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Posts from the "Portland" Category

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In Portland, Every Day Is Walk and Bike to School Day

In many areas of the country the statistics are bleak — only a small fraction of children bike or walk to school. But Portland has bucked the trend: The number of kids using their feet to get to school is up 25 percent since 2006!

Portland makes it happen through a unique blend of infrastructure, planning, and outreach. They have a growing network of low-traffic neighborhood greenways. By 2015, 80 percent of all Portland residents will be within a half mile of one. Communities also frequently schedule “bike trains” and “walking school buses” to encourage kids and their families to bike or walk to school. One of the more incredible parts of these programs: Fifth grade student volunteers trained by the Portland police help younger students cross the street to get to school in the morning. That’s right, NYC, no crossing guards on corner after corner.

Last month, Streetfilms got to bike to school along with the family of new Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat. We also got to walk with Kristen and Dan Kaufman (of PDXK-TV) and their kids. Although the United States has a long way to go to make walking and biking to school the norm again, get motivated — because if Portland can do it, your city can too.

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Portland’s Multi-Modal Nexus, Featuring the Largest Bike Valet in America

Portland’s South Waterfront is developing into one of the best new walkable urban neighborhoods in America. From one spot, you can grab the Portland Streetcar, ride the Portland Aerial Tram to Oregon Health and Science University, walk across abrand new pedestrian bridge, bike on a protected bikeway, or park your bike at the largest daily valet bike parking facility in the country.

It’s a nexus of multi-modal transportation. And to see it in action from high above on the aerial tram is thing of beauty. Thankfully you don’t need to go there this instant because we made this Streetfilm. We got to talk to Kiel Johnson, the owner of Go By Bike, about the numbers of bikes his valet business parks, the services it offers, and its unique location.

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Portland Adds Nation’s First Bike Counter to Hawthorne Bridge

Good news for mathematicians who love watching throngs of cyclists stream by: Portland, Oregon just became the first U.S. city to install a bicycle counter!

You’ll find the digital “bicycling barometer” on the AM inbound side of the Hawthorne Bridge. It was made possible by the non-profit group Cycle Oregon, which purchased the machine with a $20,000 grant. Lots of extra details are over at Bike Portland, including an in-depth look at how the system works.

Seattle is reportedly just about to install one as well. Which city or location in the U.S. should be next? Where would you put one in New York City?

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Portland Back on Top in Bicycling Magazine’s City Rankings

Minneapolis versus Portland: This is shaping up to be quite a rivalry.

Portland rules in Bicycling Magazine's 2012 bike-friendly city rankings. Photo: Cycloculture

Today, Pacific coast sustainability standard bearer Portland topped Midwestern standout Minneapolis in Bicycling Magazine’s bike-friendly city rankings, bi-annual source of bragging rights or shame, depending on your locale.

The top-two results were a reversal of the 2010 rankings. Bicycling Magazine did not explain what boosted Portland but did mention the city’s stature as the only large city to receive the League of American Bicyclists’ “Platinum-Level” Bike Friendly City Award, as well as its tendency to be the earliest of early adopters when it comes to innovations like bike boxes (Portland had the nation’s first).

Meanwhile, Minneapolis recently snagged national bragging rights with its Bike Score — the new bikeability scoring system that the creators of Walk Score unveiled last week.

Overall, big cities enjoy a growing prominence in Bicycling’s top ten, reflecting a trend in bike-friendly political leadership in America’s major metropolises.

Read more…

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Ray LaHood Gives Go-Ahead to Portland’s Sprawl-Inducing Mega-Bridge

You don’t need to look too hard to find signs that the ground is shifting when it comes to highway construction. Around the country, state DOTs are running out of money. Headlines ask “Are Freeways Doomed?” Overall vehicle miles traveled are down in the Pacific Northwest.

Multiple protests have been held in Portland in opposition to the CRC Bridge project, which Federal Transit Administration officials yesterday praised as "forward-leaning." Photo: Stop the CRC

But many state and regional transportation agencies continue to operate as if it were still the 1980s, when highway budgets were flush, gas was cheap and the destructive impacts of auto-centric planning were less well understood.

It’s especially discouraging to see those old-fashioned attitudes prevailing in greater Portland, which enjoys a reputation as the country’s most progressive transportation city. The fact that the $3-plus billion mega-bridge project known as the Columbia River Crossing remains a regional transportation priority is a testament to the pervasive grip of highway-building interests.

Just yesterday, this “highway boondoggle in disguise” passed another milestone when it was given environmental clearance from U.S. DOT, opening the way for land acquisition and construction. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced yesterday that the project has been granted a “record of decision,” a disappointing endorsement from an administration that has made “livability” a key issue.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff even praised the project as a break from carbon-intensive traditions, saying, “This is the type of forward-leaning project that will greatly benefit the entire region well into the future.”

