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Week end ramblings: Hales, PBOT, equity, dieting and more

Posted by on January 11th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

“Portland’s downtown bike network is stuck in the 1990s. Short of a few buckets of green paint here and there, we are falling way behind in creating streets with adequate bicycling access.”

Here we are at the end of another week. Hope you’ll indulge some reflection…

After my holiday trip down south, I can finally (thankfully) say I am back in the bike news groove. Seems like the longer I do this job, the harder it is to get my brain re-calibrated after long breaks. It doesn’t help that there is never a shortage of projects, policies, people and politics to keep track of.

Speaking of people. New Mayor Charlie Hales is settling in. After getting rid of PBOT Director Tom Miller he’s given his first sit-down TV interview. On KGW’s Straight Talk he said he plans to pave 100 miles of roads his first year in office — well more than twice as much paving as we do now (I’m still waiting on precise figures from PBOT). To pay for that, he’ll have to make severe cuts to the bureau’s budget. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s no more fat left to cut. Or, I should say, at least fat that’s politically and mathematically feasible to cut.

In reality, Hales has some wiggle room to walk back that promise. What he actually said in the interview was, “We need to be repaving, crack-sealing, resurfacing at least 100 miles a year to stay even.” If you take crack-sealing, pothole fixing, and other miscellaneous, paving-related jobs into account, PBOT likely already does 100 miles a year. But Hales is smart. He’s playing to the crowd and still sticking to his “back to basics” and “roads first” mantra. Does he know the election’s over? And that he won?

What’s concerning to me is that Hales seems to have completely bought the PBOT narrative reported by The Oregonian. He keeps saying the agency needs to “rebuild its credibility.” The reality is that the only reason PBOT allegedly “lacks credibility” is because The Oregonian, KATU-TV, and The Willamette Week continue to misrepresent the PBOT budget situation in their eagerness to destroy Sam Adams, Tom Miller, and to fan the bikes vs. cars “war.”

I still can’t figure out why the lead graphic on this Willamette Week story has a bike on it. Can you?

Meanwhile, PBOT employees are waiting to find out who their leaders will be. Hales needs to name an interim director and decide which commissioner to assign the bureau. So far, he hasn’t showed much inclination to keep it (like Mayor Adams did) and there really aren’t any other obvious prospects emerging on Council. Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman already have big bureau loads and Steve Novick might be too new to take on something so controversial and cash-strapped. That leaves Amanda Fritz, whose record on transportation isn’t that impressive.

Moving on….

We’re also waiting to see who replaces Ray LaHood as US DOT Secretary. D.C. sources I’ve heard from say he’s definitely leaving by spring. The question is, will Obama play it safe with the appointment or will he take a gamble and choose someone like, say, NYC DOT Commish Janette Sadik-Khan? My money’s on him playing it safe. Who knows, maybe LaHood will make this big announcement at the National Bike Summit in March. I’ll be there to ask him.

The other big thing on my mind this week has been the issue of equity. For years now we’ve heard activists from east Portland say they deserve more active transportation spending. Well, as I pointed out this week, they’ve gotten it. $20 million or so in the past few years alone — and a good deal of it has been bike-related. Meanwhile, Portland’s downtown bike network is stuck in the 1990s. Short of a few buckets of green paint here and there, we are falling way behind in creating streets with adequate bicycling access. That needs to change. PBOT needs to go big, put the business owner boogeyman behind them, and start making downtown streets safe and accessible for people on bikes.

Our friend Aaron Brown Tweeted this a few days ago about riding on SW Broadway (Portland’s marquee downtown street):

Speaking of street redesigns, it was amazing to watch ODOT punt on the Barbur road diet idea at the PBOT bike advisory committee meeting Tuesday night. Despite strong community support of the idea, and a forthcoming project that will repave and strip the road (a perfect time to do it), ODOT reps seemed resistant to even consider it. A PBOT staffer even offered to do the traffic analysis and design for them; but they still simply referred the idea to the SW Corridor planning process. That process is a long-range visioning exercise that wouldn’t result in any changes for at least 15-20 years.

The Barbur road diet is a perfect chance for ODOT to make good on all the “We love active transportation!” proclamations in recent speeches and policy memos. Getting that agency to actually change is turning out to be harder than we all imagined.

I leave you this weekend on a happy note. After that bike path rage story I shared on Wednesday, I thought we could stand to hear something a bit more heart-warming…

This morning’s freezing temps and icy roads created quite a commuting catastrophe. Readers have shared well over a dozen crashes in our comments alone. One person who went down was Sally R. who wrote us this story:

Hello BikePortland,

I am a bike commuter and these days commute in the dark morning. I left my house Friday morning knowing it was freezing, but the road conditions outside my home in Portland were fine. I commute from SE Portland to the airport.

Halfway to work, I started to see ice crystals on the road and felt my tail sliding. I slowed, but still fell over, hitting the road on several spots on my body. A truck who had just passed me stopped to make sure I was okay. I was fine, but he offered a ride anyway all the way to my office and lifted my bike into his truck. My office was at least 2 miles out of his way and it probably made him late to work.

I just wanted to share a story of dark-morning kindness from a car to bicyclist to balance out some of the road rage reporting. The driver was Peter Botke an arborist owner of Bud’s Expert Tree Care, and we will be calling them to help with tree care at our home.

And, I have learned my lesson to heed the weather report more closely.

Thanks for the story Sally. That’s a good one to end the week on. Please note folks, the ice is scheduled to continue. Read our tips and please use extreme caution if you head out on two wheels

Thanks to all of you for making this a great week. I appreciate all of your comments.

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. Thank you.

  • 9watts January 11, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    I love the end of week wrap-up.

    Why is that bike on the WW cover? Transport semiotics?

    Sam=bike; Charlie=pave

    We don’t want anyone to make up their own mind about how simple this all really is. What’s more, that crack is there because Sam=bike. We read that somewhere.

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  • Adam January 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I don’t work downtown and so don’t get to bike it very much. But recently, I had to swap out my soon-to-be-expired Trimet tickets, and so took a bikeride downtown to their Pioneer Courthouse Sq ticket offices.

    I got onto Broadway at NW Couch, and rode for a block in the bikelane on Broadway, crossing W Burnside. That was the one pleasant block of biking on Broadway.

    After that, it was like biking through a disaster zone. Car drivers blatently ignored the green bike boxes. Car drivers flung open their doors into the bikelane, almost dooring me. There were cars clustered around the hotels like iron filings around a magnet, blocking the bikelanes.

    I consider myself to be a pretty fearless rider, but I get spooked riding on SW Broadway.

    I don’t understand why PBOT installed cycletracks on NE Multnomah and before that, NE Cully Blvd, when SW Broadway is crying out for one a million times more.

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    • Nick Falbo January 12, 2013 at 7:36 am

      I’m with you. I wish Portland would take on the big, hard projects head on.

      Portland (like most cities) builds its bikeway based on opportunity. Multnomah was too wide for the traffic and had political support for change. Cully and Moody were being rebuilt from scratch. These were relatively easy wins.

      But Broadway? That street is packed at rush hour. Removing a lane will make it that much more congested. The drivers on broadway don’t want that, and I’m sure the business owners are skeptical of the benefit.

      If you look at the projects where they tried to make significant changes, things don’t quite work out as planned: Williams? Willamette? Hardly the visionary, transformative projects everyone was hoping for.

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  • Spiffy January 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    I still can’t figure out why the lead graphic on this Willamette Week story has a bike on it. Can you?

    I’m guessing that’s a rhetorical question because it’s obviously a bike-loving Adams turning his back on bad roads that Hales will fix…

    obviously bicyclists love huge cracks in the road and would rather just paint over them with green and call it done…

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    • 9watts January 11, 2013 at 8:09 pm

      It’s a painting of Beth Slovic’s dream.
      You know it’s a dream because the bike Sam Adams is holding is one of those trick bikes where you sit on the handle bars and ride backwards (into the cracks that the White Rabbit fell down). Or perhaps that is a veiled reference to the zoobomb pyle that Adams famously endorsed?

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  • Dk January 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    “But Hales is smart. He’s playing to the crowd and still sticking to his “back to basics” and “roads first” mantra. Does he know the election’s over? And that he won?”

    It’s because it wasn’t campaigning, he really does suck, he wasn’t just pretending

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  • Jeff M January 11, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    I can’t even express how frustrated I am with ODOT’s handling of the Barbur bridge projects. It’s very disheartening and I wish there was something I could do about it.

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  • gutterbunnybikes January 11, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    Downtown now is in the 90’s….oh please…. I well remember when it was just a few of us commuters in the mid 90’s when I first moved here, and downtown now is paradise compaired to then. Sure it aint keeping up with the Windy City’s laning of the loop, but it’s not even close to the 90’s downtown at all. And yes SW Braodway sucks on a bike, but it sucks just as bad in a car too.

    Take a ride to the outter ring of inner SE. for your little time traveling bike ride. Where there is no green paint – just a little white bicycles painted on a maze of poorly maintained and not very well lit side streets.

    Though I don’t ride Barber, it definately needs as much help (if not more) than the outter SE side does.

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    • RH January 12, 2013 at 8:23 am

      I think biking on Broadway is OK too. There’a a bike lane, most of the lights seemed timed for cyclists, etc… Yes, it could be better, but I bike it everyday and enjoy it.

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      • spare_wheel January 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm

        the problem with broadway *is* the infrastructure — the door/hotel-zone bike lane is a joke. this facility is less safe than nothing. its time for portland to look towards north american cities that are doing a good job with downtown bike infrastructure: seattle and SF.

        sharrow downtown!

        PS: please remove the failed Broadway cycle track, install a lane-visible bike path, and make the park blocks car free.

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        • eric January 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm

          Oh F-that. No sharrows downtown. Separated bike lanes are totally AWESOME, and you don’t realize this until you end up in seattle trying to ride with traffic. I’m pretty fearless, but sharrows mean nothing when it’s your life vs some distracted dickbag in a two-ton terror.

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    • bicycle rider January 12, 2013 at 11:07 pm

      of course downtown is fine for a diehard bike commuter biking for 20 years, but its still terrible for “interested but concerned” riders and if theres any place they are going to ride their bike, its downtown. downtown is a huge gap in the city’s bike boulevards, despite being one of, if not, the main bike destinations in the state.

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      • Pete January 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm

        Downtown Portland is one of the main bike destinations in the state?? Wow, have I got some routes to show you… (it’s a pretty big state).

        Your point is dead-on, by the way.

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  • K'Tesh January 11, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Thanks for including the story about the kindness of strangers… So much to complain about, sometimes it’s nice to have something to praise.

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  • Gracie January 12, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I hope that some of that $20 million for East Portland goes to help the Foster area, which is atrocious and scary and looks like Vancouver/Williams before they kicked the poor people out

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    • daisy January 12, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Wow. No wonder my neighbors who managed not to get “kicked out” don’t like cyclists. Jonathan, any chance you’d delete this nastiness?

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      • spare_wheel January 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm

        guilty conscience much?

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  • Zaphod January 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    I tend to withhold opinion and give benefit of the doubt but Hales? I met the man, shook his hand, he appeared to hear me and hear us at a bicycle business meeting many months before the election. Reading this and witnessing his positions makes me realize how disingenuous he is. I expect more. I expect more from this great city. The old video that Sam Adams put together describing what makes Portland, “different than, say Topeka”… the sentiment there is something I believe in.

    With more bike-related industry in this town and support for it, Hales is on the wrong side of the issue. So when we, the collective bike-based businesses by-and-large succeed, we will be sure to remember his legacy as not supporting us. He will be forgotten. I’ve written him off already anyway.

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  • Evan Manvel January 14, 2013 at 8:02 am

    First, if you want to complain about the disconnect between rhetoric and reality for ODOT and Barbur Blvd, complain to their boss – the Oregon Transportation Commission. They’ve got a meeting this week, where you could testify, or you can just send them e-mail.

    Second, I’m hoping that Hales is laying the groundwork for more transportation funding, rather than saying he’ll gut other items to maintain streets. While I didn’t watch the interview, the quote you use has him simply saying that we need to keep up with maintenance. It’s the sort of quote that you can read into what you like; I’d hold off on judging the rhetoric until we see a budget or policy proposal.

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  • Bjorn January 14, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Don’t blame me I voted for Smith.

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    • davemess January 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      Me as well.
      How did people not see this coming?

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  • JonathanR January 14, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Candidate Hales said that his transportation policy would be “Everything But Cars.” Hmmmmm.

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  • roger noehren January 14, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    The worst bike graphic ever – a horizontal frame tube from the front hub? (or is it meant to be an ass backwards bike?).

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  • davemess January 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    sharrow downtown!

    Isn’t downtown already defacto sharrowed? I mean due to lights and timings, most streets only travel about 20mph max. It’s very hospitable for taking the lane, and keeping up with traffic.

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