A call for more Sunday Parkways

Posted by on July 3rd, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Sunday Parkways-1-2.jpg

Everyone loved Sunday Parkways.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Sunday Parkways — an event that created a six-mile, carfree loop through North Portland — was nothing short of an historic day for our city.

Has Portland ever seen such a large-scale, accessible, and free event that promoted neighborhood unity and public health with such fun and success? Thousands of people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and classes showed up to revel in their public space like never before.

In just a few hours, Sunday Parkways catapulted the idea of “carfree” from the fringes of anti-car activism and drove it right into the hearts and minds of thousands of regular, everyday Portlanders.

“It was pretty complicated to pull this off… we wanted to get it right.”
–Sunday Parkways mastermind Linda Ginenthal

So, why not do it again? And soon?

After, “Isn’t this great!?”, the first thing out of nearly everyone’s mouth during and after the event was, “So when is the next one?”

Sources tell me that the Mayor’s office received 44 phone calls after the event, and 39 of them were positive.

But unfortunately, the official line from the Office of Transportation, who are still beaming about the event’s success is, “Next year”.

They cite the a litany of excuses. Not enough money, not enough staff to pull it off, other projects to attend to, and so on.

Three Bridges opening celebration

Ginenthal (L) with members of her staff,
at an event last summer.

Linda Ginenthal is the program manager in the Transportation Options division within Portland’s Office of Transportation. She’s the one who spearheaded Sunday Parkways after being inspired by a presentation about Bogota, Colombia’s “ciclovia” at a transportation conference in 2006.

In an interview last week, she told me the reason they planned just one event (versus several, like every other city is doing) had to do primarily with a lack of staff resources. The event took an immense effort to pull off because, as Ginenthal put it, they, “Wanted to get it right.”

She shared the many logistical headaches and lessons they learned;

“It was pretty complicated to pull this off… we really learned a lot about how to do the traffic control and how to match 250 volunteers with 200 different jobs in about two weeks time.”

Ginenthal also shared one of the main reasons the event worked; “the neighbors were ready.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from covering PDOT over the years is that they are masters at making (or trying to make) everyone happy.

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Options staffer Rich Cassidy at
a Sunday Parkways meeting
in November 2007.

Ginenthal and her crack Options staff heard loud and clear from Commissioner Adams’ office that this event would only get the green-light if everyone was on board.

So, they spent a year planning a six-hour event.

They sent out two separate mailers, placed door hangers on every house on the route, planted yard signs, attended hundreds of neighborhood meetings, and even met individually leaders of churches on the route.

Even now, after the event was a runaway success, Ginenthal says Options still plans to follow-up with all the neighbors to get feedback.

This staff workload issue was made even more severe due to a new wrinkle in a state-funded contract to manage Portland’s Safe Routes to Schools program. Due to a recent contractual change, the Options division will take over management of the program (it was formerly managed by Alta Planning).

Ginenthal says that this change with the management of the Safe Routes to Schools program made it hard to envision being busy with Sunday Parkways:

“Taking that on when we’re already busy up to our necks, and having everything ready [for Safe Routes] by when school starts… that was definitely on my radar in thinking about Sunday Parkways.”

Sunday Parkways-7.jpg

Beyond the toll on human resources, Ginenthal says funding is another hurdle.

To offset costs in the future (this first one was $150,00), Ginenthal says they’re kicking around the idea of having communities put together proposals to host a Sunday Parkways event. The proposal would include information like which route they’d like to see, what neighborhood associations would support it, what vendors would come, and how much money they could pull together to make it happen.

It’s clear Ginenthal would love to do more this year, but she also knows that her current staffing levels and budget make it an unlikely prospect.

But it seems to me that it comes down to priorities and political will (sound familiar?).

Multiple Sunday Parkways events should be a permanent part of our City. And the good news is that future events would be much easier and cheaper to pull off.

Sunday Parkways-69.jpg

A large chunk of the $150,000 spent on this first one was for marketing and promotion; something they no longer have to do due to the positive word of mouth and media coverage. I also think that with the massive success of the first one, PDOT would have no problem finding private sponsorships, donations, and grants from a variety of sources.

One Options staffer told me they’d need even more volunteers next time — close to 300. “Do you think we could get that many?”, I was asked. Most definitely. With such a great buzz from the first one, I said, they’d have to turn people away.

Also, with a successful template to work from, staff hours for future events would be much lower.

When PDOT came to Commissioner Adams’ office with the Sunday Parkways idea they were told the only way it could be done is if all stakeholders were on board. Well, as we’ve seen with the mountains of positive media coverage and little to no complaints about the event, that should no longer be an issue either.

