Catie Gould is co-editor of our Adventures in Activism column.
There are not many professions where you introduce yourself and get a stream of complaints in response. I design office printers for a living, so this comes up a lot. On the plus side, years of complaints about ink prices and paper jams prepared me well to have an opinion about transportation issues, and be ready for other people’s advice on what is wrong with my perspective.
Just wearing a Sunday Parkways shirt once got me on the receiving end on a stream of complaints about PBOT, bike racks, and so on.
In general, I think transportation is a wonderful advocacy area because it is so accessible. Everyone experiences it — and therefore everyone is an expert. Well, not really. But everyone who calls City Hall about the lack of parking considers themselves experts, so you might as well think of yourself as one too.
To “advocate” is a verb. It requires you to occasionally stand up in front of other smart people and give voice to the politically unpopular topic that no one else wants to bring up. When you do that, people often try to talk you out of it. Here are some of the responses I’ve heard. After reading through them, I hereby grant you permission to let them roll right off you so you can get back to work.
“I just want advocates to be reasonable”
Having a futuristic mindset and seeing what could be possible often doesn’t jibe with the reality on the ground today. And that’s OK. Some people have bigger imaginations than others. Leonardo da Vinci was working on his helicopter design four hundred years before a helicopter actually came into being.
What people often mean by this phrase is, “The current city council will likely not approve it” or “This will generate a lot of NIMBY complaints” or “We need to take smaller incremental steps first before we put that idea on the table.” It’s totally acceptable for people to think this way. After all, compromises make ideas turn into reality. But as an activist, that’s not my job. My job is to inspire and hold decision-makers accountable.
And what exactly is reasonable these days? Especially with a current reality that includes these inconvenient truths:
- In the 110 years since humans invented plastic, garbage has been accumulating in the ocean at exponential rates, the largest “patch” is now four times larger than California.
- According to the latest data, Oregon is not on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals, and we are increasing our emissions.
- 37,461 people died in traffic in 2016.
- By 2060, 1.4 Billion people are estimated to become climate refugees. That is 1 in every 5 people alive today.
The idea that we can’t change big things is generally preposterous. Most of what we need to change was just built in the last hundred or fifty years.
Traffic is a much more tangible problem to people than climate change. That’s where we — transportation reformers — can come in and remind people about the big picture. We say out loud that we are not on track to meet our goals for 2030 or 2035 or 2050. We say that both option A and option B are bad compromises and half measures and we want option C instead. That if we only do what’s politically popular today, we’ll never do what’s necessary for a better tomorrow.
We live in a pivotal moment in the world, and we can’t wait for the right political season to bring up hard topics. Other people can make those compromises. Even when you yourself are OK with compromise, it’s still important to draw attention to what the compromise is and what the best solution could be.
Tl;dr: It can take years for ideas to grow into policies, so don’t wait to ask for what you want.
“Don’t the transportation engineers know best?”
Invoke WWJD here. What Would Jane Do.
If the professionals had everything covered then we wouldn’t be here right now. We’d all be sipping margaritas by the Willamette, breathing our non-diesel filled air without the hum of a freeway over our heads. City planning ideals have changed over the last fifty years thanks to great advocates like Jane Jacobs who was not a professionally trained urban planner. She was a journalist who loved her city.
Citizens know their neighborhood streets better than planners do. When planners come to your neighborhood for a project, you play a vital role in educating them about what’s going on day-to-day. People know what intersections feel unsafe, a close call you saw once, common bike routes that people use that are not on a map. It can be as simple as saying at an open house: “This landscaping looks great, but its right where I want to walk,” or “This is a shortcut I use because the crossing to the official bike path is unsafe.” No amount of education can substitute the intimate lived experience that you have with your local streets. In addition, there are a wealth of free resources, like StreetMix or webinars through TREC or NACTO if you want to learn the lingo.
