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Grassroots push emerges for ‘quick and cheap’ bike lanes on SE Hawthorne

Posted by on April 24th, 2020 at 1:35 pm

Proposed cross-section with parked cars next to a curbside bike lane.
(Graphic made with Streetmix)

“With just cones and a touch of paint, we can quickly and cheaply build a much safer, healthier, and happier Hawthorne,” reads the text of a website at HealthierHawthorne.com that just launched yesterday.

“If enough people ask for it, it’s very likely that the project will get done… I’m extremely optimistic we can make this happen!”
— Zach Katz, Healthier Hawthorne

Portlander Zach Katz started a grassroots campaign on Facebook back in February to build what he called the “Hawthorne Promenade”. It was his response to the Portland Bureau of Transportation “Paint and Pave” project. As we covered in January, PBOT was set to launch the outreach process to redesign Hawthorne’s bustling commercial corridor between SE 24th and 50th. One of the initial ideas on the table was to change the cross-section from four standard lanes to three lanes and a center turn lane.

PBOT was coy about the project, as they often are before they’ve had the requisite open houses and committee meetings. Given Hawthorne’s prominence and planning history, the agency isn’t eager to bump the hornet’s nest prematurely. Even so, a PBOT spokesperson told us back in January, “We know how important Hawthorne is in our road network and we think this is an opportunity to do something big and bold.” And open house materials shared in March offered even more teasing words, “After the repave we will have a new, blank pavement surface. A repaving project cannot do everything, but it provides an opportunity to consider changes to improve safety, comfort, and function for people and businesses.”

Katz, an entrepreneur famous for being that, “23-Year-Old Dude in Portland Making a Living Selling Framed Tweets,” saw an opportunity. “Hawthorne deserves so much better,” he wrote on Hawthorne Promenade Facebook page on February 29th. “We’re going to design plans to make Hawthorne (from SE 32nd to Cesar Chavez) a beautiful, car-free promenade with bus-only lanes.” Katz found lots of local support for the idea, enlisted an illustrator to design some mock-ups, and was building the proposal.

Then the pandemic hit and Katz — along with the 80 or so members of the Facebook group — decided to pivot.

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A busy section of Hawthorne via Google Streetview.

“While the Hawthorne Promenade will still happen someday, suddenly, now doesn’t seem like quite the right time to focus on it,” wrote Katz earlier this week. The new plan? A temporary, parking-protected, curbside bike lane built with traffic cones and paint that would extend from the Hawthorne Bridge viaduct to SE 50th.

Katz and his supporters have been posting feverishly online about the idea all week. It’s classic open-source activism in the Facebook age. When I started this story an hour ago the effort was known as “Better Hawthorne”. The name has now changed to “Healthier Hawthorne”.

The group is now seeking business owner feedback and support and encouraging everyone who likes the idea to email Mayor Ted Wheeler, PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and PBOT Director Chris Warner.

Katz, who moved to Portland from New York City in January of this year, is extremely confident. “If enough people ask for it, it’s very likely that the project will get done… I’m extremely optimistic we can make this happen!” he wrote on the Facebook page.

The idea of bike lanes on Hawthorne has been debated for years. The 1997 Hawthorne Blvd Transportation Plan considered bike lanes, but the advisory committee ultimately decided against them, citing concerns about loss of auto parking, potential for transit delay, and diversion of drivers onto neighborhood streets.

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PBOT’s Hawthorne Paint and Pave project was on the agenda of the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association meeting last month. MTNA Board Member John Laursen used the occasion to write a 1,400 word essay explaining why he’s opposed to any major changes to Hawthorne and already skeptical of PBOT’s motives. Laursen, it should be noted, was also on the citizen’s advisory committee for that 1997 Hawthorne Blvd plan.

“The representatives from the bicycle and pedestrian organizations [on the 1997 plan’s CAC] openly stated their desire to use the Hawthorne Transportation Plan for social engineering,” Laursen wrote, “their intent was to remove automobile traffic lanes from Hawthorne in order to make it so unpleasant for drivers that it would force people out of their cars.” Here’s more from Laursen’s editorial:

“… The current effort is not about increasing safety. It’s about social engineering, trying to force people out of their cars, and using a stick instead of a carrot, which rarely turns out well. And here’s the kicker. By flying this scheme [the Paint and Pave project] under the radar with such negligible public participation, PBOT is expecting to make the change before the public has had a chance to understand the implications of what is being done, and to ask for a more thoughtful approach. Once PBOT has accomplished this, and regardless of whether there’s a public outcry from citizens who find themselves negatively affected, there will be no going back… Will that force people out of their cars? Or will it just send more cars onto the neighboring streets? I think we know the answer.”

The pandemic has pushed PBOT’s paving project into the shadows and this story is the first major publicity for the “Healthier Hawthorne” vision. While many people think Covid-19 is cause for a new approach to our streets, a change of this magnitude to a street like Hawthorne — temporary or not — will not be easy to pull off.

But who knows? How many of us thought someone could create a thriving business selling framed Tweets?

— Learn more at HealhtierHawthorne.com, and on Facebook.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Mark smith
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Mark smith

The question of the day/decade is how and why this street has been skipped over. This is practically one of the flagships of Portland ..and it’s a car Haven.

Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

just do it already

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

Remove the parking. Keep the lanes. Maybe one from each direction becomes a rose lane in the future. Even better if the rose lane was open to all traffic at calmer hours. As for cycling options, I would call this area rush with opportunities in the surrounding area with SE Lincoln being some sort of crown jewel. Why is it sort of, because the inconsistencies are plenty which makes it difficult for all to navigate.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

OF COURSE the plan is social engineering. Any infrastructure that shapes behavior is social engineering, including the current design/use. Unlike the current use, the plan being discussed shapes behavior to increase safety. Time to turn that worn paranoid argument back at the accuser

David Hampsten
Guest

Because we all know that paint increases rider and pedestrian safety, especially on Hawthorne.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

The world after the “Rona” may be very different. We could see the power, effectiveness and reach of all forms government decrease as we go in to a period of shrinking budgets, shrinking staff and shrinking ambitions. It may be up to us to reconfigure our streets and neighborhoods to our needs cooperatively. Quick and cheap and by the people may become the new normal in the world ahead.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

” a change of this magnitude to a street like Hawthorne — temporary or not — will not be easy to pull off.”

What makes “a street like Hawthorne”? Is it the residents, businesses, and the streets that connect to it? If so, how does our Transportation Systems Plan classify it as a City Bikeway and Major City Walkway? + (Pedestrian District)? It would seem that the nature of the street would be counter to those uses. Surely, maintaining a fast-moving river of cars through the middle of a Pedestrian District must be counter to our Vision Zero plans at least.

Or, is the car traffic we see on Hawthorne a result of the induced demand created by the design and affordances of the street? If this is the case, we can simply change it and it will change. If however, the very nature of the street’s “essential being” (or something) demands that people cross multiple lanes of bi-directional fast-moving car traffic at unmarked crosswalks (and periodically get killed with cars in doing so), then our comprehensive plan is based on impossible goals and perhaps the city is vulnerable to a lawsuit or state review.

http://pdx.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=d1d5e545ca6f436fb119932d710ff2fb

Paul B
Guest
Paul B

Yes, please! I have dreamed of this for years.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Hawthorne Blvd really needs to be converted to one lane each direction with a center turn lane.

Thst would eliminate narrow lanes; dangerous lane weaving; provide left turn space for vehicles without stopping traffic behind them (something which causes even more dangerous lane weaving); AND peovide space for bike lanes from the single eliminated traffic lane.

They did it on SE 7th Ave like 2 decades ago. Why is Hawthorne still stuck in the 80s???

mark
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mark

Parking “protected” bike lanes? No thanks. I don’t want to be trapped between the curb and parked cars, hidden from drivers who can hook me at the intersections.

Reducing travel to two lanes won’t work because of the buses, which currently straddle both lanes to give adequate clearance to parked cars.

Suburban
Guest
Suburban

Anyone can drive, bike and park on Hawthorne Blvd. any time, all days, all hours. It’s not Better, or Healthier, or clever; it just lies there and the citizenry who paid for it roll tires their over it. What ever the 1997 Plan or PBOT or Neighborhood Associations have to say matters very little. Where the paint and cones and diverters and electric traffic control lights are also matter very little. If you don’t operate your vehicle on it, you have given it to those who will.

Mark Linehan
Guest
Mark Linehan

The accident statistics from the “Hawthorne Paint and Pave” presentation that I saw clearly showed that Hawthorne as it is today has major safety issues. For example, the number of TriMet bus mirror accidents along lower Hawthorne is far greater than elsewhere. So the question is: how should Hawthorne be changed, not whether.

As a car traffic corridor, two lanes in each direction plus a turning lane makes a lot of sense. The turning lane will eliminate the largest source of backups, and pedestrian crossing safety will be greatly improved.

Either the turning lane or car parking is the tradeoff for bike lanes. While there’s less traffic, it would be great to try temporary bike lanes. The sidewalks were intentionally narrowed years ago in favor of space for cars. Flipping that choice the other way will provide room for walkers as well as bicyclists. This virus lockdown may last for a while, so let’s try it!

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I’m laughing at the thought of biking in the curb lane and having to swerve at every intersection because of the bulb-outs. You’ll want to put a lot of cones at every corner or drivers will be cutting into those lanes while you’re swerving into them, both of you with no visibility to the other.

No, that won’t work. Maybe before they installed all the bulb-outs, but not now.

You have to leave parking where it is and give the current right lane over to bicycles.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

mark
Parking “protected” bike lanes? No thanks. I don’t want to be trapped between the curb and parked cars, hidden from drivers who can hook me at the intersections.Reducing travel to two lanes won’t work because of the buses, which currently straddle both lanes to give adequate clearance to parked cars.Recommended 9

Tom
Guest
Tom

The pedestrian situation for the 12th to 24th section continues to degrade and it continues to be overlooked for improvements. The city encouraged a steady increase in apartment density in this area, and dinning options continue to expand leading to more and more pedestrians but the road situation is stuck in the 1970s. The contrast is becoming more obvious all the time, so its sad to see the city push off 12th to 24th improvements to the distant future. The recent 30% increase in speeds, record speeding by total count, and the 87% increase in so called super-speeding are making it seem like they are building apartments adjacent to a freeway. Speeds along this stretch are now reaching freeway speeds and crossing has been become much more difficult. It just seem very incompatible.

Dardanelles
Guest
Dardanelles

“Katz, who moved to Portland from New York City in January of this year, is extremely confident.”
I feel like there’s a powerful causal relationship between the first part of this sentence and the second.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

PBOT has a program to test such ideas:
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/77764