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Friday Opinion: Too many cars, not enough leadership

Posted by on August 23rd, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Downtown needs more freedom to move, not more free parking for cars.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

As this week’s cover story in the Willamette Week makes clear, we aren’t doing enough to make our streets safe for everyone. On Wednesday we had the 36th fatality on Portland roads, two more than all of 2018.

While those who work at PBOT and City Hall struggle to make progress on Vision Zero goals, they might want to take a look out their office windows. There are simply too many cars and too many people who use them irresponsibly.

Want fewer people to die? Want to unlock the vast potential of our streets? Want people to be healthier, wealthier and happier? If so, we must have a laser focus on reducing the amount of cars on the road. It’s not enough to make incremental progress for bicycling, walking, and transit. As long as driving is perceived as being cheaper, easier, and safer, too many people will choose to do it too often.

Unfortunately, the same day we all read the powerful stories in the Willamette Week, Mayor Ted Wheeler — with PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly (who should know better) standing right behind him — announced that parking would be free downtown tomorrow. This is a terrible policy that encourages the use of the most deadly, socially isolating, fear-inducing, and inefficient vehicles while squeezing out everything else. Wheeler’s free parking gambit is an attempt to amp up downtown retailers after last weekend’s protests. As such, he and his supporters have also perpetuated the false and dangerous narrative that free and abundant auto parking is necessary for businesses to make money.

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And in a statement about Sunday Parkways released this morning, PBOT awkwardly touts ODOT’s I-5 Rose Quarter project as one of “the emerging projects” worth noting as you walk and roll along the “Green Loop”. The only thing emerging from that project is a stench from a rotting agency increasingly out-of-touch and at odds with Portland’s transportation goals. Are we really using an open streets event to highlight a project that will expand a freeway and increase driving capacity through our central city? Oh how the mighty have fallen!

Along with the myriad compromises PBOT continues to make for driving convenience in “safety” and “vision zero” projects throughout the city (the lack of physically protected bike lanes on NE 102nd Avenue due to neighbor pushback about parking loss is just the latest example), it’s very disappointing that our leaders continue to coddle car use.

The irresponsible abuse of cars is the source of many problems Portland faces. Our leaders must start to talk and act like it. I hope they see the magic of 30,000+ people using our streets during Sunday Parkways and realize it could be the rule, not the exception. As the contrast between Saturday and Sunday will surely prove, we need fewer free spaces for cars and more carfree spaces.

— 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 productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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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Izzy Armenta
Guest
Izzy Armenta

They could have made Trimet, Biketown, scooters, etc, free for a day instead of parking. C’mon!

Matt
Guest
Matt

Bike town and Streetcar are free tomorrow as well. I saw deals on all the scooters but wasn’t sure of the details I’m sure it’s different per company.

MTW
Guest
MTW

While I’m not terribly interested in defending Wheeler, it does make sense to point out that BikeTown, Streetcar and downtown parking are all under the direct authority of the City. TriMet is not.

Seems to me like Wheeler pulled all the direct levers he could. I would be fine with that if parking was excluded from the package.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

Of course, there is no such thing as free parking. All goods and services that are at least minimally valued by society have a price. This is a law of economics that cannot be changed, just like the laws of physics cannot be changed. If the price of the item is not fully collected in the form of payment in the local currency, then the remainder of the price must be paid in some other form. A perfect example of this phenomenon could be observed in the Soviet Union. Since Soviet central planners frequently underpriced consumer goods, shortages frequently developed, and typically part of the price of an item in a store had to paid by waiting in line.

When Ted Wheeler says that there is going to be free parking in downtown Portland tomorrow, what he is really saying is that the state is going to be subsidizing the storing of metal boxes on public property. If he feels that the state should be in the business of subsidizing merchants in the downtown area, then a much better policy for him would be to announce that any shopper who shows up tomorrow will receive a $10 coupon from the state that can be spent at any of the local stores.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Remember, Trimet is subsidized as well:

“The line is also significantly more expensive to operate, per rider, compared to bus or MAX. According to TriMet figures, WES costs $18.14 per boarding ride (when a person gets on a bus, MAX or WES train). Buses tally $3.80 per ride while MAX costs $2.95, according to TriMet.”

Per https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.oregonlive.com/commuting/2019/08/max-trains-will-arrive-two-minutes-later-as-trimet-aims-to-help-struggling-wes.html%3FoutputType%3Damp

9watts
Subscriber

I think you (and Randy O’Toole) are making a categorical mistake. Trimet I think we would almost all agree is a public good: More buses make things better for everyone. The same cannot be said for so-called free parking. The more of that we have the worse off we all are. Subsidies, so-called, are not all equal.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

I agree it’s a public good, I ride the Max 4-5 days a week. Just as parking is never free regardless of where we park, our fare doesn’t entirely cover the cost of Trimet operation. I’m concerned because if ridership continues to fall, fare prices will have to go up. As of now I pay $100 per month versus $280 for parking. The gulf between these two figures is great, but If it narrows more and more people will drive over taking transit.

Trimet is far, far from failing, but some say it is and don’t like tax payer dollars being dumped into a system which does appear to be failing at attracting new ridership. Would I vote on a bond for Trimet that would increase my property tax, I’m not sure at the moment?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

WES is a joke. Trimet never wanted it. Washington County pushed for it and Trimet coordinated the purchase of the equipment and operates it. You can’t blame Trimet for that boondoggle. MAX has a cost closer to $2 per ride in operating costs.

tee
Guest
tee

The fact that parking will be free tomorrow strongly discourages me from going downtown. I don’t need to be dodging drivers doing dumb things for that parking spot. They do that everyday, but it seems that it’s even worse during free parking days.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Ditto. I was considering biking downtown with the kids to one of the fountains… now I’m reconsidering…

pdx2wheeler
Subscriber

free-dumb…

B. Carfree
Subscriber
B. Carfree

This editorial should be engraved on city hall. If elected and appointed officials continue to stay the cars-first course, then maybe we’ll need some tattoos.

mran1984
Guest

Too many people! Too much litter! BTW, no real cycling without a car anymore. Riding in Portland has officially sucked for a few years now. Get those lazy boy scooters off the Esplanade.

RH
Guest
RH

Totally agree. The below article was very symbolic…seems like cycling went downhill soon after:

https://bikeportland.org/2014/05/06/city-of-portland-orders-removal-of-americas-bike-capital-mural-from-downtown-wall-105559

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I’m not sure what you are talking about. Cycling in Portland is different now, sure. It is better in some areas (places where we have bike lanes and infrastructure that didn’t exist before), and worse in some areas (more traffic, etc).

Are you sure this perspective just isn’t an overall negative world view that you seem to hold?

9watts
Subscriber

Well in those thirty years (I have lived on and off in this city for forty-six years) climate change has arisen as a major threat and challenge. The incremental ‘progress’ if you can call it that which you point to is orders of magnitude too little in light of the demands Climate Change is placing on us.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Don’t forget those scooters are powered by cars!

Chris
Guest
Chris

Just listened to the Friday panel on Think Out Loud discuss the failed I-5 bridge and recent work to resume planning. Not one of the panelists mentioned climate change, sprawl, etc., or the role congestion pricing could have on current bridge traffic. Instead there seemed a universal consensus that a new bridge was needed. We have a ways to go before common sense on cars goes mainstream.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’m always amazed when I hear people from this side of the river who are supportive of this project. They are delusional if they think that it will improve traffic in Portland. There may be some small, temporary improvements on I-5 north in the evening, but you’ve just opened up a garden-hose of SW Washington commuters in the southbound direction. It would move the bottlenecks to new areas and greatly increase traffic on surface streets.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Keep the same number of vehicle lanes, add light rail tracks, and a decent camping-resistant bike facility.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Agreed on all points. 3 lanes each way with breakdown shoulders on both sides is all that is needed.

Let’s keep in mind that the rail bridge just downstream is even older than the oldest I-5 bridge. If seismic safety were the concern, this bridge should also be replaced, and could be expended to 4 tracks, permitting additional passenger rail service.

X
Guest
X

Yeah, breakdown lanes would help. My experience driving N across this bridge is about halfway across the car traffic actually starts to flow more smoothly and speed up. Why would that be? Maybe because there are no more vehicles entering the roadway and drivers find the lane they want and mostly stay in it. It’s not the capacity of the bridge that causes the problem, it’s the turbulent traffic before it.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

The exact reason a rose quarter I5 widening wouldn’t do anything to relieve congestion. The terminus for 405, 84, as well as a major on ramp at wheeler all within a mile, that area will always be a slow mess regardless of configuration.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Vancouver resident here–the idea of more southbound traffic lanes on the I5 bridge is like using a 10 gallon funnel to fill a 2 gallon jar. Our right wing hick legislators from north Clark County need to get over their primitive, ignorant allergy to mass transit.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

Free parking also does the exact opposite of what they are promoting the free parking to do. The idea is to encourage people to come downtown to shop in order to make up for the lack of business during the protest.

What will happen instead is that the employees of every downtown business, retail or otherwise, will drive downtown to work and leave their cars sitting in those “free” parking spaces all day long. The people you are trying to entice to come downtown to park in those spaces will have no chance of finding one that is available.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

Hmm, the announcement doesn’t specify whether or not the time limit will be enforced- so you could be right.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Bingo. This “free parking” logic only works if parking is poorly utilized. That is most definitely not the case downtown.

q
Guest
q

Exactly what I was thinking. On top of spaces being taken up by workers, the “free” offer could bring in enough driving shoppers to make finding a space and driving much tougher than usual. Given that the idea is to help businesses, there’d be some irony if this one-day surge in customers driving into town creates a frustrating experience for them, leading them to vow never to come downtown again and instead drive to the mall the next time they want to shop.

