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A dispatch from NE Going Street, where people rule and cars are guests

Posted by on May 26th, 2020 at 12:16 pm

Going Street has responded well to pandemic conditions. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland’s neighborhood greenways are having a moment.

Browse a People on Bikes gallery below.

People are walking and biking and rolling on all manner of conveyances to get some exercise, find mental clarity, spend quality time with others, walk their dogs, or just get themselves from point-A to point-B. And with demand for bicycles and safe streets soaring in tandem with fears about the Covid-19 pandemic and a dearth of outdoor public spaces, Portland’s 100-mile network of traffic-calmed residential roads have become a lifeline.

The neighborhood greenway on N/NE Going Street is just one example. It has long been a star in the system and the pandemic has made it shine even brighter. Going has many things going for it. For about 2.5 miles from Vancouver Avenue to NE 42nd, the street is: flat; straight; wide enough to breathe easily on, but not too wide to feel unsafe; a connector between multiple neighborhoods and commercial districts (Williams, Alberta, 42nd); relatively devoid of stop signs or signals; and it’s not popular with drivers given several strategically placed, permanent traffic diverters.

On Sunday I spent some time observing traffic on Going. What I saw was a street that has responded beautifully to the pandemic. People of all ages and abilities were using the street in great numbers; racers and slow-pacers, parents and kids, old and young, experts and novices. They easily outnumbered people in cars. In fact I recall just a handful of cars in the 45 minutes I was out there. What’s even more amazing is that it all happened naturally, without any intervention from the City of Portland. Because Going already has low driving volumes and strong diversion in place, the Portland Bureau of Transportation didn’t need to install any Safe Streets barricades or signage on it.


The driver of that silver SUV is feeling what it’s like when the power dynamic of a street shifts away from drivers and toward people on feet and bikes.

There was one location near 30th were a nearby resident has erected two sets of barricades and posted green “Street for People – Cars are Guest” signs. Those signs aren’t official. They were created by a tactual urbanism group based in New York City (based on examples from The Netherlands) and distributed locally by transportation reform activist Sam Balto. Balto has been at the forefront of grassroots safe streets activism during the pandemic and he’s printed out and delivered the signs for a small fee that he donates to Verde, a local nonprofit.

I’ve often said that humans create their own infrastructure. That is to say, if there are enough people on the street (not in cars), you don’t need any special signage or infrastructure to keep them safe. As I watched the “Cars are guests” block, this view played out perfectly: A car driver moved slowly on the block, surrounded by bike riders and walkers. Either due to fear of hitting someone or being labeled a rude jerk, the driver could only go about 5 mph, so that’s what they did. The conditions on the street reinforced the desired behavior.

One last note before I share a People on Bikes gallery: While this calmed and quiet street attracts many Portlanders, from what I saw it attracts only a small slice of the Portland demographic. As you can see in the photos, nearly everyone who came by was white (2010 Census data shows this tract as 77% white, 12% black, 5% Hispanic/Latino, 3% Asian/Pacific Islander). This raises questions about who isn’t using these streets and who doesn’t feel they’re as safe and accessible as others do.

Take a closer look at who rolled by during a 20-minute period at the intersection of N Going and 17th…

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Parting shot

— 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 productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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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one
Guest

I love NE Going!

Isaac
Guest
Isaac

The increase in cyclist and pedestrian traffic on the bike boulevard on Holman st in the Concordia neighborhood has been great to see. Car traffic is a fraction of what it once was and for the most part people are keeping their distance from each other. Please reach out to your friends and neighbors and invite them to come ride with you next time you venture outdoors, lets up the diversity in a safe and healthy manner!

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

Next time come on over to 7th! I’d say that this past weekend over 50% of all users were on bike. Many of the kids were on the sidewalk though.

qqq
Guest
qqq

On quibble in what I think overall is a great project:

“Because Going already has low driving volumes and strong diversion in place, the Portland Bureau of Transportation didn’t need to install any Safe Streets barricades or signage on it.”

One of the signs that the project has is a sign that says “Go slow” and shows social distancing (6′ separation and mask wearing). PBOT made the decision to only place those signs on streets getting barricades and local access only signs. If the message is valid (I think it is) it shouldn’t be omitted on streets like Going that didn’t need barricades.

I noticed on the Bike Portland facebook comments that lack of social distancing was brought up on Going. Since PBOT is putting out maps and publicity telling people to come to these streets to ride and walk, and people are responding in crowds, PBOT shouldn’t be stingy on putting up those signs.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I love this, but it really stings that there is no safe way to get to Going from my nearby home in Overlook! If only PBOT would connect the bike lanes on Skidmore to NE 7th my family could use exiting traffic control devices (no extra money required from the City) to cross Vancouver, Williams, and MLK plus there is an existing 4-way stop sign at Mississippi. This would cost VERY little for the City to retrofit and would provide a valuable and safe connection between many routes. For such an obvious and easy fix to such a critical missing link, one might wonder why PBOT has not acted? on-street parking strikes again 🙁

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Agreed. Skidmore needs some major rework between Mississippi and MLK at the very least.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

That’s kind of PBOTs MO. Islands of “safety” that don’t connect. It’s hard to tell if they do it on purpose or not, but there are glaring holes in our bike network that could be fixed for minimal costs if PBOT cared about non-motorized forms of transportation.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

East on Skidmore, north on Michigan, east on Blandena, a short jog at Vancouver gets you to the west end of the Going Greenway. Westbound go north on Williams to Blandena west for the reverse path.
On-street parking for black folk, in a neighborhood historically treated different from other parts of the city.
Skidmore is a Major Emergency Response route and Neighborhood Collector, so full parking removal would be needed on both sides of the street if it remained with these designations under current policy.
I could see a change for the NC designation away from ‘through street’ as an inherent part of the definition. Skidmore could then be disconnected at Commercial (?) with an emergency vehicle accessible barrier. The lack of roads that cross the freeway presents an issue for flow of goods, but that is more of an adjustment to a new normal.

maxD
Guest
maxD

the Going Greenway lacks controlled crossings at Mississippi, Williams, Vancouver, and MLK. It is indirect, difficult to follow, hilly. A safe and direct bike route would protect people riding bikes regardless of their race.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

As long as they owned a bike and were not repeatedly harassed by police for riding while black through a (now) predominantly white neighborhood. While Portland isn’t Georgia, it’s not all that different from Minneapolis. And its police, alas, also have a troubled history in regards to its black residents.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Any street that is a major emergency response route shouldn’t have on street parking to begin. It’s dangerous to have speeding EMS vehicles and no daylighting at intersections

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

“On-street parking for black folk, in a neighborhood historically treated different from other parts of the city.”

This is why we can’t have anything nice in this city. We’re too worried about “offending” someone.

X
Guest
X

Paragraph one was the quintessential Portland bike route description. Imagine a game of telephone where a small number of people relay that instruction around the room. Would you get back a love sonnet, or halfway to Skamokawa?

paikiala is hardly ever sarcastic.

Ted Gresh
Guest
Ted Gresh

So your feeling is that only the existence of bike lanes painted on the roadway will make Skidmore “safe”? While bike lanes provide predictability in regards to where cars and bikes should be, I am not sure it is accurate to say the absence of bike lanes renders a street unsafe to ride.

Lastly, if someone thinks there is an “obvious and easy fix” it is likely you are not aware of the existing constraints…see paikiala’s response.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

My favorite “easy fix” is to remove all signs, markings, etc. on all the streets and force everyone to move very cautiously through every intersection, as most pedestrians already have to do now.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I ride my bike on Skidmore all the time, but my wife and daughter do not feel comfortable doing that. That said, the real safety is at the intersections where the existing signals would provide a much safer crossing than the existing route of the Going Greenway. To make a complete bike network, we need safe, direct and convenient connections between bike routes and connecting destinations. The existing route fails pretty badly at that, adding bike lanes to Skidmore would be a massive improvements. The bike lanes would come with a loss of under-utilized on-street parking.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

OK, let me practice what the “nay-sayers” / “haters” will say: that is all well and good Mr. Bike Portland, those bike trips were all recreational trips anyway…and matter of fact the only reason you did not see much car traffic was that all those that could went to the beach (mountains) for the long weekend…the only ones left at home in the neighborhoods were those that did not own a car. ‘-)

Thanks for sharing the great photos!

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Hmm, it’s a Sunday, maybe some of them went to church instead? Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for not so many blacks and Latinx, that they might choose to go to one of the many churches in the area on a Sunday, at a rate far greater than the local whites and Asians? If Jonathan was taking pictures on a Saturday, might he get a different cross-section of inner NE on his photos?

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

Just a point of clarity – Multnomah county churches shouldn’t have been open yet.

casual observer
Guest
casual observer

NE Going has always been one of my favorites, awesome street.

Merlin
Guest
Merlin

NE Going is a bike street because the city doesn’t want to (re?)pave it? It is surely the roughest street in town!

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I had no idea that Portland had already paved its 50 miles of gravel streets. When did that happen? And does the city still have macadam streets, concrete roadways with pebble fill?

X
Guest
X

While the pavement on NE Going is nothing special, the city did replace pavement on three of the worst blocks in a rare down-to-the-base repaving job. That was sweet!

The worst pavement on NE Holman is memorably weak–you cannot say that it does not suck. I can’t figure out why it hasn’t been fixed, unless it’s some arcane rule like ‘we can’t fix this street because it is narrow therefore it must remain broken and narrow through another cycle of the Mayan calendar’.

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

Roughest street in town? Not even the roughest Greenway street – try N. Bryant. The streets east of MLK are the worst I’ve experienced (and I bike Going a ton.)
Total garbage.

Eric
Guest

Is #9 Nathan F-ing Jones?!? Could be. I know #10!