BikePortland.org

Activist wants to sue PBOT over Hawthorne Blvd bike lane decision

“PBOT lied about racial equity and climate justice to manufacture consent for that decision.”
— Zach Katz, Healthier Hawthorne

Nearly one year ago, southeast Portland resident Zach Katz launched a grassroots campaign to convince the city to add protected bike lanes on a key commercial stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard.

It didn’t work. But Katz isn’t done yet.

In February, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) decided to restripe Hawthorne without bike lanes as part of their Hawthorne Pave and Paint project. The decision and process taken to reach it, were controversial. They sparked serious concerns from PBOT’s own Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Portland Planning & Sustainability Commission. The city’s decision also went against the wishes of dozens of Hawthorne business owners and thousands of Portlanders who want the street and its popular shops and cafes to be safer and more accessible by bike.

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Much of the support for bike lanes on Hawthorne was galvanized by Katz and his Healthier Hawthorne campaign. Two months after PBOT said “no,” Katz hasn’t moved on. On March 24th he published a nearly 9,000 word article on his blog that attempts to make his case. It’s titled, Debunking the Hawthorne Decision Report: How PBOT Lied About Bike Lanes — And Got Away With It.

Zach Katz.
(Photo: Zach Katz)

The way Katz sees it, PBOT’s process and framing of the project go beyond simple errors. He thinks the agency lied and was intentionally deceptive in order to reach a particular, non-bike-lane outcome.

A key point in his analysis is PBOT’s initial evaluation of striping alternatives that came to a surprising conclusion: Adding protected bike lanes to Hawthorne between SE 24th and 50th would have negative outcomes for climate change and equity. “One might assume that these claims were supported by nuanced, in-depth analysis,” Katz’s essay reads. “But they weren’t. ​Not even a little bit… The sole justification for these claims was a projected transit delay at Cesar Chavez Boulevard — a delay PBOT later admitted would have been resolved by simply including a bus/bike ‘mixing zone’ (a common design tool for PBOT) at that one intersection. Neither the Evaluation Report nor the public survey were ever updated to reflect this.”

Despite PBOT’s acknowledgment of that planning error, the damage of that finding was set in stone. Public opinions were formed.

That point is just one of many Katz attempts to debunk in his essay. And now he’s taken his campaign one step further.

On Monday, Katz launched a GoFundMe to raise $50,000 in legal fees that would be required to file a formal lawsuit against the City of Portland.

“There was an opportunity to build protected bike lanes and make dramatic safety improvements for pedestrians, but PBOT instead chose to keep the same deadly design that killed 15-year-old Fallon Smart in 2016 — and lied about racial equity and climate justice to manufacture consent for that decision,” Katz writes on the GoFundMe page.

Specifically, he wants to sue PBOT for failure to comply with adopted plans and policies like the Bicycle Plan for 2030, the Transportation System Plan, Climate Action Plan, and so on.

“All we’re seeking is for them to reverse their decision and build the safer design with protected bike lanes that they unjustly scrapped,” Katz says, “By holding PBOT accountable… we’ll ensure they don’t use the same deceptive tactics to avoid making essential safety improvements on other streets in the future.”

We’ve reached out to PBOT for a response and will update the story when we hear back.

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