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Possible sale of downtown Post Office could be golden opportunity for bikeway

Posted by on April 8th, 2015 at 2:41 pm

usps map

A Portland Development Commission map of the “Broadway Corridor.” The PDC is meeting this afternoon to re-up their negotiation to buy the post office site at the base of the Broadway Bridge and fast-track a planning process for the area.
(Image: PDC)

If Portland’s main post office signs a deal to relocate, a huge payoff for biking could be hiding between the lines.

As the Portland Development Commission meets this afternoon to consider putting up $500,000 to reboot negotiations over moving the operation from the Pearl District to a new hub near Portland International Airport, advocates and planners are watching with great interest.

Redevelopment of the eight-city-block post office site could create the space and funding for a new built-from-scratch bikeway from the Broadway Bridge straight down into the Park Blocks, across Burnside past Director Park, and into the city’s biggest cultural district and Portland State University.

It’d be a key component of the Green Loop, a city concept for a biking-walking path designed as a signature urban amenity to match Portland’s iconic waterfront paths and transit mall, circling the central city on both sides of the Willamette River and linking the Broadway Bridge to the new Tilikum Crossing.

sunday parkways everyday

A concept of a biking-walking Green Loop on the Park Blocks.
(Image: Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability)

“I’m excited by the potential of the post office site happening in the not too distant future now,” said Mark Raggett, a senior planner with the city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability who works on the Green Loop, on Wednesday.

The Oregonian reported last week that the Portland Development Commission “will consider entering exclusive negotiations to acquire the site at 715 N.W. Hoyt St. … and it will put down $500,000 to show it’s serious.”

A deal to redevelop the post office with a city purchase and resale worth tens of millions of dollars has gone on for years, and most recently fell apart a year ago. But with a major development boom underway in the Pearl area, the perceived payoff of converting the site to denser employment and/or residential space seems stronger than ever.

Raggett said such a deal would open up several options for improving the westbound landings of the Broadway Bridge or adding a new one flying through the middle of the new development towards the Park Blocks.

“There’s quite a bit of grade difference in there to make up,” Raggett said. “We don’t know exactly how that would work.”

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The potential for a continuous bikeway down the Park Blocks has been discussed for years. Two years ago, after we reported on the emergence of the Green Loop concept, local advocate Sean Pliska created a compelling and detailed picture of the potential for making Park Avenue the main north-south bikeway through downtown. As he noted, it’d require some traffic rearrangement and signal work around Burnside, but the route is otherwise flat, low-traffic and a relatively blank canvas for investments such as a traffic-separated bikeway similar to the successful Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

green loop route

A possible bikeway route through the Park Blocks.
(Image: Sean Pliska)

“We’ve done really well with the commuter system,” Raggett said, referring to Portland’s existing biking network. “The Green Loop proposes adding a system that appeals to a broader demographic.”

Bicycle Transportation Director Rob Sadowsky cautioned Wednesday that the Green Loop as planned shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for other protected bike lanes.

“As a multi-use trail, as a meandering recreational experience, sounds fantastic — sign a lot of people up,” Sadowsky said. “It’s not a replacement for adequate protected bike lanes downtown for commuting. … They’re looking at designing it as a 5-6 mile per hour route. So that’s walking speed. It’ll be more like trying to experience a bike ride on the Eastbank Esplanade in the summer.”

A project like the Green Loop would cost tens of millions and require years of planning. Though development charges on new buildings in the central city could pay for parts of the so-called “linear park,” Raggett said “it would definitely require some public funds. we don’t know exactly what those would be from.”

green loop visualization

A rough concept of the complete Green Loop route.
(Image: Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability)

He conceded that it’d be a challenge to justify public investment in the central city, even for a relatively low-cost project compared to amenities like the recently reconstructed Transit Mall. Then again, he said, that might not be necessary.

“We’re beginning to hear that there might be interest from private philanthropy in this kind of project,” Raggett said.

Shawn Uhlman, a spokesman for the Portland Development Commission, said Wednesday that the Green Loop is “sort of anticipated either going around or through the post office site” and that the PDC’s interest in acquiring the post office was informed by the city’s West Quadrant Plan, which introduced the Green Loop concept.

