“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.
“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.
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?
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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