Climate change has been top of mind a lot for me recently. I used to think that individual consumption choices could help make a change, but recently I’ve adapted more of the mindset that we need to advocate for systemic changes that enable people to lead more sustainable lives and help make sustainable choices the default. Luckily, the city has been pushing for some land use and transportation policies recently that will help achieve more sustainable outcomes.
I’m personally excited about the Residential Infill Project. I will admit that it has flaws, but I think the positives far outweigh the negatives. At a high level, it ends the ban of building 2, 3, and 4 plexes in single family zoned lots. By allowing for the construction of higher density living arrangements, heating will be more efficient (less energy usage!), and transit, walking, and bicycling for daily errands become more viable (less fossil fuel consumption!). Another benefit is that the requirement for off-street parking is removed which will hopefully lead to more tree coverage as there will be fewer driveways and more space for trees. The city’s own analysis also showed that this proposal would decrease displacement in Eliot which is a huge win for the neighborhood.
Another policy proposal the city has recently put forth is the Rose Lane Project. The aim with this proposal is to get busses out of car traffic on the most utilized routes. By helping the bus move more quickly, we’ll be helping move people more quickly and we’ll make taking the bus a more viable alternative to driving for more people. The more people who choose taking the bus over driving leads to less emissions. This project will also benefit Eliot as some of the busses to be prioritized are the 6 on MLK and the 4/44 on Vancouver/Williams.
It’s an exciting time to be involved right now as a lot is changing and there are some projects that make me feel optimistic which can be hard to come by right now. If this kind of thing sounds interesting to you, we’d love for you to come to our Eliot Neighborhood Land Use and Transportation Committee meetings on the second Monday of the month at 7pm at St Philip the Deacon.
On a rainy Saturday in October 1966, Governor Mark Hatfield presided over a ceremony celebrating the completion of Interstate-5 through the state of Oregon. Construction of the Marquam Bridge had just finished, the final piece of a 308 mile stretch of a highway that cost $300 million and would prove its role as the economic artery of the state.
Fifty years later, the burden of I-5 has only grown in importance. In 2010, government officials began planning for a project to address safety issues on the freeway, especially around the intersections of I-5, I-405, and I-84. The confluence of these freeways had become a predictable bottleneck for an expanding population. Tasked with finding a solution, the Oregon Department of Transportation proposed a project to add auxiliary lanes to ramps exiting and entering the highway, reducing collisions for cars trying to make quick lane changes. In 2017, the Oregon legislature budgeted another $300 million to complete the updates.
Since then, the estimated cost of the “Rose Quarter Improvement Project” has ballooned to nearly $800 million, and public opposition has grown apace.
Aaron Brown, founder of No More Freeways, along with a coalition of neighborhood and city organizers, is pushing for the Oregon Transportation Commission to instruct ODOT to perform an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. Since the project got funding three years ago, Brown has been working against it as a labor of love. “This is how I’m choosing to spend my time when we have ten years to solve the climate apocalypse, right? Stopping a massive fossil fuel infrastructure in the backyard of Harriet Tubman middle school. It’s exhausting and pretty demoralizing at times and it’s pretty frustrating to see the ways which this project continues to churn forward.”
ODOT performed an Environmental Assessment (EA) in May 2019, which is required of any project that uses federal funds. “We certainly answered an awful lot of questions that you can see in there”, said Don Hamilton, spokesman for ODOT. “A lot of the cultural issues, air quality, noise issues, a lot of things are in there.” However, Brown and his cohort are asking for even more to be done.
An EIS is a more rigorous evaluation than an EA, and notably requires ODOT to look at a variety of alternatives to the stated plan.
“There are different options that are formally posed, usually five, but not always and one of those options is always the do nothing option,” said Hamilton. The ‘Do Nothing’ option is what opponents of the project are most interested in, but with so many government contracts on the line, it is unlikely.
Still, No More Freeways and other community organizations have made enough noise for government officials to take notice. Governor Kate Brown slowed the process last December when she asked the Oregon Transportation Commission to “table the decision on the environmental review path for a few months.”
An important cohort of voices has been the youth movement against the project from the environmental justice club at Harriet Tubman Middle School to the direct action of Sunrise PDX, the local chapter of a national youth organization focusing on stopping the climate crisis.
The students have stood on the bridge near their school in opposition, stood outside of ODOT offices in the rain, and have spoken many times before a variety of state and local governing bodies to add their opinions to the public record.
Students at Harriet Tubman are already affected by the current amount of traffic that passes dozens of feet from their classroom. The school has a multi-million dollar air filtration system that is tasked with cleaning the fine particulate matter exhausted by thousands of diesel trucks every day. Expanding the capacity of the interstate for even more trucks would spell greater health risks to their students and staff.
Opponents of the project have varying reasons for their objections, with overlapping interests.
For Aaron Brown, ODOT’s safety argument is misguided. He got his start as a transportation advocate as the Board President for Oregon Walks, a pedestrian advocacy organization. “Spent too much time speaking at traffic vigils after traffic fatalities and seeing all these vulnerable people died, because we couldn’t get money for an ODOT crosswalk,” said Brown. Meanwhile, Brown says the section of I-5 in question hasn’t seen a traffic fatality in over a decade.
A large amount of the finances for the project would be used to build caps over the freeway to reconnect parts of the community that were bisected by the original I-5 construction, which is a critical component of the design for the Albina Vision Trust, a community partner in the project. Don Hamilton admits this project will not repair the scars from the devastation in the last half-century but said the caps, “will help improve connections and rebuild and reconnect the two sides of I-5…” Hamilton paused, “…to a certain extent. We can’t fix the damage that was done in the past but we can help improve conditions and circumstances.” ODOT also plans to address this impact by contracting with minority-owned businesses.
However, the current plans for the highway caps would be unable to support the affordable housing and other large structures included in Albina Vision’s idea for the future of our neighborhood. Rukaiyah Adams, chair of Albina Vision, wrote to Governor Kate Brown, “The ground is special. It is a place where the racial inequity of urban renewal came, then came again, and again. Promises were made and broken. Black people and immigrants were displaced. Wealth was taken. The construction of I-5 was central to this unjust history and any future investment in the area should strive to repair the damage done.”
The criticisms of the project point in different directions, but all seem to overlap. Harriet Tubman students are not only concerned about air quality, but as a school where 60% of the students are non-white, the effect on their lungs is also a racial justice issue. One concern rolls into the other and together the project has little support in the neighborhood. Still, it continues on.
The ‘Rose Quarter Improvement Project’ is based in our backyard, but businesses from around the state have connections to the economic artery of our state and the west coast. They stand to benefit from their products moving via freight through our neighborhood efficiently. These large economic interests have made themselves clear to state legislators that approved funding for this project in 2017.
The future is unknown. With elections approaching for Mayor, City Council and Metro positions, the partnership ODOT needs from other government agencies could potentially look very different this time next year. The only thing that seems certain is it is a long road ahead.
Diesel particulates are a problem in the Eliot neighborhood. There are several organizations, both inside and outside of the neighborhood working to change legislation and business practices, including the Eliot Neighborhood Association’s eACT group and Portland Clean Air. While activists are working to limit pollution in the future, we need to reduce the impact of diesel particulates we currently face to the greatest extent possible. Because Portland Public Schools commissioned research into the air quality at Harriet Tubman, we have data on what sort of changes can make a difference in the air we breathe here in Eliot, especially indoors. Harriet Tubman Middle School relies on an $18 million air filtration system. Most Eliot neighbors aren’t in a position to spend millions of dollars on air filtration systems, but there are air filtering options available at a variety of price points.
Adding an additional filter or two to your home can make sense, but there are several factors to consider. Not all air filtration systems are capable of catching diesel particulates. Air filters are graded the MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) scale, which runs from 1 to 20. MERV ratings are based on the size of the particles that can pass through the filter, with a filter with a rating of 1 stopping relatively large particles like pollen or spray paint dust and a filter with a rating of 20 stopping viruses and smoke particles. Filters rated MERV 16 or higher are typically needed to stop diesel particulates. MERV-rated filters may also be HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters. HEPA filters must pass a test on their ability to stop particles the size of bacteria and paint pigments, corresponding roughly to a MERV rating of 16. That’s also about the size of the diesel particulates we’re trying to stop.
