Sharrows, sparrows and a roadway revolution

Sharrows, sparrows and a roadway revolution

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St. Johns resident Walker Leiser (and his daughter) have
seen their neighborhood transform in part because
of the tree-lined, traffic-calmed street that runs through it.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

What the Bureau of Transportation has done in the past few years to develop a low-stress residential street network has revolutionized Portland neighborhoods. The changes aren’t always noticed, but their impact is beginning to emerge. For relative pennies, PBOT has created a (mostly) connected, family-friendly network of streets that are comfortable to bike on and easy to navigate. It’s still not perfect (never will be), but the maturity of this network is worth noticing. And at the ‘Sharrows to Sparrows’ ride held on April 27th, it was hard to miss.

The ride was led by PBOT’s Greg Raisman (a dedicated advocate as well as a mastermind behind the city’s greenway program) and Mike Houck, a veteran local natural areas advocate who wrote “Wild in the City” and now executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute. The basic premise of the ride was to demonstrate how these neighborhood streets have opened up access, not just to destinations like work, school, and the grocery store — but to Portland’s great parks and natural areas as well.

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Mike Houck.
Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Greg Raisman (white helmet).

The way PBOT looks at these streets is not just as transportation corridors, but as a means to improve quality of life. Or in the words of Raisman, “We need to get a lot more out of our streets than just moving people around.” Indeed, as a PBOT press release announced yesterday, our streets are “the city’s largest public space.”

St. Johns resident Walker Leiser is a living testament to this approach. He lives on N Central Avenue, one of PBOT’s best examples of neighborhood greenways. With his two young daughters in tow, he spoke to the group of riders at one of their first stops. With the street trees, bioswales, curb extensions, speed humps, 20 mph speed limit, crossing improvements, traffic diverters, and other features, Leiser said his street has once again become a neighborhood meeting place. Children wander from porch to porch, people talk to each other. “It’s got a real 1950s feel to it,” he said.

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Walker Leiser.
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Just down the street from Leiser’s house is the most significant piece of neighborhood traffic diversion I’ve seen in Portland for years. A full prohibition of through motor vehicle traffic at Central and N Tyler avenues. At this off-set intersection, PBOT has placed 10 large concrete planters that prohibit people from driving north-south on Central or east-west on Tyler. I was amazed I hadn’t seen or heard about this before; and I was amazed that PBOT was able to get this design through the public process (they often propose great designs like this, only to compromise when neighbors push back)…

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

I think it needs a table and a few chairs.

We then made our way through St. Johns and connected to the Peninsula Crossing Trail (via an awkward, sidewalk-riding-against-traffic maneuver on Lombard)…

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Just north of Lombard, we connected to a newly completed piece of bike path that makes an important connection between neighborhoods. The path between N Westanna Ave and Newell Avenue seems like a small thing, but it has a major impact. It allows the neighborhood greenway to continue along N Houghton Street and connects thousands of people to the Peninsula Crossing Trail and points beyond…

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

As we continued at a pleasant pace, I noticed the participants on the ride had an extraordinary age range. A few looked to be retired, and we had kids as young as nine riding their own bikes. The riding was so relaxed, The Oregonian columnist Steve Duin rode with a notebook and pen in one hand while he interviewed subjects for a story…

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Columnist for The Oregonian, Steve Duin, interviewing Whitney Dorer from Friends of Trees.
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Sharrows to Sparrows ride

At N Portsmouth and Houghton we sampled the civility of a new, and safer, crossing design…

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

The ride included a stop at the Village Market in New Columbia where residents now have access to healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables — some of which are grown in the adjacent neighborhoods. We then made our way north along the under-appreciated paved bike path that runs parallel to Columbia Blvd en route to Smith and Bybee Lakes and then back on the bike path toward Columbia Slough…

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

We stopped on a bridge over the slough. This is where Houck, an experienced bird-watcher, was in his element. He shared a story about the old days, when log workers would refuse to work in the slough because tanneries had dumped so much pollution in the water. Today it’s home to double-crested cormorants, cliff swallows that had make mud nests under the bridge, white crown sparrows, and even the occasional bald eagle.

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Mike Houck sharing info about the slough’s natural history.
Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

We continued pedaling north on the path to the crossing of Portland Road and the (carfree) entrance to Smith and Bybee Lakes…

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

When we arrived at the lakes trail, we walked our bikes (it’s the law) and relished the cool shade of the towering trees. At lookout points, we peered into the water at western pond turtles and had a close encounter with a red-winged blackbird. One day last fall, Houck shared, he counted 450 great egrets in one of the lakes.

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

Sharrows to Sparrows ride

There are two more ‘Sharrows to Sparrows’ rides (details below). I highly recommend them. They’re an excellent way to discover the natural urban wonders of Portland and they’re a reminder of the revolutionary roadways right outside our front doors.

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Saturday, May 11th, Esplanade to Johnson Creek and Oaks Bottom, 9 am to Noon.
The 12-mile ride from the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade to Johnson Creek and return through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. We’ll be looking for Peregrine Falcons that nest on the Marquam Bridge at OSMI and wildlife along the way. Meet Greg and Mike promptly at 9 am on the Eastbank Esplanade at the west end of SE Madison Street (east side of the Willamette River), at the river overlook adjacent to the Portland Fire Station, right under the Hawthorne Bridge.

Saturday, June 1st, Southwest Portland, 9 am to Noon.
An event of the United Nation’s World Environment Week, for which Portland is the North American host city, this 10-mile ride will explore SW Portland’s Gabriel Park, Fanno Creek Greenway, and Nicol Road Marsh. Meet Mike and Greg promptly at 9 am at Gabriel Park Community Center in the SW Corner of the park, 6820 SW 45th Avenue.

For more information contact Greg Raisman at (503) 823-1052 or greg [dot] raisman [at] portlandoregon [dot] gov.

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