Portland’s Neighborhood Greenways Worth Emulating

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Last week we joined our fellow Councilmembers, the Mayor, and several local business leaders on a trip to Portland to learn more about their transportation system.

One of our favorite parts – and not just because we got to ride our bikes – was a tour of Portland’s “Neighborhood Greenways.” Portland has connected specific neighborhood destinations like schools and parks via safe, green, streets that are easy for both walking and biking. These connections are away from major arterials which continue to be preserved for faster modes, such as cars and trucks.

The concept is simple and we learned that implementing the concept is cost effective, too.

First, heavier traffic is routed to arterials; neighborhood traffic and parking remains, but the speed of all traffic on the Neighborhood Greenway is limited to 25 miles per hour. Speed bumps have been added every three blocks or so to discourage speedsters and to remind drivers that bicyclists and pedestrians have priority on the Greenway.

To make the Neighborhood Greenway a through street for bikes, stop signs have been added at most intersections to stop vehicles wanting to cross the Greenway. Clearly marked crossings, large pedestrian and bike islands on busy arterials, and a well signed route keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe along the Greenway itself. To our great surprise, Portland drivers on these busy arterials actually stopped for us on our bicycles!

One Portlander told us “Our goal is to make this road safe enough so that I can let my 8-year-old daughter ride to her school or soccer practice alone.”

In addition to integrating a new traffic system, Portland is focused on making these Greenways visually appealing streetscapes that also improve their air and clean their storm water runoff. The City of Portland has worked with the neighbors and Friends of Trees, a local nonprofit, to provide and plant trees in the parking strips along the Greenways. In addition, Portland’s storm water utility is adding storm water solutions along the Greenway that help handle rainwater and create additional green spots between the street and the walkways.

Finally, we heard how neighborhood parks have been re-activated with consistent pedestrian and bike traffic on the Greenways. Last summer, several weekend events were scheduled in multiple neighborhoods where families could walk or bike between the parks. Neighborhoods organized local music, square dances and even a cupcake potluck (only in Portlandia).

Part of the success of these projects is coordinating efforts and funding opportunities. We can take a page out of Portland’s book where departments including transportation, utilities, parks, nonprofits, community groups and businesses pooled their resources – and the result is clearly better than the sum of its parts.

Seattle has opportunities to create these Neighborhood Greenways. The transportation investments around Children’s Hospital present one option. Wallingford and Beacon Hill neighborhoods are considering others.  Imagine providing local bike routes to schools as we transition back to neighborhood districts. Our goal is to start with at least one Greenway in every neighborhood between your favorite parks or schools. As Portland has shown, the benefits for the community, neighbors and local businesses are vast.

Is there a spot in your neighborhood that could benefit from a Neighborhood Greenway? Please let us know!

Mike O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw