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A new “transportation conversation” in Portland

Posted by on January 5th, 2010 at 5:06 pm

For a variety of reasons, activist rumblings have been surfacing recently around Portland’s bike and transportation advocacy scene.

The city’s main advocacy group, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, is without an executive director and seeking a new direction at the same time as the City’s Bicycle Plan for 2030 readies for adoption.

Last month, about 40 people turned up at our impromptu town hall for a lively discussion on the future of bike advocacy in Portland. The feeling in the room was strongly in favor of turning up the heat in the effort to make Portland a better place to get around by bike, and for adding more variables to the local bike activism ecosystem (like walking and transit).

From this context comes TransCon PDX, a new “transportation conversation” which began as one meeting called by two fixtures on Portland’s bike fun scene: Ben Foote and Ted Buehler. Foote is the creator of web directory PDXStump, and Buehler studied bicycle planning at UC Davis and is involved with the Bike Temple (among other things). Both of them recently completed PSU’s widely reputed Traffic and Transportation course.

Four lively meetings later, the group now boasts a Google Group with 25 members, a temporary name — TransCon PDX — and some concrete plans for action.

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Most notably — and immediately — the group will work along with other local bike groups to pack City Hall for the Bike Plan 2030 hearing on February 4th at 2pm. There’s a meeting tonight from 7pm to 9pm at ON Gallery in Old Town (321 NW 6th Between Everett and Flanders). Everyone is welcome.

The group is currently considering its focus, but it looks like that will extend well beyond bicycling. At the second meeting, there was discussion of lofty goals such as “making Portland the best city in the world to live without a car.”

Other action ideas that initial meeting attendees voted to consider included items such as closing a street to create a car-free plaza downtown and starting a Car-Free Fridays campaign to encourage Portlanders to leave their cars at home one day each week.

For more information, or to stay abreast of the conversation, check out the TransCon PDX Google Group.

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  • Mark January 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Conversations that start with or are founded on ideas like “without a car” are preaching to the choir. It’s not a zero sum game. Or, rather, if it is, we won’t get anywhere. To reach the lofty goals of the 2030 plan, we will need to reach folks who use their cars more than their bikes and probably will for the foreseeable future.

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  • are January 5, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    seems to me the phrase “live without a car” encompasses “do without a car in many situations in which one might otherwise use a car” — in other words, quite a number of people outside “the choir.” this can be expressed either in terms of making life more pleasant for people who choose not to use a car for this or that — which is the way i read it –, or in terms of making life less pleasant for those who choose to continue to use a car for what some within “the choir” might deem inappropriate purposes — which seems to be what mark comment 1 is hearing. but then, the article does not say the “conversation was started or founded” on this idea, but that it was “among lofty goals discussed” at one meeting.

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  • Michael Andersen January 5, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Good post, Elly, and good points, @Mark and @are.

    The phrase I like best and have started using lately is “low-car life.” But I think Elly might argue that at least when you’re stating your mission, it’s the biggest and boldest goals that make the most sense. Maybe the marketing is different.

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  • Lance P. January 5, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I would love to hear more about this “closing a street to create a car-free plaza downtown”. This is popular all over Europe. NYC even has one now. I would LOVE one in Portland.

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  • Lindsay January 5, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    The necessary “Preach to those who don’t want to join the choir” tactic: drop the concept of “bikes are better than cars” once in awhile, and exalt the economic benefits of a bustling business district closed off to vehicles. Cities all over the US have such business districts: they are incredibly successful and touristy. We have a hard time getting one here because it is advocated for as a victory for cyclists, when really it’s a victory for the community and the businesses located there. Once the success of a single car-free area becomes evident, more bike infrastructure should easily follow.

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  • kiel johnson January 5, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    it is my understanding that through out portland there are about 80 neighborhood associations, these associations report to 8 regional groups, which then report and direct city planning. In all of these 80 groups there are positions for transportation co-chairs but most of them are unfilled.

    It seems to me that an obvious and easy step would be to get people passionate and knowledgeable about bicycles to get involved with their local neighborhood association. It would be great if Bikeportland or TransCon helped encourage people to do that.

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  • Ben Foote January 6, 2010 at 3:02 am

    Thanks for the press Elly and thanks to all for coming this evening. What great turnout and great energy in the room. I’m still buzzing hours later.

    I’m looking forward to working on some fun projects in the coming year and working to support each other in our common goals. I’m hopeful that we are starting to build a platform to do good work and can offer those with project ideas a framework for achieving their goals.

    Please join us next week on Tuesday evening for another TransCon meeting or on Tuesday January 19th at the Lucky Lab on Hawthorne for an evening we’re currently calling Thank You Brews (that name might not stick). We’re going to write thank you notes to folks who have been working on transportation issues in our region. Please bring your ideas of for whom you’d like to thank, or submit names to the TransCon list.

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  • aiche January 6, 2010 at 6:03 am

    Where’s the sense in having one day a week slated for a ceasefire in car use? Won’t that create a massive strain on public transport systems each week? Avoiding the excess of waste created by constant driving holds a lesson for creating avoiding excess in other modes of transportation, too.

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  • Tony Fuentes January 6, 2010 at 7:39 am

    It would be great to see the expansion of focus to also include transportation equity.

    The reality in my neighborhood that “the choice” of going car free is pretty easy. There are sidewalks, paved roads, direct bus service to downtown, etc. Sure there could always be more but all in all the basic safety and access needs are being met.

    If you go one neighborhood to the east – Cully – you encounter a significant amount of substandard streets, lack of sidewalks, no direct bus service to downtown, etc. The “choice” to be car-free is very different in that case.

    Cully is hardly unique in this regard. Moreover, a lot more folks in areas like Cully are living car-free simply out of economic necessity or they are incurring the expense of car ownership solely because it is the only way to effectively access jobs and so forth (and the cost of that ownership is a significant economic burden).

    The bottom line is that there is no legitimate choice in the matter for many of Portland’s residents because equal opportunity and access is does not exist.

    I want to see more bike, ped, and transit improvements in this City. I strongly believe that transportation priorities must be tipped in that direction. But the majority of that funding and effort should go towards providing an adequate level of service in areas that are under served now.

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  • oliver January 6, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Growing up (not here) I remember several instances of my grandfather fighting with the city (and his new neighbors) over both paving the streets which bordered his property and installing sidewalks thereon.

    His position was that he did not want sidewalks or paved streets because 1. He was required to pay to put them in, and 2. It would raise his property values and subsequently his taxes.

    Is this not the reason why these outer neighborhoods never had them put in? And are these types of property owners not still the primary barrier to having the streets improved in these neighborhoods?

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  • RyNO Dan January 6, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Yeah it’s a stupid system where homeowners have to pay for the street to be paved and the sidewalk installed. Does it make sense ?

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  • Tony Fuentes January 6, 2010 at 2:30 pm


    “Is this not the reason why these outer neighborhoods never had them put in?”

    Portland has grown in the last 150ish years through annexation of neighboring small towns, unincorporated county and the like. Further, planning and development requirements haven’t been stable during that time either, in fact these get tweaked all the time.

    So there is no simple answer to why any part of what is now Portland which may have been developed 10, 20, 50, or 100 years ago was done so without paved roads, sidewalks, curbs, ADA access ramps, etc.

    “And are these types of property owners not still the primary barrier to having the streets improved in these neighborhoods?”

    No. Again, the reason why there are areas of Portland with significant levels of substandard transportation facilities (of all stripes) is not simple. For instance, nearly half the streets in the Cully neighborhood are substandard. If your travel in that area you will see homes of all ages ranging back 100 years on substandard streets. Thus, the situation with the street and sidewalk system in Portland is not as simple as conscious choices by individual property owners or renters.

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  • polo ralph lauren May 31, 2013 at 6:08 am

    Okay this YouTube video is much better than last one, this one has good picture feature as well as audio.

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