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Portland’s Central Eastside: Transportation for Goods and for People

Exploring how the Central Eastside balances its different transportation needs.

It’s often asked whether land use determines transportation or transportation determines land use. The answer is yes; both are true. Sometimes these two factors evolve in complementary ways to establish a district’s unique character. This is especially true in the Central Eastside. The urban form and character of the district is shaped by past transportation infrastructure (docks, rail and freight) and continues to evolve with new infrastructure, such as light rail and streetcar.

Despite its challenges, the district’s diverse and complicated public realm is often heralded as one of its most appealing attributes.Historically, the ways of moving goods established the character of the area, which can loosely be described as an old waterfront industrial district, with wide streets, some with cobblestones, many with loading docks, where the car, truck, pedestrian and cyclist share — and often compete for — use of the same right-of-way.

Let’s take a look at all the different transportation modes that function within the district.

Freight

An industrial district thrives or dies depending on how well it is served by freight. Although the Central Eastside may not be the ideal location for new large-scale warehouse and distribution businesses, nearly every business in the district receives their raw materials and ships their products by freight — small vans, box trucks, flatbeds or semi-trailer trucks.

The ever-expanding multi-modal transportation system offers many ways into and out of the district, especially for employees. However, the area serves a larger regional customer base, which needs to circulate through the district by car and park, no matter how expansive the multi-modal system becomes.

The Automobile

As employment densities grow in the district, new parking strategies will be required for the expanding job base, especially for those who live far away and are not well connected to the district by transit.

 

Transit

The expanding light rail and streetcar systems present an opportunity to leverage those public investments to create greater job densities in the district, especially around major transit station areas. The challenge will be to manage growth in a way that the district can continue to serve its primary role as a central location for manufacturing and industrial services.

Active Transportation (Bicyclists and Pedestrians)

Regardless of how one gets to the Central Eastside — by truck, car, bus or boat — as soon as they arrive, they become a pedestrian. Pedestrian safety is paramount, and many of the pedestrian areas also provide auto and truck access. In addition, the district is bisected by multiple regional and local bicycle routes, and a growing number of district employees choose to get to and from work by bike.

Finding ways to encourage more employees to use active transportation will reduce congestion, decrease parking demand and generally make for happier and healthier employees.

 


This is the eleventh installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about transportation in the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the district, read the Central Eastside Reader and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar to learn about future events.

Portland's Central Eastside: Urban Character and Form

Main streets and corridors are at the heart of the district, providing space for commercial, retail and residential uses.

Although the Central Eastside is mostly known as an industrial district, the main street corridors along MLK, Grand Avenue, and Burnside, Morrison and Belmont Streets, as well as much of 12th Avenue, contain more than 85 acres of mixed-use zoning. These areas include a mix of housing, retail, commercial office and other land uses, with zoning entitlements that allow buildings as large and tall as those found in the Pearl District. However, there has been very little development in these areas.

The Central Eastside is experiencing a renaissance in transit service. Already served by bus and streetcar, the district will soon be connected to the greater region by light rail. When this system comes online — especially connections to the south via light rail, and west via light rail and streetcar — the expanded accessibility and exposure to the district will stimulate change that is hard to foresee. With lots of untapped development potential, these areas could provide ample opportunities for supportive retail and mixed-use development to locate in the district, just a short walk from most of the industrially zoned parcels in the district.

Balancing District Character and Function

Though it has been lost in other parts of the Central City, the unique industrial character of the Central Eastside exists largely because the area has been preserved as an industrial sanctuary.

Most buildings remain in use by large and small industrial businesses. However, as the needs and efficiencies of modern industrial users evolve, structures built decades ago for warehousing, manufacturing and industrial services may become obsolete and outlive the purposes for which they were intended. It will be important to examine how such buildings can be repurposed for nontraditional industrial uses, so the district can continue to be a business incubator for the city and regional economy.

This examination will need to consider how a mix of traditional and nontraditional industrial users can occupy the same district — often within the same building — and make it functionally and financially possible for both to coexist in the long run.

This is the tenth installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the urban character and form of the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the district, read the Central Eastside Reader and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar to learn about future events.
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Business Profile: A Day in the Life of Oscar Camarena, Simple Bicycles

Everything he needs to build his custom bike frames is close to his shop in the Ranchers and Gardeners Building.

Attracted to the district because of its central location and access to everything he requires for his business, Oscar Camarena moved his metal fabrication business from Yakima, Wash., to the Central Eastside last year. Now on the first floor of the Gardeners and Ranchers Building at SE 3rd and Madison, Oscar creates bike jigs for frame builders and bicycle product developers around the world. He also builds custom bike frames under the name Simple Bicycles for the high-end cycling market.

He can often be found hanging out with his fellow tenant craftsmen and women, sharing industry knowledge and acting as the de facto “mayor” of this unique community of metal-smiths, designers, bike builders and other entrepreneurs. On Fridays they have their own happy hour in the building.

