PBOT leader says budget cuts contribute to mistakes, urges advocates to not lose faith

NE 33rd Avenue, where bike lane striping will be removed next week. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“It’s 3:00 am on a Sunday morning and what sounded like a [street] sweeper was not a sweeper — it was a striping crew getting an early jump before the rain and putting in a bike lane on fresh pavement on 33rd with no prior notice or notification. Pause and imagine that moment and imagine the emotions that would bring forth.”

That was how Portland Bureau of Transportation Policy, Planning and Projects Group Manager Art Pearce described the context of what happened when city crews installed a new bike lane on NE 33rd Avenue back in September. Pearce attended a meeting of the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) Tuesday night to explain why he decided to move forward with removal of the bike lane. Pearce was at the same meeting last month to explain how PBOT erred when they installed it in the first place and that they’d pause a planned removal to get more feedback from adjacent residents.

At Tuesday’s meeting Pearce shared more about what PBOT staff heard in those conversations over the past month. His comments and a pointed exchange with a member of the PBAC help explain the city’s frame of mind and shed light on their controversial decisions.

“Despite our best intentions, we triggered, I think, emotional harm to the adjacent neighbors,” Pearce told the committee. And then continued a few minutes later:

Screengrab of Pearce at Tuesday’s online meeting.

“We triggered and connected to a perception that Portland is intentionally trying to ostracize and push out certain members of our community through these improvements, and are connecting to a narrative that is not true, that this is all part of the master plan to really disregard the needs of a whole set of Portlanders.”

David Stein, a member (and former Chair) of the PBAC and the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee, responded with frustration. Stein shared that the conduct of PBOT makes it increasingly difficult for him to support the agency.

“It just seems like there are so many ways to get out of building bike infrastructure,” Stein lamented. “And we always talk about we have these plans and policies that are great. And then we have all these great ways of just getting around them, or not handling them in a way in which we can actually build the infrastructure we’re supposed to build.”

“… we don’t seem to have the language, or the skill-set, or something, to the navigate these conversations to build what needs to be built.”

Stein said what happened on NE 33rd is part of what he sees as a troubling trend for projects that end up in controversy and delays when certain voices object (like on North Williams Avenue, 7th/9th Greenway, SW Broadway, NE/SE 28th) then said PBOT’s record these past few months is “wearing on me” as a member of the budget committee who’s being asked to advocate for more city transportation funding. “I have to ask myself, ‘For what?!’… I don’t want the general funding to go into this and then it be used to just circumnavigate any placement…”

At that point, Pearce interjected forcefully:

“PBOT has continued to build a number of bicycle facilities all over the city during the same period that we had process missteps on Williams, and a really challenging conversation around 7th, and now 33rd. I think you’re producing a narrative that is not accurate. So I guess I would caution you from that.”

“I know that this is frustrating. I know that you feel that way,” Pearce continued. Then he shifted to a new explanation for why PBOT is more prone to mistakes in recent years:

“We have 120 Quick Build projects we are frantically working on trying to get ready to deploy and budget reductions have been happening year-after-year on my team. This is what happens when we end up with less staff spread more more thinly across our portfolio while trying to still deliver these projects. There’s a direct connection to your role on the BBAC [Bureau Budget Advisory Committee] and our ability to invest in the amount of process to be able to do city transformation correctly.”

Another bit of new information we learned at Tuesday’s meeting is that PBOT has come up with a new, “middle path” design of the bikeway on 33rd that Pearce feels, “Is the right answer”. The only thing needed for it to be installed is a “real respectful conversation to occur,” and Pearce believes that conversation is impossible as long as the bike lane is on the ground.

“The answer is not putting in bike lanes in the dark of night,” Pearce said.

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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Happy Guy PDX
Happy Guy PDX
4 months ago

It seems like PBOT now views certain “minority voices” as having veto power over human powered transportation improvements. That’s what appeared to happen on NE33rd. It’s not a good place to be when that is allowed to happen.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
4 months ago
Reply to  Happy Guy PDX

My community of Greensboro NC only puts in bike lanes when a collector or arterial street is repaved or rebuilt. That in itself kinda sucks, but there’s not a lot we can do to get bike lanes on other streets. A few days after the new asphalt is put in, the city or contractor will come in and put in chalk lines for the bike lanes, crosswalks, center lines, and so on. A few days after that, the city will post signs everywhere that there’s no parking on the street for the next 24 hours. At every stage there’s lots of hints to local residents that new bike lanes are going to be put in, lots of opportunities to complain to the city. On the day of the striping, any cars still on the street are simply left there, none get towed. When the striping machine comes by, they skip where the cars are parked. Yeah, it looks like shit, but three years later when the city renews the striping, the cars have moved on and the job is eventually completed. This happens in both rich white parts of town and where poor blacks live. No cars get towed, ever, and everyone is reasonably satisfied.

aquaticko
aquaticko
4 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

That’s a really, really dumb way to do things. It’s really expensive to get all the machinery out there to stripe. If people are given ample warning to move their cars and they don’t, the right thing to do is tow them at their expense–rich or poor–and do the work the day everything’s all set to do it.

