My View: Greenways, not just bikeways
As an urban cyclist with over 40 years standing, I appreciate Portland's efforts to create more bikeways. With the final days of the multi-year Central City 2035 Plan process fast approaching, I want to toss out a big idea for consideration: All proposed downtown bikeways need to become greenways.
From Portland Bureau of Transportation documents:
• City bikeways emphasize the movement of bicycles. Motor vehicle lanes and on-street parking may be removed on city bikeways to provide needed width for separated-in-roadway facilities, where compatible with adjacent land uses, and only after taking into consideration the essential movement of all modes.
• City greenways are a system of distinctive pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly streets and trails, enhanced by lush tree canopy and landscaped stormwater facilities that support active living by expanding transportation and recreational opportunities and making it easier and more attractive to reach destinations across the city.
Portland's downtown streets proposed for bikeways in the Transportation System Plan portion of the Central City 2035 Plan are Southwest 12th Avenue, Southwest Columbia Street and Southwest Jefferson Street. All three streets are currently treeless in large swaths of their routes. The Transportation System Plan also allocates transportation funding, so it is critical to plan implementation. So, I'm asking the council to change the designation to greenway.
Tree-shaded streets make cycling far more pleasant and safer —and more pleasant and safer means more cyclists. Tree-shaded streets also make walking far more possible on the hottest of days. I always try to choose the shadiest streets for both cycling and walking, even without triple-digit temperatures. For many of my downtown neighbors on such hot days, the lack of shade makes those streets an utter deterrent to getting to needed goods and services.
"Walkable City" author Jeff Speck chose "How Downtown Can Help Save America One Step at a Time" as his subtitle. "Get walkability right and so much of the rest will follow," Speck says. If Portland doesn't get it right downtown, it doesn't have it right anywhere.
Well-shaded streets contribute to pedestrian and cyclist health and safety in a great number of ways, because they:
• Slow down cars by necking down the street space with their canopies
• Make biking far more pleasant
• Make walking far more possible
• Provide UV protection
• Reduce ambient temperature in hot weather
• Mitigate the urban heat island effect
• Absorb tailpipe emissions
• Reduce noise pollution
• Reduce light pollution
• Absorb rainwater and hence help our fish and other wildlife
Portland's Urban Forestry Commission recently requested and received City Council permission to establish an inter-bureau/community stakeholder effort to develop a Street Tree Asset Management Strategy. Such a strategy will give trees the status of infrastructure that they deserve — ultimately taking away responsibility for maintaining trees from individual property owners and giving it to Urban Forestry. It should also remove the individual property owners' sole responsibility to plant trees in the street right of way. The intransigence of downtown property owners — especially surface parking lot owners — has been a stumbling block to pedestrian and cyclist health and safety in our downtown for far too long.
The upshot of the Street Tree Asset Management Strategy is that we should be able to place trees along Southwest 12th Avenue, Columbia and Jefferson with (hopefully) or without property owners' cooperation, and then professionally maintain them.