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Opinion: A chance to seize our vision on Hawthorne

Posted by on February 5th, 2021 at 12:30 pm

There’s plenty of room, we are just using it the wrong way.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland has a rare opportunity to create space for cycling on a dense, commercial section of Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. We cannot afford to miss it.

(Source: PBOT Hawthorne Pave & Paint project presentation)

A paving project between SE 24th and 50th gives us a blank slate to create whatever type of street we want. And that’s not my opinion: Our transportation bureau themselves has said new pavement, “provides an opportunity to consider changes to improve safety, comfort, and function for people and businesses.”

So it begs the question: What kind of street should Portland create on this empty canvas? What type of street should we expect our elected leaders and city planners to provide on one of the most popular walking and shopping destinations in the entire city?

Do we want to invite more humane mobility choices that build community health and wealth and open up our streets for more types of people and users of all ages? Or do we want to encourage more toxic, dangerous choices that reduce access and continue the unsustainable status quo?

Zoom out a bit. Close your eyes and take a breath, then come back to those questions.

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(Source: PBOT)

Now, how does it feel knowing that the striping option (at right) that scored highest in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s initial evaluation would replace the current five drivable lanes on Hawthorne with five more drivable lanes on Hawthorne? How does it sit with you that we arrived at an idea to replace 52-feet of street space currently used for parking and driving cars with 52-feet for parking and driving cars?

It seems unbelievable. Yet while we currently find ourselves in this position, it’s not where we have to end up.

Right now, leadership and staff inside Portland City Hall and the transportation bureau are hovering over a more complete evaluation that tells them how various striping plans will impact traffic. They’re also very likely having discussions about how their decision will impact personal careers, public perception, media coverage and politics. I understand doing something different — like adding cycling space to a major commercial street in Portland — is scary. Anyone who’s served in government knows it’s always easier to make safe decisions. But given what Portlanders deserve and what these times demand, safe decisions might be easy but they won’t lead to the outcomes we desparately need.

It’s time for us to do something different — yet something that should feel very familiar if you believe in the visions we’ve already adopted.

Let’s zoom out again…

(Source: Portland Transportation System Plan Policy 9.6)

10 years ago when we passed the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030, I would never have thought the talented and dedicated staff at PBOT (many of whom I think of as “advocrats” for their passion and willingness to push the limits) would be directed by their transportation commissioner (who was Chloe Eudaly at the time) to take a blank slate on Hawthorne and choose to continue to encourage and prioritize car and truck drivers. Yet that’s what they were told to do back in September.

This, from a city that once unanimously adopted the visionary statement below (taken from the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030):

“It’s the year 2030 and Portland looks much different than it did a generation ago. By sharply reducing reliance on personal auto use, Portland significantly lowered its carbon footprint, eased traffic congestion, improved air quality and enhanced public health. One of the community’s most valuable assets, the public right of way was reclaimed for all Portland residents… Children, women immigrants, seniors and other populations that have historically not bicycled in large numbers now bicycle in higher proportions than ever before… With more money in their pockets and circulating in the local economy due to reduced transportation costs, the business community has come to embrace bicycling as a hallmark of the Portland region.”

And this from a city whose Transportation System Plan includes the “Transportation strategy for people movement,” (policy 9.6) that includes a prioritization of modes in an ordered list. Walking is first, then cycling, transit, taxis/TNCs, ZEVs, then in last place “other private vehicles.”

I have never stopped believing in these visions and I know we can achieve them.

Thankfully, PBOT is taking a second look at the Hawthorne project. This time around they’re under the direction of a new transportation commissioner, Jo Ann Hardesty, a leader who has a clear vision to create streets where, “People can access food and goods and services that are not tied to getting into automobiles”.

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(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

I understand that the potential safety implications of this looming choice are weighing heavily on influential hearts and minds. The models tell them having a center turn lane for the length of the project (Alternative 2 in the first evaluation, which would simply extend the current conditions east of Calle Cesar Chavez all the way west to 20th) would result in fewer “turning movement crashes” and “improve safety for pedestrians.”