9watts
Subscriber

These kind of ill-considered, myopic, simplistic, self-defeating, pandering gestures from our ‘leaders’ can be so dispiriting. Don’t these people think? read? inform themselves? understand how the world works?

9watts
Subscriber

Lots of great comments here, asusual. But I think I would highlight encephalopath’s as my nomination for Comment of the Week.

Bill Stites
Subscriber

Thanks to Jonathan for having the courage to state the obvious – all this driving is unsustainable on so many levels. Our leaders need to enact policies that enable citizens to make better transportation choices, which at this point in time, will necessitate making it much more difficult to choose to drive.
Cars are killing us … always slowly, sometimes quickly.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

We could claw back all of Leah Treat’s compensation.

hotrodder
Guest
hotrodder

Free parking.
I laughed and rolled my eyes when I saw that “incentive”. Oh, great, even more idjits in cars looking for a place to park. Wheeler, you could give me 25 bucks for every hour spent downtown with a car and I’ll still refrain from your offer.
Cycling downtown is a cinch.
Driving downtown just means stress and anxiety.
And that’s a sunny day. When it rains, all bets are off..

Glenn II
Guest
Glenn II

Hey I’m all for leadership at City Hall, but sometimes leadership can happen right there in your own household/driveway/garage. To paraphrase a Vietnam draft-dodger meme, “Suppose they had a free parking and no one came.”

Not that those businesses deserve to be thrown under the bus, particularly. Heck let them have their free parking day, for all the good it’ll do. But they did go ahead and locate themselves in a city. And a city isn’t just what’s convenient for you. It’s full of customers, sure, but also other stuff, like [loud-ass marching band practicing nearby] or [poor people] or [drunks] or [truck exhaust] or yes, even [big protest]. You take the good with the bad. Everything under the sun has that dual good/bad nature. (My examples above are also known as “culture,” “diversity”, “nightlife,” “economic productivity” and “free expression” respectively.)

So yeah, should you expect that a city in a First-Amendment type nation will be free of gatherings at all times? I would say unto ye, nay. And is the city government responsible when it’s not? The cops try to stop crime, and for that you pay taxes. Did a pretty good job that day too, from most indications. Not sure what more there would be. Well, free parking I guess. Maybe the news media stoked a bit too much fear amongst people who would otherwise have been engaged in ordinary business downtown that day, but I notice they’re not payin’ a cent.

I dunno, I forget why I’m talking about this. Anyway, the “irresponsible abuse” of cars is plenty bad, but so is the responsible use of cars. So stop that.

Roberta M Robles
Guest
Roberta M Robles

Just turn the anti-fascist crowds into Freeway busting off ramp critical mass resurrection of real neighborhood streets for people not angry drivers looking for FREE parking. Where are the Parklet party leaders? Occupy free parking with a bike party!!!

Bikers are entitled whiners
Guest
Bikers are entitled whiners

Maybe if you entitled yuppies followed the laws and did not intentionally get into petty road territory fights with motorists, things might get better. Just a thought.

9watts
Subscriber

Can you explain your thinking a bit more?
Maybe tell us a little bit about yourself.
We are a friendly bunch here, mostly.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Yes, Mr. Bike-Whiner, this is not the local newspaper or trash-TV outlet, but a cooperative group hashing a way toward a reasonable future for as many as possible. Thank you for participating.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

I don’t think you understand what the word ‘entitled’ means.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Oh, the irony when a motorist calls cyclists “entitled” 😀
Same could be said for “whiners” too

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Lack of leadership? The leadership is there. But, it’s hard to lead with a minority of followers. The overwhelming majority of citizens are still pro-car. Change will come with complete collapse of the transportation system, or The Big One hits. Whichever comes first, bring it on. Better sooner than later.

9watts
Subscriber

“it’s hard to lead with a minority of followers”

I think we have a differnt understanding of these terms.
Getting folks used to the idea that cars are not going to remain useful in the long run is something anyone can tackle,.The trick is to differentiate between
(a) I want to take your car away because I am mean/ want others to suffer, and
(b) our society binged on fossil fuels a century too long and now we must pay the piper. Disagree all you want but know that your disagreement won’t make a whit of difference, won’t make the car, your car, any more viable or for any longer, and may well hve the opposite effect, may hasten automobility’s demise.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

We’ll “pay the piper” by moving cars away from fossil fuels. I see zero prospect that we’d opt instead to just stop using them.

9watts
Subscriber

I see zero prospect for that much-anticipated move to e-mobility occurring along a time scale that will be relevant to our predicament.
You are probably right though that we as a species will refuse to concede defeat, and in so doing make the reckoning that much tougher.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I’m wondering which you think is more probable:

1. Large scale electrification of the transportation network (i.e. adoption of electric cars)

2. Large scale abandonment of cars as a primary transportation mode

9watts
Subscriber

1. Is what we tell ourselves we want, will be fun, will save the day, and it will never happen;

2. Is what we will be forced to do because the scale and speed of the problems that Climate Change will bring won’t leave us any other options.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

In other words, in any kind of meaningful time scale, neither.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Secretively, none of us want to give up our cars. I imagine many of us wish we could have big city Portland life and small scale country driving: open roads, unpaid parking, etc.. As I always say, you don’t need a car for the city, you need it to get to the country.

Jim Labbe
Subscriber
Jim Labbe

We said and so salient to the present moment.

Stephen Keller
Guest
Stephen Keller

Jonathan writes: “As long as driving is perceived as being cheaper, easier, and safer, too many people will choose to do it too often.”

Don’t forget more convenient. For me driving to and from work (St. Johns to Hillsboro and back) typically takes one hour and 15 minutes. Cycling takes three hours for the round trip. Trimet require four hours on good days. Its worse if the bus gets stuck behind a garbage truck along Vancouver street. Metro needs to step up its game, if we want mass transit to become a reasonable alternative for folks like me who live and work out in the burbs.

SD
Guest
SD

Hmmm. Why don’t I take my family downtown on a regular basis?
Because it costs a couple of dollars to park? Nope.
Because, I spend 75% of the time we are outside stressing about my toddler being hit by a car? Yep.
Because there are very few low stress pedestrian plazas directly connected to businesses we would patronize? Yep.
Because it is much more enjoyable to be in other places that aren’t total car sewers? 100%
Too bad the PBA ignores all of the data on improving business for walk in retail so that they can drive their personal SOVs from the LO.

Bob Weinstein
Guest
Bob Weinstein

Great article- you make some great points. And you hit the nail on the head with PBOT. If that agency brings the same style of mismanagement and indifference to citizen input as well as concerns about safety in its e-scooter program to a program designed to make more of Portland bike-friendly and safe for bicyclists, you are in trouble. Big trouble.

You suggest that PBOT folks look out their windows, and notice there are “simply too many cars and too many people who use them irresponsibly.” One can substitute “scooters” for “cars”- to read “there are simply too many scooters and too many people who use them irresponsibly”. Does PBOT care? I don’t think so. Why?

Based on my own experience last year and this year, it seems clear that, despite frequent- and documented- incidents of scooters riding on sidewalks and blocking sidewalks, PBOT practices the same “calculated indifference” to its own rules and city code that the scooter companies incorporate as part of their business model. Pedestrian safety- especially for senior and disabled citizens- needs to be the top priority for this program; it’s isn’t- “fun” and supposed”environmental friendliness” (despite studies to the contrary) and Silicon Valley corporate interests rate higher. Safety seems to get lip service at best.

I can tell you that many seniors like me I know are concerned about the scooter program. Why should we fear for our safety when we venture down the sidewalk? In my opinion, PBOT’s failure to gets serious about enforcing scooter safety rules- especially regarding sidewalks, may make it difficult for bike advocates to get the broad support you need to make reasonable progress and get support for funding.

While I have a vehicle, I rarely use it in the city, walking a lot and taking mass transit a lot- even when the latter takes me substantially longer to reach my destination. Unlike others who may lack a good mass transit option in their neighborhood and/or are commuting daily and don’t have the time that I do, mass transit is a good and safe option for me- and keeps one vehicle off our streets and freeways.

p.s. You might be interested to know, that when I asked PBOT in a recent meeting why the Administrative Rule for scooters does not include a provision for impounding improperly parked scooters, like Title 16 does for improperly parked bicycles, I was told that it was considered but not implemented because, while bicycles generally belong to individual residents, scooters belong to companies. You can draw your own conclusions; mine was that that this was another indicator that PBOT’s scooter program put corporate interests higher than those of individual Portland citizens- including the taxpayers who fund that agency.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Easy solution for the I-5 bridges…$5 one way toll (s-bound) with proceeds going into seismic retrofit. Then build an arterial (or “Broadway”) bridge with light rail (1/3 of the traffic on I-5 across the River is local!). This could be done starting tomorrow…end of problem, start of solutions that fit the 21st century.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I am pretty sure the federal government would need to approve that (interstate tolling on state lines falls into their purview for some reason), so maybe we’d have to delay the start until mid-September.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Mid September? Why mid September? The change in political leadership doesn’t happen till January 2021.