PBOT Director on plain talk, ‘back to basics’ and more

PBOT director on road maintenance: “If we had to cut anywhere, it would not be there.” (Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Millicent Williams has made it a habit to attend the monthly meeting of the Portland Freight Advisory Committee. At this morning’s meeting she answered some questions from members of that committee that I feel deserve a bit more attention.

Oregon Trucking Association President and PFAC Chair Jana Jarvis said she thinks if PBOT wants more public support for new taxes and revenue, the agency needs to get better at messaging the vital role infrastructure plays in Portlanders’ lives. “We’ve got to find a narrative that connects the average citizen with what that investment would do,” Jarvis said.

In her answer, Williams offered information about an upcoming reorganization at PBOT, then got into one of my favorite subjects: messaging and how word choice can help PBOT achieve their goals quicker:

“We’re not completely reorganizing, but we are realigning, and we recognize that in so doing we have an opportunity — by what we call each of the groups within our structure — to convey the message of what we do. We need to speak in plain language about what it is.

I first got here, people would say, ‘… active transportation…’ and I was like, ‘What are you talking about? What do you actually mean? Do you mean biking and walking?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah,’ and I was like, ‘Well, can we say that? Because I don’t know what you mean!’ And unless you’re in those spaces or hear that language used often, it’s mystifying and we need to demystify our work and do better at communicating what our goals are.”

One of the next questions came from 50-year trucking industry veteran Bob Short (who, like several others on this committee, have served way longer terms than members of other PBOT modal committees, but I digress):

“I’ve been on this committee for nearly 20 years and there has always been discussion around the idea that that basic maintenance and infrastructure money has been diverted over the years to do other more quote/unquote, “interesting projects,” “social engineering, and that sort of thing. And that maintenance has kind of been a not very high priority with the bureau. I wonder if you would like to comment on that?

Director Williams:

“… much of what we see in terms of project work that’s happening is funded by outside sources. So in as much as there’s the perception that we’re diverting funds to some of that more creative work, we have an opportunity to kind of dispel some of that mythology. Much of the more creative work is funded by outside sources. The basic maintenance dollars that we have are part of that small, $100 million dollars which has to be used to do a whole bunch of stuff… there are some who have described PBOT as almost like a nonprofit in that we do so much grant writing.”

Then Williams expanded on her belief that PBOT needs to get “back to basics”:

“I do want us to get back to the basics. I want to make sure we’re prioritizing basic maintenance and operations and demonstrating our commitment to that work, because that’s what Portlanders have told us. That’s want they want. That’s what we know is necessary… I’ve often said, ‘Yes, we need to be innovative,’ but I can’t I can’t in good faith sign off on ideas that have us placing a stripe on alligator roadways. And the stripe is what’s holding the road together, instead of the bed of the road.

So we are shifting, at least in terms of prioritizing our budget and potential cuts to the budget — the places that we held harmless were in the maintenance and operations spaces. And if we had to cut anywhere, it would not be there.”

The last exchange I’ll share came from committee member Steve Sieber, a principal at development firm Trammell Crow. He asked about how Portland’s new form of government will impact PBOT.

Sieber:

Do you see big changes in the next year or so for PBOT in this new approach for consolidation of the infrastructure bureaus, or more coordination of the infrastructure bureaus? How does it affect PBOT?”

Williams:

“I anticipate that we will see very little impact to our daily operations. There will be the opportunity for greater coordination and collaboration on some of the major work that we do as a city… but our day-to-day operations will largely be unchanged. What you’ll likely see is greater intentionality around the coordination [between bureaus]… I would dare say you won’t see any changes of note probably for several years, if not, probably around five years when you would see — if there were massive changes — would take about that. And I don’t think you’ll see them.

Having worked in this strong mayor/city administrator form of government as a director, the beauty is that you’re left alone to do your work. So there’s very little need to be concerned.”

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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Watts
Watts
2 months ago

I anticipate that we will see very little impact to our daily operations. There will be the opportunity for greater coordination and collaboration on some of the major work that we do as a city… but our day-to-day operations will largely be unchanged. What you’ll likely see is greater intentionality around the coordination [between bureaus]… I would dare say you won’t see any changes of note probably for several years, if not, probably around five years when you would see — if there were massive changes — would take about that. And I don’t think you’ll see them.

This was great. I was hungry, and this word salad rather hit the spot.

Had she just said “No, I expect our daily operations will stay the same for the next couple of years”, I would have to go rummage around in the fridge for something, and the pickings are slim.

BrickLearns
BrickLearns
2 months ago

Do you mean biking and walking?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah,’ and I was like, ‘Well, can we say that? Because I don’t know what you mean!’

Every industry/profession has their own jargon, seems pretty reasonable to expect the “Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation” to know what a term like “Active Transportation” means.

social engineering, and that sort of thing

Nice reporting, it’s very interesting to hear that the truckers don’t think that designing and prioritizing everyone moving around in a little metal box as the default mode of transportation is it’s own form of social engineering.

Steven
Steven
2 months ago
Reply to  BrickLearns

But you see, Bob Short has merely heard “discussion” around the idea. Some folks out there just have some concerns that PBOT is doing social engineering at the expense of basic maintenance. And in 20 years apparently no one has told Short that’s not how it works?

donel courtney
donel courtney
2 months ago
Reply to  BrickLearns

I”m curious though, honestly, what do you think the solution is to move people around the region in the medium term other than little metal boxes. Those of us who beleive in active transportation are going to have to sell it, not just judge. \

Portland is deeply interconnected with workplaces in the greater region –Bridgeport, Kruse Way, Intel, Nike, Clackamas warehousing district). And if you look at the latest employment report where Multnomah county is losing jobs at a rapid clip in favor of other counties and cities–this issue will only get worse, and indeed its roots predate the pandemic.

