Decades in the making, ribbon finally cut for SW Capitol Hwy project

The ribbon is cut! and those are some happy faces. L to R: Metro Councilor Duncan Hwang, City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, neighborhood advocates Chris Lyons and Marianne Fitzgerald, former City Commissioner Steve Novick, PBOT Interm Director Tara Wasiak, former Commissioner Amanda Fritz. (Photos: Lisa Caballero/BikePortland)

It was a perfect day for a ribbon cutting. The crowd was there, the luminaries showed up. The weather cooperated. The newly completed SW Capitol Highway project deserved no less.

But there was more to it than just that. In the midst of the crowd, you couldn’t help but sense the joy and deep satisfaction felt by everyone who touched this project.

And a lot of people touched it, and even gave it a shove: from Marianne Fitzgerald’s 1993 letter to Commissioner Earl Blumenauer, to Blumenauer and Mayor Sam Adam’s initiation of the 1996 and 2011 Capitol Highway plans, to Commissioner Steve Novick’s $3.1 million in project seed money, to neighborhood activist Chris Lyons who resurrected the flailing project in 2015, to (as Amanda Fritz reminded the crowd) area neighborhood associations which wrote hundreds of letters to Governor Brown when it looked like she might withhold crucial financial support.

The previous paragraph should have been a lot longer. This was everybody‘s project.

In remarks at the event yesterday, Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps got to the heart of what made this project a success for the city:

“I want you to know why I am so proud of this project. I’m proud of this project because it is an example of how Portland can do better. We all know that City hall is famous for our siloed form of government … Well that was not true with this project. This project was different, this is an example of how PBOT and BES and Water came together to build a better neighborhood.”

A radiant Marianne Fitzgerald passes Commissioner Steve Novick.

But the day belonged to neighborhood activists Marianne Fitzgerald and Chris Lyons. Fitzgerald’s persistence and determination is legendary; Chris Lyons picked up a languishing project eight years ago and took it across the finish line.

Commissioner Steve Novick exhuberantly handed off center stage to, “The heroine of this project, the straw that stirred the drink, the greatest neighborhood transportation advocate west of the Mississippi, in the 20th- and the 21st-centuries … Marianne Fitzgerald.”

Like every good advocate, Fitzgerald took the floor with an arm full of reports, and a long list of people to thank, including PBOT project manager Steve Szigethy, who “wins the award for the best listener and facilitator that I have worked with over the years.” And she had this advice for future community leaders:

Don’t accept “we’ve tried it before” or “it’s expensive” as an excuse to stop working on improvements we need in our community. We must continue to persist and advocate, with patience and respect, to build a network that will make it safer for everyone to walk and bike and take transit in our community.

PBOT handed out bandanas printed with an Explore SW Portland map.

The city’s contractor, Landis & Landis, also received much praise during the event. They are the ones, along with their subcontractors, who built the bike lanes, multi-use paths, retaining walls, and the four stormwater basins that made this all possible. But as we appreciate what is on the surface, keep in mind that this was also a Water Bureau project, and included a half mile of new water mains and eight new fire hydrants.

As Chris Lyons, chair of the 30-member Capitol Highway Project subcommittee of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association said,

Today, I’m so proud of the results. Because of this project, our kids now safely ride their scooters into the village and use a crosswalk to get to Spring Garden Park, seniors stroll on paved sidewalks, and disabled residents are safely accessing businesses at either end of the project … It took a Village, literally, to make this project happen. We can all make a difference by working together. What do we want to accomplish next?

Check out more of my photos from the event below:

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Marianne Fitzgerald
Marianne Fitzgerald
9 months ago

Thank you, Lisa! We are indeed happy that this very complex street/stormwater project is almost finished. FYI I noted that the “Explore SW Portland” bandana artwork is missing the West Portland Town Center, one of the least bike and pedestrian friendly town centers in Portland. We need to make this area safer for people walking and biking. Our work is not done! I asked PBOT to include West Portland in the same font as Hillsdale and Multnomah Village if they use the artwork in the future.

jayson
jayson
9 months ago

30 years. good job, portland.

David Hampsten
9 months ago
Reply to  jayson

Quality takes time.

Fred
Fred
9 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

You guys nailed it. I laughed my ass off when I read the PBOT release about this “transformative project.” In what other city in the world would they call less than a mile of sidewalk “transformative”? Only in Portland.

And it’s not even that good. Anyone older than eight will think the downhill section is dangerous. I’m just waiting for the first report of serious injury on that section.

dw
dw
9 months ago
Reply to  jayson

I get the sarcasm here but do you really want to live in a city where a strongly-worded letter to a city council member resulted in instant infrastructure changes? If that were the case then the squeaky wheels screeching about a war on cars would get their way and every street in Portland would be a 7-lane stroad. This was a big and complex project with lots of hurdles to clear. Let’s celebrate the win even if it did take my entire lifetime.

jayson
jayson
9 months ago
Reply to  dw

i meant to follow up my snarky comment to say something positive about the project, but it slipped my
mind while my comment waited (not too long, i have a short attention span) for moderation.

i recently moved back to sw portland and use this route on the regular. it is a pretty awesome inprovement over the old.

cct
cct
9 months ago
Reply to  jayson

Hey, 30 years is jackrabbit-fast for Portland! I have a pedestrian improvement in my area that took 100 years to (mostly) happen…

Keith
Keith
9 months ago

Thanks to all who kept after this one for 30 years. I’m a SW resident, but not adjacent. I look forward to taking a stroll or bike ride there soon.

Rob Nob
Rob Nob
9 months ago

That’s the first time I have seen that “Explore SW Portland” map. The connection on Westwood from Capitol Hwy to Terwilliger is absurd. It is a twisting one lane road up hill with possibly the worst pavement I have ever seen. Much better to continue down Capitol Hwy to Terwilliger. They need to trim back vegetation on the bike lane, but it is direct and has good pavement and visibility.

Rob Nob
Rob Nob
9 months ago

For me a bike lane (and bus lane buffer westbound) on a straight road is preferable to sharing a winding single lane road full of cracks and potholes. Seriously, look at Westwood in google street view.

JS
JS
9 months ago
Reply to  Rob Nob

This is such an interesting comment and thread because it shows the challenge of providing infrastructure for a wide variety of experiences and expectations. For the OP Westwood is insufficient, where in my opinion it’s the preferred choice, but for young or inexperienced cyclists, honestly, neither option is really practical.

Westwood is a rough road, this is correct. In my experience, the speed differential between cars and cyclists, and total volume of car traffic, are the top factors in safety. I would much rather ride a one lane uphill road with a bad surface than any nicely paved 2 lane road with a bike lane where the posted speed limit is 30 but people are frequently driving 50. I rarely encounter a car on Westwood, and when I do it’s traveling 15mph, at best.

In this particular case, I think the better way to think about Westwood is that it is a directional connector. I ride westbound on Westwood (towards Hillsdale) rather than continuing on Terwilliger (though much less of a necessity now with the Rose Lane). Towards downtown, I go down Capital and turn left at the light on Terriwilliger.

In study after study, the thing shown to reduce the speed of traffic is discomfort (road furniture, intentionally narrowing lanes, speed bumps, etc). Making roads nice with good visibility just makes people feel like they can drive faster and thus, less good for me. Every time I ride Westwood it reminds me of the wonderful narrow climbs on the Mediterranean coast I’ve had the great fortune of experiencing. Perhaps this nostalgia helps me frame it more positively than for others, but, I hope it never changes.