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.

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Chad Buelow lives in Bend.

(5) comments

ReimagineBend

This opinion is full of hyperbole misleading citations. Fear of failure is not a justification for stagnation. We should carefully plan any pedestrian boulevard to avoid past mistakes but the commonly cited '89% failure rate' was from a different era and among cities with widely varying conditions. Building pedestrian malls in the era of suburbanization doesn't seem like a good idea in hindsight. Many of the failed malls were attempts to revitalize already failing downtowns. Downtown's current vibrancy is the key to its success and the proposal stemmed from downtown leaders who've heard repeatedly from the community (not JUST businesses) regarding the need for such a space. This is only coming to a head right now because this council gets it and is following through for the constituents who elected them! I hope they continue to cautiously and thuroughly consider the proposal. To label this a 'war on parking' is not constructive and misguided. Even during the busiest times I've never had trouble finding parking downtown if I'm willing to walk a couple blocks. The city has shown commitment to ensuring parking will remain easy for folks who choose to drive - although it might not be directly in font of your destination and we may have to pay for it in the future. For those businesses who feel they need open spaces infant of their store, their are many suburban style developments they can choose to operate. There is only one Downtown!

keepitreal

Ironically, the reason "there is only one Downtown" is because of parking requirements. Most of downtown was built before parking was mandated, and the result is a mostly pleasant, walkable, busy commercial and mixed use area.

New commercial areas developed with parking mandates are awash in driveways, parking lots, and vehicle traffic. Parking prevents the bustling density that sets downtown abuzz. So yes, unfortunately, as long as these mandates exist, there will only be one Downtown!

Think about it

Well stated and true. Thanks for the post.

Skittish

True that homeless people would have first dibs on the public space and those with homes would avoid the area, defeating the reason for privatizing public space.

91184

It will remain public space.

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