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Change brings opportunity to unlock central eastside’s cycling potential

Posted by on April 18th, 2018 at 2:09 pm

Times are a changin’ in the central eastside.
(Photo: City of Portland)

If Portland is to ever reach its transportation (and climate change and vision zero) goals, the Central Eastside Industrial District must evolve into a place where more people can safely and efficiently ride bicycles. Bordered by the Willamette River, SE Powell Blvd, 12th Avenue and I-84, this area is often avoided by bicycle riders. But now, after years of work by advocates and City of Portland staff, it appears there are some positive signs of change on the horizon.

“I believe that cyclists are a huge and growing part of the Central Eastside District… That being said, I believe that cars are still a big part of society, and we need some way to deliver goods.”
— Rina Jimmerson, CEIC Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee program manager

When it comes to cycling, this part of the city has long been hamstrung by two key issues: A heavy industrial land-use pattern where big trucks and loading docks dominate, and influential business owners skeptical of anything that might change that. As I’ve grown up around local transportation advocacy circles, I’ve heard stories about how the Central Eastside Industrial Council (CEIC), an association of businesses and landowners, was constantly at loggerheads with the City of Portland and just wanted to be left alone as an “industrial sanctuary”. The only change the CEIC wanted on their streets was more car parking.

But in the past five years, relations between the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the CEIC have begun to thaw.

In 2012 PBOT and the CEIC worked together to on a parking management plan that included a system of permits and metered spaces to better manage demand and existing supply. It also created a revenue stream for the CEIC via a surcharge on the permits. The deal cut between the City of Portland and this business association has led to the creation of the CEIC Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee (TPAC) — the only non-city affiliated group that manages parking revenue.

It’s an odd arrangement for the City to funnel parking revenue to a non-governmental entity that in turn gets to decide how the money is spent. I touched on this tension last month when I reported on an unpublicized meeting between the CEIC and PBOT staff and consultants that was held to gather feedback on the Central City in Motion project.

As parking permit surchanges have increased from $70 per year in 2016, to $210 in 2017, and to $300 this year — the CEIC TPAC’s budget has grown to over $1 million per year. That’s a significant chunk of change. The permit program has been hailed by parking activists; but having pursestrings for transportation projects in such a key part of the city controlled by the CEIC makes PBOT a bit nervous.

The CEIC had always been a “pay to play” organization, with membership fees ranging from $170 to $550 based on company size. That all changed last year when PBOT Director Leah Treat stepped in to urge the group to open up their TPAC meetings to non dues-paying members. There was also much consternation about what the TPAC decided to fund last year.

According to a copy of that budget obtained by BikePortland, the CEIC’s TPAC had $1,477,714 in total funds. After spending $198,000 on staff and expenses, they had $1,255,000 to spend on transportation projects and prgrams. The CEIC’s budget included: a $300,000-a-year program to “clean up” streets where people frequently sleep; $90,000 a year to buy mechanical car elevators and lease them to private landowners in the district to increase the number of private parking spaces; and a $30,000 program to reduce or eliminate the cost of on-street parking for residents of nearby residential neighborhoods.

The one-year budget also included:

  • $250,000 for a rush-hour shuttle service that would move people nine blocks between the Burnside Bridgehead’s new office buildings and parking lots near the Morrison Bridge
  • $127,500 to subsidize TriMet, Streetcar and Biketown passes for employees in the district
  • $125,000 to study the possible benefits of a new parking garage for the district
  • $50,000 a year toward building a new bike-walk bridge across Interstate 84 at or near Northeast 7th Avenue
  • $50,000 a year to help the Portland Streetcar save money to buy new streetcars, reducing the time between cars

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With new leadership at the CEIC, growing pressure on the fast-changing district to become more human-scale, and with PBOT champing at the bit to deliver on the (fully-funded) Central City in Motion project, some see a golden opportunity to influence the future of this vital part of the central city.

As the CEIC has gained office space and residential units, the pressure to make its streets more welcoming for non-truck traffic has grown. We’ve seen a growth in bicycle trips and bike-related businesses based in the district, and there are signs from the CEIC itself that a warmer embrace of active transportation is in their future.

Next Thursday (4/26) they’ll host their annual CEIC Transportation and Parking Open House event. “It’s the perfect opportunity to meet your neighbors and take part in shaping our Central Eastside community,” reads the event description. Also notable is a shout-out to local bike-related businesses involved in the event like Showers Pass, B-Line Urban Delivery, Portland Pedal Power and Renovo.

Rina Jimmerson.
(Photo: CEIC)

Another positive sign is the recent hire of Rina Jimmerson as the CEIC TPAC Program Manager. Jimmerson is an urban planner and native of Montreal who worked as chief of staff for three mayors and most recently lived in New Delhi, India where she was a translator and teacher. She moved to Portland in 2016 and lives in the central eastside’s Buckman neighborhood. I first spotted her at the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last week and have since followed up via email to learn a bit more about her.

Asked via email how she sees the future of bicycle use in the CEIC, Jimmerson wrote:

“I believe that cyclists are a huge and growing part of the Central Eastside District and all of Portland in the future for so many reasons: people are more and more health conscious, environmentally conscious and the truth is, we would all like to see more people on the streets and out of their cars. That being said, I believe that cars are still a big part of society, and we need some way to deliver goods. Safe routes for all forms of transportation are crucial. After all, the reality is that not everyone can bicycle to work whether it be because of the physical capacities to do so – especially long distance, the temperature, family situations and the list goes on. You will laugh but I have been thinking about importing a Rickshaw from India for myself.”

Unfortunately Jimmerson doesn’t bike in the area herself. “I started to bike in Portland when I first arrived,” she shared, “but I found it too dangerous.” She said she’s carfree and she walks, carpools or takes rideshares. She would be bike, but she’s still used to being separated from auto traffic — a common occurrence on Montreal’s vaunted network of physically protected bikeways.

Jimmerson isn’t the only new face at the CEIC. They have a new executive director (Kate Merrill) and there’s a sense from advocates that a new guard is emerging. With so much growth coming to the district, and with a few doors of opportunity cracked open, the time is now to support fresh perspectives and set the central eastside on a new course. Their next budget is likely to be around $1.5 million. How it gets spent will be decided by whoever shows up.

If you live or work or ride or own a business in the central eastside, please step up and make your voice heard.

CEIC Transportation & Parking Open House
Thursday, April 26th from 4:30 to 7:00 pm
Portland Night Market (100 SE Alder Street)
(More info here)

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

Additional reporting for this story by Michael Andersen.

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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

50 Comments
  • Ron Kopald April 18, 2018 at 2:18 pm

    I worked for a guy literally down the street in that photo, and nothing would make him happier than running over cyclists. Good idea on paper, but until you get the sign off from the truly recalcitrant then this is all a waste of time.
    There are some nasty players in that neighborhood. I speak from direct experience.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 18, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      yes. i hear that ron. hence the nudge to have more people like you show up to things like this open house and speak your mind. the streets belong to everyone… not just the most angry and aggressive “recalcitrants”.

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      • Ron Kopald April 18, 2018 at 2:33 pm

        Believe me, I’m being charitable when I use “recalcitrant” I’m not just throwing arcane words around to soothe my ego, I’m trying to describe someone in acceptable language. Will try to make it to the open house. The Inner eastside is one of the last great “old Portland” neighborhoods, because of that there’s dirty pool.

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  • Kyle Banerjee April 18, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Aren’t those streetcars $5 million apiece? With $50K set aside per year (in one time funding), that would take only 100 years to pay for one, presuming that the cost of the streetcars doesn’t outpace whatever the saved money earns.

    The bridge might take even longer to pay for…

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    • David Hampsten April 18, 2018 at 3:02 pm

      If the said streetcar is assembled in the USA, then the FTA usually pays 83% of the vehicle cost and the remaining 17% comes from local and state funding. Streetcars vary from $3 mil to $5 mil each, depending who makes them where, and how they are purchased. If the said streetcar is $5 million apiece, then $4.15 million would likely come from the Feds and the remaining $850,000 in local and state funding.

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    • Chris I April 18, 2018 at 3:16 pm

      Less when we buy them used from Seattle. The City wants to increase service levels. This is just more money into that pot.

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    • Gary April 19, 2018 at 9:33 am

      Go Lloyd contributes about the same (50k/yr) to the bridge. ~100k/yr in funding just from those two sources is no small chunk. If that were bonded over 20 years, you’re talking 15 million bucks.

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  • Glenn F April 18, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    Portland should have never did the Street car thing, or anything with rails on surface streets..Should have done some electric buses with overhead lines..

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    • soren April 18, 2018 at 4:13 pm

      Portland’s utter disinterest in a trolleybus network is another example of its unwillingness to take climate change seriously.

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    • Greg Spencer April 18, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      The real problem is less the streetcar itself than the fact it doesn’t have a dedicated right of way or signal priority. Portland’s buses are hobbled with the same problem.

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  • J.E. April 18, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    The Central Eastside is such an underappreciated gem when it comes to cycling (or walking, or jogging, or…) Yes there are big trucks, but they–along with forklifts and other industrial vehicles–help keep cut-through vehicle traffic to a minimum by blocking the streets on a semi-regular basis (if you’re on a bike however, it’s usually pretty easy to squeeze around). This is one neighborhood where cars aren’t at the top of the food chain, and on the side streets at least, most drivers seem to recognize it. After-hours and on weekends things get even better, as parts of the district turn into a ghost town almost completely devoid of motor vehicles. As is the case in the rest of the city, arterials continue to be a problem, both in terms of crossing and traveling along them, however the side streets can be surprisingly delightful. I’ve had fewer close calls cycling the side streets of the Central Eastside than on most residential greenways. I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way: on many summer days people on bikes equal–or even outnumber–motor vehicles on SE 10th, especially if you count the Pedalounge! The pedestrian environment could definitely use some work (looking at you, SE Water, 3rd, MLK, and Grand!), BAT lanes would greatly alleviate bus and streetcar pinch-points, and we desperately need more signalized intersections, but it’s not like we’re starting from scratch here. Put in a few bisecting protected bike lanes, improve access and wayfinding around the bridgeheads, and the Central Eastside could become Portland’s most bike-friendly neighborhood.

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  • John Lascurettes April 18, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    I just started commuting to this area about six weeks ago. Honestly, I find it relaxing to ride within the area as it is today. The asphalt conditions could be better, but I have little other complaint. Because of all the mixed modes — trucks driving and loading, people walking without sidewalks, drivers being cautious around the first two — I find that I’m totally comfortable riding to a cart or business without my helmet on. Very chill. The most frustrating part about the area is trying to get across Grand or MLK on foot or bike at an intersection without a stoplight.

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    • John Lascurettes April 18, 2018 at 5:09 pm

      “The only change the CEIC wanted on their streets was more car parking.”

      What? That’s crazy, there’s dirt lots and city lots everywhere in the neighborhood. No need! We could use some more staples in the area.

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    • John Lascurettes April 19, 2018 at 8:37 am

      Last night’s totally pleasant commute home through the CEID via SE 3rd to Davis and behind Franz. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RYJizkNBM8

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      • Ron Kopald April 19, 2018 at 11:13 am

        Very mellow!

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  • Bill Stites April 18, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    I attended a CEIC TPAC meeting last Fall. I was SHOCKED to see the budget for one year of parking revenue coming in around $1.4 million, as reported here.
    As a non-dues-paying member, I could attend as an owner of a business within the district. Interestingly, I was allowed to attend but not speak [to be fair, I made a comment and was allowed to finish]. Hopefully, that rule has changed.

    My understanding is that the budget was created by the folks around the table, but needed to be approved by PBOT. There was scant funding for walking, biking, and generally active transport. The item that struck me as most ridiculous was the shuttle van noted above – wow, could $250,000. be better spent? [was still galling at $160,000. in the draft I saw].

    I’ll look forward to seeing how things may have changed at the Open House. And of course, provide input for a safer, healthier environment for everyone.
    Kudos to Ryan Hashagen for being a member, and bringing some human-scale transport to the discussions – particularly around freight movements.

    I’m still in SHOCK – can you imagine how much money is being left on the table all around the city by continuing to offer up free parking?
    While I’ve never followed through on this – I believe there is an equity issue here that may be litigated, the question being, “Why is public space [street] accessible to one group of citizens [car owners] and not others [carfree folks like myself]?
    I suppose the gist of the litigation would be to force compensation for use of the public resource and redistribute it among all citizens.
    Hmmmm, this appears to be already happening in the CEID.
    Is there an attorney out there that would like to chew on this??

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 18, 2018 at 10:57 pm

      It is accessible to you — you just choose not to use it.

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      • Shoupian April 19, 2018 at 8:40 am

        False logic. It’s like if someone says we need to improve the quality of public schools for every kid in every neighborhood so good education isn’t only accessible to wealthy people and you say you can have access to a good education too but you just choose not to make more money.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty April 19, 2018 at 9:51 am

          If we were talking about yacht parking, you might have a point. It’s more like if the city offered assistance preparing my tax return. I might not take them up on it, but the service is available to me, and just because not everybody files a return, it doesn’t mean that it is somehow unfair.

          I do support paid parking at destinations, but not because of “equity”.

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          • Chris I April 19, 2018 at 10:19 am

            The poorest in our society cannot afford to own cars. Above that group is a group that operates dangerous, unreliable cars, usually with insufficient levels of insurance coverage (or no coverage at all). Any slight change in pay or cost of vehicle operation, or an accident makes driving impossible for this group as well. I know that most communities in the US have ignored the needs of these two groups, but I don’t think that we have to as well.

