You might have missed it due to the holiday break, but Portland’s former mayor Charlie Hales had sort of a mic-drop moment at the final City Council meeting of 2016.
It came four days before Christmas and just before Hales voted yes on an ordinance that gives the transportation bureau permission to spend $300,000 on outer Southeast Division (stay tuned for a story about that). Before recessing council, Hales took the opportunity to give a five-minute speech about what he said are, “The things I’ll be committed to when I’m a private citizen and activists again.” He talked about the scourge of our urban arterial highways in east Portland, his annoyance with ODOT, the urgency to stop planning streets solely for driving, the role of transportation reform activists, and more.
The speech is below, followed by the YouTube clip.
“A long time ago the City of Portland annexed east Portland inheriting more streets that were designed by a previous generation of traffic engineers for automotive convenience and speed. That was the design philosophy that Division Street was built to. It was wrong, but it now falls to us to correct that wrong.
Over the years I’ve been involved in deliberations in this room, where city councils, including this one, have understood that we are redesigning our city to make the pedestrian and the bicycle rider and transit rider the first-class passenger and that automotive convenience needs to be tamped down in order to have the quality of life we want to have. We all agree on those values, but we have a long way to go to make Vision Zero and those values real.
Something that may have been forgotten but I wanted to call out; Commissioner Novick, in deliberations about a street fee and what our gas taxes would be spent on fought a long battle with some in the business community that all this money should go to repaving. And people in this room, many of you as activists, argued that we should spend more on safety and you made sure, Commissioner Novick, that a lot of the money our voters approved is going to make our streets safer. Not enough! But it’s a lot and it’s a good start.
I want to celebrate the decision this council made about [Southeast] Foster. Another case where the street was designed the wrong way and where the community had a good idea for how to make it better — and where not everyone agreed and there was some noise — but we, as a Council, did the right thing.
So let me talk about what might happen in the future. I think there’s more work this coalition can do. BikeLoudPDX, EPAP [East Portland Action Plan], Oregon Walks, APANO [Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon] — you have work to do not just in this chamber. Let’s make sure our District Attorneys are charging people who commit traffic violence with the most serious offense for which they can be charged. Operating a motor vehicle is a privilege not a right and if you kill someone by exercising that privilege you have committed a heinous crime. And we need to make sure our partners in District Attorney’s office and County government share that philosophy. Let’s make sure our legislature gives us the tools to be the safe city we want to be. So getting rid of this ridiculous requirement to go to Dad or Mom — or whatever you want to call ODOT — and ask them to give us permission to make our streets safer [a reference to ODOT controlling speed limits on city-owned roads] is nuts and we need to get rid of it like we’ve gotten rid of a number of other state preemptions that were unhelpful. And we need to find more money. It will be expensive to fix those streets that were designed the wrong way. Some of it can be done inexpensively as you’ve said well here today. ‘Paint is cheap’ — but of course paint has to be enforced…
This is a sad day with a deeply shared resolve among all of us here that we can make our city safer.”
This is some solid stuff from Hales. His disdain for ODOT and clear-eyed perspective about the type of streets Portland needs (and the ones we need to get rid of) are a breath of fresh air. It’s just too bad he made this speech in
January December 2016 — when we really could have used it in January December 2012.
But looking on the bright side, hopefully Hales keeps his word and really does become an activist for street reform. We could use someone with his experience to turn these words into reality.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org