Publisher’s note: We’ve been covering the work of local bike activist group BikeLoudPDX since their first meeting back in August. Since then they’ve been busy with their campaign to tame traffic on SE Clinton. The update below was written by their founder, Alex Reed. It follows a meeting the group had with top-level PBOT staff last week.
Since August, BikeLoudPDX has been advocating for the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to take action on SE Clinton Street. Clinton was one of the city’s first two “bike boulevards” and continues to be one of the busiest bike streets in Portland. However, as more people have moved to Portland, and especially as more buildings have been built on close-by SE Division Street, Clinton has felt less comfortable to bike on. The reason is simple: Too many people are driving on it.
In the meantime, PBOT has done nothing to deter people from using Clinton to get to or bypass the new destinations on Division.
We at BikeLoudPDX sounded the alarm bell in August and have been working since then to convince the City that auto diverters are urgently needed. On Thursday, we met with City staffers to discuss our concerns about Clinton.
This has been a wild ride already, and we’re only just beginning our campaign in earnest. Here’s what we’ve learned:
1. People who bike in Portland care about this. A lot.
When fellow activist Joe Rowe set up our meeting with PBOT last week, I thought it would probably be me and him and a few other die-hards. Then when I saw that there was a 60-mph windstorm forecast for the six hours surrounding our 5:30 meeting, I worried that it would be even smaller. But about twenty people ended up showing up, including two families, who brought three kids between them to an endless-to-a-kid 1.5-hour meeting. (Kudos to those parents. Gold-star child distraction.)
In hindsight, this response makes complete sense. Bike boulevards are the backbone of our low-stress bike network in the inner-eastside of Portland. As bike boulevards become less and less comfortable, people feel that the relatively nice biking experience that they previously had is a thing of the past. People do not like things they cherish being taken away — and will fight to keep them.
2. The people “in the trenches” at PBOT get it.
It would be satisfying to imagine that Portland’s bike stagnation is solely due to apathy and malfeasance among the bureaucrats working on bike infrastructure here. If that were the case, biking in Portland could rise to new heights simply by cleaning house and bringing in staff who actually care about biking.
However, that’s just not the case at PBOT. The staff we met with — ranging from on-the-ground Active Transportation staff to management — all understand biking implicitly and care deeply about it. They all live in “car-lite” households, and all bike regularly for transportation. They’re part of the solution, not part of the problem. Be nice to them.
3. Politics is THE obstacle to change.
The undercurrent to all of our discussion was, “We want to help you. Set us up to where we can.” The staffers we talked to meant “setting up” the micro-level politics — get the neighborhood associations, local businesses, schools, churches, neighbors, anyone you can on board. The staffers wanted, if not consensus, then a lot of support from a lot of constituencies, particularly local businesses.
It’s important to understand, though, that this need for near-consensus is because of the timidity of Portland’s current City Commissioners regarding bikes. As we’ve seen, “biking” is a bit of a dirty word in City Hall these days. Probably more important to Portland’s bike future than micro-level politics is macro-level politics — get our current City Commissioners to prioritize bike comfort, safety, and convenience, or campaign for new ones who will. For this reason, BikeLoudPDX is working with Bike Walk Vote to lay the groundwork for people who bike to have a real political influence in Portland.
4. Families that bike for transportation can be our very best advocates.
Imagine you’re a politician at a hearing to vote yes or no on our future Clinton project. You hear this from a disgruntled neighbor…
“If you install diverters on Clinton, I’ll have 10 more cars an hour passing in front of my house! My street is nice and quiet right now, and I want to keep it that way!”
You might be seriously considering a “No” vote. But say you hear this next…
“I have a 2 year old and a 6 year old. We are honked at and passed repeatedly, sometimes aggressively, on the way to and from school on Clinton and we are scared. Clinton is supposed to be a safe route to school, and it currently has more than 300 cars an hour during our school pickup trip. That’s just too much. We understand why people cut through on Clinton. It’s tempting for us to cut through ourselves when we’re driving and Division is backed up. But, you must approve this project, remove that temptation, and let our kids get to school safely and comfortably.”
I bet that would make you forget about that disgruntled neighbor (and the idea of voting “No”) really quickly.
So what’s next?
Taking years to fix this urgent problem on Clinton is not good enough. We want the City to take quick action. One thing we’re working on is a very temporary installation of a proposed solution through Better Block PDX (the same group that had success on the 3rd Avenue demonstration). Better Block already did a project on Clinton this past spring which could fit in nicely with this one.
We want to get this issue on Clinton fixed soon and move onto all the other things that need to change, much faster than they have been, for Portland to reach its goal of having 25% of all trips made by bike by 2030.
To stay posted on this project, and all things BikeLoudPDX, sign up for our mailing list, follow us on Twitter @BikeLoudPDX, join our Facebook group, or visit our web site. Our next meeting on Clinton is Sunday, December 21, at 2:00pm at Hopworks (on Powell at 29th). Find us in the kid-friendly area :-).