Support BikePortland

Business owner to City Council: Bicycling is ‘lifeblood’ of a city’s future

Posted by on July 9th, 2015 at 9:27 am

mike lettunich

Mike Lettunich of Twenty Four Seven.
(Image: City of Portland)

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.

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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.

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34 Comments
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    Adam H. July 9, 2015 at 10:27 am

    This is great. We need more business owners to speak up in favor of bike infrastructure so we can close the notion that car parking = customers.

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    Scott H July 9, 2015 at 10:31 am

    We need more people like Mike, Mike gets it, he understands what’s in store for this city.

    When I read the first part of the headline ‘Business owner to City Council:’ my first thought was ‘oh no, here we go again with another out-of-touch business owner who’s still clinging to the idea of life in the 50s and isn’t going to survive the transition to Portland in the 2020s.’ So, Mike’s testimony was definitely a breath of fresh air.

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      Jeg July 9, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Mike for mayor.

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        Jayson July 10, 2015 at 10:58 am

        Seriously, we need people that get it running for city council. This guy has widespread appeal. How is it that we are only getting such oddballs in the Portland political sphere.

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    Todd Hudson July 9, 2015 at 10:58 am

    “crossing of I-84 that could create a continuous north-south bikeway north and south through the Lloyd and Central Eastside”

    I am read to start building this bridge myself. I can mix concrete!

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      ethan July 9, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      Let’s do it! It worked for the skate park…

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    soren July 9, 2015 at 11:04 am

    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.

    The Portland Business Alliance needs to hear this message.

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    Terry D-M July 9, 2015 at 11:15 am

    In North Tabor the local businesses have been enthusiastic about any bike improvements, including the Burnside diverter and a test diagonal diversion proposed at 58th and Everett.

    Every business I have talked to on Burnside WANTS bike lanes access, with our new Babur shop kind of angry that she can not get bike racks due to the sub-standard sidewalks.

    Foster is excited as well, as is Cartlandia. As far as I can see, it is mostly the inner neighborhoods and the PBA that are currently still embedded in the old world way of thinking.

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      Reza July 9, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      No, our neighborhoods have several priorities for bicycle improvements. You just happen to think they’re a waste of money.

      http://bikeportland.org/2015/02/27/comment-week-case-bike-path-alongside-84-135134

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        Craig Harlow July 10, 2015 at 9:14 am

        I don’t believe he called those projects a waste, just an inequitable distribution of resources that neglects the already long-neglected poorer and less central neighborhoods. And I think that’s a very important point. If equity matters when we’re talking about project dollars, then we need voices like Terry’s to speak all the time.

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      Adam H. July 9, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      The planned bike lanes for Foster are a joke. Because PBOT used retaining on-street parking as a metric of success, we ended up with door-zone bike lanes that protect no one. The entire ROW is being redone without fully-protected cycle tracks. What a lost opportunity.

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    dan July 9, 2015 at 11:21 am

    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.

    Wow, well-said!

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    Anne Hawley July 9, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Good bike infrastructure is an expensive investment but so is Portland’s reputation as a place where it’s nice to live and work.

    Brilliant observation! It needs to be said and heard more often: if we don’t upgrade and maintain our bike infrastructure, we’re letting a huge investment go to waste.

    This guy is a great message framer.

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      Anne Hawley July 9, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Well, okay, not as huge as the investment in cars and parking, but still.

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    invisiblebikes July 9, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    The only problem is he compared us to NY, that’s like comparing Apples and the Orange sun!

    We’ll never have the astronomical funds NY has access to… and I hope never even close to the population.

    But still very well spoken and a great boost for favorable (and safe) infrastructure.

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      Jeg July 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      This is a fallacy. Make the transportation budget give a greater percentage to biking as opposed to cars. I don’t buy that super low use streets need to be paved as urgently as claimed. We need to be increasing the budge city wide to provide more money for bike improvements. Also, we need more money going to transit– rapid transit like a subway or skytrain. And it MUST be 24-7. All of this will take cars OFF the road.

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        invisiblebikes July 9, 2015 at 3:05 pm

        Its simple economics, NYC population = 8.4 million, Portland population = less than 3/4 of a million

        more people paying more taxes = the pot the city pulls from is larger and easier to access in a shorter period of time.

        Your fallacy answer doesn’t work, taking a larger cut of zero still equals zero.
        The only way Portland will ever compete/compare with NYC in bicycle infrastructure is when we run out of oil.
        In the mean time Oregon needs to increase taxes and make the pot bigger… but all the NIMBYs will blindly fight tooth and nail to keep that from ever happening.

        What makes me laugh is how the rich sit back and allow all the misguided NIMBYs do their dirty work… As long as Rich people don’t have to pay taxes We’ll keep riding on dangerous and poorly maintained roads.

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          Jeg July 9, 2015 at 3:14 pm

          Your argument doesn’t even touch mine. I’m saying give more of the pie to transit and bikes. That exact amount? Deduct it from roads. Watch how quickly they drop freeway widening and propose earthquake retrofits of failing bridges when they only have an emergency budget. Hint, it will result in more prioritization of infrastructure currently in triage; exactly what we need.

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            invisiblebikes July 9, 2015 at 3:43 pm

            Ok, lets break it down then.

            lets say your Pie right now is 1 billion dollars, and lets say 60% of that pie is road freeway widening and earth quake retrofits.
            Now lets re-cut your pie your way, only allowing 10% of it to go to widening and retrofits but now you have to factor in where at least 25% to 40% of the Billion dollars comes from.
            Its called federal subsidizing, once you stop doing what the Feds say you can do with that money it stops being available.
            So now your your Pie is close to half of what it was before you even get to take the first slice.

            So back to my original analogy more of zero still equals zero.

            Also larger cities like NYC (population) get a much larger cut of federal funding… well because they add more to it in the first place (taxes)

            So back to my original comparison, we will never be able to compete with NYC. They have more access to federal funds, more people to pay taxes, higher income per tax payer and the special interest size of “cyclists” is larger and gets more of the pie.

            The only way for Portland to have better infrastructure is to increase the size of the Pie, you can’t ask for a bigger piece unless everyone gets a bigger piece. Uncle Sam makes sure of that.

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              Jeg July 9, 2015 at 4:04 pm

              So, according to you, it is our fate to bow to the hegemonic power of the auto lobby? I don’t think you’re a pragmatist; you sound more like an apologist. And we can vote federally in ways that will stop that kind of lopsided subsudy of cars.

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          9watts July 10, 2015 at 9:18 am

          “The only way Portland will ever compete/compare with NYC in bicycle infrastructure is when we run out of oil.”

          I think what you mean is ‘run out of cheap oil,’ and that could happen—no make that will happen—within the lifetime of all the infrastructure we are discussing here.

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      Scott H July 9, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      Comparing the two cities is perfectly fair, NY is just a Big(er) Apple compared to Portland.

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    kittens July 9, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I guess I am just not sold on this clamor to build a new bridge over 84. How many years’ worth of bike improvement funding would that cost?

    Sort of like the new Trimet bridge, the cost is immense and there are more important things we could be doing to increase connectivity in the network with a better cost/benefit ratio.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 9, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      kittens

      I hear this sort of sentiment often. And I think it’s very unfortunate. We should not allow ourselves to become so used to being disrespected from a funding and infrastructure point of view that we stop asking for the things we deserve. I think one major reason bicycling is not growing as fast as it should in Portland and the U.S. is because of the feeling you express in your comment. We are so used to fighting for crumbs that we only ask for crumbs!

      To really move the needle we need to spend some real money on bike-centric infrastructure. We cannot reach our goals by always being “the cheap date” – real infrastructure costs money and we won’t get it unless we have the confidence to ask for it without compromises and without acting like it’s a zero-sum game.

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        TJ July 9, 2015 at 1:15 pm

        Fair, but real money for real reaching improvements. We need to do a better job reaching the many entirely disconnected cyclist where they live and work before we continue to improve on what are more-so discomforts in the inner neighborhoods. I struggle for the right words here, but there’s a big different between diverters and a bridge.

        Admittedly, I know nothing of the effort-to-outcome on the bridge.

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      maccoinnich July 9, 2015 at 1:04 pm

      I totally disagree. There is no viable connection for cyclists between the heart of the Central Eastside and the heart of the Lloyd District, without significant out of direction travel. Both these areas are exploding at the moment, and there needs to be a good way to get between them by bicycle.

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        TJ July 9, 2015 at 4:15 pm

        There are a lot of bridges that go across 84 (I used to commute from Hawthorne through Lloyd District). But I do understand the grid failing all along 84.

        My sympathies our lessened by the many non-viable connections for cyclist. Even simple fixes like a short Greeley MUP are cheaper and add a lot of value toward connecting severed neighborhoods. Then there’s the deeper commuters…

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        Nick Falbo July 9, 2015 at 4:44 pm

        There is another viable option – left side protected bike lanes on both Grand and MLK. These are the perfect streets for a road diet.

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          maccoinnich July 9, 2015 at 5:20 pm

          If that were on the table as an alternative I would be perfectly happy. I would probably even prefer it, as MLK and Grand have a much greater concentration of destinations than 7th does. However during the SE Quadrant plan process it seems like the city pretty quickly ruled out MLK and Grand as somewhere that they might ever put bike lanes.

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            Nick Falbo July 14, 2015 at 8:41 am

            I was surprised to see MLK/Grand off the table as a part of the green loop design, it seems worthy of consideration.

            The good news is that the green loop may implement a bikeway somewhere else, and we can still advocate for facilities on MLK and Grand. The streets are so over built for the traffic it seems like a bikeway is an inevitability.

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        Craig Harlow July 10, 2015 at 9:18 am

        Agree. Ahem, Lloyd Blocks. Ahem, SDCs.

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      wsbob July 9, 2015 at 5:50 pm

      If a new bridge across I-84 really will be “…a new biking-walking bridge…”, rather than another, ‘primarily motor vehicle use’ bridge, I’d say that would be a good idea, despite relatively high expense. It would help nurture broader public support for the idea of a basic cycle track system for the city, something people of big, built out cities like Portland and NYC could very much benefit from.

      The new walk-bike-light rail bridge across the Willamette looks to be a sensational departure from has been the standard procedure of building bridges primarily in support of motor vehicle use. It’s an exciting bridge visually, and what I see first hand in the area suggests functionally it will be exciting, and practical as well. There are comparatively lots of people riding in the area surrounding the bridge head, neighborhood of the Skourtes Tower where the dental school is located, the tram station, marina, lots of shops and condo towers. Being a refuge from motor vehicle traffic, besides being very appealing, the bridge stands to make it much easier than it is now, for people walking and biking to travel between sides of the river.

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    Sam Garfield July 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Brings a tear to my eye.

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    eddiearni July 11, 2015 at 4:14 am

    “crossing of I-84 that could create a continuous north-south bikeway north and south through the Lloyd and Central Eastside”

    could someone give me a good idea where the bridge crossing I84 would be located, exactly? That area is a pain to go through, so much so that when I’m anywhere near the river and need to get up into N/NE I’ll cycle all the way up to 21st or preferably 28th (!!) just to avoid the madness…

    thanks!

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