City proposes $30,000 project to preserve on-street parking next to unused parking lot

City proposes $30,000 project to preserve on-street parking next to unused parking lot

overhead map annotated

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has proposed to narrow a sidewalk by four feet in order to make room both for bike lanes and for some of the free on-street parking spaces that currently serve Katie O’Brien’s bar at NE 28th Avenue and Sandy.
(Graphic: BikePortland)

There’s one section of 28th Avenue’s commercial strip, at the heart of the planned 20s Bikeway, where it’s not possible for bike traffic to divert onto a side street: the one block between Sandy Boulevard and Interstate 84.

The city had initially planned to remove street parking from one side of 28th Avenue here to make way for a buffered or protected bike lane (see graphic above). But that proposal has drawn criticism from Katie O’Brien’s, a bar that has operated at the corner of 28th and Sandy since 1930 without any on-site auto parking of its own.

So in order to keep preserve some free on-street parking for Katie O’Brien’s, the city is now proposing to narrow a 12-foot sidewalk by four feet and keep the new bike lanes to five feet each, which is the city’s minimum acceptable standard for bike lanes. One bike lane would run in the door zone of the on-street car parking.

sidewalk view

The sidewalk that would be narrowed, looking north from Sandy.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The $30,000 curb relocation would be covered as part of the $2.4 million federal grant for the 20s Bikeway, which will be the first on-street bikeway to run the full length of the city from north to south.

The city’s plan would preserve “about six to seven spaces,” project manager Rich Newlands said in an interview last week. That’s a bit more than half of the block’s current parking.

inside obriens

Many of Katie O’Brien’s customers use on-street parking; others arrive by foot or bike from nearby homes and businesses.

Katie O’Brien’s general manager Cynthia Fox said in an interview Monday that an increasing share of the bar’s customers walk over from homes and businesses in the rapidly developing area, but most arrive by car.

“I have a group of older guys, where the youngest one’s like 68, who come here Monday through Friday,” Fox said. “There are about 12 of them. One has gout pretty bad, so he has to park here by the door.”

There’s no street parking on Sandy, so removing parking from 28th would require such customers to walk a block or two, perhaps further. Fox said that may not sound like much but is a burden to many people.

cynthia fox

Katie O’Brien’s general manager, Cynthia Fox.

Fox said she wrote a letter to Mayor Charlie Hales to protest any removal of on-street parking on 28th. Between a hike in the water/sewer bill, a new permit proposal for businesses open after 10 pm and a proposed transportation user fee, Fox said, “it’s a tough city to do business in.”

Business at Katie O’Brien’s has been growing steadily in the last few years, Fox said.

“Five years ago we were saying, ‘What will we do to get people to come here?’” Fox recalled.

After the 2003 transfer (PDF) of Sandy from state to city oversight, the city secured $7.9 million from the state to repave Sandy, widen its sidewalks and add crossing lights and other walking and biking improvements. The work finished in January 2007. In the 2008 recession, Fox said, several car dealerships on the street closed and are now being replaced by retail shops. The resulting foot traffic has brought a steady flow of customers and (thanks also to a change in ownership around the same time, she said) the bar no longer has “a freakout at the end of every month” over making payroll.

A few years ago, Katie O’Brien’s declined two offers to pay for parking space in its neighbors’ lots.

Fox said that Centaur Guitar, two doors east of the bar, offered $100 per parking space per month, which she considers high but not unfair. Across the street, she said, Hollywood Vintage had offered what she remembered only as a “ridiculously high” price to let bar customers park in the fenced lot that sits unused behind its building.

half empty parking lot

The lot behind Hollywood Vintage is currently fenced and unused.

“We didn’t really need it back then,” Fox said of the decision by her boss, the bar’s owner, to turn down both offers of extra parking.

But that was before the city said it was planning to replace the free parking spaces on the street with new bike lanes.

Fox says Katie O’Brien’s is “not anti-bike” — she rides herself and most of her employees commute by bike, she said. She believes the best solution would be to narrow the sidewalk areas and remove the buffers between roadway and sidewalk, where utility poles and patches of grass are today.

Minus the utility relocation, that’s basically the city’s plan. The $30,000 curb relocation comes out to about the same cost as a traffic diverter.

“About 6-7 spaces could be retained on southern half” of the block, project manager Rich Newlands said in an interview. He said the west side of 28th was a better candidate for sidewalk removal because “Hollywood Vintage has nothing facing the street there.”

If Katie O’Brien’s had accepted the parking lot sharing offer from Centaur Guitar a few years ago, it would have been paying $7,200 a year for six parking spaces. Since then, medical marijuana dispensary Collective Awakenings has opened next door and rented all of Centaur’s spare parking spaces.

Newlands said a five-foot bike lane alongside parked cars is “meeting our standard,” but that if the city’s engineer allows an exception to the 11-foot standard lane width, there might be room for a 6-foot bike lane on each side.

Meanwhile, Hollywood Vintage’s 7500-square-foot parking lot remains fenced and empty. Fox said she isn’t sure why, and wishes that Hollywood Vintage owner William Hicks would open it up for parking at least for his own customers, which might open more space on the street.

Hicks, who said he’s paying “thousands of dollars” to rent the empty lot, said Monday that he believes “the city is short thousands and thousands of parking spots” because of new developments coming in without off-street parking, and that “a parking lot that would fit 10 cars is not going to solve that problem.”

“I think it’s a big waste of time to worry about a parking lot,” he said.

Fox said she thought the unused lot could fit 30 cars. My own estimate was about 15.

full empty parking lot

Bicycle Transportation Alliance advocate Carl Larson said the city’s proposal is adequate for biking, with the higher cost falling on the quality of walking.

“There are a lot of compromises on that route, and we have discussed our displeasure at them,” he said. “The 5 or 6 foot bike lane is, you know, okay. Not world-class, but this is not yet a world-class bikeway.”

Incoming Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry said she’s not aware of any city projects in recent history that have prioritized both bike lanes and on-street auto parking over sidewalk space.

Newlands, the city project manager, said the city’s proposal is “not a great tradeoff” and “not anywhere close to final.” But he said the city sees spending $30,000 to preserve free on-street parking next to an unused parking lot as the best available alternative, because it has no way to compel private businesses to make a deal.

“This is not a land-use case,” he said. “We have no ability to directly help.”

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