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Transportation wonks take note: Two big events Tuesday night

Posted by on December 30th, 2010 at 9:42 am

What an AROW meeting looks like.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Portland is transportation wonk central. You know what a transportation wonk is right? The type of person who is always spouting acronyms like VMT, MUTCD, and RTP and who have passionate discussions about crossing treatments, traffic calming, signal timing, and so on. If this sounds like you or someone you know, get ready for this coming Tuesday (1/4) when two of the most wonktastic events in recent memory happen on the same night

Measuring streetcar rail height.

Some of the biggest wonks (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) I know are the folks behind Active Right of Way. The other night I photographed one AROW volunteer, the illustrious Ted Buehler, measuring the height of a streetcar rail flange at night and in the rain — and that was after he had diagrammed the Pearl District on a chalkboard complete with lane widths he had measured himself the day before (in photo above)!

Now there’s a social event for people like Ted. Join him and other nice folks for AROW Wonk Night on Tuesday (1/4) from 4:30 to 6:30 pm in the Publications Room at the Portland Central Library (801 SW 10th Avenue). Here’s the official event description:

“We’ll be cracking open old urban plans, traffic manuals, maps and other exciting City of Portland documents from the past stored in the central library’s basement, and available via the call desk in Publications. It’s a fun opportunity to see why much of the built environment is the way it is today, and what it could have been. Heard about the Bus Rapid Transit proposal that would devote two exclusive lanes to BRT up and down MLK, as proposed in the mid 70’s? Of course you haven’t, it’s buried in an old plan for Union Ave that only exists in the analog archives!”

Now that sounds like my kind of event. For more details, check out the blog post on ActiveRightofWay.org.

Mia Birk

Mia Birk can tell some tales.

And for extra credit, roll a few blocks north for the big Mia Birk, “Joyride” reading event at Powell’s Books (1005 W Burnside). Mia will read from her new book and there will also be a Q & A, raffle, and more. Here’s the event blurb:

“Author Mia Birk shares the hidden history behind projects like the Eastbank Esplanade and SE 7th/Sandy, other pivotal moments in local bicycle history, and the future of bicycle transportation across North America.”

If you’re an aspiring local transportation nerd and know-it-all like myself, Ted, and many others in this strange town, get out to these events Tuesday night. Knowledge is power!

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  • Spiffy December 30, 2010 at 10:01 am

    I am an aspiring local transportation nerd and would love to wonk out with the group… my wife has been pressing me to go back to school full time to pursue urban planning and transportation… but my available time is limited by my working in Milwaukie so I don’t get to see these fun weekday events… takes me a while to ride into downtown, even from my house on SE 99th…

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    • David Haines December 30, 2010 at 10:33 am

      Wish I could make it too, but check out AROW’s calendar for more wonkpportunities.

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    • rigormrtis December 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm


      I received a masters in the years ago, though through a highly regarded public policy school and not a planning one.

      My suggestion, it’s one of those things that sounds really good to but there are not that many positions in that field. Many people are working on the very same or very similar things in different organizations, and it tends to be a pretty incestuous bunch. E.g., if you don’t know someone, forget it. Granted, my experience was in DC with some of the national organizations and not locally.

      All I am trying to say is that there are already a lot of people doing what you intend to do, very limited funding for those efforts, and that you might find it difficult to find the opportunity to apply what you have learned at an organizational level.

      Finally, we are in a metro area that is over-saturated with transportation folks already. You might have to move to find a job in that field.

      Sorry to be the wet blanket.

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    • Steve B December 30, 2010 at 8:27 pm

      Spiffy — send me an email if you’d like to connect outside of a weekday event. We’d love to have you onboard! now@intersection911.org

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  • Oliver December 30, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Maybe someone at one of these events could tell me why the new crossing signals in Portland are activated by buttons that require you to step outside your direction of travel.

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  • Andrew December 30, 2010 at 10:24 am

    The nerds shall inherit the earth. And they will say, “let there be safe and equitable mode share.”

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  • Todd Boulanger December 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    “Nerds shall inherit the earth”[…only if they survive their field work at night]. Please remember to face traffic if taking field measurements…so you can break away and run safely back to the curb 🙂

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  • Ted Buehler December 30, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Hmmm. Bummer we booked our library night on top of Mia’s reading. I encourage anyone torn between to go to the reading — we’ll have repeat wonk nights at the library.

    Mia’s book is pure insiration for anyone passionate about shaping a city’s transportation infrastructure into the city of your dreams.

    We enjoy this fabulous bike infrastructure because of tireless visionaries like Mia who wouldn’t take “it’s not in the MUTCD, we can’t do it” for an answer. May her book inspire a whole new generation of transportation advocates!

    Ted Buehler

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    • Steve B December 30, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      Ted — Mia’s reading is AFTER wonk night, so everyone interested can get two helpings of their wonk on Tuesday!

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  • adam December 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    ugh, I am in school that day. can you webcast it or whatever yet? would love to watch in when I can.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson December 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    It would be great if the AROW folks focused on the conversion of Portland’s Central City freeway loop to a friendlier “boulevard loop” rather than worrying about the very popular Central City Streetcar loop. Reducing motor vehicle trips and building neighborhoods should be the name of the game for serious transportation wonks. Streetcars and bikes both do these big time. Time to focus on the problem, not the solutions. Do I smell a rat?

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    • Ted Buehler December 30, 2010 at 7:45 pm

      Lenny wrote –
      “It would be great if the AROW folks…”

      Lenny, come to a meeting, bring your ideas. AROW agendas are just what one member proposes and others choose to support. It’s pretty organic, a natural outgrowth of the Portland Traffic and Transportation class, where the city instructs citizens on how to push for changes. This is the next logical step — to band together and push the needed changes through.

      Or if you want to float a new idea you can do a guest post on the blog. http://www.activerightofway.org

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    • Steve B December 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm

      Lenny– we’re all streetcar supporters, so we’re excited to help make the area safe for multi-modal coexistence wherever streetcar is built. AROW’s focus is not singular, we tend to agree that transit and streetcar are a part of Portland’s forward progress away from dependence on the SOV.

      Keeping downtown bike-friendly is going to go a long way to help Portland reach it’s 25% by 2030 goal.

      Demolishing I-5? Count me in! http://bit.ly/hCuzC4

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    • Seth Alford December 31, 2010 at 4:54 pm

      I’m on the AROW email list, but I guess I’m not really an AROW member since I’ve never been to a meeting of the group. I view the streetcar tracks as a hazard for bicyclists. Since all the AROW folk support the streetcar, I guess I won’t be going to their meetings any time soon.

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      • Steve B December 31, 2010 at 5:36 pm

        Sorry to hear that, Seth. You’re welcome to overlook my hasty generalization, perhaps not everyone in the group is ‘behind streetcar’.. but we are a multi-modal group that believes transit is an important piece of a low-car city. The track hazards for bicyclists are exactly what we’re trying to mitigate.

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  • Ted Buehler December 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Note that there’s no schedule conflict here.

    Library Wonkout is 4.30 – 6.30 pm, Central Library
    Joyride Reading is 7:30 – 10:30, Powells

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  • Lenny Anderson January 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Take note that the Streetcar idea was born in the City’s Central City plan off 1986 or so. Wouldn’t it be great if the current update of the Central City plan gave birth to the idea of converting the freeway loop?
    Cover I-405, rename it I-5; remove I-5 and the Marquam Bridge; bury I-5 between I-84 and the Fremont Bridge.
    re bikes and streetcars…take a look at Amsterdam; they seem to get along pretty well with tons of bikes and plenty of tram lines.

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  • adam January 3, 2011 at 10:42 am

    the nerds I know would be able to record these presos so we could watch them.

    I love the spirit here in portland but its tough to see so many smart people be unable to budge a city government that insists on slowing good things down while bending over for the PBA. If this town were anything close to A’dam, this would be a great place to live.

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  • Mia Birk January 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Hi folks – over at Powells, we’re raffling off copies of Joyride and Joe Kurmaskie’s new book “You Might be a Cyclist If…”, a Nutcase helmet, an Arkel pannier, and a BTA membership. No charge! Hope to see you there. 7:30 – 8:30 Mia

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