Guest Opinion: Hardesty’s comments come after years of unmet promises

Posted by on May 18th, 2021 at 2:11 pm

Portland resident David Binnig cc’d us on this message to Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. He wrote Hardesty in response to her comments at last weeks Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting:

Commissioner Hardesty,

I’ve appreciated your leadership on city council, and your commitment to making Portland’s streets safer. I was surprised by some of your comments in last week’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, and wanted to offer my perspective on why safe main-street bike routes are important, why you might not always hear from constituents about these issues, and why PBOT’s current plans have been met with some frustration by people who do follow bike policy in Portland.

I’ve commuted mostly by bicycle since I moved to Portland in 2004—now because I enjoy it, but also for several years when I was younger because my car rusted out, I couldn’t afford a new one, and our buses don’t run late enough to reliably get a bartender home from work.

For ten years I worked at a restaurant in SE Portland, and the backyard of the property was regularly filled with bicycles belonging to my coworkers—servers and cooks, some of them young, some of them immigrants. You wouldn’t have heard from many of us about transportation bureau policy choices—partly because we weren’t necessarily engaged in local politics, but also because biking wasn’t our industry, or passion, or lifestyle; we were just trying to get to work.

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Several of my restaurant coworkers have been seriously injured in bicycle collisions—a young man who was hospitalized for months with a fractured spine after being struck by a hit-and-run driver on SW Barbur; a woman who was harassed by a driver and caught a wheel in a rail track on the central east side. Again, they wouldn’t necessarily have seen themselves as belonging to a “cycling community”: they were just trying to get home from their shifts.

For people who do follow bike issues, the frustration here comes from a history of unmet commitments. I like and admire all of the PBOT staff I’ve met; I think the plan for SE Hawthorne is an improvement over the status quo and more than expected for a pave-and-paint project; I recognize that funds are limited. But Portland has a repeated pattern—not only in transportation—of rhetorically committing to a vision for the future and then blinking when it’s time to execute it.

As you’ve now heard, separated bike lanes on the full length of SE Hawthorne are a part of the 2030 Bicycle Plan, unanimously adopted by Portland’s city council in 2010. But before that, Portland’s *1996* Bicycle Master Plan proposed to have bike lanes on Hawthorne within 5-10 years (https://www.portland.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/ncp-trn-6-01-40414.pdf). Hawthorne isn’t unique in this respect: there are dozens of streets where the city has long-unfulfilled plans for biking improvements. But it’s disillusioning, and galling, that twenty-five years after planning for bike lanes on this street, the city actively considered them, then again chose to postpone them indefinitely. None of that history is your responsibility—probably it reflects longstanding institutional challenges of our city government—but as our transportation commissioner, you’re in a position to do something about it.

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As I’ve said, I appreciate your outspoken commitment to reducing the death toll of Portland’s streets, and I want to emphasize that that goal is not in conflict with improvements for people on bicycles. On Hawthorne in particular, three car lanes are safer than four—but as you know, the three-lane layout is what we already have in the section of Hawthorne where Fallon Smart was killed. Just last week my wife and young daughter were crossing Hawthorne on foot near that spot, and were narrowly missed by a driver who used the center lane to pass a stopped TriMet bus. Reducing the number of auto lanes can make room for bike lanes and also reduce the crossing distance and possibility of passing collisions for people on foot; reducing the width of driving lanes can allow for better-protected bike facilities while also promoting slower driving speeds. More broadly, if we can make Portland a city where more people can confidently travel on 25-pound bikes rather than in one-ton cars or two-ton trucks, that will also make our streets safer for the most vulnerable users.

I had written this email, and then yesterday afternoon was running errands on Hawthorne, east of Chavez, when a driver repeatedly honked at me and yelled that I should “use the bike lane.” As you know, there is no bike lane in this part of Hawthorne: he thought that rather than going six blocks in a straight line—from the liquor store to the grocery—I should double my trip by detouring to Lincoln and back. Two things struck me about this: first, that driver is another constituent who would benefit from bike lanes, if only because they’d get people like me out of his way. More gravely, Portland’s reliance on greenways as bike routes contributes to drivers’ sense that people on bicycles *don’t belong* on the streets where actual jobs, destinations, and businesses are—and that in turn fuels the harassment that makes biking an uncomfortable choice for people who don’t already have years of experience.

