Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 24th, 2013 at 4:43 pm
Over the long weekend I was summoned by the sun (and the need to break in a new bike) to do an exploratory ride. I hadn't rambled down the Springwater beyond Sellwood for ages so I thought I'd go do "the loop" (north Portland to Springwater via the Esplanade then back north via I-205 path). As I rolled north on the path, one of the overcrossings (thanks TriMet!) allowed me to gaze down on SE Foster Road. Foster has been on my mind lately as a redesign that could include bikeways has recently floated up during the ongoing streetscape planning process. Without any set route in my mind, I decided to ride up Foster and get a first-hand feel for the street.
Eek. After being out there myself, I have a much better sense of what we're up against. It wasn't the first time I'd been on Foster; but it's the first time I spent time to soak in the atmosphere and think about what could be.
Almost immediately I realized that riding on SE Foster is not an option, at least not for me (I have heard that some people aren't afraid to try). Traffic is very fast, the road is wide (at least two lanes in each direction, and some portions have a wide center turn lane as well), and there is zero room in the shoulder.
Some people might think the sidewalk is a pleasant oasis. It's not. Not next to a street like Foster when a huge cement truck can rumble by just inches away (that actually happened and it sort of spooked me).
I have some personal principles about not riding on the sidewalk and asserting my legal right to be in the road. But I swallowed my pride on that stance in about two seconds. Then I realized even the sidewalk on SE Foster is no picnic. It's extremely narrow in spots. So narrow in fact that I saw two people chatting, walking side-by-side, and one of them actually had to step into the street to continue their conversation because a utility pole blocked his way (see below).
Then I stood for several minutes at the intersection of SE 82nd and Foster. The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the intersection, the massive volume of cars that go through it, and the horrible condition of the pavement. Then I noticed, despite how intimidating the place was for everyone outside of a car, there was actually quit a bit of street life. Almost everywhere I turned I saw people walking, riding bikes, or rolling along in a scooter.
Then it occurred to me how much potential the street has. Imagine the life that would spring forward if auto traffic was tamed and the overall streetscape was more humane? Foster has a lot going for it in the way of existing storefronts and (relatively) dense residential areas nearby. Even with the clamoring and obnoxious auto traffic that defines it, it's easy to imagine Foster as a much different place. A place where people can meet, talk, and enjoy the public space that runs through the center of their neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, at the present time, it's just a big, wide, high-speed thoroughfare where only motor vehicles are welcome. (*SE Foster is one of the most deadly corridors in the City and has been part of PBOT's High Crash Corridor program since 2010.)
Luckily a lot of dedicated and smart people are working to help Foster reach that potential. Following a link from the excellent neighborhood blog, FosterUnited.org, I came across the Foster Lents Integration Partnership (FLIP) planning exercise by the Portland Development Commission. They're holding an online Town Hall to garner feedback on how to invest in the Foster Corridor. If you care about this part of our city (and you should!), I hope you'll consider getting involved in making it a vibrant and welcoming place.
— For more on some of the streetscape design options and the potential for creating bikeways on SE Foster, see our report from last month.