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The Columbia River Crossing: A Highway Boondoggle in Disguise

Costing at least a cold $3 billion, the CRC project and its ten freeway lanes could bankrupt the Portland region's road budget while undermining its progress on sustainable transportation. Image: Spencer Boomhower

The Columbia River Crossing is a mega-project by any standard. A bridge replacement, a highway widening, and light rail project wrapped into one, the CRC is a proposal to span the distance between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. With a $3.2 billion price tag — by conservative estimates — it would be the largest public works project the region has ever undertaken.

Any project of the CRC’s transformative scope raises a great many questions. For starters, is it worth the investment? Can the region afford it? Will it promote a healthy environment? Will it induce sprawl?

In the five years since project engineers began honing their plan, more and more local observers have become adamant that it fails on all counts. “It’s a disaster of a project, really,” said Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” But while governors are killing worthy transit and rail projects left and right, this fantastically expensive sprawl generator still has a pulse.

The full length of the project is five miles. Image: Columbia River Crossing

Planning efforts alone for the Columbia River Crossing have thus far consumed $110 million. After all that expense and all those meetings, local observers say there’s still little agreement about what form it should take — or whether it should move forward at all.

The project is intended to reduce congestion on Interstate 5 between Portland and suburban Vancouver, which, officials say, backs up for six hours daily. Their plan is to expand the interstate from six to 10 lanes, demolish the existing drawbridge and build a replacement.

But $3+ billion is a lot of money to spend on a five-mile stretch of roadway, particularly when the Portland region is facing a $6 billion road budget shortfall by 2030. And at least one analysis has said the actual fiscal damage could be a lot worse.

Financial questions aside, the project runs contrary to the values of sustainability and walkability on which Portland has built its reputation, says David Osborn of the grassroots opposition group Stop the CRC. According to Osborn, the CRC typifies the kind of single-occupancy-vehicle infrastructure that the region has expressly rejected.

“We’re known for and really value alternative transportation,” Osborn said. “That’s the kind of transportation solutions that our region is looking for — transportation infrastructure that favors small, walkable communities. Building freeways doesn’t create that kind of community.”

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Bragdon: PlaNYC 2.0 Cheaper, Bottom-Up, But May Include Hudson Tunnel

Photo: Randy Rasmussen/Oregonian.

David Bragdon. Photo: Randy Rasmussen/The Oregonian.

City sustainability chief David Bragdon offered some more hints about what to expect from April’s update of PlaNYC this morning. Speaking at a livability conference hosted by NYU’s Rudin Center, Bragdon said that the update would eschew large capital projects and feature a larger role for neighborhoods and individuals. In terms of transportation, Bragdon seemed to suggest that a call for a new Hudson River crossing of some kind would be a part of PlaNYC 2.0.

Much of what Bragdon had to say about the PlaNYC update has already been revealed: That the plan will take on solid waste management, for example, or that the administration wants to allow street hails for livery vehicles.

But he did suggest one idea sure to inspire fierce controversy. “We will be proposing to charge people ten dollars,” said Bragdon, pausing for effect, “if they want to have a hard copy of PlaNYC.”

When Bragdon turned more seriously to transportation policy, he offered an intriguing discussion about New York’s connections to the west. Bragdon pointed out that the number of rail crossings underneath the Hudson River, two, hasn’t changed in a century, though in that time the population of New Jersey has tripled while that of New York City has doubled. “We’re still making do with what we have here,” he said, but “doing nothing has a high cost.”

With that kind of talk, it seems that some sort of post-ARC proposal to add rail capacity underneath the Hudson will be in PlaNYC 2.0. Perhaps the return of the Secaucus 7?

In large part, Bragdon focused on the update’s new approach rather than new policies. With the city grappling with the recession’s fiscal fallout, he said, there won’t be any major new capital commitments in the update. Outlays like the $134 million for public plazas, he said, will be maintained but not likely to be repeated. How that commitment could be squared with the goal of new capacity across the Hudson isn’t clear.

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Portland’s Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways

Transportation planners in Portland, Oregon are taking their famous bicycle boulevards to the next level. By adding more routes and stepping up the traffic calming treatments, the city is not only making these streets more attractive and usable for cyclists, but also for pedestrians, runners, children, and anyone else who gets around under their own power.

These next-generation facilities have been christened “Neighborhood Greenways,” and by 2015, over 80 percent of all Portlanders will live within half a mile of one. The city is counting on these re-engineered streets to reach its goal of increasing bicycle mode share from eight percent to 25 percent by 2030.

Just about anybody who’s biked one of these routes can testify to the safety and peace you experience. You’ll see scores of families and children riding to school with regularity. At any time of day, there’s a constant buzz of activity, and during rush hours you’ll see many more bikes than cars. As Portland Mayor Sam Adams points out, “They’re on a quiet street, where that bike boulevard is prioritized for the bike, not the car.”

On a final fun note, one day Portland may also be able to lay claim to being the birthplace of the “sharrow flower.” What’s that? You’ll just have to take watch this Streetfilm and find out.