A region with a density of 4,000 people per square mile, with jobs clustered in suburban areas, and a built environment that would take decades to double that, were the will even there to do that…

What options are scaleable?

The best solution I can think of is like Seattle or LA are doing. Nodal, as is being done in Lents, Hollywood etc where density is clustered in a sprawling greater region connected by rail or rapid bus lines.

But many trips from people’s houses that require visiting something away from the node (say a friends house to pick someone up, or a small restaurant) will require miles of distance be covered away from the public transport that delivers one to the node itself.

And safety is a huge problem right now. Lents and Hollywood are not safe. The Max is not safe.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  donel courtney

I was with you til you mentioned safety. Maybe it’s your perception of safety?

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Maybe it’s your perception of safety?

“Safety” is almost all perception. Some people even think bike riding in Portland isn’t safe.

jakeco969
jakeco969
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Does it really matter if its a “perception” of safety? I can’t help but catch a whiff of condescending contempt in your comment. If the person doesn’t feel safe its absolutely legitimate.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Is it? What if there were an entire generation raised to feel unsafe in almost every situation?

C’mon – if you have traveled to almost any large city in the world, you know that Portland is safe by comparison.

jakeco969
jakeco969
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

You’ve moved the goalposts pretty quick this time. Donel Courtney was talking about 2 neighborhoods and a train system that are rough. I agree with the poster whole heartedly on the MAX being unsafe, uncomfortable and unpleasant and only have anecdotal perceptions on Lents and Hollywood. Now you are talking about comparing all of Portland to the whole world when no one was thinking that except you. Have you ever commuted on the MAX, do you spend a lot of time in Lents or Hollywood? Do you know more than the poster who is speaking from personal experience? You dont even seem to realize how you are discounting and minimizing the poster’s experience and you can’t even offer up a coherent counterpoint except …”the world”

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Is it? 

You might have a point if a broad spectrum of people weren’t saying the same thing.

That other places are statistically more dangerous doesn’t really reveal much about how threatened people feel. Safety, is, after all, mostly perception.

dan
dan
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

The perception that Portland is unsafe is not at all limited to young people, so I don’t see the relevance of your link.

And what large world cities have you been to recently?

Since 2022 I’ve visited Vancouver, Rome, Naples and Bangkok (and used transit in each). Portland and TriMet seemed safe only in comparison to Naples, which is a low bar.
Our crime stats compare favorably to many places around the world, but probably not those that people generally choose for travel.

I don’t think that Portland is a crime ridden cesspool but your arguments don’t make much sense to me.

maxD
maxD
2 months ago
Reply to  donel courtney

Excellent comment Donel! I have been cycling for transportation sine 1989, and my kid was cyclist/MAX rider in elementary and middle school. She is in high school now and will not ride on the streets nor take the MAX alone, and I cannot blame her. PBOT has done an abysmal job of developing and protecting our bikeways. Not only does every single route out of our neighborhood have unacceptably dangerous pinch points, the little bit of good infrastructure we do have is allowed to be constantly undermined. Every other day I encounter cars in the riverfront park and parked in or driving in the bike lane. PBOT refuses to replace the missing bollard at Salmon and at the Burnside bridge so it is free for all for uber/lyft drivers and Saturday market/Cinco de Mayo vendors. Cyclists and vendors are put into conflict and just left to work it out because the City cannot be bothered to addressed obvious conflicts that can easily be foreseen and managed. TriMet let the MAX become a filthy/unsafe mess, with zero expectations for acceptable behavior- of course people have stopped using it! It is not ok to have a yelling fit or opening smoke drugs on a train. I have been driving more the last year than I have in decades because I am so exhausted by the red light runners, the speeders, the distracted drivers and the crazy amount of broken glass in the bike lanes and paths. It is anarchy on the roads- people are simply rolling through red lights regularly on Naito and Interstate- they are not paying attention to cyclists or pedestrians and it is exhausting. I used to cajole my wife and daughter to join me on bike rides or replace a few trips a week with transit, but now we considering buying a second metal box.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  maxD

That’s really depressing to read. Yes, the CoP is a dysfunctional mess, but it’s not as bad as you make out. I wonder if you are focusing on the negative at the expense of the positive?

maxD
maxD
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I am acknowledging the negative. I personally ignore the negative every day when I hop on bike and commute to work or the store on my bike, but PBOT is ignoring the negative, and the negative is what colors the experience of less confident cyclists and transit users. I have spoken with a lot of parents about this (I get asked for advice since I am long-time bike commuter) and there have been many conversations amongst families in our neighborhood and school friends about the viability of transit for young people. It is definitely NOT just me, and it it is not just focusing on the negative. PBOT is simply doing an insufficient job planning, designing, building and maintaining our bike and ped network. And TriMet royally dropped the ball by letting transit get so out of control- I fear that it is going to take a long time to rebuild trust.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Based on my experience as an every-day commuter, maxD nailed it when they wrote:

I am so exhausted by the red light runners, the speeders, the distracted drivers and the crazy amount of broken glass in the bike lanes and paths.

I suspect that people who don’t bike commute or who don’t routinely ride longer distances for transportation (e.g. not peaceful and meditative leisure routes) are unaware of how bad it’s gotten.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Yeah I guess all the events that happen to those other folks and not you are just their imagination.
Life is too short to not be aware of how far down the CoP has fallen the last 5 years. It’s real even if you chose not to see it.
But I guess your rose-colored glasses are fabulous! Where does one purchase the same? /s

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  donel courtney

sell it, not just judge

Even more important is actually delivering on the promise and getting it to work.

Nashville has started Lyft/Uber rides for the “last mile” to get people to and from bus stops.

cct
cct
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

If Williams and PBOT were competent managers, they would know to ‘sell’ the truckers on the idea that bike/ped infrastructure is beneficial to THEM if it keeps bikes etc out of conflict with a truck! I’m sure even the most anti-libtard trucker would rather not run someone down. Too much paperwork.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  cct

Yes, exactly. Plus, one thing City people do way too often is to let the public be the “bad guy”. It’s happened to me dozens of times.

Think of the SW Broadway bike lane fiasco, which also involved Williams. PBOT pretty much told businesses, “Well, we don’t like bike lanes either, but what are ya gonna do? You know how those bike people are!”

It’s cowardly, and pits groups of the public against each other, so things become increasingly adversarial over time.

Damien
Damien
2 months ago
Reply to  donel courtney

I”m curious though, honestly, what do you think the solution is to move people around the region in the medium term other than little metal boxes.

[…]

What options are scaleable?

It’s worth pointing out that congestion is the geometric lack of scalability of those metal boxes.

Bjorn
Bjorn
2 months ago
Reply to  BrickLearns

Not knowing what active transportation means is a real “Tell me you aren’t qualified for your job without saying you aren’t qualified for your job” situation.

Mick O
Mick O
2 months ago

It’s hard to say “language matters,” and then also say “Just say ‘biking and walking’ and people will just magically know and accept that scooters, and one-wheels, and skateboards, and runners, and people trying to make it to their bus stop, and wheelchairs, and adaptive trikes should be included, too.”

Just saying “biking and walking” makes it easier to dismiss equity and inclusivity and dismiss the activity as leisure and not actual “transportation” to things like jobs and school and groceries. I am all for clear communication. I do not support language as a tool to marginalize and exclude, which reducing “active transportation” to “biking and walking” actually does.

But, I will make a deal. We can use “biking and walking” if instead of “freight” we switch to saying “some guys in trucks.”

Mick O
Mick O
2 months ago

And, with this clarity on her part, it will make it easier for any government she is involved with to continue dismissing “active transportation” because in her mind, it’s “clearly” just some bikers and walkers.

Remember, her audience for these comments was the freight lobby — a group that needs a more complete understanding what active transportation actually entails. What she should be doing is explaining the terminology to them and why they should take it more seriously, but instead she is signalling to them that she gets it – they don’t need to be concerned with bikers and walkers.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Mick O

Are one-wheels and electric scooters considered “active transportation” now?

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Nah…they are just toys…kinda like bicycles and ebikes. /s

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

Micromobility is not a form of active transportation, even if a poorly worded ODOT document mentioned it in passing. An all-electric vehicle is not “active”, even if it is “micro”.

I realize that might sound bonkers to you, but that’s how I was raised.

Steven
Steven
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Bicycles are a form of micromobility. I guess they’re not “active” either. It’s pretty self-evident that riding an e-scooter entails more physical activity than sitting in a car. Semantic hair-splitting aside, active transportation and micromobility are interrelated concepts, both addressing the same goal of reducing car trips.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

Why would bicycles not be “active”? Micromobility is a broad category, including things that are active and not active. Bikes would be both.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

ODOT (source of the quote) oversteps. Wheeled things can be micromobile _without_ being active. Guess you might use your core muscles a little on a micro electric mobility thing, but that’s about it.

Steven
Steven
2 months ago
Reply to  360Skeptic

The issue is whether a term like “active transportation” is useful in designing infrastructure to enable all the ways people might travel outside of a car. In a collision with a 3-ton pickup, there’s a negligible difference between a pedestrian and someone on an electric skateboard. From a transportation agency’s perspective, the point should not be which muscles someone uses, but whether the system is designed to let people travel freely and safely. Not just ODOT, but also USDOT and NACTO treat micromobility (including electric micromobility) and active transportation as overlapping concepts for this reason.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

That is an issue, but it’s not the question that was asked.

Steven
Steven
2 months ago
Reply to  qqq

The question that was asked was one of those “gotcha” moments that so frequently crop up to derail the discussion. I am trying to keep the focus on how the language used by PBOT can help or hinder the goal of providing safe and equitable transportation options.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

I disagree that Watts’ question was a “”gotcha’ moment…to derail the discussion”. It seemed logical and relevant to me.

I also disagree with your “I guess they’re (bicycles) not “active” either.” I’ve never seen any definition of “active transportation” that would exclude human-powered bicycles. I agree with Watts and 360 Skeptic that micromobility and active transportation are two related but different things.

I think your calling people “retro-grouch purists” if they disagree with your view that e-micromobility devices are “active transportation” is way out of line. It’s fine to disagree, but I don’t like your name-calling any more than your dismissively saying Watts’ question was a “‘gotcha’ moment…”

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

micromobility (including electric micromobility) and active transportation as overlapping concepts

They absolutely are overlapping; it’s just that one-wheels and other small electric vehicles are not “active transportation”.

