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Former Mayor Hales rips ODOT and car culture in final transpo speech

Posted by on January 4th, 2017 at 11:48 am

2013 BTA Alice Awards-34

Hales in 2013.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

You might have missed it due to the holiday break, but Portland’s former mayor Charlie Hales had sort of a mic-drop moment at the final City Council meeting of 2016.

It came four days before Christmas and just before Hales voted yes on an ordinance that gives the transportation bureau permission to spend $300,000 on outer Southeast Division (stay tuned for a story about that). Before recessing council, Hales took the opportunity to give a five-minute speech about what he said are, “The things I’ll be committed to when I’m a private citizen and activists again.” He talked about the scourge of our urban arterial highways in east Portland, his annoyance with ODOT, the urgency to stop planning streets solely for driving, the role of transportation reform activists, and more.

The speech is below, followed by the YouTube clip.

“A long time ago the City of Portland annexed east Portland inheriting more streets that were designed by a previous generation of traffic engineers for automotive convenience and speed. That was the design philosophy that Division Street was built to. It was wrong, but it now falls to us to correct that wrong.

Over the years I’ve been involved in deliberations in this room, where city councils, including this one, have understood that we are redesigning our city to make the pedestrian and the bicycle rider and transit rider the first-class passenger and that automotive convenience needs to be tamped down in order to have the quality of life we want to have. We all agree on those values, but we have a long way to go to make Vision Zero and those values real.

Something that may have been forgotten but I wanted to call out; Commissioner Novick, in deliberations about a street fee and what our gas taxes would be spent on fought a long battle with some in the business community that all this money should go to repaving. And people in this room, many of you as activists, argued that we should spend more on safety and you made sure, Commissioner Novick, that a lot of the money our voters approved is going to make our streets safer. Not enough! But it’s a lot and it’s a good start.

I want to celebrate the decision this council made about [Southeast] Foster. Another case where the street was designed the wrong way and where the community had a good idea for how to make it better — and where not everyone agreed and there was some noise — but we, as a Council, did the right thing.

So let me talk about what might happen in the future. I think there’s more work this coalition can do. BikeLoudPDX, EPAP [East Portland Action Plan], Oregon Walks, APANO [Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon] — you have work to do not just in this chamber. Let’s make sure our District Attorneys are charging people who commit traffic violence with the most serious offense for which they can be charged. Operating a motor vehicle is a privilege not a right and if you kill someone by exercising that privilege you have committed a heinous crime. And we need to make sure our partners in District Attorney’s office and County government share that philosophy. Let’s make sure our legislature gives us the tools to be the safe city we want to be. So getting rid of this ridiculous requirement to go to Dad or Mom — or whatever you want to call ODOT — and ask them to give us permission to make our streets safer [a reference to ODOT controlling speed limits on city-owned roads] is nuts and we need to get rid of it like we’ve gotten rid of a number of other state preemptions that were unhelpful. And we need to find more money. It will be expensive to fix those streets that were designed the wrong way. Some of it can be done inexpensively as you’ve said well here today. ‘Paint is cheap’ — but of course paint has to be enforced…

This is a sad day with a deeply shared resolve among all of us here that we can make our city safer.”

This is some solid stuff from Hales. His disdain for ODOT and clear-eyed perspective about the type of streets Portland needs (and the ones we need to get rid of) are a breath of fresh air. It’s just too bad he made this speech in January December 2016 — when we really could have used it in January December 2012.

But looking on the bright side, hopefully Hales keeps his word and really does become an activist for street reform. We could use someone with his experience to turn these words into reality.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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45 Comments
  • dan January 4, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Well, he said all the right things, but he didn’t act meaningfully on any of those beliefs during his term.

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    • SE Rider January 4, 2017 at 1:02 pm

      “The things I’ll be committed to when I’m a private citizen”
      Sailing my yacht?

      Bringing up Foster is kind of weird since the project is already two years behind on implementation.

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      • Racer X January 4, 2017 at 3:41 pm

        Mr. Hales was a “very active” activist before being mayor…back when he lived in White Salmon Washington.;-)

        Recommended Thumb up 3

  • dwk January 4, 2017 at 11:59 am

    ***deleted by moderator***…. Thanks for nothing. The worst mayor ever….

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • Hello, Kitty January 4, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      Worse than George Baker?