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            • Buzz April 19, 2018 at 10:42 am

              Well, I don’t think giving them better cars is the answer.

              Which is why I would never donate a vehicle to NPR or anyone else who solicits them as charitable donations, because these vehicles are by and large offered refurbished to this segment of the population.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 19, 2018 at 12:14 pm

                If your car were the sort you’d consider donating, and you sold it instead, it would likely end up in the same hands, in slightly poorer condition, for a little less money. NPR saves you the hassle of selling, and gives you a tax write off, but doesn’t otherwise change the outcome much. Now, if your alternative would be to junk it, that’s another matter.

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            • Shoupian April 19, 2018 at 12:02 pm

              It’s hard to really have a meaningful conversation when people just keep talking in circles and repeat the same old arguments. The argument that pricing parking hurts the poor so it should just be free for everyone is completely absurd. First, it assumes, without justification, that the current free-for-all system is more fair or better. It isn’t. Second, there are many ways to make parking pricing more equitable such as using the revenue to fund more affordable transportation choices or giving low income people a discount for parking. There lower income people make a much larger share for people who don’t commute by driving. Giving curb space to people who ride bikes and take transit and charging for curb parking would be more beneficial to low income people than cheap, underpriced parking.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty April 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm

                The vast, vast majority of free parking is not on streets that has transit, or needs extra space for bikes, or even has a parking shortage. Where there is no problem, we need no “solution”.

                I’d suggest starting by identifying a specific problem, and proposing a solution. This conversation often starts by coming up with the solution first (paid parking) and trying to justify it by finding a problem.

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          • Shoupian April 19, 2018 at 12:13 pm

            Your example assumes that everyone is identical and this tax return program does not discriminate but we all know that’s never true in the world we live in. If your tax preparation program requires that people make a minimum level of income to use it (say in the top 25%), allowing them to get tax returns they may not otherwise get, while the rest of the folks who don’t meet that income requirement are left out of this government assistance program, then this is inequitable and unfair.

            Underpriced curb parking space is the same. It’s using public space to subsidize vehicle ownership for people who make enough money to buy and operate a motor vehicle at the expense of people don’t drive by depriving them from using that curb space.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty April 26, 2018 at 11:10 am

              Let’s hold an annual auction where people can bid on paying for a particular on-street parking spot. Whatever is left could be auctioned for a traditional permit program. Let parking demand set the price.

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    • Gary April 19, 2018 at 9:40 am

      Not to be snarky, but it’s a lot like the reason bike-free people aren’t going to force compensation for those bike paths I like. Absent an infringement on a right, the government can allocate resources as it sees fit.

      Anyway, seems like you need to become dues paying and get a vote!

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  • Sigma April 18, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    Wow. Who knew the CEIC is on the forefront of transportation reform in this city? No really, hear me out. In this district, we have:

    1) Paid parking: At $300/year, these are probably the most expensive on-street parking permits in the United States.
    2) Participatory budgeting: This is a group that has agreed essentially to tax itself in exchange for the authority to program the revenue they generate, all of which stays within their district.
    3) A commitment to non-auto modes: They are using their revenue to help pay for a new streetcar (they also paid for construction through a separate process), a portion of the Sullivans Gulch bike/ped bridge, discounted TriMet passes, and their own supplemental transit system (the “district shuttle”).

    Not mentioned in this article, but none of the new apartment buildings being built are required to provide any parking. And with the way they have set up their permit system, none of the residents of those buildings are able to get permits to park on street. It’s truly “walk the walk” when it comes to applying market forces to parking demand, and discouraging unnecessary car ownership.

    It’s not perfect but there are a lot of good things happening here that could be a model for many other neighborhoods. I hope people are paying attention.

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    • John Lascurettes April 19, 2018 at 12:38 am

      Boom!

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    • Buzz April 19, 2018 at 10:44 am

      There are parking garages in both of the apartment buildings already up at the Burnside bridgehead.

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      • Sigma April 19, 2018 at 12:14 pm

        True, but not because of a government mandate. Developers can build as much or as little parking as they want. That’s as it should be everywhere.

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  • Terry D-M April 18, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    As Co-Chair of SE Uplift, we had a regional discussion with PBOT, the local neighborhoods, Tri-Met and Kate from CEID about the wait times surrounding trains at 11/12th and Clinton. I found her knowledgeable and certainly pro-active transportation.
    It was just one meeting, and mostly about having a common message when talking to the Railroad, but hopefully it is a good sign for future projects and budget discussions.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu April 18, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    I’m surprised that Rina doesn’t ride a bike, if cycling issues are supposed to be part of her responsibilities. Yes, I read the explanation that she is used to physical separation between cars and bikes. Then she’ll never ride a bike here, except on a MUP perhaps, so you effectively have a non-cyclist working on cycling issues.

