Alliance affiliate, opposes parklets in the downtown core.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
After a successful pilot program last summer, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) recently announced an update of their Street Seats program. While the newly proposed guidelines show the scope of the program has broadened, a group that represents downtown businesses successfully lobbied to prevent the conversion of parking spots in the downtown core.
The Streets Seats program allows business owners and non-profits to convert public parking spaces into seating and patio space. For restaurants this means more dining tables, and for non-food establishments the program is an opportunity to use space for something other than private vehicle storage. In a PBOT survey published in January, 90% of businesses said Street Seats were good for their business and 80% of survey respondents said the program has a positive impact on street vitality.
The Portland Business Alliance (PBA), on the other hand, opposes the program. The Downtown Retail Council (DRC) — a PBA affiliate group who says they’re “the voice for downtown Portland’s consumer business” — successfully stopped the City from accepting applications for new Street Seats in the area between W Burnside St., SW Harrison St., SW 10th Ave. and SW 2nd Ave (see map below).
In an editorial published today, The Oregonian Editorial Board used this concern from the PBA to help make their case against the program. They argue that Street Seats are a sign of “mission creep” from PBOT and that we should not give up precious parking spaces for non-parking uses.
Why does the DRC oppose Street Seats? The answer lies in a memo to PBOT written on PBA letterhead and dated November 14th, 2012. In the memo (PDF), the DRC says they oppose the program because it “creates access, safety, and equity challenges in the downtown.”
Here’s more from the memo (emphases mine):
We appreciate the city’s to find ways to enhance street vitality and support businesses. However, given the limited supply of downtown on-street parking and right-of-way access, as well as the density of diverse uses that downtown serves, the DRC belives [sic] the Street Seats program would negatively impact the overall business environment. Specifically, Street Seats could negative affect business vitality by reducing the shared resource of on-street parking and loading zones, which causes equity disparities by enhancing some businesses to the detriment of others’ access. The DRC also is concerned with the safety issue of conflicts between patrons and vehicles, given that the Street Seats are adjacent to the travel lane and without buffer.
In the memo, the DRC went further and made specific recommendations on how they feel PBOT should manage not just Street Seats, but any “competing uses in the right-of-way”:
1) Protecting access should be the first priority; converting on-street metered parking spots and loading zones for non-auto parking use should be avoided… A no net loss policy of parking spaces and loading zones in the central city should be implemented. For areas that have on-street parking occupancy rates at 80 percent or higher during peak times, no on-street parking conversion should occur.
2) For areas that are outside of an 80 percent or higher parking occupancy rate, the following criteria should be applied:
… f. Street Seats should not be permitted on blocks where on-street parking has previously been removed for bike corrals or bike rental kiosks [bike share stations].
The DRC lists 57 members on their website including Travel Portland, Nordstrom, PBOT, TriMet,
The Portland Art Museum, Columbia Sportswear, Macy’s, Powell’s Books and many others. (UPDATE, 4/17: The Portland Art Museum says they do not oppose the Street Seats program)
This memo shows that the Portland Business Alliance will not take any change in the allocation of roadway space lightly. Their concerns are sure to play a role in future discussions about the location of bike share stations, on-street bike parking corrals, protected bike lanes, and more. How large a role they play will be entirely up to PBOT, City Hall, and whether or not other interest groups make their perspectives known.
Don’t they have all those empty parking garages?
Also, I will just keep taking my business to the parts of the city that encouraging this kind of development, ped friendliness and bike friendlyness. Downtown is not a destination for me, in part because of it’s autocentric inhospitable cold feeling. No wonder retail has so much trouble thriving in the core, who wants to hang out there?
I don’t really follow. Downtown’s not a destination for you because if its “autocentric inhospitable cold feeling”? I feel like that would be a fair way to describe the Lloyd Center, not downtown, which is as dense and multi-modal as any other part of Portland I can think of. I’m not saying there aren’t strides to make in terms of downtown’s pedestrian and cyclist accessibility, but if you think it’s really all that cold I’d spend some time in Phoenix or Los Angeles or something.
I’m torn on this news. On the one hand I’m generally appreciative of anything that contributes to more vibrant streetscapes downtown. But, and this very nearly pains me to say, I think the PBA may have a point when it comes to concerns about equity. Any restaurant that gets Street Seats are essentially receiving a pro bono slice of public space which can be used to improve their business, which isn’t entirely fair. The Street Seats are specifically advantageous to a business’ customers and the business itself; at least a parking space can be metered and generate revenue for street or sidewalk improvements and do some public good that way — in addition to being accessible to anybody who drives a car into downtown, as opposed to one business’ customers specifically. If you want to give the parking space over to an accessible-by-all parklet or art installation, or to a nonprofit, that’s something else. But giving that space to an individual business is something I’m a bit suspicious of.
And I don’t think the safety concern is entirely illegitimate, either, even if I’m not sure the PBA really honestly cares about it as much as they say they do. But I’ve seen enough people drive in the MAX lane or the wrong way down a one-way street or in a parking lane to be worried that it was a question of when, and not if, some idiot in a car plowed into one of these things.
To reply to why I feel how I do about downtown… I used to live in Goose Hollow and spent a fair amount of time in the area and it’s just not the best part of the city for me at all. It’s always felt like a dead zone to me. Struggling to keep relevancy while the neighborhood all around and across the river flourish. I don’t know why. I don’t enjoy traveling around it, by car, bike, transit or foot. (I pick foot over all though) or hanging out in it. My time, my, money, my opinion. =)
To the rest, valid comments to chew on.
The program requires the business to reimburse the City for the parking revenue on top of permit fees.
Ah, okay. Fair point. If the city doesn’t actually lose the parking revenue then I’ve got less of a quibble with the program, although the safety thing still worries me a bit.
The fees include a base permit fee ($500), a fee per foot of length ($105), plus lost meter revenue if in a metered space and a cafe permit if food is served. Most of the spaces are not proposed for metered areas.
I think part of the “equity” issue is that if one business reimburses the city and gets a permit to cover the parking spaces that are in front of their business, then where will their customers park? They’ll likely park in front of another business, effectively reducing convenient customer parking for that business. So not only is one business using the “public” commons (albeit after reimbursing “The Public”) to enhance their business, they are simultaneously detracting from neighboring businesses by displacing their own customers’ parking into neighboring spaces.
I’d be for just eliminating on-street parking altogether and either turning that space into bike lanes or sidewalks, depending on the nature of the street. As is mentioned elsewhere in these comments, why are we dedicating any space to parking on a roadway that was supposedly built for traveling, i.e., moving?
If there are any on-street spaces that aren’t already metered in this area, they need to be metered immediately.
“1) Protecting access should be the first priority; converting on-street metered parking spots and loading zones for non-auto parking use should be avoided… A no net loss policy of parking spaces and loading zones in the central city should be implemented. For areas that have on-street parking occupancy rates at 80 percent or higher during peak times, no on-street parking conversion should occur.”
So the solution seems obvious, increase the price of on street parking to reduce the occupancy rate and then if businesses want to pay the even higher fee to offset parking revenue allow them to do so.
So where do we get a list of these businesses and go by every day and post a “thank you, we’ll not be visiting your business” message? Because seriously, it might benefit one or two business a little more than another, but the fact is it BENEFITS the city more than having a parking space. It encourages more biking, walking and high value pedestrian activities that are safe and less likely to kill or maim people (look up the stats from last year, downtown had its problems).
Either way, I just moved from downtown back to the east side. I’ll be staying put with stupid policies like this. Already they try to keep the business active and then they make the streets less pedestrian friendly. Not a good idea. The summer time is an ideal time to put a clamp on auto traffic downtown. Street seats are a great way to do just that while adding a massive upside to the attractiveness of the streets and helping out the businesses.
Here you go – it’s a pretty long list, you’ll be writing a lot of notes.
Silly dinosaurs over at the PBA. I wonder how they would feel if on-street parking was replaced with parking structures…that seems like it would yield more human-scale streets without impacting their precious parking capacity.
I’m a member of the PBA, and I’m certain there are a huge chunk of members who voted yes to Street Seats (assuming there was a vote). So what would be interesting would be to see the results of this particular ballot. And hopefully more local businesses who stand to benefit from a livable Portland will join PBA and change their tune on matters like this.
I propose that we should not give up precious DRIVING space for non-DRIVING uses… like parking.
In fact I further propose that on-street parking is anachronistic throw back to the desire to live in a sleepy little town where anyone could stop their horse carriage in the middle of the road for long stretches of time to just chat with anyone else.
If anti-bike bigots are going to argue that we don’t have room for bicycles on our crowded modern roads WHAT IN THE @$_#*#???$@_?@!!! are we doing wasting usually 2 automotive width lanes per road for old timey on-street parking?
Hear, Hear….. And IMO, the PBA opposing this, is like the NRA opposing criminal background checks, while their members support it! Arrg. Am I missing something here?
Hah! Your description of chatting in the street reminds me of the “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” commercial, which does seem oh-so-apropos of PBA.
I’m reminded of rednecks, both in South Carolina and Rhode Island, who took it upon themselves to block the entire width of small back country roads with their oversized trucks. And when you come up behind them in another vehicle they act indignantly that they should have to move to let you by.
Roads are the last big shared public resource; we can’t let any one group monopolize it.
This is a great example of why I almost never go downtown when I am on vacation in Portland (other than to get to/from the train station), and immediately get to the SE or NE districts.
They’re so focused with cars that they’ve neglecting dedicating the space to foster a vibrant place worth spending money to be in.
“A no net loss policy of parking spaces…should be implemented.” Uhhh… Somebody should tell these guys the *the State* has a policy calling for “a decrease in parking spaces by 10 percent over 30 years.” (Transportation Planning Rule).
Let’s play a little game here.
It’s called: Take the next paragraph quoted from above, replace ‘patrons’ with ‘people biking’, more accurately label ‘vehicles’ as ‘people operating motor vehicles’, and replace ‘Street Seats’ with ‘bike lanes’.
This paragraph… “The DRC also is concerned with the safety issue of conflicts between patrons and vehicles, given that the Street Seats are adjacent to the travel lane and without buffer.”
…magically becomes: The DRC also is concerned with the safety issue of conflicts between people biking and people operating motor vehicles, given that the bike lanes are adjacent to the travel lane and without buffer.
…then think about SW Broadway (and SW 5th Ave for that matter), which just so happens to be WITHIN THE SAME DISTRICT where these concerns are raised.
Hmmmm. If only the PBA was as this concerned about safety for the other projects they had a say in.
The example shown in the photo is on Everett in the Pearl. I think this is outside the Parish Restaurant, an area I know well. This throughway from the 205 exit to the Steel bridge is the last place I would want to sit outside and eat or drink! It is high traffic and noisy.
I do support the concept however, albeit in more suitable locations. The map shown above covers an area like a blanket, where a street by street approach makes more sense. Take a map of Downtown or the Pearl and exclude the main throughways and streetcar and Max lines and there and I think there are many suitable locations. A blanket approach makes no sense!
Barney, you’re right that this Street Seats installation is on Everett. Specifically, it’s in front of Oven & Shaker. You can see in this street view facing west toward 12th: the tree in the photo is on the left, the installation is where the red truck is, and the construction on the north side of the street has since been completed.
Mrs Dibbly & I live downtown, and this pisses me off. Let’s close some downtown streets to private motor vehicles. I vote for 5th & 6th, and the South Park Blocks to start. Anyone have any ideas for east-west streets?
At a minimum, can we at least get the on-street parking removed from the left lane (each direction) on the south park blocks? I’d even be willing to allow it south of Columbia on Saturday mornings when the PSU Farmers Market is open. (No, I don’t drive to the market. I walk.)
The Portland Business Alliance is a sad, sickening organization that has no place in our city. It’s time for them to leave.
If only… But they are here to stay. So let’s change their membership by joining, so they can no longer stay in a backwards bubble, and start to reflect the opinions of the businesses that are building the Portland of tomorrow.
Chris, I think it’s rad you’ve joined them to create change from the inside, but I’ve been studying PBA a long time. They’re a good-ol-boys club that couldn’t care less about local business, and instead favor big money, polluting export economies. I would love to find them seeing the light, but I’m not going to pin my hopes on it. Best of luck to you there, my friend.
All business and “Chamber of Commerce” type organizations are the groups advocating for the worst aspects of capitalist exploitation.
Their worship of The Almighty Buck is the sort of attitude that feeds the eternal bloody cycle from anarchic free marketism to oppressive state ownership communism and back again. Always the two extremes, never anything sensible in between.
If blood comes in the inevitable change I hope at least they feel guilty.
the benefits of walkable streets are lost on the PBA. I wonder if the conflict of Critical Mass years ago still chafes their hides? Daily I see new vibrant business where customers WANT to go to, on bikeways and walkable neighborhood business districts.
The folks who really value cars aren’t going to drive downtown..they will hit their nearest mall because they live close to them in the burbs anyways.
Portland has a drinking problem: high rates of alcohol poisoning, people plowing into houses. It’s just a matter of time before a car or truck takes one of these patios out. But that shouldn’t stop the Portland tradition of giving public money and public spaces to marginal businesses. After the Vestas debacle, and all the PDC failures, we need to stay the course and give our money to companies in the hope of some favorable press or an award.
Most of downtown is statutoraly a 20 mph zone and the signals are set for 15-18 mph progression. It’s hard to cause mayhem at 20 mph.
The street seats are a great idea. Most are straight forward and nice extra outdoor seating for a restaurant. (I do have to say that the one at Mississippi pizza is crazy,just saying)
I would love to see some of the many commercial loading zone spots turned into street seats. Why are there so many!!!
A block-long (public!) Food Cart Pod Parklet on 3rd Ave between Washington & Stark, or along SW Alder between 9th & 10th Ave would support dozens of small, locally owned businesses and serve thousands of patrons each week. And if you gave people room to sit and hang out on a nice summer day while they ate their noodles…?
Wouldn’t that be good for business, PBA?
Ok, I love Portland. And I can get how parklets in really dense urban cities that lack park space, such as SF or NY, would find parklets a neat idea.
However, Portland has some of the highest per-capita amounts of park space in the USA. We have the park blocks that run right through downtown. We’ve spent untold millions making them pedestrian friendly, not to mention the transit mall one of the best in the US.
Portland’s streets are probably the narrowest in the US. We barely have enough room for traffic, sidewalks, and the rare bike lane.
But sitting in a parking space mini-plaza inches from traffic and exhaust? No thanks!
Should we pedestrianize some streets, like we did on SW Ankeny? Yes please!
The street seats are often places on less busy streets or in the first spaces on a side street, so not much traffic. BTW, fast traffic spreads out emmission over a larger area than slow traffic.
“Portland’s streets are probably the narrowest in the US.”
was carless, could you provide some documentation of that claim?
Portland does, uniquely, have a Skinny Streets Ordinance, but to my knowledge very little has been done with it and most folks I’ve talked to in city government about it don’t even know it exists, the laudatory mention in Southworth & Ben-Joseph’s Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities notwithstanding. (p. 134-5)
Parklets are good for business but PBA opposes them. They have gone out of their way to contradict their mission.
This is disappointing. It is also not a wise business decision. Where do people spend money? Not necessarily places that are easy to get to, but places that are nice to be. Otherwise Venice would be a ghost town.
We used to be a city that experimented and took some chances. This is an inexpensive way of creating more of a street scene. Steady income from businesses; additional seating for those that like to dine outside; eyes on the street; slower auto speeds because of the increased amounts of people coming downtown.
Is there a business association for progressive businesses in Portland? One that embraces change and knows that standing out in place of blending in is the way to get attention.
PBA is far far behind the times. They act like Mall owners rather than major metro city association. This is dangerous for the city. The leadership needs to be push out to pasture or Beaverton. The city deserves better.
Thank you but Beaverton is car-centric enough. The irony is that I feel safer riding out here and I have fewer conflicts than when I ride in Portland.
If people want to go downtown they will. It doesn’t matter how much parking there is. If there is less parking more people will use public transit or bikes to get there, just like they do for Portland Timbers and Blazers games. I don’t know why PBA doesn’t grasp this.
I also don’t understand why in a city where 10% of the people commute by bike that cyclists are not seen as a target market demographic by the PBA.
Downtown does have a lot of off-street parking and parking structures for people to park in. Valet parking is available to some extent. Some use of parking spaces for casual dining patios wouldn’t necessarily be bad. On-street parking captures business that circulates city blocks, looking for a parking space. It would be great if the city, in its wisdom, could restore Park Ave and 9th to either side of the South Park Blocks to the ‘no parking’ status it had some years back. That allowed the beauty of the park to be much more visible, and made the streets easier and safer for people on foot to cross.
Some people commenting here seem to definitely like the Street Seats concept, what to me seems to have resulted in quirky, hodge-podge, tacky additions to the streets’ aesthetic. Each to their own. The food cart blocks look worse.
It is interesting why the business community doesn’t quite see people that bike as being a market worth investing in. I still recall, from one of last years’ Broadway redesign meetings for Beaverton, one of the businessmen commenting that a parking space reserved for a bike corral on Broadway’s central block, would be a ‘no-go’, given that parking spaces (25) on that block are limited as they are. A bike corral occupying the space required for one car, can hold 10 bikes. That’s up to a 10 fold potential increase in business revenue.
This is also the same group that killed the buffered bike lane connection on SE 12th from SW Montgomery to the buffered lane on SW Stark. They were “afraid that the loss of a travel lane would hamper future development automobile capacity.”
I am still boycotting McMenamin’s because of THAT issue, and this is just another reason the PBA needs to be ignored by the city. They have no idea what is actually good for them.
Yet *another* reason downtown Portland is dead all the time.
Meanwhile, Hawthorne & Mississippi – areas that embrace this kind of thing, aren’t stuck in the Jurassic Period, & move with the fricking times – thrive.
Mississippi is one thing, but don’t include Hawthorne in your list of enlightened, multimodal-friendly locations. Hawthorne does not embrace anything other than continued car dominance. The local business association defeated the proposed bike lanes a few years ago, and they can’t even stop the flow of cars even one day a year for their street festival, forcing overflowing crowds of people on foot into narrow sidewalks. Hawthorne businesses put a stop to metered parking along the length of the street, and have been vocal in forcing the restoration of parking minimums for any residential construction. Face it: the leadership of most small business organizations is populated by their most conservative members, and they create a climate of fear among their members to resist any change to car-dominance.
Perhaps the voters should have some say in this. I’m tired of business interests controlling things tht affect the public.
The PBA is pretty backwards on this one. The recent research by PSU shows pretty clearly that walkers/bikers/transit users frequent the businesses more often, creating more per/shopper dollars. My deeper concern is WHY does the PBOT have to listen to what is essentially a non-democratic group that has only self interest driving decisions. I thought one of the roles of government is to think of the good of all, when businesses obviously can’t (because they are supposed to think of their bottom line). The tension between business asking for less regulation and government ensuring some regulation (for the common good) only works when government has the integrity to claim “we are right, and I am sorry you are bothered by it.” I imagine major polluters lobby the EPA but sometimes the EPA has to say, sorry, this is our job–to make life better for the people, not the businesses.
Money, money, money… The EPA had little power stopping Exxon from creating a “no fly zone” for media camera’s over Mayflower Arkansas last week… or Cheney and his (pardon my expression) rape of the CWA… sorry for the emotional nonsequitur… peace.
It’s all about politics, perception and power Jeremy. That’s why. The PBA — even though their positions are increasingly at odds with what Portland is known for — wields power in City Hall and PBOT doesn’t have the ability to brush them off. My hunch is that the PBA is feeling a bit emboldened right now given that Sam Adams is no longer in power. They want to set the narrative and absent a clearly progressive mayor like Adams who had a vision for a transportation future where cars were not the top priority, the PBA’s ability to set the narrative is that much easier. Also, there really is no other game in town when it comes to “representing business” and in today’s economic climate it takes very bold and gutsy political leadership to do anything that could be perceived by the media as being “anti-business”… And trust me, if City Hall/PBOT picked any type of fight with the PBA right now with a non-auto transportation issue it would be framed by The Oregonian and other local media as “anti-business” and it would be a big ugly mess.
I moved to Salt Lake City right after the Winter Olympics and one of the things that they did was begin to make downtown more accessible to people, because frankly it was pretty dead to people except if you were visiting the Temple. They called it “Downtown Rising” or something like that. So, for the olympics, they had built a pretty impressive mall (I am not saying we need a new mall), but they then cleaned up a lot and made it very walkable – put in light rail, lots of features and it finally finished up August 2011. It’s pretty impressive. The idea behind my comment is that they WANT people to come downtown and shop and inhabit it. The PBA, it makes me feel like they just want the status quo. They don’t want growth or business, or change. They don’t want people to come downtown. They fear parklets because it will obviously cut revenue of a parking spot. Tell me, how much revenue does two or three parking spots bring in a day? (Or however size each proposed seating area is?) It’s just stupid. To me, it would bring people downtown. I would be more likely to want to go downtown because I know that I could eat lunch downtown in the summer because places have patio seating that doesnt block pedestrian walk-through. I hate sitting next to people walking by with their dogs and cigarettes.
You had me nodding up to that last sentence. While I suppose there’s some slight train-wreck curiosity about everyone’s fancies, I won’t bore you with my extended list. I just expect to see a greater diversity of people and their associated activities when I go to a downtown core. In fact, that’s a major reason I enjoy going there.
Jonathan, can you post some pics of all of the street conversions to seating areas in NYC from your recent trip? I can’t think of a better example to demonstrate what the PBC is missing out on. NYC is soooo much better. Talk about a town that has very limited parking!
I think there is a bit of a double standard going on here. It seems to be OK if parking is scarce downtown but if apartment buildings go up on the east side without dedicated parking it’s viewed as being a burden to neighborhood. Jonathan, I think you wrote a post that was critical of these new apartment building going up without any parking.
These new parking minimums have created a precedent that and the PBA is just taking advantage of it.
I hear what you’re saying, but I think these situations are different. On one hand is a density/land use and NIMBY issue while on the other is a “what kind of city do we want to be” type issue. Also, I don’t think my post about the apartment parking issue was clear. The point I was trying to make was that PBOT/the City cannot just assume there is no parking problem and that the best way to deal with it would be to improve transit service and improve the bike network.
I just wrote to each of the groups I am involved with (e.g. Portland Art Museum) or a customer (e.g. ZipCar) and asked them to support Street Seats and let the DRC board know of their support. You should all do the same.
Maybe it’s just because I’m not in my 20s, but I would not enjoy eating in the street — the traffic noise, the exhaust fumes, the possibility of being hit by a car because I’m eating in the street. I think I’ll stick to outdoor back patios.
…instead, we should close down a few streets to cars & bikes (Hawthorne, some downtown streets, etc.) — build a few parking garages & corrals on the edges. Everyone is scared to try it, but the reality is that those places usually become wildly popular hangout spots.
Rather than these patios cluttering the streetscape in their location on parking spaces, some streets’ width may be sufficient to allow sidewalk widening. Even a couple feet can help on narrow sidewalks. Where sidewalks are wide enough to seat people while still allowing room to walk down the sidewalk, sidewalk dining and lounging can be nice in some areas. Way better than being actually in the street, sandwiched on a rinky-dink deck on street, between who knows what type of persons behind the wheel of motor vehicles, trying to jimmy their way into a parallel parking spot.
Would I want to eat in a parking space?
Let me think. Sitting right where some car has his exhaust pointing straight at me making my eyes water, hoping that truck is careful when he backs in as to not run into me, Trying to talk over the sound of car engines, Hoping there is no wind that will blow over the uninspected unpermited structure that was cobbled together in an amateur fashion, hoping someone might have wiped the tables and chairs down to get the dirty exhaust deposits off before my food arrives or I sit on the dirty bench.
Or I could spend my money where I can sit inside a real restaurant.
I’ve eaten at the street seats in the Misssippi area and they’re great. I think the PBA is missing the forest for the trees here. These are the kind of inovative things that make an are vibrant and give it energy. These spaces have a big visual impact especially when they are done with artistic flair. It could be argued that the park blocks and pioneer courthouse square take up valuable commercial space that could be more useful as parking. Imagine downtown without those!