Comment of the Week: We’d get more street trees with better city code

Comment of the Week

Comment of the Week

“Trees require care and tidying up, so they’re not convenient anywhere, but they are necessary everywhere.”

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition.


It’s always worth keeping an eye on Scott Kocher, he has a track record of successfully getting the city’s attention on a number of issues. Urban trees, and their importance to cooling the city, have become a focus for him.

We published last week’ post, You have trees to thank for Portland’s cool streets, a year after the deadly “heat dome” killed 72 people in Multnomah County, many in east Portland which has the most anemic tree canopy in the city.

Scott was ready with some code changes in response. We’ve added a couple of images to illustrate his points. Here is what he wrote:

My observations are that new development routinely allows other competing uses (utility poles, underground utility vaults, on-street parking, etc) to supersede the “required” number of street trees planted, resulting in few or even no trees along many frontages that are now being redeveloped. And, current tree code limits the places trees must be considered for planting, and the size of allowable trees. 25′ canopies are now the max for most species allowed in 3′ planting strips.

Replacing a huge old tree with a miniature species results in net loss. I would like to see the tree code amended to require at least consideration of curb zones and medians for street tree plantings, for existing and new development. While future bike lanes, or underground utilities make this impossible some places, there are many other places where large-form trees could be planted in large wells, including East Portland streets that have no curbs.

Trees require care and tidying up, so they’re not convenient anywhere, but they are necessary everywhere.

Thank you Scott! You can read Scott’s comment, and the full comment thread, under the original article.

(Disclosure: Kocher is a Portland-based attorney and safety advocate, and his law firm, Forum Law Group, is a financial supporter of BikePortland.)

Comment of the Week: The lesser of two evils

Comment of the Week

Comment of the Week

“Lesser Evil candidate knows they don’t have to be good, they just have to be slightly less evil than Greater Evil candidate.”

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition.


Everything I know I learned from the BikePortland comments section.

Okay, not really, but we do regularly get commenters who are quite knowledgeable about their subject—you can learn a lot from them even if you don’t agree with what they are saying.

In response to our post about City Council now appearing to support the I-5 Rose Quarter project, Damien grabbed the elephant in the room by the tusks. What do we have to do to get representatives who don’t just talk tough on climate change but actually follow through in their decision making?

Damien’s insightful comment points to voting (and just happens to be a nice follow-up to today’s article on charter reform). Here’s what Damien wrote:

Quite the contrary, dwk – supporting compromised candidates is what gets us bad candidates. It incentivizes it.

The problem with the “lesser of two evils” rationale/strategy is that it’s only rational in the context of one election. Over multiple elections, it’s a self-defeating downward spiral, i.e., it always leads to greater evil. Taken to its absurd conclusion, we eventually get a choice between, say, just for example’s sake, a mass-murdering psychopath who killed 100 people last week and a mass-murdering psychopath who killed 99 people last week, and well, you’d better vote for the 99-count murderer because they are the lesser of two evils. In the next cycle they’ll double those numbers, because Lesser Evil candidate knows they don’t have to be good, they just have to be slightly less evil than Greater Evil candidate.

Thank you, Damien, for the pushed-to-the-extreme example. You can read Damien’s comment and the full comment thread under the original post.

Ride with me on a path to Portland charter reform enlightenment

Charter Commission members. (Source: Portland Charter Commission)

Our city hamstrings itself by putting city commissioners — who possibly have no management experience, background or interest in a bureau — in charge of running them.

Portland took another step toward good governance with the recent Charter Commission vote to advance their reforms to the November ballot. This City Council appointed, 20-member group of volunteers has been grappling for a year and a half with how to improve the way we run our city, this vote was a milestone in their efforts.

With their recommended changes to Portland’s charter more formalized, I decided it was time to become better informed about the issue.

With an open but skeptical mind, I plunged into the Commission’s materials. It only took a few hours for me to realize that I wasn’t bringing a very big pole to this pond.

How to design fair elections is a well-studied field and there is a lot of expertise involved, much of it technical. Probably the most useful thing I can do for the BikePortland reader is to summarize and link to the sources that most helped me become “informed enough” about charter reform.

So on that note, what follows is a link-rich synopsis of my path to charter enlightenment.

The Big Picture

Portland has had a “commission” form of government for over a century. It is an antiquated system in which each commissioner, in addition to their roles of passing ordinances and responding to constituents, oversees a portfolio of bureaus. In other words, commissioners have both policy and executive roles. This type of governance was long ago abandoned by other major US cities, with Portland being the last hold-out.

Currently, we elect four “at-large” commissioners and a mayor using a winner-take-all system. Voters get to choose candidates in all four races and are not restricted by having to live in a particular district. The candidate who receives the majority of the vote wins the seat, although this may take two rounds of voting, a primary and a run-off.

