Former Mayor, now council candidate Sam Adams thinks time is now to create more safe street space

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

As the debate rages about whether or not Portland should add space and safety to streets for vulnerable people, a former mayor thinks it’s time to move forward.

Sam Adams was on Portland City Council from 2005 to 2012 — first as a commissioner, then as mayor. Throughout his tenure he was in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the agency was one of this top priorities. Adams now finds himself on the outside looking in as he eyes the council seat occupied by the current PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.

“I think it’s a mistake to say, ‘No, not now.'”
— Sam Adams, city council candidate

As we reported Friday, Commissioner Eudaly still doesn’t think it’s the right time to take any steps toward adapting to pandemic-influenced behaviors like a sharp decrease in driving and an uptick in bicycling and walking. According to data from the Oregon Department of Transportation, the current “stay home” order and virus fears have led to a 38% reduction in driving traffic statewide.

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Adams in the Kenton neighborhood back in February.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Asked what he thinks of the commissioner’s current position, Adams said he’s got an idea that takes Eudaly’s concerns into account. “I suggest we do six pilots spaced around the city, using the block party permitting process, and based on people applying to initiate them.” Adams would try it for two weeks, then add more pilots, tweak the approach, or abandon it if it doesn’t work out.

PBOT’s block party permit program has been around for many years and was streamlined for easier implementation in 2017 when city council passed the Livable Streets Strategy.

Adams said PBOT could vet permit applications and add modifications to the program. “I think we’re all going to be required to wear masks, so we might as well be required,” he said. PBOT currently only allows two types of barricades to limit through drivers during block parties, but Adams said he’d allow homemade barricades for the six pilots. “It’s really about leaning into the trust of Portlanders. It would be self-policing and complaint driven.”

One of the reasons Commissioner Eudaly says she hasn’t announced any major street reconfigurations as part of a Covid-19 response is because city maintenance crews are only at half-capacity. Adams said he’s “sympathetic” to that issue, but he doesn’t think it’s a deal-breaker. “I think it’s a mistake to say, ‘No, not now.'”

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“Parks are getting crowded and in neighborhoods that aren’t close to parks, this would be a way for them to have outdoor space.”

“I think we still have the resources,” he added. “And with the benefits to human sanity and health, we can handle pilots and learn a lot more and go from there. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Let’s prove our collective selves right or wrong.” Since PBOT would have to vet each applicant before approval, Adams said they could speed up the process by doing it virtually via Zoom.

Any proposal must be equitable and fair to Portlanders of color and lower income levels. Adams said he’d make sure temporary street access changes would be spread around the city. He would rely on PBOT staff to make the choices and make it clear, “They can’t just be in our upscale neighborhoods.” Adams also said he’d order PBOT to leverage their large database of transportation equity nonprofits and volunteers and have them select street locations. (In related news, today the mayor of Washington D.C. announced a program where local neighborhood and business associations submit locations to implement sidewalk extensions to give people more space to walk.)

Adams doesn’t think people congregating on certain streets will be a problem. And if it is, “We find a way to deal with that, or we can stop the pilots.” “I think that concern needs to be balanced with what I’m seeing, which is the parks are getting crowded and in neighborhoods that aren’t close to parks, this would be a way for them to have outdoor space.”

The city of Oakland, California has started to restrict driving on a network of 74 miles of streets. Adams said he likes that plan but he’s trying to come up with a politically palatable solution given the tepid response thus far from Portland city hall. “If the transportation leadership had a different outlook on this,” he said. “I think that [Oakland-style approach] would be more realistic.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago

On the one hand, it’s easy to make a proposal where you get credit for success but your political opponent bears responsibility for any negative consequences; on the other hand, why so timid? Six pilots? PBOT issued permits? Just give us the parameters for what’s acceptable and let residents sort it out.

They’re our streets.

todd.boulanger
todd.boulanger
2 years ago

Perhaps Sam is trying to propose “a meet you in the middle” option that takes into account the “concerns” voiced by the incumbent.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  todd.boulanger

My proposal would better address those “concerns” — it’s available to everyone (so more equitable than having 6 hand-picked “winners”), and probably cheaper too.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Dang… maybe I should have run for Eudaly’s seat!

Jim Lee
Jim Lee
2 years ago

Sam wants your vote, and he is facile!

dwk
dwk
2 years ago

Wow, talk about bold ideas! I had hope that Sam would come back with a what the hell attitude and be a different candidate.
A six point program in a 6 week crisis is so lame it writes it own meme.
There has got to be better than Chloe or Sam in a city of 500,000 people.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  dwk

Why not one of our resident experts?

Toby Keith
Toby Keith
2 years ago

Go Sam! Defeat Eudaly.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Toby Keith

You’ll get a more interesting election if you support Mapps.

Jim Lee
Jim Lee
2 years ago

Chloe for mayor.

nate
nate
2 years ago

This actually seems worse than nothing to me. The whole idea of temporarily converting neighborhood greenways to car-free zones is because there’s an entire network across the city; people can walk from somewhere to somewhere else. Or walk in a big loop. If you just create a few pockets around the city, that’s exactly when you run into the problems with crowds and congregating that Eudaly, Wheeler and others are otherwise irrationally worried about. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe they’re envisioning their own timid solutions which probably WOULD backfire, rather than how it could work successfully if actually done right.

Holtz
2 years ago

I still don’t understand the reluctance to ask people to observe the purpose of local streets… which are intend for LOCAL circulation; that is, for people to get to/from their homes and for deliveries to those homes. If every driver (as the transportation system plan envisions) used local streets only for the beginning and ending of trips… and stuck to collectors and arterials for most of their trips… then most neighborhood streets would see very, very little motor traffic.
The city should affirmatively declare that walking in the street (on local streets) is specifically okay… and remind drivers that they need to yield to pedestrians, not the other way around.
It would also be nice to see temporary (maybe permanent someday?) diverters every few blocks on Greenways. Again, that doesn’t close the street to local traffic… it just pushes away the cut-through traffic that isn’t supposed to be on these streets anyway.
Please, Portland… follow the TSP: local streets should serve the local neighborhoods, not cut-through traffic.

Lenny Anderson
Lenny Anderson
2 years ago

I’ve been out riding in my territory on the city Greenways, and have had lots of company! It seems that folks are just “taking over” these streets de facto…biking, walk, jogging, etc., as we always hoped would be the case. Needless to say the few who venture out in motor vehicles are fairly cautious. Arterials out our way seem more empty than anything else, and boy, is the air fresh every AM!
I’ll vote for Sam because he clearly rejects the ODOT’s Rose Quarter I-5 fiasco; how about more on how the candidates stand on that issue…where global warming literally hits the road!

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago
Reply to  Lenny Anderson

It’s a tale of two cities right now. West of 82nd, what you describe is happening. East of 82nd, car traffic is basically the same. I see a few more pedestrians walking around, but it seems pretty dangerous because there are just as many drivers.

I had a driver back out of a driveway straight at me yesterday on San Rafael east of 122nd. I shifted into the oncoming lane to avoid him, and then he stomped on the gas and flipped me off as he sped by. Completely unprovoked. I haven’t had an issue on this street in the 10 years I’ve been riding it.

Andrew N
Andrew N
2 years ago
Reply to  Lenny Anderson

I’m with you, Lenny. Plus the dude put his personal cell number in his most recent email and promptly answered a question about the Rose Quarter I-5 debacle.

There must be some sort of horse-trading backstory here as to why Wheeler dumped PBOT, where she’d be likely to be less effective (not her wheelhouse), on Eudaly instead of giving her the housing bureau. Right? PBA pressure? Merely Wheeler’s silver-spoon neoliberalism showing? Even her current campaign materials –at least from what I’ve seen on social media– have been primarily, if not entirely, celebrating her (very real) accomplishments around housing, not transportation. I’ve been profoundly disappointed to see that those progressive bona fides have, by and large, not been applied to the city’s transportation agenda. Especially with the I-5 project, which would have been an opportunity to go down in PDX history as a true (s)hero. Tepid skepticism is not enough. It has to be Wheeler, inexperience around the complexity of transportation issues, or an unfortunate combination of both. Curious what other folks think.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew N

Eudaly is a housing and disability rights activist. Why would you expect her motivation to carry over into transportation?

Andrew N
Andrew N
2 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Because the issues of housing and transportation are so deeply intertwined and I have trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that a commissioner could be so consistently progressive in their approach to housing, with a good record of following through on bold promises and proposals regardless of the potential backlash, and so consistently wishy-washy regarding transportation. Am I crazy? We need(ed) a PBOT overseer with the guts and vision to step out and say “ODOT will expand an inner-city freeway in Portland over my dead body” and then be loud as hell about it.

Andrew N
Andrew N
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew N

AT LEAST not before we control demand first and see what the results look like in a few years.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew N

Covid may well alter demand for urban living.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew N

Maybe the issue is that it’s not so much “housing” as “tenants rights” that motivate Eudaly. Related, but different, and sometimes in conflict with one another. Housing seems much more tied to transportation issues than does tenants rights.

Jim Lee
Jim Lee
2 years ago

Fate required that Chloe and Sam face-off.

I admire both for coming up through the school of hard knocks, not the hyper-educated, super progressive, silver spoon, extra liberal track typical of our politicians.

Chloe in 2016 ran the best Council campaign I have ever seen. She was loaded for bear from the get-go. Neither Amanda nor Nick made it on their first tries. Chloe did, and with a mighty GED trounced an incumbent from Harvard Law.

Never underestimate either.

Mark smith
Mark smith
2 years ago

This just goes to show that Chloe is a great show horse but can’t pull a 2 bale wagon. Sam came up with a plan literally off the top of his head. Does he have questionable morals? Sure. That pretty much everyone in ptown government.

Chloe is like the liberal female version of trump. All outrage and no organization.

Bring Sam back. If for nothing else, he is easy to work with.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark smith

Mapps and Woolley would be easy to work with too!

Jung
Jung
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark smith

He left us with a $25 million budget shortfall last time he was mayor. That is not good leadership! Let’s try a new candidate.

Mark smith
Mark smith
2 years ago

Yeah, but they don’t have the name recognition to take her out.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark smith

In my ramblings about town, I’ve seen 0 Eudaly signs, 1 Adams sign, and about 8000 Mapps signs.

X
X
2 years ago

Six block parties? Anne Hidalgo for Mayor.