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What can you do for biking? Get involved with your neighborhood association

Posted by on November 11th, 2010 at 11:44 am

My neighborhood police officer, Derek Harris,
passing out crime stats at a recent
neighborhood meeting.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Portland is a town where being involved is just how we roll. Lots of folks here volunteer for non-profits, speak up at City Council when necessary, and are generally engaged on issues that impact their daily lives. Portland is also known for its 95 distinct neighborhoods, each one of which has an official neighborhood association attached to it.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years doing this site, it’s that the people in the City of Portland building and in City Hall, listen to — and care about — what neighborhood associations have to say. I’ve also seen a lot of transportation activism start at the neighborhood level.

“When neighborhood associations care about something, we hear about it.”
— Catherine Ciarlo, Transportation Policy Director for Mayor Sam Adams

If you live in Portland and aren’t already a regular at monthly neighborhood association meetings, you should be. They’re ground zero when it comes to making a difference on livability issues, especially learning about transportation projects. Here’s just one example…

Back in February 2007 I was at my local neighborhood meeting and heard, for the first time, about a big new transportation project that was coming to my area; the Columbia River Crossing. That meeting opened my eyes about the CRC project and it left a very bad taste in my mouth. I went home and blogged about my concerns and I’ve been following the project ever since.

Catherine Ciarlo, Transportation Policy Director for Mayor Sam Adams, says neighborhood associations are a key part of how they make decisions. “When neighborhood associations care about something, we hear about it.” Ciarlo says City Hall and PBOT rely on neighborhood associations to weigh in on transportation plans and when they put together committees, they look to have neighborhood representatives on them.

It’s all about getting together and sharing
information with your neighbors.

Being involved with your neighborhood association is “a pretty direct connection to City Hall,” says Ciarlo.

When PBOT has a particular route in mind for a new Neighborhood Greenway, for instance, Ciarlo says they’ll bring it to the neighborhood. “Usually the route has been decided only conceptually… Then we will go to them and say, ‘Here’s the concept, but what’s your input on how it’s going in on the ground?'”

But Ciarlo offers a caveat. While neighborhood associations are vital how Portland works, she says “It’s important to make sure we reach beyond them. They’re good for those involved, but they leave out renters and others who aren’t involved in the community.”

Most neighborhood associations have a Transportation Chair, someone who volunteers to track transportation projects in the neighborhood. You can be that person. Or, you can get to know that person, help them, and ask them questions. Neighborhood police officers are also regulars at meetings. They can help you track bike theft and keep an eye out if speeding or other traffic issues need attention.

Get involved. Before you know it, you’ll be helping make the streets in your neighborhood better for bicycling. A good place to learn more is Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI). They’ve got a helpful map where you can track down your local association.

If you are involved with transportation issues with your neighborhood association, it’d be great to hear your experiences.

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

16 Comments
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    Dave November 11, 2010 at 11:58 am

    So, are renters welcome to go to neighborhood meetings, or are they only for homeowners?

    If only for homeowners, how can renters get involved? It’s not like renters necessarily move every few months – I love where I live and have no plans for moving for quite a while and would love to know how I could be involved in the neighborhood.

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    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Dave,

    Renters are absolutely welcome at the meetings. I’ll get some clarification from Ciarlo.

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    MeghanH November 11, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    According to City rules, anyone who lives (regardless of ownership) or works in a neighborhood can participate in meetings. (You can even vote on some items.)

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    BURR November 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I’ll offer a counterpoint: getting involved with your neighborhood association is a boring waste of time.

    When I tried to get my neighborhood liason police officer to discuss the crime of speeding on neighborhood streets, I got a puzzled look from the officer and no one on he NA board was interested.

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    Carlos Babcock November 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Jonathan, how timely your post is. After visiting your city for the Rail-volution conference and touring N. Williams, I was happy to see the positive changes from just two years ago when I volunteered for the first Sunday Parkways and the Depave project at N. Fargo.

    I went to the ONI page last night and was amazed the coverage of all the neighborhood associations. The information was organized and one place. I also found the online neighborhood news source “Neighborhood Notes” extremely informative in explaining issues in each of the districts and neighborhoods. Thanks for the info.

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    Roger Averbeck November 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    I respectfully disagree with BURR #4. I am the Transportation Committee rep for my neighborhood in the SW Neighborhood Coalition.

    Some small successes on my local streets in the past two years include: Upon my request, the City of Portland replaced damaged or missing stop signs, speed control signs and street lights; conducted a safety evaluation of a dangerous intersection resulting in new signage and pavement markings; installed electronic speed reader boards on a collector street used as a construction detour; changed a traffic control plan for a construction project to keep bike lanes and pedestrian access open through the construction zone; cleared vegetation in the public ROW that was creating a hazard for pedestrians, etc.

    I call 823-SAFE (823-7233) as needed, but also have taken the time to establish communications with various city bureau staff and elected officials. I encourage others to be persistent but respectful in your advocacy efforts.

    I do agree with Catherine Ciarlo in the article – the concerns of people who don’t attend neighborhood meetings may not be adequately represented at NA meetings. NA chairs and committee reps don’t have much “power” but this is a good place to start.

    If you have a major concern or project, approval and support from your NA may be required. Please go to your monthly meeting. If your NA does not have a transportation rep – consider volunteering!

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    Bob November 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    One more than one occasion I’ve attended (once or twice at the urging of the BTA)my NA meeting to argue for bike stuff. If pro-bike folks don’t show up and support bike stuff then only the old cranky guy who always complains about bike riders running stop signs and not paying for roads gets recorded. City Hall needs to be able to say “this project has the support of the ‘Granny Hill’ Neighborhood Association.”

    Careful though, you could get drafted to become a permanent member. 🙂

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    Steve B November 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Great advice, thanks for the reminder to look my NA’s meeting schedule.

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    zuckerdog November 11, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    This month’s Buckman Community Association meeting will be held next thursday (11/18) in the library of Central Catholic (SE Stark and SE 24th) from 7pm to 9pm

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    Stripes November 12, 2010 at 6:37 am

    I agree. One time, I was at a local neighborhood association meeting. Somebody from the City was there, presenting about a new bike boulevard project. The neighborhood association, which comprised of twelve grouchy, old, bitter and cynical grandparent-types, tore the project to shreds. I felt so bad, because it was such a good project.

    THEN. They moved onto the next item on their agenda, which was all about Earth Day and their plans to hold recycling stations or something. And I remember being like – UM – let’s see, you’re planning your neighborhood Earth Day projects, and simultaneously voting down anything to do with sustainable transportation.

    I really do think it’s a generational thing. Which is why I would like to see more young, progressive people get involved with their NAs.

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    janis November 12, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Thanks for writing this article. I am on my neighborhood board and think it is quite important for a couple of reasons: one, I want to know what is going on in the neighborhood I call home. And two, there are things that I would like to see happen in my neighborhood and the only way to do that is by being involved. Yes, sometimes are meetings can be a little boring but we are adapting ours so that it is beneficial to those taking that want to be involved in different ways. If you live in Piedmont come to our next neighborhood meeting – find info here – http://blog.piedmontneighborhood.com/. We welcome anyone who lives in the neighborhood.

    On the flip side I am one of those people that attends neighborhood meetings to get feedback or talk with people about a project. The NA vary quite a bit – from the attendance numbers to the way they run the meetings. I think Catherine said it best about the meetings being a great start but not the only way needed to get community input. There are a lot of people that are not represented at the meetings and it is important to get their opinions too.

    So people let your voices be heard – even if you don’t become an officer/chair of the NA, get involved at some level.

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    Andrew Plambeck November 12, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for this, Jonathan. Neighborhood associations are indeed great ways to get involved in your community.

    The Creston-Kenilworth Neighborhood Association met Tuesday and had a great talk with our police liaison about the red-light-running at 39th/Powell. He also regularly brings up speeding, and I’ve found him to have a great perspective on traffic issues, as well as additional crime (but we live in “Mayberry”).

    We’ve also been kept up-to-date at recent meetings by representatives of PBOT to engage us and present the latest developments on the 50’s Bikeway process, which will cross the eastern side of our ‘hood. Neighborhood association meetings, as Jonathan said, are great opportunities to interact with representatives from the city and give input into projects like the 50’s Bikeway.

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    Bonny McKnight November 12, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for the help. As one of those old, cranky Neighborhood Association volunteers, let me reassure you that being cranky sometimes comes with citizen activism. Neighborhood Associations have very little capability to reach everyone in their geographic boundaries. We are trying to solve that historic problem again this year. Our role is to get together with as many other folks in our piece of the community and talk about how to improve things together. I don’t know of any Neighborhood Association that is closed to renters, diverse communities, or even bike advocates. Join us. We are stronger when we work together.

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    Anton November 12, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I’m 51: does that make me one of the old grouchs? …just checking. I’ve been involved in my NA the last 15+ years and have helped get speed bumps and crosswalks and sidewalks installed. During planning for the aerial tram at OHSU I pushed to make sure bikes could use the tram and could easily get thru and around the new hospital building at the top. The secret to being effective in neighborhood politics is patience, persistence, a certain amount of reasonableness, and being able to work with others. I’ve seen people of all ages throw up their hands and walk out because they can’t get quick action on their pet peeve or project; …it takes more commitment than that.

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    CaptainKarma November 12, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    #13: “even bike advocates.” So does that mean we can sit at the lunch counter and drink from the benson bubblers, too? Wow.

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    BURR November 14, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    A good start would be term limits for NA board members.

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