A self-described “foodie,” Oscar likes the Central Eastside location because of its proximity to lots of restaurants as well as all of his suppliers, distributors, services and other frame builders. He can push a shopping cart loaded with jigs to the powder coater, ride his bike to Winks for small parts and tools or drive his truck to pick up larger supplies in Northwest Portland, all within a 20-minute radius.

Oscar says there’s nowhere else in the city that he would rather do business.

Industrial Ecosystem

It’s easy to look at the Central Eastside and see a collection of individual, albeit diverse, businesses. However, a closer look at these seemingly independent enterprises reveals that most have a symbiotic relationship with other businesses in the area — from the same sector as well as from other sectors — that provide essential goods and services.

Together they form a loose economic ecosystem. Each supports the other in multiple ways, and the removal of one key business, let alone a whole sector, can have a ripple effect that begins to undermine the health and potential survival of many other businesses.

Oscar Camarena of Simple Bicycles provides an example of this kind of industrial “ecosystem.”

This is the ninth installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the industrial businesses of the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the district, read the Central Eastside Reader and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar to learn about future events.

Old Buildings, New Uses: Gardeners and Ranchers Building

The evolution of an industrial building

The Building Then

In 1922 the Italian Gardeners and Ranchers Association constructed the Italian Gardeners and Ranchers Association Market Building on Martin Luther King Blvd next to the Hawthorne Bridge viaduct.

Now known as the Gardeners and Ranchers Building, the three-story building provided farmers and peddlers with a central location to sell and distribute produce. The association and building were also instrumental in establishing the Central Eastside as a center for produce distribution and industry, and Gardeners and Ranchers served as a gathering place and ad hoc community center for newly arriving immigrants.

This building that once contained a produce market, dairy product section, a specialty Italian import grocer, a pool hall, meeting rooms, and later a clothing manufacturing facility, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Although it is no longer used for wholesale or produce distribution, its current tenants provide an example of how new industrial uses are populating the Central Eastside.

 

The Building Now

Today the Gardeners and Ranchers Building is home to more than 23 businesses that use every portion of the building, from the basement to the top floor.

Currently, the basement houses tenants like Ruckus Composites, which began repairing carbon fiber bike frames in a windowless 200 sq ft work space in 2008. Needing a place to paint their frames, they reached out to a cabinetmaker on the second floor, who made his paint booth available as needed. A few years in, the folks at Ruckus discovered they were not the only bike manufacturers in the building. They bumped into Oscar Camarena of Simple Bicycles, who shares his small work space loaded with metal fabrication tools with an architect/designer who makes specialty metal furnishings.

Next to Simple Bicycles is Plywerk, a small but growing company that does photo mounting and art panels in addition to constructing bamboo panels on site. Started in the basement of its founder, the company now occupies several hundred square feet of the Gardeners and Ranchers Building, where staff manufacture the frames as well as mount and ship the finished products to customers near and far.

The second (and top) floor of the building — an area likely used as the original meeting rooms and pool hall of the Italian Gardeners and Ranchers Association — now contains space used by Nike SB (skate boarding), Clogmaster (custom shoes), Virtual Native (web design), Plus QA (desktop and mobile applications) and Streetcar Press (publishing), among others.

The Gardeners and Ranchers Building presents an interesting case study of how older industrial buildings in the district can be reused by a mix of businesses, across different sectors. It also demonstrates how different businesses in the district form interdependent and synergistic relationships that help each one prosper.

 

This is the eighth installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the industrial buildings of the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the district, read the Central Eastside Reader and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar to learn about future events.

Knowledge-Based and Design Business Profile: Transfer Online

Online shareholder management app developer represents a new kind of industry in the Central Eastside.

The self-proclaimed “first company to develop a web-based system for stock and shareholder management,” Transfer Online is a great example of a software company in the industrial district that manages web-based applications with a team of in-house developers.

President and CEO Lori Livingston moved the company to the Central Eastside from the Pearl District in 2010 because rents were going up on the west side, she didn’t like the tall buildings and was looking for a different environment. She prefers the raw, gritty nature of the area, the character of the buildings and the close-in location, which allows her 30 employees to take transit, walk and bike to work. While moving her business, she purchased the building on the corner of SE 7th and Salmon, where she has been hosting tenants of the Portland Development Commission’s Start-Up Challenge.

Livingston is no stranger to the urban industrial environment. She once had a business in one of New York City’s historic industrial districts, which flipped to high value condos and offices. “I saw small businesses — myself included — disappear from the city. I don’t want that to happen here.”

As a landlord, Livingston knows what tenants are looking for: bike parking, showers, retail and restaurants. And she wants to see more retail amenities closer to her business, “So you don’t have to get in a car to go out to lunch.”

This is the seventh installment of a blog series aimed at exploring the past, present, and future of the Central Eastside. To learn more about the businesses of the Central Eastside and the planning efforts for the district, read the Central Eastside Reader and visit the SE Quadrant Plan calendar to learn about future events.