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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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Izzy Armenta
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Izzy Armenta

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.