“Safety” is a very tricky metric for making decisions, especially when derived from flawed and incomplete models. We absolutely need to protect people, but the altar of safety can paralyze us, cloud our larger vision, and make us less safe in the long run. Portland’s vision is to create streets that have more bikes, fewer cars, and to reap the myriad benefits that will follow.

And let’s not forget: A city with fewer people driving is much safer. As our traffic death toll and the horrific events of January 25th reminded us, every time someone chooses to drive a huge steel vehicle near vulnerable humans our collective risk goes up. To be truly safe, we need to take every opportunity to limit exposure to driving.

We should not bend our vision to fit a limited view of safety; we should create a new vision of safety. And if we look hard enough, the answers will be staring us in the face.

If you want to share your thoughts with the person who will decide the fate of Hawthorne Boulevard, she can be reached at joann@portlandoregon.gov.

— 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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nate
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nate

The problem is that to do this RIGHT, you have to get rid of the parking (or signal every intersection). Parking-protected bike lanes with that much cross traffic at dozens of unsignaled intersections are just so many death traps (because the visibility is crap). To make parking-protected bike lanes safe, you practically HAVE to have signals with no-turns signaled bike phases. And I believe the door zone bike lanes have been picked apart enough already. I would love to see Hawthorne as a pedestrian- and bike-friendly utopia, but until they get rid of the parking (which I strongly suspect will never happen) I hate all of these plans.

maxD
Guest
maxD

Here is a personal observation: I work near 11th/Hawthorne. I saw the video of shop owners supporting the bike lanes, and decided to take my boots to George’s to get repaired. I rode them up there on my lunch break on Friday. I took Salmon. I hsd planned to grab lunch on Hawthorne, too, but the sidewalk are too narrow to push a bike down to find a lunch spot, there was hardly any bike parking, and the drivers were pretty aggressive, so I bailed out, went back to Salmon, cut over to Ankeny, and got a sandwich from Slappys.

nic.cota
Subscriber

Having bicycling and other micromobility users have direct access along a corridor is a huge benefit for all involved. Its a no brainer and directly accomplishes Commissioner Hardesty’s goal to have more space in streets for non-auto users.

It saddens me to see alternatives 3a and 3b in the official report display false impacts on equity and transit delays. This should be addressed and updated on the site. Most of the public will see this and trust it point blank. However, Zach Katz did a great job providing clarity to PBOT’s analysis and why it is inaccurate and relates to a single thorn in the design: right-turn lanes at Cesar Chavez and that a mixing-zone was never considered with the bicycle lane users..

Its high-time to have a majority of people see non-auto use as a primary access for our business corridors and commute possibility for these dense areas. (Williams has many faults, but as a visible bikeway on the main business corridor its success is profound in the N Portland mode split). We shouldn’t be set aside a few blocks and tucked into neighborhoods for the convenience of auto-users and otherwise remain unseen.

hamiramani
Subscriber

Without clear vision of the future we are doomed to make the same mistakes of the past. Without changing our infrastructure dramatically we are dooming our future generations to a life of perpetual suffering through catastrophic climate change. The choices are clear: Build protected bike lanes, widen sidewalks, make public transit plentiful and get folks out of cars. This is our moment, let’s not squander it.

Douglas Kelso
Guest
Douglas Kelso

If Hawthorne gets two car lanes plus a center turn lane, I hope the car lanes are striped wide enough to put it in the running for a future streetcar corridor.

I like the protected bike lines. Maybe put bike racks instead of car parking at the intersections to address nate’s point about visibility (I assume the concern is right turns across a row of parked cars?) or maybe put down some concrete planters.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Once again, JM, you are giving your elected transportation commissioner far more “super-powers” than she or any of her predecessors ever had. You would be wise to inquire who within PBOT has final authority over the street design – who must ultimately sign-off on the project before it is restriped, and then focus your campaign on that person or persons.