Oregon Public Broadcasting published a helpful article by Rebecca Ellis which describes our current system and the proposed changes.

Graphic explaining how proportional ranked choice voting works. (Source: The Charter Committee Progress Report #5.)
(Source: Charter Committee Progress Report #5)

What the Charter Commission is proposing

The Commission has proposed three changes to the way we elect our Commissioners and run the city:

• Allowing voters to rank candidates in order of their preference, using ranked choice voting

• Four new geographic districts with three members elected to represent each district, expanding the city council to a total of 12 members

• A city council that focuses on setting policy and a mayor elected citywide to run the city’s day-to-day operations, with the help of a professional city administrator

They write that “it is the Commission’s belief and desire that this proposal will make Portland’s government more accountable, transparent, efficient and effective, responsive, and representative of every area of the city.”

The Charter Commission Progress Report #5 discusses the proposed changes in detail beginning on page 23. UPDATE (6/29/2022): Soon after our original preparation for this story, the Charter Commission released Progress Report #6 which is a summary designed “to give a high-level view of the approach and work of the Charter Commission at this stage in the process.”

How did they come up with that?

There are two main parts to the proposed changes: 1) moving management of the bureaus away from the commissioners and to the mayor/city manager and 2) changing the way Portlanders elect the City Council.

Concerning jettisoning the commission structure, the Charter Commission conducted discussions with bureau directors and elected officials, as well as 106 sessions with community groups and the public. There does not seem to be significant opposition to dropping the commission system from any quarter. On the contrary, the idea appears to have a lot of support. One vocal supporter, City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, said of the commission system, “It’s a crazy way to run a city, and it’s one of the reasons Portland underperforms on everything from homelessness to permits, time after time.”

The Progress Report summarized what Portlanders believe are the main weaknesses of our current way of doing things including: lack of accountability, failure to move forward on complicated issues, lack of coordination, silos, inconsistent and unqualified management, micromanaging, et cetera. It is a long list.

Broadway bike lane last fall. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Portland’s homelessness crisis serves as a good example of this government dysfunction. Last week’s BikePortland Monday Roundup included an article about Houston’s success in addressing homelessness and their use of a “Housing First” model. They credited getting everyone “to row in unison”—the city and the non-profits—with their success.

But Portland’s more fundamental problem is getting the city bureaus to row in unison. As Mapps told KOIN 6 in March,

One of our challenges right now is to get different city bureaus to work together. I know Portlanders are furious with the state of houselessness out there, but one of the reasons why we struggle is that we have about five different bureaus that play a role in solving houselessness. It’s not just a matter of providing housing, houselessness is often a mental health issue, and a public safety issue. And if you’re camping in a park, it becomes a Parks issue, if you are camping on a sidewalk it becomes a PBOT issue.

One of the things we have failed to do over and over again is to get these different bureaus to work together to solve problems like getting people off the streets to safe, supportive housing. You see the results of what the status quo does. If we move toward a coordinated system run by professionals, I believe we would do much better.

To sum up, our city hamstrings itself by putting city commissioners — who possibly have no management experience, background or interest in a bureau — in charge of running them.

The problem with Portland voting

(Source: Sightline Institute)

I didn’t realize we had a big problem until I read a series of outstanding articles by Kristin Eberhard for The Sightline Institute. If you only have time to read one piece I’ve linked to in this post, I recommend Want to Give Portlanders of Color a Voice on City Council? Districts Won’t Help.

Eberhard makes a strong case for proportional ranked-choice voting and brings to life the analysis that the MGGG Redistricting Lab at Tufts University did of Portland voting.

It is the MGGG (Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group) mathematical models of how various voting schema would play out in Portland that informed the Charter Commission’s recommendation of ranked choice voting for multi-member districts. And although MGGG used race as their model for underrepresented voters, Eberhard points out that “the results apply to Portlanders who are in the minority for any number of reasons: small business owners, people who are dependent on transit, those who get around by bike, youth, or parents of school-age children.”

The Charter Commission concluded that four multi-member districts and ranked-choice voting will bring fairer and fuller representation to city government, could improve participation, and also promote more issue-oriented, civil campaigns with less negative campaigning.

But it wasn’t a unanimous vote. One of the three commissioners who voted against the reforms was recent city council candidate Vadim Mozyrsky. Similarly, City Commissioner Mingus Mapps has not taken a strong public position in support or in opposition to the whole package, although in an April interview with the Rose City Reform substack he expressed doubts about some aspects of it. So there are dissenting voices, but it is probably too early to detect an organized opposition. The Charter Commission work sessions were taped, and around 1:18:00 of the June 6th meeting, you can listen to the comments of two dissenting commissioners, as well as an impassioned rebuttal by the committee co-chair.

