Last week I got one of those emails I dread: Proposed bike lanes could be in jeopardy because a business group is making a fuss about parking removal. Making matters worse was that the project in question was Oregon Department of Transportation’s Lombard Safety Project, which we know is giving major heartburn to the City of Portland Freight Committee.
To learn more I tracked down a letter (PDF) dated November 7th to ODOT from the Kenton Business Association. The letter confirmed my fears. “On behalf of the Kenton Business Association (KBA) and the more than 200 businesses we represent,” it read, “we urge you to reconsider elements of the Lombard Multimodal Safety Project… We believe the current design of this project presents a serious safety risk to cyclists, puts an undue burden on our vital small businesses, and will have a profoundly negative impact on our neighbors on this stretch of N Lombard.”
Oh no. Here we go again, I thought.
“We all agree right off the top that Lombard along this stretch has been a nightmare, and changes need to happen to slow the traffic down. We just have a lot of questions about implementation, some of which have been answered since the letter was drafted.”
— Maureen Bachmann, Kenton Business Association
After detailing their objections the KBA told ODOT they wanted the bike lanes removed from the project (to be replaced with signs directing bicycle users to nearby neighborhood greenways) and they wanted to keep the parking lane on the north side of Lombard.
As I began to work on a story I connected with Maureen Bachmann, owner of Kenton Antiques and president of the KBA. Thankfully, their tone has changed.
“We didn’t submit our issues with any intention of trying to stop the project,” Bachmann assured me via email, “but simply to outline the concerns we have as residents and business owners, many of whom are also bike commuters. We all agree right off the top that Lombard along this stretch has been a nightmare, and changes need to happen to slow the traffic down. We just have a lot of questions about implementation, some of which have been answered since the letter was drafted.”
One of the concerns Bachmann voiced in the letter was that the proposed bike lanes wouldn’t connect to any other bike lanes on Lombard. ODOT explained in a reply to the letter that — while it’s true they don’t connect to other bike lanes on Lombard — they will connect to existing bikeways on streets like Delaware and Woolsey. With the KBA’s urging, ODOT will also speed up timelines to complete existing bike lane gaps on Lombard.
Bachmann says their current position on the project is to push for loading zones and short-term parking spaces on side streets adjacent to Fang Pet & Garden Supply (at N Drummond) because, “It’s one of the few businesses along that stretch that does rely on car accessibility… is a flagship business for Kenton, and it would be a huge loss to this community if they needed to relocate.”
As for those bike lanes? While Bachmann and the KBA don’t think it’ll feel safe for most people to ride next to fast drivers and freight truck operators, they are no longer calling for them to be removed from the project. In fact, Bachmann says they’re advocating for the lanes to connect a few blocks east to newly installed bike lanes on North Denver. They also plan to turn their energy toward pushing for more bus transit along the Lombard corridor. “Decreasing traffic flow without increasing all alternative forms of transportation, especially bus routes is concerning,” Bachmann shared.
This change in tone from the KBA is rare and welcome. I think it has something to do with how ODOT handled the situation. In their response to the KBA, ODOT was understanding, yet firm. They gave evidence to back up their plans and made it clear the project would go forward as planned (PBOT could learn a lot from this!). It also helps that the KBA is led by someone like Bachmann who can see the bigger picture.
“We understand the project appears likely to proceed despite our objections,” she said. “We also don’t want our objections appearing anti-bike or anti-change as we all agree that the current traffic situation on Lombard is dangerous.”
ODOT will host an open house on this project Wednesday January 29th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at Portland Village School (7654 N Delaware). Learn more here.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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