The Portland Bureau of Transportation just released a new video that aims to explain their overarching vision and how they’ll reach goals outlined in the 2035 Transportation System Plan. It’s an interesting look into how the agency thinks about key mobility issues — and more importantly — how PBOT thinks the issues should be framed to the general public.
Here are a few things in the eight minute video that caught my eyes:
– None of the actors in the opening scene represented bicycle users. There were several car drivers, a transit user, and a walker, but no bike rider. This continues the trend at PBOT of keeping cycling in the shadows due to fears of backlash and longstanding institutional anxiety about how cycling relates to racial equity and other social justice issues.
– Congestion — and annoyance with traffic by car drivers — is framed as the number one problem that needs to be fixed. (On the flipside, safety isn’t focused on much at all and the term “Vision Zero” is never used.)
– Driving was centered and people who mostly drive were the main target audience.
– The script took great pains to not be negative or critical about driving (see below).
– PBOT has upped their video game a lot in recent years. This is a quality production and could actually change minds if the right people see it.
As the video title suggests, the main idea PBOT wants people to get from our TSP is that they are focused on moving people instead of cars. The meat of the piece is a fun visual analysis of how many people can be moved in the various modes (right). What’s interesting to me about this segment is the road itself, which depicts an unprotected bike lane so narrow two people can’t ride side-by-side. (And yes I realize this is just a visual rendering and not meant to be accurate, but the dominance of cars going through a dense commercial district in what appears to be a vision of our future city, was a bit jarring.)
“We can’t build our way out of this,” the star of the video says. “So we started thinking, why do we have cars in the first place? To move people from one place to another… So what if we could move more people from one place to another more efficiently and safely, regardless of the way we do it?… We’ve been designing everything around cars for 70 years, no wonder that’s what we’re used to. What if we could design everything around people instead?”
What’ the TSP in a nutshell? That PBOT should use the right tool for the job. The video explains that for trips over three miles they’ll focus on rail and buses. For trips of less than three miles, bikes will rule. And for trips up to one mile, they’ll focus on walking.
When it comes to bikes, PBOT says, “We’re creating an all-ages and abilities network that makes cycling safer and more accessible — whether you’re eight years old, or 80.”
“What isn’t in the plan,” the narrator says, “Telling anyone they can’t drive. Sometimes we just have to.”
Learn more about the TSP here and watch the video here.
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I remember talking with City Councilor (at that time) Gordon Price of Vancouver BC about 20 years ago. He said at the time that the best way of reducing VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) was by deliberately increasing congestion – by removing car lanes, by adding transit, bike lanes, widening sidewalks, adding diverters, removing or not building freeways, increasing parking fees, etc. One of the professors at the PSU planning school referred to this strategy as “benign neglect”, making minor tweaks but letting all the big stuff go to pot.
The growth in population was predicted with amazing accuracy as far back as 1990. The increase in congestion was not unexpected – all cities that have had Portland’s high growth rate have had similar experiences, as well as increases in road rage, shootings, etc. Most cities have reacted by building more freeways and even tollways, in a never-ending spiral of concrete spaghetti and blighted neighborhoods. We knew Portland was taking a different path, and now here we are.
IMO, this video isn’t aimed at Portland residents nor at drivers who happen to need to drive in Portland at all, but really it’s aimed towards PBA, outside developers, hedge funds, and the capital markets. The message is, “We’ve deliberately painted ourselves into this corner from decisions made in 1974; we aren’t building any new freeways and the ones in the pipeline we’ll keep delaying until they die; we are building upwards, we’ll continue to remove car capacity, we’ll next start pricing all parking and congestion, and soon we’ll start digging. We’ve really no choice.”
Well Portland does use “benign neglect”’ in not getting property owners to fix their sidewalks.
Over 4300 sidewalk complaints are pending. This is despite PBOT professing to be committed to equity in regards to pedestrian access for all. Equity unless you use a wheelchair or are elderly, visually or physically impaired.