Trust me, at some point you’ll be disappointed with a proposal. You can see that the design emulates some of the things you really dislike in other infrastructure. A path is too curvy instead of straight. The project might not adhere to the latest policies (Foster Street, I’m looking at you). Bring it up. Disguise your criticism with a question like, “How will this project advance our climate action plan?” Stand up and say you are worried we are missing a bigger opportunity. Other people will notice — and they might even clap because you said the thing no one else had the guts to say. Then be exceedingly nice after the meeting and offer to discuss more over an adult beverage. Do not skip this step.
“You should be strategically aligned with *insert multiple non-profits here* and then we could actually make some progress”
Just hearing this comment makes me tired. So tired. It conjures up images of meetings and vision statements and advisory committees. I actually love meetings. I plan my week around them. Really great things happen at the intersections of organizations when smart, civically-minded people meet each other and talk about ideas.
But you don’t need permission to start. Those kind of worries will make you hesitate to begin, and ultimately, slow you down. Great ideas will attract supporters. But not every project or strategy needs to be agreed upon by a coalition. Everyone thinks their issue is the most important one, and may even have a study to prove it, but it is more alienating than productive to say so. There is so much out there that needs fixing. The “most important” issue you should be working on is the one that pulls at your heartstrings and makes you want to bail on your dinner plans to go to a public meeting instead.
A diversity of tactics helps us move forward. When I started falling in love with transportation I went to meetings of different groups until I found one that was a good fit for me. There is room for more organizations and more people. At the worst, we end up playing a public “bad cop, good cop” where we disagree. That’s not the worst outcome. We’re all working towards a better future, and we need all hands on deck.
Back to printers…
It’s likely that every issue you’ve had with a printer was noticed by someone during the development process. There are a million reasons why it might not have been fixed: Someone had a long day and assumed the error was their fault; They didn’t want to break bad news to their boss; The launch schedule had already been delayed twice; They aren’t sure of exactly what happened and don’t have time to investigate; The last time they brought up an issue it created a lot of stress for the team.
But customers will be grateful that someone stuck out their neck and spoke up, just like the next generation of Portlanders will be glad that you spoke up for a better future. So the next time someone gives you some of this well-meaning yet dismissive advice, send them a link to the next public comment period and help them get engaged in a project they care about.
— Catie Gould, @Citizen_Cate on Twitter
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Hold on a second… my @#$%^&* office printer jammed while I was printing this comment, and the ink is so freakin’ expensive!
When the radical environmentalist Dave Foreman was asked in an interview if he thought he would ever regret being so unreasonable he replied, “A reporter once asked me what I thought my nephew’s and niece’s children would think of me. Would they consider their great-uncle an ecoterrorist, a radical, a lunatic conservationist? I said, No. They’re going to ask, ‘Why the heck didn’t you fight harder? Why weren’t you more radical? Why weren’t you more militant? Why didn’t you save more forests?’ “. I think our children will think the same about our efforts to fight the scourge of automobiles on the planet.
That is a really great quote. Thank you for posting it.
“I think transportation is a wonderful advocacy area because it is so accessible” – I think the caveat is if you are white. I find Portland’s housing and transportation advocacy circle is a difficult place for people of color to express their voices. I, as a person of color, have found that while white advocates would welcome you to show up at protest rides or testify at city council, they are not comfortable with listening to your knowledge and experience. Most of the access to City Hall and most of the decision making process are held by predominately white advocates. I have not seen much effort to try to bring more people of color into the center of advocacy and organizing.
I also disagree with the unreserved praise for Jane Jacobs. Jacobs’s opposition to urban renewal and freeway building only started when her own neighborhood, the already gentrifying West Village, was threatened. When urban renewal and freeways tore through the Bronx and Harlem, Jacobs was not there to oppose any of it. Jacobs was a popular champion of the educated and white collar class that was moving into previously poor and minority areas and they want to keep large scale, public projects away from their “authentic” neighborhoods.
She spoke about diversity in the neighborhood, yet there is no evidence that she had any social connections with the minorities that lived in her neighborhood. Neighbors do not know more than planners just as you are not more knowledgeable about your body’s medical needs than your physician. Expertise matters when we talk about something as complex and multivariate as transportation and housing.
The prevalent mentality of “everyone is an expert” is part of the reason why planners today need to spend unjustified excessive hours on “public outreach” just to do something as basic as putting in a few diverters. Most planners went through specialized education and training to get to their jobs. You should give them your input but you should also take their expertise more seriously.
You know, it’s odd, but when I lived in Portland, Jane Jacobs was praised to the skies, but the closer I get to NYC or Toronto, the more people condemn her and her writings. It’s a bit like the controversy surrounding civil war confederate statues: in the Pacific Northwest, it’s a non-issue, but here in NC people are passionate on both sides. Now people here are talking about taking out George Washington statues, as he was a particularly nasty slave owner.
I like the French attitude best. Napoleon Bonaparte was a tyrant, dictator, and ultimately ruined France, but he’s still publicly regarded as a “Great Man”, and his monuments are still revered.
I appreciate and take to heart much of your comment. However, I do have a nit to pick. I have trained physicians, though my field of expertise is nonclinical (biochemistry). When it comes to what’s going wrong with my aging body, most of the time I have to tell my physician what to do and what prescription/treatment is necessary. Their training just isn’t as deep as mine. Titles and credentials aren’t the keys to the kingdom of understanding, they’re mostly union cards that allow one to take particular jobs.
Now take fields with the incredibly low standards for credentials as traffic planning and engineering and it’s very likely that many of the people in the community have much better understandings of how what has been implemented is failing active transportation needs and also how various proposals will succeed or fail. I’m often astounded when an active transportation project is proposed and the planner doesn’t even know about a fresh supply of several thousand cars per day that are about to appear because of a separate project which will doom what is about to be implemented to failure. This goes on regularly.
I hope to hear some comments about the lack of racial diversity in Portland’s transportation advocacy circle and how to enable people of color to have more influence on transportation projects and policy. I was hoping that someone would join the discussion.
But it seems like advocates feel more comfortable with talking about whether neighbors know more than planners and public processes than acknowledging that even within the circle of advocacy power and influence is unevenly distributed to give white people more voice. Does anyone think that is a problem? If yes, how do we address it? If no, what makes it not necessarily so bad? We all like to think we have something smart to say here. So why the silence?
I think it clear that greater diversity creates better outcomes.
Therefore, to the extent racial/economic/political/gender/educational/class/cultural/disability/age/fitness/health diversity correlates with diversity of opinion/viewpoint/perspective, then I say bring it.
I tend to view advocacy as something people feel driven to do for “inner” reasons. If people feel compelled to advocate for transportation issues, but think it’s a white middle class male liberal college degreed fit young bike rider’s club, and feel unwelcome, I can see solutions. If they simply don’t feel compelled by the issue, maybe that just means they’re working on other things and that’s fine.
I’ll add that many of the posters here are advocating for reducing the diversity of opinion to be considered when planning a project.
Some people have always been in charge: white homeowners, those with cars, money.
You seem to be conflating (a) a temptation to discount those championing widening the Rose Quarter freeway, preventing traffic calming on Lincoln, and (b) what Shoupian is talking about: those who have never been in charge.
Diversity as a term is not, I don’t think, usefully used to capture both ends of the spectrum.
Is the purpose of diversity to (1) capture views that may otherwise not be represented; or (2) to encourage individuals who may have been excluded from the process in the past to participate in the future, even if they are expressing the same views that others have been expressing?
Both. But listening to the privileged (those who/whose perspective has been in charge since the 1840s at least) whine (or arguing they should be disregarded) doesn’t fit either of those two categories.
*I* certainly haven’t been in charge since the 1840s, and I don’t know anyone who has. It’s not even clear that my perspective (or yours) is overrepresented now, given that our view is so often ignored by policy makers.
I think that is a great topic that definitely deserves more discussion! I think it is widely acknowledged as a problem, but people are unsure of how to fix. Would love to highlight people who have more experience in creating diverse environments and different perspectives on advocacy.
>>> Neighbors do not know more than planners just as you are not more knowledgeable about your body’s medical needs than your physician. Expertise matters when we talk about something as complex and multivariate as transportation and housing. <<<
This may be true in some ways, but planners often work in areas they are not familiar with, and don't really understand the dynamics of the way people use, traverse, and inhabit a neighborhood. What places are special, which routes are important, which intersections behave differently in practice than they do on paper. Planners tend to like things to look neat on a map (with the odd exception of bike routes), but there may be a reason to leave things raggedy. Without local knowledge, planners simply can't make good decisions, in much the same way a doctor can't attend to your ailments without understanding your particular situation.
