With kids grown and gone, Lidwien and her husband decided to downsize from their family home in South Burlingame with its 14,000 sf hillside lot. Their current home in the Sunnyside neighborhood, built in 1905, offers the urban lifestyle they wanted.
Lidwien, a land use and transportation planner working for ODOT in the Portland Metro Region, is serious about multi-modal transportation options for herself and the rest of the city. We asked her about the downsize move, how she joined the walking group, what projects she spearheads at the city, and how she has built community around her over the years in Portland.
"First, we wanted to live in a denser, more mixed use neighborhood with a complete street grid so we would have more destinations within walking distance. Our current neighborhood has a ton of restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, Powells Books, movie theaters, Laurelhurst Park, Mount Tabor Park, and lots of other interesting places to go to.
Second, it is easier to ride our bikes to work, to downtown, and to the gym, which we do year around.
Third, the smaller house and yard are easier to maintain. We don't have a garage or a driveway, but we do have a shed to store our bicycles, and that suits us perfectly."
What kind of policy initiatives would you like to see adopted to make Portland more walk-friendly and equitable?
"I'd like to see fewer traffic deaths and serious injuries, especially for vulnerable road users including the young, the old, and the disabled. Far too many people are dying on the streets of Portland. Portland now has a Vision Zero Plan, and ODOT has embraced the Vision Zero concept, which are major steps in the right direction.
I'd like to see the walking and biking networks completed. That means filling in sidewalk and bikelane gaps on major streets, safer street crossings, especially to bus stops and other daily destinations, and completing and improving the neighborhood greenway network.
I'd like to see less land devoted to parking, and the parking that exists better managed. And I'd like to see a better system in place for sidewalk maintenance - not complaint driven but systematic inspections in all Portland neighborhoods. As a planner I get to work on these issues, and I am so impressed with the thoughtful conversations that are taking place all over the region on these hot topics. I love it!"
What does Oregon Walks do?
"As a volunteer and past Board member for Oregon Walks, the state pedestrian advocacy organization, I helped develop a City policy to eliminate or reduce the use of public right of way and unsafe detours caused by developers using sidewalk space for private development. The policy was modeled after Seattle's, and has now been adopted.
The Oregon Walks Plans and Policy Committee participates on local advisory committees, works with staff, and submits testimony on a wide range of transportation and land use plans and projects, to make sure they are designed in such a way that it is possible to walk safely, comfortably, and directly to the places we want to go.
This work requires great attention to detail and lots of patience, and can be rather un-glamorous, but it is absolutely critical because it's the details that make a place walkable. And that is especially important for those who do not have the option to drive, because they are too young or too old or not physically able, or because they cannot afford to own and operate a car."
What about these tabletop carpets?
"It's a Dutch tradition I grew up with. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all had "Persian" carpets on their tables. If you look at some of the old Dutch interior paintings, e.g. Vermeer, you'll see that the Dutch have been putting carpets on their tables for centuries.They save the table from getting scratched and they are very forgiving if you ever spill wine or tea/coffee on them."
When did you move to the US?
"I grew up in the Netherlands, and first came to the US as a college exchange student in Corvallis. I met my husband at a Foreign Student Association reception the first week of school. He was from Pakistan. We were so young then! We have been together since 1973.
We have a core group of friends from college, both OSU and U of O, who are Pakistani men, married to American women. We had kids around the same time. Being so far from our families, we are like family, and our kids grew up together like cousins. We share the immigrant and cross-cultural experience. We have met each other's relatives both here in the US and in Pakistan. Forty-some years later, we talk about parents who died or are very elderly, retirement, our ailments. That is our core community.
Over the years, other communities have been added: professional connections, walking friends, my book group, my husband's squash community, bicycling buddies, neighbors. I love it when the different communities intersect, making the world a smaller, more manageable place. A woman from the walking group who is friends with a squash player from the Bay Area. Another woman from the walking group from the same city in India where my husband's relatives live, who knows his cousin who now lives in Vancouver. Portland is such a small place! We need those connections, now more than ever!"
How did you start with the walking group?
"I love to walk and hike. I was invited to the Women's Wednesday Walking group by a long-time friend, who had run into the group while walking her dog in NW Portland. It took a while before I became a regular, but now I wouldn't miss it for anything! Walking and bicycling are very social activities, and it doesn't feel like exercise while chatting away. The group is very welcoming and not judgmental.
The walks have led to new friendships and the group has become a source of support and advice on everything from medical advice, movies to see, books to read, events to attend, recommended contractors, you name it.
People do all sorts of fun things together apart from the walks. Some of us have been having occasional dinners together where we all cook from the Ottolenghi cookbooks, inspired by my visit to the Ottolenghi restaurant in London. The food has been delicious, and we've have had a lot of fun together.
In a few weeks a small group of us with husbands are going on a week-long bike and barge trip in the Netherlands. It is very exciting for me because I will get to show off my home country and it will help people understand a part of me that is not always obvious."
Were you able to take part in the Women's March?
"I was not able to participate in the Women's Walk in January, because we were traveling. When I checked Facebook on January 20 every one of my women friends and relatives had posted photos from the marches they attended all over the country and all over the world. It was so moving, I sat there at the Juan Valdez cafe in Bogota with tears streaming down my cheeks! One friend had offered to carry the names of people who could not attend. She posted a picture of all the names written on her sleeves, and there was my name! That felt really good. It was so important for women of all races and ages and backgrounds to speak up and say 'this is not OK. This man does not represent us. We will not tolerate the hatred and bigotry that he represents. And we will provide a safe place for all the people who are threatened by him and the likes of him.'"