As we gear up for some long overdue investment along the Foster Corridor, namely a refresh and eventual buildout of the Foster Streetscape Plan, it’s worth considering what we want our transportation systems to look like on our beloved (and sometimes maligned) thoroughfare.
When thinking about the different forms of transportation, and how we want those modes promoted and made easier, the contentious issue of cars sharing the road with bikers and pedestrians sometimes takes center stage. Unfortunately, much of that conversation ultimately turns to the negative impacts of altering the transportation landscape. For example, when the idea of lane reduction is floated, it is often countered with worries over increased commute times. Conversely, when the idea of maintaining quick and easy traffic flow is promoted, concerns for safety and livability form the opposing view.
So how do we change the way we talk about these views?
Well, in an area heavy on vacant storefronts and light on commercial vibrancy, perhaps we should be thinking of these things in economic terms. Disclaimer: I am not an economist, nor will I be getting into a long discussion about the economics behind our local planning process. But if I may, I’d like to posit that our consideration for implementing transportation changes should, in addition to safety and our own individual visions and desires for Foster, also be viewed upon in terms of boosting the local economy. In other words, what will be good for our own economic sustainability?
With that in mind, I’d like to point you all to a recent study from Portland State University researchers who explored the relationship between travel choices and consumer behavior. In this study, customers of convenience stores, high-turnover restaurants, and bars were surveyed about their mode of transportation, frequency of visits, and spending habits. The results showed that customers who arrived by car represent the largest population of shoppers, but as individual consumers they don’t necessarily spend more. On a per visit basis, this may not be true…but when accounting for frequency and longterm spending, bikers and walkers often spent more over time than those in cars. In other words, car-bound customers spend more per visit, but don’t spend as frequently; when weighed together, those on bike or foot tend to be competitive, or even better customers.
Now, this study only looks at certain neighborhoods within Portland, and only those frequenting bars, convenience stores, and high-turnover restaurants. Foster already has a lot of those, and they aren’t necessarily the mark of a sustainable economy. But the findings are noteworthy, and the spending habits of those on bike and foot should be considered when thinking about how we want Foster Road developed and improved, especially in terms of economic vitality.
It has long been the thinking that parking spots must be preserved for businesses to thrive, and as such, so too should the maintenance of large traffic volumes. But what if business districts, the individual businesses, and their area associations caught on to the value of a walking or biking customer? Could those businesses prosper by converting one of their on-street parking spaces to a bike corral, for example? To go further, is there an economic benefit in promoting more pedestrian and bike use?
Ultimately, finding the right balance becomes key. So, too, does the area’s population and demographics. With such food for thought, and an already existing sentiment that Foster Road needs to be more accessible to bikers and pedestrians, the idea should garner serious attention. But this is not just up to the planners to decide. Business owners, too, have the ability to add bike racks and corrals in front of their establishments. Ditto for benches and other amenities that may draw out more pedestrians. Where the city comes in, then, is making Foster Road safer for those modes of transportation. Bikers and walkers need to feel safe. And for that matter, drivers do too.
If you have strong feelings one way or the other, please make those opinions heard as the city considers its options for transportation improvements along Foster. You’ll have an opportunity to do so at tonight’s (Wednesday, 10/10) Foster Corridor Investment Strategy open house.