Neighbors can help provide that knowledge.
[Yes, a doctor can set a broken bone or diagnose the flu without knowing the patient, just as a planner can suggest more trees and usually be right, but I'm extending a metaphor, and it's imperfect.]
“Citizens know their neighborhood streets better than planners do. When planners come to your neighborhood for a project, you play a vital role in educating them about what’s going on day-to-day.”
Seems to me not long ago BP was abuzz about how people living in neighborhoods needed to be disregarded so that bike infrastructure could get built sans all that pesky resident input and tiresome open houses. (ref: Lincoln)
You bring up a real conundrum, but I wonder if you could approach this a bit more constructively? It seems to me that we have two issues here.
(1) people, neighbors disagree strongly about the primacy of autos vs official-acknowledgement-through-infrastructure of bikes (just look at conversations on Nextdoor.com)
(2) PBOT does not have a monopoly on best practices when it comes to designing or implementing bike infrastructure, and many people who (bike) in those locations do have and are able to share advice on how to do it better, avoid mistakes.
I think we’d make more progress if we kept track of both of these, acknowledged the sticky nature of these conflicts, rather than taking cheap shots at statements like those Catie made in her piece.
Catie said (my interpretation) that local/neighborhood insights/views should be considered, and I agree with that.
I am pointing out that there’s been time when BP and BP commenters have tried to demean or delegitimize those local insights/views, and I think that’s not a good approach.
On your issue (1), we should consider and work with local/neighborhood views even if it makes the process of improving bike infrastructure more complicated and frustrating. We shouldn’t summarily dismiss them with labels like “nimby”, “privilege”, “pearl-clutchers”, “mobs”, or simply conclude they don’t want our streets to be safe (e.g. this quote from a BP article “Some Portlanders — even those who ostensibly “support biking” — will fight against safer streets.” 11/17/17).
On issue (2), I agree PBOT doesn’t have a monopoly on bike infrastructure design.
it’s important to note that not all “local insights/views” are equal. It’s up to agency staff and an informed and smart public to be able to decipher between which public comments to really care about and which ones can be ignored — or not taken as seriously. That’s one of the most important attributes of a great leader.. the ability to listen to everything; but more importantly the ability to only store in memory the comments and concerns from people who are legitimately trying to make the city better and not just spewing hate, spreading false information, or sharing comments with an unfair bias and/or selfish reluctance to change.
“Spreading hate” is rare, but is a pretty clear case. “Selfish reluctance to change”, on the other hand, sounds awfully dismissive.
My problem is I badly want change in a number of areas, but, while steamrolling opponents of change may seem expedient, it can be used to force through things I strongly oppose.
Example: Right now very happy that the federal government has painfully slow, cumbersome, and thorough processes for changing regulations. Where would we be if, during the Obama years, we’d done away with all that so we could get more done?
like so many issues Hello, Kitty, I tend to avoid hard and fast rules. Yes we should listen to everyone and not dismiss comments no matter where they come from. I’m just saying our society and democracy works much better when we learn how to judge the validity and credibility of the information we are hearing … sound familiar? This is similar to the issue of media literacy — wherein people need to learn how to judge news/information sources… and how to ignore sources that don’t deserve anyone’s attention.
I agree about media literacy, but am less sure “fake news” is a big problem in this context.
I think in many (not all) cases, people are angry because they don’t feel they have a voice, and that anger pushes them to more extreme positions. Identifying those people and making sure they feel heard may help defuse at least some of them.
In the Lincoln greenway situation, the residents opposed to PBOT’s original plans represented a substantial portion of the neighborhood. On what basis should PBOT decide that a substantial part of a neighborhood should “be ignored — or not taken as seriously” or labeled as “just spewing hate, spreading false information, or sharing comments with an unfair bias and/or selfish reluctance to change”? Simply because they disagree with us?
