After three days of knocking on doors inviting our neighbors to an ice cream social to discuss the proposed Lloyd to Woodlawn Neighborhood Greenway, it was time to find out if anyone would actually show up.
“Over 50 neighbors came out… The lack of intensity in the conversations was a welcome contrast to the passion that can fill a PBOT open house.”
Our goal was to create a low-stress environment for neighbors to meet each other and talk about the City of Portland’s proposal to turn 7th Avenue into a traffic-calmed neighborhood greenway. My wife Kate and I loaded up a cargo trailer with tables, a PA system, signs and name tags, and headed over to Two Plum Park.
With only 30 minutes until the scheduled starting time, we nervously began setting up.
Two Plum Park is located on NE Shaver and 7th. Under the proposed 7th Ave plan the park would be extended across 7th. There would be a path for bicycle riders, but car drivers would not be able to cut through. This park is very important to the community. It began when a neighbor named Joe Martin bought a lawn mower at Goodwill and began mowing the lawn on some vacant lots. Other neighbors joined and the lots became a social gathering spot. These neighbors then persuaded the city to purchase the lots and turn them into a park in 2001. This history and the potential to expand the park as part of the greenway made it the ideal location for our ice cream social.
As if on cue, right at 7:00, families started appearing. Kate took to serving up the ice cream and I went around welcoming people and encouraging them to get name tags.
For Kate and I, the evening was a rush. At the beginning I made an announcement telling people about what led up to this event and what we were all here to do. Over 50 neighbors came out to meet each other and discuss the proposal. There were a lot more people then we had hoped for.
The lack of intensity in the conversations was a welcome contrast to the passion that can fill a Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) open house. I had several copies of the proposed plans that people used in their conversations and also made a list of question prompts. The most amazing thing for me was that it actually worked. People ate ice cream and talked with each other about the proposal. No one cried, no one wrote any angry messages, but there were lots of kids playing and people being friendly to one another. People stayed out until the sun went down and the mosquitos came out. That evening, a community gathered.
I talked with one mother who was very nervous because she had just started letting her daughter walk to school by herself. She introduced us to her daughter so that we could keep a eye out for her. Another couple had just moved in from Philadelphia and were loving Portland. Kate talked to one woman who was ready to build her own speed bump in front of her house. People expressed their concerns about climate change and that we were not doing enough to stop it. There were a few people that had come a little hesitant about what these changes would do but after talking they seemed okay and even excited about them.
This next part has nothing to do with the project, but I just have to share it:
On the invite I included an invitation to teach anyone how to ride a bike and offered to let them borrow one. I got one response. Felix, who lives down the street from me, was a little nervous about riding a bike in from of his classmates at school. So I removed some cobwebs from a loaner kid’s bike I had used during my bike train days and met him and his dad at the park. We first practiced with the pedals off but he quickly mastered that, so we put them back on and had him start from an incline. On his first try he got his feet on the pedals and starting pedaling! He only stopped to raise his fist in the air in triumph.
I can only hope this greenway project ends as well.
As conversations continued, the question I repeatedly heard was, “What more can we do now?”
The answer is to continue to get to know one another and work at making the community that we all want to live in, as well as emailing and writing letters to PBOT Commissioner Eudaly.
In December our first child will be born. It is my hope that she will get to ride her bike safely on a NE 7th greenway to get to Two Plum Park. If she’s lucky maybe she’ll pass by Felix on his bike going to high school.
If you support the NE 7th Greenway you can help us by writing a letter to Commissioner Eudaly. Her address is below…
— Kiel Johnson (@go_by_bike)
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