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Portland’s 1971 visionary of low-car life says our city needs its next vision

Posted by on September 12th, 2013 at 1:10 am

Alan Webber at BIF-6
Former Portland city hall staffer
and journalist Alan Webber.
(2010 photo by Jeremy Withers)

The man who, as a city hall aide 40 years ago, proposed that Portland consider an anti-congestion fee, car-free streets, a citywide bikeway network, a station-based public bike sharing system and bike-specific traffic signals stopped through town last weekend and said something else interesting.

Alan Webber, who went on to co-found Fast Company magazine, still believes in the ideas he held back then: “The good guys win,” as he put it. But in a speech last Saturday he made the case that the convictions of the early 1970s aren’t enough any more, and that Portland needs to set a new, higher target and stick with it.

In some ways, Webber’s Sept. 7 keynote at TechFestNW was a retelling of the familiar but memorable local story of how one generation of mostly white male Portlanders ousted the more auto-centric ideas of an older generation in the early 1970s.

But Webber’s speech also offers a fresh, frank take on how his generation built consensus around those big changes, why they worked and what they mean to Portland today.

The best and brightest of America’s prestigious urban planners, transportation experts, economic development gurus, and social engineers had already laid waste to most of the country’s big cities. Urban renewal had been used as a tool to bulldoze slums, displace minorities, and erect sterile single-use zones that in many cases reflected an architectural style best described as “Mussolini modern.”

Everyone who counted knew that freeways were the wave of the future—that massive concrete channels needed to be carved through old and uninteresting city neighborhoods to make it faster, easier, and more convenient for former city dwellers—the ones with money and choice—to make the morning commute from the sprawling suburbs to the rapidly rotting urban core—and back again at night. All that old housing stock, all those old neighborhoods, what difference did they make? They were the past. … The good news for Portland in 1970 was that the city leaders were so conservative, so slow, so sclerotic, they’d managed to miss almost all of these carefully planned catastrophes.

Make no mistake. Portland in 2013 is at a “what’s next?” moment, much as it was in 1970. Except in 1970 we were trying to save Portland from urban ruin. in 2013 you have the opportunity to propel Portland to urban greatness. …

If you go to war, and you don’t have a clear definition of victory, how do you know how many resources to commit, how to make the case for the conflict with your own people, how long to stay, or when to leave—or even whether you’re winning or losing? The same is true for a business—or, for that matter for a city seeking a strategy. You need to be able to answer the question, “What’s your definition of victory?” “What’s the point of the exercise?” so you can begin to know why you are doing what you are doing, and how well you are doing it. .

Which is why having a definition of victory—why asking the last question first—is fundamental to any military engagement, any business strategy or entrepreneurial startup, or any urban disruption. … Here’s the deal—for business entrepreneurs or urban strategists: Once you know your definition of victory, then you can begin to connect the elements of your strategy into a coherent, internally consistent whole.

But until you have answered that fundamental question, until you know the definition of victory, you really have no strategy. You have an assortment of programs, a loose collection of policy initiatives—but no clear strategy.

Webber is a little vague on suggestions for what that strategy should be, but with good reason: he’s not a Portlander any more. It’s up to those of us who are to ask and answer “the last question” he refers to.

Here at BikePortland, we’re looking for ways to tell the story of how bikes fit into a better city, not for their own sake but for the sake of the city and the region we share and love. How can we make it clear that bike advocacy isn’t about asking the city to make way for bikes, but about making it possible for bikes to serve the city?

While you chew on that (I certainly will be), Willamette Week has the whole text of Webber’s speech, and it’s definitely worth reading.

Hat tip to the Twitter feed of OPB’s Toni Tabora-Roberts.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Yes to a vision!

    “How can we make it clear that bike advocacy isn’t about asking the city to make way for bikes, but about making it possible for bikes to serve the city?”

    Well said. Asphalt and autodom are on their way out. The vision I’m interested in explores how to go about shifting everything over to a post carbon transportation system. Daunting? Sure. But not as daunting as the alternatives.

    “Portland needs to set a new, higher target and stick with it.”

    Three cheers for Alan Webber!

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  • Chris Sanderson September 12, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Read this article the other day, and though it was well worth the read. So, the question remains: Is there an idea of what “victory” looks like? Can we sit down and figure out what we want Portland to look like 20-years from now? Can we build consensus on the game plan and “victory”? I’ve only lived here a few years, and perhaps there’s a master strategic plan that I don’t know about. If so, how does that change or evolve with mayoral and Metro administrations? How democratic is the game plan? Anyway, just pondering and asking questions…

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    • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 8:12 am

      “Is there an idea of what “victory” looks like?”

      I suspect if we sat down and brainstormed we’d find there are lots and lots of ideas. Probably including many excellent ones. Personally I start with David Engwicht’s Street Reclaiming. His book if chock full of passion, motivation, & implementation.
      Looked at from the other end, I’d ask what tasks canNOT be accomplished by bike (or human power, generally), if we really put our minds to it? And what would it take to make all of that happen? What would we need to change, do; how to go about putting this into practice? Who could be expected to object? And how to overrule them?

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Judging by Nine Watts, it’s bike evangelists who will rule Portland, and
      folks like me (single family home, garden, car) will be “over-ruled” by our more enlightened “betters” who are (shock) a bunch of fit white guys that can afford fancy bikes and spandex.
      ” “Looked at from the other end, I’d ask what tasks canNOT be accomplished by bike (or human power, generally), if we really put our minds to it? And what would it take to make all of that happen? What would we need to change, do; how to go about putting this into practice? Who could be expected to object? And how to overrule them?”

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      • Chris I September 12, 2013 at 8:57 am

        Of the folks that ride bikes for transportation, not for recreation, I see a lot fewer “fancy bikes and spandex”. I see a lot of practical bikes and normal clothing. I see bikes that have an operating cost of about $0.01 per mile, vs. $0.25+ for a cheap used car. The poor can benefit greatly from bike transportation, we just need to work to create safe routes throughout the city, where everyone can access them, not just those that can afford to live in the inner-city.

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        • matt picio September 12, 2013 at 9:29 am

          That’s missing the point. The point is that the decisions are, by and large, being made by those who are able, mobile, white, male, and with large amounts of discretionary income. And yes, I too fit all those categories.

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          • Chris I September 12, 2013 at 10:50 am

            What would you suggest we do? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If advocates have another vision, they should speak up in city meetings, run for office, etc.

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        • Oregon Mamacita September 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm

          Chris, I don’t disagree with you about making biking safe throughout the city. But what I want to partially call you out for is your, what is the term,
          semi-arrogance when it comes to the “poor.” The working poor are not stupid, and they have not been big advocates for bike access. They understand their own needs.
          You forget that a good percentage of Portlanders really do need cars for work- these would include anyone “on call”, construction workers, flaggers, and people in work in remote-ish locations like the
          manufacturing plants in Clackamas County and deep SE. How about the service workers who are older and perhaps worn down by repetitive tasks?
          How about anyone with a physical job?
          A working car is a better indicator of gainful employment for many minority men than education.

          So, when I see bike advocates outside Wal-Mart I’ll believe you. Until then, don’t presume to tell the poor what they want. Please note that
          I did temper my remarks because I don’t think you are an extreme example of the class problem we face on this blog. I think you haven’t always thought about the larger context of the middle class dictating to “the poor” or who you are talking about (the working class?).

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          • spare_wheel September 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm

            Auto-centrism and poor public transportation go hand in hand. I don’t think it’s possible to address the former without addressing the latter.

            ” But what I want to partially call you out for is your, what is the term,
            semi-arrogance when it comes to the “poor.””

            The bottom income decile is not only income poor but also car poor. A policy that favors efficient public transportation will, IMO, favor the poorest of the poor. And as an old-fashioned liberal, these are the people that I care the most about.

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            • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 1:28 pm

              Before cars it was much harder to be at a disadvantage when it came to getting around (see Ivan Illich). I predict that after cars this present imbalance will be much less pronounced.

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            • Oregon Mamacita September 12, 2013 at 1:49 pm

              The tension is with the working class and the working poor and their interests- the 2nd and third deciles from the bottom. There has been no
              outreach to recent immigrant communities either. Please, imagine yourself talking to Wal-Mart customers about their cars. What would they say? How about the business people in the Fubon center? Take your bike
              centrism there and see how it goes.

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              • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm

                “Please, imagine yourself talking to Wal-Mart customers about their cars.”

                I’m not proposing to hector anyone about their cars, working class or other. What you appear not to be accounting for is how we got into this mess in the first place. Where does all this dependency on the car, this difficulty imagining one day not having one, come from? How did we get here? This is an overarching, society-wide problem we need to grapple with. I don’t think Alan Webber or Alan Durning or Ron Buel or anyone else who takes seriously what may be in store thinks this is going to be easy, painless, a win-win for everyone immediately. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to look this squarely in the eye and see if we can’t figure out something better than a collective shrug.

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              • Chris I September 13, 2013 at 6:58 am

                What are you advocating for? The auto network has been 100% built. Driving is the quickest and most convenient method for 90+% of the trips in the city; but it is also the most expensive. The city, and our society as a whole have made driving convenient and under-priced (user fees do not pay for all construction and maintenance costs). This is why I question the motives of those that supposedly advocate for the poor, but fight against pedestrian and cycling improvements. An auto-centric society gives the poor few options:
                1. Convenient but expensive car, typically with huge hidden costs (unexpected maintenance, collisions while not carrying insurance, or weak insurance, degraded health, etc)
                2. Slow, inconvenient bus that often involves a long and dangerous walk to the bus stop
                3. Slow, dangerous bike commute on auto-centric streets

                Most of the pedestrians killed in this city are middle-class to poor, and they are killed on these auto-centric streets. Advocating for a car-centric society is advocating against the poor.

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                • Oregon Mamacita September 14, 2013 at 10:00 am

                  How do you know what the poor want? They sure don’t lobby for biking.
                  In Lents, the working class residents are lobbying for help with the homeless camp. Show me some proof that you are not projecting your desires onto the crowd that shops at Wal-Mart.

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                • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
                  Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 14, 2013 at 10:55 am

                  Oregon Mamacita, I’ve had a lot of respect for you since we had our first web exchange last year on a Portland Afoot thread, but all the numbers I’ve seen suggest that your conviction that bikes are an upper-class thing is just mistaken. The data shows that bike use is more or less evenly divided by income, with the poorest quartile of Americans representing a slightly disproportionately large share:


                  In Portland, car commuters have the highest median income, followed by bike commuters, then transit commuters and finally foot commuters. Making our city friendlier to low-car life (while also keeping it as affordable as possible) is one of the best things we can do for social mobility and equality. For whatever it’s worth, this is the source of my own interest in bikes.

                  Biking is disproportionately white, especially here in Portland, and that’s bad. But it’s a somewhat different problem.

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                • 9watts September 14, 2013 at 11:27 am

                  Mamacita: “The [poor] sure don’t lobby for biking.”

                  Neither do the wealthy, or the in-between, as a group. This is a false dichotomy. In my experience it is those who bike regularly, who have had a chance to discover how excellent it can be, who lobby for more of it, for better accommodations. No great surprises there.

                  Biking, in contrast to driving, isn’t about excluding others, dividing people, making their choices for them. It is cheap, fun, empowering, healthy, and open to everyone. The fact that many people and many segments of society right now don’t bike as much as well off white folks is a problem, a conundrum, a challenge, but not, I don’t think, something to use as a club to beat those who want to encourage more of it.

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          • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 1:33 pm

            “How about anyone with a physical job?”

            You should run that by Chris Sanderson.
            We need to retire the notion that ‘real’ jobs require an automobile, or a truck. When I see City of Portland staff (from any bureau) driving around in these absolutely enormous pickups I cringe, especially. They, most of them, could get around by bicycle or even on foot. Once upon a time they did. Just think how much of our tax money we’d have left over to spend locally. All those fleets of oversized, overpowered, rapidly depreciating, city vehicles represent money that leaves our community never to return. The fuel that powers them represents money that leaves out community never to return. The asphalt to pave all the places we need to store them is bought with money that never returns.

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            • Chris Sanderson September 12, 2013 at 4:45 pm

              There are days where I wish I had a truck. Needless to say, I am happy with my decision to run my contracting business by bike. I like the exercise, I stay in good shape (since I get an aerobic workout on the bike), and I save probably $10-12K a year not owning a vehicle. I make a very modest income ($22,000) last year, and enjoy not having the stress of having to fork out money to insure, gas, and maintain a utility van or truck.

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              • wsbob September 12, 2013 at 11:08 pm

                Commendable, but limited in terms of working area radius bike based construction businesses can serve. A niche construction business that doesn’t rely on heavy or bulky materials or tools regularly hauled many miles, instead relying on a bike for transportation, can work for some people, but expanding that transportation method to a sizable construction worker population of today would probably be difficult, even impractical.

                Looking back into 40’s history, I think Vanport, built to house shipyard workers, offered a potentially realistic ability for workers to bike to their jobs. Today, hypothetically I suppose if a company like Intel wanted to really make an effort to be progressive, it could have explored providing temporary housing near the worksite for the workers building it’s huge plants in Hillsboro over the years. Whether anyone really wants to live in that type situation anymore, seems to me is a good question, and one that may figure strongly into what kind of vision for livable transportation communities can realistically expect to happen.

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                • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 11:19 pm

                  Of course it isn’t realistic, wsbob, until someone shows how it can be done. Chris (and others too Josh* has a plumbing business by bike, and Adam** an arborist gig) have demonstrated how this works. Now (we thought) we could be done with the familiar ‘those with physical jobs all need trucks.’ Yeah, sure, we can all think of situations where accomplishing 100% of the task with a bike and trailer could be tough. So? That doesn’t invalidate the larger point. You gotta start somewhere. No thanks to naysayers there’s now plenty of reason to think that these jobs, and many others like them, could, realistically, be transformed away from the heavy, reflexive, expensive reliance on big trucks.

                  The difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a little longer.


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                • Chris September 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

                  I actually serve a pretty wide swath of Portland. However, ultimately, I’d like to see the business be more based in the community in which it serves. I live in Inner SE, and would live to see a business like mine serving North Portland and one in NE. One great thing about Portland is that suppliers (lumber and hardware) are still in the community (I.e. not fled to suburban boxstoretopia), and that makes it possible to do this by bike. I will admit that on rare occasions, I have to have materials delivered. That said, if other contractors were to do what I do, then we’d cut down on noise and traffic in our neighborhoods. Also, we wouldn’t have so many yucks driving down from Washington, shopping at Home Depot, and doing sloppy, cheap work. Since I live in the community, I am accountable to it, and contribute to the tax base. Yay!

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      • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 9:01 am

        While I have a single family home and a garden (like you, apparently) that fact that I don’t need a car and you (presently) do, all has very little to do with future conditions we could anticipate, future exigencies that will favor certain types of transport over others. But I’m sure there will be plenty of folks who are determined to hold onto their cars, well past the point when they/we can afford the fuel to power them or can expect social approval of their use for everyday tasks.

        The whole framing of this as ‘he’s going to take away my car’ is just so ridiculous and so ahistorical. The only time anyone actually took anything from someone in our transportation history (that I can think of) was
        * our neighborhoods that had to make way for urban freeways;
        * the opportunity to use feet or bikes or mules to get places which were rendered either unsafe or illegal due to the overwhelming presence of the car/car-only infrastructure;
        * not to mention the familiar ‘there’s no money left for anyone’s transport needs who doesn’t own a car.’

        I would be happy to loan you a copy of David Engwicht’s book. It is really really good on these issues.

        And FWIW, I may be fit and white but I don’t own spandex or any fancy bikes. I’m not sure what the stereotyping is about.

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        • Oregon Mamacita September 12, 2013 at 12:24 pm

          Who could be expected to object? And how to overrule them?”

          Your words, 9 Watts. And, don’t exaggerate my argument about the anti-car crowd. As for loss, my old inner SE neighborhood is an ugly, crowded, undiverse, airless crapfest thanks to certain politicians who bend over and grab their ankles when a developer proposes to knock down a Victorian and put in tiny pricey studios. So yes, I have a loss.

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          • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm

            Those who I think would be most likely to object, are already objecting, to a world drastically less reliant on fossil fuels are those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (see those supporting the CRC). If you see yourself among those who would object to the kind of local, human powered, future David Engwicht describes and which this blog seems quite interested in exploring, then that is your prerogative.

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            • Hugh Johnson September 12, 2013 at 6:31 pm

              You’ve obviously not taken care of an aging crippled parent like some of us, so throwing a leg over a bike and just riding everywhere is not a very good option. I guess old crippled folks should just die so the young can zoom around our city on bicycles without a care.

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              • 9watts September 13, 2013 at 12:23 pm

                Right. Go ahead. Pursue your alternative. Don’t take it from me.

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                • Oregon Mamacita September 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

                  Hell has frozen over- I agree with something 9 Watts said. “Pursue your alternative and don’t take my alternative” is spot on.

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              • Oregon Mamacita September 14, 2013 at 10:01 am

                OMG, an outside voice in the echo chamber!

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          • q`Tzal September 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm

            We need something resembling a rent control scheme so that when low cost housing is demolished to make way for denser urban development an amount equaling 150%-200% of the original living density is accommodated with identical or lower priced housing.
            One of the most disgusting things about the sort of development you describe is it displaces the poorest that can’t afford a car while building a neighborhood where you won’t need a car. Then the rich move in, as they are the only ones that can afford to, and the density and neighborhood feel is ruined by parking lots for cars unneeded by people living there.
            I’m not proposing Blade Runner sized micro apartments for everyone but some people might be happy with a smaller space. Families get more room obviously.

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      • q`Tzal September 12, 2013 at 1:34 pm

        Questions like “what is more efficient: 50 households individually driving to grocery stores in 50 different automobiles and needing 50 spaces to park OR 1 delivery truck from the grocery store that delivers in to that neighborhood?” need to be asked.
        If a DOT subsidies mass transit on the theory that fewer vehicles will be on the road could we not logically argue for a small local grocery delivery subsidy to offset some of the cost of delivery? It would keep some people off the road. Heck, with the bulk weight of my groceries delivered to my house I can pick up odds and ends on a regular bike.

        In other poorer countries individual people get by sharing cars or arranging/coordinating with others so travel is unnecessary. The problem we have here is that driving is too convenient.

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        • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm

          We could go back to the corner grocery stores. Problem solved.

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          • CaptainKarma September 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm

            Awesome! Except every time a Whole Paycheck, er , Foods, Zuppanni’s or Trader Joe’s or (gasp) WalMart variant goes in, real corner grocers are pretty much locked out for the foreseeable future, unable to compete. Would love to shop at a locally owned grocer by bike or on foot.

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          • q`Tzal September 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm

            Hybrid solution: as a foody I want to pick out my produce rather than relying on a store unloading on me whatever they want. Same goes for solid cuts of meat. For these local markets are optimal because even under the best conditions spoilage occurs quickly while quality drops off usually within 24 hours. In this case making a daily run to the local shops for a scant few items is great; you’d hardly need a bag.

            For bulk items like toilet paper, cleaning chemicals, canned, dry and frozen food delivery is better; these sorts of items are cheaper in quantity and are often very heavy. Why should people be required to own a car or heavy cargo cycle to pick this stuff up? I bake bread for group of people and source high quality flour in 50lb bags from Portland French Bakery. I can get quality that is close in major grocery stores but in 5lb or 10lb bags I pay over twice to three times as much per pound. But the bakery only sells to the public one day a week and only very early in the morning. In would make much more sense to have high quality and/or specialty food items delivered rather than waste precious fuel and time scrounging around town.

            But I’m old fashioned or perfectionist enough to refuse to allow anyone I don’t trust like family to pick out my produce. And even they stopped offering after a few snobby chef moments on my part.

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            • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 5:50 pm

              no reason that delivery of 50 lb bags of early morning flour couldn’t be by bike. 50 lbs is nothing. Even 10x 50 lbs.

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              • q`Tzal September 12, 2013 at 7:33 pm

                But economics of scale show that without labor subsidies that at best we can hope for an electric delivery van about the size of an old VW Micro Bus. More likely something the size and most importantly SPEED of a FedEx residential delivery truck.
                For general grocers a cargo bike service may well work without subsidies in urban areas more dense than westside Portland.
                Even in the Portland metro area though a company like Penzeys Spices, whose cargo is exceedingly light and not bulky, would be better off with some sort of high speed vehicle as there are only 2 or 3 stores in town.
                Me personally: I’d rather order directly from the restaurant vendors because, quite frankly, that’s where all the good stuff is at all the best prices.
                As for the flour I mentioned earlier: it is sourced from Sheppard’s Grain, a smaller group of growers relatively local. I get much more consistent product by spec’ing a higher quality flour that isn’t ConAgra’s mish-mash mixup of all ground wheat nationwide. No one actually sells this directly to the public right now so if there was a single store in town they would need to be able deliver to the entire metro area.
                Not all situations are optimally served by a bike.
                Not all situations are optimally served by a bike.
                Not all situations are optimally served by a bike.

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          • Hugh Johnson September 12, 2013 at 6:27 pm

            Many of us don’t have easy access to quality corner stores. Problem not solved.

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            • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 9:31 pm

              I didn’t presume you or anyone did. I said ‘we could go back to…’

              Once we have, then, I suggested, the problem would be solved.

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          • Pete September 13, 2013 at 12:37 am

            I wish I could agree. When I lived in Beaverton a few blocks from the Safeway on Murray/Allen, I can’t tell you how many neighbors I observed frequently driving over there only to return with just one or two light (plastic) bags of nightly dinner needs. Now I live in California a few blocks further from a Safeway and I see a few more walkers but still can point out what I’d consider many ‘offenders.’ Actually more sadly ironic were the number of these people driving Priuses (Prii?)…

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            • wsbob September 13, 2013 at 1:43 am

              Time of year, day? Kind of weather? Traffic conditions? Approximate age and physical fitness of the people observed making the trips you describe? Those are some of the factors that could figure into a person deciding to drive instead of walk or bike to a store three blocks from their home.

              It’s not all spoiled, lazy, rich people with fashionable cars that are driving to the store in their neighborhood.

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              • 9watts September 13, 2013 at 7:18 am

                “Time of year, day? Kind of weather? Traffic conditions? Approximate age and physical fitness of the people observed making the trips you describe? Those are some of the factors that could figure into a person deciding to drive instead of walk or bike to a store three blocks from their home.”

                I fail to see the point of this list, wsbob. Sure, it reifies the notion that buff people on sunny days are the logical ingredients for a bike ride, but in most of the world, and for plenty of Portlanders this is ridiculous. Biking isn’t reserved for sunny days and those with good heart rates.
                No, this is habit and cultural inertia, pure and simple. We’re making inroads, but just really, really slowly.

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                • wsbob September 13, 2013 at 10:57 am

                  I can’t account for your failure to see simple realistic considerations people make as to what their mode of transportation should be to travel a short distance away to the store. You’re in a better position than anyone else, to figure that out.

                  As I’ve already written, many reasons can figure into the transportation mode people choose to travel about their neighborhood. Those reasons can factor into the design and functionality of communities modern society lives in.

