Moving Portland's central city forward
Portland's rapid growth over the last several years has generated plenty of positive energy within the business community — especially in the central city.
New residents and new companies are supporting thousands of new jobs and attracting investment from across world. No longer are we flying under the radar. In 2017, Forbes identified Portland as the best place for businesses and careers. However, if you ever travel downtown, you know that growth comes with growing pains. More people driving more cars has meant more traffic and more traffic jams. As we've grown, we haven't kept pace with upgrades to our transportation infrastructure. The reality is that we can't add more streets to the central city. Instead, we've got to make the streets we have work better.
Cities across the continent — including Seattle, Denver, Toronto, and Austin — are moving quickly to modernize their transportation systems. To retain our reputation as a center for creativity and innovation, we'll need to invest in cost-effective infrastructure that improves people's ability to move safely and efficiently through the city. To get to work on time, we'll need transit priority lanes, where buses can pick up passengers out of traffic and stay on schedule.
To ensure our retail corridors are inviting and safe, we'll need more pedestrian pathways, including well-marked crosswalks. To give people options and avoid traffic gridlock, we'll need more protected lanes that make it safer and more comfortable to ride a bike or a scooter.
To prepare for the implementation of these upgrades, the City of Portland has assembled Central City in Motion, a game plan that includes details and prioritization for specific infrastructure projects. After two years of planning and outreach, Central City in Motion is slated to be discussed by city council on Nov. 14th.
As with any changes to the way our city works, the devil is in the details. In my conversations with Business for a Better Portland members, it's clear that they have varied and strong opinions about the future of our streets. Some businesses are focused on ensuring delivery trucks can load easily and avoid conflicts with people driving cars or riding bikes. Retailers want customers to have easy access to their stores. Service sector businesses like hotels and restaurants need their employees to have access to transit service that is consistently on time. Large employers benefit from infrastructure that allows people to walk, bike, or scoot safely and easily to work. Balancing these priorities while accommodating the needs of the full range of people who travel around the central city is difficult, but worth pursuing.
Since launching Central City in Motion two years ago, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has gathered feedback by convening stakeholder groups, conducting online open houses, and responding to concerns and ideas from individual businesses. These efforts are an improvement over past outreach efforts, and they mark the beginning of the conversation rather than a conclusion. Our members want a constructive, collaborative relationship with PBOT as Central City in Motion and neighborhood-based transportation plans take shape across the city. This relationship must be proactive, transparent and data-driven.
While our opinions about individual projects may differ, the need to improve our transportation network is clear. I continue to hear calls from community and business leaders for urgent, meaningful action to reduce the region's impact on climate change. Accounting for about 30 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, pollution from cars and trucks is on the rise after steadily dropping for more than a decade. We know how to move the dial in the other direction and reduce our reliance on single-occupancy vehicles. Safer infrastructure with a greater range of options will help us meet our climate goals while curtailing the long-term costs that climate change is projected to inflict on businesses.
The Central City is projected to triple by 2035, while job growth is expected to increase by 40 percent. We must manage that growth to maintain a vibrant economy that continues to foster innovation and allows us to compete on a global stage. Central City in Motion will help build a transportation network that gives people more and better choices for getting around, improves safety, and eases freight movement. Civic engagement is a messy process, but if we align around shared goals, we can build a stronger city for all of us — whether we're traveling on four wheels, two wheels (sometimes even one wheel) or our own two feet.
Ashley Henry is the Chief Collaboration Officer of Business For A Better
Portland. She can be reached at: