Naomi’s Questions II – The Unforeseen

The Unforeseen is a reference to a 2007 documentary I discovered today while trying to come up with title for this blog post, which mainly consists of the sequel to my first email to the city about sidewalk closures. They replied. I had to respond. The word “unforeseen” caught my eye because the length of my response, & the time it took me to write it, was unforeseen. I guess the length is the result of almost six years living in an American suburb without owning a car, plus 2.5 years attending the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meetings. But—& I love coincidences like this—I just watched the documentary. And I’ll tell you: it was the quite a catharsis to writing that email. The film gave me back what I’d spent—that is, it understood why I’d spent it—and offered a sense of community in this effort. I definitely recommend it. The film also informed me more about Austin, Texas than any PR write-up of that city ever could.

My email’s long, but hopefully not daunting; it’s really just a series of items that I finally opted to share with the city, & share in one large communication rather than in segments.

And now I’m sharing it all here on my blog. Since I like analogies: if this response were a housing structure, it would not be a McMansion, nor even a single-family ranch style home. It’d probably be a 4-story multi-family infill unit with no car parking minimums. Plenty of bike parking though!

Oh; I talk a bit about the Active Transportation Prioritization Triangle. That’s this:

Page iii from Beaverton's downtown design depicting triangle prioritizing pedestrians, then cyclists, then public transit with cars last
From Beaverton’s Downtown Design Project ‘Approved Framework’ document, page iii

My email:

Thank you, all. I really appreciate everyone’s effort to make Beaverton a friendlier place to travel actively. I’m also grateful for the approachability of city staff & leaders who’ve visited the Bicycle Advisory Committee to share information & listen to concerns. There is a lot happening very fast, & much of it looks exciting. Of course, there’s also the built environment. So I do have followup questions for the City. The first is again about “alternate paths” at sidewalk closures:

Q: Is there any reason Beaverton could not pursue more progressive standards (see PDF) for protecting active transportation? Standards that leave people to walk lengthy detours around all the car lanes seem acceptable only if the goal is to create a city where people who walk, bike & use transit are put last. I hope that’s not the case in Beaverton. If you’ve ever waited to cross Cedar Hills at either SW Fairfield or Jenkins, you might be aware it’s an inordinately long wait. Support in Chapter 6D of the MUTCD says, “It must be recognized that pedestrians are reluctant to retrace their steps to a prior intersection for a crossing or to add distance or out-of-the-way travel to a destination.” And the standard says, “The needs and control of all road users (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians within the highway, or on private roads open to public travel (see definition in Section 1A.13), including persons with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Title II, Paragraph 35.130) through a TTC zone shall be an essential part of highway construction, utility work, maintenance operations, and the management of traffic incidents.” I’ve encountered definite MUTCD Chapter 6D.01 violations on the Cedar Hills sidewalk previously (work signs in the sidewalk). It’s surprising that a practice of closing the sidewalk & forcing people into long waits at extra crossings, adding more intersection risk to their journey, is not also a violation. Note: I’m not a planner or engineer; I’m just someone who uses the city’s mobility infrastructure without a car.

I also have broader concerns that I’ve decided to share at this time. Thanks in advance for taking the time to read & consider. I was going to apologize for the length & holistic nature of this, but then I thought: well—the city probably doesn’t receive that many emails from people who’ve lived in Beaverton for over five years without owning a car. But it is long, so I’ve tried to organize it into sections with one main request in closing. I’d like to state upfront that I believe mode shift goals should be prominently stated in the TSP; that the Active Transportation Plan should be incorporated into the TSP; & that Transportation Policy is Climate Policy.

Q2: Is a Mode Equity analysis regularly performed to ensure all mode users are being served by TC items & other city plans? Beaverton code 6.02.060A, section 1d, to “accommodate the parking needs of residents and businesses in a safe and equitable fashion” is repeatedly cited on Traffic Commission items. I’d like to be able to access information about how Beaverton residents who can’t afford cars, who depend on bikes & transit, & who live outside city center districts, are being served by items claiming a 1d satisfaction. I know diversity & equity matter to the city because it comes up in citizen committee interviews. Mode choice, & non-car mode dependence, is related, and is often tied to factors like income. Those of us who must, or choose, to use bicycles as transportation, have a right to know how our mobility is being served by city expenditures on added car parking on public street space & at schools, & who benefits (for example: is school parking ever approved at the urging of upper income families able to participate in expensive after-school sports & clubs? Is consideration given to how that decision affects others?). Fear of motor vehicle traffic disrupts some residents from choosing public transit or biking, so people who can, do often decide to drive instead. But people who have no car must still choose walking, buses or bicycles for regular commutes. When one resident has PTSD from weekly near left hooks, while the city gives other residents space on city-maintained streets to store their cars, that’s a transportation equity problem. Please provide balance.