If the city leaders and staff choose to “only store in memory the comments and concerns from people who [the city has categorized as] are legitimately trying to make the city better” and ignore everyone else, that sounds distinctly undemocratic. How will they decide who is in which category? Maybe by only listening to those who agree with the city’s position?
You ask ‘on what basis?’
I say the Bicycle Master Plan, for starters.
Climate Change Action Plan is a close second.
There’s a whole big wrecked planet out there. Why are we pretending that this has no bearing on Lincoln?
Do you also argue ODOT should ignore those opposing the Rose Quarter expansion because of their “Improved Capacity Plan” or whatever?
We need a decision framework that gives answers to these questions.
I’ve articulated what to me seems like the most prudent, pressing one. If we thumb our noses to Climate Change, nothing else will matter. Or let me rephrase that. Since we’ve seen fit to ignore the Cassandras for several generations it is almost certainly too late to avert catastrophe, but pretending that freeway expansions are reasonable – in 2018 – will not look like a wise move in the history books (if we’ll still have history books).
Well lets see: The Richmond Neighborhood is 10,000 people. Mt. Tabor is probably somewhat less. But 75 people at a meeting is not “a substantial portion of the neighborhood”. It might be a substantial proportion of that meeting’s attendees. City staff is answerable to all those affected, and also, as noted, to carrying out policies about Greenways that have been adopted in order to facilitate mode shift and reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (as well as reduce congestion by getting some trips out of cars and onto bikes, etc. Staff is thus responsible all those within the airshed, not even just the neighborhood. So, they’re not obligated to align their project with the majority of those who show up to a meeting. There were also several petitions circulated, for and against, and I don’t think the “against” one had more than the “for” one. And again, even those were not necessarily “representative.
Would you accept the outcome of a public vote? If so, who would participate?
John Liu wrote:
“On your issue (1), we should consider and work with local/neighborhood views even if it makes the process of improving bike infrastructure more complicated and frustrating. We shouldn’t summarily dismiss them with labels like “nimby”, “privilege”, “pearl-clutchers”, “mobs”, or simply conclude they don’t want our streets to be safe (e.g. this quote from a BP article “Some Portlanders — even those who ostensibly “support biking” — will fight against safer streets.” 11/17/17).”
I agree. I believe in public process, in listening to diverse perspectives, and at times have engaged with folks on Nextdoor over topics like this. But at the end of the day you have (PBOT has) to make a decision. I’d still like someone to go back to Clinton and interview the neighbors (on Woodward in particular) and probe how they feel now that the diverters have been in for a few years. Not just ask them aye or nay, but explore how they see the larger issues, weigh the costs (more cars on their street, having to drive a few blocks more to get to/from their house coming from certain directions) and benefits (fewer cars, more bikes on Clinton, safer conditions, perhaps fewer cars in the neighborhood overall).
I don’t think castigating people, riding rough shod over those we disagree with is wise or productive.
But. It must also be said that there are other, larger issues out there, which some neighbors may not recognize or appreciate. Doing what we have always done (accommodate more and more cars) not only *doesn’t work,* it threatens all the other short and long term goals we have.
Like cigarettes. Does anyone really think we should make it easier to smoke? Should we defer to those who advocate this?
Agree, at the end of the day a decision has to be made. How that decision is reached will affect how happy or unhappy people are, and the support or opposition to future initiatives.
The attitude espoused here, ref: JM’s posts above – that the city should listen only to those people that it wishes to, while ignoring others and labeling them as spewing hate – will hurt cycling advocacy in the long run. We’ll win for a while, then see much greater opposition and start losing and losing.
Only about 5% of Portlanders bike to work. I would estimate that less than 15% of Portlanders cycle much at all or identify as cyclists. What percent of (adult) Portlanders drive far more than they bike? 70-80%?
There is no better way to make people angry, motivated, and effective than by blatantly ignoring, demeaning, and labeling them.
One way to frame this is in terms of percentages: 15% can be counted on to take a bikey position.
