(apologies, this is terribly long……forgive me)
Yesterday at 5pm, on an afternoon almost cold enough to see our breath, about 20 neighbors from Laurelhurst and North Tabor gathered on the corner of NE 44th & Glisan to review our traffic safety concerns with a City of Portland transportation official. We recognized that our safety concerns would not be included in the 10-year review of the Providence Conditional Use Master Plan. However, that review process has brought to light the many issues that worry the neighbors of Providence Portland Medical Center.
It’s unlikely there is an increase in the concerns, more that neighbors now have a place to voice their concerns. I have not met a single neighbor in these last three months of research and investigation into the Providence Conditional Use Master Plan who is without a strong and sometimes aggressive opinion about Providence. It’s as though voices stifled for years with no outlet have suddenly found a bull horn.
I feel slightly apologetic for being the one to amplify the issues, but only slightly. Our silence is certainly calculated as a good thing for Providence in their efforts to develop. Our concerns and opinions would slow them in getting done what they want to accomplish.
As we stood on the corner in the cold, we reviewed some of the intersections on our list of concerns. We talked policy and why the City can’t come to our rescue. Besides the endless list of projects waiting city-wide, there is a budget shortfall. We listened to neighbors tell story after story that illustrated their concerns about traffic speeds, near-misses on crosswalks, and cut-through traffic. We heard about traffic calming devices and why a 4-way stop wasn’t such a good idea. Finally, at 7pm we went home.
Here’s Where We Are
Yesterday, April 3rd, was the last day for comments to be sent to Douglas Hardy, the senior planner reviewing the Providence application to the City. Letters can still be sent, but they would not influence how he makes his recommendation. At this point, it would be best to send letters to the Hearings Officer where they will be entered into the public record and responded to in the Hearings Officer’s decision. It is not too late to have your opinion heard. (will post that address soon)
The public hearing for the Providence Conditional Use Master Plan takes place on April 25 at 9am. Mark your calendar!
A Decision-Making Juncture
There are many details of the walk that will be followed up on and I’ll be sure to get back to you with the list of street improvements we neighbors have on our wish list. We know the improvements will need to happen over time. We know we won’t get our every wish. We are reasonable people, so polite we’ve kept our mouths shut for this many years.
The obvious avenue to get improvements to maintain the quality of our neighborhood is to partner with Providence. The avenue for that partnership is through our Good Neighbor Agreement and through our Neighborhood Representatives. That is exactly what gives me much concern.
When I go to the meetings, I see the communication loopholes that prevent neighbors from being fully informed. Neighborhood Representatives do their best, but information cannot flowing readily nor with enough detail. Meetings that occur every other month, coupled with every other month newsletters means that often the news is three months old or older. Neighbors simply don’t get information until it is too late. The thought of trying to work within that system . . . well, it could take years to shift that from the direction it has gone.
I disagree with the City officials who have told me that the Good Neighbor Agreement is the best process the City has to offer. I have seen no oversight and no recourse. Difficulties are left to languish and the committees are not nimble enough to inform the neighbors of issues as significant as the review of a 10-year plan of an organization such as Providence. That we are not nimble is perfect for Providence. They get exactly what they want. And, the neighbors remain the sitting ducks in an urban farmland that is now paved over.
As an example of how long it might take and why this is not an effective process, I share this. At the November 2011 meeting of the Standing Committee, there was discussion of re-forming the Transportation Subcommittee. At the January 2012 meeting of the Standing Committee when several neighbors attended and had questions, including myself, the topic of the Transportation Subcommittee was brought up again and no action plan implemented. Then, at the annual Community Meeting on February 27, the Transportation Subcommittee was mentioned again. In conversations with the neighborhood representatives, the Transportation Subcommittee has been mentioned multiple times. Names were collected at one of those events of people who were interested in serving on that committee. I have not heard anything further about the Transportation Subcommittee and it’s now almost five months later. This is not the way we will get what we need.
The Quandary: Lack of Trust
Thus, it seems we are in a Quandary, with a capital Q. How do we proceed? Do we play it straight, respecting all the rules that polite people play by? If we do that, we would seem to play right into the hands of an organization that clearly doesn’t want to talk to us. Us being the neighbors who live right outside their doors.
What attitude is conveyed by, “We will only talk to your representatives?” That is how you deal with people you have no intention of meeting. That is what you do when you have no intention of budging from your position. Only talking to the representatives is what strangers do.
Apparently, the corporate Providence presents a different face to the City of Portland, and why wouldn’t they? It’s not to their advantage to anger the entity that grants them permission to build.