Commissioner Hardesty, in your time on city council I’ve been impressed by your willingness to listen. I hope that you’ll continue to work for safer streets throughout Portland—including safe bike routes on our major streets—and that you’ll push for the Bureau of Transportation to live up to the commitments the city made a decade ago, and that literally generations of Portlanders have now advocated for.

Sincerely,
David Binnig

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Todd/Boulanger
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Todd/Boulanger

Nicely written David.

Maria
Guest
Maria

YES! I agree with every single thing here, David, well done. Let’s get some bike lanes on Hawthorne already! If it goes beyond the budget to put in separated lanes, just do painted bike lanes. I know some folks say they don’t help but as a lifelong cyclist, I adore a simple bike lane over complicated inconsistent infrastructure. I often picture a busy parking lot with or without lines. Drivers know how to drive within the lines, let’s help them to stop hurting and killing cyclists.

Ernie R.
Guest
Ernie R.

Very well written letter. Unfortunately I’m afraid it will fall on deaf ears. Hardesty is at heart an activist and only has passion for a couple of issues. I don’t have much hope she will widen her perspective to work on all the important issues (like bike transportation) that she should “own” as a commissioner. We need to change our commission/weak mayor form of government as it doesn’t work having a constant rotation of inexperienced commissioners in charge of various bureaus. Also, I certainly won’t be supporting Hardesty at the next election.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Arguably, a big part of the problem is that the leadership of PBOT did not inform Commissioner Hardesty that there was such a thing as a bike plan. Do you expect that that would be different with less direct oversight of PBOT?

Kenny Green
Guest
Kenny Green

Watts,
Oh they did. She just chose not to listen.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

“More gravely, Portland’s reliance on greenways as bike routes contributes to drivers’ sense that people on bicycles *don’t belong* on the streets where actual jobs, destinations, and businesses are—and that in turn fuels the harassment that makes biking an uncomfortable choice for people who don’t already have years of experience.”

Amen.

squareman
Subscriber

And the inverse is also true. When I’m explicitly avoiding an arterial or collector street during peak commuter conflict hours, this is exactly when I opt for greenways to chill the stress of my roll – and it’s exactly when aggressive cut-through traffic happens on those. Damned if we do; damned if we don’t.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I agree about the greenway comment, but I doubt that the driver who honked knew Lincoln was a greenway. I doubt 95% of motorist have a clue greenways exist.

Greenways should be conceptually like interstates for green transportation. Few to no reasons to stop, always have right of way, long distance routes. No one gets on the interstate to go six blocks

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

“No one gets on the interstate to go six blocks.” Unless of course you live on or visit Hayden Island.

squareman
Subscriber

Or you’re attempting to shave off part of your I-5 commute back into The Couve in the evening.

ivan
Guest
ivan

Of course drivers know about the greenways. They’re great cut-through alternatives to busy main streets, after all.

/snark

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Thanks David for your excellent note to our transportation commissioner. I was relieved that she had the Portland “road slaughter” at the top of her list. And don’t forget her deep skepticism regarding ODOT’s madness in the Rose Quarter. Not to mention PBOT’s two cross freeway bike/ped bridges now open or soon to open…Flanders and Blumenauer Bridges.

Jon Dohnson
Guest
Jon Dohnson

Well written David and good luck with this. Sadly I feel our city council is a leadership vacuum and Portland as a whole s suffering greatly because of it.

Tarig Saliq
Guest
Tarig Saliq

Just don’t put anything bad about Hardesty on here or Jonathan won’t allow it.

G. Fawkes
Guest
G. Fawkes

This is insane. Our city has such good bike infrastructure. Hardesty’s points were spot on and she demonstrates what actual leadership is. Relax everyone. Enjoy our bounty.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

You must live and ride close to downtown. East of, say, 60th, things completely break down. The few off-street paths are now nearly impassible for all but the fearless due to camping and garbage, neighborhood secondary streets are disconnected and often full of speeding drivers, and commercial street routes are narrow and located next to very fast, thick traffic. There is so much more work needed in the parts of the city where the poorest residents live.

marisheba
Guest
marisheba

I totally agree with your comment, and I think that even close-in there are too many bike network gaps and the infrastructure isn’t nice/safe enough to draw hesitant cyclists (and for some reason PBOT’s bike lane designs are getting more and more confusing when navigating them on the ground). But what does that have to do with Hawthorne?

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Part of my bike route literally requires me to ride on a narrow sidewalk. 99% of our “bike infrastructure” is either unprotected gutter lanes or unprotected “greenways”.

Our infrastructure would be considered good in 1999.

Drs
Guest
Drs

That was thoughtful and well written. I hope the commissioner will respond with similarly well thought out and considered remarks. Based on her comments at the BAC, it sounds like she may harbor some anti bicycle sentiments. Maybe some personal stories about people that actually use bicycles as modes of transportation will help to show her that they are not just toys or status symbols of privileged residents (which seems silly to write, considering the average cost of a bicycle compared to the cost of a motor vehicle). But I’m sure that’s what some people think when they think about bikes.

Jackson S.
Guest
Jackson S.

Very well written letter, thanks for taking the time to write it!

maxD
Guest
maxD

PBOT sets up situations all over town that place road users in conflict with each other. Cars allowed access to MUPs; half a block is closed for a outdoor dining, but the whole block is not made one-way for people driving; crosswalks are simply closed with a sign leaving peds with a long detour or navigating a sketchy crossing; bike lanes skinny down down to nothing or simply end; construction provides not detour for people biking or walking. Without some clear thinking/design/signs, people who encounter this situations just have to make split second decisions. This has lead me (and I presume others) into scary conflicts with other road users. A couple of times, I have had to cal the cops to help resolve these conflicts. Commissioner Hardesty is a vocal advocate of reducing police interactions, but she she does not appear to grasp the power she holds as the person in charge of PBOT. She could identify and implement priorities and policies that focus on safety and reducing conflicts in our street system that would keep everyone much safer and reduce calls for intervention by the police.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

In the instances where you called, did the police resolve the situation? Were you pleased with the outcome?

maxD
Guest
maxD

3 out of 3, the police did not do anything to help.
1. I was getting tailgated and honked at by a couple on a greenway. I stopped and it turned into a shouting match. They called the cops and a neighbor called the cops, but they slipped away- I am pretty sure they were drunk. I stuck around to see if the cops would show up, never saw them. 2. Riding up Going MUP in November/December- dark/rainy evening. A car comes flying down the hill in the MUP. I swerve off into the mud. I called the cops but did not stick around. The assortment of cars using the greenway persist. 3. April. Sunday midday, walking the dog down the MUP on Going. Get tailed by a pickup truck. I have no where to go. I keep head checking to see if I need run/dive. Driver hops out, ask if I have a problem and threatens to run me over! I call the cops, but they say it will be 30 minutes or more. A cop did call me back but couldn’t find the truck.

Mostly if I am thrust into these conflicts, I can avoid conflict, but I fell fairly comfortable taking up the space I need and am legally allowed on the roads. However, Portland is setting our streets and MUPS up for more and more conflicts between citizens, and some of these conflicts will need some mediation or the potential for violence goes way up. I think it is better to use the tools we have to avoid the violence and the mediation and just reduce the conflict points. But that means being more thoughtful and intentional about design, construction management and maintenance.

squareman
Subscriber

Ugh. Sorry about those conflicts that you experienced. It sounds pretty par for the course around here. I’ve been using a camera on my bike for any time I’m rolling on it because of too many close calls in the last 16 years of commuting by bike. That and the mountains of precedent that has cops taking a driver’s word for it when a person on a bike is sent to the hospital. My family knows that if the camera is not recovered at the site, then someone has grabbed it to destroy evidence.

I’m curious, is the “Going MUP” you mention a particular section of Going (e.g., over by Swan Island)? Or do you just mean Going as a greenway in general?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Do the police ever resolve a conflict between cyclists and motorists? In almost zero instances that I’ve ever heard of. Last time I almost got road-raged in Beaverton, cops said they wouldn’t do anything unless they witnessed it or I actually got hit. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

We should have infrastructure that lead to fewer conflicts for cops to resolve in the first place.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Thank you for writing this, David.