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How to Slay a Highway: Notes on the Mt. Hood Freeway and Harbor Drive

I promised in my last post to tell you the triumphant stories of citizens beating back highways, both planned and already built. Here are more stories from the Rail~volution bike tour around Portland’s “lost highways.”

Exhibit A: The Mount Hood Freeway

“There was a period of ignorance, a period of enlightenment and catharsis, and a period of change.”

A drawing of the proposed Mount Hood Freeway. Richard Ross put a red dot where his friend's house still stands, despite plans to pave over it.

A drawing of the proposed Mount Hood Freeway. Former planning chief Richard Ross marked a red dot where his friend's house still stands, despite plans to pave over it.

Longtime local planning official Dick Feeney says Portlanders shouldn’t be too smug about their much-touted bicycle network and strides on transit. After all, he says, “Portland founded the Good Roads movement,” which had its basis in the gas tax. “And the gas tax became this monumental engine to give a private subsidy to the private automobile. It started right here, folks… part of our own destruction started right here.”

The Mount Hood Freeway was almost part of that destruction. Proposed by the Oregon State Highway Department in 1955, the road would have been eight lanes wide and removed one percent of all the private housing stock in the city. An estimated 3,700 children would have had to cross it to get to school.

In the 1960s, the city of Portland set about buying up houses they’d need to demolish to build the freeway – including the home next door to State Rep. Grace Peck, who wanted her neighbor’s house torn down early “to keep hippies from living there,” according to Richard Ross, former head of planning for the Portland suburb of Gresham.

Before long, the freeways became the polarizing issue in Portland, on which every aspiring politician had to take a position, firmly in one camp or another. Unions wanted highway construction to provide jobs. Environmentalists and farmers sided against it. Finally, popular opposition to the project reached the point where the city and county withdrew support, and the project died.

Exhibit B: Harbor Drive

Okay, Portland, you can get a little smug about Harbor Drive.

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Fighting Freeways: War Stories From Portland

Rail~volution is underway in Portland, Oregon, bringing together more than 1,000 city planners, engineers, transit advocates, bike policy experts, and elected officials to strategize about making cities and towns better for transit, walking, and biking.

Monday started with 15 different workshops that took place around the city, including one highlighting Portland’s “Lost Freeways” – the roads that were never built, and one that was actually torn out. These battles happened decades ago, but in many cities, highway fights continue to this day, and in some, teardowns are looking more and more possible. (Take note, readers in New Orleans, St. Louis, Seattle, New York, and New Haven.)

Traveling around on bikes and on foot, two groups visited some notable sites in Portland’s battles against freeways. First, we saw some battlegrounds where the anti-freeway movement lost.

South Park Blocks and I-405

Here's the block of the Goose Hollow neighborhood right next to I-405...

Here's the block of the Goose Hollow neighborhood right next to I-405...

... and here's the highway that paved over two more blocks just like it. Images by Shoshanah Oppenheim.

... and here's the highway that paved over two more blocks just like it. Photos by Shoshanah Oppenheim

In 1943, Portland invited New York’s master freeway planner, Robert Moses, to come to town. After a month of study, he came out with an 86-page document mapping out the “future of Portland”: 14 freeways and a tangle of limited-access parkways to re-make the city. Portland would have become what longtime local transit official Dick Feeney calls “a wonderful place to drive a car through,” where “the neighborhoods would have all vanished.”

Today, one of those highways, I-405, runs right through downtown. Tour guide Sarah Mirk, author of Oregon history comic books (including one about dead highways), took us to a little grassy patchy just across the I-405 overpass from the South Park Blocks, built in the mid-1960s.

This little marooned park over here is an orphan of when they built the I-405 freeway right here. The South Park Blocks are something people love in Portland; it’s a historic part of our city. And when they built I-405 through, they not only tore out two solid blocks of dense housing here in this neighborhood – which was really diverse, low-income housing – they also tore out two blocks of the South Park Blocks. People were really upset about that. And as a concession to people who were really upset about tearing out the park blocks, they said, we’ll do a ‘park-like treatment’ on the overpass coming over here. So you can see the overgrown bramble, and the cement, and the weeds. This is the ‘park-like treatment’ given to the South Park Blocks.

The freeway cut the neighborhood off from their school and library on the other side, becoming a “wall” between the residents and the services they used. Developers put in a bike-ped trail along the freeway as a concession.

That trail – unsigned, virtually unknown and unused – is known informally as the Ho Chi Minh trail. “Not to honor the Vietnamese leader,” says Mirk, “but because it was so dangerous and there were lots of muggings along here at night. There’s zero lighting, the neighbors have put up barbed wire, and it’s out of sight, out of sound. No one can hear you scream over the sound of the freeway.”

In my next post, I’ll get to the good stuff: the freeway plans that never saw the light of day, and one that came tumbling down.