(Photos © J. Maus)
The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Sunday Parkways event traveled to uncharted territory over the weekend with its first every foray into outer east neighborhoods. Thousands turned out to walk and bike on 4.5 miles of streets that were (mostly) closed to motor vehicle traffic. This was the third of five Parkways events PBOT is putting on this year.
The East Portland route (which was shortened at the last minute) went from Lents Park, over I-205 and around area parks via SE Harold, 115th, SE Bush, and 100th. With a dust-up over a bike lane project on SE Holgate (which the route crossed twice) and historical tensions between City Hall and Outer East residents, there was a bit of apprehension by City staffers over how this event would turn out.
From my own observations and reports by others, the crowds were very solid, if not bit larger than expected (gorgeous and sunny weather helped!). Many said that the feel reminded them of the first Sunday Parkways event in North Portland back in 2008. As per usual, families turned out in droves and kids pedaled on streets they’ve been taught to fear all their lives.
On SE Harold, east of SE 104th Avenue, I met Laura Carver and her two small children. “Why can’t it be like this everyday?” she said from her front yard as streams of people ambled by. “Everyone’s smiling.” Laura’s husband came out of the house to see what was going on. “The sound of silence brought me outside.”
Carver and her family live on a section of Harold that has no sidewalk and no shoulder. People driving too fast, she and her husband said, is a constant danger. “Every night a drunk driver will fly by going 70 mph… People crash into front yards along here at least once a year… Cops fly up this street everyday.” Carver is looking forward to improvements on her street that will extend the shoulder and bike lanes Harold has just a block west of her house. “Families have more problems biking out here. It’s just too nerve-wracking.”
But not on Sunday… a day when the tables were turned and people were able to move through their neighborhoods without fear of being run over. On another section of sidewalk-less Harold St., I rode behind a family walking and pushing a baby stroller. It struck me that, except for those few hours on Sunday, this public roadway has been essentially off-limits to baby strollers and the humans pushing them.
At Ed Benedict Park on the northern end of the loop, many people enjoyed lots of activities and performances at the East Portland Exposition, a skills park set up by the Northwest Trail Alliance, and more. It was also a perfect day to test out the new bikeway through the park that was installed as part of the SE Bush Street bike boulevard project. (Unfortunately, event organizers put up signs for people to walk their bikes on the newly installed path).
While thousands enjoyed the event, there were some who were perturbed at the presence of all the bikes. I verified this report of an angry man who tried to ram his car through barricades after a heated discussion with a volunteer. There were also reports of hand-written signs that read, “No bikes, cars only,” which was understandable, given that volunteers wrote things on the street like, “More bikes than cars – We win”.
I also heard reports of people driving their cars in from outlying areas like Troutdale and Gresham just to take part. After the event, NE Portland resident Mykle Hansen and his family tried to take the Green Line MAX Train part of the way home, but Hansen says he was denied entry when a TriMet operator allowed only 4-bikes per car. TriMet policy states that bikes are allowed in the priority (wheelchair) seating area when their are no seniors or riders with disabilities present.
With thousands of smiles served, the event definitely accomplished it’s goals. Residents of East Portland received the gift of carfree streets and people of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes enjoyed public space in a way they had never before. The event also raised the visibility of biking and walking in the area and will likely serve as a catalyst for citizen activism around active transportation projects for years to come.
View more images of the event in the gallery or via the slideshow below: