Planning Commission concerned PBOT isn’t doing enough to reduce driving

The body that oversees Portland’s Comprehensive Plan, Climate Action Plan and zoning code had planned to strongly question the City of Portland’s recent decision to not stripe bike lanes on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard.

But late last month, when some members of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission balked at getting enmeshed in a debate about the controversial Hawthorne Pave and Paint Project decision and expressed concern that it was out of their purview, they (mostly all) agreed to change the focus of the letter.

That letter (PDF) is now finalized and was sent to Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Chris Warner yesterday (3/8). It voices concerns over rising emissions, falling bike usage rates, and a “pattern” of project decisions that aren’t doing enough to reduce car use.

Signed by PSC Chair Eli Spevak, owner of housing development company Orange Splot LLC, the letter avoids direct criticism of the Hawthorne decision (something several PSC members were not comfortable with). Instead it refers to Hawthorne tangentially and says, “As custodians of both the Transportation Systems Plan (TSP) and the Climate Action Plan, we are keenly interested in how these projects get carried out, as they affect our ability to achieve our transportation and climate goals.”


“As you know, to meet our goals for people movement, access to economic opportunity and climate we need to grow both our transit and bicycle mode shares significantly, and to make walking and rolling safe and convenient for everyone.”

Then the letter refers to “several concerns” over “patterns that seem to be city-wide issues.”

While the references are veiled, this letter seems notable because it was clearly spurred by a PBOT decision to maintain space for driving cars on a major commercial street (even after hearing lots of support for less of it) and it makes references to “how these projects get carried out” while it shares concerns about “patterns” of higher emissions and lower bike mode share.

Among the trends highlighted by the letter are rising emissions from the transportation sector in Multnomah County, rising auto congestion, and a decline in bicycle mode share since the adoption of the Bicycle Master Plan in 2010 (and that current levels are, “a long way from our 25% goal”).


The letter also reminds Director Warner that “Direct access to destinations is a key strategy of the bicycle master plan,” and that Comprehensive Plan Policy 9.20 states that Portland should, “Create conditions that make bicycling more attractive than driving for most trips of approximately three miles or less.” This seems like a direct reference to PBOT’s tendency to push bicycle users to shared back streets rather than creating space for them commercial streets.

The PSC further underscored the urgency to reduce driving by citing the Pedestrian Master Plan which states, “A large part of improving pedestrian safety outcomes in Portland will lie with reducing the number of people driving, and facilitating and encouraging more Portlanders to walk, bike, and take transit.”

The letter invites PBOT to engage the PSC on how transportation can fit into their portfolio. “We look forward to continuing to work together to make our bicycle network responsive to our land use patterns and achieving our [Transportation System Plan] goals,” reads the last line.

This letter comes as PBOT’s own Bicycle Advisory Committee plans to discuss their “profound disappointment” in the Hawthorne decision at their meeting tonight (3/9).

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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