By Don MacGillivray
Our city’s growth is a continuing issue for the many citizens that rely on local public services and infrastructure for daily living. Housing needs the most attention as it should, but transportation is a close second.
Due to Portland’s expected growth over the next fifteen years, the number of households in the Central City is expected to double and employment will increase by fifty percent. The Central City is only three percent of Portland’s land area, but it will absorb thirty percent of the city’s population growth. These statistics demand major changes to the transportation infrastructure in the Central City
Forty percent of the land area of downtown is composed of streets and sidewalks making their expansion difficult, if not impossible. Since automobiles use ninety-five percent of the street area and bicycles and transit use only five percent, it seems reasonable that the more efficient forms of alternative transportation should increase since it is the only way to move people.
By comparison, in Copenhagen bicycle users make sixty-two percent of the inner city trips yet they use only seven percent of the road area.
Six years ago, Portland Bureau of Transportation began planning for the not too distant future. The Central City in Motion (CCIM) report was adopted by resolution before City Council in mid-November. This program plans to create a better city based on a generation of planning that requires a coordinated, far reaching agenda of projects to meet the challenges of Portland’s future growth.
The plans will involve creating thirty miles of low stress bikeways, oe hundred safe street crossings, additional miles of transit investments, and improving traffic flow throughout the Central City for an investment of $72 million over ten years.
To the north, Seattle has experienced even larger growth than Portland and has made numerous changes addressing these difficult issues. They have made significant investments in pedestrian safety, protected bike lanes, and dedicated bus lanes in order to accommodate new ways to get in and out of their central city.
Their work has resulted in a ten percent reduction in drive-alone commuting while the number of jobs increased by 60,000. Seattle’s transit ridership is growing faster than any other city in the country.
Portland hopes to accomplish similar transportation improvements with the Central City in Motion program beginning with eighteen projects planned over the next five years, some of which affect the Central Eastside Industrial District.
SE / NE Grand Ave. will see improvements made to help facilitate the movement of autos, bikes, and transit. There will be new pedestrian crossings at Martin Luther King Blvd. and Grand Ave.; protected bike lanes on 7th Ave. to connect Sullivan’s Crossing to the Tilikum Bridge; and 6th Ave. is a likely location of a section of the future Green Loop, that will include additional pedestrian crossings. The cost is estimated at $8.5 million.
NE and SE 11th and 12th avenues are important arterials for freight and all modes of transportation. The expectation is to redesign the roadways into one wide travel lane to better accommodate large vehicles, a wide bike lane, and an improved series of pedestrian crossings and bus stops. The anticipated cost for this will be approximately. $7.8 million.
Belmont and Morrison streets are the central east/west connections through the Central Eastside, serving all types of transportation. Projects will include better bus access and service with new transit islands, pedestrian crossings, and protected bike lanes to reduce accidents by forty percent.
To do this, the transit lane will become a Business Access and Transit (BAT) lane and all parking on the north side of Belmont from SE 12th to Grand Ave. will be removed. The estimated cost will be $3 million.
Madison, Hawthorne, and Clay are also critical east/west connections serving as feeders to the Hawthorne Bridge. There will be multi-modal improvements to make these streets more efficient. Some of these include transit priority at signals and pedestrian crossing improvements.
Changes in street design will increase the capacity of these streets by forty-six percent. There will be protected bike lanes on portions of Hawthorne and Clay. The parking protected bike lane on the north side of Hawthorne will be dedicated for bus use during rush hours. An all-day BAT lane on SE Madison St. and another BAT lane on Clay from Water to 6th avenues will require the removal of on-street parking. The estimated cost will be $3.8 million.
One of the over-arching transportation plans for the city is the idea of a six mile Green Loop connecting all parts of the Central City. A linear park, it will connect businesses, residents, workers, tourists, and everyone in the heart of the city. On foot, bike or mobility device, people of all ages, abilities and incomes will be able to get to work, go for a jog, shop, eat, rest, or meet friends in the park via the Green Loop.
It is part of a larger vision to connect parkways to greenways serving the majority of Portland neighborhoods. City Greenways will get people into the city center for their activities and take them back home easily and efficiently. The Green Loop will connect nearly a dozen distinct districts, each with its own attractions and unique characteristics.
As plans progress, additional changes and improvements will be incorporated as determined by the joint efforts of the staff and knowledgeable community citizens familiar with the areas involved. As our streets continue to evolve with the increases in population and employment, our existing Central City transportation infrastructure must change by doing more. The Central City in Motion program will ensure that movement in and through the downtown area remains reliable today and into the future.