Leftbank hopes to spur action on traffic woes

The Leftbank Project-7

Joanna Agee hopes The Leftbank
Building can help spur traffic safety
improvements.
(Photos © J. Maus)

The fast and busy Broadway and Weidler avenues between the Broadway Bridge and Interstate 5 are like two fast-moving rivers that pose a formidable challenge to anyone who dares cross them. These are multi-lane arterials that funnel onto the freeway and the traffic after major events at the Rose Garden is a nightmare.

Smack dab in the middle of that traffic tempest is a calm oasis, a cluster of buildings known as The Leftbank Project. The Leftbank is, on a map, one of the most accessible and central locations in the entire city. Several major bikeways intersect there. But instead of a hub where people gather, the daunting traffic makes it nothing but a blur to passersby.

“We’re ready to initiate the movement to a more human-scale neighborhood.”
— Joanna Agee, Community Development Director for The Leftbank Project

The development consists of several renovated old industrial buildings that house everything from event spaces, a brewery, offices, and a cafe. Before they opened, the manager of the property hoped to fill the space with bike-oriented businesses. The inaugural Oregon Manifest was hosted there, a local custom bike builder was slated to move in, and United Bicycle Institute was just weeks from signing a lease.

The Leftbank Project-5

The view from the third floor of
the Leftbank Building.

But for whatever reason (we think it has a lot to do with the messy traffic situation), Leftbank’s bike dreams didn’t materialize (UBI found a home up the road on Portland’s “bike commuter corridor”, N. Williams). Don’t feel bad though, the Leftbank folks say they’re doing just fine. Yesterday I sat down with Leftbank’s Community Development Director Joanna Agee. Agee said since they opened in March 2009 their spaces are about 65% leased. While I was there, the cafe was hopping and smart, creative-looking, people abound.

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Agee, who refers to her tenants and surrounding residents as “the Leftbank community”, said now that the business side of the Leftbank Project had found its wings, their efforts are focused on fixing some of the larger issues around their building — and the transportation problems are high on the list. “We’re ready to initiate the movement to a more human-scale neighborhood.”

The Leftbank Project-6

“When we started the renovations, people would wonder, ‘why there?’ It’s a real transportation snarl. People don’t know how or where to cross streets; even drivers aren’t sure how or where to pull over.”

It will take nothing short of a “movement” to cure the transportation headaches in the area.

On a bicycle, getting to the Leftbank is not too fun: You’ve either got to cross several lanes of fast-moving traffic, or resort to sidewalks and long waits for pedestrian signals. Also, Broadway is home of two of the most notoriously dangerous (and controversial) intersections in the city for people who ride bikes — Williams and Flint. Add in the soon-to-be-built streetcar line, the Rose Garden, the thousands of cars that pass every day, and big trucks rumbling to the Portland Water Bureau’s maintenance facility and you get an idea of the issues facing this area.

Fortunately, Agee and the Leftbank have some allies on their side.

N Flint and Broadway -4.jpg

On Flint, with Broadway and the
Leftbank building in the background.

Betsy Reese, owner of the Paramount Apartments across the street has been leading the traffic safety charge for years. Reese told us she’s been trying to improve traffic safety in the area since 1998. But, she says, “I don’t know if too much has been accomplished, but the Leftbank presence is a real positive influence.”

The Portland Water Bureau has also worked on safety issues in the area. They held a bike-truck safety event in 2008 and in 2007 they officially prohibited their truck drivers from turning right on N. Wheeler. Last year TriMet finally opened up their Rose Quarter Transit Center to bicycle traffic and even the Portland Trailblazers seem to have bike safety on their radar.

The Leftbank is also on the western boundary of the Lloyd District, which means they get support from the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association. The LDTMA does a lot of important work around promoting travel options in the district, not to mention that Leftbank’s owner, Daniel Deutsch is on their Board of Directors.

This coalition — if it ever officially comes together — will have its work cut out. They’ve got to find a way to work with ODOT (they manage everything on and around highways), freight interests, streetcar planners, and PBOT. That’s a battle with bureaucracy not many people can stomach.

Agee understands the leadership role Leftbank could play in a larger effort to make the area more human-friendly and she seems to be looking forward to the challenge. “We have a renewed focus to make this happen. It’s time.”

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Dan Christensen
12 years ago

I have seen this building as I passed many times and have watched it develop over the last three years. Thanks for this great article I love know more about my neighbors like this.

65% capacity isn’t great but we are in an economic downturn and even major malls have for lease signs our.

Coming from a family that had retail shops and rental I think they face some big hurdles. I find it hard to see how to how the traffic issue gets solved without other tradeoffs that may not be helpful over all for the city but that doesn’t mean a solution isn’t out there. It just means that I don’t see it.

I wish them luck and will keep my fingers crossed.

Joanna Agee
12 years ago

Thanks so much for the article, Jonathan. I just have to respond by recognizing that lots of Portlanders (Betsy Reese, whom you quoted, among them) have been working to resolve concerns around Leftbank for years. We’re just adding our voice to the chorus.

And thanks for the good wishes, Dan! There are challenges for sure, but I think it’s possible to face them realistically and with inspiration and creativity at the same time.

John Reinhold
John Reinhold
12 years ago

The best way, as people, we can help – is to go there by bicycle or by foot.

The presence of pedestrians and bicycles is the best way to encourage more pedestrians and bicycles.

Drivers pay more attention when they are in an area they know has lots of bike/ped activity. People who see bikes and pedestrians are more likely to be encouraged to try biking or walking. And businesses that support bicycling and walking are businesses that deserve patronage.

So while the owners and activists work to improve things, we should all walk or ride over there and have a visit or two.

Steve B.
Steve B.
12 years ago

This entire area is going to be reshaped around the new streetcar development. Making the appropriate requests for street taming now would be great. The bicycle approach heading West on Broadway really needs to reworked, it’s pretty awful in it’s current configuration.

I know the bike lane alignment will be reworked with streetcar development, and it sounded like they might position the bike lane back to the right the entire way and then possibly use a bike signal to avoid a right hook situation just before entering the bridge. Supposedly Adams wants to see the PSU cycletrack reach all the way to Hollywood, but I suspect that’s an unfunded ambition at this point.

Curt Dewees
Curt Dewees
12 years ago

If you skim the headline quickly, it reads like this: “Leftbank rolls their eyes in taming nearby traffic.” 😉

Borgbike
12 years ago

I’ll be stopping in for coffee on the way into work. Thanks for the interesting bit of news.

Michael M.
12 years ago

Curt (#5) — That’s exactly how I read it at first. 🙂

I didn’t know there was a cafe or anything there that would draw someone who doesn’t work or have business there. It never struck me as a development that screams “We want public participation!”

Kevin Wagoner
Kevin Wagoner
12 years ago

It would be wonderful to see some changes in this area. I work near there. I’ve biked and driven by the Left Bank and thought it would be good to check out the cafe for lunch. However I have been deterred by the surrounding traffic. I didn’t realize there was a brewery there, maybe that will motivate me.