.m.
Laursen scoffs at the idea that people will voluntarily stop coming to the dark parks after 10 p.m., or that Park Rangers will find them and throw them out.
“I’ve never seen a Park Ranger in Mt. Tabor. We’ve had weekly late-night raves on the summit in the past and no one has showed up to stop them,” Laursen said.
According to the bureau, the light poles are not the only things in the park system that need significant repair or replacement. Recent closures of Columbia Pool and O’Bryant Square are examples of this systemwide challenge.
“PP&R estimates that one in five park assets could be removed or closed within the next 15 years without new, sustainable funding,” Director Adena Long said in the announcement. “Currently, there is about $600 million of repair and replacement work needed for the park and recreation system, including walking paths, playgrounds, pools, community centers, and a variety of assets that are beyond their service life.”
According to the bureau, light pole replacements will be prioritized for Irving Park and Mt. Scott Park based on an equity analysis.
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