If you have an existing HVAC or furnace system with a built-in filter, make sure you replace filters regularly, as well as clean any prefilter system. They’ll help improve air quality, although they may not be entirely effective on diesel particulates. Many residential systems aren’t equipped to use filters with a MERV above 10, though some homeowners choose to use filters with higher MERV ratings with minimal issues.
Consider adding a portable air filter to your space. The most effective air filters, like the Coway AP1512HH Mighty and the Austin Air HealthMate HM400, range from $125 to $600. There are options at every price point, however: you can even build your own air filter with a box fan and two replacement filters. Popular Mechanics provides a tutorial at https://bit.ly/2Ldtmt1.
Limiting time spent outdoors can be helpful, especially for folks closer to the interstate. For those with health concerns, using a respirator mask (look for an N95 or a P2 rating) will limit exposure to diesel particulates while outside. Increasing the greenery within Eliot is one of the most effective options we have. In the PSU study on Harriet Tubman’s air quality, researchers recommended increasing vegetation around the school by 50 percent. (The full report is available as a PDF at https://bit.ly/2Y6gBG8.) A similar increase throughout the neighborhood could help reduce diesel particulates somewhat.
Plants can help mitigate pollution in the air, without the replacement costs that go along with filters. Trees are particularly helpful — and organizations like Friends of Trees make the process of planting trees simple. Certain plants are especially effective at filtering air indoors: during a NASA study on which plants filtered air most effectively, these plants removed the most particulates from the air.
Good news! Eliot residents have a new way to approach local adventures. Earlier this year, TriMet extended Bus Line 24 – Fremont to run between the East Side and North West Thurman Street. The 24- Fremont’s new route makes it the first TriMet bus route to cross the Fremont Bridge since the bridge opened in 1973. With the route extension, the Fremont bridge shuttles residents quickly across the river connecting them to nature, shops, restaurants, and Max lines.
Leaving from North Vancouver Avenue, bus riders can find themselves on the West Side of the river in just two stops. If you are looking to take advantage of Portland’s commitment to nature, a quick ride on the 24 Bus will land you within hiking distance of Lower Macleay Park or Leif Erikson Trail. If you instead would like to try one of our city’s other Spanish restaurants, Atuala, or a French Bakery, St. Honoré, you could also take Line 24. Finally, Line 24 provides access to additional services by connecting Legacy Health System’s Emanuel and Good Samaritan hospitals and the North West branch of the Multnomah County Library on NW Thurman Ave.
The 24 line extension provides an easy way to reduce car trips and support bus infrastructure. The next time you’d like to explore beyond Eliot’s boundaries, just jump on the 24 Bus for fast, inexpensive access to a different part of Portland. Line 24 runs every day of the week, from as early as 6:00 am to after 9:00 pm. You can check out the route and schedule at trimet.org.
It’s evening in Portland’s South Waterfront District, and Annie Rudwick is getting her kids loaded for the trip home from work and daycare. Many parents would see this as a job for something like a minivan. But Rudwick is helping her daughters – aged 1, 3 and 5 – onto the back of her electric-assist cargo bike. The e-boost gives her the power to easily carry a hundred pounds of kid. And because of Portland’s rush-hour congestion, she says her four mile trip each way is often quicker by bike.
“I didn’t want to have to bike and take a shower. I wanted something I could just commute in and get to work,” said Rudwick, the associate dean for finance and administration at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Dentistry. “The electric bike allows me to not have to exercise as much,” she added. “It really is just a mode oftransportation.”
Rudwick’s 12-foot-long bike-and-trailer combination is not the only vehicle that turns heads in the bike lanes. She’s part of a new trend that transportation experts are calling micromobility. It’s the idea that new technology – including smartphones and more efficient batteries – is sparking a big jump in small, nimble vehicles suited for increasingly crowded city streets.
