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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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Ron Kopald
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Ron Kopald

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.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

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…

Glenn F
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Glenn F

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..

J.E.
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J.E.

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.

Bill Stites
Subscriber

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??

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

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.

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

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.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

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.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

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

Female
Guest
Female

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.

Ron Kopald
Guest
Ron Kopald

Very mellow!

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

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?

Ron Kopald
Guest
Ron Kopald

Always forget about those places. I love that neighborhood.

Gilly
Guest
Gilly

It sounds like the gentrification of another section of town

Rivelo
Guest

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.