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What does the Portland Business Alliance really think about Better Naito?

Posted by on May 25th, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Better Naito observations -39.jpg

Make way for the job creators!
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

What does the Portland Business Alliance think about Better Naito; the city’s reconfiguration of Naito Parkway to include a two-way protected bike lane and sidewalk? It depends on who you ask. Or more precisely, it depends on which of their positions will face more public scrutiny.

The PBA, Portland’s most well-established business lobby group with over 1,800 member companies, has issued two official statements on Better Naito. One came in the form of an op-ed from PBA Board of Directors Chair Jim Mark published in the Portland Tribune on Tuesday; the other came from PBA President and CEO Sandra McDonough in the form of a letter dated May 9th and addressed to Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman. I obtained that letter (PDF) via a public records request along with 12 other emails sent to Saltzman’s office regarding Better Naito over the past month.

“We do not support its implementation generally and this summer in particular.”
— Sandra McDonough, PBA President & CEO

The differences in tone and substance between the two PBA statements is striking and illustrates why the organization is struggling to maintain relevance in our growing and changing city.

On Tuesday, Mark (CEO of Melvin Mark Companies, a commercial real estate firm) wrote an op-ed in the Portland Tribune titled, What happens when the ‘City that Works’ can’t get to work?. It was standard fare from an organization who still (in 2017!) thinks free-flowing auto access is the goal of a city that “works”. But while I was ready to cringe at the piece (given the PBA’s legacy of opposition to the City of Portland’s attempts to upgrade biking and walking access downtown), I came away thinking it was actually pretty soft on Better Naito. And in one key way, he (unintentionally perhaps?) even endorsed the need for less driving and more use of other modes.

Here’s an excerpt:

“… there are downsides when multiple construction projects happen at once. Top of that list is increased traffic congestion, and right now Portlanders are being squeezed to a breaking point. As more people and jobs are added to the city, congestion will increase unless there are shifts to other modes of travel. Portland has developed a well-deserved reputation as a multimodal city. With its light rail system, pioneering the return of urban streetcars, extensive network of bikeways and a well-known pedestrian friendly downtown, people far and wide come to learn from Portland’s experience.

But a vibrant economy and a high quality of life for all depend on an efficient multimodal transportation that works for all system users; that includes alternative modes of transportation as well as vehicles and freight trucks. It means everyone who uses the system must have a voice in how any proposed changes may — or may not — work for them, their businesses, families and employees. And it means it is imperative for the city to listen to everyone affected, including those who provide good jobs and keep the economy moving through vehicles and freight trucks.

That’s why the return of the “Better Naito” project, which has closed one northbound auto lane of Naito Boulevard for a bicycle and pedestrian path, is so puzzling — especially given the significant amount of construction activity and road closures in the central city this year. The traffic impacts are resulting in business delays and reports of complaints from employees.

Bicycling for example, is a great alternative, and one we support, that will work for some. However, it is a less realistic option for many including thousands of people for whom that is not an option because of proximity, health, parenting obligations or a host of other individual circumstances.

When implementing important changes to Portland’s transportation system, city leaders must take a more balanced approach and open up public input processes so the needs of individuals are met along with the city’s goals to keep Portland economically vibrant.”

Mark unfortunately equates “those who provide good jobs and keep the economy moving” with people who drive — which is insulting, makes no sense, and yet is a very a common way to insinuate that people who don’t use cars as being the opposite. (Also note that he wrongly assumes that only people in cars are the ones trying to “get to work.”) Despite his best attempt to not appear as if he is anti-bike, Mark can’t resist presenting auto and truck drivers as a separate class of people who are unfairly victimized when a street is significantly altered to improve access for bicycle users and walkers.

Overall though, Mark’s only major beef with the project seems to be that PBOT could have done more robust public outreach.

Then there’s Sandra McDonough’s letter. She didn’t mince words. She directly questioned PBOT’s values and said Better Naito is an example of decisions they’ve made, “that significantly impact the mobility of the many to benefit the few.” McDonough cited transportation surveys conducted by the PBA to make her case that most Portlanders are against better biking and walking infrastructure.

Here’s an excerpt:

When it comes to Better Naito, McDonough makes her position clear: “We do not support its implementation generally and this summer in particular.” “Naito is one glaring example,” she writes, “of projects that seem designed to inhibit mobility for the vast majority of system users.”

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She writes that if PBOT wants to improve safety for festival-goers, they could just “close” the lane only during festivals or create an area in the park (not on Naito itself) for people to stand in line.

McDonough is a big fan of her own statistics, but only when they support her narrative. What about the traffic analysis gathered by The Oregonian last year that found the average, peak-hour increase in travel time for northbound Naito was less than two minutes? “It is inconsistent with what we hear from road users,” she wrote. Even the PBA’s own annual business census found that less than half of people who commute to downtown drive alone.

PBA’s own data shows that the “vast majority of system users” don’t drive alone on Naito Parkway.
(Taken from PBA’s 2015 Downtown Business Census and Survey).

And while McDonough and Mark try to create an illusion of mass complaints about the project, the truth is much different. As we reported last summer, there was strikingly little opposition to Better Naito — even from people who drove on it.

And it’s those same “road users” that McDonough says are victimized by Better Naito because they aren’t “lucky enough” to live downtown or in the inner eastside and have no other choice than to drive: “It does nothing for the thousands of people for whom that is not an option because of proximity, health, parenting obligations, or a host of other individual circumstances.”

McDonough’s comments reveal clear blind-spots. Is she not aware of the high volume traffic that speeds through our city 24/7/365 on major freeways where only those lucky enough to own a car are allowed? Invoking health, income status, and land-use impacts to support driving and criticize a project that vastly improves cycling and walking is mind-boggling.

Fortunately, McDonough’s perspective on transportation isn’t shared by City Hall these days. In his response to McDonough, Commissioner Saltzman strongly supported not just Better Naito, but cycling in general:

“I don’t discount that delays on Naito have been exacerbated by the levels of road, transit and bridge work this season which have increased congestion throughout the Central City…

But I haven’t lost sight of the bigger picture and all the ways Portland has been a victim of its own success in terms of population growth, job growth and tourism. I understand the increased pressure to our roads and the funding challenges to accommodate that pressure. Balancing the growing demands on our transportation infrastructure is not easy and it is not a task that my office nor the staff at PBOT take lightly.

Looking at cities across the country facing similar challenges, it’s clear that there are no silver bullets. And while it might not always be apparent driving Naito at rush hour, Portland’s investments in active transportation are paying off tremendously. According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, the growth in people biking to work in Portland is outpacing all other modes of transportation. Of the 54,673 new commuters we added from 2000-2014, biking accounted for the majority of those new commute trips. Of course, more people are driving to work as well but we must remember how much more congested our Central City would be if we had not laid this groundwork.

I also understand that it is the decades of public-private partnerships that have made our thriving downtown — with new industries, jobs, and residents — possible. In addition to your letter, we have heard from dozens of business on or near Naito who have expressed their overwhelming gratitude for what Better Naito provides them and their staff to make them feel safe commuting to/from work…”

Perhaps what we’re seeing with these competing statements from the PBA are cracks in their conservative armor. They’re likely feeling heat from the more progressive vision presented by the rising Business for a Better Portland — a group created in large part because the PBA is so out-of-touch.

And it’s worth noting that McDonough is on her way out the door. The Oregonian reported last month that she’ll leave the organization in August. “Portland is changing,” McDonough told The Oregonian, “so the PBA and its leadership will need to adapt.”

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

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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

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bikeninja
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bikeninja

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out Sarah!

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

PBA News Release: We don’t need this, only those darn newsboys, elevator operators and stable hands ride bikes to work, our members and the real workers of the city who are busy reading ticker tapes, selling magazine subscriptions and developing indoor shopping malls ride to work in horseless carriages.

SaferStreetsPlease
Guest
SaferStreetsPlease

I had no idea how out of touch the Portland Business Alliance is. Just wow. Our household doesn’t have a car. We are both hard working people blessed with great jobs. We ride bikes, one of us for 8 miles each way, because we care about combating climate change and personal health. It’s insulting the way they tried to create a class divide. There’s no place for that in Portland.

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

We tried it your way PBA, excess capacity for decades. It doesn’t work. It’s our turn now.

Jason Skelton
Guest
Jason Skelton

Great story. Funny this comes up today. I bike commuted from my office in SW Portland to a board meeting in NW Portland yesterday and it was great! The connection between better Naito and Tom McCall park makes the commute safe and fun. Cars have way fewer chances to kill me!

SD
Subscriber

PBA translated “Don’t you hate it when the commoners on the waterfront or the people who live in dirty Portland block your drive home to the burbs?”

J Chris Anderson
Guest
J Chris Anderson

Take a minute to contact a PBA member organization and let them know PBA’s stances are not consistent with Portland values. Here’s the list: http://weblink.portlandalliance.com/external/wcpages/wcdirectory/Directory.aspx?action=catlist&adkeyword=categorylist

9watts
Guest
9watts

Nicely done, Jonathan. I especially love it when you come out swinging.

“Mark can’t resist presenting auto and truck drivers as a separate class of people who are unfairly victimized.”

#45 is also fond of this kind of white-employed-males-as-victims garbage. Luckily I think most people see through this kind of peevish whining.

rick
Guest
rick

some kind of leadership

rick
Guest
rick

Ask PBOT for awesome Naito ! NaitoParkway@portlandoregon.gov

Matthew in Portsmouth
Guest
Matthew in Portsmouth

Downtown congestion would be mightily relieved if businesses would stop providing parking as a fringe benefit to employees. I have a colleague who has just scored a job downtown, his job is an office job (no work related car travel) but he’ll get free parking so he’ll drive to work. From a public policy perspective, it would be much better if the money given for parking (~$220 per month) were given instead to a transit pass ($100 for 30 days) or a gym membership plus bike parking ($40/month for 24 Hour Fitness Super Sport and free). Free parking is also available at Max stops so the transit pass option doesn’t necessarily mean no car use at all – drive to the Max and take the train the rest of the way.

Low cost parking is a significant part of the problem, if we are serious about discouraging white collar workers from driving into downtown and parking all day, the cost to do so has to increase.

Naomi Fast (Washington County Correspondent)
Subscriber

This is an enlightening read—thanks for this excellent reporting, Jonathan.

There’s an organization on the Westside—the Westside Economic Alliance—whose website lists quite a few members that are also PBA members (including Comcast, Nike, Providence, Synergy Resources Group, Umpqua Bank, Walmart, & more.). But one of WEC’s current featured publications is a 2014 Alta Planning branded PDF that ends with a link to more information at People For Bikes. I hope this means there’s an amity between business and bike lanes on the Westside. I also hope residents can look forward to a growing network of bike infrastructure coupled with more frequent bus service to key business campuses & shopping centers in Washington County. However, as this article examines, there can be a troubling discrepancy between an organization’s public front & their private agenda.

If companies want to signal their undivided public & private support of bikes as transportation, they should look to organizations like the Bike League. That’s just one place I check to see if a business is “bike friendly;” BikePortland.org’s list of sponsors is another.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“Mark unfortunately equates ‘those who provide good jobs and keep the economy moving’ with people who drive — which is insulting, makes no sense, and yet is a very a common way to insinuate that people who don’t use cars as being the opposite. (Also note that he wrongly assumes that only people in cars are the ones trying to ‘get to work.’)”

This is the keystone of motor-first transportation architecture:

drivers == parents/adults; bicyclists == children.

Guess who knows best. Guess who knows “what’s good for you”. Guess who gets to make the rules. This stone needs to be pulled from the structure.

The other false equivalence I hate seeing in these rants-disguised-as-practical-viewpoints? Cars == freight. Hardly.

How can we dispel these two flawed notions?

Tom
Guest
Tom

Is there a list of Portland bike friendly businesses that support inclusive streets.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Expressing concerns about Better Naito hardly qualifies as anti cycling or anti environmental in my book.

Cars idling on the roads and limited to speeds that aren’t even fun to bike at dump all kinds of poisons and greenhouse gases in the air. Constantly seeking ways to get cyclists off roads and onto slow paths that can only be used for trivial distances doesn’t get more people pedaling as a way of getting around.

This year’s iteration of Naito is noticeably better than in the past. But I personally don’t care for it for a variety of reasons. Like many other pictures advocating Better Naito, the one for this story shows a cyclist under threat — even presuming low speeds, those two cyclists have about 1 second to avoid crashing head on. A huge percentage of peds and cyclists display zero judgment, and this behavior is not discouraged in any way. I see dangerous behavior on that segment pretty much every day.

Meanwhile, the waterfront becomes a jam packed and super noisy area rendering one of the few more open and peaceful areas of the city miserable to be in. But somehow, that’s considered a sign of making things more liveable.

Rob W
Guest
Rob W

Bike Portland is asking the wrong question, instead it’s pursuing an irrelevant agenda with the PBA.

Naito, downtown number streets and the Waterfront Park sidewalks are all well used North-South bike routes to be maintained, measured and improved.

Better Naito is the result of failed park and ped safety planning. Historical curb & street plans did not consider the popularity of Waterfront Park for events. The city makes money off Waterfront Park rental and is loathe to sacrifice land area it rents from the park on the East side of Naito.

The bike route and safe pedestrian routes should be carved from Waterfront Park with ped safety barriers.

The ped safety problem is where the focus should be. Peds at festivals routinely attempt to cross Naito, including with children, mid-block in traffic. The Better Naito bollards are an insufficient ped barrier.

The real discussion should be how the Naito bike raceway interacts with peds, many at festival time don’t understand Naito risks.

Michael Andersen (Contributor)
Editor

The “vast majority of system users” thing really catches her red-handed. Nice get, and nice reporting here.

Patrick Barber
Guest
Patrick Barber

Thanks for this, Jonathan. I was inspired to write a letter to Dan Saltzman and the Better Naito comment line. Here it is, in the hopes that it will encourage others.

==

Hi

I am writing to state my support and gratitude for the Better Naito temporary infrastructure program.

I am a managerial-level professional who works in downtown Portland and lives in North Portland. I am a parent. I take my daughter to school most days, before heading to work.

I travel to work via bike when possible, but also on the bus and the train. Thanks to our bikeshare program and things like Better Naito, my busy schedule and my parental responsibilities do not prevent me from being able to cycle to work on some days, and to have a pleasant, efficient experience doing so.

Better Naito has made a short but crucial part of my commute easier, faster, and more predictable. I love the festive vibe of the waterfront this time of year, but when I am on my way to work or I need to get going home, I really appreciate the clear route and smooth vehicle movement that Better Naito makes possible.

I am weary of hearing how Better Naito sacrifices the convenience of automobile drivers for the needs of “the few.” I am a driver, too, and a bus rider, and a train user. And a parent, and a busy professional, and an older person with my own health needs and requirements. I am not some footnote of outsider oddness on the city landscape. I am one of us. A “regular person” whose need to get to work safely and efficiently is as legitimate as someone who chooses to drive themselves to work in their car.

And when I choose to ride a bicycle, mine or Biketown’s, I appreciate the infrastructure that makes that choice more pleasant and efficient. When I choose to drive a car, I do so with the acceptance that I am going to spend a few more minutes than usual sitting and waiting in traffic, in my incredibly inefficient, oversized vehicle. These are reasonable tradeoffs that I am willing to make in order to create a more equitable transportation network for all Portlanders and those who visit us.

I have some things I’d like to see improved about Better Naito. I think it’d be easier and clearer to use if it were permanent (gonna dream big here!) and the conflict points were more clearly defined. By this I mean lane usage, rights of way at intersections, and so forth. Additionally, for this as well as all “protected” infrastructure in Portland, I would like to see true separated infrastructure with something stronger than plastic sticks. Jersey barriers, for example, like the ones that magically appear whenever a Navy ship is docked on the waterfront.

But overall I am so, so grateful that Portland is taking these steps, in a way that makes _more_ transportation options available to _more_ people. Regardlesss of what the freight lobby or the PBA think, designing Portland’s infrastructure to accommodate private automobiles will create a _less_ resilient transportation network, not a more resilient one. We’ve seen how our whole city can be shut down at rush hour because of a few inches of snow, or a daredevil driver on Swan Island, or a building fire on Interstate (just to offer some examples from the last six months). This is the mark of a network that needs _more_ flexibility, more choices, more ways to get around. With projects like Better Naito, the City is moving forward toward that goal, and I applaud that effort.

With much gratitude,

Patrick Barber

Mark Allyn
Guest

Greetings from Bellingham:

Having lived through Naito before and after the temporary buffers (I moved to Bellingham before the permanent setup was completed) I wish to thank you all for this project. It is a great benefit to everyone, especially those who are not yet comfortable riding in traffic.

Be that as it may, I also wish to comment about the PBA. Once upon a time, I was a member of the PBA.

I had a disturbing incident at the PBA that caused me to drop. I tried to attend an Information Technology meeting at the PBA. Mind you, I was a full dues paying member and my business was Internet consulting.

They threw me out of that meeting for no reason. All I was doing was listening. I did not pepper them with zillions of question; nor was I behaving like a papparazi; nor was I spewing any rants about anything. I was just politely and quietly listening. I had politely pointed out that I was a member a few times, but they insisted that I leave.

Based on this experience, I am not suprised.

I belong to Bellingham’s equivalent and I have had no problems whatsoever; in fact they let me attend meeting before I even signed up as a member.

PBA needs to have a nice look at themselves in the mirror.

Mark Allyn
Bellingham, Washington

ohhey
Guest
ohhey

email sent to
MayorWheeler@portlandoregon.gov;
director.treat@portlandoregon.gov;
dan@portlandoregon.gov;
NaitoParkway@portlandoregon.gov

i am not surprised by the tone deafness of these people.
How many years have they spent sheltered from the reality of being
one of us “working class” types?
and how many of them have ridden NB Naito next to 18 wheelers and buses that somehow manage to always veer right so they can force us to ride in the gutter there, no less?

but, hey, we just have to keep reminding ourselves that we “are asking for it” since “we insist of being in the way” on their roads.

at least, that is what i was informed of, at volume, by a friendly passenger as the car they were in tried super hard to right hook me at the turnoff onto Steel Bridge.
oh, my heart.

that chick was so right, though.
i am willfully exposing my body to serious damage every time i go on the streets.
the definition of insanity is starting to be kinda applicable to me, in that case.
but i prefer to hold onto these words from Samuel Beckett:

“All of old. Nothing else ever.
Ever tried. Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again. Fail better.”

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

PBA has been and continues to remain an anachronistic dinosaur.

eric g
Guest
eric g

I only wish the City would take care of basic safety first, then spend money on new projects. There are streets all over town I won’t risk riding on any more because surface conditions are so dangerous. And then there’s all the self-congratulatory promotional hype. How many pot holes in bike lanes could have been filled with the money it cost to stick big green “Better Naito” sidewalk stickers all over downtown?