City puts northwest Portland street projects “in motion”

NW Raleigh is one of the many greenway routes in Northwest that has fallen victim to too many drivers.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus)

This story is by BikePortland contributor Caleb Diehl.

The City of Portland’s Northwest in Motion plan got underway last night when the Community Advisory Group (CAG) met for the first time at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital. The group — that includes representatives from biking and walking organizations, residents and business owners — will shape the outcomes of a project that will identify and prioritize a five-year “active transportation implementation strategy.”

Last night’s meeting.
(Photo: Caleb Diehl)

A top priority will be fixing the district’s urban greenways. Which it turns out, aren’t all that green.

“The northwest greenways are some of the worst performing in the city,” said Zef Wagner, a PBOT planner leading the meeting. “A lot of the greenways have far too high traffic volumes, but Northwest is particularly bad.”

Urban greenways (like their neighborhood greenway cousins) are low-traffic, low-speed streets that prioritize people biking and walking. None of the northwest district greenways met the city’s standards in a recent review.

“We know it’s growing very fast. If all those people drive their car to and from work we know what will happen.”
— Zef Wagner, PBOT

Those streets will need serious upgrading. Wagner says, “just a stop sign isn’t enough.” That means more diverters, bike lanes and maybe even tweaking the direction of streets. Not everyone is going to like the changes — to put it mildly.

“That’s going to be really challenging,” Wagner said. “Right now people are used to Northwest having a perfect grid.”

Similar to the City’s other “In Motion” efforts like Central City In Motion, Southwest in Motion, and East Portland In Motion, Committee members will prioritize a list of bike and walk projects for the district. Being a kickoff meeting, this session didn’t go into much detail about those projects. But it did shed light on broad goals and key problems the committee will have to tackle.

The overarching goal is getting people out of cars and onto bikes, transit, and their own two feet.


14th and Johnson.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus)

75 percent of Northwest commuters drive to work. But 37 percent of auto trips in Northwest are under three miles.

Northwest has great potential for biking, but quite a bit of room for growth. The district’s share of bike commuters (6 percent) nearly matches that of the city as a whole. Northwest also has the highest concentration of Biketown stations. But Wagner said bike share for commuting hasn’t quite caught on among northwest residents.

The area presents a number of biking challenges, although the city has yet to do a deep dive analysis into the causes. Residents have some guesses. The bike lane on 16th stops when 405 starts. Burnside is a major danger zone. Wagner says the biggest points of conflict come when bikeways cross major streets.

Kari Lorz, representing New Seasons Market on the committee, said her staff has been involved in several crashes while biking to work at the northwest location. “It’s discouraging,” she says, “and it scares other staff.”

A “greenway” in name only on NW 24th.
(Photo: Scott Kocher)

If it can overcome those challenges, the district has a high concentration of potential converts to bike commuting — that is, people who drive very short distances. Like commuters in the rest of the city, 75 percent of northwest commuters drive to work. But 37 percent of auto trips in Northwest are under three miles.

The Northwest in Motion plan will also beef up infrastructure needed for safe walking and rolling, though that’s already working well. The district is home to an unusual concentration of power walkers. 6 percent of residents walk to work, compared to 3.6 percent for the rest of the city. That’s not surprising, as Portland’s big employers are largely clustered in northwest and downtown.

“I’m embarrassed to see those figures for transit.”
— Phil Selinger, resident

With biking rates about average and walking numbers above average, the big area for northwest to focus on (besides the greenways) is transit. 14 percent of Northwest residents take transit compared to 17 percent citywide. Because connections are fewer and further between, Lorz said some of her staff take two or three buses to work.

“I’m embarrassed to see those figures for transit,” said Phil Selinger, a northwest district resident on the committee who used to work for TriMet. “We need to do better with transit in the neighborhood.”

Some members reminded the committee that transit is a critical connection for people who can’t bike or walk. “A lot of people have bad knees or other disabilities and can’t bike.” Julie Gustafson, representing the Pearl District Business Association. “I want to make sure those people are heard.”

As the committee meetings go on, expect some sparks to fly between businesses craving more parking and agency members and advocates who want to manage parking through pricing and incentivizing other modes. Lorz, the New Seasons rep, said a lack of parking is the number one complaint she hears from customers. Wagner instead pointed to city initiatives to raise parking fees and encourage alternative transportation.

And of course, no conversation about northwest Portland is complete without mentioning The Pearl.