At this point, Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, and many other cities have multiple Sunday Parkways-like events planned. So why not Portland?

It seems to be a matter of pressure. This event has proven successful beyond anyone’s expectations and the entire city wants more of them.

The decision makers in this City (all five of them) need to hear loud and clear that Sunday Parkways is not simply another annual event like Bridge Pedal or the Portland Marathon, but that it’s for everyone, and that it’s an essential part of living in Portland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

42 Comments
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    Dennis July 3, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    More Parkways! My son and I really enjoyed the experience. everyone was really agreeable. There was a serious sense of community there, along with all the pedestrians, and children. This is the way a city is supposed to be everyday.

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    Rex July 3, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Hmmm… Looks like you are bribing the cop in that first photo. Let\’s settle this right here. In Brainard.

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    C July 3, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    This was in my neighborhood. I have to say that my daughter and I had a great ride and lots of fun. Everyone we knew up here was completely on board with this from the start, and these are not hardcore cyclists by any stretch of the imagination. This should be happening in neighborhoods all over Portland. I will try to volunteer for the next one and I know many others personally who will too. I think they will end up having to turn people away, as you said, which can\’t be a bad problem to have.

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    Paul Tay July 3, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Connect the various farmers\’ market and allow the Great American Free Enterprise pay the bill.

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    Paul Tay July 3, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    If Santa thought about trying to make a REAL buck, he probably would have charged a PREMIUM for singing NAKED, instead of posing for all the FREE photo opps. Some people really just DON\’T get it. 😛

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    Andy July 3, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    If any town can muster up the resources to pull this together, we can. PDOT will probably still have to provide some leadership (after all, they\’re experienced at this now! 😉 ) but the rest can probably be delegated down to volunteers or heck, put the fundraisers on task to make enough to pay for the new staffing. 😉

    To be able to make this a part of regular life in Portland, not just a \”special event\”? The benefits to the city, to local businesses, and of course to us as residents are too huge to pass up.

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    tonyt July 3, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    As someone who lives on the route, and participated in it, I gotta say this thing has got to grow.

    My advice to those in charge is, rather than just seek to expand the route, as I\’ve heard is their plan, that they should take it to other neighborhoods. We had our fun here, let other neighborhoods see how cool this can be. This will build community support for it while not adding to the complexity of planning it. Then, as they\’ve grown their pool of allies, the organizers can slowly start to combine the neighborhood routes and shoot for a much larger event.

    That\’s my two cents.

    Great all around!

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    Schrauf July 3, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    What about doing smaller events in each neighborhood, every several weeks? A two or three mile loop centered around one neighborhood park, which would be much cheaper and easier to plan. Maybe a total of eight for the summer? Each neighborhood would get involved and assist with the planning and volunteers, bringing the overall cost down even further.

    I don\’t even see the shorter loop option as a negative, because most people would bike to the event from points around the city anyway. You still get a decent ride in, and can then focus on the fun and features of a specific neighborhood!

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    Schrauf July 3, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Oh yeah, and with the shorter loop described above, it should be easy to plan a route crossing few major roads, and therefore requiring very little expensive police presence. And are volunteers needed at every residential intersection? Seems like every few blocks, plus all busier intersections, would be adequate. Assuming the street closure signs are still implemented at all intersections.

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    Tonya July 3, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Thank you for calling this out, Jonathan. We NEED this to happen again.

    I am wondering if it is impractical to ask our government to provide the infrastructure for this event? In order for this to be a sustainable event in the US, do we need to create a 503(c) non-profit to find funding and organize this going forward? If so, who wants to start it? I\’ll help 😉

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    kiwimunki July 3, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Portland is our home and we want our city to invest in the happiness of its citizens. This was a beautiful thing that many people worked hard to start; if it\’s going to continue, it\’s up to the public. Keep the letters and phone calls coming and drop PDOT a line if you can to let them know that they\’d have your support as a volunteer in future events. Keep the momentum going while everyone still has the memory in mind and a smile on their face.

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    Pete July 3, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Maybe Lars Larson can help with the next one?

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    Andy July 3, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    My only concern with doing smaller events is in light of the huge turnout we had for this, there\’s potential for negative feedback from having an overcrowded Parkways – difficulty in crossing the route for vehicles, and difficulties for people on the route not being able to negotiate freeway overcrossings or getting past parked cars because too many people are out.

