About 80 seats ready for neighbors and others interested in how Northeast Broadway and Weidler streets are developed were barely enough, and as many as a dozen neighbors were seen standing during presentations made at a charrette held in mid-May. The crowd of just under 100 gathered at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church, 1535 N.E. 17th Avenue, in the Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood.
The Broadway-Weidler Alliance coordinated the charrette, a meeting to involve stakeholders in community design and planning. The alliance describes itself as a group of neighbors who meet monthly to talk about the east-west Broadway-Weidler couplet and how to avoid unintended consequences as the streets are developed to meet changing needs of the half-dozen adjacent neighborhoods.
The first third of the three-hour charrette focused on the Portland Streetcar, developer interests and Metro involvement. Streetcar Executive Director Dan Bower, property owner/developer Jon Carroll and Metro Councilor Sam Chase made presentations. Most questions were deferred to the second part of the meeting where questions were fielded in conversations between attendees and mostly government agency representatives.
Bower’s assertion that he was not going to announce any new service or tax drew chuckles from the audience, and he explained that streetcar service is not something that happens overnight. Currently the 7.5 miles of downtown service carry just over 15,000 weekday rides, with heaviest patronage at midday instead of during early mornings and late afternoon when other transportation modes peak. “Sixty-six percent of sreetcar riders begin their trips at home,” according to Bower, “with most going to school or work.”
Bower said Portland Streetcar expansion plans for Northeast Portland are centered on two lines: Northeast Broadway and Weidler streets between the Broadway Bridge and the Hollywood District, and on Northeast Sandy Boulevard between the Burnside Bridge and Parkrose Transit Center. “In these proposed expansions, the Hollywood District is seen not only as a trip destination, but also as a trip generator,” Bower added.
Carroll, who worked with the city of Portland on the original streetcar line, contributed a real estate developer’s perspective and said his presentation should serve “…to short-stop any idea that streetcar development is something we’re jamming down your throats.” He reflected on the mid-20th century auto manufacturers’ buyout and closure of urban streetcars in major cities nationwide to promote auto sales and Portland’s successful rejuvenation of its core streetcar service. “There was a time when Portland had 200 miles of streetcar lines, and now Portland is a city receiving more than 100 visits from people around the country coming to see how we did it.”
Carroll touted public rail transit as “something adding value to the community” and quoted a Northwest Portland statistic to back up his assertion, “The Pearl District grew from just a couple of firms to nearly 475 businesses, showing how entrepreneurs are willing to invest when public transportation infrastructure has a positive impact on the community,” Carroll said.
Chase, who represents all of North and the part of Northeast Portland west of Northeast 122nd Avenue and north of I-84 and Northeast Halsey Street, said one of Metro’s interests in new development is assisting in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. He said he was very interested in “try-it-first” experiments such as the effort to determine if westbound Northeast Broadway Street would be better served by curtailing traffic to two lanes and expanding pedestrian and bicycle use of the north side of the street. He also advocated a “look-around-and-learn-from-the-mistakes-of-others” planning approach.
According to Chase, Metro, an elected regional government comprised of 25 jurisdictions, manages operations of the Expo Center, Convention Center, downtown arts venues and the Oregon Zoo, and is also tasked with managing growth. “Metro is managing growth, using transportation as a tool,” Chase said, “and we are looking at whether to grow up or out.” He said Metro wants more than keeping people located in the region, it would also like to see the region attract people and companies to invigorate the economy.
After formal presentations and during a short break, tables were moved into the center of the room and chairs ringed around the tables, enabling government and group representatives to interact vis-à-vis with attendees. After the charrette was over, Bower said he thought the group was asking the right questions for where the streetcar is in the process and that he gathered “pretty broad support for the concept.”
Bower said questions about specifics included design, cost and construction impacts on retail. He noted participants are interested in how the streetcar would integrate with Broadway and accommodate other demands like parking, cycling infrastructure and safer crossings, what costs would be in terms of the share for adjacent properties and more clarity on particular impacts on retailers in the past during construction.
“These are normal questions and ones that we will be providing follow up to when the time is right and we have a better sense of what exactly we’re proposing. At this stage I am just interested in hearing from that community as to whether streetcar is part of their long term vision,” Bower added.
Participants were also encouraged to view a 30-foot connection of photos of the Broadway Weidler corridor taken in 2013 to see what improvements have been made in the past three years and to add their suggestions for future improvements.