“I think it’s a responsibility for Metro to do as much as it can to bring in federal dollars rather than continuing to go back to voters for another ballot measure.”
This is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2022 election. See more stories here.
Terri Preeg Riggsby has worn many hats in Portland government and advocacy circles as a nonprofit leader, advisory committee member, and auditor. Now she wants to represent District 6 on Metro Council. The seat is currently occupied by Duncan Hwang, who was appointed to the seat by council members back in January to fill the vacancy left by the early retirement of Bob Stacey.
In addition to his duties at Metro, Hwang is leader of the nonprofit Asian Pacific Network of Oregon (APANO). In that role he’s been a stalwart advocate for transportation reform, especially in pushing for safety on east Portland arterials and as a member of a coalition that opposes freeway expansion.
Hwang has earned endorsements from Willamette Week, Portland Mercury, and The Street Trust. Preeg Riggsby has been endorsed by The Oregonian.
I recently chatted with Preeg Riggsby and you can read an edited version of our conversation below…
What has been your past and present relationship to transportation and to mobility in general?
“I moved here 25 years ago, I’m originally from Arlington, Virginia, which is the Washington DC area. I used Metro [subway] all the time, public transportation was my thing. When I moved here, I worked in Wilsonville [suburb southwest of Portland] for a while so I would use a car to get there, but appreciated that when I was home I could walk to parks, to the store, around my neighborhood. And then when I was going to Portland State University and working in Portland, I took TriMet. It wasn’t as convenient as Metro was in DC, there’s a lot of progress that needs to be made in our public transportation system here. It wasn’t super convenient, wasn’t as frequent as I would have liked, or as reliable, but I took the bus.
And then three years ago I had a spinal cord injury, and couldn’t walk for a year and had surgery. I can walk now, but I use a mobility device. And TriMet just isn’t really a very good option for me anymore. I have to walk almost half-a-mile, and stand and wait. And so now I use a car more often than I would like. And that’s definitely a motivating factor for me to get to become part of the efforts to improve transportation.”
Can you can you tell me a little bit more about your disability and what your experience has been using your mobility device on transit? (She uses a walker or a cane.)
“It’s hard. Just be blunt. It’s difficult. Getting to the bus stop, waiting for a bus, getting onto the bus. And there’s a bit of an awkwardness around seating. Where do I sit? Is there a seat available for me? I can stand, but it’s hard on a bus when it’s moving back-and-forth. My back is okay, my right leg just doesn’t work right anymore.”
Our region needs tens of thousands of new homes, inside the growth boundary, stat. Where should we build them?
“Once the housing bond measure was passed this is the first time Metro is making decisions about where millions of housing dollars should go. Metro has this unique ability and also responsibility at this point, to be very careful in their decision-making around where we’re investing in new housing. We need to invest in housing that is close to job centers and basic services. We need to be making decisions where people can access their jobs and services without having to get in a car. I really think that we need to be investing in areas that have existing infrastructure. And I think it’s necessary that we invest in improvements for our local arterials and in additional public transportation so that we can get cars off the roads. It’s better for everyone.”
Are you comfortable with like Metro being the government agency that that makes decisions on where new housing should go?
“Well, that’s an interesting question.”
I asked because I saw you express in an endorsement interview a concern about “mission creep” on this issue as it relates to Metro. Did I hear that right?
“The truth around the housing issue is that it was the other jurisdictions that came to Metro and asked them to do this. And so Metro stepped up and they are doing it. I think that they probably are an appropriate agency to be doing it now. And I don’t know if that should have a sunset on it. The truth is, is that they are doing it now, so I do think that there is a bit of mission creep, but their colleagues asked them to do it, they are doing it. So now that they are doing it, let’s make sure that they’re doing it well.”
You’ve said you knew Metro’s T2020 (transportation funding measure) would fail. Why did you think that? What would you have done differently?
“Yes I think it was a matter of timing. And I really think that it should have been put off [until later].”
Did you like the mix of projects on the funding list?
“I think the project mix was fine. I advocated [for the measure] really intensely because, working on the Southwest Corridor [light rail project], we really need transportation improvements. We would have been able to bring in additional federal dollars, and other auxiliary investments… additional housing, additional commercial spaces, affordable commercial spaces, for example. I was advocating really hard for it to pass, but in MPAC [Metro Policy Advisory Committee] meetings with colleagues I could tell on a regional level, this just did not have the political will. And they still pushed forward and failed. And the problem is, once it fails with the vote on the ballot, it’s hard to rebuild that trust and regain momentum.
So I hope that we can have another successful transportation ballot measure at some point in the future. And before that, I hope Metro can help repair some of the lack of trust that the voters have for Metro. There are a lot of federal dollars available right now. And I think it’s a responsibility for Metro to do as much as it can to bring in federal dollars rather than continuing to go back to voters for another ballot measure.”
A lot of people — even progressive transportation advocates — didn’t like the SW Corridor and I think a lot of folks voted against the measure because of that project. I know you are a big advocate of it, so if another bond measure comes up, would you support leaving SWC off the funding list?
“Yes. I think bus rapid transit is a better idea than light rail. It’s less expensive, it’s doesn’t disrupt the neighborhoods as much. And it can still be very, very effective. I would use the bus, but it just doesn’t come often enough.”
If you were on Metro Council how supportive of the status quo would you be of freeway expansion megaprojects? How would you handle these type of projects?
“Just this week, Metro voted in favor of tolling a portion of I-205. And my opponent voted in favor of that. As an MPAC member a couple of weeks ago, I was one of the first to say I am not in favor of it. So that is a difference between the two of us. And the reason I said no to tolls is that, they are just one tool of several in a congestion pricing program that needs to be implemented region-wide. And so the idea to move forward to approve tolling on a small section of a highway that will disproportionately impact some community members in Clackamas County, and there’s not adequate planning for diversion, I think that was the wrong decision, because Metro will be in 2023, renewing its Regional Transportation Plan and I think that it needs to take a holistic view of our regional transportation system.
There’s a reason why we look at the whole region. It’s a network of highways and local arterials that all work together. And so it’s out of order to have a plan in place, and then go off and make an amendment that is not taking the whole system into consideration. So I’m not opposed to tolling. I think it is a tool in the toolbox, it’s just not the only one.
I’m also not in favor of some of the highway expansion projects that are being proposed. I mean, there’s so much data that shows that if you expand highways, more cars use them, it’s not a way to reduce congestion. It’s a way to get more cars on the road and on the highways. So we really need to be investing in smart land-use planning, so people don’t need to use our cars as much.”
Do you agree with ODOT’s policy of using tolling to pay for more capacity and freeway infrastructure?
“That’s a really good question. There are some very specific projects that I think would make sense. For example, if there is a bridge that is no longer safe, I think using toll funding to help help pay for a replacement is appropriate. But to add more lanes to a highway? I don’t think that that’s a good choice, regardless of the funding mechanism.”
Do you do you think we should ever support a project that adds another lane to a freeway?
“I’m trying to think about all the various freeways and where that extra lane would go, that would actually be necessary based on the data. And right now, sitting here on April 29, 2022 I don’t know that there is data that supports adding another lane to any of our regional highways.”
What’s your position on the I-5 Rose Quarter project?
“Some of the arguments in favor of the project continue to not adequately engage the communities that are right around there. I think for any of these transportation projects, especially when they’re right in the inner-core of our city, we need to talk to the communities most impacted within the watershed of the project. I fear that the neighborhood’s don’t really want it. So then we have like the government coming in and they’re not really doing what the community wants.”
Do you think it’s a fair compromise to allow ODOT to add several lanes to I-5 in the central core of Portland, for a project, that’s also going to make changes to the surface streets and also cover the freeway and potentially spur new development?
“I’m really not okay with adding lanes to highways, and we need to be making improvements on arterials. I don’t know if a cap over the highway is necessarily something that the community wants or needs. And local development is really critical for local job and boosting the local economy. However, if the new development is only million-dollar condos that could cause more harm to the neighborhood… they were already harmed initially, when their neighborhoods were bisected. So I know that there’s a lot of talk about the value of this cap. And frankly, I don’t have enough data to say if I would support a cap or not.”
You’ve you’ve worked watershed quality issues as executive director of the Tryon Creek Watershed Council. What’s your opinion about increasing access for off-road cycling?
“I don’t think that this is necessarily an either-or proposition. I think that we can plan in a way that protects some of our more delicate natural resources but also adds more trail capacity. When Metro went to the voters, they specifically included bike and hiking trails, and access for people to be able to get out into nature, right? If if the only way to experience nature requires a one-hour drive, then that’s a giant equity problem right there. And it’s putting more cars on the road because you have to drive.
I do think that, you know, there are some super delicate habitats, like Tryon Creek State Natural Area, for example.”
Would you be open to adding bike trails at Tryon Creek?
“I don’t know where they would go. There’s sort of a safety concern. You don’t want to have pedestrians necessarily where there’s also, you know, cyclists at top speeds. I don’t know if Tryon would be the right place.”
So you think they can coexist, but you don’t think Tryon is necessarily the right spot? What if Metro owned Forest Park? Would that be a good spot for it?
“I don’t have a map in front of me for Forest Park, but I think that there would be opportunities for that. I think it could be possible, it would be a good idea. You know, the one way that we build a value and the ethos of protecting our natural areas is by getting people out into the natural areas and experiencing them. And if you don’t, if you don’t have a way to get into them, and to experience them, then why you’re not necessarily gonna grow up caring about it.”
Why do you think bicycling rates in Portland have been flat and actually gone down in recent years?
“I think safety is a big concern. And I think that even though we have this urban growth boundary, we’re not necessarily building the housing where the job centers are, so it’s difficult to bike to work if it’s many, many miles away. And I think there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing here because safety has decreased in part because we have an increase in cars and there’s more congestion on the roads, so it’s not as safe for cyclists. So how do we get those people out of the cars and onto bicycles? There are some innovative ideas being done in other cities that we… I think there’s a bit of a hubris around local policymakers, like, ‘Oh, Portland is a really bike friendly city!’ Well, it was at one point, but you can’t just rely on that. We need to continue to evolve.”
Many of our readers are familiar with your competition Duncan Hwang because of his transportation advocacy work with Asian Pacific Network of Oregon and coverage on this site over the years. Why should people give you a chance?
“I’ve lived here for 25 years and have been deeply engaged with the community for that entire time. Like I said, earlier, I’ve worked all over the region, from Lents with small business owners, to bringing affordable housing and pedestrian bicycle and transportation improvements in various parts of Multnomah County and Washington County. And I have a long history of getting work done on the ground. And that includes working across the private, nonprofit and public sectors. And I know what it takes to get the work done. And that’s what I’ve been doing for over two decades. So I’m really excited to apply my experience as a performance auditor and my leadership and innovative thinking as a an environmental leader, and also my lived experience as both a parent and someone with a disability.”