Uhlman said the PDC is currently recruiting members of the stakeholder advisory committee for the Broadway Corridor Framework Plan, a planning process that would envision potential for the Post Office site and other nearby blocks, including the downtown Greyhound station and Union Station. That process is due to wrap up by October 2015, a notably rapid timeline. He said interested volunteers should email Sarah Harpole: harpoles@pdc.us.

Thanks to our friend Iain MacKenzie of development news site NextPortland.com for the tip.

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  • Adam H. April 8, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    It will be nice to have some public space on the Post Office site instead of all the land going to private developers. Additionally, that Y-intersection at NW Lovejoy and Broadway could definitely be improved for bicycle access.

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    • hat April 8, 2015 at 3:18 pm

      Agreed. That intersection feels so dangerous. I imagine several possible routes. For example, taking out the narrow lane on Lovejoy and adding a two-way cycle path on the south side of Lovejoy. But as the Green Loop docs show, it would be fantastic to have separated access to Johnson and the Park Blocks as well. It’s my hope they will separate the blocks to create cycle and pedestrian only streets that connect to the bridgehead.

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      • Adam H. April 8, 2015 at 4:44 pm

        Lovejoy is tricky because of the streetcar tracks, and the bike lane being sandwiched in-between the tracks and the wall. Changing signal timing so that people on bikes get free reign of the turn onto the bridge form Lovejoy would be an improvement. People driving seem to make wide turns onto the bridge and it’s a bit unnerving turning at the same time as car traffic.

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    • maccoinnich April 8, 2015 at 4:29 pm

      I’d be amazed (and disappointed) if the Framework Plan didn’t recommend extending the North Park Blocks.

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      • hat April 8, 2015 at 5:20 pm

        The trick is incorporating the new Park Blocks (and perhaps the old building?) with the change in grade that a bike facility would need.

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        • inwe April 8, 2015 at 10:06 pm

          A couple years ago, I played around a little with mine own take on what this would look like. my focus then (as it would be now) was extending the park blocks and maintaining/re-purposing the building, potentially with cut-through “alleys” along the lines of Union Way between Burnside and Stark. A bike/pedestrian ramp direct from the Park Blocks to the bridge would be an incredible addition!

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    • q`Tzal April 9, 2015 at 7:33 am

      Pie in the sky solution to westbound off Broadway Bridge to NW Broadway south: off ramp that jogs right/north to duck under NW Lovejoy and reconnect to NW Broadway just like an interstate highway underpass.
      Maybe even some forethought to install several sensors at equidistant points to measure the speed of downhill cyclists so as to accurately control traffic signals and adequately warn oblivious car drivers “HEY! Bikes are coming off here like a rail gun! Watch out!”

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  • pdxmark April 8, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I once thought the central location of the post office facility made sense, but biking past it each day now after work I realize it is a huge source of large truck traffic in the later afternoons. An airport location makes much more sense for inner city traffic.

    But please, even if the heavy mail processing moves, let’s still have a real post office somewhere downtown…

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    • pixelgate April 8, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      This times a million. The other local post offices are quite dismal. Ever been to the one on (I think) Savier and 24th? Even if there’s just 3 people in line you can wait up to 15+ minutes. The Pearl post office is a great facility, though clearly it hogs up a lot of valuable real estate. It was only a matter of time..

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    • Buzz April 9, 2015 at 11:09 am

      There is a new downtown post office at the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge, corner of SW 1st and Madison.

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  • Todd Boulanger April 8, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    The future is rail! Perhaps again?

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  • Gary April 8, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    “It’s not a replacement for adequate protected bike lanes downtown for commuting. … They’re looking at designing it as a 5-6 mile per hour route.”

    Why? When we have a pleasant N-S downtown walking/biking path already, but lack a major protected downtown bike corridor, why not build it for the latter? The Park blocks (roads) are fairly useless as a car route, they’re essentially a parking strip. So why not go big and build a full-on bike highway, instead of getting a “linear park” here then seeking (fighting for) protected lanes elsewhere.

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    • Terry D-M April 8, 2015 at 3:44 pm

      Portland is getting federal money for a $6.6 million downtown bikeway retrofit starting this fall. This is where our commuting lanes will come from.

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    • hat April 8, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      I think the BTA doesn’t want to give up on the potential for a protected lane on 3rd and 4th avenue. The better block demonstration has a lot of business support. But I see your point. The park blocks have the potential to be something much better than the mixed atmosphere of the summer waterfront, not necessarily limited to the 5-6 mph folks.

