Bees and bicycles: Unsung Heroes of the Urban Environment

I was watching the mason bee activities around the bee boxes in the shared open space for UrbanLens Planning and I was struck by the synergies between mason bees and bicycles. Both these tiny pollinators and bicyclists are the unsung heroes of the urban environment as they both provide value well beyond their day to day activities and create dozens of helpful ripple effects in the environment which they serve.

Bees act as pollinators, which, in turn, creates opportunities for dozens of other flora and fauna. This enables production of food and higher quality habitat among other benefits. Mason bees pollinate over 1,500 flowers a day with a 95% pollinator rate in comparison to the approximately 700 pollinator actions at a 5% rate by honey bees. All for just going from point A to point B.

Similarly, having cyclists in an urban environment create active street life, reduce vehicle miles travelled, creates a quieter city environment and helps stretch infrastructure funding. Additionally, in a group, cyclists may act in a ‘swarm-like” manner, as shown in this video by Mikael Colville-Andersen simply by going from point A to point B.

Photo by Damien TUPINIER on Unsplash

Observations at a signal-free intersection in Amsterdam

This video was taken during an AM rush hour at Alexanderplein; a intersection in Amsterdam where the removal of traffic lights now facilitates a reasonable flow for all modes of traffic due to personal interactions and thoughtful behaviors.

Although the volume of bicycles may not seem like a perfect model for higher-auto traffic intersections in North American cities, the requirement that all users interact with each other creates a situation where everyone has to slow  down and pay attention to each other, rather than a signal. 

UrbanLens Planning Joins Business for a Better Portland

Join UrbanLens Planning in becoming a member of Business for a Better Portland, an organization who’s goal is to ensure that Portland is an equitable city where prosperity can be shared by all. They seek to make a positive difference in the city of Portland by combining the strength of business advocacy with the power of technology and grassroots social change. Recent wins under their belt include advocating for adoption of the City of Portland’s Enhanced Transit Corridor Plan and increased funding for small businesses via Prosper Portland.


PBOT launches Portland in the Streets program

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has released a "Livable Streets Strategy: PBOT prioritizes people by encouraging the use of the right-of-way for community gathering spaces, placemaking and programming.” Since the Livable Streets Strategy’s adoption, the Bureau has been working to develop the programs that will put this policy into practice. One program is called: Portland in the Streets:

What programs are part of Portland in the Streets? Here’s a quick list:

  • Block Parties - Small scale parties held on residential streets, such as neighborhood potlucks and barbecues that are held by, and for, residents along the street.
  • Community Events - Larger scale events that occur in the public right of way intended to build a sense of community. These events bring people from the entire neighborhood or region and events support and encourage community gatherings and local businesses.
  • Street Paintings - Large format works of art, designed and painted on local streets that build community, empower neighbors to shape their own public realm, create an artistic expression that’s about the people who live nearby, and break down social isolation.
  • Pedestrian Plazas - Long term community placemaking projects within the right-of-way to create open space on underutilized streets, alleys, or other roadways for the public to use and activate.
  • Street Prototyping - Community Initiated projects that test a new street or intersection design concept, and collect data to inform future design decisions.
  • Spaces to Places – These projects turn gravel, dirt and underdeveloped low volume streets or alleyways into places where people want to gather and install amenities desirable to the community.

These changes will help PBOT create a citywide program that helps community groups create and activate their own spaces that are unique to their own neighborhoods.

Among the changes: 

  • City Code Chapter 17.24 – Permits - Creates a new Portland in the Streets administrative rule to establish a consistent framework for all programs
  • City Code Chapter 17.25 – Sidewalk Cafes - Creates new permit and fee type for Sidewalk Cafés to extend their operations during a Community Event street closure
  • TRN 3.450 – Block Party permit fees going from $10 to zero - Eliminates the fees for the Block Party Program
  • TRN 3.450 – Park(ing) Day permit fee going from $25 to zero - Eliminates the fees for the Park(ing) Day Program

For more information, stay tuned to the Portland in the Streets website ( as they put these changes into practice this spring,



Planning and Women Division of American Planning Association Wins Award

The Women and Planning Division of the American Planning Association has been selected as the winner of the Divisions Council Achievement Award for Overall Division Performance. I'm a member of this Division and I can attest to all the good work that it does for planning professionals. As the Division newsletter notes, "This award is especially meaningful because it highlights the work of the Division to broaden our reach and offerings to our members." The Award letter states:

“We felt that the Division had a broad range of excellent activities and were impressed by the Division’s member engagement efforts, including the book club, webinar series, active social media, and local events.”

This is great news for the Division and the work that it does. Congratulations! 

ADU insights for the City of Portland

I recently attended a session with the Bureau of Development Services on the Title 33 standards associated with development of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU).

City of Portland planners reviewed the development standards for ADU’s including the zones they are allowed in (Allowed in conjunction with most single family residences, regardless of zoning); how to determine the maximum size of a unit (75% of primary dwelling with a not to exceed 800 square feet) and considerations when converting a structure/internal space or building new. Other considerations include on-site trees, utility location(s) and parking.

One particular point I thought was interesting was some of the possible exceptions for setbacks. Setbacks for an ADU follow the standards found in Title 33, Section 205 for Accessory Dwelling Units. Section 33.205.040.C.4 notes that detached accessory dwelling units must be:

Either set back 40 feet from the front lot line; or located behind the rear wall of the house, attached house, or manufactured home. For the purpose of this regulation, the rear wall of the house is the wall furthest from the wall with the main entrance to the street. The ADU also has to comply with the base zone standards for detached accessory structures.

Exceptions to this standard can include the following:

The ADU may be located in rear or side setback if in the R7 through RX Zones:

 40-feet from front lot line and 20 feet from street side lot line;  No wall is taller than 10-feet, except gable; Overall height is no more than 15-feet; Does not exceed 24’ x 24’ in size; the Combined length of all structures in setback does not exceed 24-feet; the dormer setback 5-feet from all lot lines (including alleys); there are no windows or doors facing this lot line and no rooftop deck. A graphical reference for these setback exceptions can be found here:

Another tricky section of Title 33 for ADU compliance is the building height standard. As the following graphics indicate, measurement of building height is in consideration of the site and and slope/type of roof. Where it gets tricky is in a situation where roof slope does not necessarily result in a more compatible building.

In a recent Adjustment review that Marty Buckenmeyer, Architect and I successfully collaborated on, the height of the proposed ADU was taller than allowed by code. This was as a result of wanting to maintain compatibility between the ADU and the primary dwelling which is a required design standard. As this graphic from Buckenmeyer Architecture illustrates, the proposed roof line created an ADU that was less bulky than a project that met code, however, was considered taller based on the measurement for a roof pitch of 14/12. This land use application was successful in the Adjustment process and I lobbied staff at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to consider a permanent code change to Title 33 to reflect the nuances of measuring height of different rooflines, using this project as an example. The takeaway for this is that measurement standards can yield unintended results and the Adjustment process can be used to mitigate in these situations.

If you are considering an Accessory Dwelling Unit project, get in touch for a Strategy Session or a Preliminary Site Assessment to learn about your site's options. Either of these can be scheduled here.

Thank you to Buckenmeyer Architecture for providing associated plans and graphics.