This is a simple street repavement/resurfacing project. Potholes will be temporarily filled with patches of asphalt, then the old pavement will be ground down about 2 inches or so, the grooved roadway will sit with chalk striping for a few days, then a layer of new asphalt will be put in, then the new striping a few days later during mild weather.

And of course it’s the new striping we are discussing.

No new sidewalks, no new bioswales, maybe a fixed ramp here and there, possibly some new pedestrian islands, but nothing particularly major in construction.

Personally, I’d like to see a huge pedestrian plaza with the street open only from 2 am to 8 am, but otherwise bike and ped only, with marketing kiosks, outdoor cafe seating, and a playground. (But this being Portland, such an idea will soon have homeless camps.)

Roberta
Guest
Roberta

All the parking should be removed. Add one freight delivery parking per block on both sides during the day. At night allow residential parking in freight only spaces. I suggest people visit Hawthorne on Monday early am. Watch all the delivery drivers try to access New Seasons or any other restaurant. It’s a mess for those delivery drivers. Talk directly to the delivery drivers and ask them about what would work. Not the company owners.

That’s how to get resolution between businesses and bikers passing through. And yes, somebody at PBOT needs to stop association safe biking as being a racial equity issues in their policy documents. We aren’t asking everybody to ride a bike. It almost seems like someone inside PBOT is exploiting the dialogue on racial equity to pick a bone with cyclists and their safety.

Chris Warren needs to step up and be a leader, use your access and white privileges. Stop publishing policy documents that pit cyclists as contrary to social equity objectives. We are the solution, not the problem. RESPECT!!

Otherwise I’m a gonna have to block every new tax bill at the state level. Squeeze ODOT with the budgets.

Nils Tillstrom
Guest
Nils Tillstrom

Advocating for this project could also benefit the plight at the Alpenrose Velodrome. I noticed that the alignment goes along the north edge of the property. Has anyone thought about how to tie the two ideas together?

soren
Guest
soren

“Walking is first, then cycling, transit… ”

transit should go first (and transit should be re-imagined and competitively funded so that tncs are no longer a viable alternative).

Phil M
Guest
Phil M

This part of town needs to do a better job helping the homeless community. Any plans of reconfiguring Hawthorne should also include appropriating some lots for camping spaces.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Poor people to middle lower income bike far more than middle to high income bike tourists. Meaning…summer riders. Until portland solves the fact that poor people are moving out and rich people are moving in, bike counts will drop.

Hawthorne is a death trap. Great for cars and not much else. Too bad. It could be cool.and fun…but it’s just an alternative to 84.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

This section of town is so bike rich that it’s almost privilege to be talking about it since there are literally greenways that surround it. Meanwhile, in the rest of town we have terrible lighting, no sidewalks, plenty of bike lanes filled with garbage. Which ones you may ask? Powell, Foster, Division, 122nd, and 162nd. I can’t help to think this is more privileged Portland getting more while the underserved get less to nothing.

ivan
Guest
ivan

Speaking of 11th & Hawthorne, is it really the case that PBOT plans to rehab Hawthorne from the river to 11th/12th and from 50th to 24th (or 20th) but leave the weird narrow-lanes gap along Ladd’s Addition unaddressed? I don’t understand why they’d go to all the work of restriping (at a minimum) but leave a dangerous 8-block gap smack in the middle.

As it is, I have no idea how you’re “supposed” to go from EB on Hawthorne at 12th to the greenway on Salmon. As it’s signed, you have the option of going right, into Ladd’s Addition, and then up Harrison, or…get off your bike and walk north, I guess?

Anyway maybe this is a case of “we’ll get to that section later on” but I don’t know why they’d leave those narrow lanes — which no one likes, drivers, bicyclists or walkers — on such a short stretch unchanged.