There’s new construction on Division & 32nd that has the road torn up and down to one lane. The construction gaurd is polite, offers me immediate passage across the street to the bus stop. I’m one of the many lucky souls in Portland that lives within a hundred feet of a bus, light rail, passenger rail or streetcar stop. Today I’m boarding the trusty #4 Route Bus into downtown Portland.
As the construction gaurd flips his sign from stop to slow, the traffic from the western direction, which is where my bus is arriving, starts to trickle through. I stand at the bus stop prepared to board. I check my smart phone to insure that I’ve purchased a day pass. I verify that I have and count the seconds. One car, two car, three car and four. The bus then pulls through and stops gingerly in front of me.
I step aboard to prevent any lingering wait that the cagers surely draw frustration from. The driver is already smiling and greets me with a “it’s really running the gauntlet today”. He refers to Division Street as a whole. From 39th to 10th or so it has been under construction from many months, if not more than a year now.
Division Street Grows Into Something Worthwhile
Four years ago Division Street was nothing but a small two lane arterial that switched into 4 lanes at random places. It is a residential street with front yards and children playing nearby. Now it is under immense pressure to become consistent, to grow in a smarter way than just acting as a naive arterial only for cars.
Division has grown sidewalks for the length of the street from 8th all the way to 82nd. Before there were gaps, dangerous gaps. Division has gone from inconsistency of two or four lanes to a solid two lanes from 82nd to 8th. At 8th is where something new is sprouting in the Portland & Milwaukee Light Rail Line. Between 12th and 30th there are fixes to and dramatic additinos of bioswales and other road amenities. These amenities are known to increase pedestrian and motorist safety. Between 60th and 82nd the lanes have gone from an unwieldy and dangerous four lanes to two, consistent with the rest of the street. Along the sides now are buffered bike lanes and other amenities for bus pull outs, timed traffic lights and other small items that help the flow of all traffic, not just cars.
Slowly Division itself becomes something, with bioswales and a consistent two lanes for its length. Service on the road is getting an increase in just a few more weeks. The #4 Trimet Bus is increasing back to what is referred to as frequent service. This means 15 minute frequency or better throughout the day. Beyond frequent service there is also going to be an increase for rush hour.
Slowly the auto dependency of Division is becoming less violent and fading into a small nuissence that provides a meager enabler for the street. Already today, actively there are three transportation means that already rule over the automobile when looked at as a whole; public transit, biking and walking. Not only have these modes become the dominent form of transport for customers to the growing businesses along Division. These modes, now dramatically safer with the taming of traffic violence, are once again becoming of dominant use to those teaching, attending and maintaing the schools in the area. That’s thousands and thousands of trips that no longer rely on the automobile, decreasing the auto-dependency of those that now have this new freedom.
A True Place
Some screamed when all of this started. Capitalism was at play in a huge way taming the automobile here. Some hate that, some love it. The city gave liberty to developers and stopped forcing them by regulation and law to build parking. If they saw a reason not to or demand didn’t dictate they simply didn’t have to build apartments with parking. Some of the residents saw this as a massive problem. With multiple apartments open that are without parking, there is still no shortage of parking. With the largest of the apartments without parking ready to open in the coming month or two, there still is a growing sense that this will become an enabler to the area versus a detractor.
Along this corridor the city has seen a dramatic increase in businesses opening up. This is in addition to new homes, apartments and other domiciles for people to live in the city. Almost 5x as many businesses, many local, now exist compared to just two years ago. Most of these businesses are now doing a brisk trade too. When auto-dependency ruled the street the businesses popped up but then immediately suffered. These businesses, many catering to the automobile, had not only been hurt by the auto-dependency but also hurt the existing businesses that were there before. The street was a ghost town as the 60s and 70s rolled in.
Let’s Destroy It All
Years ago the shortsighted advocates of auto-dependency wanted to pave all of Division, forcefully relocate the residents, destroy the homes all the way out to Clinton Street and possibly as far as Lincoln street in some cases on the other side. What they wanted to do, to be sure anybody could drive as fast as possible from downtown Portland to I-205 and the suburbs was build a new Interstate. They wanted to destroy all of this under the false guise that it would somehow make the neighborhoods better if they have more auto-dependent access. We know now, and thankfully didn’t make this mistake, that Interstates and increased auto-dependency do not increase livability or the quality or value of one’s neighborhood. If anything it pushes people further away and creates a massive thing that most people don’t actually want to live anywhere near.
As I ride through and down Division today to run my errands, enjoy an espresso and head into downtown for a few meetings I’m extremely happy that Division and most of the respective southeast neighborhood wasn’t destroyed to make way for an Interstate. The thousands of people that live here and enjoy an extremely high standard of living would have been left with a dwindling and disused neighborhood. A neighborhood that would have had little hope for repair. Now the neighborhood is anything but that. The number one reason why is because the city and the people of the city didn’t allow an Interstate to be cut through the area!
Until later, happy riding.