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Everything you need to know about Portland’s new ‘Slow Streets’ plan

Posted by on April 29th, 2020 at 1:07 pm


(Slides shared by a PBOT planner at the Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last night.)

“PBOT will put treatments on 100 sections of neighborhood greenways by the end of next week.”
— Margaux Weeke, Office of Commissioner Chloe Eudaly

“We are officially in ‘go’ mode,” said a smiling Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Policy, Planning and Projects Group Manager Art Pearce at the outset of the Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last night. The meeting was the first venue for PBOT to share more details about the ‘Slow Streets Safe Streets’ initiative they launched yesterday and what lies ahead.

So far the plan hasn’t been fully fleshed out; but last night’s meeting and a follow-up from Commissioner Eudaly’s office I just received this morning give us a much more detailed sense of where we’re headed.

And to be clear, despite what you might read from other media outlets, there are no plans for “promenades” and there are no plans to “close 100 miles of streets to car traffic.” The initiative announced yesterday would beef up existing neighborhood greenways by adding more diverters and signage — the same stuff we’ve done for years and that activists have pushed for all along. And the “100 miles of streets” is a big misunderstanding. Turns out PBOT plans to add new treatments to 100 sections of greenways — not miles (more on that below).

Yesterday’s announcement marked a big step forward for PBOT and commissioner-in-charge Chloe Eudaly.

Eudaly in particular has made a dramatic shift in her perspective in a very short timeframe. On April 16th, Eudaly told the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee, “I’m really not seeing overcrowding. We don’t need the streets closed.” And on April 20th, Eudaly said on an OPB radio show, “I don’t think that right now while we’re under ‘Stay at Home stay safe’ orders, that encouraging people to leave their homes and making radical changes with the way streets are used, are the best use of our time and resources.” She had also cited concerns about equity and risks from speeding drivers. But yesterday she had a much different tone, telling told KATU-TV that, “[People are] moving around their neighborhoods on foot and on bike and we need to make that easier and safer for them to do [so].”

What a difference a few weeks makes! Now PBOT and Eudaly are ready to roll. Last night PBOT’s Art Pearce said he and his staff have spent about a month tracking other cities’ responses to COVID-19. Pearce was clearly excited that he and his staff finally got the green light from the commissioner’s office to go public with their ideas. “It’s taken some time to get our feet beneath us,” he said, “now we’re ready to dive in with your help.”

So let’s dive in shall we?

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We Have a Chance to Change For The Better For Good

“We don’t have to just recover to where we were. We can recover to where we want to be.”
— Nick Falbo, PBOT

Throughout the meeting Pearce and other PBOT staff hinted they see this initiative as much more than a short-term reaction to a crisis. “We’re looking for your help,” he told committee members, “to make sure we’re thinking about this comprehensively and thinking about this from the lasting impact it can be on our response as an agency and on our use of infrastructure and our streets.”

With car use and vehicle miles traveled down dramatically (as much as 60% fewer car trips in inner neighborhoods and 30% further out, according to PBOT data shared last night), PBOT is poised to seize the moment and hasten their work toward building a future where fewer people drive cars.

PBOT Senior Planner Nick Falbo has been tapped as the architect of the Slow Streets initiative. At the meeting last night he said PBOT is, “keeping our eyes on the prize about the future.” “It’s not just about what happens now… We want to emerge to a better future. We don’t have to just recover to where we were. We can recover to where we want to be,” he said.

“We have a rare moment to mobilize our bureau and enter this phase with eyes wide open; to plan for what’s happening next,” Falbo added.

Greenways Will Be Ground Zero

PBOT slide shared last night.

The most immediate work will come in the form of temporary barricades and diverters followed by more robust “hardening” of existing neighborhood greenways.

In response to our questions this morning, Eudaly’s office just released new information about how this will be rolled out. PBOT has identified 100 neighborhood greenway locations (not miles) where they’ll place temporary diversion and other treatments by the end of next week. “These are locations where greenways intersect with busy streets and have historic high traffic volumes,” Eudaly’s office says. Commissioner Eudaly will publish the list of the initial 100 neighborhood greenway sections by the end of this week (5/1).

At the meeting last night, PBOT’s Active Transportation and Safety Division Manager Catherine Ciarlo said the agency will use this opportunity to more strongly defend greenways. “As car traffic inevitably comes back up,” she said, “What type of actions do we need to take to protect the greenways to the level of functioning we’re seeing now and provide the type of social distancing space many of you said you wish there was more of.”

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The current “level of functioning” Ciarlo referred to was revealed in a presentation by PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller. He shared car driver volume data on three of Portland’s most popular greenways: SE Salmon, SE Clinton, and SE Lincoln. Auto traffic volumes on those streets have gone down by 61%, 47% and 42% respectively compared to pre-pandemic levels. Ciarlo also clarified that the “hardened” versions of greenways won’t ban all drivers, but will make it harder for them to enter and will, “Remind [drivers] they are guests on these greenways.”

Greenway auto traffic volumes.
(Source: PBOT)

Eudaly’s Policy Director Jamey Duhamel (who was assigned a much more direct role in bicycling policy just before the pandemic hit) mentioned concerns with having enough maintenance staff to put up and monitor all the new barricades and signs. This is a serious issue because PBOT’s maintenance division (which in some ways – culturally and physically – often feels like a separate bureau) is still only working at half-staff. “We’re waiting to see if that’s a resource we can deploy,” Pearce said, adding that the maintenance division is trying to be fully staffed by next month. Margaux Weeke, communications director for Commissioner Eudaly’s office clarified this morning that they’re working on a “community activation strategy” to maintain the barriers and we can expect more info on that effort soon.

As for how the barricades will be installed with limited maintenance staff, Weeke says they’ve hired the same contractor that puts on Sunday Parkways to do the work.

Asked about using community volunteers to keep the barriers in place, Pearce said he’s discussed the idea with Bike Loud PDX, a local bike activism nonprofit. Another idea PBOT is mulling is some sort of “greenway stewards” program. Perhaps they can enlist the hundreds of “intersection superheroes” that have already volunteered for Sunday Parkways events?

Busy Streets/Main Streets


(Details from PBOT graphics)

The pop-up biking and walking lanes and new loading and queuing zones on main streets and arterials will come later. These will be phased-in by PBOT as demand dictates and/or Governor Kate Brown lifts the ‘Stay Home’ order. Last night Pearce cited lots of uncertainty about this element of the plan, saying PBOT’s goal is to ramp up and be ready to strike when the opportunity arises. “Are we a month out? Are we six weeks out? We don’t really know,” he said.

According to Eudaly’s office these elements of the initiative will be the focus of more formal outreach. “PBOT is going to be flexible and work to identify situations where we can better support safe mobility for Portlanders,” Eudaly’s office shared with us this morning.

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It’s All About the Money

While there’s justifiable excitement from PBOT and advocates about this new initiative, looming anxiety about the budget remains. Pearce said last night he’s scouring the agency’s plans for small projects that can be delayed in order to create resources to implement the Slow Streets plan. He made it clear that no funding has been made available for this yet. “I’m operating under a strong imperative to not have this create new costs,” Pearce said. Large capital projects are not on the table: “We’re going to have to be as strategic as we possible in the ways we respond to his… Big infrastructure isn’t the answer,” he said.

When I asked for clarification about funding, Eudaly’s office said since the Slow Streets effort is part of the city’s emergency COVID-19 response, it’s eligible for federal CARES Act funding.

Other Takeaways and Next Steps

PBOT has lacked a unified vision and sense of urgency for a while now. The COVID-19 pandemic might be what gets them focused and working toward all the shared goals we all care so much about. During last night’s meeting it was clear they’re asking the pandemic to do a lot of heavy lifting.

PBOT sees a direct line between ‘Slow Streets Safe Streets’ and use of bike share and scooters.

PBOT is going to try and leverage this Slow Streets effort to garner more public support and build momentum around other projects and programs. PBOT’s Ciarlo said last night the biggest barrier to greenway development isn’t engineering or funding, it’s getting public support for the changes. “We really want to seize this as a moment to help the public see these as something for everyone,” she said. Ciarlo mentioned that the pandemic has opened many peoples’ eyes to the value of the street in front of their home. “What we’re intending to do is capture that feeling and help people take what they’re experiencing now and really build on that to create some support for the more permanent installations.”

PBOT will also seize the moment to create streets that help ensure the success of their Biketown re-launch that’s on track for this summer. The new bike share system will be 100% electric and will cover a much larger service area. She also mentioned they want more Portlanders to come out of lockdown and choose “light individual transportation” options like e-scooters. If done right, this Slow Streets initiative encourage more people to bike and use scooters for many urban trips and that new non-driving traffic will build even more support for the ultimate prize: Dedicated bikeways on main streets and arterials.

This all sounds fun and exciting; but there will be opposition and many people will resist these changes. We should also be wary that for all the talk about equity and fairness to people of color and lower-income Portlanders, the issue wasn’t addressed with any substance at the meeting last night. PBOT has ignored this at the outset of “exciting” new plans in the past and I worry they’re setting up to do it again (note that Slow Streets point person Nick Falbo is same planner who ran into major opposition and questions around race and equity on the 7th/9th greenway project).

I look forward to following this closely as outreach begins. For now, PBOT says they want to hear from the public about where changes should happen first and why changes are needed. Please use the 503-823-SAFE hotline (also safe@portlandoregon.gov) and the active.transportation@portlandoregon.gov emails to share your voice.

And stay tuned to BikePortland for more coverage.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Steven9wattspaikialaHello, KittyRoberta Robles Recent comment authors
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PDXCyclist
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PDXCyclist

Thanks, Jonathan. Hopefully PBOT doesn’t forget NW and SW Portland.

And I don’t totally feel great about the article throwing Falbo under the bus at the very end…

Tim
Guest
Tim

All for more biking infrastructure and safety.

Concerned about more pedestrians in the street though, the increase in joggers on the greenways dying my morning commute since the lockdown, people that aren’t essential workers/unable to work have really been a concern.

Also if PBOT adds speed bumps, hope they put those in with cut outs for bike traffic.

I called PBOT after they installed the full ones on Harrison and they said that cyclists prefer them.

Is that right?

Johnathan, could you conduct a poll on that one of these days?

Thanks!

maccoinnich
Subscriber

At a time where PBOT has suddenly lost a lot of revenue, it’s interesting that they’re able to use CARES act funding for this proposal. I wonder if they could that funding for rolling out low cost implementations for various projects that have already had planning work done (i.e. the “In Motion” plans).

Noel Bergren-Dizon
Guest
Noel Bergren-Dizon

Regarding speed bumps with the bicycle cut outs: They just installed bumps in NOPO on N Willis. For some reason the cut outs are near the centerline in each direction. Two problems: bike riders don’t usually ride that far into the street and worse, the same jerks who were speeding regularly now just drive in the middle of the road! The cut outs are perfectly spaced so their wheels never even hit the bumps. It’s bewildering why the spaced the cut outs that way!

Fred
Guest
Fred

Good to see Eudaly finally come around, but she pretty much had to, since Sam and Mingus both outflanked her on this issue.

I hate to sound like an old fart all of the time, but the fact that Eudaly finally did the right thing doesn’t mean she’s an effective leader. I’m glad to see the shift, but the commission form of gov’t is still broken and needs to be eliminated. I’m going to be a single-issue voter in the upcoming election and will vote for any candidate who signs a promise (in blood) to eliminate Portland’s commission-form of gov’t.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I love PBOT’s first step, but only focusing on greenways seems pretty limited. In addition to improving greenways so people biking and walking have more safe space, a couple of other minor changes would yield big benefits in my opinion:
1. Get rid of beg buttons and have dedicated crossing time for pedestrians
2. ban right on red to improve safety for people walking in the opposite direction of people driving
3. open up closed crosswalks (SW 2nd and Alder, SE 12th and Madison, etc)

Steve Hash
Guest
Steve Hash

Anywhere to see the actual plan specifics? I live on the Houghton St. Neighborhood parkway between N Wall and N Portsmouth and am curious how it will be implemented.

Rain Waters
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Rain Waters

If this was hunger games portland will be the city. Nice compliant drones in lockstep. You disappoint any human being.

chasing backon
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chasing backon

These are all actions that PBOT shoud have been doing all along, instead of folding in the face of a few vocal NIMBY homeowners and businesses.

