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

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

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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?

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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:

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Landscape Architect/Planner Todd Borkowitz and PBOT Resource Manager Mark Lear.
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Gwen Shaw with Better Block PDX
and Better Block volunteer Joel Thomas.
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William Henderson of Knock Software/Ride Report app.
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L to R: Jeremy Dalton, C.R. Peterson Consulting; Tara Sulzen, field rep for Congressman Earl Blumenauer; PBOT planner Zef Wagner.
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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.

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

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

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

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

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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…

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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.

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Wonk Night in a nutshell.
Please support BikePortland.

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

22 Comments
  • Avatar
    maccoinnich September 11, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    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.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 11, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      I guess for me, I’m thinking of projects that have real oomph behind them… not stuff dreamed up through planning updates or that have sat on a shelf for many years with no movement.

      I’m waiting for something to emerge that has some serious marketing potential, serious private financial interest, and most importantly, a powerful elected official who grabs the project and says, “Vote for me and I will make this a reality!” None of the stuff you mention above has that kind of juice.

      If someone like American Assets Trust in the Lloyd (of Hassalo on Eighth fame, and many other things) called a meeting with Mayor Hales and said, “We’ve got your back on a 7th Avenue Bridge that connects to a new protected bike lane on the Burnside Bridge right into downtown, we’re calling it the Lloyd District Renaissance Corridor, and we’ve got X millions to help you fund it and we’ll support this thing to the end”… well then we’d have something exciting IMO.

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        maccoinnich September 11, 2015 at 4:35 pm

        I dunno… I don’t think the fact that some of those projects have been floated for a long time makes them any less worthy. The Eastbank Esplanade / Springwater Corridor is a great connector from downtown to the neighborhoods of deep SE, and is really well used by commuters and leisure riders alike. The North Portland greenway, as an example, could do exactly the same thing for neighborhoods in North Portland.

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        ethan September 11, 2015 at 4:36 pm

        “The city that works” needs private investment for bike and transit infrastructure, yet takes money from all of us for roads.

        Perhaps we should address that and get funding in place for ALL of the worthy multimodal projects.

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        Alan 1.0 September 11, 2015 at 8:48 pm

        All those big, flashy, showpiece projects are great and each one will draw in some small increase of regular bike riders – I support them – but I don’t think Portland is going to experience the quantum leap envisioned in the 2030 plan until it not only commits to but actually, physically, really makes greenway street networks complete, comfortable to ride for everyone, and interconnected with each other and with other transit options. That’s when the masses will be willing to ride instead of drive their 1-5 mile daily trips. That means putting rolling bikes where there are now parked cars, adding diverters, physical separation in places, 20mph speed limits enforced, safe lock-ups, and lots of other relatively small and inexpensive (compared to the showpiece projects) changes. I’m not holding my breath for that sort of political will and leadership so I’ll gladly take the showpieces if/as they come, but the mode numbers they draw will be just as scattershot and piecemeal as the projects themselves.

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          Bald One September 14, 2015 at 3:31 pm

          I tend to agree. It’s the little things that will count the most, not the next big 100-million dollar project that creatives can design up from their CAD stations.

          It’s working to get the funding, and also to maintain and improve the existing infrastructures we have. Millions of many small improvements and everyday maintenance events will go a long way to bringing in the 8 – 80 crowds.

          Are we the city that works, or the city that designs huge projects which can never get built due to lack of funding? Don’t get me wrong, I like the flash also, and I want a new super bike project, but I tend to think it’s important to make sure we can maintain and connect the existing super bike projects from years past before we start the next ones.

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      ethan September 11, 2015 at 4:05 pm

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

      Yep. And politics. Don’t forget those.

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    Ray Atkinson September 11, 2015 at 4:25 pm

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

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 11, 2015 at 4:30 pm

      Thanks Ray. Sorry I didn’t get your name. Look forward to meeting you next time. I’m glad you came and hope you liked the event.

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        Ray Atkinson September 11, 2015 at 4:50 pm

        I moved from Kannapolis, NC (suburb of Charlotte) to Portland last September to start the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at PSU and live car-free. I enjoyed my second Wonk Night and look forward to attending more in the future. Thanks for organizing and moderating Wonk Night!

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    Jeremy September 11, 2015 at 4:54 pm

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

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    Matt September 11, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    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.

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    Ted Buehler September 12, 2015 at 12:34 am

    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

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      Joseph E September 12, 2015 at 3:57 am

      “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!

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      Eric Leifsdad September 12, 2015 at 8:00 pm

      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.

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      paikiala September 14, 2015 at 8:32 am

      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?

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    Mark September 12, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    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.

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      paikiala September 14, 2015 at 8:34 am

      Mark,
      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.

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        Bald One September 14, 2015 at 3:22 pm

        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.

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    Mike Sanders September 12, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    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.

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      JonM September 13, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      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

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  • A. J. Zelada
    A. J. Zelada September 14, 2015 at 10:14 pm

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

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