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Bike Loud PDX wants to make Portland’s 2030 Bike Plan relevant again

Posted by on December 19th, 2019 at 4:19 pm

Time to show up for an old friend in need.

I’ll excuse you for not knowing that it’s almost the 10th anniversary of the City of Portland’s Bicycle Plan for 2030. For a plan adopted amid seemingly boundless optimism that a new era in transportation was imminent, its contents and visions and goals have tumbled from their pedestal like a highly-rated rookie prospect that never panned out.

We learned back in September that the Bureau of Transportation has completed just 59 of the 223 action items listed in the plan. Two weeks after PBOT’s five-year progress report (which came five years late) we learned that the rate of bike commuting in Portland has dropped to a 12-year low of 5.3%.

Halfway in, the Bike Plan’s goal of 25% of trips being made by bicycle by 2030 seems unattainable. Unless.

Unless someone steps in to do something about it. That’s where Portland’s capably scrappy, all-volunteer nonprofit Bike Loud PDX comes in.

“The bike plan is just one way to look at how PBOT is butting up against car culture and losing.”
— Catie Gould, Bike Loud PDX

The group, which celebrated their fifth anniversary in October, has been meeting weekly (on Saturdays no less!) since November to resurrect the plan and help PBOT achieve more of it. Bike Loud Co-Chair Catie Gould (who said PBOT’s five-year report “should be an alarm bell,”) is spearheading the effort. I asked her to share more about the campaign:

What spurred you to start these bike plan meetings?

When the 2030 Bike Plan report was presented at the Bicycle Advisory committee this fall it came as a big surprise to me. I had heard about this plan in passing, but thought it was functionally shelved. It was actually a really aggressive plan compared with what PBOT proposes now. The trouble is the lack of implementation. Unless something really big changes, it looks like we’ll only get a third of the original network done by 2030. Combined with the recent news that our transportation emissions are rising, it seemed like a key time to get a big conversation going around this. The questions we are asking are bigger than just the bike plan; it’s about what PBOT needs to be successful in achieving their adopted goals for reducing cars and emissions. The bike plan is just one way to look at how PBOT is butting up against car culture and losing. We started meeting weekly in early November and don’t have an end date planned yet.

What’s been happening at the meetings?

The meetings are like a study hall of sorts. People are working on multiple different tasks, and of course we have conversations around strategy. The report says repeatedly that the agency doesn’t have public or political support. So we’ve been thinking through a lot of communication – messages for council and the public, writing them down, and finding evidence to back up our points. Take this one point: PBOT doesn’t have political support. What does that mean? Is that the story city council believes? What does full support look like? Now we can take action: looking up previous votes and testimony, setting up meetings with city council, etc.

In the progress report, you have to read between the lines a bit to see how badly we’re failing. So we’re trying to present PBOT’s own data in a way that is clearer for people to understand. We’ve also been putting together a list of some of the biggest missed opportunities where Portland spent a lot of money on road reconstruction and ignored the plan. That’s the accountability piece that seems to be missing. Some other cities have passed legislation to essentially force DOT’s to upgrade streets per the plan, or trigger a report-back to city council. We’ve been looking into these quite a bit.

What’s your goal?

Things are still morphing as we go. We’re talking to a lot of people, both inside and outside PBOT, to gather feedback about what the solutions are. We are working our way up the chain-of-command and at the end we’ll have a list of things we need from them as an agency, and a list of things we can focus on as advocates. We’re hoping this will be collaborative, but we’ll be ready to run a campaign regardless of how those conversations go.

We have a few big opportunities to show city leadership that people really care about this — with the bike plan update coming to council and the budget process this spring.

It should be worrying to advocates of all stripes that Portland doesn’t follow through on its own plans, even ones that get unanimous support. We assume that some time in the future, city staff or council will follow up to make sure things get done. Now is that time.

If you want to help Catie and the rest of the Bike Louders boost the profile of the bike plan and hold our city accountable for its transportation goals, show up to one of these work sessions. The next meeting is Saturday, 12/21 from 12:00 to 2:00 pm at Rose City Book Pub (1329 NE Fremont St). Check out Bike Loud’s website to sign up for their emails list and stay connected.

— 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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eawriste
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eawriste

According to the PBOT site, 7 miles of PBLs exist in Portland. I’m not sure if that is accurate, but yeah, platinum.

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/407660

Over many, many years Portland slowly crept up to that number. SF has something like 20, NYC has about 120 give or take. Not unsurprisingly, the mode share has actually gone down in Portland.

The 2030 plan was exciting when it came out. But it’s important to recognize ignoring it was not inevitable. Wheeler, Hales, Adams. Portland somehow got all the duds. All the plans and fancy designs have meant nothing without a mayor who will actually build what matters: PBLs. It helps to have a well-funded and organized advocacy group, and a strong cycling culture, but Portland has not had a half-decent leader for a very long time. PBLs are what makes a city bike network practical and without someone who’s willing to take the hits, all the bike planning and painted lanes are fluff. So let’s get someone in who’ll actually build PBLs next year. Portland could easily double or triple its PBL network in a couple years. Let’s see what happens to the mode share then.

David Hampsten
Guest

I don’t disagree. From what I’ve seen in my 30 years of bike advocacy, it takes a combination of good progressive transportation advocacy by city council (including the mayor) plus inspired leadership, vision, and risk-taking by the top bureaucrats, including the city manager, or in cities such as Portland that lack one, by the top staff at PBOT, to achieve such goals as called for in the bike master plan. Keep in mind, any city that has a “bronze level” rating or higher has a similar bicycle master plan for their community – it’s part of the definition of bronze level. (In every community I have visited, there has always been strong support for bike improvements among the mid-level city staff.)

But you also need a constant barrage of community support for the plan, with people who have active forceful voices for bicycling to counteract the naysayers, rather than the passive voiceless warm bodies of nonprofit staff worried about their next paycheck, at both important and routine planning and funding meetings, be they for bicycling, walking, freight, maintenance, or repaving. Just going to the monthly Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting isn’t enough – loud obnoxious bicyclists should be present and participating on the freight, walking, and budget committees at PBOT, as well as during the twice-per-year city budget process. That’s a lot of volunteer time, stress, and coordination that in most cities (Portland included) isn’t sustainable or even doable.

Here in NC where I live, I’ve been surprised that cities in this state and the DOT were leaders in bicycling infrastructure in the 1970s and 80s. But then they stagnated. There was no leadership, no community support of the type needed when it was needed, and since then there have only small dribbles in improvements. In our largest city of Charlotte (900,000), bike infrastructure was pretty much limited to painted 5′ bike lanes on 45 mph streets and a series of disconnected paths. Rather suddenly in 2017, after an election that saw most of its aged city council replaced with under-30s (from the Black Lives Matter movement), the city is implementing PBLs left and right, as well as BBLs, connected paths, wayfinding signs, and extending light rail, both to white areas and to black areas of the city. Even speed limits are dropping. But then this is NC, so the city has no issue using gas taxes for paying for homeless shelters and parks, or using property and sales taxes towards bicycle infrastructure.

James
Guest
James

Totally agree. We’ve suffered enough contrarian opinions. Pick the routes and boot the onstreet parking NOW. We could have PBL’s within 2 years that triple or quadruple bike share/emobility. Every city in the world that is working has kicked the cars out and moved towards these solutions. We need no further discussion. No more listening. Time for action.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The “no more listening” bit cuts both ways:

Time for the Rose Quarter Expansion*. We’ve suffered enough contrarian opinions… We need no further discussion. No more listening. Time for action.

* For illustration purposes only… I totally oppose the RQ expansion, and want to preserve my options for input on it.

One
Guest

Bike Loud is so awesome. We are all lucky to have them and I’m grateful for the work that they do!

mh
Subscriber

Join. Participate. Make it “the work that we do,” rather than “the work that they do!”

One
Guest

mg. Are you involved with Bike Loud? Tell me more!

maxD
Guest
maxD

this is so impressive! Thank you Bike Loud!

Eric H
Guest
Eric H

Now if we could only get someone to make the ORCMP relevant at all. Or maybe even get it finished?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

e,

What’s the budget your two comparison cities have to implement their plans?
Just saying…

Glenn II
Guest
Glenn II

Whichever city is poorest is the one that can’t afford NOT to implement bike plans.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

It’s hard to take the “we don’t have money” argument seriously when there’s a $9.5 million project to repave NE Halsey that won’t result in any new or improved bike infrastructure—in direct contradiction to the 2010 plan.

maxD
Guest
maxD

If you are referring to the Outer Halsey safety project that is mainly focused on sidewalk infill, they added bike lanes in at the last minute. I think they connect to the new lanes from 102nd to 112th and will extend all the way to 162nd.

Fred
Guest
Fred

When Catie says, “Take this one point: PBOT doesn’t have political support. What does that mean?”