Another would be in terms of principle/prudence/science. Let’s say that only 15% of a population does not smoke or believes that abolition of slavery is imperative. The motivation to ban smoking on air planes, public places, to tax cigarettes, or to problematize slaery as an institution surely isn’t meaningfully shrunk based on the small proportion of the population that could be counted on to approve of these changes, or?
Sometimes people need to identify what needs to be done and defend their decision against the naysayers, put it on the line, not wait for the percentages to catch up.
>>> Sometimes people need to identify what needs to be done and defend their decision against the naysayers <<<
This is exactly what you and I and John and everyone else here should do. The process itself should be neutral and open to a range of views.
agreed. But the three of us aren’t in the position to make the call. I was talking about those who are. Steve Novick did just this, once.
now visible via the wayback machine:
Great article. Like any good article, it generates passionate comments.
I’ve been doing bike and transportation advocacy since at least 1991 and I’ve met many others who have been doing it far longer. I’m one of those big fat privileged white male over-educated under-employed (unemployed now for 10 years) transportation geeks with a Portland Masters in Urban & Regional Planning degree, so theoretically I should “know” everything. But you are right, none of us do – to our credit, most planners recognize the limits of our understanding and continue to keep learning, including from other planners, from engineers, architects, administrators, advocates, and folks on the street, just to name a few. We learn new techniques, ways of listening, engineering principles, manipulating public opinion, ways to present information, and methods to implement more infrastructure costing less money.
Any advocate who “knows” how to get improvements funded or implemented is stuck in a rut – we are all constantly evolving and learning. Any planner who isn’t advocating isn’t doing their due diligence, what society expects of them, but are instead drones working for a paycheck. We pay engineers well to be “right”, but most who I’ve met also have a real concern for the community they live or work in and a passion to make the best improvements they can.
The principles I follow as an advocate are (in no particular order):
– Prioritize helping those who are least able to help themselves, the most vulnerable.
– Working alone is sometimes necessary, but working together with others makes onerous tasks much easier and more feasible.
– If one way doesn’t work, try another. Keep trying. Then try another way. Experiment. Keep evolving, keep learning, talk with others.
– 90% of advocacy is showing up, attending meetings, etc. But don’t forget the other 10%, speaking up, articulating, speaking passionately, doing your research, listening.
– Don’t expect much from well-staffed organizations with cute acronyms. Focus instead on alliances with other passionate individuals, including unholy alliances with people and/or organizations you might normally think of as your enemies or competitors.
– Make sure you are having fun. Fun is very important when you are doing anything voluntarily. If you aren’t having fun, go do something else that is fun.
I LOVED this piece, Catie! Thank you for writing it and for the great advice, and for peppering your article with humor.
Yes, Catie, this is great. I especially liked:
“It can take years for ideas to grow into policies, so don’t wait to ask for what you want”
and “Great ideas will attract supporters”!
As for that “pesky resident input”. City transportation planners could use input that is helpful for them to achieve, for instance, city-adopted mode share splits, or Climate Action plans. What is not helpful, ( Mr. Liu), is residents who oppose a project because they don’t support the adopted city goals it is working toward and say so, but especially, “concern trolling”, wherein residents claim to support the goals, but express seemingly plausible “concerns”, who really just want to protect their own interests and maintain the status quo. And, they cause cities to spend time and money on endless meetings to hear their grievances, instead of doing the work that forwards city goals. Some comments are useful, but others are only intended to delay or sabotage.
Are those who fight to maintain the status quo through the Rose Quarter because they don’t support ODOT’s adopted policies of increasing capacity merely “concern trolling”?
A lot of this seems to hinge on whether you agree with a person’s position or not. Is there an objective test to distinguish “good” input from “bad”?
You are correct, it depends upon your perspective. From the point of view of apparently a majority of state legislators and your Democratic Governor, Portland is out of sync with the rest of the state and ODOT on its mode split priorities and the importance of relieving bottlenecks on I-5. To deliberately misquote Jonathan, “…from governments who are legitimately trying to make the state better and not just (Portland bike advocates) spewing hate, spreading false information, or sharing comments with an unfair bias and/or selfish reluctance to change.”
In the case of the Rose Quarter project, many including me believe that the project will not even accomplish the state goals (and I’m not sure that’s a goal anyway) of increasing capacity. Even ODOT’s literature does not claim that it will increase capacity, only that it will allow crashes to be cleared faster. However, it is cynically being sold to the state legislature as such an increase, in order to get the funding. The enormous project is also being touted as an improvement for bikes and pedestrians, which it’s not (with the exception of the Clackamas St vicinity bridge over the freeway). It moves ramps around, placing on on-ramp terminal at the corner of vancouver and Weidler, where there is no on–ramp now, and also removing the west sidewalk on Vancouver north of Broadway instead of shifting the new bridge and ramp to acknowledge the pedestrian movements that take place there now.
I’m sure many of the proponents actually believe it will relieve congestion (and thus are not “concern trolling”) however arguably ODOT is obfuscating their own findings of lack of efficacy of the project, in order to keep their contractors and engineers busy.
Sure. It’s a BS project. I’m on board with that. I wrote a letter opposing it, and one on congestion pricing. I’ll likely write another. I get it.
Which is why I want to make sure that opponents of “progress” can’t be dismissed for supporting the status quo, or hoping to “sabotage” the project. Because in this case, I do want to sabotage it, and you do too.
Doug, I don’t disagree with you, I personally think all freeway projects are a complete waste of money better spent on transit, bikeways, and making walking safer and more fun. And I dare say that you’re probably right about ODOT policies, though if you are right, then ODOT is wayyy more liberal than nearly any other state DOT anywhere in the USA. But that isn’t my point.
What’s important is not what this or that policy is, or says it is, but how policy-makers and decision-makers interpret those policies, especially your state legislators and governor, and how they vote to spend your highway tax dollars (and mine for that matter, since NC is a net contributor of the Federal highway fund, whereas Oregon is a net recipient.) Their perspective is clearly different from yours and most readers of this blog, so they might regard any of your input negatively and support policies that essentially make streets exclusive for car use, who are still a majority of users in Portland.
Decision rule for distinguishing good from bad input -I think this needn’t be hard.
Cars may be useful, convenient, etc. for the individual who has one at her disposal, but there isn’t much debate about how costly and deadly they are for society, our planet’s future habitability, etc. as such, one obvious decision rule would be to prioritize, weight more heavily comments and input that makes the non-motorized option more likely.
Other similar rules are conceivable.
We’ve weighted the pro-car perspective more heavily/exclusively for a century +, and look what we have to show for it. Time for a correction.
In other words, those who agree with your ranking of what’s important should be heard, those who don’t shouldn’t?
I actually agree with you, except I think we should use *my* ranking and ignore yours.
I will confess, I’ve never understood this predisposition to individualize these views., this relativism.
Climate change isn’t my invention, it isn’t—despite commonly being framed this way in the US—something you or I or anyone believes in as if we were talking about the tooth fairy. These are widely understood facts. Inconvenient perhaps, but no less real for it. We would do well to get over these hang ups, this reflexive relativism.
Simply asserting your values should have primacy over mine (or those of others) isn’t likely to work in a democratic system. If you want dictatorship, then you’d better make sure you get there before someone else does, otherwise your values will get zero play.
In what sense is it meaningful to refer to these as *my values*? This framing reminds me of the creationists castigating those who understand plate tectonics or evolution. When it comes to physics or meteorology or archeology, not all points of view need to be treated as equivalent.
Climate change isn’t my value or your value, it is athendefining feature of our time.
Suggesting we take climate change seriously in the policy realm could be considered a value, but once we’ve shed the foolish notion that we can choose whether to believe or disbelieve climate change, perhaps this will be understood in a different light.
Evolution is a fact. Plate tectonics is a fact. Climate change is a fact.
Weighing one cost/benefits of one possible mitigation against other priorities is a value statement.
B.u.t t.h.e.y. A.r.e. N.o.t. E.q.u.i.v.a.l.e.n.t…….
Someone’s convenience, their ability to get somewhere quicker, drier, without mussing their hair is not—in a policy sense—equivalent to our planet-wide need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Your assertions here regularly boil down to these false equivalencies, this untoward flattening of the various courses of action/inaction open to us.
