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Insiders dish on regional funding measure, BRT dreams, and more at ‘Future’ panel

Posted by on March 3rd, 2017 at 10:50 am

The panel from L to R: Michael Andersen (moderator), Tyler Frisbee, Leah Treat, Chris Rall.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

As the debate in Salem about a major transportation funding package just starts to boil (more on that later), insiders in the Portland region have been meeting for months to decide the framework of a separate, regional funding measure.

The future of that effort and the politics behind it were one of several topics discussed at a panel hosted by the local chapter of Young Professionals in Transportation at a pub in northwest Portland last night. The panel featured: Metro Policy and Innovation Manager (and former senior assistant to Congressman Earl Blumenauer) Tyler Frisbee; Transportation for America NW Region Organizer Chris Rall; and Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat. The discussion was moderated by the ever-sharp People for Bikes writer and former BikePortland News Editor Michael Andersen.

Andersen kicked things off by asking the three panelists for the latest on Portland’s regional funding measure.

Packaging a funding measure

Given the immense amount of investment needed for roads through the state, the transportation package being put together by the Oregon Legislature won’t come close to funding everything. The state package is likely to be about $500 million — and that will have to cover portions of several freeway widening mega-projects, seismic readiness upgrades, port and rail projects, active transportation, and so on. Also on the minds of regional policymakers is that the federal spigot under the Trump administration is wholly unreliable. With those funding realities looming; regional elected officials, transportation agency leaders, and representatives from powerful interest groups have been working behind closed doors on a plan to step up and fill the funding gap on our own.

“There’s a need to address through-put. Unless we satisfy people outside of Portland on that, a package won’t be successful.”
— Leah Treat, PBOT

All the panelists said it’s still early in the conversations, but the prevailing politics that will shape the package are coming into view. It’s a new approach for the Portland area, Frisbee pointed out.”Our region has done very well in the past in getting money from the federal government; but we have to shift our thinking and we don’t know how to do that yet.” Something must be done, she added, because at our current rate of investment Metro’s Active Transportation Plan wouldn’t get built out until the year 2256.

There was a consensus on the panel that the large number of interest groups and leaders around the table has grown considerably since the effort began. Treat pointed out that this large coalition is good for building support — but also makes reaching agreement more difficult. On that note, Frisbee pointed out that other regions that have passed major funding packages recently — like Seattle and Los Angeles — by not trying to satisfy everyone at the same time.

For instance, stuffing a package with lots of funding for transit/bicycling and highway expansions could spell doom because both things are so disliked by various groups the fight it would spark could be fatal. In Seattle and Los Angeles, they avoided that pitfall by having their state packages be more traditional and highway-heavy, while they put together transit-only packages at the regional level. That approach could work in Oregon with the Legislature’s package funding new capacity and road upgrades, while a regional measure focused more directly on biking, walking, and transit needs.

Why event fund any new roads or capacity at all in 2017 when we know the climate, health, and transportation impacts are overwhelmingly negative? It’s all about politics.

Both Frisbee and Treat said the success of any funding package is only possible if it throws some red meat to the “we need more freeway capacity” bloc.

“There’s a need to address through-put [a euphemism for widening freeways],” Treat said. “Unless we satisfy people outside of Portland [a euphemism for people who think the solution to congestion is wider freeways] on that, a package won’t be successful.”

That candid acknowledgment of the need for freeway widening from Treat sparked Andersen to ask her, “What’s the acceptable ratio of freeway capacity projects to active transportation projects?” “My perception,” Andersen added, “is that any money toward new capacity is money that’s just thrown away because it won’t solve the problem.”

Treat paused before saying, “I don’t have answer. That’s a trick question!”

Then Frisbee followed that up with more on how politics trump values. “I don’t think we’re at the point of picking projects yet. And it’s not about a percentage [of which which modes get funded], it’s about what projects do you need to get people on board. You have to build the package for the yes votes.”

That being said, Treat made it clear that in order for the City of Portland to support a regional funding measure it must include these four elements: jurisdictional transfer (from ODOT to PBOT) of Powell Boulevard; money for the SW Corridor project; money for the local surface street/active transportation elements of the the I-5 widening project (a.k.a. I-5 Broadway/Weidler Facility Plan); and it must include a policy that any new tax revenue that comes from increased development as a result of the I-5 widening project gets spent in east Portland. (The Portland Planning Commission passed a similar policy in their meeting this week that said, “City funding [of the I-5 Broadway/Weidler Facility Plan] will be limited to multimodal aspects of the project and to funding sources that do not reduce planned investments to fund transportation improvements in support of Vision Zero and safety and livability investments in East Portland.)

