“We cannot afford to go back to the way things were”: An open letter to PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
Posted by Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike) 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.
“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?
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.
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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