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PBOT “still committed” to Lincoln-Harrison project despite aggressive opposition at open house

Posted by on December 7th, 2017 at 12:31 pm

“We are still strongly committed to the project. But it is clear that some additional community engagement is necessary.”
— John Brady, PBOT director of communications

After what was described by readers as an “ugly scene” where some attendees acted with “strong hostility and aggression,” at an open house on Tuesday night, the Portland Bureau of Transportation said they now plan to extend the public process for their Lincoln-Harrison Neighborhood Greenway Enhancement Project.

The main sticking of the project are plans for semi-diverters that would prohibit people in cars from turning onto Lincoln from 50th. Dozens of readers who attended the open house said it was taken over by neighborhood residents who are vehemently opposed to the diverters. In comments (that are still coming in) they recount a “mob” scene where people where being shouted down, intimidated, and ultimately silenced by anti-diverter advocates who allegedly took over the meeting.

Asked today whether the project will continue as planned, PBOT Communications Director John Brady told us that, “We are still strongly committed to the project.” However, Brady added that opposition to the diverters means PBOT needs to make some course corrections. “But it is clear that some additional community engagement is necessary,” Brady added. “We believe we can do this engagement and still implement the project as planned by next summer.”

We’ve also come across an email written yesterday by PBOT Project Manager Sheila Parrott where she offers a bit more about what might come next, “In light of the open house event last night.” “We would like to take a step back,” she wrote, “and develop project alternatives that we can discuss going forward.”

From past experience, what will likely happen is PBOT will plan a few more meetings and/or open houses and they’ll be even more well-prepared than usual. They’ll be ready for organized opposition, and they’ll have more data and designs to share. I’ve seen PBOT in this mode before. They are amazingly adept at this sort of thing and many people on their staff have been around this block many times before.

While the project might ultimately end up with the desired result — fewer drivers and a more comfortable environment on Lincoln — we shouldn’t forget what just happened. How did we get here? Why did this blow up so royally in PBOT’s face? Should we simply dismiss what happened with the standard “Democracy is messy” excuse? Or was this meeting the canary in the coal mine of deeper problems at PBOT and Portland’s transportation politics more broadly?

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The proposal people are hopping mad about.

As often happens, one of our commenters delivered a clear-eyed and accurate assessment of why that open house went sideways.

Someone named “Shoupian” wrote:

“There are a couple of reasons why we see public meetings like this.

One, the planning profession beholds public meetings as the surest way to guarantee that the planning process is democratic, open and equitable, which is not true. It has become an end rather than just a tool. What most planners don’t think about is that when public outreach is open to anyone and not targeted at underrepresented communities, those who show up and provide input are generally white, older, higher income, and more privileged.

Two, planners depend on public meetings especially when a project does not have strong political support. PBOT is not technically required to hold public meetings anytime they want to do a small scale bike improvement. These meetings occur because planners on the project don’t feel supported by the very top level of the agency and they are uncertain that if they face public push back, their agency leaders will stand behind them and push the project through.

Ultimately, it speaks to the political culture on active transportation investments. Our elected officials and top agency leaders still don’t feel confident directing their agency to make decisions to improve health and safety without knowing that neighbors won’t be upset.”

Tuesday night was shocking, but I think we consider it an outlier at our own peril.

Learn more about this project in our archives and on the official project website.

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

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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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Gary B
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Gary B

I hope the opposition that espouses “this money could be better spent elsewhere” appreciates the hundreds of hours of staff time that will now be spent to make them feel better heard.

m
Guest
m

“What most planners don’t think about is that when public outreach is open to anyone and not targeted at underrepresented communities, those who show up and provide input are generally white, older, higher income, and more privileged.”

And how is that different than most of the bike advocates on this board? PC run amok.

Shoupian
Subscriber
Shoupian

How PBOT responds to the opposition of a small group of neighbors over the diverter will set an important precedent for future greenway improvement projects. If the final project gets changed because of a small group of neighbors who don’t want change, that may set a trend for all future greenway projects. I hope the project gets implemented as planned without delay. Bike mode share is stagnant, traffic deaths have been increasing, if PBOT cannot overcome the opposition of a diverter, that’d be truly a troubling sign for any significant bike investment in the future.

billyjo
Guest
billyjo

However you feel about the underlying project it is rather concerning that all they see is that they will need to take some extra steps to implement the project the way they want it.

rick
Guest
rick

More beautiful street trees by the church on the hill.

maxD
Guest
maxD

Does anyone know how many house away from the Harrison bikeway received notification of this project? A key instigator in the resistance owns some property at the north end of one of the long blocks north of Harrison between 50th an 60th.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

