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Vancouver budget woes prompt lay-off of transportation planner

Posted by on May 8th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Todd Boulanger (L), seen here with League of
American Bicyclists Executive Director
Andy Clarke.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Todd Boulanger, a well-known transportation planner and former Alice B. Toeclips award winner (2005), has been laid off by the City of Vancouver.

Citing lower than expected budget numbers, City Transportation Manager Thayer Rorabaugh sent an email to staff on Monday that he had decided to elimate the Neighborhood Traffic Program that Boulanger oversaw.

Here’s a snip from that email (emphasis mine):

“It is with deep regret that I inform you that I have to lay off one of our family…Todd was the one who continued to implement the residual portion of the Neighborhood Traffic Program, however, with REET [Real Estate Excise Tax] dollars drying up and general fund dollars in short supply, this program has been eliminated.

Todd has been an asset to our department through his contribution to the neighborhood and bike programs and has helped us to look at the world a little differently. He and I discussed this last week and I ask that we all help to make his final days with Transportation as gratifying as his past ten years have been.”

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Boulanger worked with a traffic engineer to implement a number of neighborhood livability measures, including bike lanes, sidewalks, traffic calming features, and more. Speaking on the phone today, Boulanger told me in years past his program had upwards of $800,000 to spend. This year however, that number had dwindled to just $50,000.

Pre-paid bike lockers in Vancouver

Boulanger showing off the
electronic bike lockers he
brought to Vancouver.

According to Boulanger, the Neighborhood Traffic Program was created after the City of Vancouver annexed a large portion of rural areas that were in need of transportation amenities. “At that time,” he said, “There was political impetus fulfill promises to make people’s lives better.”

Boulanger feels the loss of the program will hurt the city’s ability to respond to neighborhood requests for livability improvements.

Transportation and livability improvements were a top priority for City Council in those days, says Boulanger, but in recent years transportation has fallen down the rung of priorities. These days City Council’s top priorities are waterfront development and police and fire services.

Beyond his official role with the City of Vancouver, Boulanger has been a tireless advocate for bicycling on both sides of the river. His Alice Award in 2005 came on the heels of his successful series of “R U Bridge Curious” rides that helped educate people about how to bike across the I-5 bridge.

While at the City of Vancouver, he helped pioneer a number of innovative programs: He secured an EPA grant to bring electronic, card-access bike lockers to downtown Vancouver; he pioneered use of “speed cushions”, a speed bump design common in Europe that have a cut through for fire-trucks; he installed bike lanes on streets in combination with back-in parking.

Boulanger says one of his last projects will be the completion of the policy and design framework for on-street bike parking facilities (similar to Portland’s bike corrals) for downtown Vancouver.

While he feels the elimination of his position was a bit sudden, Boulanger leaves knowing that the Vancouver bike scene is in much better shape then when he first arrived from Hawaii nearly ten years ago.

During his tenure, Vancouver went from zero bike lane miles to over 70. A new grassroots bike advocacy organization (which Boulanger helped spark) is just getting off the ground, and a few weeks ago The Oregonian published a big story about how biking in Vancouver is on the rise

Boulanger’s last day is June 1st. He told me he plans to do some traveling, visit family, and then start looking for work. The sudden change in career plans has Boulanger thinking about possibly moving to Portland to work for a private firm. With his track record in Vancouver and his popularity in the Portland scene, I don’t think he’ll be unemployed for long.

The vision, expertise, and dedication Boulanger brought to his work had an immeasurable impact on the quality of life of many Vancouver residents and there is no doubt that he and his program will be sorely missed.

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  • PoPo May 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Thank you, Todd, for your outstanding service to our community. Though it is easy for others to say, I hope and assume that you will move on to even better things.

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  • metal cowboy May 8, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Todd was vancouver’s transportation star. Their loss. A firm on this side of the river should snap him up quick. Doing a bit of traveling sounds like a smart move, consider doing some of it on bike
    (you’ve probably already thought of that). I tell people never rush into another job unless you have too… Franz Ferdinand sang it best “It’s always better on holiday, that’s we only work when we need the money.”

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  • mmann May 8, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    This is too bad. I just did the RACC century last Saturday – I hadn’t done much riding north of the river before that – and was impressed with the ease of biking in Vancouver. Todd has obviously had a positive impact.

    Maybe it’s the conspiracy theorist in me, but has Mr. Boulanger by chance had anything to say about the CRC project and is it possible that had anything to do with losing his job? Just wondering.

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  • Lenny Anderson May 8, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Todd will be Vancouver’s loss, and hopefully Portland’s gain…on either the private or public sector side.
    Vancouver/Clark county over the last few years has removed an HOV lane, cut bus service and now sacked their best bike advocate. Looks like they are putting all their chips on the CRC when it comes to transportation. More cars, more VMT and more $ for developers. Talk about last century thinking.

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  • Bob May 8, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Todd has been a great voice for a more complete transportation system. With his passion and knowledge I am confident that his best days are still to come.

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  • Ethan May 8, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Come over for a beer Todd.

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  • ms May 8, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Oh, this budget stuff is depressing for local government. So, sorry to hear this — I feel confident Todd’s good energy will be an asset for any community or business that can snag him.

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  • mabsf May 8, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Come over for 2 beers!

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  • Laura May 8, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I’m sure Todd will land “rubberside down!”
    Good luck wherever it is!!!

    Oh…and I’ll spring for a single malt…

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  • Residentevil May 8, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Todd is a guy who contributed a ton to the Vancouver bike community. In 2005 Vancouver got the Bronze Award level for bicycle friendly community. (Everybody is talking about PDX platinum award only). Todd had a large part in that. The reason this county is going downhill is that it is only about the bottom line, not really about the people or quality anymore. The founding fathers knew that a community can only prosper when everybody contributes to it putting the community first. Now we have the me, me, me generation and bearing heads running the city. Todd probably contributed more to this community than much higher paid suits, which most likely saw a good opportunity to rid a uncomfortable critic. See you on the road…

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  • West Cougar May 8, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I’ve always thought of Todd like the Apostle Paul evangelizing to the pagans. Job well done; it’s time to rest. Vancouver’s loss will be Portland’s gain.

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  • Jessica Roberts May 8, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    That’s terrible! Todd is the hardest-working Vancouver planner-advocate I know…I wish him the best of luck, and I’m so sorry Vancouver couldn’t figure out how to keep him.

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  • Helyettrider May 9, 2009 at 9:02 am

    I live in unincorporated Clark County–how f****** stupid is that Royce Pollard moron, anyway? Todd is a tremdous asset, he has done yeoman work towards dragging Vancouver out of it’s 1965 traffic consciousness. Serve us right if Portland hires him, indeed!

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  • Aneurin May 10, 2009 at 10:34 am

    This is a really bad sign. Vancouver cyclists just lost an experienced planner at a critical time in the CRC design.

    It would behoove the CRC to hire Boulanger pronto. I realize a lot of folks are anti-CRC around these parts, but having an experienced bicycle transportation planner would at least alleviate some of the pain.

    Best of luck in your future endeavors, Todd.

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  • Robert Ping May 11, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Good luck, Todd! And have fun traveling in the meantime.

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  • Ben May 11, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Sorry Todd! Once again, Vancouver makes a giant transportation fail. Portland will welcome you somewhere I’m sure. And I’ll buy you a beer next time we’re out.

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  • Martha R May 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    What?? They always seem to cut the useful people! Todd’s done so much for Vancouver, it’s a shame that they can’t find a way to juggle the budget and hold onto him. I agree — Vancouver’s loss will be Portland’s gain. Good luck, Todd! Enjoy your vacation, since it surely won’t last long once you start looking for work.

