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?
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:
and First Lady of Portland, Nancy Hales.
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…
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!