I was at the meeting and it people wanted answers. This seems true of the portland spirit. If there were more bike advocates there I wonder what the headline would have said? You may not think it’s the dramatic of a change but for the majority of the people who have lived in the neighborhood for decades it could seem that way. There weren’t any imposters… there was a man with a sign that brought his findings as well. Is there something inherently wrong with doing so? It seems like a responsible thing to do especially for the numbers that PBOT likes to present when telling us what they want. When he asked his question the sign was removed. Many different people were able to speak. Just because not everyone in a crowded room didn’t mean that some of the same kind weren’t able to. There was plenty of shouting from people from various perspectives.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest

Glad to see they’ll be extending the public outreach process. I live in the Tabor neighborhood, use that greenway pretty frequently, and despite living near Hawthorne, a street that would receive some traffic diverted by the changes on Lincoln, I am generally in favor of the proposed changes. But I seemed to keep missing the news about meetings and presentations until after they had happened. Not pointing fingers – I’m busy to the point of being disengaged, so I probably was just not paying attention. But glad to still have the chance to have some say in all this.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest

BTW anyone at all interested in this kind of outreach should see what planner Andres Duany has to say about how we go about it here in the states compared to what he describes as the Australian approach:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ndOhN_8Df0&feature=youtu.be&t=1086

That should kick in at about 18:06.

In this story he talks to a planner in Australia who managed to get schools located in the middle of neighborhoods, the way we apparently can’t manage to in the States, presumably because of NIMBYism. He asked her how she did it, and she said, “You Americans don’t know about democracy, what you do is incite mobs and you think that’s democracy.” He goes on to explain: “What Americans do is they alert the people in immediate proximity to the project … These people get alerted and they come in and they overwhelmingly participate and pressure tremendously the elected officials who see nothing but opposition.” Again quoting this Australian he continues: “What democracy requires is not a great number of people to participate in the vote, it requires a random sample.” So what Australians do is, while notifying the people in the immediate proximity, they also gather something like a jury pool, a random sampling of volunteers from the larger community, who are provided with information to make an informed opinion. Then this larger pool speaks for the community as a whole, while the people in proximity are also of course allowed to speak, but recognized for what they are, which is a vested interest.

So maybe we put a bit too much weight on the voices of neighbors, especially angry neighbors who are most motivated to turn out and gang up, and less on input of the broader community.

Or maybe in this particular case the broader community would be just as outraged by the city having the gall to in any way reduce auto access on a few hundred yards of a single street among Portland’s 5000 miles of streets, even when that street has been designated a quiet safe street, and is failing at that goal because of too many cars. Wouldn’t be surprised, actually.

In which case I guess I’d just hope for the city to have trust in its own expertise when it comes to decisions that can affect the overall health, safety and livability of its streets and neighborhoods.

Aaron Brown
Guest
Aaron Brown

I think this personally speaks to the need for more funding, resources, and volunteer support of groups like BikeLoud. (I say this in no way as a critique of BikeLoud; merely that existing neighborhood folks disinterested in the necessary proposed changes to our streets and housing have plenty of time, money, and political capital to spend on these opposition campaigns, and are no doubt capable of turning these institutional advantages into a organized front that will continue to challenge investments and policy directives designed to upend Portland’s status-quo trajectory towards automobile primacy and ubiquitous million dollar single family housing).

I respect that groups like the Street Trust are prioritizing their resources towards working at the state level for funding, and groups like OPAL/Oregon Walks are rightly prioritizing investing their staff/attention in East Portland, and I am thrilled bikeloud and pals are putting volunteer elbow grease into showing up at these meetings and attempting to push the narrative in the right directions. Unfortunately, there are landed interests with a ton of resources to expend in building political roadblocks who don’t exactly share our collective urgency about the needs to address public health, congestion, climate, air quality, affordable housing, and mode share goals.

Toadslick
Subscriber

I wonder how many people are feeling the same way as me right now: I didn’t go to that open house, and I strongly regret it.

I’ve been to some of the recent PBOT informational open houses, and they usually followed the same routine: look over some maps and brochures, add some notes to areas of concern, and maybe ask some questions of the officials present. The attendees would mostly be proponents of the particular project.

Lesson learned. After the Lincoln/Harrison debacle, I plan to never miss another open house for walking, biking, or transit improvements. I suspect that this was the last time that opponents will be the majority in the room, and the last time that they’ll be able to successfully hijack an open house. The NIMBYs got a sucker punch in, but walking/biking/transit advocates are better practiced at organizing.

