COVID-19 street closures draw cheers and jeers
The Portland Bureau of Transportation has installed large plastic barrels and signs to restrict motor vehicle traffic on 100 miles of Neighborhood Greenway streets. The Slow Streets/Safe Streets program spearheaded by Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly designated the streets as local-access only. It is intended to reduce the risk to pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders and scooter riders trying to stay 6 feet away from each other during the COVID-19 crisis.
Jonathan Maus, publisher and editor of the well-read BikePortland.org blog, said he appreciates the effort. But he does not believe the project is so far doing enough to encourage much more biking.
"I think the barricades are doing an OK job and are having some positive impacts. But overall I think we need to do much more to really change how people use our streets. We need more signage, stronger diversion, a marketing push from the city, volunteer greeters on the weekends," Maus told the Portland Tribune.
Maus also said he does not believe the program is adequately responding to the economic slowdown caused by the responses to the pandemic.
"Most importantly, we need to bring biking out of the shadows and connect Portlanders directly to our struggling businesses by creating more protected space for biking and walking on main streets like Mississippi, Hawthorne, Division, Alberta, and so on," Maus said.
So far, posted comments on the blog show that readers are both supportive and opposed to the idea. Some readers applauded the new safety measures. Others think the larger number of people are a health threat, arguing that they should instead stay home.
"Drivers kill over 40,000 people in this country every year. Anything we can do to stop cars from driving near people increases safety," read one post.
"People treating the streets like a park is not a good thing, especially if they act like they're the only ones out there," said another.
"My conclusion about what the new signs are doing? Not much. But good try, Portland," read yet another.
The first Portland barrels and signs were installed at the intersection of Northwest 22nd Avenue and Flanders Street on Thursday, May 7. Speaking to reporters, PBOT spokesman John Brady said the first phase of the program would cost $100,000 in existing bureau funds and last "for the foreseeable future." Future phases will create new sidewalks and loading zones in business districts," Brady said.
Late last week, Brady told KGW News that PBOT had received about 300 emails on the program so far, most of them positive. But residents in the Rose City Park neighborhood said they did not receive enough notice of the program. They also thought the bureau was wrong to limit traffic on Northeast 53rd Avenue, a relatively busy street, fearing drivers would simply detour over to quieter nearby streets.
Others cities also have closed off some streets in response to the pandemic, including Denver, Oakland, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.
The project was first announced by Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in late April.
"Commissioner Eudaly and PBOT have been discussing the issue of safe social distancing on streets for over a month at this point — this particular effort has been in the works for the last several weeks," said Eudaly aide Margaux Weeke.
The 100 miles are part of a network of neighborhood greenway streets with lower motor vehicle traffic that previously had been identified by the Portland Bureau of Transportation. The barrels and signs were installed where greenways intersect with busier streets.
The bureau also released an interactive map of the locations in various parts of town.
"The first step of this initiative focuses on neighborhood greenways — PBOT is installing temporary barricades to either close certain streets to all but local traffic or to slow traffic where a full closure is not feasible. The bureau will also install signage to alert drivers to the presence and priority of people walking and biking on the greenways," the bureau said in an online announcement Friday, May 1.
PBOT has released an interactive map of where the streets are designated.
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