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Business Leaders Help Win Protected Bike Lanes in Portland

Portland just did something that would be a big deal for any city: It removed two motor vehicle lanes on a major thoroughfare -- Northeast Multnomah Street -- and replaced them with protected bike lanes.

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The really cool thing about this story, though, is that business owners along the corridor were a driving force for the change. Michael Andersen, writing for Network blog the Green Lane Project, talked to some of those who helped totally alter the environment around their businesses:

"Multnomah was an underutilized street," said Wade Lange, vice president of property management for Langley Investment Properties, a real estate firm that does big business in the area. "I'd stand out there at 8:10 in the morning and I wouldn't see a car east or west."

All that empty pavement invited many drivers to hit the gas, blazing through the commercial district at 45 mph or more.

So Lange's firm, which had blocked bike improvements on nearby Holladay Street as part of its work on a 650-unit apartment proposal and a major new convention center hotel, embraced the green lane plan on Multnomah, one block north.

"It's about visibility -- if you're driving by at 35 mph in a car, with basically a tree barrier in front of any retail spaces that exist, you're not going to stop," said Lange. "But you slow the traffic down, you do the landscaping and you get more people walking on the streets, and suddenly the retail exists.

For property owners, that's where the separated bike lanes came in: As a way to build a coalition that would support a traffic-calming project.

"It just becomes a more active street than it ever was before," Lange said. "A place where pedestrians want to spend their time."

Also part of the business coalition supporting the change, Anderson wrote, was Kaiser Permanente, which employs 1,000 in the district, and the Portland Trailblazers basketball team, which is working hard to promote alternatives to driving for its fans.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cap'n Transit looks at the new transportation power players in Congress, and whether they represent areas with viable transit. World Streets wonders what role transit overcrowding might have played in the India rape case that's attracting attention worldwide. And Greater Greater Washington reports that some locals have put forward a pretty questionable objection to the city's new zoning update.

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