                  Things like fatigue, comfort level, physical condition, load capacity, safety concerns could be other factors that figure into whether someone decide between walking, biking, or driving 2-3 blocks to the store.

                  I think though, that big inroads could be made towards increasing choice on individual, personal levels, of active transportation over driving, if infrastructure supporting active transportation were much, much nicer and better than it generally is today.

                  Out in Beaverton, a big new expansion is being made to the already big general source shopping mall, Cedar Hills crossing. It already runs from Jenkins Rd to Hall…about a third of a mile. The extension to Walker will make it a half mile in length from end to end. It’s a nice, very busy town center, and yet…nice amenities for walking and biking to and within the outside of the sprawling complex are pathetically minimal; narrow sidewalks, lots of interaction with motor vehicle traffic required. There’s a nice, reasonably wide strip of sidewalk along parts of the east face of the main building near starbucks, old navy and the apple store, and that’s about it. Basically, outside the buildings, it’s a sea of asphalt dedicated to parking for cars. Not a nice place to walk. Few good places to park a bike. It’s no wonder to me that people drive from across the street to the grocery stores there to shop.

                  I think I know the reasons why, but it’s distressing that generous amounts of land within key town centers like this one, continue to be planned and built without the provision of big, beautiful pedestrian-bike esplanades for the purpose of enabling, inviting and encouraging business from people interested in walking or biking rather than driving.

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                • 9watts September 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm

                  “Things like fatigue, comfort level, physical condition, load capacity, safety concerns could be other factors that figure into whether someone decide between walking, biking, or driving 2-3 blocks to the store.”

                  Not really in my experience.

                  Situation A: I have a car (but no bike/experience). More often than not I’ll take it even for trips where none of the above obtain, simply out of habit and because our society is laid out to accommodate this choice, however imperfectly it works in practice.

                  Situation B: I don’t have a car. Well, I’m going to use my bike to go to the store, regardless of the particulars you list above.

                  Situation C: I have both a bike and a car and am familiar using both to run errands (I presume this is what you were imagining in your posts). Under what circumstances will I take the bike over the car? I have no idea. But this is a tough situation (for the bike prospects) since as we know the fixed costs associated with owning a car are vastly greater than the variable costs (gas, parking), so right there I have a huge economic incentive to use the car over the bike, but not for any of the reasons you list. Those may play into the decision, but I wouldn’t think that for someone who is familiar with, has made a habit of, biking to the store that they will weigh heavily. For the rest, well the lack of a habit of biking to the store is the chief or perhaps sole impediment (in my view).

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              • Pete September 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm

                All times of year, all kinds of weather, and plenty of neighbors fit enough – who’d be even fitter if they walked more and drove less. Murray/Allen is not a wealthy neighborhood so I don’t know why you drag class/gentrification into this… which I’d argue is irrelevant regardless. I’m talking for instance about my housemate there, an avid skier who frequently worked out, yet I proved to him took longer to drive there and find parking than it would us to walk there. I offered to buy dinner/beer at McMen’s on the way back if he’d just keep his truck parked and grab a re-usable bag and walk with me. We had a great time and became friends, and he tried it more often and admitted it wasn’t so hard to ‘kick the habit.’ He even started carrying bags instead of wasting plastic – my other pet peeve. People often assume it’s faster to drive, but I’ve frequently proven otherwise.

                My point is (back OT), while I understand not all grocery trips (and trippers) are not so easily replaced by walking/biking, proximity to grocery stores isn’t the only factor in getting people to replace car trips. Habit and convenience trumps conservational efficiency pretty much ALL the time.

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                • wsbob September 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm

                  “All times of year, all kinds of weather, and plenty of neighbors fit enough – who’d be even fitter if they walked more and drove less. Murray/Allen is not a wealthy neighborhood so I don’t know why you drag class/gentrification into this… …” Pete

                  If they’ve got a comfortable, dry car to ride in, lots of people understandably, I would think, prefer that to cold, rain, dark, dealing with traffic as a pedestrian or person riding a bike…narrow sidewalks or cutting through car parking lots, and so on, even for just 2-3 blocks. Of course, habit can be a factor, in some cases a poor excuse for driving instead of walking or biking.

                  As active transportation infrastructure visioning efforts go, these are things I’d think could possibly be considered and planned for to make walking to the nearby store or further, much more appealing and enjoyable than it often is in so many neighborhood situations today. Done well enough that the experience in using it would be more enjoyable than driving, people would likely be much more inclined than they would otherwise be, to make that choice.

                  By the way, I don’t think I introduced either class or gentrification into the discussion.

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              • Pete September 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm

                BTW if you’re curious I’m specifically talking about the trek from Wheaton Lane across the McMen’s paking lot at Allen/Murray to the Safeway there, and I’m talking about the nightly practice of capable people satisfying immediate grocery needs. Currently I live near Barcells/Kiely in Santa Clara, CA and the same thing happens. These are not handicapped and elderly, they are people who don’t see value in planning for longer-term grocery needs, combining auto trips for time/fuel efficiency, setting aside time for potentially slower but (IMO) more beneficial transport alternatives, etc. They are, like me, people who live pretty far above Maslow’s Hierarchy. It comes down to habit and choice in my example, pure and simple.

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      • Hugh Johnson September 12, 2013 at 6:26 pm

        Mamacita, ever find it interesting how the enlightened bike clique in Portland are quick to attack the “spandex biker” when those folks are putting themselves at just as much risk out there on our roads…but somehow because they are biking for recreation and ride “fancy” bikes versus just “getting around” they get classified as the a-holes of the bike world just the same as the jacked 4×4 pickup drivers. Crazy ain’t it?

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        • 9watts September 13, 2013 at 7:39 am

          Hugh, Mamacita’s the one who brought up spandex.

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  • Brian Libby September 12, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Not saying Alan Webber isn’t a brilliant, insightful guy. But it’s A LOT easier to say there should be a vision than to articulate what that vision is.

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    • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 8:22 am

      It is even easier to miss that we need a vision than to recognize how helpful one would be. Have you heard any of the usual suspects articulating a need for a bold vision? Me neither.

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      • MaxD September 12, 2013 at 10:02 am

        I totally agree! When Hales was running for mayor, I got invited to a neighborhood meet and greet (fundraiser, really). I didn’t much about any of the candidates at that time. He gave a vague speech, offered the usual platitudes, then took a few questions. I asked if he had a vision he was working toward, or if he had a visionary project he wanted to get moving. His answer was basically about managing the managers and filling potholes. This vision is needed, and it is not going to come form the top.

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    • matt picio September 12, 2013 at 9:30 am

      Even articulating it isn’t all that hard – what’s hard is reconciling the many views of what *should* be, and then figuring out how to get there.

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      • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

        easy to recognize we need a vision;
        easy to articulate that vision;
        not so easy to build consensus;
        not so easy to implement.

        Fair enough. Where to start?
        Do you build the coalition around the bold, inspiring/scary vision, or do you try it the other way around?

        What is often, I think, missing from these debates, conversations, framings, is that these visions and the circumstances that spawn them aren’t just fanciful ways we choose to spend our time; there are system conditions, constraints, probabilities that make *not* changing course not an option.
        Now how to build consensus around the fact that what we’ve done for most of the 20th Century w/r/t cars is an unmitigated social and ecological disaster – that could be tough. But no less reason not to try.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 12, 2013 at 10:20 am

      Yup. But I think Matt Picio is right: the hard part isn’t thinking of a really cool vision, it’s building enough consensus around that vision that a bunch of people can row in the same direction.

      It’s not as if the big strategy Webber says his colleagues settled on back in 1971 (attracting and retaining working-age, middle-class people) is controversial or unfamiliar. If most of Portland’s leaders were to settle on some new strategy for 2013, it’d be one that almost everybody has already heard of and thought about before.

      IMO, one of the downsides of losing the creepily centralized power structure that existed most everywhere in the 1960s-1970s and has been slowly, slowly weakening is that consensus is harder. But that’s because it’s now being tugged by more hands, which on balance I think is good.

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  • Scott September 12, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Wow… Wish I could have seen him speak… Very thought provoking. …and your statement is true. Bike advocacy isn’t about asking the city (or boss, or neighbor down the street, or local business) to make way for bikes. It’s about making it possible for bikes to serve all of the above. Bicycles are a positive tool for social, physical, and healthy change. –not to mention the fact that using the is just plain fun!

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  • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 8:14 am

    meant to include a link to a review of Engwicht’s book:

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    • Todd Boulanger September 12, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      David is a very interesting man that I have gotten to know over the years.

      His previous book to this was one of those books you find during your school years and lights a fire in your brain…it was his traffic calming book…and yet he (as the ‘father of traffic calming in the US’) was is so mad that traffic engineers adopted only the built tools and not the social tools for traffic speed reduction and safety…that he wrote the following books to fix that. 😉 I recommend them all.

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  • Ciaran September 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Not to downplay bike advocacy, but I think some of you–and to a certain extent, this article–miss the point of Mr. Webber’s speech. Bikes are not an end in an of themselves. They are a a means. Until we define some sort of “end” we can’t make compelling arguments about how bikes get us there.

    So Webber’s question remains – what do we want Portland to look like in 30 years?

    Here are a few ideas:

    -Flourishing economy
    -Better equity
    -Increased density close-in
    -Emphasis on livable streets
    -Lower carbon footprint

    Some of these look more like means than ends, and I’m certainly missing plenty of others.

    Bikes can help with all of these goals, but until we transform this list of aspirations into a compelling and complete narrative that garners broad consensus, our arguments about why bikes and bike infrastructure are important will lack the force necessary to empower real change.

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  • AndyC of Linnton September 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Portland’s vision 2013: Give ourselves blue ribbons, gold stars, platinum status, best biking city murals, one bike counter on the busiest biking bridge, etc., talk about it a lot & sit back and watch other cities build bolder infrastructure.
    And please don’t say “neighborhood greenways”(I feel dirty typing those words-ack). I think anyone with a modicum of intuition can realize that riding a bicycle through neighborhood streets is a less stressful trip. A painting of a bike on the street should not be considered infrastructure. It is easy, though, and I think maybe that’s more our vision now: What is easy to do that doesn’t ruffle too many(automobile/freight/ODOT) feathers?

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    • Nick Falbo September 12, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Neighborhood greenways are not as simple “painting a bike on the street.” Traffic volumes should be limited through diversion, and traffic speeds should be managed through speed management such as speed bumps. It is the hard infrastructure that makes them work. Portland’s almost city-wide network of neighborhood greenways is as bold and significant as any showpiece cycle track in some other city.

      That said, most bike planners recognize that neighborhood greenways have limited application and utility, and are *not* replacements to proper infrastructure on main streets.

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      • spare_wheel September 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm

        “Traffic volumes should be limited through diversion, and traffic speeds should be managed through speed management such as speed bumps.”

        And maybe some day Portland will actually build one of these miraculous facilities…

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        • paikikala September 12, 2013 at 3:06 pm

          Which of the current, improved, greenways don’t meet the current standards?
          – 85th% speed ~20 mph
          – 1000 or less trips per day (minimal increase in before project volumes)
          – Minimize delay by turning stops to favor greenway at minor streets
          – Minimize cut-through traffic

          Sure, gaps exist, but the ‘all or nothing’ mentality is sure to accomplish the latter, not the former, regardless of mode (see CRC).

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          • paikikala September 13, 2013 at 8:33 am

            Reverse that. The ‘all or nothing mentality is sure to achieve the latter, not the former.

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          • Terry D September 13, 2013 at 10:29 am

            Clinton, ankeny, lincoln, alameda…all have portions that pass 2500 cars daily. Neighborhoods association “olc guards” fight auto diversion tooth and nail. We need new membership to fight for diversion.

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            • paikikala September 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm

              You’ll notice that I said ‘current, improved’ greenways. Those streets you name are older bike boulevards that have had the stimulus sharrows put down, but have not yet had the Neighborhood Greenway treatment.

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          • spare_wheel September 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm

            The biggest problem with even improved bike boulevards (the term greenway needs to die) is the lack of diverters and other traffic calming facilities. Bike boulevards only work well when they make motoring from point A to B a real pain.

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      • Terry D September 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

        Absolutely greenways need hard infrastructure although salmon works ok with nothing but sharrows. Each main arterial’s bike facilities should be handelled individually but each neighborhood node should have both east-west and north-south 20 mph greenway conductivity. Inside of I 205 we could build this for $45 million, the same price as one clover leaf interchange Giving greenway acess every half mile in each direction to 320,000 residents. If we decide as a community we want it. We just need to organize.


        These routes focus on schools, parks, retail and community centers.

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        • spare_wheel September 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm

          I fee quite unsafe riding Salmon at speeds between 15-20 mph. IMO, our bike boulevards are designed for slower riders and for leisure cycling, not transportation in it’s purest sense. This is why the lack of focus on direct and signalled arterials is, IMO, PBOTs biggest failing.

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        • paikikala September 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm

          Salmon is another of the older bike boulevards and has not yet had the greenway upgrades.
          Greenways: NE Going/Alberta, Vancouver to 72nd; NE Klickitat, Vancouver to 67th; N Concord, Interstate to Interstate; N Wabash, Columbia to Willamette; NE/SE 87th, Hassalo to Flavel; N Central, Bruce to Gay; SE Bush, 100th to 148th; SE Center, 42nd to 80th; SE Lincoln/Mill, 52nd to I-205 trail; SE 100/101st, Bush to Springwater; N Bryant, Wabash to Holman; NE Holman Grand to 42nd; SE Spokane, 6th to 19th.

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  • was carless September 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I suppose noone has heard of this?


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    • Ciaran September 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      Thanks. I actually hadn’t heard much about that at all. But this seems like an excellent answer to Mr. Webber’s question. Now we just have to get to implementing it in an agressive way.

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  • tonyt
    tonyt September 12, 2013 at 10:21 am

    I’ve got a goal. How about ZERO fatalities on Portland streets in 20 years?

    Volvo has set that audacious goal for their cars. http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1024328_volvo-wants-to-eliminate-injuries-and-deaths-in-its-vehicles-by-2020

    At first glance, when I first heard of Volvo’s goal, I thought, “that’s not achievable.” But immediately after that first reaction, it occurred to me that unless you set a high goal like that, you don’t make nearly the progress that’s possible.

    Like Volvo’s goal, zero fatalities on Portland streets initially sounds ridiculous, but let’s see what happens if we push through the instinct to balk at this goal as unreasonable. Let’s look at what it is that stands in our way.

    Looking through the zero fatalities lens, one would immediately need to cast the widest data net possible to understand what is truly at work in the deaths. We would need to stop looking it this, as I think Portland has done, as merely an enforcement issue. Although it seems obvious that enforcement would be prioritized based on damage done by particular modes of transportation, I think the real focus would come down to infrastructure. One would also have to look at infrastructure improvements as HAVING to be done. Substandard becomes unacceptable.

    Blah, blah, blah. Gotta get to work.

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    • Todd Boulanger September 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Volvo’s plan has much merit for motoring population, but if you listen closely to the video their safety focus is in improving secondary safety that only helps the occupants of the said vehicle within the metal cocoon.

      Their shift away from secondary safety to avoiding crashes is the key AND a very important shift, but how this will help most pedestrians and bicyclists struck by the future car is to be seen. Will these new technologies “see” and “react” successfully to the smaller and quicker objects that vulnerable road users are? We hope.

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  • paikikala September 12, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Start with a vision:
    The Safest City in North America.

    Plan how to get there, with fact/evidence-based data:
    Speed kills – a key to making Portland’s streets safer is to reduce speeding and speeds in general. But there also needs to be higher speed roads. Portland has a mish-mash of street sizes and uses with no coherant speed posting policy.

    More small roads, more frequently spaced, makes safer cities. Work by Marshall and Garrick on california cities have measured this. Portland has a good grid west of 82nd, but not much to the east. (my system won’t let me paste links)

    Jobs, Goods and services near where people live helps to reduce auto use. Portland does an ok job with mixed use, but there is always room for improvement.

    Signals are a necessary evil, but even in Portland they are way over used. Check out an aerial view of Carmel, IN, 47 square miles and 60 modern roundabouts. Portland, at 133 sq. mi. has two (Mt Hood Ave; Palater/Terwilliger). At least half the signals could be replaced, resulting in safer operation, less delay, lower emissions, and better resiliency.

    It’s an involved project, but it’s the future. It will arrive no matter what we do. What it looks like is up to us.

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    • PorterStout September 12, 2013 at 1:05 pm

      I’m liking this one, that’s a bold statement. How about another?

      “The Highest Standard of Living in North America”

      Of course we have to change perceptions that owning a $50K sedan or SUV equates to a high standard of living but we’ll all just about have to throw away our TVs to get any traction on that one. But if we’re talking about the ability to enjoy the city we’re living in, including the money to go out to cultural events, eat out, heck, pay for dental care and a decent place to live and college and all the rest of what’s typically considered “high standard of living” I don’t think most people have a clue as to how much owning one of these vehicles (or any vehicle to an extent) stands in the way of accomplishing those other things. I can physically see the difference in my bank account from bike commuting, compared to when I used to drive.

      One thing that’s needed along these lines is a change in the perception that riding a bike somehow makes you less of a person, or that it means arriving to work sweaty or rain-soaked, etc., because these things are far from the case, or are at least under your control. Unlike that soul-crushing commute on I-5. Instead of enslaving yourself to that car, go by bike and watch your whole life flourish (not to mention your bank account). That’s a vision anyone should be able to get behind.

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      • 9watts September 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

        “a change in the perception that riding a bike somehow makes you less of a person”

        A suggestion of how to start doing this:

        Find a dozen people who have switched from commuting by car to commuting by bike. Ask them why they switched, how they feel about it now, what their friends & coworkers make of their decision. What would be required for them to go back?

        Find a dozen people who have switched from commuting by bike to commuting by car (bet you can’t find that many very easily). Ask them why they switched, how they feel about it now, what their friends & coworkers make of their decision. What would be required for them to go back?

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  • joe kurmaskie September 12, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Agree we need a collective new vision. In the meantime, some easy steps to building a pleasant, livable, vibrant community:

    1) Every time you go for the car keys, think, could I make this trip by foot or bike?
    The answer, about 95 percent of the time is yes. Will I make this trip by foot or bike?… now that is how we evolve, change, reach beyond a carcentric community

    2) If you say you live too far from work, school, activities to bike or walk most of the time… move. If you tell me , “you first!” Well, I did. If you tell me that’s because I’m male, white and wear spandex, I’ll tell you I don’t wear spandex. I moved four kids out of 3000 sq feet to 1500 so we could walk and bike and bus to schools, work and activities.

    3) Do I think you are a weak, selfish person with some tunnel vision for driving too much, sending your kids to schools outside your neighborhood, driving them across town to play on sports teams, eating too high on the food chain, living in two or three times the house you need… kind of, yeah, definitely, but more often than not, I keep that to myself and let my actions be the example, because I’m weak and selfish by default just by living within society, but when faced with a choice, I’m committed to taking the softer, lower impact route much of the time.

    We need to talk about the community we want in 5, 10, 20 years but we have to act individually now for it to mean anything more than words.

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  • q`Tzal September 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Alan Webber
    Everyone who counted knew that freeways were the wave of the future—that massive concrete channels needed to be carved through old and uninteresting city neighborhoods….
    The good news for Portland in 1970 was that the city leaders were so conservative, so slow, so sclerotic, they’d managed to miss almost all of these carefully planned catastrophes.

    For me this sums up ODOT: it’s like there is some sort of institutional shame that ODOT wasn’t able to “civilize” our 3rd world state. From the way they push for highways as the only needed solution you’d think that all the other states were laughing at us because we’re a bunch of backwards hicks that prefer NOT to live in a concrete car paradise.

    ODOT: if being laughed at by car centric states is what it takes to be prepared for an energy scarce future without cars then it’s OK. Let them laugh… for now.

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  • wsbob September 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Walkable, bike-able, essentially self sustaining communities, have been a vision for a long while. Over quite a number of years now, Portland and surrounding suburban cities have dipped into that vision with bike lane and MUP additions, but full commitment is slow to come by.

    That’s why, I expect, to date, there’s not yet a single Amsterdam style essentially car-free district in any Metro area city. For other examples, why it is, Foster Rd will likely not get an actual main lane separated cycle-track, why Beaverton won’t get a bike-pedestrian esplanade linking its bisected downtown centers, and why cul-de-sacs out in Washington County won’t be busted through to create a Johnson-Alexander straight through route from 170th west all the way to Hillsboro.

    Where from conventional perspective, transportation schemes pose as possibly being negative to real estate profit and tax revenue generation, progressive active transportation infrastructure takes a hit.

    Motor vehicles continue to hold their position of being one of the fundamental building blocks of today’s economy. Some of Oregon Mamacita’s thoughts expressed here: http://bikeportland.org/2013/09/12/portlands-visionary-of-low-car-life-says-our-city-needs-its-next-vision-93839#comment-4428890 …about the significance of cars to people that work are good to consider. “…A working car is a better indicator of gainful employment for many minority men than education. …” oregon mamacita

    Not just minorities either, but many different types of people in many types of situations. If you want to work, you’d better be able to get to work. Communities of today continue to be built such that for many people motor vehicles remain an essential and very likely for them, most reliable way to get to work.

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    • spare_wheel September 14, 2013 at 7:42 am

      “That’s why, I expect, to date, there’s not yet a single Amsterdam style essentially car-free district in any Metro area city. For other examples, why it is, Foster Rd will likely not get an actual main lane separated cycle-trac”

      You assume that the only path to higher mode share is expensive Dutch-style segregation. This is demonstrably false. There are inexpensive and practical ways in which we can calm traffic and allocate safe space for cyclists now. Moreover, danish cycle tracks are road-adjacent facilities with no appreciable physical barrier separating cyclists from motorists. How are these facilities really safer than a buffered bike lane?

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      • Alan 1.0 September 14, 2013 at 11:45 am

        Granted there are many other factors in play, and I can only say about some Dutch (and slightly about German), not Danish bike lanes, and there’s all kinds of variation even among Dutch ones, but very commonly Dutch bike lanes are set apart from traffic by more than paint. Often there’s an unpaved strip (grass, dirt, plants, curbs), or bollards, or a low rise, or a stripe made out of cobbles or bricks which has a tactile effect similar to our rumble strips but not as harsh if a bike tire goes over it, or a different paving surface with color and texture variation from the car lane. Those things (along with other factors) seem to result in less car intrusion into those bike lanes than we have with just paint. So yeah, I agree there are other things which can and should be done, too, but I also think that greater differentiation between bike and car lanes is part of the Netherland’s success with bikes.

        BTW, regarding wsbob’s “…not yet a single Amsterdam style essentially car-free district in any Metro area city…” – what’s happening on weekend evenings in Old Town? Are cars allowed back in now or is it still foot traffic only?

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        • spare_wheel September 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm

          IMO, we are stagnating in Portland because PBOT is on the one hand saving every active transport dime for the next hundred meters of “cycle track” and on the other deathly afraid of decommissioning free motorvehicle storage. I believe that if we plastered this city of with 8-10 foot wide buffered bike lanes our mode share would skyrocket.

