The transportation upsides of Governor Kotek’s Central City Task Force recommendations

Waterfront Park is nice to look at, but it could be so much more! (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A task force convened by Oregon Governor Tina Kotek with the goal of breathing life into downtown Portland revealed its recommendations this morning. While I’d hoped tactical urbanism or some sort of streets and/or transportation-related remedies would get more prominent billing, the group has decided to focus on more traditional approaches.

“Gov. Tina Kotek in the coming months will press to increase police presence downtown Portland, outlaw public drug consumption, take protective plywood off of buildings, and step up social services for those struggling on the streets of Oregon’s largest city,” reads an OPB story published this morning that summarizes the recommendations.

While anything that makes downtown streets look and feel safer will encourage people to use transit, their feet, and bikes downtown — there’s nothing transportation-specific in the 10 immediate priorities the governor wants to focus on.

A stronger — and safer — connection between the Park Blocks and the river on Salmon is a great idea. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

One of the recommendations that caught my eye was listed under the second of three priority tiers (which are referred to as, “Early 2024,” “Actions Throughout 2024,” and “The Decade’s Work”). It had to do with activating public spaces. The Task Force said they’ll work with Prosper Portland and Travel Portland to pursue grant funds and make it easier for people to hold events in public spaces and improve public space amenities to encourage people to attend them. Work like that makes downtown a more attractive cycling destination and could encourage more ridership.

Another recommendation listed under the “Decade’s Work” category was to, “Make downtown a worthy destination.” Under that heading, the Task Force suggested a “better activated” Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Folks in BikePortland circles have been shouting this from the rooftops for years! Let’s swap some of that grass for more programmed spaces and create a world-class park that lures bike riders from all over town. The recommendation also says the park should have, “flexible spaces for recreation,” which to me sounds like maybe a bike skills park and/or pump track? Or maybe a dirt trail that winds along the river and through the trees that could be shared by bike riders and runners?

And I loved this line: “The Salmon Street corridor could better connect the waterfront fountain and the Park Blocks.” How about a physically-separated green lane on Salmon for bikers, walkers, and other small, slow, low-impact transportation vehicles that connects direction to the future protected bikeway on SW 4th?

The only direct mention of transportation infrastructure was the (no kidding) very last item listed. Under the heading of “Support major transportation infrastructure to catalyze development,” the Task Force report said, “Realizing transformative Central City redevelopment projects over the next decade will require major infrastructure investments. Given the scale of infrastructure costs and local funding limitations, the City will need match funding from state and federal partners to move these projects forward with urgency.”

(We’ll remember this when Portland Bureau of Transportation applies for a big grant to fund the Green Loop and lawmakers say they don’t have money because they spent it all on freeway expansions.)

Overall, I’m glad the Governor took initiative to add urgency to getting downtown Portland get back on track. But given that the public outreach survey conducted by the Task Force included many responses from folks saying they’d appreciate better transit, walking, and biking downtown; and the Task Force website encourages people to go on a bike ride to aid downtown’s recovery — I think they could have gone further on the transportation front.

One saving grace here is that PBOT is already ahead of the game and has recently convinced City Council to make their street plaza program permanent. That policy groundwork will pay off big-time if/when the recommendations in this report begin to bear fruit.

— Check out the recommendations here.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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BrickLearns
BrickLearns
2 months ago

Funny to see a callout for “Free 2 hour parking. Lots of other cities do this.” as if it’s not already easy and extremely cheap to drive downtown

Surly Ogre
Joe Bicycles
2 months ago
Reply to  BrickLearns

Was anyone with marketing skills involved in Gov. Kotek’s task force?
Seems like they ignored the fact that Portland is failing the four parts of a Walkable City Jeff Speck test:
A reason to walk or ride a bicycleA safe walk or bike rideA comfortable walk or bike rideAn interesting walk or bike rideWalking and Bicycling must be as good as driving OR BETTER.
https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/2/10/jeff-speck-4-ways-to-make-a-city-more-walkable

It’s long past time to build the 4th Ave bike lane!!!

dw
dw
2 months ago
Reply to  BrickLearns

Weird, whenever I go downtown I never have trouble finding convenient and free parking.

