This is a guest post from Brendon Haggerty and Jeff Mandel, who share a seat on the 20s Bikeway stakeholder advisory committee for the Kerns Neighborhood Association and see a possible road to an outcome that’s better for both biking and local business than the city’s current proposal. You can catch up on our recent 20s Bikeway coverage here.
We are pleased that so many people care so much about the central portion of the 20s Bikeway. Reactions during the past week or so have been varied and passionate, and we wanted to share our perspective as neighborhood residents and SAC members. We hope the four points below will advance the conversation and help us to get it straight on 28th.
1) This is not an all-or-nothing issue. Many of the comments we have read and heard over the past several days paint the issue of parking removal on 28th as an all-or-nothing decision, which has engendered polarization and an attitude of “you’re either with us or against us.” The reality is that there is a continuum of solutions and needs. In many ways, we are blessed to have businesses on 28th that understand what makes 28th a great place to be. After all, they located on walkable 28th instead of suburban strip malls for a reason. Many of the owners and employees regularly travel by bike and understand that car-light living is a strength of the neighborhood. They also have some legitimate concerns, like how to unload the kegs that customers in the neighborhood are so eager to guzzle. There is no need to boycott, but there is a need to continue the conversation. There is likely more common ground here than is apparent.
2) The strength of 28th is its walkability and bikeability, not its parking. Brendon likes to say that he’s found parking at Laurelhurst Theater 100% of the times he’s driven there – because he’s never driven there. What makes 28th an attractive place to be is that you don’t have to wade through acres of car parking to access a movie, an excellent dinner, or a pint of Portland’s finest. Unfortunately, the letter that accompanied the petition from business owners contributed to the polarization of the conversation by communicating an ultimatum about car parking. From the letter, one would conclude that the parking only on 28th makes or breaks businesses in the corridor. This assertion is simply not believable. If the 60 businesses that signed the petition each made that claim, it would suggest that all of their businesses are completely reliant on an average of 1.6 parking spaces each. We know from our interactions with business owners and from their prior actions that this is not the case. Businesses in our neighborhood and elsewhere around the city requested the removal of parking directly in front of their business for street seating and additional bike parking.
These trends show that businesses have a vision for more inclusive uses of our public streets, and that parking is not the make-or-break issue that the petition would have us believe it to be. In an area with constrained space, a business plan based on people traffic has a far higher capacity for growth than one reliant on car traffic and car parking. Equitable access for all would give more exposure to businesses on 28th while mitigating complaints about congestion and pollution.
Parking needs attention, but parking should not be the only factor that determines where improvements can be made and what the optimal route for access should be. PBOT should include parking pricing and permitting in the set of potential solutions.
3) Exclusion is not safety. Well meaning people on all sides are looking out for the safety of people on bikes, but everyone seems to come up with different solutions. There are trade-offs between 28th and 30th, but there are no strong data suggesting that one is safer than the other.
Fortunately, there are very few crashes on 28th, but still there is a perception that 28th is unsafe and uncomfortable. PBOT employs experts familiar with the latest research, and we expect them to bring an objective approach to safety.
People riding on 30th face arterial crossings at Glisan, Burnside, and Stark without the protection of signals. Instead of diverting people and resources away from 28th by installing expensive new signals on 30th and hoping people choose to ride there, a more savvy use of the limited budget would be to reconfigure the existing signals at 28th. Let’s not waste the money to duplicate their functionality on 30th. The money saved could be applied directly to improvements on 28th.
All people are using 28th Avenue for the same reasons – to shop, visit, to get home or to work or pass through to somewhere else. Excluding one mode of transportation from the roadway “for their own safety” does everyone a disservice. Each well meaning attempt at exclusion only complicates the route and in the end creates a very unsatisfactory solution. The street is open to all modes and we have an obligation to make it safe and comfortable for all modes.
4) The advisory committee process has not been effective. The fact that the businesses felt the need to pull together a petition outside of the public process, and that the city immediately conceded to their position is evidence that the process hasn’t worked. It would be a sign of success if each of us involved could empathize and understand the position of the others.
The rhetoric of the last week has demonstrated that there are some big gaps in understanding of issues as well as positions. We have an opportunity now to step back from a hastily made ultimatum and frame the discussion in a more collaborative light. Organizations like Resolutions Northwest have talented facilitation staff who can help resolve disagreements in ways that avoid entrenchment and harsh language. We propose an open meeting of the SAC, neighborhood businesses, and interested parties facilitated by a conflict resolution specialist. We know there are businesses who are willing to participate, and we look forward to seeing them soon. We think we can get a straight line out of this project yet.
Brendon Haggerty and Jeff Mandel are residents of the Kerns Neighborhood and serve on the Kerns Neighborhood Association Board. This opinion does not necessarily represent that of the board.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.