It was a perfect day for a ribbon cutting. The crowd was there, the luminaries showed up. The weather cooperated. The newly completed SW Capitol Highway project deserved no less.
But there was more to it than just that. In the midst of the crowd, you couldn’t help but sense the joy and deep satisfaction felt by everyone who touched this project.
And a lot of people touched it, and even gave it a shove: from Marianne Fitzgerald’s 1993 letter to Commissioner Earl Blumenauer, to Blumenauer and Mayor Sam Adam’s initiation of the 1996 and 2011 Capitol Highway plans, to Commissioner Steve Novick’s $3.1 million in project seed money, to neighborhood activist Chris Lyons who resurrected the flailing project in 2015, to (as Amanda Fritz reminded the crowd) area neighborhood associations which wrote hundreds of letters to Governor Brown when it looked like she might withhold crucial financial support.
The previous paragraph should have been a lot longer. This was everybody‘s project.
In remarks at the event yesterday, Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps got to the heart of what made this project a success for the city:
“I want you to know why I am so proud of this project. I’m proud of this project because it is an example of how Portland can do better. We all know that City hall is famous for our siloed form of government … Well that was not true with this project. This project was different, this is an example of how PBOT and BES and Water came together to build a better neighborhood.”
But the day belonged to neighborhood activists Marianne Fitzgerald and Chris Lyons. Fitzgerald’s persistence and determination is legendary; Chris Lyons picked up a languishing project eight years ago and took it across the finish line.
Commissioner Steve Novick exhuberantly handed off center stage to, “The heroine of this project, the straw that stirred the drink, the greatest neighborhood transportation advocate west of the Mississippi, in the 20th- and the 21st-centuries … Marianne Fitzgerald.”
Like every good advocate, Fitzgerald took the floor with an arm full of reports, and a long list of people to thank, including PBOT project manager Steve Szigethy, who “wins the award for the best listener and facilitator that I have worked with over the years.” And she had this advice for future community leaders:
Don’t accept “we’ve tried it before” or “it’s expensive” as an excuse to stop working on improvements we need in our community. We must continue to persist and advocate, with patience and respect, to build a network that will make it safer for everyone to walk and bike and take transit in our community.
The city’s contractor, Landis & Landis, also received much praise during the event. They are the ones, along with their subcontractors, who built the bike lanes, multi-use paths, retaining walls, and the four stormwater basins that made this all possible. But as we appreciate what is on the surface, keep in mind that this was also a Water Bureau project, and included a half mile of new water mains and eight new fire hydrants.
As Chris Lyons, chair of the 30-member Capitol Highway Project subcommittee of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association said,
Today, I’m so proud of the results. Because of this project, our kids now safely ride their scooters into the village and use a crosswalk to get to Spring Garden Park, seniors stroll on paved sidewalks, and disabled residents are safely accessing businesses at either end of the project … It took a Village, literally, to make this project happen. We can all make a difference by working together. What do we want to accomplish next?
Check out more of my photos from the event below: