Today we have another guest contribution, this time from neighborhood resident and longtime reader, Jon Connelly. Taken by the controversy surrounding the Foster Transportation and Streetscape Project, and the plethora of neon-colored signs plastered in protest at Euro Classic Furniture (and others), Connelly’s interest led him to the man who owns the furniture store and started the protest, Jon Shleifer. Connelly spoke to Shleifer about the City’s plans to slow auto traffic, increase pedestrian safety, and add bike lanes (along with street trees and lighting). As such, much of the conversation focused on what the changes would do to traffic on Foster and surrounding streets, and how it would impact his business. While we do not necessarily agree with his stance, in an effort to be fair and also capture varying perspectives, we wanted to share Shleifer’s thoughts, as well as Connelly’s reporting of the conversation.
Jon Shleifer is the owner of EuroClassic Furniture, which sits at SE Foster Rd. and SE 66th Ave. Jon stands in strong opposition to the Foster Transportation and Streetscape Project. He has a handful of concerns that range from a potential negative impact on road safety in the Foster area to a potential negative impact on business at his store and others that currently operate on SE Foster. Jon is also frustrated by what he sees as a lack of communication from the City about the plan. Jon claims that it wasn’t until January of this year that he received notification of the plan from the City, although the project was voted on and approved in June of 2014. The City tells Jon he should have received a total of eight notices over the past two years at the two business addresses for his building.
On the topic of safety, Jon points out that slowing or easing traffic on the main artery of Foster will force diversion onto other streets, and he believes that would jeopardize pedestrians on those streets. “Where is that traffic going to go? It’s not gonna disappear. What it will do is push it to all the side streets. It will be Harold St., Duke St., Holgate, all these streets are going to fill up even more and these are residential streets.”
“It would make sense if you’re talking about Foster Rd. from the 1950s and the 1960s. In those years we had theaters on this street, we had shoe repair on this street, we had grocery stores on this street, there was a reason to walk and to shop on this street, and that is not Foster Rd. anymore. There’s a few restaurants and bars that pull from the neighborhood, all the other businesses depend on people driving in from outside the neighborhood to support those businesses. It’s not from pedestrians. A pedestrian is not going to carry home a sewing machine from the store across the street. They’re not going to carry home a bail load of bark dust from the business one block up. They’re not going to carry home a sofa. They drive in with cars and trucks to do their business. It’s not pedestrians, because we don’t have the stores for pedestrians. Ya know, maybe in fifteen to twenty years they’ll come back. It hasn’t been that way the last thirty years here.”
Listening to Jon speak, it’s striking how his descriptions of Foster Rd. from decades past, or potentially future, are so similar to what many residents say they want out of the neighborhood today. Many feel that trajectory is already forming and see the Streetscape Plan as a way to continue it.
The Shleifer family has a long history of business in Portland. Jon’s grandfather opened Shleifer Furniture at SE Stark and Grand Ave. in 1936. Jon’s cousin sold the building located in the Central Eastside Industrial District last fall and is closing the long held family business. When asked if he sees a broader trend of changes at play in Portland, Jon shares, “My Grandpa started eighty years ago. Portland’s finally the treasure that everyone has found. Forever they thought cold, rain, cloudy, dark, Portland no way. And now all of a sudden we’re the rainbow, the other side of the rainbow.” But that’s another reason people will need to stay in cars. Because the weather’s not the best.”
It’s clear there are significant changes at play on Foster Rd. and across Portland as a whole. Time will tell how the landscape of the of the neighborhood and city will develop.
For more information on the Foster Transportation and Streetscape Project, check out the City’s website for the plan here. To read about the Foster Area Business Association’s support for the project, go here. Much thanks to Jon Connelly for his contribution to this ongoing story.