For over a year, community members have been meeting to talk about possibilities for Foster Road’s built environment. That’s a bigger discussion than bikes lanes and crosswalks.
Much of that conversation at the Citizens Advisory Committee has involved a succession of alternate possibilities: We could have one of the two types of ornamental lighting. We could have cobblestone crossings and stylish concrete planter boxes. We could have modernist, neighborhood-identifying stone slabs.
But as the process churns toward a conclusion (?), the time is right for the CAC and the public to arrive at a reasonably specific set of priorities for the plan.
What follows is my personal take on what those priorities ought to be, and may or may not resemble the final product the committee and the city come up with. Disagree with me? With them? Now’s the time to say so.
Priority 1, 2 and 3: Safety, Safety and Safety
First, last and in-between, making Foster a safer place to walk is the most important function of this plan. Four pedestrians lost their lives crossing Foster Road between 2009 and 2012. Traffic speeds have long been cited as a drain on local small businesses and an obstacle to walkability.
At the risk of using French, street safety is the raison d’etre for this agonizing, decade-long exercise.
Addressing the problem has occupied the lion’s share of the citizen committee’s time so far, and rightly so. At the most recent meeting, the committee overwhelmingly supported calming traffic by reducing the number of auto lanes for 24 of the project’s 40 blocks.
The committee is also expected to recommend a package of improvements to street crossings, sidewalks and bus stops. Taken together, these measures will substantially improve safety for people who walk or take transit, especially seniors and the disabled.
Thus far, the city hasn’t shared detailed cost information for the various elements of the plan. The neighborhoods have worked hard to assemble $5.25 million for the project, but exactly what that money will or won’t buy remains an open question.
As its first priority, the committee and the community must ensure that traffic calming and other pedestrian safety measures are fully funded.
Priority 2: The Trees
Throughout a decade of public meetings, town halls and open houses, area residents have consistently rated more street trees as a priority for the area.
Some of Foster has great trees. Other parts, not so much. Several long, drab stretches of our jewel-in-the-rough have few or no trees.
Street trees make the area safer, provide protection from weather and improve storm drainage.
One report suggests that drivers perceive their commute times as being shorter on tree-lined streets versus those without trees.
I spoke with one business owner in a particularly windswept area of Foster. As we watched a loose page of a Willamette Week languidly blow down the street, block after block, he suggested to me that a few more trees would help lessen the harshness of the wind and make such floating bits of garbage less likely to accumulate.
Priority 3: Improving the Business Climate in the Heart of Foster
The previous streetscape plan from 2003 identified certain areas for special treatment. Among these is the ‘Heart of Foster’ district –the area roughly between 63rd and 67th Avenues.
This area includes many of Foster Road’s best stuff –Laurelwood Park, lots of historic buildings, the Bob White Theatre, some of our most entertaining taverns –and has long been seen as the brightest prospect for small business growth.
That suggests that it might benefit from the kind of local brand identification that has been successful in other areas of the city.
I spoke with Kelsey Denogeon, owner of Pieper Cafe and a member of the citizen committee. She told me that better lighting could make the area safer, but otherwise, she’s not impressed with the various aesthetic treatments that could be made there.
“We just want people to be able to cross the streets without being hit. Better access to foot traffic would benefit local businesses more than fancy planter boxes,” she told me.
Personally I agree, though I would readily defer to local business owners like Kelsey. If they see something to like in the various design treatments offered, and the costs are reasonable, they should get it.
What shouldn’t happen, though, is some cookie-cutter street mall fixtures that seem cool when a committee sees them in a powerpoint presentation, but which when built actually detract from the character of the area.
We as a community have been involved with this project for a long time. During that time I’ve talked to plenty of locals about what they’d like to see for the future of Foster Road. I’ve presented what I think is a reasonable set of priorities that should guide implementation of the plan.
Everyone gets a voice, and if your hasn’t been heard, it should be.
Tell the city what you think at the final Open House tonight:
Foster Road Transportation and Streetscape Plan
Thursday, December 5, 2013
SE Works, 7916 SE Foster Road
Closest TriMet bus lines: 14 on SE Foster, 10 on SE Harold, 72 on SE 82nd.
Drop by anytime between 6:00 and 8:00 PM. Snacks provided.