Wonk Night focuses on pursestrings and politics of big projects (photos)

Posted by on September 11th, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Wonk Night September 2015-16.jpg

We might need a bigger venue!

Sure, we’ve got your shiny new Orange Line light rail corridor and the fancy bike/walk/bus/streetcar/light-rail-only bridge, but what’s next?

Wonk Night September 2015-3.jpg

Thanks Green Zebra Grocery!

Yes, we are already asking that question because that’s how we roll. If we don’t figure out the Next Big Thing we won’t be in a position to make it happen.

It was with that spirit that we decided to make “What’s next for Portland?” the topic of our most recent Wonk Night event. And turns out, a lot of people are thinking about this. It was the largest — and dare I say most spirited — Wonk Night we’ve had yet.

Well over 50 or so people packed into the downtown office of Lancaster Engineering. It was a night filled with fascinating conversations by people who are close to the issues and who are in a position to move big projects forward. We had people in the room from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), Metro, Commissioner Steve Novick’s office, local planners and consultants, neighborhood/volunteer activists, a rep from U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s office, the “First Lady of Portland” Nancy Hales, and many others. And most importantly, we also had people who don’t get paid to think about this stuff. People who read BikePortland and who just want to learn new things and meet interesting people.

Here are a few of the faces in the crowd:

Wonk Night September 2015-10.jpg

Landscape Architect/Planner Todd Borkowitz and PBOT Resource Manager Mark Lear.
Wonk Night September 2015-11.jpg

Gwen Shaw with Better Block PDX
and Better Block volunteer Joel Thomas.
Wonk Night September 2015-4.jpg

William Henderson of Knock Software/Ride Report app.
Wonk Night September 2015-9.jpg

L to R: Jeremy Dalton, C.R. Peterson Consulting; Tara Sulzen, field rep for Congressman Earl Blumenauer; PBOT planner Zef Wagner.
Wonk Night September 2015-5.jpg

R to L: Jessica Roberts, principal with Alta Planning, Ashley Riehl with C.R. Peterson Consulting, and Portland State University Urban and Regional Planning student Ray Atkinson.


Wonk Night September 2015-7.jpg

Maria Schur of Bicycle Kitty, Professional Twitter Agitator Josh Chernoff, and Armando Luna.

Wonk Night September 2015-6.jpg

Volunteer cycling advocates Chris Eykamp (L) and Terry Dublinksi-Milton.

Wonk Night September 2015-14.jpg

Former Chair of Oregon Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee Jerry Zelada
and First Lady of Portland, Nancy Hales.

Wonk Night September 2015-12.jpg

Volunteer advocate Garlynn Woodsong and PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller (R).

Wonk Night September 2015-13.jpg

Engineer/Planner Brian Davis from Lancaster Engineering (L) and Spencer Boomhower, illustrator extraordinaire with Cupola Media.

I spent the night trying to keep the conversation fruitful and fun. Because of that, I didn’t take copious notes.

In general, I attempted to break down the conversation into various “P” words: projects, pursestrings, politics and priorities.

First off, we talked about big projects in the city. Most of these we’ve mentioned here on the site before. (Interestingly no one threw out anything new or crazy.) The conversation quickly turned to why we haven’t built more marquee bike stuff here in Portland. Stuff like the Eastbank Esplanade. Real game-changers. Geller shared that maybe here in Portland “We’re too collegial.” Terry Dublinski-Milton said we need a big, “visionary project” (and he’d be happy to tell you his ideas).

Speaking of which, Nancy Hales chimed in to say “It’s a good time to think big. Swing for the fences, the city is in great shape!” She also took a lot of notes, which is always a good sign.

Speaking of notes, Congressman Blumenauer’s rep Tara Sulzen was scribbling all night…

Wonk Night September 2015-20.jpg

Much of our discussion centered around the lack of a major political champion for one of these marquee projects. Sulzen said advocates and the public could help create champions by thanking elected officials when they make good moves. Geller added that the response he prefers is, “Thank you, I’d like some more!”

When the discussion turned toward pursestrings, we heard a short presentation from statewide funding expert Jerry Zelada. He’s a big fan of using bond measures to pay for transportation. He thinks the gas tax is a lost cause. Zelada also shared some great ideas most people never think about. Like integrating Safe Routes to School funding with “pupil transportation” – a.k.a. school buses. “We currently spend about $219 million per year on school buses, and just $0.9 million on Safe Routes to School.” Another one of Zelada’s ideas? Take 1% of the state’s aviation tax and give it to Travel Oregon to improve rural cycling routes.

There were so many great parts of the conversation. I wish all of you could have been there. If you did attend, perhaps share your thoughts and takeaways in the comments and help fill in the blanks for us?

Stay tuned for our next event in October. We’re heading to East Portland (SE 82nd and Division area) for a change of venue and to mix things up a bit!

Thank you to our sponsors: Lancaster Engineering, Green Zebra Grocery, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Square Mile Cider, and Omission Beer.

Wonk Night September 2015-22.jpg

Wonk Night in a nutshell.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

Leave a Reply

8 Comment threads
14 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
16 Comment authors
A J ZeladaBald OnepaikialaJonMMike Sanders Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Wish I could have made it, but sometimes there are just too many good events on in Portland at one time. So, apologies if this point was already made…

I don’t think we’re lacking for potential “marquee” or “visionary” projects: there’s the Green Loop, including the 7th Ave bridge; the North Portland Greenway; the remaining sections of the South Waterfront Greenway; the Sullivan’s Gulch trail; the Flanders bridge and neighborhood greenway; any number of protected bikelanes that were identified in the 2030 bike plan; etc. What seems to be lacking is a method or willingness to fund these.


“What seems to be lacking is a method or willingness to fund these”

Yep. And politics. Don’t forget those.

Ray Atkinson

I’m the person in the red shirt talking with Jessica Roberts.


Thanks for a great event. The woman standing between Jessica and Ray is Ashley Riehl, also with C.R. Peterson Consulting.


I liked the idea of getting business on board first, showing them how profits go hand in hand with car-free zones and better ped/bike access. Then getting business to pressure the city and maybe even the Portland Business Alliance. I realize this has some downsides. I’m the guy who called it an end run.

Ted Buehler

Thanks for hosting this, Jonathan and Lancaster Staff.

Think big, folks.

Third tube to Beaverton for bikes?

Bike bridge from NW to North Portland, or lane on Fremont or path on the BNSF Railway Bridge?

North Portland Greenway

Sullivans Gulch Bicycle Highway

Demo project of a two-lane, one way cycletrack somewhere in Portland to demonstrate proper lateral spacing for safe overtaking of slow bicyclists by fast bicyclists.

2 lane Naito Cycletrack (& the slower car-Naito gets signs that say “Fast cars use 2nd and 3rd”)

Bike Ramp from Tilikum Bridge to PSU

Bike path on railway bridge from Milwaukee to Lake Oswego.

If we want to get more people commuting by bicycle into downtown, we certainly need to add lots more capacity from Inner N/NE/SE to downtown.

Ted Buehler

Joseph E

“slower car-Naito gets signs that say “Fast cars use 2nd and 3rd”.

Nah, “fast cars use I-5”. It’s just 1 block away, across the river!

Eric Leifsdad
Eric Leifsdad

We need to think big with a very large number of little things. Take the routes for 1000 random trips from around the city (commute, to/from school, groceries, etc.) and make them all low-stress enough to be ridden by a 10yo alone.


We have bridges where we need them already, we just need to modify them to accommodate non-motorized traffic. ODOT likes the flashy stuff and doesn’t like to reduce auto capacity.
Why not hang a ped-bike facility under the Saint Johns Bridge?


Portland is heavily invested in vehicle infrastructure which is unsustainable at current rates of funding. Portland will need to either divest of these roads or increase the funding. Trucks do a fantastic job of damaging roads. Portland should go to the state and get the money needed to fix the roads or ban the trucks.


Federal rules require access for trucks within a set radius of freeways and on the designated National Highway System. Portland might be able to limit time of day, maybe even size, but not vehicle type everywhere.

Bald One
Bald One

This sounds like the typical line out of PBOT where the “freight” interest lobby runs the show and sets the agendas. Let’s get creative! Restrict 5-axle trucks on many more city and local streets – Yes, keep them on the interstates and on a few highway feeders, but not let them run all over town on any street they want. Or, at least make them buy an expensive permit.

Mike Sanders
Mike Sanders

How do we connect Banks-Forest Grove, the Banks-Vernonia Trail, and the now – being – built Salmonberry trail to Tillikum Crossing? The I-205 trail would see to be the logical candidate as the primary N-S route thru the area for connections to Seattle and points Nirth and Oregon City, Salem and points south. Extending the Springwater across the mountains to Bend and points east would be a think- outside-the-box thing. Getting the business people to put up bucks to fund such projects (because congressional Republicans insist that federal bike funds must go to highways if there Is another war – and if they win, there will be one, and they’ll start it, too) should be a must.


Hmmmm, it’s crazy how easily people delude themselves. Recall that Bill Clinton first determined regime change in Iraq as US national foreign policy as far back as 1995. The AUMF that Bush sought (after going to the UN and Congress, unlike Obama these days, e.g., Libya), was overwhelmingly supported by both parties. These days we see Obama waging drone wars across the globe.

But it will be the Republicans that start the next war, eh?

Now, you might actually suggest how you propose to get businesses to financially sponsor a bike trail from Portland through Springwater to bend…lol

A J Zelada

Pupil transportation budget is 290 million and Safe Routes to Schools is 0.5 million! Thanks for a great evening…z