By Midge Pierce

Prompted by what he calls, “terrifying experiences” bicycling down Hawthorne Blvd., Zach Katz, “a neighbor with a plan,” is pitching community groups on an initiative called Healthier Hawthorne.

The initiative advocates for a protected bike lane, contending it could make the boulevard safer, more sustainable, equitable and vibrant.

“I am flabbergasted at how poorly designed Hawthorne is,” says the four year resident.

He is hopeful a protected bike lane will be part of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) Pave and Paint project’s final plans.

Currently PBOT is evaluating multiple configuration options and continues to hold public feedback meetings to give the community an opportunity to learn about the options, developing an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

If you have visited Hawthorne Blvd. lately, you may have seen Katz’s Healthier Hawthorne posters on utility poles. His project website, healthierhawthorne.com features renderings inspired by bike lanes in Amsterdam and experiences cycling throughout the Netherlands.

Katz envisions reducing car traffic to make it possible to build out more seating and dining areas and plant more trees along the boulevard. He recognizes that opposition will arise, but believes environmental concerns about fuel emissions from autos will prevail. He says the project will benefit the foot traffic frequenting Hawthorne businesses.

During a May SE Uplift virtual land use meeting, Katz’s proposal stirred controversy. He heard support and suggestions from bike enthusiasts along with a sample of the push-back the project may receive.

Amid concerns about economic repercussions for established businesses, spillover into neighborhood streets and adverse impacts on key transit lines, land use representative Sharon Nobbe called for traffic studies to see how the proposed elements and traffic offloads would work. She pointed out that not everyone has the mobility to ride a bicycle.

Katz responded that Hawthorne was also a neighborhood street and that giving everyone “who can ride an attractive alternative” will get people out of cars.

Asked about trade-offs that include loss of bus left turn lanes that are part of PBOT’s current Pave and Paint configuration options, Katz said it is an insufficient reason to avoid including bike lanes.

After the meeting, Nobbe pointed out that Hawthorne is in close proximity to other dedicated bikeways. “In addition to blocking off Greenway streets from vehicular traffic and shoving long buses down Division…do we really need more dedicated paths for bikes?”

Stunned at the mixed reaction to his plan, Katz said he remains optimistic about Healthier Hawthorne because a growing number of business proprietors are younger and not afraid of change.

“They’re not freaking out about losing parking,” he said.

More than 400 neighbors have signed his bike lane petition and 60 businesses (which he later admitted may be unaware of the loss of an estimated 40-50 percent of parking spaces) are on board, according to Katz.

“This (support) is a big deal because it runs counter to the narrative that businesses are opposed to bike lanes.” He cited endorsement of the non-profit bicycle advocacy group, The Street Trust.

At the time of this writing, the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association, dedicated to supporting more than 400 business and property owners for the Hawthorne District, had not responded to the proposal.

Image from Healthier Hawthorne