Due to its unconventional layout, East Portland poses many challenges when it comes to transportation. However, a recent initiative seeks to make improvements that are specifically suited to the area. East Portland in Motion (EPIM) is an active transportation plan—an effort to make it easier for those in East Portland to bike, walk, and take public transit.
The project stems from the Portland bicycle master plan for 2030. The vast initiative, which passed the Portland City Council in February 2010, aims to make Portland more accessible to bicyclists over the next few decades. Despite the wide scope of the project, East Portlanders felt that it did not properly address the unique challenges of their neighborhoods. “It was a pretty good plan that helped the city lay out what people wanted,” says Katie Larsell, who was part of the bike plan steering committee and is a co-chair of the East Portland Action Plan (EPAP). “Together, we decided that the plan was not addressing the needs of East Portland.”
The city directed EPAP and other East Portland advocacy groups to develop a bike plan tailored to the needs of the area. It soon became clear that improving East Portland for bikers was linked to the need to improve transportation as a whole. Thus EPIM was created to serve as an umbrella group for the wide range of improvements that would eventually be outlined. “One of the main points of impetus was the instruction we received from city council... to conduct further process with East Portland to develop an implementation action plan for the bike plan in East Portland,” says Ellen Vanderslice, EPIM project manager. “Recognizing that in the course of the work on developing the bicycle plan that we hadn’t actually been able to really get to the bottom of all the things that need to be done in East Portland, and that we really needed to take a little bit closer look at that and work more with the community.”
Community feedback indicated that East Portland would benefit not only from improvements and expansions to bike routes but also from improved street crossings. Vanderslice says that project planners identified 90 locations that are in need of street crossing improvements. For those without access to cars, the logic goes, this can make it difficult to get to school or work “We really want to do transportation projects that serve people who have various indicators of disadvantage,” says Vanderslice. “We have understood that some people really rely on transit in East Portland quite a bit and that access to transit is an issue.”
According to Vanderslice, another main focus of EPIM is “sidewalk infill on arterial streets that don’t have sidewalks.” This particular effort was partly made possible by funds that Mayor Sam Adams specifically allotted towards sidewalk improvements. East Portland received roughly half of the $16 million made available. Due to its unique nature, East Portland is a worthy candidate for new sidewalks. “Although there are some parts of East Portland that have a somewhat connected grid,” says Vanderslice, “there is a lot of disconnect, so people are forced to use the big arterial streets, and arterial streets were developed to a different standard.”
East Portland’s distinctive sidewalk arrangement is indicative of how the area is different from the rest of Portland. The region was initially planned as a suburb of the city, and as a result, the streets are much more suited for cars than they are for bikes and pedestrians. Many businesses are located off of the street, and houses tend to have more space in between them. In a sense, the design of East Portland makes it somewhat of a blank canvas, something that advocates see as both an obstacle and an advantage when it comes to improving the area. “There are so many opportunities in East Portland because it hasn’t been developed,” says Larsell. “In some ways, we don’t even know where to start, and in other ways, it’s easy, because there are so many things to advocate for.”
Potential sidewalk projects in East Portland.
In addition to serving as a co-chair of EPAP, Larsell serves on EPAP’s bike committee, which played a large role in outlining the proposed improvements for bicyclists. Chief among the plans is a new batch of neighborhood greenways, formerly known as bicycle boulevards, and an effort to increase bicycle connectivity throughout East Portland. Jim Chasse, who served on the bicycle master plan steering committee with Larsell, feels that there are other issues that need addressing. “We’d like to get something done with bike parking,” he says. “We were developed in outer East as a driving neighborhood, and, consequently, all the commercial facilities around here are off the street.”
Chasse feels that, for some parts of East Portland, transportation improvements have been a long time coming. “It’s really the first transportation money that outer East Portland has received in a long time,” he says. “Equity is all we’re after out here.”
Driven by community members’ desire to see the planned improvements implemented, the EPIM planning process is reaching its final stages. Vanderslice says that some more technical analysis must be conducted and that drafts of the final project will be available to the public. She hopes that the plan will reach the city council by the fall.
East Portland transportation improvements have been a long time coming.
As project manager, Vanderslice is aware of the challenges of such a large initiative, but she is also optimistic that the thoroughness of the planning process will ensure that the available improvements to the area are truly beneficial to residents. “We’re trying to balance between where we can get a lot of mileage for our money versus where the need is the greatest and trying to find the right balance of those things,” she says. “We can’t fix everything, but we think we can really make a coherent beginning, a real scaffold for East Portland to be able to walk, bike, and take transit.”