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Support builds for bike lanes on Hawthorne as community awaits key report from PBOT

Healthier Hawthorne has taken over the windows of Starbucks at SE 37th.
(Photo: Zach Katz/Healthier Hawthorne)

A grassroots campaign to build support for protected bike lanes on Southeast Hawthorne Blvd has reached a fever pitch ahead of an expected release of a design recommendation by the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

The vision.
(Rendering by Healthier Hawthorne)

It’s been just over a year since we first shared how PBOT’s Hawthorne Pave and Paint project was a golden opportunity to reconfigure and restripe lanes on this key commercial corridor in one of the most bike-centric parts of the city. SE Hawthorne between 24th and 50th has a history of crashes and is designed solely for people in cars, trucks and buses. Only the bravest bike there and it’s an act of faith to cross on foot. There are lanes for parking cars, but there’s zero dedicated space for bicycling.

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Sensing the opportunity, activists organized under the Healthier Hawthorne umbrella to urge PBOT to create space for cycling. Much to their chagrin, PBOT released a report in September that did not support bike lanes. Their surprising analysis said a configuration with bike lanes would necessitate other changes that would lead to a 8-16 minute transit delay and would be harmful to climate change and racial equity goals.

But it soon became clear PBOT’s analysis was misleading: The source of transit delay was a single intersection (Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard), and PBOT staff acknowledged they didn’t evaluate a design (where bike riders would mix with other users) that would alleviate the delay and allow for bike lanes.

A month after releasing their initial evaluation, PBOT agreed to take a second look. PBOT expected to release the new recommendation in November. Then it was December.

Asked for an update today, PBOT Communications Director John Brady said, “We are still evaluating the design options, and we hope to release our recommendations soon.”

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Meanwhile, Zach Katz of Healthier Hawthorne has been working overtime to push protected bike lanes. He’s engaged city council staffers on the issue, posted about why PBOT’s evaluation report is misleading and has led a charge with volunteers to build support. They’ve created a video (above) with interviews from Hawthorne business owners in full support of protected bike lanes. A petition for the cause — boosted by coverage from KATU-TV — has garnered over 1,600 signatures. Flyers have been posted up and down Hawthorne, and the Starbucks at SE 37th has been plastered with quotes from neighbors and business owners.

Flyer spotted on Hawthorne.
(Photo: Hami Rahmani)

PBOT has heard the message.

But they’ve also heard different messages and consternation in City Hall is likely building as release of the evaluation nears. If PBOT doesn’t recommend a protected bike lane option, they’ll go against many of their own adopted planning goals and disappoint thousands of people who want them (including dozens of business owners). If they do recommend bike lanes, they might kick up the ire of other voices like neighborhood groups and others who sometimes fear change — especially when it’s coupled with a loss of auto parking and space for driving.

In October, the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association came out against the bike lanes. Their letter detailed fears of losing “valuable parking spaces” which they claimed would “hamper visitor willingness to shop” and would “impact livability” if visitors parked on side streets.

For their part, PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and her colleagues will stay mum on the topic until the report comes out.

Matt Glazewski, a policy advisor for Commissioner Mingus Mapps (who was speaking on his own behalf and not as a representative of the commissioner), said in a interview yesterday he thinks now is the time for bike lanes on Hawthorne. “I’m supportive of option 3-B [parking-protected bike lanes],” he said. “I think people are discounting that now [during Covid] is a good time to make those kind of changes.” He sees the bike lanes not only to serve cycling demand, but as a way to create valuable space for humans and business functions. “Providing that extra buffer from traffic gives people space to step off the curb safely and partnering with the Healthy Streets program gives space to outdoor dining and shopping.”

Stay tuned.

CORRECTION, 2/3: This post was edited to reflect that Matt Glazewski’s comments were made on his own behalf and not as a representative for Commissioner Mapps’ office. We regret any confusion caused by this error.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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