After months of watching this process, I don’t have confidence in the Good Neighbor Agreement. I respect the City and the folks I’ve talked to at City Hall over the last many weeks about this issue, but the process just doesn’t impress me. There isn’t an incentive on the part of the large institution to make good. They have all the zoning and land use laws on their side. They can stall and wait and hold the requisite number of meetings and behave nicely at those meetings, and meanwhile nothing is improved for neighborhood livability or safety.
If It Goes How It’s Gone in the Past, That’s Where It Gets Even Stickier
If, on April 25, the Hearings Officer approves everything Providence has asked for in terms of variances to the zoning codes and doesn’t ask them to improve their Transportation Demand Management Plan . . .
And, if the Transportation Subcommittee of the Standing Committee continues to be talked about and not moved forward . . .
Then, I’m of the opinion that we need to get loud and clear and not wait for the Good Neighbor Agreement to get what we need. And, personally, I don’t feel like groveling for a crosswalk here or a speed bump there. That feels demeaning and completely un-community like. I would rather work toward demonstrating to Corporate Providence that it will be to their advantage to improve relationships with neighbors and provide for a healthy and safe surrounding area for all. Providence’s customers would benefit from them contributing to the surrounding environment as would their employees (especially those who bike and walk to work).
With that in mind, here are some of the needs I see . . .
We need the City to support the North Tabor and Laurelhurst neighbors and protect the quality of our unique neighborhoods by
- Insisting that Providence develop and implement a more aggressive Transportation Demand Management Plan to reduce the number of cars coming to our streets, complete with timelines and short-term and long-term goals.
- Requiring that an integral part of the Transportation Demand Management Plan be a Transportation Committee made of up neighbors and Providence Employees in ongoing monthly meetings as soon as possible. Goal to reduce SOV trips and protecting the safety of the neighbors would be the ongoing goal and this committee would never go away when it seemed unneeded.
- Denying Providence the approval of a skybridge now and at any time in the future. The infrastructure needed to support a skybridge will create a massive building that will sit like a monolith outside the main campus, and likely lead to future larger structures in the West Campus, further destroying the neighborhood qualities of Hoyt, Irvington, and 44th Avenue.
- Initiating a more formal process for a percentage of every project to go toward street improvements for pedestrian and bicycle facilities and for traffic and safety projects within 1//2 mile of the hospital, those areas most heavily burdened by the wake of the traffic that comes to Providence for services.
We also need Providence to be a Good Neighbor.
A good corporate neighbor would voluntarily and without being asked help protect the quality of a unique neighborhood such as ours. A good corporate neighbor would recognize and ameliorate the impacts of their institution on the surrounding residential neighborhood, much like one of Oregon’s largest employers to the west. There would be recognition that the nearly 6,000 cars (for my estimated numbers see this post) per day on our small neighborhood streets leaves a heavy wake. In addition, Providence would
- Allow for enough setback from the street to maintain the feeling of a neighborhood on all projects they propose. In exchange for height increases in some zoning, there would be a willingness to reduce or vary the height in other areas of the same project to break up the box-like feeling of large buildings.
- Cease and desist in plans to build a skybridge. They would realize that adding an 11-story tower to replace the Main Hospital will result in more than enough downtown architecture in our old neighborhood.
- Voluntarily work with neighbors to improve street crossings and bicycle facilities within 1/2 mile of any of their campuses. Pay freely for those street improvements and initiate their design and implementation without prodding.
- Offer information electronically to anyone who wants to see, i.e. the application for the 10-year Conditional Use Master Plan, the Traffic Impact Analysis, the Transportation Demand Management Plan, and other information related to reducing the number of cars arriving on campus. Share the information on a website and let neighbors subscribe themselves to updates and details on the implementation of the Transportation Demand Management Plan. Work from a motto of “no secrets, no surprises.”
- Modernize and enliven the Public Relations efforts between the North Tabor, Laurelhurst, Rose City Park, and Hollywood Neighbors and Providence. Meet neighbors to get to know them. Demonstrate an understanding that what the neighbors want is also very good for Providence and all it’s customers and employees.
One good thing that’s happened for me in the hours I’ve researched and passed out flyers and talked to City Hall and studied up on policy that I’ll likely never use again, is that I’m meeting you, my neighbors. What an amazing group of humans. We are a very diverse neighborhood and the passion and commitment to a livable and safe environment means something to us. That we are so polite and nice is a bit of a problem for us, but we can overcome that. I’m not proposing we be rude or impolite. I’m proposing that we need to be clear and have some expectations.
It feels long overdue for Providence to meet us and understand that we are as awesome as they are, but with other qualities that a large institution doesn’t have and that we will all be better off working together than staying in our separate you/us camps.
It is time for Providence to either play nice with neighbors or admit publicly that neighborhood quality is insignificant in the organization’s long term goals.