Sometimes I have to go an extra half-block to find an open staple rack though 😉

SD
SD
2 months ago

Given that the task force was primarily made up of people who want downtown Portland to look like it did 5 years ago, it is not surprising that there were few meaningful or transformative solutions put forward.

John V
John V
2 months ago
Reply to  SD

“If only we could change things to the state they were in immediately before they led to the state we’re in now!”

BB
BB
2 months ago
Reply to  SD

So you enjoy how it looks now?
Its hard to be “transformative” when you have to dodge Trash and needles cycling or walking downtown.
I assume you have some better suggestions?
Transformative solutions generally require at least some kind of order and minor law enforcement before it can even happen.
I assume you like the look of downtown in 2023 with your comments.
Excellent advice to keep the status quo.

Karl Dickman
Karl Dickman
2 months ago
Reply to  BB

I have been working three two five days a week in downtown for almost two years now and “dodging trash and needles” is completely outside of my experience of it. I’m sincerely sorry if it was yours, I do recognize that not everyone has the same experience. Central City Concern works hard every day to make sure that trash is picked up and sidewalks are hosed off, and while they can’t be everywhere all the time they are pretty successful.

SD
SD
2 months ago
Reply to  BB

This comment makes a lot of sense if it is directed at one of the voices in your head, but it does seem a little out of context as a reply to what I wrote. Not to engage with an obvious misinterpretation of what I wrote, but I’ll respond as a part of the larger conversation.

One of the big reasons downtown Portland has not been resilient enough to adapt to changes over the past 5 years is that it is over invested in day use office space and under invested in residential, mixed use, small business, activated public spaces and elements that draw non-workers downtown. If you read through the report, you will notice contradicting voices about whether these office buildings and commuter-based revenue can be salvaged and “save” downtown. If you look at who was on the task force, you will see these same competing interests. Unfortunately, the most powerful voices at the table for decades are people who got rich off of a real estate scheme that is now crumbling and they are pulling out all of the stops to try and salvage their inflexible investments. This is a waste of valuable time and resources for everyone else who wants to see a vibrant downtown.

The other obvious part of this is that this wasn’t a solution-finding task force. This was a political move to create cover and diffuse responsibility in dealing with drug use and homelessness downtown. These “solutions” have been on the table and have appeared in the Portland downtown livability plan for years. There is really nothing new here and this clearly wasn’t the purpose of the task force.

🚲
🚲
2 months ago
Reply to  SD

comment of the week. Especially the middle paragraph.

BB
BB
2 months ago
Reply to  SD

If you and a lot of others who comment don’t really care if Portland has a vibrant active downtown and are happy with living and working in your little neighborhood,
Move to Yamhill or whatever and spare us….

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 months ago
Reply to  BB

It’s impressive how open and welcoming you are to a wide variety of people who want to live their lives in obviously different ways from your own. It’s good to have folks such as yourself who are huge proponents of diversity in our neighborhoods and our cities.

Good job!

BB
BB
2 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

I have no idea what you even talking about?
I am a big proponent of cities and neighborhoods and diversity.
A number of people comment here who openly claim they could care less about this cities downtown. Have no interest in whether it recovers or not.
My reply is to move elsewhere if you do not want to live in a vibrant urban area.
Why bother to live in a city if you don’t enjoy it.
Too difficult to understand?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago

JM, I love your naive bike-oriented bias. Most cities nationwide use the very same language to justify building more parking garages, parking lots, expanding streets, and so on – in general, to make it easier and cheaper to drive downtown.

maxD
maxD
2 months ago

It is a shame that there is not more of a push to improve our transportation system in ways that improve livability. There is widespread agreement that we need transportation improvements and we have strong federal support. Unfortunately, the governor is asking developers and they seem convinced that we need to focus on improving conditions for freight and for people to drive in from the ‘burbs. What made Portland an attractive place back in the day was a City focused on liveability- safe streets for pedestrians and bikes, nice parks, clean sidewalks. Now our “leaders” are reaching out to business leaders who are focused o n Portland’s brand/appeal- it is very superficial and ultimately will not work. Portland’s civic leaders should be listening to the people as much as possible, and focus on improving lives for Portlanders- and stop worrying about optics and what tourists need. People started coming to Portland because we had developed a unique lifestyle in a beautiful place. Lets clean this place up, and get back to supporting a more sustainable lifestyle. I like a lot of the ideas that are being pitched, but I think transportation was not included because there isa false belief that the “bike stuff” is nice, but we need a lot of cars to make money. This is great time (Biden/Buttegieg) to pitch some transformational ideas like:

  1. close I-5 from I-84 to southern end of I-405
  2. Tri-met tunnel from Rose Quarter under most of downtown
  3. remove the ramps from the West side of the Morrison Bridge
  4. NP Greenway connection from the top of the ramp/stairs at he Esplanade, under the Steet Bridge and then top of bank to at least Tillamook Street
  5. Lids over I-405 in downtown
  6. hiking trails (like a 1/5-sized forest park) all along the bluffs in North Portland from Greeley to Cathedral Park

Make Portland a great place to live, and people will enjoy visiting- win-win

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Those are all great ideas, but none of them address the fundamental problem with Portland being in a slump at the moment. People aren’t staying away from downtown because I-405 is not a linear park.

maxD
maxD
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

maybe. maybe not

dw
dw
2 months ago

Honestly I’m not surprised that transportation isn’t a highlight here. For one, it’s not on most folks’ minds these days. On the other hand, the Portland Metro Chamber (the rebranded PBA) thinks that self-driving electric cars and freeway expansions are the sole solutions for transportation downtown. Don’t just take my word for it. Seems like if the topic did come up, Kotek’s folks were smart enough to see how dumb that stance is and not include it.

I think we should view this as a blessing; as order and people return to downtown, so will traffic and parking woes. Activists and urbanist nerds alike should be ready to seize the moment; explain to friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and electeds that we’ve already got this great bike network and good transit – and here’s how we can make it even better. Let’s not build any more parking garages or car lanes. Let’s provide everyone with safe and convenient ways to get around.

R
R
2 months ago

This announcement is totally lacking anything dramatic. We’re not activating the Oregon Guard to staff shelters or augment medical response in the city. The country isn’t announcing a spending plan for their homeless/housing budget that’s got guaranteed coordination across all government. No new low barrier camps are being created on currently vacant land.

I’m no stranger to urban environments and have chosen to live downtown but don’t have much to say when my suburb dwelling coworkers enumerate the reasons they won’t visit Portland. I’ll make the point that most problems are not a Portland specific and seen nationwide but can’t fault them for not feeling comfortable visiting my neighborhood’s attractions. I don’t see anything dramatic enough in this announcement that will alter their perception of the situation.

I’d like to not be constantly concerned about what’s going to happen to my car when I park away from my garage or whether I can lock my bike a sidewalk outside of someplace I’d like to visit. I’m actually walking more than I would prefer just so I can leave my modest car (absolutely necessary for a commute to a well paid job in the ‘burbs) in the garage and not risk my $200 bike (with much more value from sweat equity and incremental improvements) in safety my building’s secret bike room.

It sucks to witness the constant human tragedy on display. I carry and have used Narcan. I don’t like having to make a judgement call every few blocks about weather I need to intervene to stop somebody from dieing or if it’s just another day ending in “y” for them. The war on some drugs was a failure and broken windows policies wasn’t the answer but we can do better as a society which requires actually coordinated functional government which doesn’t seem to be a thing here.

I’ve never lived anywhere else where calling 911 and getting put on hold is common. It’s a sign of a level of dysfunction that is much more than just a consequence of Measure 110. At least I haven’t heard anything about widespread corruption in government here.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  R

The government corruption exists in Portland, and periodically city staff are prosecuted (but not yet their supervisors nor their elected leaders, alas), but the levels of corruption are not yet the open sewer one finds in East Coast governments.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  R

requires actually coordinated functional government which doesn’t seem to be a thing here.

You nailed it. Portland city gov’t is a dysfunctional relic from a simpler time, but hang around cuz we’re getting a modern, somewhat untested form of city gov’t in 2025. You’ll get to vote for your new city gov’t reps in November 2024, which will be a HUGE election at all levels – getting to vote on whether our national democracy will continue, por ejemplo.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago

The recommendations seem like a Nothing Burger. When we see an actual increased security presence and fewer people in crisis on the streets, then we’ll know it’s actually something. People are so jaded about progress in Portland, which is always one step forward and two steps backward.