Tom
Guest
Tom

So PBOT is broke while at the same time we have a huge increase in speeding and reckless driving. Shouldn’t those creating the safety issue contribute to paying for its mitigation. A ‘safety impact surcharge’ on speeding tickets could provide funding while reducing the need for the funding at the same time. The surcharge could be variable, with an increasing amount depending on how far above the speed limit the ticket was for. The more dangerous the speeding, the more mitigation the driver will need to provide. All surcharge proceeds could go to PBOT safety projects. If you don’t want to pay the safety impact surcharge, that’s fine, then just don’t speed.

Ted Labbe
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Ted Labbe

I’m heartened to learn of this much-needed initiative. Thanks to all the BikePortland community who have been patient with PBOT and Commissioner Eudaly in this time of change, to give them a chance to put forth something well-thought out and not simply some copy-cat move on what Oakland and other cities have done. To be done right, this takes careful planning.

I have been somewhat disheartened to see some griping about Eudaly on this blog over the past few weeks because the perception that she and PBOT weren’t moving fast enough. I think this plan demonstrates that she is serious about shifting our broken transportation system, and wants to do it right. It also shows that she keeps an open mind.

I want to encourage all BikePortland readers to give Eudaly your vote. She deserves it. Eudaly is the most progressive voice we have on Council right now. She deserves way more praise than she has received on BikePortland for the Rose Lane initiative. I supported Sam when he was mayor but his time has past. Mingus has some interesting ideas but seems to be playing to the NIMBYs, who are resisting needed change. Please vote Eudaly! We have momentum with her, let’s not break that momentum!

Rudi V
Guest
Rudi V

City of Portland’s plan for everything:

phase 1: collect the underpants
phase 2: ?
phase 3: equity!

ASHBEL GREEN
Guest
ASHBEL GREEN

I didn’t see Tillamook mentioned. Boy, would it be awesome if they did something to slow/reduce traffic between Williams and MLK.

X
Guest
X

–trying to figure out if I’m too old to get this, or too young to get this.

9watts
Subscriber

Did anyone hear Dave Miller’s interview with Chris Warner on OPB’s Think Out Lout this afternoon? I don’t normally listen to OPB, but what a train wreck that was! Mr. Warner, notwithstanding his $140,000/yr salary, didn’t answer a single one of Dave’s excellently researched and articulated questions. Each time Chris Warner opened his mouth I felt like my knowledge of the subject went into the red. How exasperating it must be to work for, with, around people who don’t make sense, can’t talk their way out of a paper bag!

9watts
Subscriber

Hello, Kitty
As usual, I’ll argue my minoritarian view that more empathy and more understanding, with less dismissiveness and less divisiveness will get better results, faster.Recommended 3

That is noble and sounds nice. But what evidence do we have that suggests that is actually true? Around here it seems the only way PBOT or ODOT or Kate Brown or BES will do anything, amend their errant ways is through public shaming, (the threat of) a PR disaster.

Please show us *better results, faster* occurring in response to your approach.

9watts
Subscriber

Noel Bergren-Dizon
Regarding speed bumps with the bicycle cut outs: They just installed bumps in NOPO on N Willis. For some reason the cut outs are near the centerline in each direction. Two problems: bike riders don’t usually ride that far into the street and worse, the same jerks who were speeding regularly now just drive in the middle of the road! The cut outs are perfectly spaced so their wheels never even hit the bumps. It’s bewildering why the spaced the cut outs that way!Recommended 15

This reminds me of the diverters on 16th and Ankeny that were spaced so wide that most cars and pickups can just drive through! Why do the city’s engineers keep producing and signing off on such idiotic infrastructure? How hard is it to do some homework, insist on quality, just get it right?!

9watts
Subscriber

“prevention is impossible”

Paikiala,
You are blowing smoke. There is no reason for us to be arguing here over too wide vs too narrow at 15th and Ankeny. Both are silly and unnecessary and for reasons only PBOT knows we have now experienced both at this location. As I said in that thread, we have developed standards for a reason. In Germany 140 cm/150cm.

As for 28th, you write: “I don’t know who accepted that work.” Perhaps you can appreciate how we who don’t work for PBOT feel when encountering infrastructure that seems so randomly executed.

Steven
Guest
Steven

The Greenways are 20MPH limits. I see In the article that PBOT is tracking car volumes (which are substantially down) but what are the average SPEEDS the people are driving their cars, that’s what makes it unsafe, not the cars themselves. Is PBOT gathering that info? Has the average car speed on the Greenways changed since 10/1/19?