By this summer there could be a new place in the central eastside where you can stop and grab lunch, surf the web, and charge your e-bike.
Today at Portland City Council, plans to redevelop a 10,000 square foot parking lot on the corner of Southeast 8th and Stark into the the region’s first “Mobility Hub” were strongly supported by Mayor Ted Wheeler and three commissioners. Portland City Council unanimously approved an ordinance (PDF) that will change zoning codes and allow the lot’s owner, Portland General Electric, to develop a public plaza that would include a host of free amenities with a focus around electric vehicles.
In a presentation from PGE, they say the Mobility Hub would, “Create an inviting and equitable community space that showcases electrified transportation of the future, integrates the street to the neighborhood, and can serve as a model for future hubs around the region.” (Its location one block off the future Green Loop is considered a big plus.)
The concept is to create a community gathering place that offers charging outlets for electric vehicles, car-sharing stalls, a ballot drop-box, maps and interpretive signage, electric wheelchair charging, and “smart furniture” to charge phones and devices. PGE also wants to host food carts, offer free wi-fi and have a public restroom that’s staffed 24/7.
Portland’s zoning code has provisions for temporary pilot projects, but currently limits their duration to two weeks. The lot is also zoned for retail sales and service, which allows just 5,000 square feet of buildings and exterior areas. PGE asked council to waive and modify these codes in order to maximize the space and have their project last longer than two weeks.
“Just like we adapted civic infrastructure to enable cars to become the dominant mode of transportation, we’re going to have to adapt our infrastructure to enable and support electric vehicles.”
— Chloe Eudaly, Commissioner
Mayor Ted Wheeler is a big supporter of the project. He sees it as a “key partnership” with a private company that’s in line with Portland’s Smart City initiative. “I just love the innovative nature of this,” he said at council today.
Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said it was an “exciting” project that meshes with her efforts to combat climate change. “Just like we adapted civic infrastructure to enable cars to become the dominant mode of transportation,” she said during prepared remarks today, “we’re going to have to adapt our infrastructure to enable and support electric vehicles.”
PGE Senior Manager of Transportation Electrification Shanna Brownstein is spearheading the project. She offered a rough budget estimate of $350,000. Some of the funding will come from PGE’s Clean Fuel Rebate program, a source of monetized energy credits from residential electric vehicle owners. An additional $50,000 is expected to come from parking revenue funds doled out by the Central Eastside Industrial Council’s Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee (which is currently seeking new members if you’re interested).
In a phone conversation today, Brownstein said the design of the site will be flexible. “We want to include as many modular pieces as we can to meet the needs of the community. Things like bike valet, e-bike battery swaps, whatever people need. Learning how people want to use the site is the goal.” Brownstein and Wheeler emphasized that this is truly a pilot and they’ll tweak the formula as they go depending on feedback and how people use the space.
Asked about accessibility of the site for “regular folks” by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Brownstein said ensuring access for lower-income people and Portlanders who live on the street has been a focus since the start. “The public restroom was an idea from the Mayor’s office,” she shared during testimony today, “The idea there is really making that site accessible for the homeless and houseless population.” Free wi-fi is important for people who want to access bike and scooter sharing systems but who don’t have robust cell phone data plans. Brownstein also said she has met with the Portland Police and Parks and Recreation bureaus to think through concerns about people sleeping and erecting tents on the site. She cited the theory of “crime prevention by design” as one of the designers’ core principles.
Permitting is underway and construction is set to begin in March. PGE hopes to have the site finished by this summer so they can cut the ribbon and have something to show off when Portland hosts the International Electric Vehicle Symposium June 14-17th.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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