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    • maccoinnich April 8, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      I hope we can have facilities suitable for commuters on both 3rd/4th AND the Park Blocks. They’re far enough apart that they serve different parts of Downtown. I don’t see a conflict between cyclists going at 5mph and 15mph; the bigger conflict is between cyclists and pedestrians. Given all the width that exists, I’m sure separate paths can be created for both (as shown in the concept image).

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      • Gary April 9, 2015 at 8:40 am

        Absolutely, that is ideal and appropriate. I just assume that a legit bike route on 3rd/4th means fighting the car/parking crowd, so it is going to be a challenge and far from certain–but I also don’t know much about any work going on that front (including the fed money Terry mentioned).

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    • Adam H. April 8, 2015 at 4:46 pm

      I thought that’s why they’re called the “Park” Blocks – they’re essentially a big linear parking lot. Gotta love biking though a double door zone! /s

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      • Adam H. April 8, 2015 at 4:47 pm

        And biking down the center sidewalk is technically illegal.

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        • Champs April 9, 2015 at 9:28 am

          Biking on the Park Blocks sidewalks is legal.

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      • hat April 8, 2015 at 4:52 pm

        Park is wide enough to avoid the door zones if you are in the center. This does not make it entirely pleasant, particularly in SW where it gets busier, but I have rarely worried about being doored compared to the parking buffer named “bike lane” on Broadway.

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  • Josh G April 8, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    When I heard about the post office moving to the airport, I pictured a grand flyover bridge that connects bike-ped traffic from bridge height to Jamison Square with a gradual elevation change through the middle of the whole 14 acre property. I was hoping for a similar N-S connector through the middle of Lloyd Center to connect to 12th, but it’s current renovation isn’t that forward thinking. Both places would be great with a Cykelslangen (cycle-snake)
    Go ahead and tell me I’m thinking too big.

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    • Adam H. April 8, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      With the amount of bike traffic that the Broadway Bridge gets, the current Y-intersection on the western approach is inadequate. The streetcar tracks and turning vehicles create a hazard. A flyover might be the best approach, but I doubt there is enough room to clear that intersection. Changing signal timing or possibly having a bike-only flyover from Lovejoy and Broadway and converging in line with the bridge with a dedicated signal could work.

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  • Joe Rowe April 8, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks for reporting this. The bike access is just one facet.

    The PDC is the opposite of Robin Hood. The PDC steals from the poor and gives money to rich developers. PDC starts projects with marketing goals for people and public space. The PDC ends projects with money in developer pockets taken from taxpayers all over, including low income neighborhoods.

    The PDC should be legally terminated by lawmakers in Salem, and in it’s place should be an affordable housing program with the same yearly budget that PDC has stolen from people the last 20 years.


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    • joebobpdx April 9, 2015 at 10:18 am

      I think you’re lost. This comment must have been meant for Oregonlive, everyone’s favorite fact-free ranthole.

      PDC’ is far from perfect but I think we’d be way worse off without them.

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      • davemess April 9, 2015 at 12:19 pm

        The question is though. Do we need to be spending PDC money on a plot of land next to or in one of the more expensive and rapidly developing neighborhoods in the city? I guess so if the city wants to have more control of how it is developed, but I’ve always thought the PDC was more for developing derelict and low equity areas.

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        • maccoinnich April 9, 2015 at 3:09 pm

          Yes, we do want the PDC spending money on this plot of land. Right now this is a 14 acre site in the middle of the city that generates no property tax revenue. By comparison a single block building at NW 11th & Couch in the Brewery Blocks pays $917,862 in property tax a year. With 8 developable blocks at the USPS site (assuming the Park Blocks are extended) that could be $8 million a year of new revenue for the City General Fund / Multnomah County / PCC / PPS / etc from 2024 on (when the debt from the River District URA will be fully paid off).

          Of course, there is the cost to bring this site onto the tax rolls. The Oregonian article mentions a cost of $68 million to acquire the site. That might seem like a large amount of money, but Pearl District land is so valuable that the PDC should be able to easily recover that when they dispose of the land. For instance, Security Properties paid $11.75 million for the single block that used to house PNCA. $11.75 million x 8 = $94 million.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly April 8, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    It’s a golden opportunity for a lot more than bikeways, but hopefully that sort of infrastructure will be an important part. I’d also like to see the North Park Blocks extended through the USPS property, and the entire length of the Park Blocks (north & south) closed to motor vehicles.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly April 8, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Maybe the City is planning on turning the site into a gigantic mountain bike park!