Gaps & choices: Bike lane gaps are broken infrastructure that indicate inequity in funding. It’s inequitable that Cedar Hills still lacks bike facilities the entire length of Cedar Hills Crossing, which has acres of surface parking, yet the $21M six-story car garage is still being financed nearby. To get to the Fanno Creek Trail head at Denney via Lombard or Hall, intimidating bike lane gaps at Allen must be negotiated. Both Allen & Denney remain inaccessible to most people who use bikes as transportation. Vose Elementary has a few feet of bike lane in front of it, but I doubt most kids & grandparents feel it’s safe to bike to the school’s bike lane from their homes (see Active Transportation Plan “level of traffic stress” analysis pg 44). Bike lanes should be a thoroughfare, not a destination—but the city doesn’t need me to say it; this 1997 City document identifies Hall/Watson as a preferred bikeway network. Then, in 2005, this Hwy 217 Value Pricing study recommended that the Hall at Allen bikeway gap be a priority. That was 15 years ago! Lack of money can’t be the problem when we count up all the dollars spent on added car capacity since then. What, then, holds up the provision of our important bicycle infrastructure?

Cost comparisons: A 2015 Lund University study said it’s 6 times(!) more expensive to travel by car than bicycle. Bikeable streets encourage people to mode shift. That means less car congestion—but also less city justification for land intensive, expensive car parking that I’ve seen result in removal of the city’s mature trees (rather than incorporating them into design). Mode shift also gives taxpayers relief from road maintenance costs, which is the City’s primary transportation expense according to Moving Beaverton Forward, a 2016 report. Yet Beaverton’s TSP still calls for more road widening & more car lanes. More cars only add expensive road wear, & their use regularly damages city landscaping & utilities, causing power outages and street closures that often cost businesses money. A 2017 crash into a TV Hwy power pole affected a business I worked for. Not only did the power go out, shutting down computers that were supposed to remain on, but clients canceled that day because—true story—they couldn’t figure out how to open their garage doors with no electricity. The city and police department should provide quarterly reports calculating car crash emergency response, road closure & repair costs, as well as estimated business losses. Reports should be sure to state who is paying those costs (consumers? taxpayers?), so that business owners can compare actual mode expenses rather than just wildly assume that replacing car facilities with bicycle & transit accessibility won’t increase their net income. If there are already such quarterly reports, can you please let me know? Thanks.

Q3: Bike parking & clarification of Beaverton City Code 6.02.430 A: this code says it’s “unlawful to leave a bicycle on public or private property without the consent of the person in charge or the owner thereof.” How is someone who uses a bicycle as transportation to know if they have consent to park & do business at a place that has no bicycle parking? Short-term parking for active modes near a primary entrance implies consent. But the city requires bike parking based on square footage. Some small establishments have never been required to add any—while motor vehicle parking requirements are often based on seat capacity or maximum occupancy. For auditoria or meeting facilities, the city’s bike parking requirement is one space per 10,000 sq. ft, while the motor vehicle parking is by people (including employees, I presume). For eating & drinking establishments, which people often enjoy biking to, one staple rack per 4,000 sq. ft. of floor area doesn’t make any sense. In 2015, the largest Chick-fil-a was just 5000 sq ft. For fast food restaurants that size, the city currently requires 40 car spaces for every staple rack—& sometimes no staple rack at all! That allows for no more than a 2.5% bike mode share. If older developments or establishments under the square foot requirement don’t have to add bike parking, Beaverton’s actually in a bicycle parking deficit, capping bike mode share at maybe 1.5%. Not that any US city is a true model, but one planner told me that most modern US cities require at least one bike space per every 10 car spaces.

Bicycle parking requirements table showing the numbers I just wrote.
One of the bicycle parking requirements tables from Beaverton Development Code chapter 60.30. Bike to church? Don’t count on bike parking!

