Tonight’s ‘Transportation Town Hall’ is big chance to share your priorities

Transportation Safety Summit-8
A PBOT staffer takes down a suggestion at a PBOT Transportation Safety Summit in 2010.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

A two-hour “town hall” this evening at SE 34th and Salmon will be the Portland public’s first chance to turn out in support of their priorities in the next decade of Portland transportation budgets.

What Mayor Charlie Hales, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick and Transportation Director Leah Treat hear tonight and at two more planned town halls this month will undoubtedly shape the way they think about the looming political battle over both the city’s transportation spending and transportation revenue.

The town halls are also, to be sure, part of the city’s effort to build support for its big pitch to voters this fall: a new transportation revenue source, most likely including a per-household and per-business fee, that could bring the city tens of millions of dollars a year for new street projects and maintenance. But before the city asks voters for money, it needs to decide which projects will be on the top of its list.

Willamette Week quoted Hales’ spokesman Wednesday as saying the transportation revenue proposal is “likely” to go to voters in November. City leaders have said they’ll bring a specific project list to the public when that happens.

Tonight’s event is 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Sunnyside Environmental School, 3421 SE Salmon St.

Last month, the city conducted a telephone poll testing voters’ opinions about transportation. We first covered that poll Feb. 3; among the findings were that younger people, lower-income Portlanders and people of color are disproportionately likely to support investments in biking, walking and public transit.

At the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting last week, chair Suzanne Veaudry Casaus urged the city to heavily weight the results of that phone survey rather than feedback it receives at the public meeting. “I’ve been to a lot of public meetings, and the public meetings do not have a great deal of diversity,” she said.

Even so, there’s no question that political leaders tend to be influenced deeply by their direct encounters with voters.

We’ll be interested to see how Novick, Hales, and Treat frame the transportation problem. Messaging around this effort will be key to whether it succeeds or fails. And thus far they’ve talked mostly about preventative maintenance and “pedestrian safety” while shying away from strong words about the need for improved bicycling access.

Here’s the city’s official news release:

The Portland Bureau of Transportation reminds the public and news media to attend three town halls on transportation funding – the first to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20 at Sunnyside Environmental School.

“As we consider ways to meet the city’s transportation needs, we want to hear from as many people as possible,” said City Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees the transportation bureau. “Portlanders recognize that we need to invest more in preventive maintenance and safety improvements.”

Mayor Charlie Hales, Novick and Transportation Director Leah Treat will welcome the public and discuss transportation needs at the three events:

  • Thursday, Feb. 20, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Sunnyside Environmental School, 3421 SE Salmon St.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25, 6:30 to 8:30 at Immigrant & Refuge Community Organization (IRCO), 10301 NE Glisan St.
  • Thursday, Feb. 27, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 SW Capitol Highway

The town hall meetings will provide an opportunity for the public to speak with transportation staff, ask questions and make comments for the mayor and commissioner to consider as they explore ways to improve transportation funding. A keypad polling exercise and written comment opportunities will provide other ways for the public to provide comments.

Hales and Novick convened a Transportation Needs and Funding Advisory Committee in January to advise the commissioner on a transportation funding package. The committee helped draft the language used in a telephone survey in January.

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