What happens when the 'City that Works' can't get to work?
Portland's Central City is experiencing a record construction boom. This is great news that comes as no surprise to anyone who lives, works or visits our city and it means Portland's global reputation as an attractive place to live and do business continues to expand.
There is good reason to be bullish about Portland's future. Our rapidly changing skyline means there is more room for additional jobs and much needed additional housing supply in order to address affordability issues. While new development means changes we all have to adapt to, it also means opportunity as Portland moves from a second-tier market toward solidifying itself as an alternative preferred location in the Pacific Northwest.
In 2016, Bloomberg cited Oregon's economy as the best performing in the nation, and now a new Development/Redevelopment report by Downtown Clean & Safe shows more active construction projects in the Central City than at any time during the past 15 years. There are 45 office, retail, residential and hotel projects currently under construction right now in the Central City, including in the Central Eastside, Lloyd and lower Burnside districts, with even more on the drawing board.
In addition, this summer, 70 infrastructure expansion and maintenance projects are in the pipeline in the Central City. These include a badly needed upgrade to Pioneer Courthouse Square and scheduled bridge closures for maintenance improvements starting with the Morrison Bridge right now. There are also necessary MAX light rail maintenance projects underway that impact traffic in the Central City.
Such investments will only make Portland's urban core stronger, but there are downsides when multiple construction projects happen at once. Top of that list is increased traffic congestion, and right now Portlanders are being squeezed to a breaking point. As more people and jobs are added to the city, congestion will increase unless there are shifts to other modes of travel. Portland has developed a well-deserved reputation as a multimodal city. With its light rail system, pioneering the return of urban streetcars, extensive network of bikeways and a well-known pedestrian friendly downtown, people far and wide come to learn from Portland's experience.
But a vibrant economy and a high quality of life for all depend on an efficient multimodal transportation that works for all system users; that includes alternative modes of transportation as well as vehicles and freight trucks. It means everyone who uses the system must have a voice in how any proposed changes may — or may not — work for them, their businesses, families and employees. And it means it is imperative for the city to listen to everyone affected, including those who provide good jobs and keep the economy moving through vehicles and freight trucks.
That's why the return of the "Better Naito" project, which has closed one northbound auto lane of Naito Boulevard for a bicycle and pedestrian path, is so puzzling — especially given the significant amount of construction activity and road closures in the central city this year. The traffic impacts are resulting in business delays and reports of complaints from employees.
Bicycling for example, is a great alternative, and one we support, that will work for some. However, it is a less realistic option for many including thousands of people for whom that is not an option because of proximity, health, parenting obligations or a host of other individual circumstances.
When implementing important changes to Portland's transportation system, city leaders must take a more balanced approach and open up public input processes so the needs of individuals are met along with the city's goals to keep Portland economically vibrant.