PDX Climate Action Plan Lacking Urban Design Focus

Mary Vogel's picture

June 24, 2015  Testimony of Mary Vogel, PlanGreen to Portland City Council

[This blog was originally posted to my PlanGreen blog where there are already some comments posted.  I would be delighted if you would add your comments there as well!]

There is a great deal to like in the Portland/MultCo Climate Action Plan 2015 and I applaud it as far as it goes. We've been doing a pretty good job for a long time.  Since 1990 our total carbon emissions have declined by 14% while 75,000 more jobs were added to the economy and the population grew by 31%.  But one of the things missing is attention to URBAN DESIGN not just Urban Form.  Evaluating existing land use policies that shape urban design for impact on climate change would make it truly evolutionary

Here's one example!  We need to change a policy that:

NW Townhouses w/short driveways and garages that dominate the sidewalk. The trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk and will not last long in their present location.
NW Townhouses w/short driveways and garages that dominate the sidewalk. The trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk and offer no protection or additional shade to the pedestrian. They will not last long in their present location. Cars parked in these driveways will block pedestrian passage altogether. Photo by PlanGreen


Promotes private automobile use


Leads to less community interaction


Makes our sidewalks less safe and useable for pedestrians



NW Townhouse w/van blocking sidewalk
This NW Portland sidewalk is partially blocked by this van. Note the driveway apron that usurps 1.5 public parking spaces on the street.



Displaces on-street parking spaces that make pedestrians feel safer

Usurps public parking space

Makes sidewalks less useable by pedestrians


SW Hamilton Townhouses - No street trees
This SW neighborhood street is adjacent downtown. It has the requisite off-street parking, but no street trees or landscaping to protect residents from the freeway above--or give them incentive to walk anywhere.


Disrupts the look and feel of the neighborhood

Displaces street trees that both protect and add comfort for the pedestrian

Displaces garden space that could be used to grow food


That is the requirement for off-street parking for every new house more than 500’ from a transit stop. Please include a commitment to review this policy and other existing policies that promote auto use over pedestrian and other non-auto forms of transport as part of the Climate Action Plan.  That will greatly strengthen the plan!

I'm adding  a couple of examples that were not in my original testimony in order to show both the worst and best of Portland's central city urban design with regard to parking.

NW 24th Ave Garages - Abominable Streetscape
I know you're thinking this is the BACK of the property but its the FRONT on a street in one of the densest neighborhoods in Portland, OR--NW 24th Ave. Similar streetscapes are not uncommon in NW Portland.


 Even Portland's numerous graffiti artists don't seem to find these garage doors compelling places for their art--even though the doors front a street in one of the densest and most popular neighborhoods in Portland.

Most pedestrians don't find this wasteland a compelling place to be either.  In fact, they cross the street in order to avoid them.  How does such awful urban design continue to exist in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Portland?


NW Pettygrove Condo Garage with single curb-cut
This NW Pettygrove condo building w/garage has a single curb-cut and is an example of how off-street residential parking should be handled--if it is necessary at all.


Okay, we can keep some off-street parking.  In really popular neighborhoods that folks from the suburbs flock to on evenings and weekends, residents with cars can really benefit from off-street parking.  This 12 unit condo building near NW 23rd & Pettygrove in Portland with it's single driveway and garage exists immediately adjacent another abomination like the one above . This building is an example of how off-street parking should be done--if it is done at all.


Let me know your thoughts!  I will pass them on to Portland policymakers and planners.


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