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Carfree streets, EVs for all, smarter funding: Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty shares her ‘smart transit’ vision

Posted by on January 22nd, 2021 at 10:46 am

Hardesty envisions more scenes like this downtown, where people have more space on the streets.

“I believe life will be radically different post-Covid and our planning should reflect our new reality.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, city commissioner

At a city council work session Thursday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the four other commissioners had an informal and wide-ranging discussion about how to respond to the multiple crises facing our city. During the meeting, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty described how she wants to use her leadership of the transportation bureau to kickstart the local economy and face the climate crisis. Hardesty called it a vision for “smart transit”.

The work session was led by Dr. Markisha Smith from the Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights. Each commissioner was asked to share their opinion about the most urgent issues council should focus on in the next 12-18 months.

The first thing Hardesty mentioned was her vision for more carfree streets we reported on earlier this month. Hardesty elaborated on that idea (first shared her policy director Derek Bradley at a Bicycle Advisory Committee January 12th), but she didn’t stop there.

About one hour and 15 minutes into the two-hour session (you can watch it here), Hardesty laid out four transportation-related goals.

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She tied a vision for carfree streets downtown to the climate crisis, economic rebirth and changing behaviors related to the Covid pandemic:

Jo Ann Hardesty
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“When I think about smart transit I think about, as we are attempting to reach our climate goals, are there opportunities to support small restaurants across the city by closing off some streets to auto traffic? Is it possible when we are in rebuild mode coming out of Covid, to really think about what would a carfree downtown look like? I say this because I think that there is this misperception that one day we’re going to go back to business as usual and that Covid will be behind us, and we’re going to flip the switch and life will be as it was prior to Covid. I think that there’s a lot of people that believe that and I am not one of them. I believe life will be radically different post-Covid, and our planning should reflect our new reality… Is there an opportunity to create international districts in different parts of the city that people can access for food and goods and services that are not tied to people getting into automobiles?”

Hardesty then mentioned her desire to boost electric vehicle access:

“I also want to think about how we create opportunities for electric vehicle infrastructure in different parts of the city so that we can ensure that BIPOC community members have access to both building it and actually being able to take advantage of using it.”

Her next two goals were related to funding. The first was about federal funds:

“I want to make sure we are identifying federal resources that traditionally have been all about freeway expansions. I’m looking for federal resources to support a climate resilient transportation department that is really focused on green issues as compared to freeway expansions like we’re so accustomed to.”

The second was the concern that PBOT’s budget is closely tied to driving and there’s still no substitute to gas taxes and parking-related revenues — both of which were trending down before the pandemic hit:

“[I am interested in] trying to identify new funding opportunities to create a smart transit system for PBOT that is not dependent on people driving automobiles, and not dependent on people parking at parking garages [PBOT owns and operates several of them downtown]. We are facing a $40 million budget deficit because normal funding mechanisms have been impacted by A) Covid and B) should be impacted by our climate justice and resiliency goals.”

The facilitator then asked other commissioners to respond.

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Commissioner Mingus Mapps said, “I generally support this vision. I think it’s innovative and I’m happy to work with a lot of these things.”

Commissioner Carmen Rubio said, “I also support it. It’s in line with a lot of our goals, particularly around equity.”

Commissioner Dan Ryan was much less enthusiastic: “It felt very connected to the climate crisis, even though it was stated as transportation. But that’s what I kept hearing. It’s not in my top three or four, but I respect what I just heard.”

Mayor Wheeler responded with, “I appreciated it. It sounded more like the answer to a broader question. It sounded tactical. I think it is in alignment with our stated goals around climate action and transportation equity. But I would see that as one of multiple strategies that are fulfilling the larger objective.” Then he added, “I want to say this: I actually love innovative and visionary thinking and I appreciate that. It’s a good vision.”

