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Editorial: A pro-bike-lane argument that seems to work – ’23 Powell Boulevards’

Posted by on February 24th, 2014 at 3:01 pm

If it doesn’t reduce the use of cars for short trips, the Portland of 2035 will need room for the equivalent of 23 more Powell Boulevards.
(Graphic by Roger Geller, Portland Bureau of Transportation)

Roger Geller, one of the most respected bicycle professionals in North America, was not having a terrific afternoon. His baritone had slid up to a tenor.

PBOT staff at NACTO conference-1

PBOT Bike Coordinator Roger Geller.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

“This is beneficial,” he said to the roomful of owners of retail businesses along 28th Avenue near Burnside, gathered at Coalition Brewing Wednesday afternoon. “This is a good thing for your business district.”

Portland’s bicycle coordinator for the last 14 years — a confident and amiable man, but always known more for his groundbreaking analyses and head for numbers than for a silver tongue — was pitching the benefits of replacing auto parking on one side of the street (including a couple blocks in each direction, it’s maybe one-eighth of the district’s auto parking) with a buffered bike lane. Geller made one argument after another as to why there was no reason to think the district would suffer. But for each fact he cited, someone had an immediate rebuttal.

“Those parking spots are dear,” one man at the bar said, to wide agreement. “The very limited parking that remains in this district is really being stressed.”

“Is it the City of Portland’s job to reduce people’s use of their cars?” one woman asked. Geller didn’t answer directly.

But in response to a different question about future traffic patterns, Geller flipped to a new page in his presentation and showed his audience a map that, for a moment, seemed to leave them quiet.

It was a picture, he explained, capturing what Portland would need to look like if it doesn’t decrease the likelihood that people use cars for their errands and commutes.

“Powell Boulevard carries 45,000 cars each day, more or less,” Geller said. If Portlanders keep driving cars as much as they do now, he noted, and if the Portland’s area’s population grows by the 1 million people that Metro expects it to by 2035, the additional auto capacity needed would be the equivalent of 23 new Powell Boulevards lacing through the city.

Everyone looked at the maps for a second. And everyone seemed to understand exactly what they meant.

The moment of silence didn’t last long. The conversation moved on to other, more easily rebutted details. Geller’s proposal still lost an advisory straw poll of attendees, with two in favor, five undecided and 10 opposed. But of all the arguments Geller made on Wednesday, it seemed clear that this one had hit closest to home.

I’m just a journalist who was covering the event for this site. But the reason this idea had power, it seems to me, is that it was the only one that really forced the people in the room to confront the long-term choices faced by Portland, and by every growing city.

Here’s the thing: we already tried Plan A. Portland’s 40-year experiment with auto dependence, from 1940 to 1980 or so, didn’t work any better than any other American city’s did. It turned the east half of the city into a husk.

In the long run, a growing city can hollow itself out to make room for more and more cars. It can spend tens of millions on three-story parking garages and hundreds of millions on wider streets and freeways. It can build parking lots that push every destination further from the next, further increasing the need for cars. It can deal with the noise, pollution, danger and expense that all those cars and hours behind the wheel create.

Or, alternatively, it can make it desirable for people to more frequently get around in ways other than cars.

And here’s the thing: we already tried Plan A. Portland’s 40-year experiment with auto dependence, from 1940 to 1980 or so, didn’t work any better than any other American city’s did. It turned the east side of the city into a husk. People who could afford to move to suburbs did so.

It’s a time that many longtime Portlanders, including most of its business owners, probably remember. In fact, one of the owners, John Taboada of Navarre restaurant, had alluded to it just a few minutes before Geller had flipped to his map.

“15 years ago, it wasn’t that great,” Taboada said of the 28th Avenue district. “There was a parking lot and a blood transfusion center.”

Taboada, who said his top concern is auto travel speeds, is still undecided about the city’s proposal. But he’s only one of the many people in the 28th Avenue district — entrepreneurs, landlords, residents — whose future depends on its continuing to be a place people want to spend their time, even if the parking is a hassle.

If we don’t keep making bicycle transportation in the city more efficient, safe and simple, will that be possible? That’s the choice Geller’s presentation forces every Portlander to think about.

Northeast 28th Avenue in 2013.

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MaxD
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MaxD

Vancouver BC has made it the job of the city to “reduce people’s use of their cars.” They do it by investing in public transportation, having an excellent (and COMPLETE) ped/bike network throughout the city, they invest in extensive, well-,maintained parks and high density, and they have no urban freeways, they have ped-activated signals, parking is limited, expensive and highly enforced, and traffic enforcement is no joke (like in PDX). Vancouver has been named ‘most-livable’ a few times, and I think it makes a great model for Portland. For many reasons, Portland is NOT Vancouver, and shouldn’t try to be, but discouraging car use and encouraging alternatives has been proven to be very successful

Charley
Guest
Charley

The irony here is that rents are higher (indicating greater commercial value) in places like the Pearl and downtown. . . where parking is the least easy of all of our neighborhoods. Rents are lower (indicating lower commercials value) in places like Lents and Gresham, where parking is easy to find.

I wish someone would have asked those business owners where’d they’d rather be located: in happening places with lots of money flowing or on loud street corners with open-air meth markets?

Jeff
Guest

Any way of knowing which businesses were for, against, and undecided? We a) spend a lot of money in that neighborhood, b) almost never drive there, and c) really hate the current biking setup on 28th. I approach this with some trepidation – I’m worried that some favorites will show up on the ‘opposed’ list.

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

I think it is really a shame that most Americans equate the hustle and bustle of car traffic with commerce. It’s almost like they can’t imagine what a pedestrian and like dominated transportation network would look like because it is been drilled into their heads for so long that cars equal customers. The commercial real estate industry feeds this ridiculous notion. Maybe PBOT can buy round-trip airline tickets to Denmark for all these small minded business owners on 28!

Roger Geller
Guest
Roger Geller

There was a lot going on at that meeting. Michael is an excellent reporter but I believe he missed my response, which was, as I recall, delayed by a few moments following the question. I responded that it is the city’s goal to reduce reliance on the automobile. That is our official city goal (Goal 6: Transportation), which can be read here: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/index.cfm?c=34249&a=141421

Gezellig
Guest
Gezellig

I’m curious if he also brought up stats showing that people who arrive by bike to commercial strips tend to spend more money than those who do so by car:

http://bikeportland.org/2012/07/06/study-shows-biking-customers-spend-more-74357

As for the actual design…just a shot in the dark but I wonder if merchants are against something like removing one lane by making at least parts of 28th a one-way street (with a parallel street or streets also getting the one-way treatment for the opposite direction)?

Cars would still have full access to commercial stretches, you could keep the two lanes of parking (as ridiculous as that is) and it’d free up space for bikes, too.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

Deja vu?

In the late 90s bike lanes were proposed as an option for Hawthorne but due to an outcry from local businesses no additional bike infrastructure was installed (not even the measly sharrows depicted in the 1997 plan).

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/65307
(See alternatives 3 and 4 for what could have been.)

Michael
Guest
Michael

why not have folks go to each business in that area, asking the owners and staff whether they support the proposal or not? It could be the same basic question that was posed at the meeting. This would serve to inform the owners that the bike community is organized and passionate about this issue and willing to engage in action (I think its premature to specify what action might be in the cards) to promote a safer biking / pedestrian friendly environment.

The responses to our more comprehensive survey could then be tallied – and the bike community would know who our allies are, who is on the fence (but open to persuasion) and from whom we can expect the most resistance. We could then ask those owners and staff (who support the transformation) for guidance and support on how best to persuade others…

Pat Franz
Guest

28th wants to be a destination. The rest of the city wants/needs it to be a thoroughfare. It can be both. It’s not currently functioning as either.

Parking doesn’t make something a destination. A reason to be there makes it a destination.

Removing a few parking spaces will not make 28th less of a place people would like to go. Making the street better for people when they are not in their cars WILL make 28th more of a place people will want to go.

Pleasant sidewalks/slower traffic/clearly welcoming pedestrian spaces/and dare I say it- the presence of cyclists- are each big improvements over the narrow, tense, auto clogged free for all that 28th is now.

So people arriving by car will have to park a little ways away. So what? If their destination is more pleasant, it will be worth it to them. And all the other people arriving on foot and by bike will find it much more attractive.

And the rest of the city will have a more pleasant time passing through.

If the merchants were thinking at all, they would band together and arrange for parking someplace nearby, and HAPPILY take the new street improvements as an opportunity to turn their little corner of Portland into a destination. They are staring a true opportunity in the face and missing it entirely.

Allan Folz
Guest

Not one person to question the underlying assumption that the city of Portland should have another 1 million inhabitants in 20 years time? If Portland’s (and the entire country’s for that matter) population wasn’t growing so rapidly we wouldn’t have these types of problems in the first place.

The majority of the country’s population growth is from foreign immigration, both legal and illegal. The citizens of the US first responsibility is to each other and our posterity, the latter being enumerated in the explicit text of the Constitution.

I believe we, the people, should stand-up to the bullying from Washington D.C. and demand a breather on immigration until we can have an honest assessment of what we, the people, want for our country. Or we can pretend like it’s an inevitable and unstoppable force of nature which nothing can be done about, and give up without even trying because that’s what the business lobby and national politicians repeat so many times it must be true.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Scroom! Ignore 28th for now. There are a lot of other parts of the City which could use redesigning. Find another district that is more open-minded and make changes there. Wait 5 years for the benefits to become apparent then go back to 28th and see if opinions have changed. If they haven’t, move on to somewhere else and come back in another 5 years.

Jeremy Cohen
Guest
Jeremy Cohen

I wonder how those business owners would feel if the response to the “is it the city’s job to reduce auto dependance” question was another question: Is it the city’s job to provide free parking for cars? The business owners want it both ways–they want the city to provide parking, at well below market value for the space, but they don’t believe the city should provide a safe travel situation for an important segment of the population. I would argue that more people bike that road every day than could possibly park there in the same day.

paikikala
Guest
paikikala

Why not use some of the side streets to mitigate parking loss on 28th? A 36-ft street can have parallel on one side, angle on the other and a one-way lane. the angle side parking adds 20%-30% more car size spaces on that side of the street. reverse angle parking (aka, back-in) would help enforce the one-way operation. There will be some localized neighborhood circulation added, but nothing like a new collector. BTW, car size spaces could be used for something other than a car.

SD
Guest
SD

28th is also a route to Davinci middle school and Central Catholic high school. They should be at the table as well. Perhaps moreso than the businesses on 28th. An email address list of the businesss that are involved in this would be nice.

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

Frankly I find this is why consensus is a dead-end in the political decision making process. Businesses are not going to readily agree to change, because change, whether forecasted as good or bad, is always perceived as bad – it adds uncertainty to the business model. The city should just do what it intends to do, and build good, needed bike infrastructure here. Yes, they are in a popularity contest where ultimately their jobs are at stake if people don’t like the actions, but the businesses there are not the only voices at the ballot box. And if those businesses can’t adapt to the new environment then it is probably true that they should be replaced by businesses that can. Maybe that seems cold, but it still complies with one of nature’s primary laws – survival of the fittest. Less marketing and more action will bring better infrastructure quicker.

jacque
Guest
jacque

28th ave is a good route by bike. The lights are timed so that a cyclist can ride at a reasonable pace, and not hold cars back because going faster would only make the car get to the red light faster. I love riding along there and waving to the stopped cars that have passed me with frustration, as I ride past *them* without having to stop.

But The VERY dangerous behavior of cars- using the on-coming lane, at high speed, to pass cyclists going “too slow” makes it VERY scary-whether you’re on foot, bike, or in a car… or sitting at a table on the sidewalk!

I have a solution… Let’s reduce the speed limit in this highly congested area to 20 MPH, and designate it as a SHARED road. The city could use signs to make that clear… bike symbols could be located in the middle of the lane letting cyclists know that that is where they belong. Time all the lights to accommodate 20 MPH. It could be a great learning experience for everyone… 20 mph is a speed that allows for people to exist alongside cars. Leave the on street parking. According to the research, pedestrians feel safer when there is a barrier to the cars moving past, and side street parking functions that way. This project could be a model for other congested marketing streets to learn from.

As an aside, it is It’s is a bit amusing to me to hear a bike lane is proposed for 28th ave. Several years ago I was commenting, here on BP I think, how bike lanes seemed to be put in on routes that were already good for, and being used by cyclists. I commented then that 28th ave, a much used bicycle route, would probably be next.

jacque
Guest
jacque

I very much agree with “gezellig’s comment above mine^. With her/his comments in mind, I would love to see this be a project that really facilitated a shared road and enforced reduced speed limit. A place where cyclists can learn what it feels like to ride *with* traffic, and *as* traffic. And for car drivers to see how it works and get used to it.

Dan
Guest
Dan

There are lots of low-car or car-free shopping areas in Portland that do just fine. You park far away and walk to the shopping area, then you walk from store to restaurant to movie theater to ice rink, etc. Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place, Washington Square, Bridgeport Village, Clackamas Town Square, Streets of Tanasbourne, etc.

Cars whizzing by your front door are not necessary for customers.

chris
Guest
chris

Almost all new cars will be self-driving/autonomous by then, which throws a wrench into this prediction. The problem with these predictions is that they attempt to extrapolate current trends on to infinity.