Treat also said that while Portland is willing to compromise on freeway spending, it doesn’t mean biking and transit interests should simply roll over. “We have the advantage that nothing will get passed without Portland’s support,” she added. “So we need to be loud about what we want.”

Will Portland ever get real bus rapid transit (BRT)?

“Who here has shown up for transit at City Hall?”
— Audience member trying (and failing) to prove a point

Being loud was precisely what was missing, Treat said, when Metro and TriMet were planning the Division Transit project. That project started as Portland’s first and best chance to have bus rapid transit where the bus line would have a dedicated lane. But the plan failed because planners weren’t willing to constrain auto capacity and they said expanding the road would be too onerous for the community and to the project’s cost. Andersen asked the panel why that process didn’t result in a dedicated bus lane and asked what steps would need to be taken to make it politically viable in the future.

Treat said she feels “There’s plenty of space on Division to have a bus lane.” However, once again, politics trumped our lofty values. “We started to look at that,” she continued. “But it became a cost of the project we moved off of as a group. There was a lot of dissension [among the stakeholder committees and policymakers].”

Treat and Rall agreed that bold bus service projects like BRT haven’t happened in Portland in large part due to a lack of activism. “Frankly,” Treat added as a reason why Division BRT failed to materialize, “We don’t have people coming to council saying, ‘Hey, we need transit!’ Without that oomph from you all, it’s not going to happen.”

Someone in the crowd seemed offended by the suggestion that no one shows up for transit at City Hall. He asked the crowd, “Who here has shown up for transit at City Hall?” Only four or five people — out of 50 or so — raised their hand. “I think you just made Leah’s point,” Frisbee offered.

Chris Rall concurred with Treat that Portland needs more focused transit activism. He said TriMet themselves wasn’t advocating for a bus-only lane.

Autonomous vehicles and downtown’s future

BRT is just part of the transit future. There’s also the prospect that those buses will drive themselves. While autonomous transit vehicles are in the works, there’s a lot more momentum behind autonomous cars. If the latter takes off first, the case for limiting new road capacity will be even harder to make. On this topic, Treat had encouraging words. She said the City of Portland is advocating for autonomous transit before autonomous single-occupancy vehicles.

The conversation around this topic led to views about the future of business advocacy in Portland. The Portland Business Alliance has historically been a thorn-in-the-side of biking and transit interests. To keep Portland thriving, the PBA says, we need driving to be easier. Rall said the politics of this capacity debate — as it relates to getting more people into the downtown core — “Must start taking into account geometric realities.” This was Rall’s way of saying that basic math dictates a future where private cars simply won’t fit in the central city.

Treat painted a grim picture of downtown Portland. “Large retailers are suffering… Businesses are dying,” she said. Because of that, she believes it’s now more important than ever that new voices in the business community step up. She was very supportive of the fledgling Business for a Better Portland (formerly PICOC) as a counter-balance to the PBA.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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69 Comments
  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 3, 2017 at 11:03 am

    A few thoughts on the “You need to show up more!” mantra we often here from insiders and electeds….

    I understand the importance of activism and “showing up”..But I think those in power who resort to saying this need to keep in mind that they also readily admit that politics always trumps our plans and values (see story above).

    Yes showing up is what informs politics — but more often than not, people are told to rally and speak up for their values — only to see those values scuttled aside when it really matters because of horse-trading politics.

    It’s demoralizing to regular citizens to feel like their voices are not valued or listened to with the same respect as the voices of the powerful/affluent who are constantly in touch with electeds/insiders through backchannels.

    Why would someone continue to show up when — at the 11th hour — we see our elected leaders go backwards on promises due to fear from a powerful interest group or an uninformed public better in touch with their rage and hate of change than of the policy consequences of what’s being debated?

    And they need to also keep in mind that motor vehicle activists don’t ever need to show up because their interests are baked-in by default of our cultural/institutional biases in their favor.

    Electeds and insiders can choose who they give the most power too. Unfortunately I feel like all too often they choose to listen to a minority with a lot of money and power instead of a majority with less of both.

    All this being said… Yes, we must show up for stuff we want. That’s the reality when you are a minority user group fighting against powerful entrenched interests.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. March 3, 2017 at 11:13 am

      Organized protests seem to get the attention of elected officials better than official channels such as showing up at City Hall or leaving public comment. In this political climate, I say we double down on the protests and demonstrations. The streets belong to the people, it’s time we take them back.

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      • David Hampsten March 3, 2017 at 3:50 pm

        I agree that official channels such as public comment and testimony have limited value in Portland, but there are other “official channels” that are way underused by the Portland bike community. I would strongly encourage BikeLoud and PDXTransformation and like-minded folks to usurp the seats that the stagnant BTA/Street Trust and Oregon Walks have to the various PBOT budget and mode advisory committees. Take control of the city by proactively taking control of the budgets – follow the money and put some passion into you activism! Instead of advocating for vague broad improvements, advocate instead for focused projects within non-bicycle budgets, such as signals (to slow traffic down), pavement improvements (prioritize bike streets over major arterial roads), pavement markings (more buffered bike lanes), and sidewalk infill. Get BES to support more street sweepings of bike lanes. Get more protected bike lane projects into the TSP and the Transportation SDC project lists. Get Active!

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    • wsbob March 3, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      “…Electeds and insiders can choose who they give the most power too. Unfortunately I feel like all too often they choose to listen to a minority with a lot of money and power instead of a majority with less of both. …” maus

      I think that the minority you refer to, represents the majority of road users, and the business, industry and freight road users. It’s because they represent this majority that they have clout.

      It does likely help, I think, for people interested in better bike infrastructure, bus rapid transit and other things, to physically show up to meetings and so on to help indicate the proportions of their support…but the appearance has to represent a truly strong, widely represented interest outside of the meeting hall, if the reps and officials plans are to be shifted.

      Conditions on the money being competed for are a big thing, I think. Whether from state reps across the state outside of Portland, or from money from the federal government. Cities don’t just get the money because they want it…they have to meet various expectations and conditions before the money is given.

      “…“There’s a need to address through-put [a euphemism for widening freeways],” Treat said. “Unless we satisfy people outside of Portland [a euphemism for people who think the solution to congestion is wider freeways] on that, a package won’t be successful.” …” bikeportland

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    • B. Carfree March 3, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      If you were still doing “comment of the week” you’d have to give it to yourself. Well said.

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    • The Bike Concierge March 3, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      In addition to the normal “show up”, make yourself known to your electeds. Find a candidate you can tolerate that has a chance of winning, and work on their campaign. Show up at the campaign office to stuff envelopes, knock on doors, pass out flyers. Be there enough that they recognize you, know your name, know you are willing to be involved, not just like Facebook posts and comment on blog articles. Yeah, they are supposed to represent everyone, but we live in the real world, and it is harder to ignore a name and face you know.

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    • Greg Spencer March 6, 2017 at 11:06 am

      It’s galling to hear activists being blamed for transport leaders’ own failures. Something that’s completely new to the city — such as BRT — needs visionary champions in leadership positions: people who understand the concept’s potential and who have the authority and charisma to push it forward as a real alternative to car-based transport. Leaders like Ken Livingston, Bertrand Delanoe, Mike Bloomberg, Janette Sadik-Khan. Here in Portland we have a TriMet GM who advocates for … freeway expansion??

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. March 3, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Treat painted a grim picture of downtown Portland. “Large retailers are suffering… Businesses are dying,” she said. Because of that, she believes it’s now more important than ever that new voices in the business community step up. She was very supportive of the fledgling Business for a Better Portland (formerly PICOC) as a counter-balance to the PBA.

    What is Dir. Treat talking about? Other than the Macy’s closing, downtown seems to be doing quite well. There is a ton of foot traffic during the day and new businesses are opening frequently. New buildings are being constructed and old ones are being renovated.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 3, 2017 at 11:34 am

      she was talking specifically about the retail environment. not overal growth. She mentioned Macy’s and Wilson’s Leather closing.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. March 3, 2017 at 11:46 am

        Macy’s is not doing great in general — they are closing stores nation-wide. This has nothing to do with the need for car access in downtown Portland, no mater how the PBA will try to spin it. I do agree with her on the need for more local businesses to step up and unite against the PBA, though.

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      • maccoinnich March 3, 2017 at 12:26 pm

        Large retailers that are facing competition from Amazon are clearly struggling. I don’t however think it’s fair to extrapolate from that to an opinion that downtown retail as a whole is struggling. Areas like the west end of downtown in particular has totally transformed in the last five years, and there are a lot of positive changes happening in the Skidmore / Old Town area. While I’m sad to see Macy’s close, even that comes with a silver lining: the remodeled Meier & Frank building will have new storefront entries on SW 5th & 6th, replacing the somewhat blank facades that exist there now.

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        • q March 3, 2017 at 10:32 pm

          I agree with all you said. Also, it seems Portland tends to cannibalize itself in regard to retail. As the City (often PDC) has promoted one area, new retail spaces get populated partly by actual new retail (or office or housing) but also by existing retail relocating from previously-promoted areas. Since the 80s, I’ve watched the focus shift from the Galleria to Yamhill Market and New Market/Old Town to Pioneer Square to the Pearl District…It’s not a clean, 100% jump from one specific spot to the next, but the general shift in focus into an area, then out, then later back in, is real. Look at how many businesses moved into the Pearl District from downtown or elsewhere a few years ago, then moved out when their original leases were up.