While there may not be much difference in the consequences for an e-skateboarder and a pedestrian in the event of a crash with a large vehicle, there is a big difference in which is more likely to be involved in one so those modes may demand different treatment.

Steven
Steven
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

No one is saying pedestrians and e-skateboarders should be treated the same in terms of infrastructure, any more than walking and bicycling. An active transportation network includes such things as bike lanes, sidewalks, and multi-use trails to accommodate a wide range of modes, both powered and un-powered.

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  BrickLearns

seems pretty reasonable to expect the “Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation” to know what a term like “Active Transportation” means.

Yes, that seems pretty reasonable.

Wooster
Wooster
2 months ago
Reply to  BrickLearns

I do agree that the jargon has gotten out of hand. “Active transportation” isn’t nearly as clear to the average person as “walking and biking” would be.

This also makes me think of a very annoying ongoing debate over whether say “walking” is okay or if we should always say “walking and rolling.” This one bothers me because the root of the word “walk” literally is “roll” (seriously, look it up!) and “going for a walk” doesn’t imply that you use your feet. I’ve known several people who use wheelchairs, and they would never say “I’m going for a roll”–they say “I’m going for a walk” just like everyone else. It’s one of those terms that is condescendingly used on behalf of other people who never asked for a special term, and it actually serves to further highlight the difference rather than what we have in common. I’ve also heard the same concern about the word “pedestrian” (which actually does have “foot” as its root word origin), but not from actual people with disabilities, who mostly seem fine with the term.

Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

‘Back to Basics’ = walking and cycling facilities as you cannot get more “basic” than human powered mobility…and narrower streets, plus no sweeping, no snow plowing or sanding.

Back to Basics (aka Back to the Future)

Steven
Steven
2 months ago

Williams may be a fan of plain language, but I had to do a good bit of searching to figure out just what the heck an “alligator roadway” is. Apparently she’s referring to something called alligator cracking or crocodile cracking, where the top layer of pavement is broken up by interconnecting cracks, resembling alligator hide. So the question becomes, who is asking her to sign off on striping bike lanes or whatever at the expense of basic repair?

Serenity
Serenity
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

Yeah, I’d never heard that one before.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

Alligator Cracking is about as common jargon among transportation wonks who fix stroads and pavement, as the term Active Transportation is among transportation wonks who advocate for bikeway improvements – that is, well-known among wonks and totally unknown by the general public – and likely unknown to her before she took the job.

Other equally wonky transportation terms include Edgeline (that white paint at the right-hand edge of the highway), Gore (the white hatching you often see on buffered bike lanes), RFBs (rapid flashing beacons), Viaduct (that part of the stroad that goes over a low point or a buried stream), Culvert (a tube or prefabricated tunnel under a stroad), Stroad, Sharrow, etc etc.

cct
cct
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

‘Edgeline’ is called a ‘fogline’ around here (and where I grew up). So-called becasue if you found yourself crossing it dimly through the fog, you needed to turn the wheel left… and if you saw it loom outta the fog on YOUR side you were in real trouble!

Wooster
Wooster
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

It’s very common for bike lane stripes to be put on top of cracked and failing asphalt, and we also have entire bike lanes in the same situation. So I think she’s saying that in some cases, maybe we shouldn’t do the restriping unless we also fix the pavement. And I can get on board with that. Some of the bike lanes on terrible pavement seem very hazardous.

Steven
Steven
1 month ago
Reply to  Wooster

Well, there’s a difference between striping a new bike lane, which is what Williams seems to be complaining about, and restriping an existing lane, which is just basic maintenance. Asphalt resurfacing is done about every 15–20 years. Should we also wait that long to restripe centerlines etc?

cct
cct
2 months ago

“back to the basics. ”

And what, pray tell, are ‘the basics’ according to the AASHTO manuals, and traffic engineering schools?

Throughput, throughput, and driver safety.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 months ago

Hmmm, couldn’t possibly be an election year where your job is on the line?
Nah, I’m sure it’s just coincidence.

Chris I
Chris I
2 months ago

What was the percent of budget spent on employees who actively do maintenance and other capital improvements before, and what is it going to be?

Back to basics at PBOT would be axing project managers, outreach positions, equity focals, etc, and hiring maintenance workers.

dw
dw
2 months ago

I want the greenways and bus routes to be prioritized for repaving. Riding the bus can be a real kidney buster and it feels like my bike is going to shake itself apart on most of the neighborhood greenways.

SD
SD
2 months ago

I’m sick of my tax dollars paying for road damage done by heavy vehicles and studded tires. This weather of this region is rough on roads and the major metropolitan areas need to mitigate all of the factors that cause road destruction. The weight of vehicles largely reflects individual vanity, industry inefficiencies and consumer gullibility. These are luxuries that should be taxed to pay for the damage they create.

jakeco969
jakeco969
2 months ago
Reply to  SD

Agreed! Looking at the Oregon DMV description of passenger vehicle it states…..

“Passenger vehicles are designed and used to transport people. If your vehicle has a combined weight over 10,000 pounds it may be registered as a bus or truck depending on how it is used.”
https://www.oregon.gov/odot/dmv/pages/vehicle/vehicletypes.aspx

I don’t know if its laziness, carcentric bias or fear of angering people who believe that a 5 ton vehicle (and that’s not even a maximum weight) is needed for driving a few blocks for groceries that prevents a government who loves to stick its nose everywhere to construct a sliding scale of taxation that increases as does the weight of a vehicle.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

I don’t know if its laziness, carcentric bias or fear of angering people 

Probably not fear. Those weights almost certainly come from federal definitions. Under 10,000 lbs is the FHWA’s definition of a “light vehicle” (class 1: < 6000 lbs, class 2: 6000 – 10,000 lbs).

Oregon DMV might be able to create their own classifications, but administratively, it’s a lot easier if you go with ones that already exist. No one wants to maintain their own classification system.

Assessing taxes based on vehicle weight is a very narrowly held political goal that is probably going nowhere.

Angus Peters
Angus Peters
2 months ago

I don’t hear anything comforting in William’s “back to basics” statement. To me, it seems like election year gobbleygook to support Mapps in his mayoral bid as they know voters are pissed off about the systemic dysfunction in Portland government.
“Back to basics” would be jettisoning the confused obsession with “equity” (removing bike lanes on 33rd, no PBL’s on Hawthorne, not enforcing RV parking regulations) and get to cleaning our bike lanes, filling the potholes and doing shi* a city transportation department is supposed to do.

Steven
Steven
2 months ago
Reply to  Angus Peters

“Equity” in transportation just means providing everyone with the same access to affordable and reliable means of getting around. It’s one thing to say PBOT/TriMet/Metro has done a bad job of achieving this, and quite another to say transportation equity itself is bad. Even if you’re not currently a member of an underserved minority, everyone will be one at some point in their lives—whether as a child, a senior citizen, or someone with a disability. It’s pretty ironic to hear a dismissal of equity as misguided while asking for more bike lane maintenance, since most people already think bike lanes are a useless frivolity if not downright harmful.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven

Even if you’re not currently a member of an underserved minority, everyone will be one at some point in their lives—whether as a child, a senior citizen, or someone with a disability.

In my community of 300,000 we apparently had a young fearless white male engineer who took pride in the 70s, 80s, and 90s designing and building numerous arterial stroads that were barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another. He would put the curbs right up to the right-of-way line so no sidewalks could ever be built. He sincerely believed, as many engineers and lawyers of all races still do alas, that everyone was safer getting around by car only, not walking or bicycling ever. The irony in this story is that he’s unexpectedly still alive, in his 80s, effectively imprisoned at home on his mobility device, unable to drive any longer, and can’t even leave his yard because there are no sidewalks and car drivers go too fast. He sees his mistakes and very much regrets them, according to a planner friend who has talked extensively with him.

X
X
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Is that an anecdote? 😉

A lot of my peers are still quite active but have parents or other elders who are finding their lives constrained as they’re less able to move around and also less able to drive safely. I’ve chosen not to own a car and that’s one reason I’m in favor of a comprehensive transit system.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  X

Is that an anecdote?

No, the story come from a reliably truthful source, a regional planning director for our 9-county rural planning organization (RPO).

A lot of my peers are still quite active but have parents or other elders who are finding their lives constrained as they’re less able to move around and also less able to drive safely. I’ve chosen not to own a car and that’s one reason I’m in favor of a comprehensive transit system.

One of the things in your favor (and mine as I too don’t drive) is that any jurisdiction with a public transit system must also have a comprehensive “dial-a-ride’ or “lift” service for seniors and those who are disabled, essentially a low-price no-frills taxi service, part of the ADA legislation. Many jurisdictions without public transit also have such a service, often federally subsidized either directly to the jurisdiction or indirectly, paid for by a local health agency or hospital. The user needs to make a reservation, often at least 24 hours in advance, but the service is usually door-to-door or nearly so, with your ticket being limited to twice the price as your local bus service. Obviously the service is expensive to operate, your ticket covers less than 5% of the cost, and the operators have a long and extensive eligibility process, but it is there in most communities.

Beth h
2 months ago

Can “back to basics” include allowing citizen repair of twenty-year-old potholes on residential side streets? After no response for years, I am just about ready to leave out the middleman and pour some QwikCrete on the thing myself. It’s a big city and I’m sure PBOTZ would appreciate the initiative.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Beth h

C’mon out to SW, where the official PBOT position is that most of the city-owned streets are “privately maintained.” You read that right: the city owns them but refuses to maintain them, so it’s up to individual citizens to pave, fix potholes, buy gravel and spread it, etc.

Oh – and if the city doesn’t like the way you pave etc, they will come out and remove it. So they clearly *OWN* these streets but they officially get to neglect them when they want to.

Mary S
Mary S
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Fred,
The reason COP doesn’t maintain your street is that it wasn’t built to appropriate standards. You and your neighbors (via a LID) could get it up to standards and have the city maintain it. You should consider getting your neighbors to do a LID so you too can get city provided street maintenance. I’ll warn you though….it’s not that good.