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  • matthew May 11, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    i’ve waited a bit to post a comment to see what kind of respones would be left. i don’t think people “get it”. the elimination of todd’s position and the program he oversaw effectively removed the only form of citizen input on how city dollars are spent. neighborhood associations and other groups had a real voice in how our tax dollars were used. now property excise taxes will be used for the esther short park area and waterfront development. benifits reaped by developers and people who don’t live here yet. gee.. that’s nice. if you stand at esther short park and look to the northeast you’ll see a big empty lot. developers signed a contract with the city to be finished with construction by the end of 2010 or have to pay a 8 million dollar fine. the city has just waived the fine. should i think of this as part of the reason for a “reduction of funding”? the city has also given developers of the old denny’s property on mill plain a street (a 1 block section of “D” street)and eliminated a crosswalk. the arnada neighborhood association had to threaten the city with legal action in order to make public information about this project. transparency is not something the city wants. the algelo’s were given a 10 year deferment on property taxes on the esther short commons development. just business as usual in vancouver. with the crc and light rail expansion the mayor and city council just do what they want without reguard to the citizenry. light rail has been voted down twice here so the council won’t make that mistake again. funding of these projects will never be on a ballot measure it will be a decision of the council and the mayor. so much for the will of the people. todd was a thorn in the side of many of the big players here and it’s hard to think his termination was not politically motivated.

    i find it disheartening to see all the uproar about the hawthorne bridge incident and not this issue. i have nothing but positive thoughts for the gal involved. she seems very kind and forgiving for what she’s going through. can’t say i’d feel the same. kudos to her. about 7 years ago i was hit by a car (right hooked) and lost 4 teeth and had (ironicly) 17 stitches in my face. i know what she’s dealing with and feel for her but would like to see the same public response in todd’s case. the hawthorne bridge incident will undoubtedly result in changes to the pathways benifitting all the users. eliminating todd’s position will only benifit developers and big business. shouldn’t we be just as concerned with this?

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  • Todd Boulanger May 12, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Thank you all for you your kind words on this page, tears in the halls of city and county offices and street corners this last week at this loss and change…I will be fine and move on to bigger and more exciting opportunities – I have no doubt.

    I thank the citizens of Vancouver for giving an advocate with more street education and listening skills than certifiable engineering degrees the chance to hone my skills at crafting more complete streets in a rapidly reurbanizing burg when traffic calming was still dark magic for most traffic engineers and city managers.

    This in turn led to regional opportunities on the boards of Transportation Choices, Bikestation, and Women’s Transportation Seminar International (Portland) and work helping Portland move towards Platinum with the BTA, SHIFT, etc.

    I chose Vancouver for not being Portland but being close enough for support and experimentation. It can be hard to be close to the ‘bikevana’…close enough to escape but also not to need to try and fail. I hope to still be a citizen here and have a voice in local issues even if I must be an economic migrant (again) and cross the bridge to work. (I was always surprised at how many Portlanders thought I lived in Portland…there are some of us kindred spirits up here in the ‘wilderness’ – sometimes one can make greater change in smaller ponds.)

    Even with the drop in support for neighborhoods I was willing to stick it out and push for the best bike, pedestrian, and transit design elements for the largest single project to touch this region – the CRC. I live next to this running river of traffic and do not own a car – it is all we hear at night when the streets are quiet and our windows open…but it can be better…and sometimes the proposal has turned our assumptions upside down and challenged us over 2 years of meetings – like the stacked bridge’s covered bike pathway looking the best of the options at this point. (Those of us up here have to bike cross the bridge in all hours and weather – with rain, sun, and ice…so a little cover and width can be helpful.)

    I hope our City leadership chooses to reverse course on the cuts to neighborhood traffic safety and livability once we emerge from this emergency period and the elections. I would hope we rally around services of change and hope vs. fear of calamity and strife. To not do so would tear asunder much of the volunteer based efforts of the last 10 to 15 years by the community.

    I have completed my appointed task and it is time to move on.

    Please feel free to email me and thoughts or wishes (or job leads) to todd.boulanger@yahoo.com

    And look to the Pedal Palooza calendar for a party!

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