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Open Letter: Create a place in Aloha

Posted by Peter W on January 27, 2008

So if you don’t know, ‘Aloha’ is the name of an area in unincorporated Washington County (in Oregon). It isn’t even a town yet, but the Metro regional government says it should be one of the Metro Town Centers. Below is a letter asking that the County plans for the Aloha Town Center and rebuilds 185th Avenue as part of that.

Dear Commissioner Schouten,

I’m ecstatic to read in the paper that the County will have an open house this Thursday to talk about the 185th project between the highway and the high school. I can’t wait until it is finally safe to walk or ride a bike along what is now a nasty stretch of asphalt.

I’m very excited, but at the same time I’m worried.

The purpose of the project is to fix safety and capacity problems, but how much of a ‘fix’ will this be? As you know, people are tired of Band-Aid fixes and want real solutions. A road project that only fixes current traffic problems without looking at our land use problems will only be a temporary Band-Aid, because congestion is only a symptom… the real problem is sprawl. If we don’t fix the sprawl problem we’ll never fix the congestion problem — no matter how wide our roads become.

For the 185th project to be part of a real solution, the County needs to look at land use patterns and think about how road projects can help change those patterns in ways that create vibrant communities where people can easily live without cars. As you know, the Metro 2040 Growth Plan calls for creating these communities by clustering a mix of land uses (residential, retail, employment, cultural, civic, and recreational) in walkable Centers which are well served and connected to other Centers by mass transit, and the Plan designates Aloha as a Town Center. The plan also calls for higher density housing along Corridors, such as 185th. As you know, spending public money on infrastructure projects confers value in the area of those improvements, and is often followed by private investment. For that reason, I think it is extremely important that the 185th road project be the first part of a comprehensive plan for creating a real ‘place’ – a Metro Center – in Aloha.

Before we decide what the street will look like, we need to figure out what kind of a place we want Aloha to be.

Is Aloha just a place people drive through to get to somewhere else, or is it a place that people want to be? Can we create a Center in Aloha, with retail, offices, and housing served by transit? Can we create something more of a Town where people can walk from their homes to their jobs, and then walk to a restaurant or a theater in the evening?

Rebuilding 185th between TV HWY and Aloha High School could be the first step in creating a real Place in Aloha – if we do it right. The types of bicycle and pedestrian amenities will depend on, and impact, how we want the Town Center built. For example, we’ll obviously need good boulevard design with landscaped buffers, safe crossings, and medians to make walking safe – and good boulevard design could then lead to private interest in developing well designed high density housing. Before we can put in landscaped medians, however, we’ll need to have a long range plan for where future connections will be to support the Town Center plan.

Unfortunately I don’t believe the county has any long range plan for the Aloha Town Center yet. I know the County is spending lots of time and money making sure that North Bethany becomes a great place; it would be nice if they’d put the same kind of effort into helping Aloha develop into a great place too.

Metro’s “Achieving Region 2040 Centers” document says that “Every transportation improvement (such as roads, transit stations and sidewalks) is an opportunity to define, enhance or damage the public realm.”[1] Can the 185th improvement project help define the area’s public realm and be implemented as part of a comprehensive strategic plan for developing Aloha?

Thank you.

1: http://www.metro-region.org/files/planning/centers_principles.pdf

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