In case you missed it (it came as an update to a previous story), the Portland Bureau of Transportation announced a plan Tuesday to update lane striping on Willamette Boulevard in order to create more space for bicycling.
The additional space required for re-striping the street will require removing automobile parking on N Willamette from N Rosa Parks Way to N Woolsey Ave
After a paving project kicked off last month, a neighborhood group called Friends of Willamette Blvd seized the opportunity to re-stripe the street. They launched an online petition and encouraged people to email City Hall demanding better bike access between Rosa Parks and Woolsey (the boundaries of the paving project). The response was overwhelming (415 people in less than 24 hours) and it persuaded City Commissioner Dan Saltzman to direct the Portland Bureau of Transportation to re-stripe the street.
PBOT released their new plans for Willamette just four hours after we reported Commissioner Saltzman’s promise. Friends of Willamettee Blvd volunteer Kiel Johnson announced shortly after that they’re hosting a potluck on Saturday November 18th to celebrate.
The new design includes an 8-foot wide bike lane on the residential (north) side of the street and a 12-foot wide bike lane and shoulder (for walking and transit stops) on the bluff side. The new design has 15 feet of dedicated cycling space (including 3.5-feet in buffers) — that’s about 4.5-feet more than we have now. The total width of the street is 40-feet. PBOT is able to create larger bikeways and a shoulder without widening the street because they are repurposing 7.5-feet currently used for parking cars. The two standard lanes will also be 10-feet wide, slightly narrower than they are today.
(Many of you have wondered why there’s no physical separation in these plans. Good question. Part of it is because this is just a late add-on to the existing paving project and there was no formal process or budget to do a more high-quality bikeway. It’s possible PBOT will retrofit these new buffer zones (and many miles of them on other streets) with a new protected bike lane design they’re currently working on.)
While many are celebrating this much-needed improvement, as you might have expected, some people are not so thrilled.
“Remember this: the people on the bluff are living in houses worth well over half a million dollars. They, and people like them, are the ones providing the lion’s share of taxes for bike lanes in the city. Maybe you should take their opinion into consideration.”
— Samuel Partridge, via a BikePortland comment
Samuel Partridge lives on Willamette. He left two comments on BikePortland this week expressing his concerns. He thinks the driving lanes are what need to be expanded. “Bike travel isn’t the problem on Willamette; it’s driving down that road that’s hell. I’ve done both, and currently I’d rather bike down that road than drive it.” He also suggested that when people buy a house they also have a right to on-street parking. “If you buy a house in an area with on-street parking,” he wrote, “you wouldn’t object to the city deciding you’re no longer allowed to park in front of your own house?”
Then Partridge shared that the houses owned by people on Willamette are “worth well over half a million dollars.” “They, and people like them,” he continued, “Are the ones providing the lion’s share of taxes for bike lanes in the city. Maybe you should take their opinion into consideration.”
And last night our local FOX affiliate station KPTV was the first to report on the project. Their story was so predictable it could have written itself. “Neighbors upset over losing parking,” reads their headline; but you can’t lose something you never owned.
A KPTV reporter talked to a resident who said they received letters about the project just this week and were informed it would be completed by mid-November. Here’s more from the story:
Ryan said she is upset because the project will eliminate street parking on the north side of Willamette Blvd, right in front of her home.
“The people who are for the bike lanes argue that we only use the bike lanes less than 20 percent of the time, however, that’s because we go to work, we go to school, we run errands, we don’t have cars to leave in front of our houses,” she said.
… neighbors like Ryan said they wish they knew sooner so they could have fought the plan.
It should be obvious, but it appears some people forget that they own their house and their lot, not the street in front of it. Streets are owned the public. We all pay taxes and we all have an equal say in how they are used.
And it’s worth remembering the history of this project.
In 2010 PBOT was prepared to make major changes to Willamette in order to improve bicycle safety. Before that project was ever made public, PBOT made a jaw-dropping move: They asked people who live on Willamette if they’d be willing to give up “their” parking spaces to make a safer bikeway. What do you think they said? When neighbors objected, PBOT backed down. Despite some minor improvements to the bikeway in 2014, bicycle users continued to risk their safety for another seven years because PBOT was afraid to upset a few dozen people who felt entitled to use the street to store their private property.
That’s why I don’t feel much sympathy for neighbors who claim they weren’t notified this time around.
As we move forward with this project, remember that between Rosa Parks and Woolsey there are only about two dozen single-family homes that face Willamette. Every one of them has a driveway and/or is on a corner with access to a sidestreet. As someone who rides and drives that section of street several times a week at all hours of the day, I can say there’s very rarely more than two or three cars parked there.
But let’s not get into the habit of thinking we can use road space for mobility — instead of parking — only when parking is rare. We shouldn’t need justification. As our city grows and our streets don’t, space will always be at a premium. Parking private vehicles (especially for free) should be a very low priority. Use of our streets to park cars is not an identified goal in any major plan adopted by City Council.
As for the future of Willamette Blvd, this section is just one of many that needs attention. St. Johns and nearby neighborhoods are growing fast and Willamette Blvd is becoming a crucial link between downtown and the peninsula. We need a safer bikeway (and safer crossings) near University of Portland and we must fill in the bikeway gap that currently exists on Willamette between N. Alma and the St. Johns Bridge in the Cathedral Park neighborhood.
Hopefully we’ll see more outcomes like this project very soon. Stay tuned.
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