Ryan Janssen
Guest
Ryan Janssen

I regret it also, Toadslick. I’ll be attending the Richmond Neighborhood Association meeting on Monday, and all meetings going forward that impact our hood. I have a feeling the Tabor folks will make an appearance here and I won’t regret missing it this time.

https://richmondpdx.org/monthly-meetings/

Dawn
Guest
Dawn

The RNA just announced that PBOT will not be at the Monday meeting. From the email I received:

“…the [PBOT] are regrouping regarding the Lincoln NG project process due to several things… the most important is that we [PBOT] would like to take a step back and develop project alternatives that we [PBOT] can discuss going forward.”

Eric
Guest
Eric

Bicycling used to be my primary means of transportation. Now I can’t ride and don’t have a working bike due to accidents and injuries resulting from poor road conditions in Portland’s bike lanes. Yes, this money could be better spent. Let’s prioritize fixing potholes and surfaces in our ‘world-class’ biking system for a start.
PBOT’s stated goal for this project is ‘to create a low stress environment’ for bicyclists. Operating any type of vehicle on city streets is not about having one’s stress reduced. Both riding and driving require preparation, training, vigilance, attentiveness, and adherence to the rules of the road. Every trip. Every ride. Trying to solve emotional and philosophical concerns with infrastructure only magnifies problems and leads to unintended consequences.
The word ‘divert’ does not mean ‘to make something go away’. It means ‘to cause to change course’. The City has encouraged rampant growth around Lincoln and 50th, with thousands of new living units in a small stretch of blocks. More cars will continue to use Lincoln. They’ll just take the round-about way to get there, making smaller neighborhood streets more dangerous as well.
Diverters at 50th and Lincoln carry the message: ‘Those who are physically able to ride bicycles are more important than those who cannot. The comfort of people who choose one means of transportation on one street is more important than the safety of those who depend on the many other streets that will bear additional traffic.’

Phil Richman
Subscriber

PBOT does the entire City a disservice by giving into the tea-party tactics used by the highjacking mob. I was there and all of those yelling codgers should be ashamed of themselves.

maxD
Guest
maxD

Hello, Kitty
I happen to mostly agree to what you wrote, but I also don’t feel comfortable judging what is “rightfully” controversial, because I am not willing to let others close me out of a decisions I feel are important. I mean, why is improving the connection between I-5 and I-84 “rightfully” controversial? Arguably, it has less negative impact on people than a diverter would. But I still want to be able to oppose it.Making declarations about what opinions are “right” can backfire in a major way. I, for one, am confident we’ll get to the right decision, and by respecting democracy, we will be stronger for it.Recommended 3

I think improving the connection between I-84 and I-5 is a good and laudable goal. The controversy comes with the cost/benefit. 450 million dollars for in increase in convenience and a decrease in fender benders while the high-crash corridors owned by ODOT remain unchanged/unimproved. ODOT has tried several strategies to sell this project: safety, connectivity, greenspace, reduced congestion- but they do not hold up under the slightest scrutiny.

chris
Guest
chris

I think the definition of vulnerable road user needs to be expanded to any 2 wheeled vehicle. Anyone from a tiny 49cc moped to the biggest of Harley Davidsons is just as likely to be turned into roadkill by an inattentive car/truck driver as a cyclist is. One could argue that motorcycles are more at risk than bicycles because they ride in the middle of the lane and not off to the side, especially in stop and go city traffic, all it takes is some dummy looking down at their phone for a second and bam! instant motorcycle sandwich. A leading cause of motorcycle deaths is getting hit while making a left turn, with the car driver usually saying “sorry, i just didn’t see them”. After 2 car vs motorbike wrecks, both not my fault, I decided I am more likely to not die on my way home if I use the side streets. If you are against motorbikes using the side streets you are essentially pro motorbiker death. And before someone complains about pollution, how many tri met buses go up and down greenways every day? How many people living on the greenways have fireplaces or old dirty wood burning stoves? How many people using the greenways eat meat and have more than 1 child per couple? I can play the “my carbon footprint is lower than yours” game all day long, if you are not doing everything humanly possible to reduce yours, you have no right to lecture others.

Howie
Guest
Howie

Oh, Jonathan, always with the hyperbole. Having attended hundreds of public meeting in Portland, my only shock was how poorly prepared PBOT was for the meeting. It’s terrific that people of all ages care about transportation, their homes and neighborhoods. Calling people old, white and rich is surely ageist. The two gentlemen in their 60’s in bike gear I talked to would be as offended as the young asian woman making a passionate equity argument. It was a very Portland sort of crowd. PBOT didn’t prepare for the meeting. They didn’t manage the room and were simply reacting all evening. I was especially discouraged that the Deputy Director of PBOT was in the room and didn’t bother to help manage the event or even identify himself. That is not what we should expect from our bureau leadership. The pause is recognition that PBOT blew the public outreach on this project. Good for them. The only real peril in Portland is when impassioned voices, with a variety of opinions, are silenced.