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        • wsbob September 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm

          I think the Tribune recently did a story on the Old Town weekend evenings closure of the street to cars. Maybe to bikes too. Comments from a few area businesses quoted in the story about the success of the experiment, were mixed.

          I’d forgotten about the Old Town experiment, but personally, for an Amsterdam style car-free district experiment, I think Portland should do something much more serious than assigning as car-free, an area whose main attraction at the designated time, is night clubs and restaurants, car-free for such limited hours of the day.

          For a car-free area experiment, the city should choose an area that has a much wider range of general goods and services available, and one that would emphasize active transportation over motor vehicle transportation for more days of the week and hours of the day.

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      • wsbob September 15, 2013 at 10:49 am

        I make no such assumptions; that’s a projection of yours. Amsterdam style car free districts are just one example of types of road-traffic environments that are superior to the type of bike lanes typical of those retrofitted to streets and roads in certain areas where there may be many people close together involved in many different types of activities; shopping, going to school, church, dining, etc. They’re a type of infrastructure that could have the potential to enhance the function of specific areas of some town centers or districts.

        European style separated cycle tracks are another example of infrastructure the Portland Metro area cities don’t really have any examples of (except maybe the effort in Cullly…haven’t seen it, never got the sense from what people have said about it, that it’s working as the European examples are said to be working.).

        They, that is cycle tracks, most likely would never be the standard, replacing painted line bike lanes everywhere, but it seems to me that along key routes fbetween close in, outlying neighborhoods, Downtown or other primary destinations, cycle tracks may be the type of bike use support infrastructure necessary to enable people that don’t presently, see biking for themselves as a viable alternative to travel by car.

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 14, 2013 at 10:12 am

      I would just like to add that we can expect better cars in the future.
      Cars became incredibly more crashworthy in the last 20 years. We need less lethal cars and less polluting cars. They will come.

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      • 9watts September 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm

        There will no doubt be a few, but they will be very expensive and much too late to have any bearing on this problem. We don’t have anything they can run on that isn’t polluting. Electricity is not a fuel, and most of our electricity is generated by coal. That needs to change pronto, but we’re making painfully little progress.

        Safer cars is an engineering problem (thank you, Ralph Nader). Pollution free cars are a mirage. Cars that are on par with bicycles when it comes to deleterious impact will never exist in sufficient numbers to put a dent in our current fleet/dependence on the fossil fuel powered automobile. It is a pipe dream. But there’s no reason to pursue it because we already have bicycles, know how to make them, maintain them, use them to take care of our business. Chasing after the car that will solve all or even a few of automobility’s vast problems in the time we have is foolish. We should instead be figuring out how to meet our needs elegantly with human power. That is a big enough task for all of us.

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      • wsbob September 15, 2013 at 11:07 am

        Cars aren’t going away. Increasingly, people may drive fewer miles, but they’ll still have them for when they need them for short trips…in comfort out of the rain, the cold, darkness and danger, perceived or otherwise…of traffic and the street in general.

        Going into the future, downtown and thoroughfares, the majority percentage of vehicles on the street, likely will continue to be motor vehicles. If there’s a difference, it may be in the form of greater percentages of bikes used on the street than their are today. Will Portland, for example, somehow ever in the next, say 30-40 years, surpass the 30-40 percent bike use of Amsterdam, is it? Anyone’s guess.

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        • 9watts September 15, 2013 at 11:16 am

          “Cars aren’t going away.”

          wsbob, the Oregonian editors said the same thing a few months ago. The only reason they or you or anyone would find themselves saying that is if there were some doubt about it. Stomping your foot and insisting that it shall be so doesn’t make it so. I can give you six reasons why it won’t be so. Most of us will be around to find out.

          What you are conflating is the individual pleasures of and preferences for cars (high), and the future prospects of our collectively being able to continue to enjoy those (low).

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        • Oregon Mamacita September 17, 2013 at 8:53 am

          I would just add that Detroit has a long history of innovation. We will get safer, cleaner cars. My ideal would be a little electric smart car for town and a more powerful vehicle to get me out to Eastern Oregon. And my three bikes (one of which I will trade in for a cargo bike) for when I feel like biking.

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          • wsbob September 17, 2013 at 10:39 am

            I’d probably get a little bigger car than the Smart, and a hybrid rather than strictly electric. Something between a micro-car and a land yacht. When biking, cars nearby running on electric can be so much nicer than gas or diesel powered motor vehicles. Of course, in winter or summer when motor vehicle lights and ac are on for driver and passenger comfort, the IC motor will be powered up anyway.

            Maybe banning ac as an energy saving measure is something to think about for parts of the country where it doesn’t get very hot. Get people to once again start rolling down their windows for cooling.

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            • Oregon Mamacita September 17, 2013 at 10:55 am

              Are you sure that AC wastes gas? I am no mechanic, but I recall that idea
              being debunked. I am all for mandating high mileage cars. Hummers should not have been permitted. for a variety of reasons. You don’t have a right to a car whose mileage is measured in yards per gallon, and whose bulk makes life difficult for people on bikes or in passenger cars.

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              • wsbob September 17, 2013 at 12:53 pm

                Whether running an ac is a ‘waste’, depends upon one’s point of view. It takes a little energy, which in a motor vehicle, takes some kind of fuel to produce, to spin the ac compressor under the hood. How much energy that would be, I don’t know.

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            • Paul in the 'couve September 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm

              A little clearing up on A/C. A/C DOES require power and uses gasoline vs. no A/C. Especially for smaller more efficient cars, A/C power consumption becomes more significant relatively. (A 400 HP V8 doesn’t notice an A/C pump as much as a 50 HP hybrid).

              The “debunking” part though also true is at highway speeds, traveling long distances, the power consumption of A/C is generally less than the extra drag from having the windows open.

              But this ins’t an Apples to Apples comparison. First the modeling for A/C vs. open windows is based on larger more powerful cars from 10 or more years ago. Second that modeling is based on long distance driving at speed certainly 35mph at least probably 55mph or a mix of driving that includes a large proportion of such driving.

              For congested driving in urban areas with stoplights, A/C sucks gas and opening windows will not use practically any fuel. This will be especially true for very efficient small cars which would be consuming very little fuel at stop lights and will see a very significant drop in gas mileage for in city driving with the A/C on.

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              • Oregon Mamacita September 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm

                Thanks. I will try and not use AC in town.

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                • wsbob September 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm

                  Carrying around the weight of the ac equipment, compressor, blower, hoses, conduit, electronics, etc., consumes fuel too. Automakers seeking to produce vehicles that get better gas mileage, look for ways to reduce the weight of the vehicles they produce.

                  In one of the papers yesterday was an article explaining that instead of steel for body parts like doors, manufacturers are going for aluminum. Eliminates a bunch of weight. Cited a car model I can’t remember right now; reduced weight on that one by 55 lbs. Downside, is it’s more expensive than steel.

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  • Todd Boulanger September 12, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Imagine if Mr. Webber (or other visionary) started his talk by saying that Oregon should shift its institutional and societal focus to what it successfully does well and double or triple down…to support the vehicle that it makes the most of, most citizens of Oregon would think …ok …that must be cars.

    But in reality it is likely that our Oregon makes more units of bicycles than automobiles…and number two might be freight rail cars …

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  • Will September 12, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    The idea expressed by some that to aspire to a less is auto-dependent future is ignoring the needs of the working class and poor is misguided. There is nothing inherently more equitable about auto-dependent societies. In fact, having little choice but to drive to meet your needs puts a great burdon on those who can least affort it. Believe it or not, there are places in the rest of the world where working class people, families, elders, are able to live fulfilling lives without dependence on cars. In Portland, we are not there yet. But we can work toward a different kind of future. And, if there is any truth to the idea that our auto-dependent lifestyle is contributing to climate change, we must.