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  • Adam April 8, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    The whole superblock creates such a dead zone superblock, not to mention sketch-central. The walk for visitors and residents alike to Portland between Union Station and the Pearl is… Don’t get mugged! If the PO site was redeveloped, I would feel 100% safer walking through that neighbourhood. There needs to be so much more ground floor activity in this area.

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    • oliver April 9, 2015 at 10:34 am

      Someone I work with lives in those condos by the river just at the steel bridge.

      She drives to Broadway and Oak and pays for parking rather than walk, for that very reason.

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  • Eric April 8, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    Note confused family stopped blocking bike lane. We don’t need 5 mph bikeways — those are sidewalks.

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    • Dwaine Dibbly April 9, 2015 at 5:43 am

      Well, it *does* say “like Sunday Parkways every day”. Maybe that’s what they meant.

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  • reader April 8, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Possible sale of downtown Post Office could be golden opportunity for bikeway … and massive giveaway to private developers.

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    • Buzz April 9, 2015 at 10:47 am

      Hard to understand why developers need tax breaks and other financial incentives from PDC when the real estate market is so hot right now and the developers are already flush with their own cash.

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      • maccoinnich April 9, 2015 at 10:58 am

        What tax breaks or incentives are you assuming that the PDC is going to offer? Because nothing in their budget for the River District indicates that they’re planning on offering any.

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  • wsbob April 9, 2015 at 10:25 am

    “…a 5-6 mile per hour route. So that’s walking speed. …” Rob Sadowsky, in this bikeportland story

    Actually, 6 mph would be, or is, nearly twice walking speed, which generally is considered to be 3.5 mph.

    I haven’t read the story about the ‘Green Loop Concept, so the reasoning for the route being spec’d 5-6 mile per hour, isn’t something I’m aware of yet. Also, is Sadowsky saying that the route is being designed for 5-6 mph be top speed? Or average speed for the entire route, or big sections of it?

    For a bikeway using the street on Park Ave, I would figure for cruising speeds between 5mph to 15mph.

    The city would have to find parking revenue elsewhere to replace it, but I’d think a great improvement to the aesthetics and functionality of both the Park Blocks and a bikeway on Park, would be to eliminate curbside parking on the street directly next to the park blocks.

    SW park blocks were configured this way quite a few years back, and that improved the looks of the park a lot, and I found the arrangement much better for informally, that is, jay walking, from the park to across the street. Being near this major, lineal city park, a bikeway adjoining it would hopefully be casual, relaxing infrastructure on which crossing the bikeway on foot at random points along it would be common and compatible use.

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  • oliver April 9, 2015 at 10:30 am

    They need to fast track the installation of traffic signals at Couch

    This has got to be the only city in the country with a stop-sign on Broadway street.

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  • TJ April 9, 2015 at 10:38 am

    The Pearl in general is hostile to cyclist, but the USPS trucks are far-and-away the worst. Last week I remarked on the impressive lean and acceleration through the corner via a downshift of a USPS box truck (are these things even double clutch standards?).

    The sale will primarily benefit the empty promising developers. I’m sure we’ll see more blind corners and streets with ample opportunity to lead foot for a few blocks. Of course, the “affordable units” too.

    There’s nothing awesome about dropping off Broadway into the Westside via either Lovejoy or Broadway. Both routes are more injuries and fatalities waiting to happen. Most disappointing is the number of exposing turns it takes to make a westerly through route (less so if heading straight for Cornell than to offices).

    There’s little stopping the city from calming some of the corners down today. Islands at the corners to force more 90 degree lefts OR just stops signs all around. Speed humps, for all there negatives, would still be huge. And those are just simple quick and dirty solutions.

    Front Ave to Dirty 30 is a dream compared to the few blocks it’s takes me to get there.

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  • Buzz April 9, 2015 at 10:46 am

    PDC doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to accommodating HPVs in their development plans.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu April 9, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    HPV = Human powered vehicle

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    • maccoinnich April 9, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      Yeah, we need a better acronym for that.

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  • Randy April 9, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    Vehicles driving at high rates of speed can be seen daily on the Lincoln & Salmon “bikeways”.

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