It has been and remains the policy of the City of Portland that streets are constructed at the expense of abutting property owners and are maintained by abutting property owners until street improvements are constructed to the applicable standards of, and accepted for maintenance by, the City. Until a street improvement has been constructed to City standards and the City has expressly assumed responsibility for street maintenance, it is the exclusive duty of the abutting property owners to construct, reconstruct, repair and maintain the unimproved street in a condition reasonably safe for the uses that are made of the street and adjoining properties.  
A Local Service Street may be accepted for maintenance when a private party improves it to certain minimum standards. Typically, this will involve improving the segment to meet the Local Street Pavement Standards of TRN 1.08.  The improvement must be a full block length from intersection to intersection. There is a process to verify if a paved Local Service Street which is not currently accepted for maintenance can be accepted without further improvements.

https://www.portland.gov/transportation/development/pavement-review

Here’s some information on how to do a LID for you and your neighbors:
https://www.portland.gov/transportation/pbot-projects/lid-projects/what-local-improvement-district-lid

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Mary S

I don’t think people realize what a crazy number of streets (red on the map) fall under the “private responsibility to maintain” category.

https://pdx.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=322fb44af46e48de9345dd491f5dc437

For people in SW and Outer Southeast, you can add this to your (legitimate) complaint list. Not only do you get shortchanged on bike and pedestrian-related improvements, you have to maintain the public streets at your own expense, and (I assume) are liable for any injuries or other problems caused by lack of maintenance.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  qqq

At least in East Portland, there are several official PBOT bike routes on some of the red streets, for example NE 108th from Burnside to Everett, and Oregon from 111th to 112th. I wonder how the city deals with those?

Wooster
Wooster
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Those got paved! The map must be out of date.

Angus Peters
Angus Peters
2 months ago
Reply to  Mary S

It’s the same for sidewalks in Portland. Neighborhoods without sidewalks can get sidewalks via a LID if the property owners want them.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Angus Peters

That’s incorrect. Neighborhoods can’t have sidewalks, the City of Portland will not allow it, unless there is a stormwater system in place to drain the fast-moving runoff a curb creates. Most of southwest Portland doesn’t have such a system, and therefore can’t have sidewalks until treatment ponds are in place.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago

If someone puts in a sidewalk on their property without a permit (presumably with them doing the work themselves and not a contractor), does the city come in and remove it?

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  David Hampsten

If someone complains, I think the city can make property owners get back in compliance with whatever, although they may be too busy for that now.

But regarding sidewalks, I’m not going to look it up, but I think you can get a permit to build short segments of sidewalk (< 50 ft ?) without the stormwater infrastructure in place. But think about it, a stormwater system is a system, the ends need to connect to something. It's a perfect example of infrastructure that can't be done piecemeal. That's why the government does it ...

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

It’s sort of the wrong question, since sidewalks in Portland are almost all on public property (property line is typically at the inside edge of the sidewalk).

If it’s on your property, you don’t need a building permit, but you may need a zoning or site development permit. But if you did need a permit, and built it without one, the City hardly ever acts on those unless someone files a complaint.

And even if people do file complaints, it can take several years before the City even looks at the complaint, and several years more for the City to tale any action against the property owner. My experience is they’ll crack down on the little guy, and let bigger owners off easily.

If you built one on public property, I could see (and have seen) the City moving much more quickly–first demanding that it be removed, then progressing to removing it and billing the violator. But again, I’ve seen the City come down hard against small owners, and do nothing or nearly nothing against large ones.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago

Oops, I said “true” below, but you’re right in that (common in SW) situation.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Angus Peters

That’s true, but another equally true way of saying that is “If property owners in neighborhoods without sidewalks want sidewalks like the City built for other neighborhoods, they have to pay for them themselves”.

Or, “If you want sidewalks in your neighborhood and are willing to pay a substantial amount towards that, you can’t have them if your neighbors don’t want them”.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  qqq

There are however important exceptions. Many of the inner Portland neighborhoods, the so-called streetcar neighborhoods, got free sidewalks in the early 1930s with federal WPA funding and conscripted homeless labor. The city has always built highways and major stroads such as SW Barber in the 1930s and SW Capitol a couple years ago with sidewalks, as did the county and ODOT. During Adams term as mayor, he got PBOT to build many miles of sidewalks in East Portland (and a few in SW) at city expense. BES has built a few sidewalks as well. PBOT did an extensive sidewalk history report in 2000 that Lisa has referenced several times here on BP.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

That’s my point. All those areas got sidewalks for free. They’re not exceptions, they’re the standard. That’s why people in neighborhoods without sidewalks now should be especially unhappy with being told they’ll have to pay out of their own pockets if they want sidewalks.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
2 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I had a house in one of those neighborhoods with no sidewalks. I thought to myself why would I put in sidewalks (it wasn’t a main street) if my neighbors aren’t either.
I lived just fine with a grass strip between my front fence and the street. If it had been mud and rock I might have done something but grass makes for an excellent path.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

Yes, I’m a big fan of NOT having sidewalks on low-traffic streets, and doing things to make more streets low-traffic. Ironically, my neighborhood fought to NOT have free-for-us sidewalks installed (and won after a hard fight) while other neighborhoods that really want and need them go begging. My comments were in regard to neighborhoods that DO want them.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams
2 months ago
Reply to  qqq

“Neighborhoods” don’t want anything, the people who live/work/own property there do. And the people who live/work/own property there change. I suspect a lot of unmaintained streets are that way because someone didn’t want to pay to build the street to standards. Those people may be long gone, but the street still isn’t to standard.

As for low traffic streets, there are plenty of suburban cul-de-sac neighborhoods where all the traffic is channeled onto wide arterials. The problem is that for one street to be “low traffic” you have to move the traffic onto some other street.

The result is massive auto-dependent neighborhoods with no direct access to anything without driving out of the way a mile or two. Those long trips create even MORE traffic and create an environment completely unfriendly to bike or pedestrian transportation.

Everyone here know what “active transportation” is, they just don’t agree. My take is we are talking about non-motorized transportation. But that leaves out e-bikes and motorized skate boards/scooters/wheelchairs. I think what people want it to mean is anything that isn’t licensed as a motor vehicle. So buses, trains, cars, trucks and motorcycles aren’t active. Any other form of ground transportation is “active”. It takes a lot more active work to handle a Harley than it does an e-bike.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

“Neighborhoods” don’t want anything, the people who live/work/own property there do. And the people who live/work/own property there change

By “neighborhoods wanting” of course I meant the people in the neighborhoods, not the houses or bushes or anything else you might include as being part of a neighborhood. I thought that would be obvious.

I also meant the people in the neighborhood at the time, not what the people who used to live there wanted, which is obviously irrelevant, and not what future residents may want, which is obviously unknown.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

As for low traffic streets, there are plenty of suburban cul-de-sac neighborhoods where all the traffic is channeled onto wide arterials.

Lots of people (including me) would agree that suburban cul-de-sac neighborhoods are not good models for creating low-traffic streets. Lots of those same people (including me) would agree that doing things to reduce cut-through traffic on residential streets by Waze-using commuters trying to avoid arterial traffic is a good model. That’s what I’m talking about.

The problem is that for one street to be “low traffic” you have to move the traffic onto some other street.

That’s often not a problem, it’s often an admirable goal–as in the case of directing vehicle through-traffic towards arterials with sidewalks, and away from small residential streets.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago
Reply to  Ross Williams

Everyone here know what “active transportation” is, they just don’t agree. My take is we are talking about non-motorized transportation. But that leaves out e-bikes and motorized skate boards/scooters/wheelchairs. I think what people want it to mean is anything that isn’t licensed as a motor vehicle. So buses, trains, cars, trucks and motorcycles aren’t active. Any other form of ground transportation is “active”. It takes a lot more active work to handle a Harley than it does an e-bike.

I have no idea why you wrote that in response to my comment about sidewalks. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Everyone here know what “active transportation” is, they just don’t agree.

If everyone knows what it is, why do they disagree about what it is? And apparently you think I don’t know what it is, since you feel a need to explain it to me.

I think what people want it to mean is anything that isn’t licensed as a motor vehicle.

I don’t want it to mean that. Neither did some other people here in other comments.

I view what you’re describing are “micro-mobility devices”, and that “active transportation” means human-powered. That’s a common, widely-used definition.

Other people do view “active transportation” the way you do. I’m fine with that. There’s no referee to tell people which definition is the single correct one.

What I don’t like is people name-calling or chastising people whose definition differs from theirs.

cct
cct
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Not far from Lisa’a house are curb stamps clearly marked ‘City of Portland.’ They appear to be 1910 – 1920.

The city will swiftly act if you put a sidewalk on their ROW because they are terrified ‘someone could sue us if hurt on non-approved sidewalk!’ The joke is that the adjacent property owner is the one who will be liable so the fear is moot. To be fair, the sidewalk a neighbor illegally poured is so pathetic that it wasn’t smooth or level the day it was poured, and now it resembles the surface of the Moon. And he was a developer!

Back to topic – this whole episode is another example of why we needed to junk the old commissioner/bureau setup. Mapps wants to be Mayor. Williams wants to keep her job, so she delivers what the boss wants; in this case, what Mapps thinks voters want – no potholes, faster commutes, no cyclist-coddling, etc. If she didn’t have to carry her boss’s water maybe she wouldn’t keep beclowning herself.

This also ties in with my opinion that people do not give Wheeler the credit he deserves for being a master political knife-fighter (a view Allan Classen recently came ’round to); seeing a credible mayoral threat, he tossed Mapps the flaming pile of poo that was bankrupt, mismanaged, and was pleasing no-one. Bye-bye, Mayor Mapps! Amusingly Ted decided not to run again, but he’s worked hard backstage these last 2 years to lock-in a bunch of things (pro-police and pro-developer for a start) that will be hard for new council to unravel.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  cct

“she delivers what the boss wants”

The director is always going to do what her boss wants; that’s how bosses work.

The difference is currently we can vote for her boss, and in the future we can’t.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

We don’t vote for her boss. We could vote for a mayor who could assign one of five people to be her boss, for any of a variety of reasons.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago

Mapps knows that if he pisses too many people off, it will be harder for him to get re-elected. So while it is true that we don’t get to pick the head of PBOT per se, we do have political leverage over the bureau because the person in charge is elected.

cct
cct
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You know perfectly well the difference between a boss who can use a bureau for political gain, and one who is merely a bureaucrat. Randy Leonard making his bureaus chase various brightly colored objects, or use them as personal swords of retribution, comes to mind.

As Lisa points out, even if you got a commissioner who ran their bureau well and was popular due to that, that popularity is not a guarantee the mayor won’t decide they do the job too well and assign it to someone else. Usually the opposite.

Better a deep-state apparatchik beholden to industry ‘best practices’ than some loon who wakes up and decides they hate inflatable octopuses and makes that the focus of their portfolio.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
2 months ago
Reply to  cct

Fixed it for you:

Better an unaccountable deep-state apparatchik Portland bureacrat who makes hidebound and conservative decisions that block progress beholden to industry ‘best practices’

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  cct

Better a deep-state apparatchik beholden to industry ‘best practices’ than some loon who wakes up and decides they hate inflatable octopuses and makes that the focus of their portfolio.