The Pearl District neighborhood is known as a high-income area. But don’t be mistaken in thinking these projects serve only the rich and powerful. The northwest district, taken as a whole, is more of a Tale of Two Cities sort of place. The luxury apartment dwellers renting $1,200 studio live near tenants of affordable housing projects. As we reported in April 2016, the Pearl District has about three times as many income-restricted units as the 82-acre New Columbia community in North Portland, Oregon’s largest affordable-housing development.

“I think people are surprised when they find out there’s a lot of affordable housing,” said Jessica Pickul with JLA Public Involvement, a consulting firm hired to run the meetings. “There’s a lot more to Northwest than a lot of people realize.”

Parking meter revenue will be a major source of funding for Northwest in Motion. The other sources are somewhat up in the air. Some discretionary gas tax revenue should become available, and PBOT can apply for state and federal grants.

Revenue from development charges on the spate on new Pearl District apartments and offices could also be funneled back into the neighborhood. There’s no set rule that says that’ll happen, Wagner says, but it’s typically the case that at least some development fees are reinvested in the neighborhood where they originated.

The project has high stakes. Portland as a whole is seeing explosive growth and congestion. A lot of that growth, and a lot of the congestion, is concentrated in the Northwest district.

“We know it’s growing very fast,” Wagner says. “If all those people drive their car to and from work we know what will happen.”

For more coverage of northwest, browse our NW Portland Week coverage.

— Caleb Diehl, csdiehl16 [at]

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6 years ago

I ride through NW on my commute from the Max station at Goose Hollow to my shop in North Portland. It makes me cringe to see people who live in a condo in near NW, walk 3 blocks to their street parking location, get in their car and drive to a parking garage for their advertising job in the brewery blocks. Or to go to the Gym on 13th and Irving where they will then wait in the driveway of the Gym parking lot for a spot to open up for them , sometimes sitting for 5 or 10 minutes waiting for a spot to open up. Many of them could walk to the gym in less time than they spend waiting for a free parking spot.

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
6 years ago

One “problem” to consider fixing – that the NW area is well known for would be firmly marking the no parking zones at intersections…so that pedestrians and cyclists will be more visible…UNLESS the CoP drops the roadway operating speeds down to 15 mph on these sections.

Andrew Kreps
Andrew Kreps
6 years ago
Reply to  Todd Boulanger

That said, going slower doesn’t make anyone more visible. It just gives you more time to react.

John Liu
John Liu
6 years ago

Tone down the “explosive” hyperbole. Portland’s population grew 0.7% in 2017. That’s about 4,500 people. The city had a few years of growth above 1%. Now growth has moved to Clark County and other areas.

6 years ago
Reply to  John Liu

I agree, this is getting to be a “meme” that does not agree with economic facts on the ground. The big O just reported that the state labor economist has said Oregon has recently had negative job growth, and before that the growth in the Tech sector had come to a halt in the last year. People may still be moving to Portland for now, but without jobs they might not be staying long. Once the apartment building boom grinds to a halt ( for the above reasons) the economy will shed a large volume of construction jobs and these explosive growth meme will be put to rest.

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
6 years ago
Reply to  John Liu

And how much of that growth has been concentrated in the Northwest quadrant? Considering it contains some of the densest neighborhoods in the state of Oregon that matters for something. And you can see it in the growth of traffic in the area.

6 years ago

According to the latest State of Housing report ( Northwest has seen a growth of 2,881 housing units since 2010. The boundaries used by the Housing Bureau are larger than the Northwest District Association boundary and the NWIM study area , but the point made in the article stands: Northwest is seeing a lot of growth compared to other neighborhoods in Portland. Central City, which includes the Downtown and the Pearl, has seen a growth of 4,528 units since 2010.

Of course, growth in housing doesn’t show the entire story. Northwest and the Pearl are also major employment centers, where a lot of new office space has been built in recent years.

6 years ago

So glad to hear this. As someone who lives in NW Portland who bikes to work, I can tell you the most dangerous part of my commute is going from 25th & Quimby to downtown – every intersection is frightening and stressful, especially because of low visibility. I now ride to Naito and then downtown, and ironically feel safer on Naito (even without Better Naito), a much busier street, because I feel like I can see & be seen so much better. I had originally tried a more direct commute to downtown – but found that was a horrible idea, because there seemed no great way to cross Burnside, and it put me having to deal with even more intersections with cars that didn’t realize that you were there. You all can imagine the run-ins I’ve had with cars on these various intersections, with sometimes no clear right of way.

I find it hilarious that it is considered we have any greenways here – 24th? You have to be kidding me – I get on and off of there as quickly as possible.

Thanks for reporting on this, I will be checking this group out.