How could someone possibly value short-term benefit over a much higher cost later? Yet we do it all the time (anyone here not maxing out their 401k?)
And so we circle back to your values, because they seem urgent and logical to you, take primacy over those of others.
There you go again… Privileging the individual perspective.
If we’re all no more than individuals, why bother engaging in these conversations? I would think that figuring out how to solve this, how to take a view that is explicitly not an individual one would be a worthy pursuit.
Each of us, individually, is likely (assuming we own a car) interested in a gas station that sells cheaper gas. We may even go out of our way to find and buy that cheaper gas. At the same time many of us recognize that gas should be much more expensive, might even vote to approve a gas tax hike.
Acting as an individual, a consumer (looking for the cheapest gas) doesn’t scale, should not be mistaken for what we collectively, as citizens might prefer (higher gas taxes, alternatives to dependence on cars, etc.).
If humans cause climate change, do we as a society encourage policies to eliminate humans? Should we be promoting (rather than discouraging) war, pestilence, famine, and one-child policies?
And as local advocates, what can WE do?
I appreciate the both of you. It’s clear that you are both true advocates, as you are demonstrably unreasonable and unremittingly passionate, to the point of absurdity.
One child policies, for most people, probably.
On the other hand, I have a friend who, after a lot of thought, had two children thinking that both he and his wife were from very smart and driven scientific/engineering families, so their children were more likely than average to be smart and driven, and might therefore be able to make a larger contribution to solving the big problems than others. It remains to be seen how this works out, but one of them seems like a pretty solid bet at this point.
There will be some in the next generation who will have an outsized impact on global problems, and we’ll probably be better off with them than without them, even if that means a slightly larger population.
This is insightful advice from an experienced and passionate advocate. I think it should be required reading for the Traffic & Transportation class from now on.
If a “Best of BP” compilation ever gets put together, this should be included in it. It’s one of those “evergreen” articles.
If I had read this right after you posted it then it would have motivated me to go to the BikeLoudPDX general meeting later that evening.
Some great stuff up there.
9watts, even collective policies are made from the perspective of individuals (because that’s all there is), so there’s really no escaping it. You’d just better hope it is your values that get enshrined in the collective policies, and not, say, the current president’s. When you consider which is more likely, the individual perspective looks more attractive.
“even collective policies are made from the perspective of individuals (because that’s all there is), so there’s really no escaping it.”
I’m not following. Can you give an example?
Isn’t the point of government, of policy to seek, develop, implement solutions that transcend individual priorities?
Take traffic calming on Lincoln, for instance; would you say that is made from the perspective of individuals? Or is it an attempt to instantiate the larger goal of nudging mode split, of undoing our legacy of favoring the auto, for reasons that transcend the present, the individual?
Taxing cigarettes, speed cameras, too, are examples of the state stepping in and correcting the individual predisposition to do foolish or dangerous things. I don’t see these as made from the perspective of individuals either. Do you?
I guess where we differ is that you assume the existence of a larger truth, a clear right answer, one that transcends the individual perspective. I don’t. It’s a philosophical question, and I think we’re just going to have to disagree.
“you assume the existence of a larger truth, a clear right answer, one that transcends the individual perspective.”
You are correct.
Smoking cigarettes – statistically unhealthy for the individual and obscenely expensive for society.
Nuclear power – so dangerous and expensive that those building the power plants have arranged for laws to be passed shifting future liability onto tax payers.
Fossil fuels – we now know that as fun as it has been, continuing to dig up and burn them will kill us all, destroy any prospect of future habitability of our planet.
I’m intrigued. And admit to having a hard time believing this.
Those are all scientifically established truths. That we should do any particular thing on Lincoln is not.
except we have rules that stipulate car-volume limits on greenways. Exceeding those limits triggers the kind of interventions we’re familiar with. Shouldn’t the question under discussion be how are we going to throttle the volume of automobiles on Lincoln? rather than why is this even a problem?
That’s how I would frame it.
“Evolution” is not a “fact.”
Read Alfred Russel Wallace.
For our purposes, it is a fact.