David Stein
4 months ago

Behind the scenes: I actually left the call for several minutes after this. While I don’t expect to agree with presenters on everything it was something else basically being told that I’m imaging things.

Something not mentioned in this article was the revelation that there will be no data collected during the time that this bike lane existed so we won’t even be able to point to anything indicating that the default treatment was producing the desired results for safety/speeds or bike lane usage.

PBOT also set a new precedent in explicitly sanctioning parking cars in a marked bike lane. This is in addition to the widespread unsanctioned parking and loading/unloading that already happens.

Fred
Fred
4 months ago
Reply to  David Stein

So true. The other day some Deliveroo car (or something) was parked in the bike lane to make a delivery – and there were available parking spaces just ahead of the car! The driver was too lazy to park so he had to block the bike lane, forcing me to risk my life by merging with car traffic.

My fantasy is that a cop pulls up behind a car blocking any bike lane and issues a ticket. But, since this is Portland, it will remain a fantasy.

dw
dw
4 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Plot twist: the cop is actually in front of the delivery car, also parked in the bike lane.

John V
John V
4 months ago

This debacle just sucks. One thing comes to mind when he mentions waking up on Sunday morning to hearing the crews putting in a bike lane. If the street parking was so important, how did they manage to stripe bike lanes with cars parked there? Was there even one single car parked there that day? Sounds like not. People just want their damned “just in case” parking spot. You never know how much parking you’ll need! What if I have a big party with all my multi-generational extended family and friends?

Looking forward to the supposed middle ground solution that is somehow in the middle between the bare minimum (pained lines) and nothing. As Watts (I think) suggested, maybe speed bumps. Speed bumps and sharrows I bet. Or maybe just painted speed bumps.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  John V

As Watts (I think) suggested, maybe speed bumps.

Yes: Narrow, bumpy, and slow.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
4 months ago
Reply to  John V

Drive faster! Faster! Faster! The open lane is a passing lane
to pass other drivers faster! Screeeeeech! Ooops,
Somebody got killed. Oh well.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
4 months ago
Reply to  John V

This debacle sucks. One thing comes to mind when mentioned waking up Sunday morning hearing crews put in a bike lane. If street parking is so important, how did they manage to stripe bike lanes with cars parked there? People just want their damn “Just in case” parking spot. When a big party with extended family and friends? Look to supposed middle ground solutions somehow between the bare minimum (painted lines) and nothing.

qqq
qqq
4 months ago
Reply to  Art Lewellan

This is such a great observation! It seems so obvious once you pointed it out–you can’t stripe bike lanes if there are cars parked there, so the fact that they could stripe the bike lane shows there isn’t much of a parking shortage there.

Of course it could be possible there may be a house or two without off-street parking, and those people happened to be out driving somewhere at 3 AM. But otherwise, 3 AM is when the likelihood of cars being parked on-street is GREATEST in a residential zone, since almost everyone would be at home then (especially on a Sunday).

It also makes me wonder why PBOT would choose to do striping at a time that virtually guarantees the most likelihood of parked cars being in the way (on top of why PBOT would choose to do work at a time guaranteed to wake people up unnecessarily).

Fred
Fred
4 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Or Art is just lying. I know a lot of people here like Art but he’s not above inventing a useful tale or two.

qqq
qqq
4 months ago
Reply to  Fred

That didn’t make sense to me until I realized you’re talking about the PBOT Art, not the commenter Art that I replied to.

Jeff S
Jeff S
4 months ago
Reply to  qqq

If PBOT maintenance crews are doing striping they typically put out “no parking” barricades in advance….

Champs
Champs
4 months ago

Pearce: Portlanders distrust PBOT, so the only way to restore our credibility is to undo what we did, then come back and redo this project “the right way” later. We promise!

Toadslick
4 months ago

“It was a striping crew … putting in a bike lane … with no prior notice or notification. Pause and imagine that moment and imagine the emotions that would bring forth.”

This is beyond parody.

The imagined feelings of homeowners who might be slightly inconvenienced outweigh a bare-minimum attempt to mitigate the life-altering danger that drivers inflict daily upon vulnerable road users.

When do my emotions get taken into consideration?

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
4 months ago

So we can’t do anything that improves certain neighborhoods now for fear that PBOT is “ trying to ostracize and push out certain members of our community”? That sounds like a straight race to the bottom.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
4 months ago

After a brief view of several finished crosswalks with concrete medians and street paint, my disappointment and criticism I wish will be considered instead of broadly rejected. ODOT does not give a damn about public safety on 82nd. These improvements DO NOTHING to slow traffic except screeching tire stops when a pedestrian hints to our idiot motorist jerkwad a-holes that someone wants to cross the street. I AM COMPLETELY DISAPPOINTED but not surprised.