I’ll take a crack at what it means:
– It means that the business community, represented by PBA, regularly pushes back against even the most minor improvement in cycling infrastructure (such as Better Naito).
– It means other community organizations, including certain neighborhood assns, also push back when diverters and other minor cycling improvements are proposed for *their* neighborhoods.
– It means that in a city with a strong tradition of citizen involvement – as in “citizens basically need to approve practically everything” – and a dysfunctional city gov’t structure (the ridiculous elected-commissioner system), the folks at PBOT who should be able to make things happen are having their heads spun around constantly and can’t get done the things they want to get done.

The default political culture in Portland is “I really believe strongly in cycling / sustainability / equity / etc. But I’m going to let someone else actually *DO* it. Let someone else cycle / behave sustainably / do the difficult things that bring actual results.”

It’s oh-so-easy to talk about what you want and put it in a plan. But it’s so much harder to make it actually happen.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

“I’ll take a crack at what it means”

Summarizing:
Businesses don’t want it
Community groups don’t want it
Residents don’t want it

I want government that is responsive to its citizens. If this many people don’t want something, I don’t want the government doing it, even if I think I know better than everyone else.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Kitty, you oversimplify the issues.

The people *say* they want it, or they want it in a vague, theoretical sense. But the actual doing is hard, so they leave it to others.

I’m convinced that incremental change will continue creeping forward, and only when some major shock occurs will any gov’t take major action. What kind of major shock? – the kind that would necessitate gasoline rationing. When people *have* to get on their bikes, they will.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If they are saying they want it, why are they all pushing back? That’s very different than being passive and hoping the right thing happens; that’s actively resisting.

Or did I misunderstand your post?

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

The tiny percentage who actually show up to meetings pushing back is very different from “them all” pushing back. I’m not sure what I think about the “silent truly pro-bike majority” theory which implies that there is an enthusiasm GAO with the minority pushing back, but I have seen some survey evidence for it.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

How would you feel about letting the residents within, say, 1/2 mile of the diverter at 50th and Lincoln vote on it. That could help put the question of a silent majority to the test.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Would you spend the time to vote on every construction project and every decision in your neighborhood? Does everyone have that privilege?

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Would it be possible for Portland to pass a similar bill to what the city council in NY passed recently (ie Five-year plans for city streets)? The bill gives numbers on required bus lanes and PBLs (ie 50 miles/year) for example and a deadline for each. I don’t know the consequences if these are not fulfilled. NYC DOT’s track record on completing projects is also spotty. But at least PBOT and the council may be more motivated if they are legally required to fulfill the requirements of a law.

David Hampsten
Guest

eawriste, this already is occurring and has been occurring since the city was founded. Any city ordinance is in fact “law.” But most plans, ordinances, and resolutions never have anything like enough funding, not even close, and so most stuff remains incomplete – at best only Phase One and Phase Two are done, but never Phase Three and so on. And most cities adopt policies they know they cannot fulfill, but they nevertheless aspire to. It’s all part of human nature. The Council and Legislature you elect is, for better or for worse, highly reflective of the culture you live in.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> Would you spend the time to vote on every construction project and every decision in your neighborhood? <<<

Of course not. But as a thought experiment, how do you think such a vote would turn out?

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Neighborhood Associations are not community groups. They are publicly funded NIMBY councils. They represent maybe 1% of the people who live in the neighborhood.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

NAs are community groups who represent anyone who participates. Which means yours could represent you if you wanted them to.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Not if you work during the meetings, or have to raise a family as a single parent.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

That’s true of almost any organization… It’s hard to participate if you can’t participate.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Unless they have a plan to somehow reverse the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf, it does not really matter what they do.

I wonder whether the good-hearted activists of Portland will ever realize that all the time spent attending committee meetings, commenting on plans, and holding signs was wasted? For people who decry climate change denial, they sure seem pretty uninformed about what has already happened and what is going to happen in the near future.

I’m not saying this to be negative. I’m trying to help people think realistically. If you want to survive — much less change society — you really ought to think a little bigger than arguing with entrenched bureaucracies about where to put a bike lane.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Jeez, didn’t Jonathan Maus just give us all a talking to yesterday about naysaying someone else’s activism when it’s clearly well-meaning and pointed in the right diretion? There are MANY ways to address the climate crisis through activism, and I’m happy if someone is doing any of them:

-State-level clean energy activism
-State-level carbon price activism
-State level forest policy activism
-State level agricultural policy activism
-Being frugal / working more to make more money, and donate it to the Democratic presidential candidate
-Being frugal / working more to make more money, and donating it to Democratic senatorial candidates in swing states
-Whatever one can do for federal climate policy… call your legislators and ask them to create an energy storage tax credit, re-create the geothermal energy tax credit, radically increase funding for ARPA-E, fund R&D for industry & ag climate solutions? Fund national nonprofits?
-**Local-level efforts to get ahead of the curve in some area (bikes, clean energy, regenerative agriculture, whatever!) to smooth the way for future followers**
-I’m sure there’s something international too
-Etc.

The problem of optimizing one’s climate activism is too complicated, and too person-specific, for anyone to say definitively that say Portland bike infrastructure isn’t the best use of someone else’s activism time/energy.

Also, your comment about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet smacks of climate doomism to me.
Yes, we are unfortunately on track for 3C under business as usual. IMO the best we can reasonably hope for if there’s strong global climate action is 2C. But the difference between 2C and 3C – or 2 and 2.5C, or 2.5C and 3C – is absolutely profound and worth pursuing.

soren
Guest
soren

“Yes, we are unfortunately on track for 3C under business as usual.”

Business as usual models typically assume that nations will meet their Paris treaty nationally determined contributions (NDCs). However, virtually all nations are failing to meet their NDCs. If we are going to label pessimists as “doomers” (many of whom predicted accelerated loss of arctic ice) then I think optimistic “liberals” who believed — and seem to still believe — that market forces are enough may deserve even more criticism.

“State-level clean energy activism, State-level carbon price activism, State level forest policy activism, State level agricultural policy activism”

I noticed that you criticized prefigurative climate politics the other day (e.g. individual stances a la greta thunberg). Ironically, many of the same arguments you used in this criticism apply to “state level” activism” too. Just some food for thought.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Re: 3C – I more or less agree with this: http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/12/climate-change-worst-case-scenario-now-looks-unrealistic.html

Overall it seems to me that BAU is headed towards lower (but still high) emissions and maybe temps (depends on feedback mechanisms) but worse impacts than thought 10 years ago.

I define climate doomism as a *demotivational* look at the bad side of climate possibilities. Saying someone else’s activism doesn’t matter unless they refrigerate the West Antarctic Ice Sheet seems like the definition of that. Merely looking at pessimistic scenarios with a realistic or can-do attitude isn’t doomism to me. Knowing that there is a good likelihood that low lying cities and areas will have to be abandoned over the coming decades and centuries is just using logic and facts to inform policy advocacy.

soren
Guest
soren

“a *demotivational* look at the bad side of climate possibilities”

Climate science?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Well said.

soren
Guest
soren

you agree with a novelist-turned-journalist interpreting a report from a privately-funded organization that has a long history of being laughably wrong in its past projections.

listen to the scientists!

“While RCP2.6 had a multi-model mean estimate of 1.7C warming in CMIP5, the new SSP1-2.6 scenario has an average warming of 2.1C. Similar differences are found for the other scenarios, with CMIP6 variants showing between 0.4C and 1.1C more warming. Interestingly, the new SSP3-7.0 scenario shows a similar amount of warming – 4.5C – as the old RCP8.5 scenario – 4.6C – reflecting the higher sensitivity of the CMIP6 models published so far.”

https://www.carbonbrief.org/cmip6-the-next-generation-of-climate-models-explained

soren
Guest
soren

Some clarification.

The SSP3-7 scenario was added specifically as a business as usual estimate (something that was missing in the 5th IPCC assessment). SSP3-7 modeling currently shows a mean estimate of 4.5C warming by 2100.

Listen to the scientists.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Seeing SSP 3-7 (central estimate 4.5C by 2100) as BAU is certainly supportable. I happen to see SSP 4-6 (central estimate 3.6C by 2100) as BAU. (So that’s a correction: 3.6C rather than 3.0C. Whoops! That was a case of me spouting bad info I think from David Wallace-Wells.)

I think it depends on whether one sees the flattish/flatter emissions since 2012 as a one-time anomaly or an indication of the beginning of a market-driven cleaner energy transition in electricity. (Hopefully we’ll implement some strong policy and it won’t STAY market-driven). I see it as not an anomaly, but I can certainly understand why you and others see it as the former given, well, the entire rest of history since 1900. I’m in the electricity sector, so I follow trends there more than other sectors. Maybe that’s a bias.

Also – I certainly don’t think that just because there are FINALLY some favorable trends in the electricity sector, that that justifies letting up on climate activism at all. Reasons:
1) The electricity trends are good but too slow.
2) The electricity sector is just one of many carbon-emitting sectors and the other ones aren’t looking good.
3) 3.6 C (or 3.0 as I originally said) is still horrible (and 4.5C or 5C by 2100 is well within the modeling error bounds even if we follow an SSP 4-6 emissions path, and inhabitants of future centuries are people too.) I really don’t get into the weeds of particular horribleness, but I’m sure there’s a high likelihood of (for example) the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melting over a century or two if we follow SSP 4-6. I wasn’t intending for 3.0C to seem “acceptable” just because it’s lower than RCMP 8.5 results. It’s not. It’s horrible suffering and death for a huge number of people.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

caring about things is stupid

David Hampsten
Guest

“We have found the enemy and thems is us.”