“We’re seeing a lot more users in bike lanes – bicycles, electric scooters, electric bikes. I see people on kind of skateboard sort of conveyances,” said Jillian Detweiler, executive director of The Street Trust, formerly known as the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.
Most notable are those rental scooters that have been sprouting up in cities around the world. About 2,600 are now on the streets of Portland.
“I think people are just looking for different ways to get around,” said Chris Warner, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. He added that the popularity of the scooters show that riders are finding them a fun and affordable way to make short trips. Those scooters themselves are evolving. Since June, two scooter companies have offered vehicles with seats and larger wheels. Warner said he tried one out and liked it. “You know, I found the seated one a little steadier,” he said, noting that it could attract riders who find the standing scooters intimidating.
A recent report from Deloitte, the international consulting firm, said the rapid growth of the scooter industry – at a pace faster than the early years of ride-hailing companies like Uber – has boosted business interest in micromobility. These vehicles “have the potential to better connect people with public transit, reduce reliance on private cars, and make the most of existing space by ‘right-sizing’ the vehicle, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the Deloitte reportsaid.
Nobody’s quite sure how far all this will go. For example, China is pumping out hundreds of thousands of low-speed electric cars that are typically about the size of golf carts. The Street Trust’s Detweiler said something like that could someday end up in Portland. “What we want to promote is using the right mode for the trip that you’re trying to take,” she said. Her trip to work, Detweiler added, is something she could readily make by bicycle. But maybe the “trip to the grocery store where I’m trying to get the 20% discount on a case of wine could be made a little two-seater electric car with a small cargo space in back.”
Sam Schwartz, a former New York City transportation commissioner, has long argued for reducing the use of single occupancy autos in dense cities. In his new book, “No One at the Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future,” Schwartz argues that the advent of autonomous vehicles could be either a boon or a bane for micromobility.
“Something’s got to give,” Schwartz said in a recent telephone interview. “You can’t have so many modes that move at different speeds.” Schwartz said he wants to see self-driving vehicles regulated, in order to spur the use of transit and low-speed autonomous vehicles in cities. What he doesn’t want to see are large, single-occupant autonomous vehicles that wind up pushing other users off the street. That’s something that could happen, he said, predicting that the tech-heavy automakers of the future “will be the most powerful industry on earth.”
Of course, there’s plenty to argue about besides the future of robot cars. Today, the proliferation of scooters is riling plenty of people who complain that riders are too apt to use them on sidewalks – or to park them in ways that interfere with pedestrians or cars. Cyclists using their own energy to pedal are also having to contend with a lot of vehicles in bike lanes that move in different ways and speeds.
Joe Kurmaskie, a longtime writer on bikes in Portland and executive director of the Washington County Bicycle Transportation Coalition, started to say that the increasing diversity in the bike lanes has its good and bad points. “Well, bad is maybe not the right word,” he quickly added. “[It’s] more learning to share the limited space we’re given as cyclists.”
Warner, the Portland transportation director, said Portland still has a lot of capacity in its bike lanes and is well-positioned to be on the front lines of micromobility. The city has nearly 400 miles of bike routes and may expand its bike-share network next year to include electric bikes. That could attract potential riders who want the ease of e-bikes but don’t want to shell out the $1,500 to $4,000 cost of one. “We’re really open and hoping to encourage innovation and finding ways to get people around safely and sustainably,” Warner said.
Rudwick, who uses the electronic-assist cargo bike, said her daily commute gives her a glimpse of a city built around micromobility. “For me,” she said, “the system is so great.” Almost her entire ride is either in bike lanes or off-street paths. She gets free valet parking at the base of the tram up to OHSU, which means she doesn’t even have to lock her bike. In addition, OHSU gives Rudwick a $1.50-aday subsidy for cycling to work. More importantly, she avoids car parking fees that run at least $13 a day.
“You can buy a lot of e-bike with the cost savings there,” said her husband, Allan Rudwick, who has long been avid about the potential of electric bikes. “I’m really excited to see where this goes,” he said of the emerging micromobility revolution.
Annie Rudwick said she now finds that the days when she has to drive to work are the most hassle. But she conceded that her daughters sometime complain about cycling in the rain.