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    • Gary April 19, 2018 at 9:46 am

      I work on energy issues and have never owned or operated a power plant. From the small amount of information we have here, she’s got a great skill set and diverse experiences. Sure, a daily bike commuter would be the cherry on top, but c’mon, she seems like an outstanding person for the job. Maybe when she succeeds in her job she’ll feel comfortable riding her bike in those areas she manages.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu April 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm

        I agree she seems a wonderful choice. I just believe in leading by example.

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    • J.E. April 19, 2018 at 9:53 am

      I would rather have an “interested but concerned” person working on transportation issues than a “strong and fearless” one.

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  • Mike Quigley April 19, 2018 at 5:59 am

    Despite the redneck mentality I find it quite pleasant to ride through this area. Traffic moves slowly and is mostly parked.

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    • John Liu April 19, 2018 at 12:20 pm

      I think getting to the CEID can be a problem, e.g. crossing Grand/MLK.

      Once in the CEID, the only real problem I encounter is poor pavement and poor lighting at night, and some places need signals/stop signs.

      The CEID is supposed to be a light industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, employment district. Freight, trucks, parking and loading docks are an integral part of the activity and should have higher priority than making this an 8-80 cycling area or a pleasant place to stroll.

      Some of the suggestions I’ve read e.g. remove parking to make more room for bikes, separated bike facilities – are inconsistent with what the CEID is meant to be.

      Now, if we want to turn the CEID into a hip residential/destination area, then that’s different. But I don’t think that’s the idea.

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      • Alex Reedin April 19, 2018 at 8:50 pm

        Wait, why is parking so integral to a light industrial area? (Aside from loading zones and very short-term truck parking)?

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        • John Liu
          John Liu April 19, 2018 at 11:25 pm

          Customers, vendors, suppliers, contractors, repair services, installers… They arrive by car or work van and need to park for more than very short term.

          Some employees will arrive by car. Bike/ped/transit modeshare is not going to be anywhere close to 100%.

          If a business’ location is not readily accessible to these persons, the business will find a different location.

          Which goes against the mission of the CEID as a light industrial, commercial, manufacturing, warehousing, etc employment center.

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    • Alex Reedin April 19, 2018 at 8:49 pm

      I find it merely OK. Here are some issues:
      -Sparse network of signed bike routes
      -Stop signs every two blocks on the side streets
      -Narrow, often door-zone bike lanes on the bigger streets, if any bike infrastructure at all
      -Cut-through car traffic at rush hour (e.g. SE Main & Clay to get to the Hawthorne)
      -Crossing major streets

      Not an area that will soothe the interested but concerned.

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  • Female April 19, 2018 at 8:15 am

    I work in this area and ride/commute through the area west of MLK often. I agree with some of the above comments that riding here is good to pleasant the way it is. As a life long Portlander, I love this area and would be bummed, yet again, to have this old school gem upended. I’d say human feces is a problem in this area if there needs to be a problem here.

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  • Mike Sanders April 19, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    With all the businesses along the MLK corridor, and OMSI nearby, have you ever wondered why there’s no convenience store (not even a 7/11) in that area?

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    • Ron Kopald April 19, 2018 at 3:45 pm

      Ooh! Is this a pop quiz? Why?
      Off topic, but we all know the best apple fritter in P-town is from that donut place next to the Plaid..Delicious Donuts??

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    • Paul April 19, 2018 at 5:21 pm

      There’s a 7-Eleven at Grand and Taylor, which is right in the center of CEID.

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    • Female April 20, 2018 at 8:38 pm

      Don’t forget about Jackson’s in the Shell gas station.
      So many treats to buy. Red vines to kettle chips.. they’ve got you covered.
      The people observing is top notch and the cashiers are gems who have seen it all.

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  • Ron Kopald April 20, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    Always forget about those places. I love that neighborhood.

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  • Gilly April 21, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    It sounds like the gentrification of another section of town

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  • Rivelo
    Rivelo April 22, 2018 at 6:02 am

    Our shop is at the corner of Water and Caruthers Avenues near the south end of the Central Eastside Industrial District, and I often ride through the area on my way to and from work.

    Water Avenue is definitely the way to go if you want a bike lane, but venturing east toward MLK offers great opportunities for photography, especially black & white film photography. Weekends are quieter, and there’s a cool vibe that would be sad to lose.

    We’ll show up at the meeting. Thanks for the heads-up, Jonathan.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty April 22, 2018 at 11:54 am

      We are losing it, slowly, but relentlessly. And it is a loss we will come to regret.

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