Order Rev Nat's Cider Today

Wonk Night recap: Exciting times for open streets

Posted by on June 3rd, 2016 at 2:44 pm

Wonk Night June 2016-3.jpg

(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

If Portland is on the cusp of a new open streets era (and I think it is), it will be up to us to make it great. And by “us” I mean all of us — from city staffers to grassroots activists and everyone in between.

Especially the grassroots.

That’s because the way Portland is doing this is different than other places (surprise, surprise). Our movement is being led by the community and the powers-that-be (the transportation bureau and City Hall) are merely facilitators.

That’s one of the big — and exciting — takeaways from our latest Wonk Night that happened on Wednesday at the Lancaster StreetLab.

With about 40 or so movers-and-shakers in the livable streets movement, we shared insights, traded ideas, and asked important questions about Portland’s open streets past, present, and future.

I’ve always had a sense that using streets as public spaces and for much more than moving automobiles around was in Portland’s DNA; but I had no idea our local open streets legacy was nearly 50 years old. At Wonk Night, southeast Portland resident Greg Raisman (he’s a bureau of transportation employee by day) told us about the Halprin project in southwest that includes a series of fountains and carfree plazas that were created in the 1970s.

Fast forward to more recent history and 2008 stands out as a watershed year: That’s when Portland transportation reform activist Elly Blue and a merry band of volunteers organized the International Towards Carfree Cities Conference, the City of Portland hosted its first Sunday Parkways, and Last Thursday on Alberta finally went carfree.

The cultural shift around streets has happened been dramatic in the past decade or so.

Terry Dublinski-Milton shared how he recalled living on West Burnside in 2003 and would watch police corral and harass Critical Mass riders outside his window. Today he rides Burnside on the fun-loving, monthly Thursday Night Ride and there’s never any friction.

Wonk Night June 2016-1.jpg

We used two parking spaces out front for bike parking!
Wonk Night June 2016-2.jpg

Former PSU student, Better Block volunteer and now Lancaster Engineering employee Gwen Shaw (left) and PSU faculty member Drusilla van Hengel.
Wonk Night June 2016-4.jpg

Ryan Hashagen of Better Block PDX and Inna Levin from Oregon Walks. Inna is putting on the “Cully Camina” walk in September.
Wonk Night June 2016-5.jpg

Gwen Shaw and Greg Raisman, a PBOT employee, traffic safety expert, and longtime community volunteer.
Wonk Night June 2016-6.jpg

Sarah Iannarone from First Stop Portland (and recent mayoral candidate) talks policy with Commissioner Steve Novick’s Transportation Police Advisor Timur Ender.
Wonk Night June 2016-7.jpg

Activists Adam Herstein and Zane Ingersoll.
Wonk Night June 2016-8.jpg

Emily Guise and Terry Dublinski-Milton with BikeLoud PDX.

And the demand for sane, people-oriented streets isn’t just a Portland thing. Naomi Fast, a carfree Beaverton resident who commutes into Portland, encouraged us to take a more region-wide approach. A woman who works on Safe Routes to School programs in Tigard said people on the West Side are itching for events like Sunday Parkways and carfree street festivals.

If this movement is going to blossom in Portland and the spread across the region, we can’t just sit back and wait for it. We must organize, collaborate, and strategize. Basically, do what we’ve started to do, but do it better.

Speaking of which, we had several key leaders of Better Block PDX in the room. Gwen Shaw, Ryan Hashagen and Ben Chaney are three of the main organizers of the projects you’ve heard about like Better Naito and Better Broadway. They shared lessons learned from the Broadway project. Based on feedback from a local business improvement organization, they learned the most popular feature were the temporary crosswalks.

Raisman, the PBOT employee who’s an official liaison to Better Block, gave a lot of credit to Better Block and upstart bike activism group BikeLoud PDX. He said they’ve helped build a bridge between PBOT, the community, and other institutions.

Brian Davis, a traffic engineer and planner with Lancaster Engineering’s new StreetLab, said he can tell things are changing at PBOT. “I can see the needle moving in my conversations with them.” Davis said that PBOT staffers like Raisman and his fellow advocrat, bike coordinator Roger Geller, have telling the community to make more noise for a long time. “And we’ve been becoming louder thanks to BikeLoud and Better Block.”

When BikeLoud’s Soren Impey spoke up to question why PBOT doesn’t spend more money and resources to support Better Block projects, Raisman responded by citing budget realities.

“Oregon is one of the least taxed states in the country,” Raisman said. “We’re trying to cobble together as much as we can,” he continued. “And when money comes up major issues like homelessness, housing, and now lead, come up too. We have great neighborhoods and amazing people, that’s where our riches lie.”

Sarah Iannarone, fresh off her impressive mayoral campaign (she finished third with about 12 percent of the vote), was also at the event. She encourage the City to be more effective at how it leverages volunteer labor. “The thing that will keep us cutting edge is our community innovation. We need to orient public policy to empower the community.”

I asked Iannarone why she led her campaign with such a strong transportation reform platform. “I knew we couldn’t have a conversation about Portland’s future,” she said, “Without talking about our streets.”

After a rousing and inspiring discussion I asked everyone in the room to share their ideas for potential open streets projects. Here are some of the things that came up:

— Get cars off the “transit” mall
— Make a section of downtown carfree and base the plan on the Fareless Square boundary.
— A plaza at SE 26th and Clinton.
— Make the Park Blocks into some form of shared space where people are prioritized over cars.
— Create a world-class entertainment district instead of the “abysmal” situation in Old Town that exists today.
— Create temporary public plazas in work zones during construction projects (the streets are already closed so why not?)
— Stop giving away free parking.

We have momentum on our side, but there’s a lot of work to do. It all begins by bringing people together who are hungry for change and engaged and smart enough to make it happen. That’s what Wonk Night is all about.

If we embrace the opportunity to work with PBOT to make our streets better — instead of waiting around for them to do it for us — there’s no limit to what we can do together.

Thanks to everyone who showed up! Stay tuned to BikePortland, support groups and leaders who are transforming our streets, and let’s keep the momentum going.

Special thanks to our beer sponsors Widmer Brothers, Omission Beer and Square Mile Cider.

And thanks for bringing the cones Ryan!

Wonk Night June 2016-10.jpg

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

Our work is supported by subscribers. Please become one today.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

22
Leave a Reply

avatar
7 Comment threads
15 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
12 Comment authors
MelindaNFDavid HampstenPeteEric Leifsdad Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Chris Anderson
Guest
Chris Anderson

I’m sad to have missed this one. I’ve commented here in the past about my efforts to work with the city via the Community Uses of Unpaved Streets program to create a woonerf style street in my neighborhood. PBOT has been very supportive and progress is ongoing. I hope that something can be on the ground soon, and I can share the process I worked through. Although my project is on an unimproved street, the policy I’m working under can potentially allow for neighbors to have a much stronger response to cut-through speeders, than just some fluorescent plastic children, even on paved neighborhood streets.

PBOT is currently hiring a consultant to streamline the process I’m going through, so this may be another tool in our toolkit, and something that could potentially reshape the traffic calming discourse in our neighborhoods completely.

Adam
Subscriber

That’s because the way Portland is doing this is different than other places (surprise, surprise). Our movement is being led by the community and the powers-that-be (the transportation bureau and City Hall) are merely facilitators.

In all honestly, I see this as a bad thing. The reason other cities have succeeded in this where Portland has continually failed is because their city government was properly invested in change and backed up the volunteers with real money. The fact that PBOT relies entirely on volunteers will eventually come back to bite us when the chronically understaffed and overworked volunteers get burnt out.

To be clear, I love what Better Block is doing to try to improve our streets. In order to take their success to the next level, we need proper investment from the city, and frankly, all I hear from city leadership is excuses why they can’t fund various projects.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

You’re right. Portland seems to be in this never ending alpha phase as far as designs go.

As if our leaders are humoring the advocates and the one random city employee by letting them play with a couple blocks for a few months.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Other cities in the US, or anywhere? Which other ones are successful, and what’s considered successful about them (compared to Portland)? (For the sake of discourse, not argument).

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

We could have the pothole crews install bollards instead and be at over 25% bike mode share in a year or two.

I think the drive to get it done needs to come from the people. That’s really what we’re missing — most people want to talk about more parking and also flashing crosswalks so they don’t have to pay attention so much.

Pete
Guest
Pete

..and green paint, because that’s the most common ‘solution’ to bike safety that I see frequently proposed at meetings attended mostly by people who don’t actually bike.

Melinda
Guest
Melinda

Hi Adam,
I’ve been working on a project since early March, formally asking the city for new effective policy related to these issues. I’m collecting formal input from community advocates, and I’d like to hear more about what you commented. Please email me if possible.
Thanks – Melinda

endo
Guest
endo

All I want is to see a half dozen streets get turned into carfree streets downtown:

Park
2nd
Flanders
Stark
Yamhill
Columbia

Think about how much easier and safer and happier it would be to get around downtown if the streets belonged to the people instead of to cars.

Wells
Guest
Wells

Pick one, I’d say Flanders, request a sidewalk outline map from the city, (basic google satellite photos with defined curb edges). Your job is to lay in BOTH bike and pedestrian elements, lanes, crosswalks, obstacles, etc. Enlarge a copy for hand editing with whiteout and new lines.
(that’s how I do it. More real, less computer-y). (^:
Make a point to REMOVE parking spots near any intersection.
Pedestrian visibility of approaching vehicles the prime safety feature.
At specific places ped/bike interaction requires specific bikeway alterations. We should debate the width and design of curb ‘bumpouts’ when their curb extends into a ‘could-be’ bike lane.
Do all that first then visions would be less hazy.

