Bright sunlight streamed into an open retail space in the Fubonn shopping center on SE 82nd Avenue, as people at eight packed tables talked animatedly about a new form of transit in the region.
Amid the din, the most crowded and perhaps most vocal table was speaking Chinese.
Rosaline Hui, editor of the Portland Chinese Times, was leading the discussion among a group of mostly older Chinese-speaking residents, sparking conversation and interpreting comments for project planners.
"People were really excited about the project," Hui said after the meeting. "A lot of them were seniors. They use the bus daily and [faster, more reliable transit] is really appealing to them."
The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project, which would build the region's first bus rapid transit line between Portland and Gresham, has been listening a lot over the last six months.
The Fubonn workshop, held on Saturday, Feb. 28, was one of three in-depth workshops in recent weeks, along with events in Gresham and the Division Midway neighborhood. That's in addition to 60-plus community meetings, open houses and briefings over the last six months, and an interactive mapping tool that attracted more than 1,500 comments in three weeks.
Planners from Metro, TriMet, Portland and Gresham, along with several community organizations, have also reached out directly to Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish-speaking, Russian-speaking, Native American, Tongan and Bhutanese communities, as well as youth, business leaders and developers. And special work groups focused on how the project might affect equity, safety and impacts on driving, bicycling and walking in the corridor.
Steering committee members for the project will have all this and more on their minds when they meet Monday in Gresham's Rockwood neighborhood. The top goals for the meeting: refine the list of route options for the line, and begin thinking about what might happen around the stations it serves.
At its last full meeting in September, the committee – composed of elected and appointed leaders and community representatives – eliminated light rail and selected an inner-Powell, outer-Division alignment for the project, which would serve one of the region's busiest and most diverse corridors.
On Monday, the committee is expected to select a Willamette River crossing and reduce options being studied for two critical places on the roughly 15-mile transit route: the crossover from SE Powell Boulevard to SE Division Street, and what to do in and beyond downtown Gresham.
Tilikum, 82nd Avenue preferred by many
A public engagement report released March 9 reveals that the project team has heard some fairly consistent themes as they've engaged the public on these questions.
Review comments made on the project's interactive map tool.
Read the Powell-Division project's recent public engagement report.
Planners found the clearest preferences expressed for the Willamette River bridge. "People who weighed in strongly support using the Tilikum Crossing for the new bus rapid transit route," the report states. Very little support was expressed for using the Ross Island Bridge – which would likely be slower for both transit and auto traffic.
Most people who have engaged with the project also preferred 82nd Avenue as the transition between the Powell-Division project's namesake arteries. Other options, including Cesar Chavez Boulevard or 50th, 52nd or 92nd avenues received more unsupportive comments than support, the report notes.
At the Fubonn workshop on Feb. 28, local businessman Dan Yan expressed his enthusiasm for the 82nd Avenue option. "This is the hub of the new Chinatown. It's the center," he said, indicating that an alignment on 82nd – which could include a stop near Fubonn – would support more commercial revitalization in an area now known as the Jade District.
At workshops and on the online mapping tool, Gresham residents were near-unanimous in their support for extending the project beyond to Mount Hood Community College, and connecting the line to Gresham Vista Business Park and Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center on SE Stark Street. Hogan Road was preferred by most people as a route to do so, with Kane Drive a second choice.
More than a transit route
The steering committee isn't expected to make final route choices Monday, but will likely eliminate some of the less-promising options from further consideration and analysis.
But as project planners have emphasized from the beginning, a transit project of this scale is about more than a route. Every choice has potentially profound implications for development, displacement, and opportunities to make communities safer and more livable.
Recent outreach hasn't shied from these questions. The project team has asked residents to weigh in on preferences for what should happen near eventual station locations along the new line. Common responses include safer transportation and more inviting social spaces around stations, including new businesses and workplaces. There has also been a strong theme of protecting mixed-income neighborhoods and small businesses – particularly the ethnic businesses that have come to define many neighborhoods on the route, like Division-Midway and the Jade District.
Finding Midway: Diverse district makes its place on Division Street
Connecting opportunity: PCC's new Southeast Campus hopes for better transit
Powell-Division project explores equity impacts, potential strategies at East Portland meeting
Additionally, the committee will begin grappling with strategies that they hope will help advance equity and avoid displacement alongside the transit project. Local planners in Portland and Gresham are already studying the potential for displacement in the corridor. Last week, an ad hoc group of community representatives – including several steering committee members – presented a detailed list of strategies they would like to see included as the project proceeds.
"We look forward to developing a vision we all can support and we all can build together," Metro project manager Brian Monberg said as the Feb. 28 meeting concluded.
Project planners hope to have the steering committee select a final route in June, along with a list of local and regional actions that could support community desires along the new line. Bus rapid transit could be running on Powell and Division as soon as 2020.
Learn more about the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project