I fully agree, but that’s not an accurate description of the options. “Better someone accountable to voters than someone accountable to a bureaucracy” is what we’re actually discussing. You may disagree about which is better, but the fundamental issue is accountability, not octopuses.

PS Most people here, including me, don’t really like “industry best practices” when it comes to road design and operation.

cct
cct
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

PS Most people here, including me, don’t really like “industry best practices” when it comes to road design and operation.

Agreed, I like them for my sewer work – not so much the transpo side.

maxD
maxD
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

The City has recently completed a couple extensive sidewalk infill projects: NE Halsey form 114th out to 162nd also 136th from Foster to Division. These provide a continuous sidewalk along one side of the street with improved crosswalks where there are gaps across the street. This is not perfect or complete, but it is a huge improvements and PBOT paid for it.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  maxD

136th was paid for almost entirely from city SDC funding and ODOT, even though 136th isn’t even remotely an ODOT road, from leftover CRC#1 funds that East Portland’s 10 state legislators grabbed when they could, the same pot of money for the 4 miles of outer Powell. It’s a long complex story.

Halsey sidewalks were partly funded by delaying bond payments on the Sellwood Bridge and much later partly FOS, in 2 distinctly different phases, while the nice inner part was paid for with urban renewal money. Same with sections of Glisan, Stark, 122nd, 162nd, and several neighborhood streets near schools. ODOT paid for a lot of the pedestrian islands you see on city stroads in EP.

PBOT was contracted by ODOT to rebuild outer Sandy beyond 105th. They also largely rebuilt 102nd. Most of the major stroads in East Portland were actually built by Multnomah County including the narrow painted bike lanes before annexation (pre-1992) and later PBOT added some sidewalks, buffered bike lanes and pedestrian islands.

I was involved as an East Portland community transportation advocate with both projects before I left Portland in 2015, getting them funded and designed, though they were implemented after I left town.

Wooster
Wooster
2 months ago
Reply to  qqq

The city didn’t build sidewalks for other neighborhoods. The original developers of those neighborhoods paid for and built the sidewalks. Basically the entire original city (before the 1980s annexations of East and SW Portland) was built through a series of planned sub-divisions. This idea that the city has ever paid for sidewalks on local streets in any significant way is just a myth.

Dave
Dave
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Are you a Brugger neighbor? I thought the speed bump was pretty innocuous. I appreciate the neighbors going in together to fix the street.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago

“Back to basics” is a great marketing slogan.

Each person can take it to mean what’s important to them. For parents, it’s giving their kids a safe route to school. For non-drivers, it’s sidewalks and safe crossings. For truckers, it’s making driving trucks on streets easier. For drivers, it’s fixing potholes, reducing traffic jams, and making parking on the street easier.

For truckers and other drivers, the other half is “…instead of building bike lanes, taking out lanes or parking to put in sidewalks, or building (whatever the latest new non-vehicle-focused project they drive past is)”.

I’ve always taken it to mean the truckers’ and drivers’ answer. Williams’ comments also describe that–her “prioritizing basic maintenance and operations” to me means fixing potholes, repaving and vehicle traffic flow” and doing “innovative” and “creative” work means striping bike and bus lanes, curb extensions for pedestrians, etc.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago

Since JM has to play nice with PBOT but I have no such obligation, I will translate Director Williams’s words as a service to BP readers.

Director Williams: “Hello, truckers! I know you do the important, REAL work of transporting stuff, so I want you to know that we at PBOT will use whatever funds we get to pave the streets you use. No more of those stupid vanity projects – bike lanes and sidewalks that nobody uses! Remember that the very first act of my tenure was my attempt to remove the Broadway bike lane. Of course I wasn’t able to do it, since I was stopped by those pesky ‘active transportation’ people (and I don’t know what that means). But from now on, it’s BACK TO BASICS, meaning I will prioritize your trucking demands. You already get 98% of our transportation infrastructure, and I’ll make sure you keep that and possibly get back the remaining 2%. Thank you.”

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago

Jonathan, I’d like to get your opinion on 2 infrastructure projects that truckers may have some undue influence: the Hayden Island central underpass proposed for the CRC (IBRP pronounced “I burp”) I-5 Bridge Replacement Project, and more specifically, the Rose Quarter I-5 (so-called) “improvement” project.

The Hayden Island central underpass seems unnecessary to me and possibly prevents simpler southbound and northbound exit and entrance ramps there.

More important today is the Rose Quarter I-5 widening as proposed. Truckers from Albina yards turn east off Interstate Ave onto Ramsay Ave straight to the I-5 southbound on-ramp. Latest ODOT renderings show that terrible on-ramp will remain even though relocating it to Weidler would be much safer and a safer traffic pattern leading to the relocated on-ramp.

Moreover, retaining the existing southbound on-ramp eliminates the ped/bike bridge crossing from Clackamas Street to Wheeler Way, an ideal crossing for the Green Loop rather than the absolutely insane route on Broadway/Weidler from NE 7th Ave.

Are trucking firms pulling strings at ODOT? Could the truck route from Interstate to Weidler to I-5 southbound work as well or better along Weidler than along Ramsay? I’m wondering about this because of my proposal to reprogram the first stoplight east of the Broadway Bridge to Flashing Red, which would make the turn east safer for trucks.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
2 months ago

For Williams, back to basics means get off bikes and get back to prioritizing CARS.

“I don’t know what active transportation means but somehow I’m the head of PBOT..hur de dur…am I right truckers?!”

Damn I can’t stand her