Chris Anderson
Guest
Chris Anderson

You can download the curb edges data set (and many others) here. http://www.civicapps.org/datasets

Pete
Guest
Pete

Yes! I also use GoPro video (and screenshots), showing typical traffic patterns/behavior to help with the rationale for things I propose. I did this here (https://goo.gl/maps/ZHviQtMnHe52) and managed to get them to put in a dedicated right-turn only lane, whereas they originally planned this ginormous painted bump-out, like the one they did here: https://goo.gl/maps/u5FXMSj3S7t (which tends to direct cyclists into the fenders of the cars pulling in and out of that post office).

(Unfortunately, in the first link you’ll notice the cyclist is then directed back to the far right, which obscures them from drivers pulling out of the next road. I argued blue in the face to keep the bike lane straight with a 1′ painted buffer like it is on much of this roadway, but the engineer claimed a cyclist there may be hit by a driver merging from a right-on-red at Bobwhite (a low-traffic street). “No right turn on red sign?”, I replied, but some fights you just don’t win…).

Anyway, keep fighting your good fight! 🙂

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I remember reading a book set in Pakistan. (The book was fictional, so the setting may have been inaccurate, but it struck me as a brilliant idea.) The city in which the action took place had gates across the streets that were closed in the evening, which turned the downtown into a large car-free area with lots of outdoor seating at the restaurants. In the morning, the gates open and the cars return to do their (awful) thing.

It’s only half a loaf, but that’s more satisfying than nothing.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I’ve personally seen this for many older European city centers. Maastricht, Netherlands & Le Mans, France both use bollards that rise up from the street, instead of a gate, but the same idea, and close off a vast area, opening it up to pedestrians and bikes moving wherever, from about 4 pm to midnight. York, Chester & Exeter, UK, and Siena Italy, ancient Roman cities all, have nearly complete circuits of medieval city walls, with severe traffic restrictions during the day and evening; only at night are delivery trucks allowed. York even bans bikes in the evening in its commercial center, to allow pedestrians unrestricted access and enjoyment.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

I look forward to the day that Portland can stop celebrating it’s temporary projects and take price in it’s permanentl accomplishments.

I’m not a leader, and anything but an extrovert, but if I can push the would-be leader to be better, maybe it’s time to start at least being present at these events.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

pride / permanent

The cazadores seems to be overriding my spell check.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Become a leader, follow your passion.

Wells
Guest
Wells

Request a sidewalk outline map from the city, (basic google satellite photos with defined curb edges). Your job is to lay in BOTH bike and pedestrian elements, lanes, crosswalks, obstacles, etc. Enlarge a copy for hand editing with whiteout and new lines.
(that’s how I do it. More real, less computer-y). (^:
Make a point to REMOVE parking spots near any intersection.
Pedestrian visibility of approaching vehicles the prime safety feature.
At specific places ped/bike interaction requires specific bikeway alterations. We should debate the width and design of curb ‘bumpouts’ when their curb extends into a ‘could-be’ bike lane, example NW 9th & Irving. Do all that first for visions that would be less hazy.

NF
Guest

Great event with inspiring people! I have to say, that was a first for me, to get a round of applause for being car free! Thanks—it felt pretty nice 🙂 I’ve lived in the suburbs in a zero-car household (of two adults) since 2013, with help from MAX & Zipcar. I also “run commute” to the library & shopping. That is, I literally run to the store & carry bags home by MAX & walking. (For bigger loads I bike; for Costco-sized loads, bike & trailer.)

I’m very excited livability is being addressed in earnest by all of us. Since moving to the suburbs I find I’m becoming less tolerant of the wearying noise & smell of cars, & their overwhelming presence—oil train fires diminish my tolerance that much more. I predict our grandchildren will be amazed we kept cars inside our house structures.

I like how we started this evening out by telling our livability or car-free/car-light experiences. Along with using transit & enjoying car-free Sunday streets in Brussels, part of my life story is that till I was almost 12, I grew up in a remote part of DRC (then known as Zaire, where “When We Were Kings” is set. Great film about Muhammad Ali; see it if you can!).

Where I lived we had no running water, electricity (other than a solar panel generator for the hospital), phones, or cars, so to me, being less dependent on motorized vehicles feels like a return to something perfectly natural. This is to say: The more our kids get to experience traveling to school, the store, etc, OUTside of cars, the more normal & natural it will feel to them all their lives.

After returning to the U.S., my family became car-dependent again. By the time I moved to Portland in 2003, I was as entrenched in car-dependency as any American & drove a ’94 Ford Thunderbird. Pretty soon I met this guy who didn’t have a car. In ’05 he taught me to city ride on my first bike since the one I rode in Africa. Freedom! In Jan 2010, I sold my car (it was mostly clutter by then & an undesired expense). I highly recommend coming to bike commuting for love & friendship!