With new leadership in City Hall and multiple crises facing Portland, now is a great time for a new transportation vision and more urgency on the topic in general — something Portland hasn’t for years. Hardesty seems to understand the opportunity and appears to be unafraid to try and meet it. As she laid out her idea to use streets as gathering places in a way that would help our economy rebound in a Covid-safe way, Hardesty said, “That’s one of the exciting things about having transportation at this moment.”

— 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 welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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CaptainKarma
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CaptainKarma

Not sure I understand what Ted said.

Nora L
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Nora L

Someone should educate Dan Ryan that talking about climate change and transportation together is critically important because transportation accounts for 40% (and rising!) of Oregon’s GHG emissions. You literally cannot talk about them separately.

soren
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soren

If by EV infrastructure Comm. Hardesty means access to privately-owned chargers, then this is not equitable access at all. Currently, on a MPGe basis it costs significantly more to charge an inexpensive EV at publicly-available chargers than it does to fill up the gas tank of a cheaper car/hybrid. And when one assesses the time involved in charging, it is even more expensive for lower-income folk from a quality of life perspective. Therefore, EVs only make sense for renters and lower-income people if chargers are heavily-subsidized (e.g. fees are close to the current residential costs of electricity) and chargers are located nearby their homes. Without some sort of mandate that requires landlords to build new chargers (or update wiring systems so that jury-rigged L1 chargers can be used overnight), there is an intractable systemic barrier for most lower-income people.

I have become convinced that EVs are the most likely path to decarbonization of transportation but that this achingly slow transition will only worsen transportation equity. I wish I did not believe this, for many reasons.

maxD
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maxD

This is fantastic! It is refreshing for someone to have clear short term goals rooted in a big vision.

One
Guest

Again. Joann Hardesty demonstrating Leadership and Vision. Big thanks to Mingus and to Carmen for jumping right in with great support. Dan Ryan continues to let me down. And Ted is a sad failure.

I believe in you Joanne.

qqq
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qqq

It’s exciting to see the discussion about car-free streets.

Ironically and coincidentally, while the photo shows SW Harvey Milk, converting car space to dining space, etc. it aims directly at a restaurant in the background associated with the judge who infamously ruled that bike lanes disappear in every intersection, meaning right hooks are the bike rider’s fault.

dwk
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dwk

Ummm. Leadership from Hardesty(or Wheeler of any of them)??, this city looks like a garbage dump, boarded up windows everywhere because someone breaks them if they are not….shootings becoming a daily event. Traffic deaths at all time levels.
She is a Fail in everyway

jimmywoo
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jimmywoo

Turn the screws on the old guard: First Principles

1. The only priority, pretty much anywhere on Earth, is to reduce emissions by >50% by 2030. True for Oregon. True for PDX Metro. True for PBOT.

Ask council members for their plans. Watch them squirm. Fire them.

Hardesty has hers.

cmh89
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cmh89

I love that Hardesty is taking an immediate interest in PBOT. No surprise Dan Ryan pew pewed her answer, I’ve never regretted voting for someone quicker than I regretted voting for Dan.

Matthew Moore
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Matthew Moore

Can we please vote out of all Teds and Ted look alikes?

John Cathey
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John Cathey

It’s unfortunate that she doesn’t understand that this plan requires a LOT of private investment which doesn’t occur in city’s where shit-bags rule the day.

Phil M
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Phil M

RESIST Hardesty.

Joe Suburban
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Joe Suburban

My neighbors, all respectable granola & sandals doctor an accountant couple, have a Tesla and a Leaf + a pick-up with a transfer tank in the back. 2 Solar panels on the roof and 2 noisy army surplus diesel generators, using untaxed red diesel or #1 diesel (basically bunker oil for ships and trains) to charge said electric cars. 4h of noise and pollution every day. The dude is loaded but a self-professed cheapskate. They’re doing this to save a buck, not the planet. Yay!

mark smith
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mark smith

I love the Hardesty is even talking about doing something different. However, she is ignoring one of the largest contributors to speeding downtown which are raceways(I mean one ways). Get rid of those, and things slow down and people actually slow to smell the restaurants they are speeding by.

TseTse
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TseTse

Hey Joanne – 3 of 4 citizens have, for a long time, consistently voted by their choices of transportation – not bikes and public transit; they don’t work for them. PBOT has been choking traffic and increasing idle time and air pollution. Ridership has stayed flat or gone down. That will not change. Get PBOT to fix potholes and pave roads east of 82nd THAT would address your equity goals.

Your vision sounds like standard PBOT idiocy – sadly, you seem to have swallowed too much koolaid.

X
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X

text pasted into wrong article, please disregard
Thanks!

John
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John

“I believe life will be radically different post-Covid, and our planning should reflect our new reality” goes far beyond some car-free streets.

Much of Portland’s and Metro’s transportation system and planning is based on a central city employment core, large volumes of commuters traveling into that central core every morning and back home every afternoon, high demand for housing close-in to that center, and high demand for offices in that center. MAX is designed for that purpose, with all lines in a spoke pattern converging on the downtown hub. Trimet bus routes similarly emphasize moving passengers from all over city in/out of downtown. Bike infrastructure also emphasizes getting to and around in the central core. Our urban planning is based on using density to accommodate the demand for housing close to downtown and close to transit that takes people downtown.

A substantial portion of jobs are no longer being done from those central city offices. They are being done from living rooms and bedrooms all over the city, and both employers and employees are finding the new remote, distributed, working from home arrangement to be better than the pre-Covid model. Employers are shedding unneeded office space, employees are appreciating the 15 second commute. The next step is employers looking to further reduce costs by moving their workforce’s notional “location” to lower-tax, lower-cost regions, and employees looking for housing with extra rooms for their home offices, and benefits that they previously gave up for the shorter commute – more greenery, more open space, better schools, less of the negatives of urban living. The migration to the suburbs or just to further-out neighborhoods is very real, just as is, on a more macro scale, the migration from high cost states to low cost states.

Is “everyone” moving from their small close-in apartment to a 3 bedroom house seven or twenty miles from downtown, or from their downtown office to a WFH office, or from Portland to Vancouver, Hillsboro, Austin, Boise, Raleigh, etc? Of course not – to start with, many jobs can’t be WFH’d. But just a 10 percent change in demand patterns will upend existing economic and planning models.

What does this mean for PBOT and the rest of our transportation agencies and systems? Well, transit ridership is going to be lower, especially on the traditional commute routes, while there will be demand for trips that neither start nor end downtown – which MAX and Trimet currently don’t serve well. Commuter car traffic in/out of the downtown core is going to be lower, and a higher percent of car trips will be on diffuse routes, to/from local retail/entertainment districts or to visit friends and attractions distributed all over the four county region. More trips will be at the convenience of the individual – instead of rushing 5 miles downtown for the 8 am staff meeting, think finishing the 8 am Zoom staff meeting then heading to the breakfast joint a mile away, or if the weather is foul then maybe not.

This is likely a great thing for bikes. The bike – or scooter, e-bike, e-trike, etc – maybe wasn’t so attractive for the daily 5 mile trip in the early morning dark and rain to sit soggy in the 8 am staff meeting. But it looks more attractive for the quick trip to the coffee and danish on a clear day.

This is probably a mixed bag for cars – while flexible point to point transport on routes that transit doesn’t serve will still be in demand, if you’re not using the car to commute every day, paying for a car share or ride share every couple of days starts looking a lot better.

This is very likely a bad thing for transit, especially fixed-rail that relies on high density of riders between an immovable set of high cost hubs to be economically viable. Buses can, I think, be rerouted to serve more diffuse, occasional, and spread out travel patterns, but smaller neighborhood bus routes may be better suited than high cost, fixed route “bus rapid transit” lines.

Anyway, I’d like to hear how PBOT is planning for this “new normal”. Some car-free streets in the downtown core sound like a good idea – they always were a good idea, and should be easier to achieve in a depopulated downtown desperate for re-invention. But the bureau has much larger changes to assess and make.