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm

      Many Americans see cars as a means to independence. Perhaps you
      could respect their right to hold that view, as they understand their own
      needs. Some societies function without running water, some societies function without music or alcohol. So what? Portland is not Singapore.

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      • spare_wheel September 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

        I think that point of view will change when gas prices really start to take off.

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      • 9watts September 15, 2013 at 7:32 pm

        “Many Americans see cars as a means to independence. Perhaps you
        could respect their right to hold that view, as they understand their own
        Autodom will fade even if as is easily imagined some or all Americans resist even the thought. No one’s going to ask if we’re o.k. with it. Furthermore, since I am in no position to withhold cars from those Americans you seem to know who hold those views I’m not sure I understand your request.

        “some societies function without music”

        Really? I can’t think of one. Can you?

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  • Terry D September 13, 2013 at 11:27 am

    We need low-no car housing to come is many different forms. The city should implement permit-parking, congestion priced, on all residential streets with curb to curb pavement..or others if congested. Then, create a sustainable “greenway eco-housing overlay” to our residential zoning. If the property is within a certain distace from a connected greenway this would allow for leed rated, bike focussed housing infill of “tiny homes.” These would require eliminating parking minimums and have less than a 500 sq ft footprint. These should be able to be placed over or in replacement of garages, butt up to the property line or in alleys. This way a home owner could sell 1000 sq feet off in the back for money to repair their home and a another household would then have bike focussed affordable housing.

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 14, 2013 at 10:10 am

      Let’s burden Portland with 500 sq foot shacks and let the developer push the costs onto the neighbors. Let’s crowd everyone until tensions really explode. Let’s attract people who are content to live in a 20 minute ghetto, in a tiny home, with little or no chance of getting ahead on their bike or to get out and about in our area. Nice complement to the crapartments. Read the post by the construction dude who only has a bike. I respect him, but he makes less than 25k a year, and that is not a family wage income.

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      • 9watts September 16, 2013 at 7:51 am

        it is pretty clear that you dislike density and everything that you associate with it, but FWIW I live in a 600 square foot shack and have a family and make only a little more than Chris Sanderson did last year. No one (here at least) is asking you to live in the inner SE, so why are you so upset by density that others (might) find unobjectionable or even wonderful?

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        • Oregon Mamacita September 16, 2013 at 3:46 pm

          My friends and neighbors in the old neighborhood find the density in Richmond unfair and deplorable. It was badly implemented. It should all have been in the Lloyd area where there was space and no neighbors to annoy with tall buildings and drunken bar goers. I am not against density per se, just the pro-developer anti-neighbor tact we take in Portland. Not everyone has the diminished expectations that I read about on this blog, and they are nothing to foist on others.

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          • wsbob September 16, 2013 at 7:28 pm

            I don’ blame you for being less than enthused about the reality of how high density sometimes works out. It can have all kinds of negative results…loss of sunlight, green space, peace and quiet, safety, things that are some of the few basic elements of livability some old, poor neighborhoods have had, otherwise lacking wealth. High density in places like The Pearl…not so bad for those with the moolah. On the other hand, history is heavy with examples of high density that have been horrific failures due to poor design and planning.

            There’s got to be a good middle road of good design and planning, somehow. Not everywhere of course, but high density has potential in some areas within the city to offer, enjoyable, truly affordable efficient living even to people low on the income scale. Only towers, isn’t something that seems like a good idea, but more of them in certain places, could help life in the city be better for more people.

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  • Brian H September 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I’m a frequent bike commuter who also commutes by car depending on a variety of circumstances.

    The U.S. ended up with auto-centric cities because the vast majority of people embraced the vision of rapid and convenient transportation, and the American people love their cars. The vision of rapid and convenient transportation has fallen short in most places, and I think it’s important to help people see this. Automobile infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain, and highways that can move large volumes of cars are generally not enjoyable for ANY mode of transportation. For example, I live in Southest Portland and I don’t enjoy using Barbur Blvd for any mode of transportation, and TV Highway is pretty much miserable for all road users too. Conversely, I believe roads that are designed with all users in mind come closer to delivering the original a vision of rapid and convenient transportation. We need to promote a vision of rapid, convenient and modern transportation that’s accomodating to all users…. Unfortunatley, I don’t think we have any good working examples to help people see this vision. While there are many roads that are more pleasant for all users than Barbur Blvd and TV Highway, I can’t think of any major arterial in Portland that has been comprehensively and thoughtfully designed for all users with the exception of a few well publicized projects that span relatively short distances.

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  • Lenny Anderson September 16, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Looking back at the 70’s here in Portland, its good to keep in mind that many young people were moving back into the older, and then cheaper, parts of cities all over the country and challenging the status quo. Many of us had cut our teeth in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War struggles and brought those organizing skills to older, poorer, more diverse communities to fight for better transit, schools, etc. and against the Robert Moses inspired freeways and urban renewal projects that had and were still gutting these communities.
    We were the first wave of gentrification in spite of ourselves.

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  • Oregon Mamacita September 17, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Michael, thanks for this opportunity to discuss the class issue in more depth. Living near the neglected areas of Portland, it is obvious that many lower income people ride bikes, but I am not sure that the data has been collected to show if this voluntary or involuntary. Some of the guys on bikes in outer SE are sketchy junky-types- you see them on the Springwater Corridor. Of course, most Portlanders are great, and I assume that some people in outer SE are like me- they just like bikes.

    When it comes to what some call “bike evangelism,” there is a big class difference.

    What we need to think about are the people who are working class. They have been shut out of the transportation discussion, and I partly blame the jargon-laden swill that spills from agencies like BPS. I have two advanced degrees (not in planning) , and I can barely untangle the jargon (rarely worth it).

    If you went to the Asian community and talked about deliberate congestion and no parking for Hondas- you would get amazing push back, IMHO.

    Again, the cargo bike lifestyle does not work for the majority of Portlanders.

    People say “Mamacita, we’re not trying to take away your car.” Well, there is a crazy anti-car strain in Portland that has resulted in hundreds of cars and motorcycles being vandalized in Buckman and Richmond. No, I don’t think the BTA members sneak out at night to vandalize. But a small minority of livable streets types has created an a situation where people feel justified in vandalizing cars. (This will go on until someone vandalizes a Gypsy Joker’s bike.)

    So, the class problems persist. The BTA is an upper income white person’s gig. Get a Subaru Forester, a 400k homes and an expensive cargo bike and live the life. That’s okay- as long as we are honest about it.

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  • oregon111 October 14, 2013 at 12:43 am

    take a quick reality check:

    most people move here to go to the coast, mountains, rivers, etc – and they like and use cars all the time

    the biky people NEVER go outside the city — so why not take ALL the biky people and go live somewhere else – totally take over a city that nobody cares about?

    Like Detroit, or St Louis, or Baltimore?

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    • 9watts October 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

      “the biky people NEVER go outside the city”

      Woke up on the misanthropic side, did we? Making some pretty big assumptions aren’t we?

      My family doesn’t have a car, and we don’t find it particularly hard to get to the Coast. We take The Wave. It is ridiculously cheap and goes twice a day. Instead of hurling invective you should try it sometime. Hwy 6 is quite beautiful.

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    • 9watts October 14, 2013 at 11:03 am

      Furthermore those without cars far outnumber those we might be tempted to think of as ‘bikey people,’ whose travel behaviors we might imagine picking up in those commute surveys or with bridge counters. For much of Multnomah County it is about 1 in 6 households.

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  • Alan 1.0 October 14, 2013 at 10:22 am

    You’re right, lots of people in the PNW like to do outdoor things (whether they moved here or were born here). If you do, too, then come out and try a bike camping trip with some really nice, fun people: http://www.cyclewild.org/where-to-camp-by-bike/

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