Here’s a business owner’s perspective that breathes some fresh air into the us-versus-them framing that can bog down so many discussions about bike infrastructure in Portland.
Yesterday we kicked off a three-part series about the past and future of the Lloyd District. The third post in the series, coming in several weeks, will focus on the many street changes the city is lining up over the next 10 years that could help the neighborhood finally reach its potential — first among them, probably, a new biking-walking bridge that’s been proposed across Interstate 84 at 7th, 8th or 9th avenues.
Also yesterday, the last person to testify at Portland City Council happened to be the owner of a business and property at the south side of that bridge: Mike Lettunich of marketing and creative design firm Twenty Four Seven. Here’s what Lettunich had to say to the three council members present at that point in the meeting: Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Nick Fish and Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
We have about a dozen tenants that work in our buildings. There are a mixture, I think of really good diversity, of what the Central Eastside is all about right now. We have software, we have photography, film production, film design, build shop. And our business is also a design business: we moved there 15 years ago and sort of became accidental developers, just because we’re lonely. Because all the buildings were vacant around us.
But we have roughly 300 to 400 jobs depending on seasonality, just in these two buildings. And I want to say that roughly a quarter of those ride their bikes to work. All the bikes are scored in vertical racks inside the tenant spaces, and I figure at least 80 to 100 cars are not shoehorned into the streets of the Central Eastside because of that. I think we would have more commuting by bike if bike infrastructure was improved. Sure, there are die-hards who will ride on busy streets with average visibility, but most people aren’t going to do it if it doesn’t look intuitively safe. Portland is known as bike-friendly, but other cities are passing us up because they realize that it attracts young people, the lifeblood of a city’s future.
I hesitate to say this, but I did live in New York for four years, from ’07 to ’11 when we were trying to start an East Coast office, and I actually commuted from Brooklyn to Manhattan daily. And I want to say that the infrastructure there has improved really quickly. There’s protected lanes and cycle tracks all over now, and that’s kind of the competition that Portland’s having with bike-friendliness.
Anyway, our buildings are at the south side of the proposed bridge, and the city and the planning department have our full support. This is a vital underpinning and catalyst to the whole Green Loop and we hope it is not just in the 20-year plan or the 10-year plan but in the five-year plan. And we do realize it’s an expensive investment. So are parking garages, and so in a way is Portland’s reputation as a place where it’s nice to live and work.
Lettunich was testifying in favor of the Green Loop, the city’s plan to combine parks and transportation funds to create an iconic ring of comfortable biking around the central city, inspired in part by the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. One of the elements: a new human-scale crossing of I-84 that could create a continuous north-south bikeway through the Lloyd and Central Eastside and instantly become the most comfortable way to cross the freeway between the Willamette River and Interstate 205.
We’ll have more to say about the bridge plan, including the various possibilities for funding it, in several weeks. For now, let’s be grateful that Portland already has business owners with this perspective willing to take time to visit city council and tell our elected leaders what they think. And let’s hope they’re listening.