The takeaway

The four-district, multi-member proposal combines elements of both geographical representation and of fairer representation of non-geographically defined minority concerns. The tension between geography (with neighborhood associations often being the stand-in representative) and minority interests (such as better bicycle infrastructure) underlies many of Portland’s political skirmishes. The changes the Charter Commission recommends could result in a more productive political dynamic with more non-majority concerns achieving a voice on the city council.

UPDATE (6/29/2022): Yesterday the Willamette Week reported that two newly-forming PACs (political action committees) will be taking opposing sides on charter reform. Vadim Mozyrsky has recruited Chuck Duffy and Steve Moskowitz (two former Bud Clark aides) to his yet-to-be-named PAC which will oppose the package of reforms advanced by the Charter Commission, and Building Power for Communities of Color is starting a PAC to support the reforms. Mingus Mapps’s existing Ulysses PAC will most likely be hosting “educational forums” about the reforms, as a softer way of pushing back against the bundled changes. Mapps and Mozyrski favor adopting a mayor-manager system but are against aspects of the other commission-proposed reforms.

Comment of the Week: A new perspective on chop shops

Comment of the Week

Comment of the Week

“Most chop shop operations are not threats to legitimate bike shops, as the customer base is completely different – our customers are too poor […] to shop at any normal bike shop.”

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition.


Regular readers of BikePortland know David Hampsten as a frequent commenter on our posts. His comments take a lot of different tones, but the ones I like best are informative. He can often fill in useful background on a range of topics from his long years as an east Portland transportation advocate.

David lives in North Carolina now, but his comments in response to our post about a new ordinance in Los Angeles banning “chop shops” were not only colorful vignettes, but also added depth to my understanding of the “chop shop” world. David helps run something similar to a chop shop in NC. He writes from personal experience with a world-weary voice which can be hard to pull off, but which coming from David seems authentic.

Here’s what David wrote:

I help run a (barely) “legitimate” nonprofit chop-shop operation here in Greensboro NC. We collect and process about 600 donated bicycles per year from other nonprofits, the police, individuals, churches, and so on. This year we gave away about 75 bikes to Afghan refugees plus other bikes to the homeless, the nearly homeless, inner-city black kids, and to the working poor. We also typically sell about 25 used bicycles and scrap about 200 bikes.

From my experience in working with our volunteers (I’m a volunteer too) and in meeting with other chop-shop operators (including other nonprofits but mostly illegitimate back yard operations), I’ve come to some basic conclusions about the chop-shop industry at least in pleasantly mediocre cities like Greensboro (as we are clearly not on par with lofty Portland):

— Most chop shop operations are not threats to legitimate bike shops, as the customer base is completely different – our customers are too poor […] to shop at any normal bike shop, all of which are too far away from where our customers live – in what you might call bike-shop deserts.

— Nearly all chop shop mechanics and volunteers are too inept to ever work successfully at any local bike shop – either they are too slow at fixing stuff, don’t know how to fix even basic equipment, or worse yet cannot tell the difference between high quality equipment from junk – if it’s shiny then it must be good. It’s a serious challenge training our mechanics.

Unfortunately our customer base similarly knows next to nothing about bicycles and cannot tell the difference between total junk like Next or Magna from a used Trek with all its original parts still on it – they always prefer the shiny Next. And they don’t have bike tools nor a pump at home.

David wrote two other comments about his chop shop in dialogue with Watts, and I thought they were all interesting. You can read them and the full comment thread under the original post.

Thank you for sharing your perspective David.

Comment of the Week: Thank you flaggers!

“I appreciate that they have prioritized our safety.”

Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition.


Comment of the Week

Just off the top of my head, I can think of five comments this week from readers who had recently ridden through an intersection we reported about, or had long experience with an area. You sharing your thoughts finishes the story for us and adds depth to the reporting. This week we show our appreciation by highlighting one of those comments.

Pockets the Coyote wrote a sweet couple sentences in response to our SW Infrastructure update about the courtesy and care which flaggers on Multnomah Blvd have shown them. I liked the comment because it jibed with my experience too. The workers building the basins are friendly, helpful people, and the whole PBOT Capitol Highway project exemplifies excellent community relations.

Here’s what Pockets the Coyote wrote:

I commute through the construction on Multnomah Blvd daily, and in my (morning/evening) experience the flaggers have been wonderful when it was closed to single lane, either giving me and other cyclists priority through the lane, or waving us through the coned off lane.

I appreciate that they have prioritized our safety.

On the subject of safety I would like to see significant changes to the Garden Home/ Multnomah/ SW 69th mess of an intersection at the Old Market Pub.

You can read Pockets the Coyote’s comment and the full comment thread on the original post.

Thank you for the positive comment, Pockets!