Bike parking should be based on the percent of population the city would like to encourage to bike commute—that is, it should be based on people, including visitors to the city. Plentiful bike, cargo bike (which seat children) & scooter parking, at shops, eateries & event centers would attract visitors to bike or scoot in from Hillsboro, MAX+bike from Portland, or bike from Tigard via Fanno Creek Trail. Clearly, Beaverton needs to increase, strengthen & enforce its bike parking requirements. I agree with Kittelson & Associates’ recommendation that the city subsidize bike parking installation &/or provide technical assistance to retrofit existing buildings (pg 33). I spoke with an employee at Ringo’s who said they were hoping for help from the city to add bike parking. Citywide, we have nowhere near enough to promote an 11.1% bicycle mode share, which is the target stated in Beaverton’s new Active Transportation Plan. Frankly, it should be closer to Portland’s 25%, considering nearly half of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. One city even moved its goal of achieving 2/3 of all trips by walking, biking & transit up to 2030 from 2040. They’re already at half of all trips!

Back to Beaverton, at the June Traffic Commission meeting, TC 792 had a hearing. A commissioner said TC 792 doesn’t create new car parking, but in fact it is new car parking, because it’s on brand new car infrastructure as of March: SW Thayer Lane. It’s great that the new development’s stated goal is to encourage carfree households! Bike parking inside the building is excellent. But if people who live three miles away, like myself, bike to the Round, we can’t use those tenants’ indoor bike parking any more than they could park their car in a stranger’s garage. All residents, including those of us without cars, should be given equal opportunity to visit the new district, enjoy the public space, & spend money in it. That’s why it’s surprising that TC 792 paperwork does not suggest adding short & medium-term bike parking at the Round as a solution for people driving to MAX & leaving cars there. That the city does not require short-term bicycle parking at a Park & Ride, & only five long-term bike staples per light rail station, is quite an oversight. Many people will bike a mile—or several—to get to MAX stops, even if they do own a car, if they can count on bicycle facilities being there. A stated purpose of the 2-hour limits for on-street parking is for business & commerce, therefore short term bike parking & safe routes should also be provided on the new city-maintained public streets. Incidentally, it’s surprising that Beaverton Code 6.02.060A 1a, 1b, 1c, 1e & 1g (I don’t know about 1h) were not seen as “applicable” to TC 792, as they help speak to 1d (safety & equitability).

About limits on “free” car parking; while limits are useful, the frequent moving of cars in & out of on-street parking, including at personal taxi loading zones, disrupts mobility by creating conflict, obstacles & general traffic stress. Unfortunately, much of Beaverton’s existing bike facilities (like on Millikan near the food carts) is in a dangerous door zone. Claims that cities can “parking protect” bike lanes or use parking to “calm” traffic often don’t work out in practice, in part because SUVs & pickups taller than humans create visibility problems. If Beaverton continues to fund car infrastructure preferentially, of course people who can will continue to choose to drive. How many people who would bike choose to drive instead out of fear of all the car traffic made by other people choosing to drive? Induced driving costs everyone more, and worsens the transportation situation for residents who don’t or can’t use a car. What about them, or I should say, what about us? Mine can’t be the only household without a car in this city.

Qs 4 & 5: Did the city do a Mode Equity analysis for the Arts Center parking garage & for the active mode prioritization districting? If so, was it based on achieving mode share targets specified in the Active Transportation plan, & ensuring that residents citywide can enjoy active transportation? And #5: Why is car parking being financed in a transit rich area—with both a Bus & Ride and MAX—& why doesn’t the city own bus transit improvements in the way it owns building a new car garage?

The city doesn’t expect ODOT to pay for & build car garages in the city, so why does it expect TriMet to build its bus shelters? Imagine a 2-hour transit trip to the doctor’s office while 8 months pregnant—wouldn’t it be nice if the city worked with parks to have a public bathroom at Beaverton Transit Center? Or a small playground for kids to play in while waiting for the bus?

I’m very much in favor of prioritizing active transportation! But applying the active mode priority triangle only to the Art Center district (rather than citywide) seems to write an equity problem right into city code (consider transportation inequity in East Portland vs downtown). Inducing more motor traffic to a district worsens active transportation to that area from homes outside the district, via funding neglect & increased traffic. Beaverton seems to be encouraging people to drive to the burgeoning downtown by financing the parking garage. Meanwhile, I’d love to have some active mode prioritization on the outskirts of Beaverton where I live, more than 3 miles away from the proposed downtown bike loop. Incidentally, I see nothing in the loop’s plan in the Downtown Design Project to indicate bike lane gaps at Allen will be fixed.

