It may be getting colder outside, but discussions of the future of Foster Road are heating up. Tomorrow (Thursday), the Citizen Advisory Committee will meet for the fourth time, 6 to 8 pm at SE Works, 7916 SE Foster. Foster United will post audio from the meeting here for those unable to attend.
The Amazing Migrating Project
Among the most discouraging recent developments is the complete abandonment of Foster Road from 50th to 52nd Avenues.
While looking at street profiles last time, PBOT Project Manager Mauricio Leclerc told the committee that the first two blocks “need a lot of capacity” and that “it’s going to be very hard to do much” because of the current 5-lane cross section. He also said that there wouldn’t be a need to extend the bikeway to 50th, since neither 50th nor Powell have bike routes currently.
Surprisingly, the committeemembers –including those representing Foster-Powell and Creston-Kenilworth, the two affected neighborhoods –had no reaction to this announcement.
With one casual statement, more than a dozen of businesses, including Speedboat Coffee, Busy Bee Cleaners, Diane’s Diner, I’ve Been Framed and the Post Office were all written out of the planned improvements.
Too often this is too often how decisions are made by the City of Portland. A casual statement made at a meeting in fact contains a bombshell. Unprepared citizens, already immersed in project details, don’t realize that a major new issue has been presented to them and that their response is required. When it’s not forthcoming –that minute –the decision is effectively made. Later, if the decision is criticized, the response is to point to this conversation, as if it was a thorough vetting by the public.
Let’s hope this is not one of those times. The issues on Foster Road are no less urgent west of 52nd Avenue. The businesses and residents of this area should not be cavalierly written off and expected to wait however many decades it will take before Foster Road is looked at again.
Urban Renewal Spending Migrating West?
Last week, Foster United’s Nick Falbo wrote an open letter to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, asking them for support for an improved bikeway on Foster. The letter was picked up by the widely-read blog bikeportland.org, and a lively discussion ensued there –most comments were of the “Go get ‘em, Nick” variety.
One comment, however, took a different direction. Lents resident and sometimes Foster Streetscape Citizen Advisory Committee member Cora Potter gave this analysis of what’s at the root of Lents’ economic development challenges:
“The reason Lents is “struggling” right now is because the focus of the urban renewal is being shifted from Lents to areas further west on Foster, even though the primary and ultimate purpose of the Lents URA is to spur development and revitalization in Lents Town Center.”
As a member of the Lents Urban Renewal Advisory Committee myself for three years, it’s news to me that the reason for Lents troubles is that PDC has allocated a small contribution to the Foster Streetscape. The Lents Town Center and its Urban Renewal Area have struggled for a long time –long before the western portion of Foster Road was added in 2008. And of the more than $245 million controlled by Lents and the URA, it seems a stretch to believe that allocating $2 million for the Streetscape is what’s crippling the Lents Town Center.
But there’s an easy way to find out.
As a member of the advisory committee on urban renewal for three years, I requested information on exactly where the URA was spending its money. This information never disclosed to me or the committee. In addition, during each annual budget process, I requested URA funds be set aside for an independent audit of PDC spending. Each year, this request was denied. Not only did PDC make it impossible to get this kind of information, but the Lents representatives on the committee opposed efforts at better disclosure.
Lents residents have long been poorly-served by their leadership, and ridiculous claims like this one are just one example. If representatives of Lents want to assert that the Foster-Powell and Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhoods are being handed resources that rightly belong to Lents, they should prove it. Until they do, the claim that Lents is suffering at the hands of her greedy neighbors to the west is bullshit.
Yesterday the City of Portland submitted its final list of requested funding for the 2014-2015 STIP grants from the State. Foster Road is included on the list, to the tune of $2.24 million. The ambitious plan that the Streetscape committee is creating will need far more money to implement than the modest amount of identified so far, so pursuing new funding sources is critical.
In this round, Streetscape projects like ours are directly competing with large freeway projects around the Portland region. Many suburban communities (for instance, Hillsboro) simply aren’t submitting “active transportation” projects for funding –a serious rollback of our region’s longtime commitment to alternative transportation.
The committee that reviews these grants for ODOT Region 1 is meeting next week, and we should know if Foster makes the next round by this spring.