Lynn Peterson and Kris Strickler are criminally incompetent and/or corrupt.
Both are incompetent. Both may be criminally corrupt.
Widening I-5 at Rose Quarter is clearly a death trap.
Accident rating in both number and severity worsen.
Oh no just smile and speak with a childlike innocence
or a pompous adult conception of being absolutely
unquestionable and whoever objects is a nobody.
This is another Wheeler failure. If only T would
leave office sooner. Oh, another T person! R i g h t…

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
4 months ago
Reply to  Art Lewellan

except screeching tire stops when a pedestrian hints to our idiot motorist jerkwad a-holes that someone wants to cross the street.

Wait, they stop up there? Here at 224&212 in the crosswalk to the pedestrian island they slow down just long enough to close the gap in the cars behind them then gun the engine when they get adjacent to you.

Kind of a “screw you, not only are you not going in front of me, but I’ll make damn sure you can’t go after I leave maneuver and VROOM I’m big and tough cause I’m in 2 tons of metal” move.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
4 months ago

We ain’t losing faith, we getting militant <3

Fred
Fred
4 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Not BP or Bike Loud – certainly not the Street Trust. They all caved on this issue.

As someone else pointed out, it’s a race to the bottom.

Happy Guy PDX
Happy Guy PDX
4 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Yep. From what I have observed these local advocacy groups seem very afraid of being called “racist”.

PS
PS
4 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Can’t wait to see the efforts of the Showers Pass militia.

qqq
qqq
4 months ago

“It’s 3:00 am on a Sunday morning and what sounded like a [street] sweeper was not a sweeper — it was a striping crew getting an early jump before the rain and putting in a bike lane on fresh pavement on 33rd with no prior notice or notification. Pause and imagine that moment and imagine the emotions that would bring forth.”

I know what emotion it would bring forth from me–anger at being woken up by PBOT violating the City’s Noise Ordinance.

SD
SD
4 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I would be ecstatic. I would feel like I won the lottery. I would feel extremely lucky that PBOT and the city of Portland had invested in my street in a way that increases the quality of life for me and my neighbors, especially if I lived on a high speed arterial.

qqq
qqq
4 months ago
Reply to  SD

I’d welcome the bike lane also. I was thinking of the people who didn’t want it, who not only got something they didn’t want, but got woken up by an agency that’s now making a big deal about needing to respect and communicate with them, right after PBOT decided they didn’t matter enough to even bother to follow the City’s own construction noise regulations.

The bigger part of this is that if PBOT had bothered to respect the neighbors and do what it should have done for night work–notify neighbors a few days beforehand, as a noise variance would have required–neighbors would have had a chance to object to the work BEFORE it was done, and this whole build it/tear it out debacle would have been avoided.

Pkjb
Pkjb
4 months ago

You can’t imagine how happy I’d be if I was woken up in the wee hours of the morning to find a bike lane being installed on the street in front of my house.

John V
John V
4 months ago
Reply to  Pkjb

“It’s 3:00 am on a Sunday morning and what sounded like a [chimney] sweeper was not a sweeper — it was Santa Clause coming down the chimney to drop off a giant load of presents under your Christmas tree with no prior notice or notification. Pause and imagine that moment and imagine the emotions that would bring forth.”

The (original) quote just assumes you have car brain and the only thing someone could possibly think about bike lanes is negative. A bike lane being installed is inherently a loss, and to have a bike lane done to you is just an unspeakable insult.

bjorn
bjorn
4 months ago

Many years ago I advocated to remove the stop signs in Ladd’s Addition to fix the stupid PPB sting problem, but was told that to remove an existing safety feature like a stop sign would require an expensive study. This is now an existing bike lane, can it really just be removed without creating a liability for the city should anyone riding a bike along this stretch be hurt or killed without extensive study?

Fred
Fred
4 months ago
Reply to  bjorn

PBOT – and the rest of the city bureaus – will say whatever is convenient in the moment to get us all to shut up. They have no integrity.

Fred
Fred
4 months ago

I had already lost all faith in PBOT and city leaders. What’s probably even more shocking in this situation is to see how JM and even Bike Loud have caved.

cc_rider
cc_rider
4 months ago

LMAO Fred is apparently to simple to understand that complex racial and bike advocacy dynamics that Jonathan’s massive evolved brain grasps!

This situation isn’t difficult to understand. Homeowner wants to keep their publicly funded free parking spots. City is scared of the optics of removing them. City caves. End of story.

The City continues to rack up higher and higher death tolls as they move away from building safe streets in favor or car parking. We’re going backwards. Portland is firmly a motor city and we have the road deaths to prove it.

cc_rider
cc_rider
4 months ago

think you say that more based on your anger at this specific situation on 33rd than doing a real thoughtful and honest assessment of their actions over time.