Environmental Services has completed replacing or repairing approximately 10,000 feet of public sewer pipes in the southern part of the Eliot Neighborhood. These pipes were deteriorating due to age or were undersized for the sewer and stormwater flows in this area.
The project also constructed eight green street planters on public streets in key locations. These green street planters will divert 1.9 million gallons of stormwater annually from the sewer system, helping reduce the possibility of overflows into the river, basement backups, and street flooding during periods of heavy rain.
These improvements will help protect public health, property and our environment by reducing the possibility of sewage releases into streets, homes and businesses.
This was a major sewer and stormwater management project and we thank you for your cooperation and patience during construction. To learn more about the project visit http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/Eliot. If you have any questions or comments about the project you may also contact Matt Gough, Community Outreach for City of Portland Environmental Services at (503) 823-5352 or Matthew.Gough@portlandoregon.gov.
In July or early August of this year, Environmental Services will complete a project to replace or repair approximately 10,000 feet of public sewer pipes in the southern part of the Eliot Neighborhood. These pipes are deteriorating due to age or are undersized for the sewer and stormwater flows in this area. The oldest pipe being replaced is 115 years old.
The project also includes constructing eight green street planters on public streets in key locations. These green street planters will divert 1.9 million gallons of stormwater annually from the sewer system, helping reduce the possibility of overflows into the river, basement backups, and street flooding during periods of heavy rains.
These improvements will help protect public health, property and our environment by reducing the possibility of sewage releases into streets, homes and businesses.
To accommodate public sewer construction North Vancouver Avenue between Russell and Hancock streets, the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services will continue to detour traffic away from the construction zone Monday through Friday from 9:15 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Travelers trying to reach a home or business in the closed area are allowed to drive past closure points, but should expect delays. The detour is expected to continue through May 2019.
The City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services has nearly completed upsizing and repairing sewer pipe on Rodney Avenue between Sacramento and San Rafael streets, and on Sacramento, Thompson, Tillamook, and San Rafael streets between Rodney Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In January, February, and March crews will focus on mainline sewer construction east of Martin Luther King Boulevard between Brazee and Thompson Streets. Night work will be required to connect the new sewer to manholes in Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. To view the most current map that shows where crews will be working, go to http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/eliot.
Being a senior citizen leads me to avoid risky behavior. I was never a skateboarder and my few attempts at rollerblading ended in scrapes and torn trousers. The idea of balancing on a narrow, two-wheeled platform that moved seemed insane. However, the recent favorable report about Portland’s scooter trial forced me to accept a neighbor’s invitation to test drive one. Like many residents, I begrudge riders on sidewalks, scooters blocking sidewalks, and worse, blocking curb cuts for strollers and wheelchairs. However, the report indicated users surveyed believe these could address the “last mile” problem keeping more city residents from using mass transit or their personal vehicle. So, time to put myself at risk to determine the truth for myself.
The Land Use and Transportation Committee is looking for more neighbors to join our group. Anyone who works or lives in the neighborhood is welcome to join. Whether you’ve been in the neighborhood for a week or thirty years, regardless of if you’re an urban planner or are just curious to know about upcoming projects in the neighborhood, we’d love to have you join. The time commitment is fairly light with only one two-hour meeting a month.
The Land Use and Transportation Committee or LUTC is a group that participates in neighborhood review of land use, zoning, building and transportation regulation and planning. What that essentially boils down to is when a new project or policy is proposed that will affect the neighborhood, the group proposing the change with come to LUTC and ask for our input or feedback. LUTC then voices our opinions on what can lead to the proposed project having the largest positive impact on the neighborhood.
If this sounds interesting we’d love to have you. If you’re worried that you don’t have the right “background,” don’t let that stop you from joining. We’d be happy to train you and get you up to speed on things so that you can be a contributing member.
So if you’re interested in helping shape the direction our neighborhood and city grow, please consider joining. Our meetings are open to everyone, so if you’re interested in checking them out to see if you want to get involved, they’re the second Monday of the month at 7pm at 120 NE Knott. The next meeting is Monday, March 11.