“A high turnover passenger loading and unloading zone is likely to create operational issues along the neighborhood greenway.”
— Chris Warner, PBOT Director
That’s how some bicycling advocates feel now that the Portland Bureau of Transportation has weighed in on a major new development in the Pearl District.
The parking lot on the northwest corner of Northwest 12th and Flanders is slated to become a 23-story hotel and residential tower. The Hyatt Place & The Allison Residences building has attracted concern from Pearl District residents and cycling advocates. One of the worries is how the presence of the building will impact street safety — specifically on NW Flanders, a street slated to be a marquee neighborhood greenway with a new carfree bridge over I-405 just three blocks away.
Red flags about the project started popping up over a year ago when developer Vibrant Cities and project designer Otak proposed locating valet parking and loading zones on NW Flanders. Flanders is not only a forthcoming neighborhood greenway but its classification in the recently updated Comprehensive Plan was upgraded from City Bikeway to Major City Bikeway. In an August 2018 pre-application conference as part of the project’s development review process, PBOT wrote, “This is a critical change.” Portland’s zoning code disallows (but doesn’t prohibit) driveways for parking or loading on Major City Bikeways.
When designers moved the loading zones to 12th, a group called Pearl Neighbors for Integrity in Design (PNID, whose current mission is “fighting vertical sprawl”) mounted a campaign to oppose the project. “If this application is approved,” they wrote in a July 2019 press release, “the traffic congestion caused by the proposed Hyatt Hotel, Residences and loading docks on NW 12th Avenue would endanger the safety of the users of the bike path and pedestrians.” (PNID feels the building is likely to have a lot of valet and pick-up/drop-off activity because the building will have 170 hotel rooms and 110 apartments, but no auto parking spaces (there will be 174 long-term bicycle parking spaces)).
When Otak then proposed moving the valet and drop-off zone to Flanders, they heard opposition from cycling advocates.
In an email on October 4th, PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) member and Pearl District resident Reza Farhoodi wrote to city staff that, “Moving the valet drop-off spaces will increase traffic volumes on the block and could significantly impact the safety of people using the Flanders neighborhood greenway to walk or bike… I can’t think of too many things more antithetical to a safe bicycle facility than a busy hotel zone directly on the block.”
Responding to Farhoodi’s concerns a few days later, PBOT Neighborhood Greenways manager Scott Cohen wrote, “A hotel zone should work fine on Flanders if it operates as intended. If cars are double parked all over the place or traffic increases beyond our guidelines, then we’ll have to make traffic or parking operational changes or work with Hyatt to ensure they keep the street operating as intended.” Cohen then assured Farhoodi that PBOT would monitor the situation to make changes if necessary.
Earlier this month the Willamette Week reported that a PBOT spokesman reiterated Cohen’s position and would work with whatever the Design Commission decided.
On November 21st, PBOT BAC Committee Chair Alex Zimmerman and Co-Chair David Stein wrote a letter (PDF) to PBOT Director Chris Warner requesting that, “PBOT take meaningful steps to preserve the integrity of the future neighborhood greenway, including relocating the proposed valet zone to the 12th Avenue frontage.”
Warner responded last week. “A high turnover passenger loading and unloading zone is likely to create operational issues along the neighborhood greenway,” he wrote, “I am directing staff to locate the passenger loading and unloading zone… on NW 12th Avenue.” Warner then added, “PBOT staff is coordinating internally to ensure that future hotel operations are both safe and compatible with our investments in the corridor.”
The next Design Commission hearing for this project is January 9th. Agenda and link to materials here.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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