I am writing in opposition to the proposal to convert a portion of Minnesota Avenue in downtown Bend into a pedestrian -only corridor.
This proposal marks the opening of another front in the unrelenting “war on parking” being waged by our newly elected City Council. Proponents claim that this proposal covers only one block, but don’t kid yourself — if this block becomes pedestrian only, it’s only a matter of time until vehicles are barred from all of downtown, which would be a terrible mistake.
While there are many pressing issues facing Bend these days, the state of downtown is not one of them. Downtown is thriving. Pedestrian malls, on the other hand, have a history of failure dating back decades. Advocates of pedestrian promenades tempt us with visions of warm summer nights outside, but they conveniently ignore the reality of what downtown would look like the rest of the time.
One of downtown’s strengths is that it is “activated” all week. While our beloved breweries and restaurants draw tourists and locals alike on weekends, downtown is also bustling on weekdays with residents patronizing other “daily needs” businesses : the untrendy banks, barbershops and bookstores that visitors on the Ale Trail walk right past. Most of these residents drive, so eliminating parking will make them less likely to patronize businesses downtown. Businesses will shutter and be replaced by either “for rent” signs or retailers catering to tourists.
To compound things, Bend is a city with a homelessness crisis in a state that now bars cities from preventing camping on public property. What could possibly go wrong? The answers are there for anyone willing to look.
Before relocating to Bend from California, I lived in Santa Monica and Venice Beach — both of which offer cautionary lessons. At best, a pedestrian only downtown Bend would resemble Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade : a soulless outdoor mall avoided by locals and filled with tourists stepping around (and over) street performers and panhandlers to patronize chain retailers and restaurants. The worst -case scenario is something resembling the human tragedy unfolding daily on the Venice Boardwalk — and I’d encourage anyone who thinks that couldn’t happen in Bend to think about the homeless camp that was on Emerson Avenue.
So why are we even considering this? This proposal seems to be driven by a few downtown businesses that would benefit from a pedestrian promenade — primarily those expecting to be gifted private outdoor dining space on public property now used for parking, which would constitute a gross misuse of a public resource. If Bos Taurus needs more space to sell $155 steaks, it should relocate or open a second location like any other business.
As a Democrat, I’m surprised that progressive politicians would even consider giving away a public asset to private businesses, but this isn’t the first time local elected officials have taken disappointing positions regarding parking. Our new councilors are working to deliver a massive gift to developers by waiving minimum parking requirements in new developments. The previous council allowed Old Bend residents to privatize public street parking. The current council is allowing private downtown businesses (including one of the nation’s largest craft breweries) to convert public parking spaces into exclusive seating areas. The common thread seems to be that councilors won’t let progressive principles interfere with their “war on parking.”
It seems that our new councilors, shielded from constituents in their Zoom meeting echo chamber, have misinterpreted the “blue wave” that carried them into office as a mandate to make driving as difficult as possible. They are being eagerly abetted by an unelected city parking services manager who opposes parking, as evidenced by his derisive characterization of those who value parking as being stuck in driving culture (as if any other culture were available to the majority of Bend residents).
Perhaps they need to be reminded that while Bend voters are anti-Donald Trump, we also overwhelmingly approved the transportation bond last year — which suggests that Bend residents have no problem with the “driving culture” that rookie councilors and unelected bureaucrats are working to eliminate.
The Minnesota Avenue proposal is a flawed solution to a nonexistent problem that will ruin our gem of a downtown. Bend residents should oppose it.