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      • Jeff S(egundo) January 4, 2017 at 6:32 pm

        Than Frank Ivancie?

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  • rick January 4, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Where was this support for the new community-initiated trails policy for paper streets (unbuilt, public right-of-way) ?

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  • Evan Manvel January 4, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Not sure if I heard him ripping ODOT.

    Sounded like he was ripping the dangerous street design standards, the requirement cities have to apply to the Oregon Speed Zone Review Panel for speed limit reductions, and the fact that many of Portland’s most dangerous roads are not controlled by the City of Portland. https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/TRAFFIC-ROADWAY/pages/speed_zone_program.aspx

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 4, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Hi evan!

      He didn’t exactly lay into them or anything but he did mockingly referred to them as “mom or dad”… called their oversight of speeds “ridiculous” and said its “crazy” for them to make decisions about city-owned streets. In both words and tone (which you need to hear not just read)… this is pretty loose talk for a mayor of a major Oregon city to take toward our state road agency IMO.

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      • Evan Manvel January 4, 2017 at 4:28 pm

        Yeah, it’s hard to be exactly clear whether he’s criticizing ODOT or the requirement that ODOT sets speeds.

        That is, whether his point is he doesn’t like ORS 810, which is the legislature’s responsibility to change, or whether he thinks ODOT doesn’t do a good job implementing it.

        Clearly it’s frustrating when you can’t address problems in the city you’re the mayor of because of jurisdictional challenges.

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        • Eric Leifsdad January 4, 2017 at 11:06 pm

          I don’t think most people understand how much leeway we have under https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/810.180 (8),(9),(10) or what “designated speed” means relative to “statutory speed” https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/811.111

          If I understand these correctly, we could lower dozens of speed limits immediately just by reverting the designated speeds to statutory.

          In places where the statutory speed is 55mph, temporary and emergency designated speeds can be set with zero approval from ODOT.

          ODOT’s administrative rules (85th percentile designated speed guide) are flawed for cities, but we could still be taking immediate action on these issues instead of pointing fingers.

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    • soren January 4, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      Evan, that *WAS* a direct criticism of ODOT.

      https://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/TRAFFIC-ROADWAY/pages/speed_zone_program.aspx

      ODOT sets the speed limits on all highways in Oregon (including Portland’s roadways). When ODOT rejects a request to change a speed limit the local authority *can* appeal to the brick wall known as the “Speed Zone Review Panel”. This panel is populated by agencies with a long-term history of prioritizing motor vehicle throughput over safety (e.g. ODOT, the misnamed Oregon Transportation Safety Committee, and the Oregon State Police).

      Recommended Thumb up 12

  • dwk January 4, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    ODOT swept the gravel off Barbur a week ago.
    The city of Portland, not so much……..

    Recommended Thumb up 10

    • Sigma January 4, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      Why would the city sweep gravel off Barbur if ODOT already did it?

      Recommended Thumb up 5

      • dwk January 4, 2017 at 1:09 pm

        The city won’t sweep their own streets….

        Recommended Thumb up 7

        • Chris I January 4, 2017 at 1:23 pm

          It’s going to ice over again on Saturday. Why bother?

          Recommended Thumb up 0

          • rick January 4, 2017 at 1:26 pm

            It is the right thing to do with sweeping streets. Especially if they have some of the only bike lanes in SW Portland.

            Recommended Thumb up 1

          • dwk January 4, 2017 at 1:51 pm

            Yeah because all that gravel in the bike lanes will help all the cars out…

            Recommended Thumb up 6

          • dwk January 4, 2017 at 1:53 pm

            By the way, it might ice over for an hour or so and we have to ride in gravel for weeks after. If the gravel was in the roadway and not the bike lanes, it would have been swept right away.

            Recommended Thumb up 6

          • Spiffy January 4, 2017 at 2:57 pm

            why bother repainting the lines on the road if they’ll just wear down again?

            why bother repaving the streets if they’ll just deteriorate again?

            why bother replacing a dead streetlight bulb if it’ll just burn out again?

            you may not need those services for the next couple weeks, but other citizens likely will…

            Recommended Thumb up 5

        • Noisette January 4, 2017 at 3:01 pm

          SE 52nd got swept.

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          • Adam H. January 4, 2017 at 3:14 pm

            Yep, happened a few weeks ago. I can only assume my daily tweeting at PBOT contributed to that. 😛

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    • rick January 4, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      SW Terwilliger and SW Multnomah Blvd are flowing with gravel.

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  • Disastronauticus January 4, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    “Operating a motor vehicle is a privilege not a right and if you kill someone by exercising that privilege you have committed a heinous crime.”

    This.

    Recommended Thumb up 40

  • RH January 4, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Better late than never I guess. Too bad these thoughts were not expressed on day 1.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • Adam H. January 4, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    “Screw you guys, I’m going home”

    Would have been nice to make these statements back when you could have done something about it.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Dick Button January 4, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    “Too little too late, punctuated with sudden, confusing reversals of course.” should be the epitaph on his mayoral reign.

    With 4 more years he might have been able to funnel some of this safe streets cash to his developer cronies. A real missed opportunity for the true minority in Portland, the ruling elite.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • Catie January 4, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    This speech makes me so optimistic that our efforts on the ground are making a real impact in how we (the public, elected officials) think about our streets. Looking forward to seeing Charlie Hales the activist.

    Recommended Thumb up 15

  • m January 4, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Will he be moving back to Stevenson, WA?

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Adam H. January 4, 2017 at 1:05 pm

      Are you suggesting that he should?

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    • Spiffy January 4, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      according to the IRS he never left…

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  • not that Mark January 4, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    It sounds to me like he’s laying down the foundation for future consulting work.

    He will likely also claim to be an expert on homelessness.

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  • B. Carfree January 4, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    It’s nice to hear a now-former elected official advocate for traffic law enforcement (“…paint has to be enforced.”) Now if only a few of the current elected officials other than Saltzman would acknowledge this simple truth we might just get some people out of their cars.

    Of course some of those folks we get out of their cars will be people who lose their licenses to violation points, but that’s a good thing for the many others who reluctantly use their cars instead of walking or cycling because they are intimidated by a culture of lawlessness that prevails on our roadways.

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    • RMHampel January 4, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      If only the good citizens of Portland were willing to pony up a bit more in taxes to pay for the cops and the associated infrastructure needed to better enforce traffic laws… well, one can dream…

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      • soren January 5, 2017 at 9:03 am

        portland already spends ~450 million dollars each year on the police and fire. we need to reallocate some of that money to road safety, imo.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Kittens January 4, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    This seems to be a theme with politicians these days, talk a big game while running, do little of it while in office and then right as you leave work furiously to salvage your “legacy”. Seems too little to late for me.

    You were mayor for 4years and while I know we have a weak mayor system, you have the power to set agendas and tone. I don’t recall this or homelessness or affordability being a theme beyond the election for Hales.

    I don’t think this mayor will be seen favorably in the rear view mirror.

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    • Lester Burnham January 4, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Charlie has learned well from our out going Commander-in-chief.

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      • SE Rider January 4, 2017 at 4:10 pm

        Wait, is there Halescare that I don’t know about?

        Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Adam H. January 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm

      But he managed to force a police contract through, which shows his true priorities.

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  • Spiffy January 4, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    too little, too late…

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  • JeffS January 4, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Go away Charlie. If you find a pair of balls at sea, you’re welcome back. Otherwise, keep sailing.

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  • Middle of the Road guy January 4, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    Christ, where was this guy the last few years?

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • bikeninja January 4, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Maybe when he entered office, the sinister guys from the shadows gave him the JFK talk and he was scared to say anything untill he was almost out of office.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Kevin January 4, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    It’s good rhetoric that helps the cause. Keep the momentum going.

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  • Todd Hudson January 5, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Charlie gives great speeches! He just had some minor problems turning words into action.

    His biggest accomplishment was demonstrating it’s possible to become even more toxic than Sam Adams.

    Recommended Thumb up 1