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“We cannot afford to go back to the way things were”: An open letter to PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly

Posted by on April 16th, 2020 at 12:06 pm

“Portland’s transportation advocacy ecosystem has never been stronger. What we’re missing is leadership from city hall.”

Publisher’s note: While we’ve made a lot of noise in the past month about the need for immediate street changes to reflect new behaviors, another big part of this conversation is how best to transition our streets when quarantine is lifted. Kiel Johnson, a BikePortland contributor and owner of Go By Bike Shop & Valet under the Aerial Tram, reflects on that issue in his letter below.

Dear Commissioner Eudaly,

We cannot afford to go back to the way things were before this global pandemic. As we begin planning how our city will operate once the stay at home order is lifted, we must make big changes. We must rebuild a resilient society where social capital is available to everyone.

One of the best ways to provide universal access to social capital is in how we design our cities. People-focused designs are like an ATM where anyone can collect a social capital check. This is especially important when the real checks stop coming.

What the experts and thinkers have been telling us is that relying so much on private automobiles does not leave enough space for the creation of social capital and the byproducts of cars are killing ourselves and our planet.

Commissioner Eudaly, you are an activist and to create change PBOT needs to lean on the energy and connections that Portland activists have been building over the past decade. Catie Gould from Bike Loud PDX is one of the most articulate and passionate young transportation reformers we have seen in a long time. Jillian Detweiler has turned The Street Trust into a thoughtful and diverse organization ready to engage at the local level. BikePortland is a powerful loudspeaker that is able to inform and inspire. Pedalpalooza event organizers have brought to reality many inspirational and innovative ideas.

Portland’s transportation advocacy ecosystem has never been stronger. What we’re missing is leadership from city hall.

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“Could we roll out a temporary version of the complete 2030 Bike Plan this summer? Can we transform PBOT to do the work of Better Block on a citywide scale?”

City leaders in places like Oakland have shown how the government can work quickly. Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has shown how to unite a city to move away from private automobiles. Car ownership in Paris has dropped in half since 2001. In Vancouver BC, city leaders have doubled bike ridership in five years to 12% of all trips.

I remember the first time we met. Myself and several other transportation advocates were sitting outside council chambers preparing to testify when you came over and told us you “were one of us” before entering the chamber. Afterwards, we were all star-struck and very encouraged by your words of solidarity.

Right now we need city leaders who can unite people around a vision of what the post-coronavirus city looks like. Listen to your most visionary planners at PBOT and ask advocates to help the city engage and build that vision. Could we roll out a temporary version of the complete 2030 Bike Plan this summer? Can we transform PBOT to do the work of Better Block on a citywide scale?

The author of this letter has started a daily “Lunch on 7th” where people are encouraged to bike on NE 7th Avenue while neighbors wave from their porches and kids look for the crazy guy in a penguin suit.

Right now we need government to work better than it ever has. We need to try big, bold, new ideas and not be afraid to adapt them as conditions change. We need to work closely with the most vulnerable people in our communities and make sure changes elevate and fulfill their needs. Most importantly, we need the government and our elected leaders to act.

This crisis has created hardship on everyone in our society, especially those who have been most exploited by our system. When we return, if we do not do things to reduce that exploitation and create a government that works better, we will have failed. We need to fill up that social capital ATM and make sure everyone has the PIN number.

If we have strong leadership and vision and work together, we can create a more sustainable movement that makes us more resilient for the next crisis. That is a legacy worth fighting for.

Sincerely,

Kiel Johnson – Bike train conductor, bike valet parker, yard sign designer, and since the pandemic, guy wearing penguin costume riding a sound system bike everyday during lunch in my neighborhood on NE 7th Avenue.

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Jim Lee
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Jim Lee

Kiel for Council!

holden
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holden

i have sent multiple requests to Multnomah County Animal Services to remove the smeared goose carcass that is in Better Naito under the Morrison Bridge.

Guess what???
weeks later, that carcass is still there!!
SO GROSS, especially when it rains.

pretty sure the City depts, bureaus, etc are using this whole “shutdown” as an excuse to do NOTHING. and then more NOTHING.

Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

I like this letter, and agree that we need to seize this opportunity. I fear it will fall on deaf ears.

Claims of being “one of us” notwithstanding, Eudaly has never demonstrated any particular support for taming auto use in Portland, and has rejected even low-stakes opportunities such as putting out traffic cones to create temporary bike facilities on covid-emptied streets or closing greenways to non-local vehicular traffic.

I hope Eudaly surprises me, but I’d be surprised if she did.

kate
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kate

yes yes yes!!

Zane
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Zane

Love this so much.

From what I hear, many of the staff at PBOT are very enthusiastic about building protected bike lanes and car-free streets—they just need the go-ahead from leaders (who seem to still be afraid of the NIMBY vocal minority).

Bikeninja
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Bikeninja

I agree with the importance of building social capital, but an even more important reason to build alternatives to automobiles is economic. Despite most peoples best wishes ,the post Covid world will not be the same. This pandemic has happened at the very end of a 40 year debt/credit super cycle. This era of providing prosperity by substituting growing, private, corporate and public debt for stagnant wages was coming to an end and the “Rona” just brought the curtain down. When we come out of this we will have to learn to live with less and decreasing the ridiculous cost of the private automobile transportation system is one of the best ways to do that. Lets start the changes now while we still have some cash under the seat cushions.

X
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X

Demand is changing traffic patterns on the street more effectively than any number of cones and stuff. Whole families on bikes, or on foot, are now a commonplace.

Time for the city to recognize the new 85% rule. Put diverters on greenways midway between collector streets.

todd.boulanger
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todd.boulanger

Sadly it seems that the remaining cars on many of our roads are operated by those “15% who drive like maniacs”…

Roberta Robles
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Roberta Robles

is the penguin suit in memory of Penguin Park on Rosa Parks? A tribute to that one time the zoo stored their penguins at Peninsula Park♥️

Roberta Robles
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Roberta Robles

FWIW I think Katie Gould should get an Alice award for showing up for the hard work of organizing, data mining and social media shero!

Asher Atkinson
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Asher Atkinson

Sorry to be a stickler for detail, but what is the specific ask of the city in this open letter? If it’s temporarily rolling out the complete 2030 bike plan over the next few months, how exactly would that work? I’m often frustrated at the city’s pace when it comes to rolling out improvements, but a 10 year plan isn’t going to happen with the snap of a finger for both practical and political reasons, even with a lot of improvisation. The city and state are quickly going bankrupt and have a lot of competing priorities now and in the foreseeable future.

Clearly many, particularly those in truly crowded and polluted cities, have had a glimpse of a more idyllic urban landscape, and I’m hopeful it will leave a lasting impression and over time influence the small choices everyone make that ultimately shape how we live. But right now the vast majority of people need the world that was just a few weeks ago restored, and want their leaders to focus solely on that.

Paulina bartnik
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Paulina bartnik

You know, I don’t ride a bike I haven’t in a while, I have a dog and I regularly walk her. One thing I am considering … How it would be if I was to give up my car. I would like to know from people who have done that how they have weathered the experience. I would like to know what they’ve gained and what was difficult.