A small pond had already started to form in front of the Beaverton Public Library amid a Monday morning deluge, but Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle was sunny as he welcomed a crowd to hear national transportation, planning and public health expert Mark Fenton speak about the connections between a walkable city and a healthy economy.
Doyle dispatched an impressive list of policy, infrastructure and program investments over the last 12 months that have made Beaverton a healthier place.
“We have just a few things going on,” Doyle said, garnering a round of applause and smiles from the crowd.
“Great stuff!” praised Fenton, taking the stage. “It’s good. But it’s not good enough.”
The audience of policymakers, city and county planning staff and local residents barely had time to let that sink in before Fenton launched into how the transportation system has led to an obesity epidemic and the first generation of children whose life expectancies are shorter than their parents' – and how it can be fixed.
Fenton challenged the crowd “to step it up in a big way” to create healthy places that encourage walking, biking and transit through four intertwined principles.
Over pizza after a very soggy walking audit of Beaverton’s downtown, Main Street and Beaverton Round, he shared some reflections on how well Beaverton is accomplishing these principles.
1. Focus on the mix
"The good part is that we know what makes walkable communities – mixed uses, comfortable places to walk, safe places to bike – and people flock to them."
"Continue to focus on downtown! Beaverton is doing such great things downtown. The Round, Main Street – all really positive things to focus on. But it needs to be a synchronized approach. I’m concerned about the continuing low-density, single-use suburban-type growth that’s continuing to compete with that success. You can have a great core, but if they have to compete with the pull of a strip mall every time one pops up on the edge of town, it will drain that success."
2. Think bigger
"There are a few huge barriers here to building a network for people to get around by foot or bike and Beaverton will need to tackle these really big challenges. You need to move beyond putting bike lanes on roads that can handle them. The next step is to look at Farmington and Canyon roads; they are slicing right through Beaverton’s efforts to develop this area. There will be some scary and counterintuitive ideas and they must be honest that there are going to be trade-offs, whether it’s parking spaces or speed, to make those improvements.
"Saying, 'It’s a state road, so there is nothing we can do' is a cop-out. We must challenge our most entrenched organizations to change how they operate and measure success. Killing a generation of kids is not success."
3. Make the right places
"As Beaverton looks to make changes, they need to ask, 'Does current design reward me, rather than punish me, for showing up to a place without my car?'
"Beaverton can move quickly by rewarding developers for creating healthy places with good policy and zoning changes. This is much more about how we engage the private sector. The good part is that we know what makes walkable communities – mixed uses, comfortable places to walk, safe places to bike – and people flock to them. Cities love them and people do to. We just need to make that as easy as possible for developers to make those places. 'Show me your multi-modal tracker, your bike parking plan, pedestrian navigation plan, your parking maximum and transit access plan – and we’ll get you a permit in no time!'"
4. Don't scrimp on safety
"We have to be more forceful employing what we know are established best practices. We never ignore best practices when considering road safety for cars, but we continually do it for walking and biking. If people kept driving their cars into a ditch on a country road, we know we could add striping and barriers – best practices – to prevent those crashes. If someone said they didn’t like it – (saying it) ruined the rural characteristics – we wouldn’t consider not using best practices to make the road safer. If we know a road needs buffered or protected bike lanes to be safe and to get more than the 5 percent of hardcore cyclists to use it, we need to do that.
"It may be a village green and surrounding residential grid in a small Oregon farming community, or a mixed-use dense urban neighborhood in Portland, but the same guiding principles apply."
"Beaverton is getting safety improvements done the right way, opportunistically. Every time they touch the road they make improvements, whether it’s getting traffic calming in curb extensions, roundabouts, ADA curb ramps. That’s how a lot of it gets done. Next, Beaverton needs to be willing to slow traffic to benefit local residents – to prioritize local residents over those traveling through. That’s the biggie! Right-sizing these corridors like Canyon and Farmington Road to respect and complement the adjoining communities and make it safer for everyone."
Fenton stressed the principles he recommended for Beaverton are really universal.
“If you really want people to walk, bike and take transit more, then you have to focus on a compact mix of land uses, a comprehensive network of facilities, and functional, inviting and safe site designs. It may be a village green and surrounding residential grid in a small Oregon farming community, or a mixed-use dense urban neighborhood in Portland, but the same guiding principles apply.”
Mark Fenton's visit to Beaverton was hosted in part by Metro's Regional Snapshots program, a series of check-ins on how issues we all care about, like transportation, housing and jobs. Learn more