    How many cities wish they could have our problem? It\’s too popular! 🙂

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    Evan Ross July 3, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    This was a fantastic event! Bud does it have to be Sundays? I think the weekend is best for a greater turnout, but I couldn\’t help notice that at last Thursdays the city is spending a lot of money on having police, fire trucks, even metro vehicles on sight just to keep the streets open! I know there is a lot of stress on the Alberta neighborhoods, and I don\’t want to make it worse, but maybe we could relieve congestion by closing the streets to bikes and pedestrians only. Car free arts walk Thursdays anyone? Just a thought.
    – Evan Ross

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    Aaron July 3, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    A large chunk of the $150,000 spent on this first one was for marketing and promotion; something they no longer have to do …I also think that with the massive success of the first one, PDOT would have no problem finding private sponsorships, donations, and grants from a variety of sources…. Also, with a successful template to work from, staff hours for future events would be much lower….as we’ve seen with the mountains of positive media coverage and little to no complaints about the event, that should no longer be an issue either.
    Jonathan put the crux of the issue front and center. Most of the work and research has already been done. Just like starting a new business, or creating a prototype, the first run is challenging but the rest goes more smoothly.
    So if Bogota (with 10% of our average income) can do this EVERY SUNDAY, it should be no problem for Portland.
    Go Platinum!

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    Jeannie July 4, 2008 at 6:19 am

    Can you post the e-mail and/or phone number for who to contact with our feedback? Perhaps if we make it easy for people to share their thoughts we could help ensure the city hears how many of us there are that would value having events like this more than once a year.

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    beth h July 4, 2008 at 8:18 am

    Want more Sunday parkways?

    Links to all the important City Hall people can be found here:

    http://bikelovejones.livejournal.com/88824.html

    Call early and often, and tell your friends to do likewise. The more squeaky wheels, the better.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 4, 2008 at 9:40 am

    \”Can you post the e-mail and/or phone number…. Perhaps if we make it easy for people to share their thoughts we could help ensure the city hears how many of us there are that would value having events like this more than once a year.\”

    Jeannie,

    \”the city\” is reading these comments… but if you want to contact them directly, follow beth h\’s link above.

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    D.R. Miller July 4, 2008 at 10:44 am

    I was bummed to miss the first one, I had to be out of town, so I am all the more eager to take part in the next. I strongly agree that it is hugely important to get going on planning and implementing the next while the memory is still fresh in the minds of city residents. If you wait too long, you lose much of the benefit of leveraging the first-event advertising, outreach, positive media, and participant good-feelingness. It would be like opening a great new restaurant after a year of planning and investment, having a wildly successful Grand Opening, then closing and telling the excited new customers to maybe come back some time in the undefined future when you open again.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 4, 2008 at 10:50 am

    \”If you wait too long … It would be like opening a great new restaurant after a year of planning and investment, having a wildly successful Grand Opening, then closing and telling the excited new customers to maybe come back some time in the undefined future when you open again.\”

    very well put Dan. I agree.

    I have still not heard any solid reasons why this cannot happen again soon. I hope after the big City Council CRC vote this week, we can turn up the heat and get some answers.

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    Chris Sullivan July 4, 2008 at 11:56 am

    You know, it was cool to blow through intersections with police waving you on, but the biggest success of Sunday Parkways was just riding with so many other people through the neighborhoods. The sense of community was profound. I wonder if we need closed intersections and organized activities in the parks in order to experience that.

    In other words, can\’t we do this ourselves? We could start a grass roots effort called something like \”I Bike on Sundays\” and just start doing it. It\’d be nice if our new mayor, the BTA, neighborhood associations, churches, and businesses all endorsed the idea, but it can happen without that too.

    I realize most people reading this site don\’t need to proclaim \”I Bike on Sundays\” because you bike all the time. But that wasn\’t the case with most of the people who participated in Sunday Parkways. Somehow the event reached people who don\’t get on a bike very often. I watched one woman who said she hadn\’t been on a bike in 30 years take a loop on N. Bryant. Another woman lived a few blocks from the park and said she didn\’t know it was there. And I overheard a few people talking about how they had purchased bikes just for Sunday Parkways. These are the people who would be most affected by a regular event.

    I don\’t know…I\’m just thinking as I type. I\’m certainly willing to help get something started.

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    Diogo July 4, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Great coverage, Johnatan. I\’m glad we have you doing this kind of reporting – many of us suspect, by experience, that this is a political issue, rather than a budget or logistics… but without the journalistic work you do, our suspicions are powerless. And I don\’t think any other media outlet would pick up this story.
    Thanks.

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    beth h July 4, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    You know, it was cool to blow through intersections with police waving you on, but the biggest success of Sunday Parkways was just riding … In other words, can\’t we do this ourselves? We could start a grass roots effort called something like \”I Bike on Sundays\” and just start doing it.

    ****

    In response to the above: The reason Sunday Parkways worked was precisely BECAUSE the police were there to block off the busiest intersections and hold back auto traffic until walkers and riders passed through. If your project involves car-free streets in a landscape designed for cars, then you need law enforcement on your side to make it work smoothly and safely.

    What is REALLY needed here is political and fiscal will to make it a regular thing. And what\’s needed for THAT is for a whole lot of people to really agitate about it, get obnoxious and loud and whatever else about it, until the city has had enough and actually begins to move forward.

    Just think. If 100 people a day bombarded the mayor and commissioners with emails and phone calls, and then passed that task along to the next 100 people the next day, and we never let up, the city might actually listen. But this will take a lot of people forcing the issue towards a tipping point. if it\’s only a handful of us the city will never care.

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    wsbob July 4, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    \”And what\’s needed for THAT is for a whole lot of people to really agitate about it, get obnoxious and loud and whatever else about it, until the city has had enough and actually begins to move forward.\” beth h

    Instead of putting so much energy into agitating someone else to do something for you, why not try something that might be more constructive? Consider forming groups that will themselves do the legwork necessary to put on Sunday Parkways.

    $40/hr cops aren\’t necessary to direct traffic. Anyone certified to be a flagger can do that. I\’m sure there\’s a lot of other tasks involved in putting on and running Sunday Parkways, that people could learn to do also.

    Thing is, to do so, it takes time out of people\’s schedule. They might want to help out, but for various reasons, their schedule just might not allow it. Building a large enough workforce of skilled volunteers that can effectively work with the various city bureaus and personnel towards putting on event like this (and in so doing, avoid $150,000 budgets)would probably be a big challenge. Doesn\’t mean it isn\’t possible.

    As talk of re-instatment of the military draft comes up from time to time, the public regularly refreshes its distaste for obligatory military service. At the same time, an idea for another form of service often is tossed around: obligatory public service. I\’ve heard that Switzerland and some other European countries have something like this. If we had people involved in such a program, managing events like Sunday Parkways might be one example of the ways they could be fulfilling their public service obligation.

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    Paul Tay July 5, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Thanks J-man for inspiring me to join the long chorus for another Sunday Parkways. After the Denver DNC, Outdoor Mobile Advertising would be willing to donate space for the cause.

    I\’ll roll a bike billboard with the message: WE WANT SUNDAY PARKWAYS! Roll it all over town collecting signatures on the billboard. It\’s huge, 36\”X72\”.

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    revphil July 5, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I also think it should happen again and sooner. If the city claims that they are too poor to be able to do it, we should do it ourselves. It wouldn\’t be the gala we saw in June, but something smaller would be marvelous just the same.

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    Peter July 5, 2008 at 10:19 am

    great post. fully agree. 🙂

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    Bug Eater July 5, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    We should plan a mass bike ride to \”stake out\” other neighborhoods that would be suitable for another event. Then end the ride at city hall and let them know where the next one will be…and press for it to be next month…

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    Chris Sullivan July 5, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    I like it, Bug. I\’m in.

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    joe July 5, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    since \”the city\” is reading, any chance that PDOT would release their budget from this event? It would be nice to see where 150k went instead of just guessing.

    along those lines, would the organizer be able to summarize how she did it so that others may follow her lead?

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    Daniel (teknotus) Johnson July 6, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    I wondered if having a regular group ride of the Sunday Parkways route would do much to draw interest in bringing it back sooner.

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    Ethan July 6, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    If the overhead costs of the event are much less than the 150k, and support in the ride area was as high as it seems, we should see if a sponsor (BikeGallery, Trek, New Belgium) would be willing to sponsor a second one on the same route THIS YEAR. Trade a little exposure for the funding. No time-consuming planning or PR challenges, and word is out. Maybe add a mile or two if its easy.

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    Paul Tay July 6, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    The \”captains\” of the bike \”industry\” should be ALL over this thing and quit trying to suck up to Obama.

    Why be a small fry in a big pond of all the other BIGGER special interest mafia groups that will just swallow you and spit you OUT?

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    dobrien July 7, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Aside from marketing, the major cost — from what I understand — was paying overtime for traffic patrol, which is another reason why a grassroots effort is worth a try. Why couldn\’t we connect two or more parks or farmers\’ markets … Buckman to Clinton St., Brooklyn to Oaks Park. As someone else implied, the many folks riding to the \”route\” will build traction and visibility. We get enough riders (families, yes!) and we\’ll have ourselves a \”first saturday\” event all summer long.

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    Jessica Roberts July 7, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Quoting Andy #13: \”My only concern with doing smaller events is in light of the huge turnout we had for this, there\’s potential for negative feedback from having an overcrowded Parkways.\”

    I absolutely agree — by the peak of the event, I thought we were approaching overcrowding, and that\’s when people start to get grouchy. When people get grouchy, bikes and peds start to fight with each other…Eastbank Esplanade, anyone?

    The next event will be double the number of participants. That\’s what happened in Guadalajara, and I\’ve talked to so many people who were sorry to miss the first one and can\’t wait for the next one.

    We need more Sunday Parkways AND more space! The people of Portland demand (and deserve) it!

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    joe July 7, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I like the idea of incorporating farmers markets and bike boulevards into the next Parkways day.

    Seems like utilizing the bike boulevards would help reduce the amount of police/flaggers required to direct traffic…

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    Hank Sheppard July 7, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Bike to the Farmers\’ Markets! Let\’s start a \”movement.\” Why wait for PDOT? The Tillamook Bikeway has signalized crossings at most major arterials between N. Flint and NE 92nd Avenue and passes directly by the Hollywood Farmers Market. Also the SE/NE 30\’s/40\’s Bikeway has signals at Hawthorne, Burnside, Glisan, a bike/ped bridge overI-84, etc. and continues north from Hollywood, again passing almost directly by the Market. \”The Streets belong to the People!\”

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    stumptown July 8, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Farmer\’s Parkways! Whoop! Whoop!

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    Npdx Gal July 9, 2008 at 8:51 am

    I have hesitated from being negative about Sunday Parkways because I didn\’t want to get flamed, but here goes.

    1) As a resident of North Portland, Having this come through the neighborhood at 8am in the morning on a Sunday was pretty irritating. We have enough noise issues in Npdx and adding another was bothersome.

    2) While I realize the organizers wanted to get the word out about it so no one would wake up surprised on Sunday morning, the extent of the fliers and door hangers seemed a bit much. If we want to promote biking and walking as part of the solution to our environmental problems, do we really need to send out several super glossy readers?

    3) I do drive a short distance to work but I walk just about everywhere else. As someone who didn\’t really want to take part in the event, I felt oddly \”trapped\” in my home. That may be a personal thing, but it was one my neighbors also expressed. For lack of a better word, I felt \”occupied\” until it ended at 2. It seems like it should go through more \”public\” areas of our neighborhoods. While it may have seemed great to you, put yourself in the place of someone who didn\’t want to participate in the event.

    4) I walked a mile to the grocery store like I do every Sunday, and waiting for the wall of cyclists to past so I could cross one of the intersections was slightly irritating. What bothered me though even more was seeing the amount of jaywalking and other illegalities that were occuring off the course of the parkways. It seemed like people were so happy that they had part of the road carfree, that they sort of applied it everywhere else. It was their own stupidity, but it was also dangerous to those using the road legally.

    These are just my thoughts. I\’m not saying Sunday Parkways shouldn\’t happen again, I\’m just saying that there are people who were less than thrilled with the way it turned out.

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    Icarus Falling July 9, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    With an event this big it is not really realistic to save money on traffic control, as I believe supplying it, as in paying for it, is required in order to throw the event itself. ( or more realistically, in order to get the permit itself)

    Especially when so many stop signs and or intersections are involved.

    Grass roots (routes?) or no grass roots, to do it legally you have to pay the Piper.

    And here the Piper is the PPB.

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    Eileen July 10, 2008 at 2:38 am

    Why couldn\’t they get volunteer crossing guards? Schools do it. Or how about finding sponsors? I\’m sure there are ways to make it cheaper.

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    wsbob July 10, 2008 at 9:47 am

    \”Why couldn\’t they get volunteer crossing guards?\” Eileen

    Or professional flaggers like construction companies use. Volunteers could also probably be certified to direct traffic. I\’m sure there\’s a lot more to an event like this than crossing guards, but I don\’t doubt that people on a grass-roots level could do it.

    Npdx Gal\’s concerns raised in comment #39 about certain annoyances she felt related to Sunday Parkways are reasonable, but with regular Sunday Parkways, those annoyances would likely either go away or could be deliberately smoothed out of the event. Because SP was a \’first\’ for Portland, it\’s natural that it would attract an extra large crowd of people, many of whom had never experienced an event like that, or even ridden a bike for years, let alone on the street amongst lots of people.

    For people riding bikes in that setting through regularly scheduled SP\’s, part of the experience gained will probably be greater awareness of traffic controls and ability to abide by them while regulating safe speed and distance between themselves and other people using using the street.

    Also, if as some people commenting have suggested, A SP route were established that allowed people riding bikes to travel between various Portland farmer\’s markets or other points of interest outside of one particular neighborhood, this might also help to relieve the pressure on a single neighborhood.

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