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’m already working on my bunker.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

You all can mis-characterize my post as “doomism” if you want, but to be clear, I wasn’t saying it’s all pointless, I was saying that you need to find a different, better way to do this, because the facts demonstrate quite convincingly that your current approach is not working.

Clearly it touched a nerve. I know that stuff can be tough to hear. But open your mind to the message before you dismiss it with defensiveness and caricature.

Good luck to y’all.

David Hampsten
Guest

Dude, I live in a community that has, among many other people, an unusually large number of Quakers – there’s even a Quaker college (Guilford). Quakers tend to passively wait for things to happen – they are amazingly patient – and expect government to eventually deliver on what they promise. Obviously my community isn’t Portland. Nothing like it.

Our city created a bicycle & pedestrian master plan in 2006 which was updated in 2015 and 2018. It even won a state award for its comprehensiveness. The 2015 update called for 75 miles of bike lanes and 100 miles of sidewalks by 2020 based on funding already in the pipeline. It’s nearly 2020 and the city isn’t even halfway on completing those funded projects. Like Portland, there were numerous street repaving projects in which bike lanes were called for in the master plan, but for one good reason or another weren’t actually implemented – traffic was too fast, too much freight, wrong funding mechanism, the state DOT objected – stuff you’ve heard before. And the community responds that they are frustrated, but they have other priorities: Making the police accountable for their brutality; ending homelessness; building affordable housing; redeveloping downtown and building more parking ramps; completing the $1 billion freeway bypass; keeping our national ranking as the least traffic congested city in the USA.

Our main bicycle advocacy group is all-white and mostly Quaker in a community that is predominantly black (and Baptist). They passively wait for change. They are upset that a particular collector street that has almost no traffic was converted into an unmarked street (the yellow lines removed) rather than had its parking removed and bike lanes put in. They are joyful that a 45 mph main street now has painted 6′ bike lanes, even as the traffic continues to move 10 mph over the speed limit. They show up to all the meetings they need to and passively say nothing. You should be thankful that Portland doesn’t have any organizations like that.

My point is that a plan, any plan, is designed for a community that strictly follows the rules. Advocates, city staff, politicians, the press, businesses, neighborhoods, and nonprofits are all expected to play a choreographed role to implement the plan. Everyone waits patiently for it to be implemented. And it takes forever. Often it’s never completed.

Imagine if you will that the founding fathers were all Quakers or something similar (and some of them were too). We’d still be part of Britain I have no doubt.

I agree, if you want change and want to transform Portland by 2030, your going to need to change tactics, be revolutionary. But don’t expect PBOT to be helpful nor any other status-quo organization – they’ll continue to passively play their designated rolls. Like Quakers.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Spot-on, man. Great analogy. Thanks for sharing.

Keith
Guest
Keith

I agree with David’s comments regarding implementation and PBOT. We’re a city that’s great at doing plans, but weak on commitment. As an advisory committee member for both the 1996 and 2010 bike plans and long-time PBAC member, I have been discouraged by the city’s slow and sometimes inefficient implementation.

The recently adopted SW In Motion Plan (SWIM) is a great example. Pretty good plan and project list, but it finishes with a 4-page implementation chapter that says little (other than noting potential funding sources) and commits to nothing. A number of us on the Stakeholder Working Group lobbied for a stronger implementation strategy, but PBOT apparently wants to simply wing it. I expect this “short-term” plan to take decades to complete.

To make matters worse, PBOT has an on-going habit of blowing perfect opportunities to provide ped/bike improvements as part of street and utility work. In SW, almost every street has ped/bike deficiencies, and digging up a street for a water line, repaving, etc. usually provide an opportunity to put the street back with modest ped/bike upgrades called for in the Transportation System Plan. Too often city crews simply put things back as they found it and never ask if it would be practical to include planned improvements as part of the project. Given the glacial progress being made, small incremental improvement opportunities like these are a big deal. But they often don’t get done, we wait another decade or more, and then the planned ped/bike improvements ultimately costs way more in the end.

Unfortunately, PBOT has never publicly shown a willingness to look itself in the mirror and ask how it could do better with available funding. It acts as though it’s doing a perfect job, it’s operating at maximum efficiency, there’s no room for improvement, and that more money is the only missing ingredient.

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

“Enforcement is racist.” That sentiment is pretty heavily reinforced here. So don’t expect anything to improve in the former Rose City.