Naw, this is just the straw that broke the camels back. The city doesn’t care about the health and safety of the people who live here. They only care about maintaining motorist speed and access,

I’m sick of them gaslighting us, often times with your help, about what they’re accomplishing. I’m sick of them gaslighting us about VisionZero. I’m sick of them spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on stupid marketing campaigns and refusing to do things that actually slow motorists down. I’m sick of bike configurations, like Rosa Parks, where they do work but still prioritize car parking so we end up with dangerous “car protected bike lanes”. I’m sick of them putting up useless “speed advisory” barrels instead of actual traffic calming infrastructure. I’m sick of them spending millions of dollars on public outreach to design plans they have no intention of building. I’m sick of what little does get built getting degraded by home owners at the 11th hour. I’m sick of them designing bike lanes to allow for motorist parking as “loading zones” to make home owners happy. I’m sick of them lowering speed limits and acting like that achieves anything. I’m sick of their poorly done traffic studies. I’m sick of them going to neighborhood associations asking for permission to follow PBOTs own design policies. PBOT had to be dragged into daylighting SOME intersections, because they’d rather maintain the parking. I’m sick of the organization as whole.

PBOT hates bikes. They hate pedestrians. They want us in cars. That’s their end goal and anything else is you lying to yourself. Art, and the rest of senior PBOT officials need to be fired. They’ve failed us and continue to fail the public as their body count rises.

Fuzzy Blue Line
Fuzzy Blue Line
4 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

While the majority of BP readers might agree with what you’re “sick of” I don’t think a majority of Portland voters feel the same way. And that’s what this is all about. The optics are entirely about those wanting to get elected to City Council or Mayor next November. Get ready for the next 11 months of policy decisions to be entirely framed by which decision gets you the most votes regardless of candidate.

cc_rider
cc_rider
4 months ago

While the majority of BP readers might agree with what you’re “sick of” I don’t think a majority of Portland voters feel the same way. And that’s what this is all about.

Hard disagree. All the city councilors have to at least pretend to care about traffic safety and CoP voters generally support traffic calming. Hell, Mingus was on here just a little bit before he tried to rip out the Broadway bike lane pretending to care about bike safety.

Being outwardly anti-bike, anti-pedestrian would make someone unelectable here. The City Council depends on (and consistently) voter apathy and inattentiveness after the election.

The Broadway bike removal was not about winning votes, it was about winning money and support from PBA.

Get ready for the next 11 months of policy decisions to be entirely framed by which decision gets you the most votes regardless of candidate.

Policy decisions rarely take my neighborhood into account anyway as we aren’t wealthy enough to bribe support politicians nor do we have any representation on the city council.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
4 months ago

I’m about to head out to our quarterly BPAC meeting – it’s both on Zoom and live-in-person, a hybrid meeting – and unlike Portland it’s in the middle of the afternoon 2 to 4 pm (in about an hour), so very few people from the public ever attend either at city hall nor online. On the plus side, there are no appointed “members”, anyone can participate and speak, and while the staff includes our equivalent of Art and Roger, it also has the city’s top traffic engineers, civil design experts, a top official from Parks & Rec, a state highway official, and a maintenance representative, plus the main advocacy nonprofits. The meeting atmosphere tends to be “casual” and we rarely have confrontations, the meetings can in fact be very productive, since the decision-makers are in the same room with advocates and can explain why they will or will not put in facilities – what their thinking is, their reasons, and what we as advocates might need to do to make a “no” into a “yes.” BPAC=Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.

cct
cct
4 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Gee, that sounds nice! Here, the city has turned from something like that model, carefully constructed over several decades, and gone full-tilt “Father knows best.”

Fred
Fred
4 months ago

One other takeaway for me: Blaming budget cuts seems really self-serving in this context.

“Just give us all the money we want and then we will be competent.”

Chris I
Chris I
4 months ago
Reply to  Fred

“Give us more money so we can blow it on community meetings” is not a great proposition, IMO.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago

The key to avoiding the appearance of bias in a neighborhood-feedback-based process is to stop accepting neighborhood feedback and instead use scientific evidence to make our infrastructure safer.

Happy Guy PDX
Happy Guy PDX
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

Wait are you suggesting using scientific evidence? It’s racial “justice” to allow a POC to veto a bike lane right? The progressives here won’t stand for using data or common sense. (If we had any MAGA types here they wouldn’t either).

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago
Reply to  Happy Guy PDX

Let’s be clear: when rich white homeowners want to kill a project in their neighborhood it dies before anyone can hear it scream. This incident is just a weird attempt to pursue parity for abuse of power.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago

Jonathan & Lisa,

When I say projects I’m not chiefly referring to bicycle infrastructure because rich white people tend to be on both sides of those fights: young white professional families against white retirees. However, even regarding bicycle infrastructure you must count the fights that the city doesn’t even dare start when determining their Win-Loss ratio. If you think any city department is harder on white people then you are not paying attention to which matches never get scheduled; that’s where the power is.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

Hey Adam,

“rich white people tend to be on both sides of those fights: young white professional families against white retirees.”

In my rich, white neighborhood, its the over-sixty crowd that are the strongest advocates for active transportation, including bike facilities. You should have seen the white hairs arguing over the design of the bike facility at Greenway and Patton–all with first-hand experience of how they use it.

My husband is 67 and has been bike-commuting to work for 20 years. Keith Liden ain’t no spring chicken either. The head of our neighborhood association transportation committee also bike-commuted to work for decades. He’s retired now, saw him in a very low gear heading up Broadway the other day.

Cliches work because they easily slip into and reinforce a set of biases, but the rich, white retiree cliche is not only easily disproved, its a 180 from the truth where I live. I’m 63.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago

In my neighborhood association the opposite was true. You both seem concerned to parse my rhetoric but uninterested with the context of my pushing back on the idea that increasingly displaced poor black people get special privilege from PBOT while rich white people get victimized by PBOT; in fact Maus echoed it. I find that racist and creepy and it marks the end of my time here.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

P.S. : Parsing my lazy generalization about generational differences based on my experience with two different neighborhood associations over 15 years sidestepped my point, which is that your example of rich white people “losing” to PBOT is an example of rich white people losing to other rich white people, not their being special class victims.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

Adam, I hope you don’t stop contributing, I have always appreciated your comments.

I’m going to respond to one of your points, but also want to say that I am not following your narrative. Neither Jonathan or I said that “rich white people get victimized by PBOT.”

You said, “when rich white homeowners want to kill a project in their neighborhood it dies before anyone can hear it scream.” Both Jonathan and I came up with recent concrete and high profile examples of that not being true.

The Hillsdale rose lane, in particular, is a good example of PBOT standing up to the Hillsdale Business Association (although I can think of a couple Hillsdale business owners who are not Caucasian.) The buses through Hillsdale originate to the west and south, in lower income areas than Hillsdale, and take people to the employment centers at OHSU and downtown. Hillsdale is the main transfer point between lines originating and terminating in different locations.

So the persistence of the rose lanes, in the face of ongoing HBA lobbying efforts against them, is an example of PBOT and TriMet championing lower-income workers over the wishes of the business association of the wealthier neighborhood.

I’m glad the rose lanes are there, I applaud the Forward Together redesign, and I think the rose lane makes it easier to access business to the south of BHH.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago

“My theory is that PBOT is much tougher on “rich white homeowners” than others. “

Thats why I’m leaving. Don’t gaslight me. Goodbye.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor

Actually Jonathan, you wrote that, not me. 😉

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

Hillsdale still has a rose lane, despite all the protest from some quarters.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

stop accepting neighborhood feedback and instead use scientific evidence 

“Science” may be able to tell you that option A is safer than option B, but it can’t tell you is how much that increment of safety is worth in terms of other tradeoffs.

That’s why you need to talk to the impacted people (including beneficiaries of the project) and figure it out.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Watts,
I don’t see where we disagree; you seem to be talking about data collection through interviews, which is fine I suppose if you’re not willing to just periodically count cars. It’s the expressed solicitation of opinion that I find ludicrous; it gives people the impression that their feelings are relevant, and that when their feelings are ignored for data it means they have lost some sort of battle for dignity.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

you seem to be talking about data collection through interviews

I’m talking about the political process of deciding which tradeoffs are worth making. “Science” can inform that process, but policy choices are inherently political, not scientific. The “feelings” of stakeholders are actually quite important.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Ok, then it sounds like we do disagree. I don’t see any need to put traffic engineering science in quotes and I don’t think the feelings of people who own property adjacent to roads, or any synonym for feelings you’d find acceptable enough to employ without sarcasm quotes, are relevant. Thats that sorted.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

I put science in quotes because I am a strong believer in science, that word is heavily abused in this context. Nonetheless, let’s stipulate that you and I would agree on objective reality, whether derived from actual science, or from other sources.

But even if everyone agrees on what’s factually true, that doesn’t tell us which tradeoffs are worth making. Those are value judgements, which are inherently political.

I hope that framework doesn’t seem controversial.

Charley
Charley
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

“I hope that framework doesn’t seem controversial.”

Unfortunately it has become so!

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

If I said “let’s let chemistry determine the ratio of ingredients in this cake” I don’t think you’d condescendingly accuse me of grandiosely misusing the authority of science.

It is controversial. I said letting traffic engineering instead of neighborhood interaction determine the state of roads has the benefit of not playing favsies. You keep telling me that’s by definition and habit simply not how things are done. But that’s not news to me; it’s why I bothered to suggest an alternative. The ways things are currently defined and done is why this bad thing happened that left everyone hurt.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

“chemistry determine the ratio of ingredients in this cake”

If you claimed chemistry proved our cake should be chocolate and not coconut, I’d put chemistry in quotes as well.

That’s a political decision, guided by our preferences.

Science can’t tell us what our goals should be and what tradeoffs we should make to advance them. Those are political decisions.

Political preferences masquerading as scientific truths are what I call “science”, and are usually what people mean when they use that word in this context.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You’re being deliberately obtuse bordering on trolling now. I blame myself for indulging your initial condescending incuriosity. The plain meaning of my suggestion is available when you’re done playing games, though I won’t be.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

“deliberately obtuse”

I am simply trying to separate the realms of empiracal fact from political opinion, and I feel like you are objecting to this separation.

“Data driven infrastructure” (a term you did not use but seem to be edging towards) is often an attempt to dress opinion up in the costume of scientific fact.

Since you think I am ignoring your point, let me be more explicit. The quote of yours I responded to above was “stop accepting neighborhood feedback and instead use scientific evidence”.

Scientific evidence can tell us which designs are more likely to achieve a certain set of goals (which ingredients are likely to create the richest chocolate taste). Neighborhood feedback can help us decide which goals we want to pursue (chocolate cake or coconut or some combination of the two). Neighborhood feedback is not at odds with scientific evidence. They are different things used for different purposes, and in recent years a lot of people seem to have become confused about this.

cct
cct
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

Traffic engineering “science” is why people are getting killed on our streets: the “science” is all about protecting motorists and making their trip easier and faster. A street is “safe” because although the engineers say it can handle 500 trips a day, it is only carrying 375. Note that the “science” says jack shit about the “safety” of other users.

Sure, LET the “science” determine how our streets look. They will all be I-5.

Traffic Engineering is phrenology for cars.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  cct

“the “science” is all about protecting motorists”

Prioritizing motorists is a political/policy choice not a scientific/engineering one.

That decision says nothing about the empirical data (including pedestrian safety statistics) which can be used to evaluate options or develop engineering designs.

Robert Wallis
Robert Wallis
4 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Yes, prioritizing motorists is a political decision, but keep in mind that politicians making the policies are influenced by the engineers in their decision making. The mindset of most engineers involved in transportation is – put the interests of motorists over the interests of pedestrians and bicyclists. That mindset is imbedded in the bureaucratic culture of most government transportation departments.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Robert Wallis

Agreed — but it is still important to remember it’s a political decision. That policy decision, whether embedded in engineers mindset or not, can only be changed by political means.

John V
John V
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

I just want to point out (this I think is Watts’ point), “traffic engineering” is what gets us wide roads that optimize for automobile transport, highway interchanges in the city, Rose Quarter widening, etc etc. It’s a political process, not science or engineering. Science and engineering are good at telling us how we should do something specifically, once we’ve decided we want to do it. If your goal is move as many cars as possible? Traffic engineering. If your goal is improve safety? Traffic engineering. But the whole debate is about what our goal is.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  John V

Perfect summation.

This is why the phrase “data driven design” is so useless. It assumes that a particular goal has been agreed on (or that science can direct us to that goal), when in fact what the goal should be is usually the primary issue.

All engineering is “data driven”; otherwise it wouldn’t work.

qqq
qqq
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

…stop accepting neighborhood feedback…

I could give you scores of examples from personal experience where the “science” came from neighbors. By “science”, I mean objective facts neighbors pointed out to traffic engineers like that the engineers were using the wrong traffic code, that they measured a street width incorrectly, that they had the direction of a one-way street wrong, that the zoning didn’t allow their solution, that there were railroad tracks in the street that made their solution impossible, that they didn’t notice a “dead end” was a major pedestrian and bike entrance into a large park, that they assumed private property was public, etc.

Often these things (which actually did happen) were pointed out to traffic engineers only after the neighbors had to fight to be allowed to comment. And when projects wouldn’t allow adequate neighborhood feedback, I’ve seen them tear out tens of thousands of work because it didn’t work for the reasons the neighbors were trying to tell them.

Good engineers welcome feedback. It’s the bad ones that don’t.

On top of all that, if a project is going to stop accepting neighborhood feedback because it’s not “scientific”, how can it justify accepting feedback from other people, like people who ride bikes or walk on a street? Or should that feedback be prohibited also?

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  qqq

Hi qqq,

I agree with you, I once mopped the floor with a traffic impact study while representing neighbors, in front of city council.

Traffic impact studies are not science, having a spreadsheet with numbers in it does not elevate something to science. As you know, traffic studies are paid for by the developer, so there is a financial incentive for the consultant to arrive at findings that our favorable to the person writing their check.

The studies I’ve looked at have been riddled with errors, omissions and fabrications. Yeah, made up stuff — nonexistent bike facilities and bus lines.

As Earl Blumenauer said, “everyone has a PhD in their own neighborhood.” My traffic count and analysis of the road was more accurate than the pro’s. But none of it amounted to science, just a little data collection.

cct
cct
4 months ago

“Good engineers welcome feedback. It’s the bad ones that don’t.”

Same for bureaus!

SW neighborhoods have collected data, made observations, etc., but when this was presented to city, they were often told that as citizens ‘were not paid experts,’ they couldn’t possible understand the issue. Especially where ithey pointed out ‘experts’ had lied!

BTW, good luck hiring an ‘expert’ to help you fight city hall – they won’t; not only are they worried they’ll lose future business, but a developer threatened to sue one such firm… which successfully ended that contract. Despite Nick Fish publicly going ballistic about that, there were no real repercussions and the chilling effect remains.

Back to qqq’s statement: SW neighborhoods have been pressing for Alternative Review (The Place Pedestrian Safety Goes To Die) to require a public commentary which is factored in to results; currently, AR only has to ‘consider’ public input if they feel like it. Citizens asking for this have been told to eat shite, despite the fact that the actual USERS of the infrastructure will be the peds/bikes, NOT the developer. As qqq and Lisa point out, sometimes they know stuff.

Perhaps neighborhoods would still get less than ideal, but at least there would be a detailed explanation for why, and as PBOT just discovered, feeling heard can calm a lot of bile.

qqq
qqq
4 months ago

traffic studies are paid for by the developer, so there is a financial incentive for the consultant to arrive at findings that our favorable to the person writing their check.

Several years ago my old neighborhood association pointed out to the City that Parks hadn’t done a required traffic study for a project in a park. So they did one, that showed there’d be no impacts–for a project Parks touted as important because it would bring in hundreds of school buses, thousands of visitors, etc.

We obtained a copy of the engagement letter from Parks to the traffic engineer. The top of the letter said something like, “We need you to generate a traffic study that will show there will be no negative traffic impacts”. So they did.

In my experience, traffic engineers start projects by asking their clients what type of conclusions they’re looking for.

The crazy other component to all this is that people (Design Commission, City Council, etc.) will absolutely ignore criticism of traffic studies if it doesn’t come from another traffic engineer, even when the criticisms involve things like arithmetic errors.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I’ve already addressed that I don’t care where the good engineering practices or data comes from; I didn’t say trust professionals. I’m saying don’t solicit opinions on the personal convenience of wider goals. If the bike lane got put in too narrow and only the neighbors notice, that’s very different from saying “your entitlement to on street parking is a factor in road safety.” I don’t believe it is. Nevertheless to my mind you’ve said nothing I disagree with and I appreciate the opportunity to flesh it out.

People who walk and ride bikes should be baked into best practices; they shouldn’t have to ask for food every day they should be fed on universal principle. To my original point, that’s how you avoid favoritism; stop making progress petitionary.

Watts
Watts
4 months ago
Reply to  Adam Leyrer

I’m saying don’t solicit opinions on the personal convenience of wider goals.

In other words, only your preferences are important. It’s no different than insisting on free speech for your viewpoint but not for others. It just doesn’t work that way.

To my original point, that’s how you avoid favoritism; stop making progress petitionary.

You’re asking that your views be favored over those of other people.

AMA
AMA
4 months ago

The Williams controversy was more than a decade ago. What has PBOT done in the years since to build trust with the communities that they know are wary of these projects? How are they working with existing organizations? Who is holding conversations that are not related to specific projects or community “asks”?

I understand that everyone in local government is scrambling under what amounts to austerity conditions these days, but we’ve spent significant resources on redesigning or removing infrastructure, delays, and “crisis outreach.” These are resources that could have been used to build alliances over the last 10-15 years.

It’s disappointing to see the same story re-run over and over again. It’s obvious that the strategies we’ve been using aren’t working. It seems worth it to me to think about how we might turn suspicion in to support.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
4 months ago
Reply to  AMA

It seems like the Information Age of constituency opinion collection has completely broken our governments’ art of persuasion from the national level to the local. Sincere activist groups, some I support and others I don’t, and attention-grifters are the movers public opinion, while the people who want to be our leaders try to follow along behind without getting into trouble. Between neglect and deference there is a wide-open plain for relationship-building and cooperating and persuading that could be done and, if I hear you correctly, I join you in your astonishment that in 15 years the City of Portland couldn’t find their way to any of it with this community. Instead they just let policy play out like an influence game that’s required to have winners and losers.

footwalker
4 months ago

Public engagement at PBOT is inconsistent and it is unclear to much of the public what PBOT is required to do versus what they would like for it to do. The budget crisis does not help at all. Compounding the matter are layers of policies that reference other documents. Each will have requirements as well as suggestions, recommendations, and considerations, sometimes even within a document that is required to be followed! It leads to confusion and unmet expectations within the community.

For anyone who wishes to read more, consider the City of Portland Public Involvement Principles (2010) which affirms that government works best when community members and government work as partners:

https://www.portland.gov/sites/default/files/2020-03/city-of-portland-public-involvement-principles_0.pdf

The 2035 Comprehensive Plan (“Comp Plan”) includes Community Involvement (Chapter 2) on the goals and policies in regard to community engagement in long-range planning. It’s essential reading for anyone interested long-range planning and transportation in Portland; however, for the sake of brevity and the topic at hand read Appendix C “PBOT Tier Recommendations” from the Community Involvement Program’s early implementation of the Comp Plan (2018), page 43:

https://www.portland.gov/bps/planning/comp-plan-2035/documents/community-involvement-program/download

An important distinction here is when the Community Involvement Committee is consulted and at what stages depending on the project tier. Nonetheless, the Transportation System Plan (another plan underneath the Comp Plan) lists policies including community involvement. These are germane to the discussions around PBOT’s consultation with collaborators/stakeholders, consistency of implementation, the leadership’s acknowledgement of missteps, and the damage resulting from ongoing budget cuts.

Community influence: At each stage of the process, identify which elements of a planning and investment process can be influenced or changed through community involvement. Clarify the extent to which those elements can be influenced or changed. (COMPREHENSIVE PLAN Policy 2.14)

Documentation and feedback: Provide clear documentation for the rationale supporting decisions in planning and investment processes. Communicate to participants about the issues raised in the community involvement process, how public input affected outcomes, and the rationale used to make decisions. (COMPREHENSIVE PLAN Policy 2.15)

  • 2.15.a. Keep interested parties, and those who may be impacted by particular decisions related to plan and project implementation informed of direct and related engagement opportunities (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.15.a)
  • 2.15.b. Ensure PBOT decision-making processes are clear, straightforward, and include mechanisms for public accountability, so that the public has the capacity to participate. (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.15.b)
  • 2.15.c. Ensure public involvement and outreach practices, materials, and processes are culturally relevant (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.15.c)

Best practices engagement methods: Utilize community engagement methods, tools, and technologies that are recognized as best practices. (COMPREHENSIVE PLAN Policy 2.18)

  • 2.18.a. Follow International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Core Values. (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.18.a)
  • 2.18.b. Follow City of Portland Public Involvement Principles. (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.18.b)
  • 2.18.c. Follow Internal PBOT Public Involvement Policies. (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.18.c)
  • 2.18.d. Consider tools and strategies offered by Metro’s Public Engagement Guide in Portland’s transportation planning activities. (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.18.d)

The first three are to be followed while Metro’s Public Engagement Guide is to be considered. Links to each are provided.

Additionally, the Transportation System Plan includes policies to invest in education and training (i.e. provide an adequate budget).

Agency capacity building: Increase City staff’s capacity, tools, and skills to design and implement processes that engage a broad diversity of affected and interested communities, including under-served and under-represented communities, in meaningful and appropriate ways. (COMPREHENSIVE PLAN Policy 2.7)

  • 2.7.a. Provide funding that is adequate to carry out equity-driven public involvement best practices. (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.7.a) 
  • 2.7.b. Foster a culture of equitable public involvement across all divisions within PBOT. (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.7.b) 
  • 2.7.c. Foster consistency in community engagement approaches and implementation across the Bureau of Transportation. (TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM PLAN 2.7.c)

I bring up this last point to call attention to the urgency in adequately funding PBOT so as provide consistent community engagement and implementation. Failure to adhere to the policies are what lead to these decisions to roll back infrastructure projects.

The Transportation System Plan will undergo an update very soon and I’d encourage everyone to read through it and consider what changes they would like to see. If you read through all of this, you are amazing. If not, I don’t blame you: Public involvement and creating safe, equitable communities for all should not require shifting through thousands of pages.

https://www.portland.gov/transportation/planning/tsp

Charley
Charley
4 months ago

This is a tough call for PBOT, because it involves a pair of competing principles that PBOT values very highly:

Don’t risk being called racist.
vs
Build a safer transportation network.

I think they value #1 very highly. Seriously, for any individual public servant in Portland, this would be a prime motivating factor. I don’t personally think they should weigh decisions this way, but I can understand the motivation!

___________________________________

There are some other framings of the competing values in this episode that yield different solutions to the problem:

Minority Rights
vs
Majority Rule
At first glance, this would place priority on the rights of BIPOC homeowners to park their car in the public right-of-way for free, because of their racial minority status. However, when it’s put up against the very real, very concrete risk of harm to vulnerable road users, I think a correct application of the value of minority rights would prioritize the safety of minority road user status: the vulnerable road users for whom the City has previously decided to protect.

Racial minority status is of course very important, but it is less relevant here than road user minority status.

Emotional Harm
vs
Physical Harm
Clearly, it’s important to avoid emotional harm, and thanks to the legacy of institutional racism, the complaints about hurt feelings are valid. However, I don’t think those complaints should outweigh the marginal increased risk of physical harm due to maintaining a less-safe road network.

PBOT is probably comparing the current, very public hurt feelings with the increased possibility of an future accident on this street. The angry homeowners are on the news, whereas it’s not like someone’s dying on that street every day.

So I can understand. . . but I think it’s short sighted. The decision doesn’t give enough weight to the long time period of that potential increased risk. The decision also seems to underweight the creation of its negative incentive structure. That incentive structure increases the risk of physical harm by putting yet more barriers on the path to building safer roads.

Process
vs
Outcome
This one’s tricky because I think we can all agree that there are cases in which we prioritize the process. The legal system, for instance, currently allows for a defendant to go free if the state botches the prosecution, even when the facts of their case are not disputed. We’d rather “guilty” people go free than have a government that doesn’t follow its legal process correctly.

But in this case, I’d weight it the other way:
1. There are relatively small negative effects here (the loss of private property storage on a public facility).
2. It’s a relatively small process failure (failure to notify of safety improvements).
3. Neither of the above should outweigh the relatively large negative effects of the decision (a decrease in road safety).

To me, the correct decision here is to decide that the outcome is so good, and the process is not so terrible: the bike lane should stay.

Summing up: I disagree with the decision, because I think PBOT has chosen to prioritize the wrong values. I have no doubt the budget crunch hurts their effectiveness. I’m optimistic that the ultimate resolution will be better than letting people just park in bike lanes because they got upset about the bike lanes.