…no doubt the city sees itself as an equal-opportunity discriminator…
Fixing existing sidewalks has always been a huge complaints-driven gray area in the Portland city code. Technically it’s up to the property owner to fix the offending sidewalk, but with so many properties owned out of state it’s often hard to even figure out who the owner is and how to notify them – notifying the tenant is useless. And it’s up to BDS to receive the complaint and get the ball rolling; PBOT’s role comes later.
Where I live here in NC, there’s no ambiguity – it’s up to the city to not only build any and all sidewalks, but to maintain them too, even to the point of mowing the grass and cutting brush.
The sidewalk is in the ROW, as is the parking strip and almost all of the street trees, but the city makes the adjacent homeowner pay for a permit and pay for maintenance of both sidewalks and street trees.
Fortunately the ADA ramps are paid for by the city, but sometimes I see them replacing perfectly good existing ramps with new ones, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of fiscal sense to me. Plus the yellow dot mats they are using are hella slippery in the rain!
In the end, you can complain about the condition of the sidewalks (or lack thereof) all you want but the roads are even worse. Have any of you ridden a bike on any of the city’s designated green streets lately? The conditions are deplorable!
David, Actually PBOT “owns” all the sidewalk issues. BDS is not involved. They take the complaints, sit on them for a about 5 years until they send out and inspector and the property owner is responsible to get the repair done. There is backlog of > 4300 sidewalk complaints and counting.
Yes, would be nice if it was the city’s responsibility all the way through but it’s not the system we have. 🙁
Not a surprise to me.
The ugly truth is cyclists and pedestrians have little political clout in Portland anymore. Until a mayor and council is elected with a mindset of cars last, other forms of transportation first nothing will get accomplished in the realm of real change to transportation.
I think the beautiful wide sidewalks in that video (and recent infrastructure projects) suggest that Pedestrians/Pedestrians-using-transit have increased clout in Portland.
Well the sidewalks in real life (not the ones in the video) leave a lot to be desired. Unfortunately their repair is not prioritized by PBOT. Doesn’t seem to me PBOT is focusing on pedestrians except in their promotional videos.
On the positive side, I’ve got some recent immediate action by PBOT (and even ODOT) on some changes that benefit pedestrians. It was encouraging.
I don’t buy that argument at all, back in the late 90s PBOT used a pic of a ‘superwide’ bike lane somewhere else to dissuade their advisory committee and the general public from approving improved bike infra & access on SE Hawthorne Blvd. The picture they used at the time was a deliberate distortion *due to the choice of camera lens and perspective*, and made it seem like a fait accompli to the naive. IMO, this is more about PR spin and providing the public with disinformation than anything else.
“…This continues the trend at PBOT of keeping cycling in the shadows due to fears of backlash and longstanding institutional anxiety about how cycling relates to racial equity and other social justice issues.”
Unfortunately as long as Hadesty is in charge PBOT will never fully support cyclists as they should.
At least she is up front about not caring about cyclists. She should still not be in charge of PBOT, but it is better than the platitudes we got from Eudaly.
Fair amount of skepticism in the article and comments – I dunno, maybe well deserved. But, I like the messaging and light touch for all those car-heads that don’t ever stop to think twice about how they get around. It’s non-confrontational and inviting and maybe it will get a few people to think about why they might be stuck in traffic.
I agree. It’s a good video. I just wish everyone in the city would watch it!
IMO this video is not going to reach the worst offenders or even the vast masses. You’re only seeing it here b/c BP pays attention in a way others don’t. It’s only going to air a few times as a PSA on OPB at 3AM.
I’m curious who the audience for this video is. It certainly isn’t your average Portland driver. No one, but no one who isn’t a transportation nerd, is going to watch a low-production 8-minute video about this. It just isn’t happening. This isn’t a dig on the video itself, except that a good video that no one actually watches isn’t a good video any longer.
Nice video, but many places in Portland would have those sidewalks blocked with tents and trash.
I was wondering which streets, if any, currently offer that much space to people walking or biking as in the video. Not Hawthorne, Broadway, Sandy, Division, Powell, Burnside.