          So one reason downtown has been somewhat stagnant is that Portland dramatically intensified downtown’s next-door neighbor (the Pearl) and had to fill all those new office and retail spaces with something, which meant either existing downtown businesses moving from downtown, or new ones that very likely may have located in downtown proper if so much space hadn’t been built all at once in the Pearl District.

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      • Chris I March 3, 2017 at 2:32 pm

        Should downtown be a retail destination? We shouldn’t assume that things should be set up the way they have been for the past 60 years. The new trend seems to be local, specialized shops throughout the city, and I don’t have a problem with that.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty March 3, 2017 at 2:50 pm

          In the past the answer has always been a resounding Yes! from basically all parties. What has changed that would make people answer differently?

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      • David Hampsten March 3, 2017 at 3:38 pm

        The demise of “big box” retail is now at hand. What are you advocating to do with old abandoned storefronts in the suburban Portland? The Lumberyard on 82nd is a rare good example of reuse of such locations, but you’ll need to find new uses for closed Targets, Bimarts, Freddys, Ross, etc. as they die from internet competition, as did Circuit City a few years ago. The real challenge will be Lloyd Center & Washington Square.

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        • Mark smith March 4, 2017 at 11:52 am

          Affordable mixed use residential and retail and commercial. Commerical buildings are often built to a higher code than residential. The demand is there…and so is the parking.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty March 4, 2017 at 12:01 pm

            I’d agree with that, if we could only figure out how to get some affordable housing built (and maintained as affordable); as it stands, developers are destroying affordable housing (much) faster than they’re building it, so our current growth rate is negative.

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            • maccoinnich March 5, 2017 at 10:57 am

              According to the Portland Chronicle there were 376 single family homes demolished last year:

              http://www.portlandchronicle.com/376-portland-homes-demolished-last-year/

              According to page of 113 of the State of Housing in Portland Report, there were 362 units of new city regulated housing delivered last year:

              https://www.portlandoregon.gov/phb/article/619248

              To claim that “developers are destroying affordable housing (much) faster than they’re building” you would have to assume that every single one of those single family homes was somehow affordable, and that there is no affordability benefit at all from the thousands of market rate apartments delivered last year.

              Looking forward, there are also 3,281 units of affordable housing in the production pipeline (page 122 of the State of Housing Report) which dwarfs the number of single family houses being demolished.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty March 5, 2017 at 7:30 pm

                Perhaps on a city as a whole we’re building affordable housing close to the replacement rate (which, as a percentage is still a growing loss). But even if that’s true, it’s also true that the affordable housing is migrating out of inner neighborhoods towards the outer ones, which is leading to the loss of economic diversity in my neighborhood. That diversity is important to me and my neighbors, and I don’t want to lose more of it because planners adopt the simplistic view that more new construction will solve our housing problems. It won’t.

                PS I assert no affordability benefit at all from our surge of high-end studio apartments. In fact, I assert that our construction boom, with its (near) complete lack of family-appropriate housing, is setting us up for a much worse housing crisis in 10-15 years.

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              • maccoinnich March 5, 2017 at 7:59 pm

                In one post you both claim that new construction won’t help with affordability, and bemoan a lack of construction of larger units? If more large units were being built would you support that?

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              • q March 5, 2017 at 9:17 pm

                What I get from HK’s comments (it may or may not match what she’s thinking) isn’t a bemoaning of lack of construction of larger units, it’s an observation that in close-in neighborhoods of affordable family-sized dwellings, those dwellings are being replaced with smaller, less affordable units. It feels like pretty soon everyone living close-in will be childless, well-off individuals or couples in new apartments or condos, and soon no families of average means will be able to live anywhere close-in.

                It could very well be true that those average families would be having to locate further out even in the absence of replacing family-sized units with all the new, smaller units, since if family-sized units are not torn down and replaced, they’ll end up being occupied only by wealthy families.

                On the other hand, the City does tend sometimes to view density as number of units per area vs. number of people, and writes rules based on that. The result is encouragement of, for instance, tearing down a house that would house a family of five, and replacing it with two smaller, more expensive units that will house at most 4 people total. You’ve just doubled the number of units, but cut population density, and eliminated the ability of that site to ever house a family (with children) again.

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              • maccoinnich March 5, 2017 at 10:42 pm

                In 2015, 723 single-family housing units were added to the city’s housing stock, while permits were issued for the construction of 847 single-family housing units. That same year demolition permits were issued for 323 single-family housing units. We are seeing a net increase in the number of single family houses, not a decrease.

                In any case, these represent a tiny fraction of the 154,959 single-family homes in Portland. The numbers just don’t support the notion that Portland’s affordability issues stem from developers demolishing affordable housing stock.

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              • q March 5, 2017 at 10:58 pm

                I agree.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty March 6, 2017 at 12:38 am

                >>> In one post you both claim that new construction won’t help with affordability, and bemoan a lack of construction of larger units? If more large units were being built would you support that? <<<

                I generally support the construction of new units where there is no removal of existing housing or other important resources*; much of the construction along Division fits this criteria, for example. Unfortunately, these new buildings are overwhelmingly oriented towards tiny, expensive units (which may match current demographics). But demographics have a way of changing in rather predictable ways, I question the wisdom of placing so much emphasis on building a housing monoculture; we should be encouraging construction of a certain proportion of family-appropriate units, or small units that could be convertible to such in the future (a few buildings may have this, most don't). All those tiny apartment dwellers are going to need housing when they start families; that will increase competition for a dwindling pool of houses (especially those that are not recent infill and therefore wildly expensive). Larger units can also be rented to groups of adults who might not want the isolation of a studio.

                * To the extent that the new buildings aren't a crime against architecture, such as the Death Star building by the Burnside Bridge, and are not stupidly designed and shoddily constructed, such as some of the buildings near Lloyd Center are (or so I've been told by people in the biz).

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty March 6, 2017 at 12:55 am

                >>> We are seeing a net increase in the number of single family houses, not a decrease. <<<

                We're seeing a net increase of very expensive houses, and a net decrease in those most affordable, even if the total number of houses overall is increasing.

                Of course I realize demolitions are not the primary driver in the increase in housing prices, but encouraging this process to accelerate with policies such as the RIP that incentivize redevelopment seems shortsighted.

                But perhaps I should be happy; those policies totally benefit me financially, even if they hurt my friends and neighbors who rent. Isn't that how our neo-liberal economy is supposed to work?

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              • maccoinnich March 6, 2017 at 12:14 pm

                For the entire time that Portland has regulated construction, whether through the building code or the zoning code, the regulations have tended to get stricter and more geared to achieve certain government desired outcomes. That’s pretty much the opposite of neo-liberalism.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty March 6, 2017 at 12:33 pm

                I was commenting more on the tension over supporting current planning trends in Portland which will benefit me personally, even if I am convinced they would have an undesirable outcome for others, and for the city overall.

                I will add that I regretted using that phrase as soon as I clicked Post because I think it distracts from the larger point I was trying to make.

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    • wsbob March 3, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      The PBA knows what it’s talking about. Has known for years. The problem is, I think, their idea about driving in Portland becoming easier, is up against a wall. Hasn’t Downtown already peaked its available capacity for motor vehicle use? I think so. I don’t go down there much anymore, and when I did, I parked out of Downtown and walked in. It was capacity with motor vehicles then.

      Many people do need to drive though…I know that. Oregon people outside of Portland where driving is comparatively easy, coming into the traffic of Downtown Portland, may find themselves having a ‘heck with that’ feeling. They don’t want the ability to drive to be so affected by Portland’s traffic. And some of that money the state package is being assembled from…is their money. They have a say in how it will be spent.

      “…To keep Portland thriving, the PBA says, we need driving to be easier. Rall said the politics of this capacity debate — as it relates to getting more people into the downtown core — “Must start taking into account geometric realities.” This was Rall’s way of saying that basic math dictates a future where private cars simply won’t fit in the central city. …”

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  • m March 3, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    I think Amazon has a lot more to do with Retailers “suffering” than cars or ANYTHING under the purview of Ms. Treat.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty March 3, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    I oppose most of what the PBA does, but I have some level of faith that they do promote the interests of their members, and, on that level, are trustworthy.

    Why do they promote auto access if that is not what the retailers need to be successful? Are the retailers wrong about what they need, or is the PBA wrong about what its membership wants?

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    • q March 3, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      People who do programming for building design learn that it’s important to state needs in a way that doesn’t jump to a design solution. So the programmer knows when a client says, “I want lots of skylights” it might be they actually want skylights, but they might really be wanting lots of daylight, and don’t realize there are other ways to achieve that.

      I’d guess retailers really want customers in their stores, and how they get to the store’s front door is irrelevant. They may actually know (and be correct) that they won’t get people at the door unless they can drive and park within a block, but it may also be that they assume that the only way customers can get to the front door is if they can drive and park easily, and other ways of getting people to the door may work as well or better.

      So I’d say the retailers MAY be wrong about what they need.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty March 3, 2017 at 11:51 pm

        God damn it, I want skylights!

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty March 3, 2017 at 11:52 pm

        But aside from that, I agree with what you posted.

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        • q March 4, 2017 at 10:57 am

          Good to hear. I often start doubting myself by the time I’m about 3/4 of the way through my own comments.

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          • q March 4, 2017 at 10:58 am

            Now I’m thinking it’s more like 1/2.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty March 4, 2017 at 11:00 am

            Type faster; the trick is to click Post before you have time to think.

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      • wsbob March 6, 2017 at 1:50 am

        “…They may actually know (and be correct) that they won’t get people at the door unless they can drive and park within a block, …” q

        Two ways retailers know their customers need to be able to drive and park within a block of stores: 1) their customers…or maybe that’s ‘former customers’…tell them they’re no longer coming to the store, because downtown traffic and parking, has become very hard to deal with. 2) retailers are finding they get less business as traffic conditions and parking availability worsens. They’re making less money.

        Maybe that contradicts with what some people see and observe Downtown as still being vibrant, robust and busy, etc. Maybe only some businesses are being adversely affected by difficult driving and parking situations, while other businesses are flourishing despite what are obstacles for some, but not all customers, particularly those that for various reasons, don’t need to travel by car to do business in Portland.

        If Portland businesses are doing great despite difficult driving and parking conditions, I’m glad for them. Area shopping malls with their parking lots full, and without homeless people camping out on retailers doorsteps, are glad for them. At least Portland has light rail and the streetcar…and now, bikeshare, for however many businesses’ customers can use bikes for travel in Downtown.

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  • rachel b March 3, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Great reporting again, JM–thanks. My impression is that downtown businesses are most concerned with the impact aggressive street people are having on doing business and, hence, on customer/tourism traffic in the core. We’ve developed a bad rep over the past several yrs. I think Adam’s right about Macy’s and big box stores in general. ‘Cept for Walmart. 😉

    http://www.kgw.com/news/local/homeless/vandal-trashes-historic-downtown-portland-office-building/418673607

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  • rachel b March 3, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    p.s…the scolding to “show up.” I confess it does flood me with jadedness. I really don’t feel like I have a voice in this city anymore, and that wasn’t always true. And I don’t have the energy or heart to spend hours of my free time “showing up” when all it means in the end is a certificate from the Powers That Be saying “Message: We Care” to hang on my wall.

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    • rachel b March 3, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      I live in the Jaded District.

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      • q March 4, 2017 at 12:05 pm

        Is that the one just after the Poor Ol’ District?

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        • rachel b March 4, 2017 at 8:31 pm

          Heh, q. You mean The Clam? I renamed it. 🙂

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          • q March 4, 2017 at 8:52 pm

            But if you name your neighborhood The Clam, and then start showing up and testifying at public meetings, wouldn’t you be worried that you’ll get told, “We’re tired of your shellfish demands”?

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            • rachel b March 5, 2017 at 12:17 am

              HAR!

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    • David Hampsten March 3, 2017 at 3:30 pm

      I used to live in the Stark & Divided District of East Portland; persuaded the city to re-direct over $100 million in transportation funding toward useful stuff, like bikeways and sidewalks, over an 8-year period of unemployment and grinding poverty. I even got one of those certificates you mentioned (Independent Spirit of Portland award 2013). But I got priced out like everyone else. Now I live in the ‘Boro of North Carolina. The City Council here is very friendly as they ignore my activism, as they bankrupt this city to build a new interstate bypass. Sigh.

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      • rachel b March 3, 2017 at 7:04 pm

        You deserve more than a certificate, David. And, hey! Thanks for using my preferred no-nonsense naming system! “Stark & Divided District.” Catchy! 😉

        Good luck in NC. I envy you for living there, despite the City Council woes. I would dearly love to be able to move away from here.

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  • GlowBoy March 3, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    I had the same thought. I spent quite a bit of time in downtown Portland last week, and it seemed more vibrant than ever. Interestingly, a huge amount of the foot traffic seemed to be tourists. I noticed a lot more people stopping to check or ask for directions or generally seemed to be learning their way around than in the past. Of course this should be expected with a number of new downtown hotels opening up (AC, Hi-Lo, Rose, etc.)

    Other than Macy’s I sure didn’t see any obvious signs of distress. Lots of people on the streets, very few shuttered storefronts, busy restaurants and food carts. On the ohter hand, I do agree with her in supporting a PBA counterbalance.

    I just posted some comments yesterday on streets.mn contrasting Portland’s and Minneapolis’ downtowns. Downtown Minneapolis has several times the number of jobs as Portland, yet outside the main entertainment district (think SW Broadway) there’s not much vibrancy to street life. All the affordable restaurants are 20 feet up on the skyway level – stupendously busy during the day, when thousands of office workers come down the elevators for lunch, but not at night when they’ve all gone home. As in Portland, Macy’s is shutting down in a few weeks and selling off the building for $60 million. Barnes & Noble is closing their big 2-story location there too.

    Downtown Mpls’ problems are mostly specific to that city (the massive skyway system, plus the main pedestrian mall having been under reconstruction for 2 years), but the contrast in what these cities have decided to subsidize is relevant to Portlanders:
    – Portland has, in effect, subsidized downtown retail businesses by providing a bunch of subsidized Smart Park garages. Despite the downtown parking cap, these provide suburban (and other car-based) shoppers with a predictable hourly parking cost and (most of the time) certainty that they can easily find a parking space without circling blocks for 20 minutes as in other cities.
    – Minneapolis has, in effect, subsidized downtown office employment by providing a staggering array of express bus routes that go directly downtown from far-flung suburban areas. These use freeway shoulders as dedicated busways when traffic jams up, resulting in very reliable service regardless of traffic conditions. Portland has 5 rail lines and only a handful express bus routes converging downtown. Minneapolis has just 2 rail lines but literally dozens of these express routes. Example: I live 6 miles from downtown in a neighborhood roughly comparable to Montavilla. Although I live by a Frequent Service local bus line, it takes 35 minutes to get downtown. But during rush hour I can get on the #553 Express and predictably be downtown in 12 (yes, Twelve!) minutes. Again there are dozens such routes that only run a handful of times per day but shuttle huge numbers of office workers downtown. So downtown Minneapolis has managed to keep a huge number of businesses downtown that would otherwise have relocated to the suburbs, by enabling their workers’ commutes.

    Which is better? I don’t know. Minneapolis has subsidized businesses that employ office workers (via transit investments), with great success. Portland has subsidized retail businesses (ironically, via car-infrastructure investments), also with success. Downtown Portland retail is definitely not suffering. Any improvements in the downtown economy will come from improved transit investment, not further investments in driving infrastructure.

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    • Chris I March 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      It apperas that Minneapolis has devoted a significant amount of downtown real estate to urban interstates. Some of these interstates are 12-lanes wide in spots. The interchanges are massive, often with multiple flyover ramps leading to the same spot, I’m assuming for these express busses? For example, if you overlayed the massive I-94, I-35 interchange over Portland, it would occupy the entire South Waterfront.

      If Portland wanted a similar express bus system, we would need to widen all of our interstates by a lane in each direction. Our breakdown shoulders are already substandard, and cannot be used by an express bus. If we are going to spend that kind of money, we might as well build dedicated, grade-separated transit that paralells these corridors.

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      • GlowBoy March 6, 2017 at 11:26 am

        Yes and no. The freeways around downtown Minneapolis do consume more real estate (although, as in Portland, they don’t go through the downtown core itself but wrap around 3 sides of it), and you’re right that the I-94/35W commons along the south edge is a ridiculous 13 lanes wide for some of its length.

        As for the express buses, I’m not aware of an extra square foot of pavement that was poured to make way for them. Except for the Transitway between the two University campuses (which is awesome, and open to bikes as well as buses), I don’t think there are any dedicated busways anywhere. The buses only use existing full-width shoulders. Most Minnesota freeways have standard shoulders, except for ramps and the occasional underpass chokepoint.

        True that Portland doesn’t have full shoulders everywhere – especially on the horrible Banfield – and even before I knew about the idea of buses driving on them I thought that was one of the stupidest things ever (and I don’t know why the federal DOT has allowed it). If someone breaks down they block traffic and/or put themselves in really serious danger, and cops won’t bother pulling over anyone on the Banfield because there’s nowhere to do it.

        It’s a terrible design, but I agree it wouldn’t make sense to widen the Banfield or other substandard freeways just to accommodate express buses. Besides, the Banfield already has parallel MAX service. But it might make sense on some freeways with standard shoulders. It’s a great way to provide fast service with minimal capital cost.

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    • David Hampsten March 3, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      In general, Minnesotans are more willing to tax themselves than Oregonians: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_tax_levels_in_the_United_States (see the chart and map for State and Local Tax Burden as a % of State Income.) Moreover, Minnesotans are much more willing to use non-vehicle taxes, such as highly-regressive sales taxes and highly-progressive property taxes, towards transportation improvements than Oregonians.

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      • Mike Quigley March 3, 2017 at 5:01 pm

        Also, Minnesota has about a $5B PERS unfunded liability vs. Oregon’s $22B. UofO students will see a 10% tuition hike next year, plus non-tenured staff layoffs, in part to pay higher PERS costs for tenured staff.

        Face it. In Oregon PERS gets paid first. Trickle down for everything else.

        Don’t expect much from “regional funding measures” except happy talk.

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  • Asher Atkinson March 3, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    >While autonomous transit vehicles are in the works, there’s a lot more momentum behind autonomous cars. If the latter takes off first, the case for limiting new road capacity will be even harder to make.

    More likely, it’s just the opposite, as self driving vehicles have potential to more efficiently use existing capacity. Furthermore, self driving vehicles, and related technology, can potentially obviate much of the costly hardened infrastructure the panel is busily planning. For a night billed as future focused, I was disappointed that the topic of emerging technology was barely mentioned.

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  • Mark smith March 4, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Comparing Minneapolis to Portland is like comparing Denver to Atlanta. Look at the home values. People want to move and stay in Portland in higher numbers.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty March 4, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      Minneapolis has also seen rapidly increasing housing prices. It is a popular and attractive city with a rich arts scene.

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      • rachel b March 4, 2017 at 8:37 pm

        Minneapolis!

        People tell me it’s much prettier than Portland, and it smells better! Hair is shinier and sleeker there, and everybody loves dogs! Weed naturally grows…like weeds! And around every corner is a rainbow! AND a pot of gold!

        Minneapolis! It’s The New Place For People Who Google ‘What’s the Best Place to Live?”

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. March 4, 2017 at 11:08 pm

          It’s really f-ing cold there though! And so many highways everywhere — look at the maps, there practically a grid of them every few miles. Beer’s good though. 🙂

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty March 4, 2017 at 11:53 pm

            The hotdish is amazing.

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            • rachel b March 5, 2017 at 12:20 am

              Minneapolis: It’s For Foodies

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          • GlowBoy March 6, 2017 at 11:26 am

            Warmer in Minneapolis than Portland the last few days. 😉

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            • rachel b March 6, 2017 at 1:38 pm

              I’d move there in a heartbeat. It’s where my Norwegian forebears settled when they came on over. Well, not Minneapolis, but Minnesota. Fergus Falls.

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              • rachel b March 6, 2017 at 1:40 pm

                four bears. 🙂 they opened a growlery.

                HAH!

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              • rachel b March 6, 2017 at 1:41 pm

                p.s…I love lefse and pale casseroles.

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    • GlowBoy March 6, 2017 at 11:43 am

      I’m not comparing Minneapolis to Portland generally, I was specifically comparing government investments in each downtown and how they have produced positive results in very different ways.

      But even in a general sense the comparison useful, because despite a radically different climate, a much stronger economy (not always good for biking), and far higher car-dependence, Minneapolis has been the #2 bike city in terms of ridership for a very long time. There’s a lot of bike culture and industry here, and a fiesty band of urbanists that are creating real change. Having lived in Portland for 18 years and now being a daily cyclist in Minneapolis, I’m in a good position to not only evangelize here for what works in Portland, but to illuminate for Portlanders what works elsewhere that isn’t happening in Portland now.

      This is important, because Portland can be a pretty insular, parochial place. Sometimes that leads to wonderful things and trying ideas that haven’t been tried elsewhere (like Urban Growth Boundaries and killing the Mt. Hood Freeway and using the money to build the Gresham Blue Line). And sometimes that leads to complacency and smugness that Portland’s the Greatest City on Earth, so far ahead of other cities that it can’t learn anything from them (like building more protected bikeways, or building safe bike lanes outside the urban core, or figuring out how mountain bikers and hikers can coexist, or Bike Share until – finally!! – a few months ago, or encouraging more suburban MUPs where bike lanes aren’t getting put in, or keeping more jobs from migrating to the suburbs – especially higher-paying jobs in the western suburbs that are a loooong, usually car-based commute from the eastern suburbs where most of the population growth is).

      It’s true that Portland has put more effort into its cycling infrastructure than just about any other city, but it’s also true that ridership has been relatively stagnant for years. In order to get that next big increment, Portland needs to keep doing what it’s been doing that’s good, AND also adopt strategies from other cities that might not be as strong as Portland overall but are doing things that Portland isn’t doing enough of.

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      • GlowBoy March 6, 2017 at 11:44 am

        The above comment was directed towards Mark smith’s above, but got placed down here.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty March 6, 2017 at 11:55 am

        I’ve been trying to get Portland to build a network of giant habitrail tubes for people to scurry about above the street network, so far to no avail.

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        • q March 6, 2017 at 12:05 pm

          Not surprising given your obsession with skylights.

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        • rachel b March 6, 2017 at 1:44 pm

          Yes to skybitrails! My sister and I fantasize about a network of those “whoosh!” underground bank tubes (human-size) we could take, i.e., to the sea, to the mountain, to Shari’s…

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty March 6, 2017 at 1:45 pm

            With the system in Minneapolis, you are far more likely to end up at Shari’s than either mountains or the ocean.

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            • rachel b March 6, 2017 at 3:41 pm

              That can only be described as a bonus. 🙂

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