There are other deterrents to active transportation that the city should consider. It is unreasonable (& not necessary to transportation) that “souped up,” amplified motors can be heard accelerating from stoplights from inside residences a mile away, disturbing peaceful enjoyment of the outdoors. Some motors are painfully loud for people walking & biking. Something should be done to prioritize safe & peaceful passage on streets, not car storage. At the hearing for TC 791, Beaverton residents asked that parking be restricted, citing lack of traffic predictability & risk to children biking near their homes. Another resident was opposed, saying he can’t park in the alley behind his house because the sound of his vehicle motor disturbs neighbors at night. He said he sometimes has multiple visitors all with cars to park, as well as neighbors who own multiple cars. Testimony around TC 791, & the Commission’s decision to preserve some of the on-street parking, illustrates a city-wide mode design & policy imbalance. It’s unpleasant—even painfully loud—to walk next to car traffic or wait for buses with no shelters. So, people choose to drive, except those who can’t. The city supports & even leads people to drive, by giving residents public space for their cars, while neglecting the conditions faced by those who can’t drive, who must bike or walk to transit.

One urgent deterrent to being outside cars is the dangerous driving of others. Even if this is not a huge percent of all drivers, streets designed for traffic flow (a euphemism for motor vehicle mode prioritization) certainly cause some to do so. Those drivers create a perception of imminent danger. Traffic calming has been an urgent & repeated request from many residents, but June’s Traffic Calming Policy Presentation that I hoped to hear was postponed till August’s Traffic Commission meeting. At one point a Commissioner referred me to the Bicycle Advisory Committee. But clearly, decisions that impact us who use bicycles—as “small” or “minor” as parking items may seem from a car perspective—are being made by the Traffic Commission. The Planning Commission, too, is making active transportation decisions. It approved car parking increases in the Beaverton School District based on 2040 car traffic projections. Projecting private car use 20 years into the future may be how planning’s been done in the US in past decades. But that demands a reactionary, self-fulfilling, circular logic that defies planning for mode shift. Consider how many residents are still waiting to be able to ride a bike to a school like Vose. Building car parking today for people expected to drive to a school in 2040 hurts us still waiting for safe bike facilities TODAY. I hope I’m not alone in questioning the equitability of car parking expansion at schools. The city should put an emergency stop on financing expansion of motor vehicle infrastructure, like those described in the 2019-20 CIP plan, at least as long as our on-street bike facilities remain incomplete. Why in the planet would the city agree to spend $5M to expand the intersection of Murray & Allen, which “may include additional left turn lanes” and right turn lanes, before fixing bike lane gaps waiting to be fixed since 2005 or earlier? That’s the opposite of SOV transportation demand management! It was on Murray at Allen where a woman hit a person on a bike, then crashed into McMenamins back in 2017; can we finish out the other bike lanes first, and focus on mode shift rather than adding car capacity, please? The City could write emergency funding permissions to narrow car lanes for room to stripe bike lanes, fix bike lane gaps & add bus shelters. It’d be very wise to plan for one or two transit cooling stations as well, say by 2030. That’s infrastructure we need to allow more people to voluntarily lower carbon footprints. There are other 2030 expectations out there. One 2018 report said 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030 & 21 Indian cities will have run out of groundwater by next year.

I’d think every city’s being called on to help. Hillsboro is making it more inviting for people who don’t own a car, by making protected bike lanes standard in its TSP. They also installed at least 30 bike staple racks in a small area of its downtown (that’s short-term bike parking for 60, which, coincidentally, is 11% of a 550 seat arts center). Tigard is attracting active commuters through similar investments, like a bike repair stand on Main Street. I often wonder, is Beaverton a drive-thru city for ODOT &/or the county to expand roads in as they wish, or is it our home? What is Beaverton doing to support households wanting to lower personal transportation emissions?

I see the city recognizes a need for Transportation Demand Management, or TDM (though it should specify mode type: Motor Vehicle TDM). The Future Needs report, which summarizes traffic forecast methodology & assumptions, lists various TDM strategies. But for the Bicycle Program on page 4-17, it only mentions workplace support (which absolutely should include things like pannier lockers at work). But as a person who uses a bicycle as transportation, may I offer this guidance: the most urgent strategy to increasing bicycle mode share is to fix bike lane gaps & add missing bike infrastructure where there is none. Yet the report claims, “Fully completing the pedestrian system and bicycle system by filling all identified gaps is not considered reasonably likely to be funded through 2035 given the total cost of transportation improvements needed to address identified needs.” How is funding car infrastructure over active modes acceptable, equitable, or responsible, considering our future needs?

An overarching reason I’ve taken the time to write all this is climate: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released on Black Friday last year, discusses transportation in Chapter 12. It says, “In 2016, the transportation sector became the top contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.” It poses this conundrum: “Transportation is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but it also contributes significantly to the causes of climate change.” In Juliana v. United States, children are suing to say unequivocally that climate future is a human right. One of the adults helping those youth, a Nobel Prize winning economist, identified that “government investments and policies that promote emission producing methods of transportation” are an indirect but explicit subsidy perpetuating continued reliance on fossil fuel, imposing costs on youth plaintiffs (PDF). On June 5th CityLab reported, “the city of Churu in Northern India saw mid-day temperatures rise above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, triggering government warnings to avoid drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol.” Beaverton city government can help us residents fight climate change, or force us to add to it with car prioritized streets (40% of Oregon’s carbon emissions come from transportation, & after freight, single occupancy vehicles are the fast growing factor per 2018 testimony from Richard Whitman, DEQ Director). Along with prioritizing active transportation and public transit citywide, it’d be judicious for Beaverton to halt fossil fuel expansions like Hwy 217’s so-called “auxiliary lanes,” and tell ODOT no! no thanks; ODOT hasn’t helped out much with making Canyon a multimodal, nice city Main street. Widening Hwy 217 will only make Canyon worse! Press: Tiger Grant 2015; Canyon Road jinx

On June 11th, Good Company, LLC gave a climate action presentation to the city. As a person without a car, I found it very odd that the company would mention—almost as if someone had asked them specifically about it—that for one of their other projects, they found bicycle mobile repair stations to be a “most expensive” way to reduce carbon footprints. It’s important to ask what assumptions were used to calculate that. What were the project specifics? Was debunked ODOT climate data used? EPA GHG reporting requirements do not even require emissions reporting on all passenger pickups. Or was the expense in that particular project due to lack of a complete bicycle network in that city, which would need to be built for investments to pay off? I do appreciate Mr. Proudfoot saying bike repair stations are wanted & needed infrastructure. It’s a safety issue for people who, without such repair facilities, might be stranded with a flat miles from home. We’ve got to make it safer & easier for people to use active transportation.

In this 26 minute podcast, researcher & teacher Charles Brown discusses the type of (non-traditional) education needed to ensure transportation justice. He said he finds it disrespectful to call a place walkable or bikeable (or “cool”?) as long as some of the residents—he’s speaking of people of color—remain afraid to leave their house. He says, “there is no sustainable, healthy community if the least of us cannot navigate that space.” I do navigate Beaverton by bike & on foot, but it’s stressful. Just last week, on the way to mail my dad’s Father’s Day card, a woman ran her left turn light on Lombard (a city facility) & nearly hit me in the Canyon Rd crosswalk (ODOT facility). “Sorry,” she yelled from her window when I shouted. Can you imagine what kind of Father’s Day that would’ve been? That is not how I expect my city’s infrastructure to treat families, yet it does. Are the lights even properly synced at that intersection? It happens a lot in that spot: the walk signal comes on, yet people in cars keep turning left.

Immediate action I hope this city will take for planning & traffic items: Please ensure that Mode Equity analyses are being done that include consideration of active transportation modes, as used by people who can’t drive, cannot afford cars, or wish to lower their carbon footprints by not driving; & that consider the impacts of motorized transportation on active modes from a position of knowing how it feels (i.e., not just what a computer model indicates).

To keep a pulse on how current biking conditions feel for commuters, perhaps monthly bicycle rides could be attended year-round by the mayor, city council, planning staff, and at least one member from each citizen commission, plus all Traffic Commission & BAC members? If you need someone to initiate or lead a ride, please let me know & I’ll make time.

Here’s the first loop I’d suggest: From City Hall –> left on Millikan –> right on Watson (continues as Hall) –> left on Denney to Fanno Creek Trail, then turn around & travel back on Denney along that asphalt walk way –> right on Lombard, continue through the intersections with Farmington & Canyon, then just before the transit center turn left on the Millikan sidewalk path (next to the burrito truck & hotel) to arrive back at City Hall via Millikan. Maybe similar trips could be explored on walks to transit. These types of “pulse-taking” rides & walks would help inform the city how it’s doing with achieving Goal 6.2.4, page VI-8, reducing single occupant vehicle trips (PDF), a goal that I, for one, eagerly support.

Thanks so much for everyone’s time,

Naomi Fast

 

Page 56 of the Downtown design showing "the Loop" from 4th street to Crescent street
From Beaverton’s Downtown Design Project ‘Approved Framework’ document, page 56

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