“Portland’s downtown bike network is stuck in the 1990s. Short of a few buckets of green paint here and there, we are falling way behind in creating streets with adequate bicycling access.”
Here we are at the end of another week. Hope you’ll indulge some reflection…
After my holiday trip down south, I can finally (thankfully) say I am back in the bike news groove. Seems like the longer I do this job, the harder it is to get my brain re-calibrated after long breaks. It doesn’t help that there is never a shortage of projects, policies, people and politics to keep track of.
Speaking of people. New Mayor Charlie Hales is settling in. After getting rid of PBOT Director Tom Miller he’s given his first sit-down TV interview. On KGW’s Straight Talk he said he plans to pave 100 miles of roads his first year in office — well more than twice as much paving as we do now (I’m still waiting on precise figures from PBOT). To pay for that, he’ll have to make severe cuts to the bureau’s budget. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s no more fat left to cut. Or, I should say, at least fat that’s politically and mathematically feasible to cut.
In reality, Hales has some wiggle room to walk back that promise. What he actually said in the interview was, “We need to be repaving, crack-sealing, resurfacing at least 100 miles a year to stay even.” If you take crack-sealing, pothole fixing, and other miscellaneous, paving-related jobs into account, PBOT likely already does 100 miles a year. But Hales is smart. He’s playing to the crowd and still sticking to his “back to basics” and “roads first” mantra. Does he know the election’s over? And that he won?
What’s concerning to me is that Hales seems to have completely bought the PBOT narrative reported by The Oregonian. He keeps saying the agency needs to “rebuild its credibility.” The reality is that the only reason PBOT allegedly “lacks credibility” is because The Oregonian, KATU-TV, and The Willamette Week continue to misrepresent the PBOT budget situation in their eagerness to destroy Sam Adams, Tom Miller, and to fan the bikes vs. cars “war.”
I still can’t figure out why the lead graphic on this Willamette Week story has a bike on it. Can you?
Meanwhile, PBOT employees are waiting to find out who their leaders will be. Hales needs to name an interim director and decide which commissioner to assign the bureau. So far, he hasn’t showed much inclination to keep it (like Mayor Adams did) and there really aren’t any other obvious prospects emerging on Council. Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman already have big bureau loads and Steve Novick might be too new to take on something so controversial and cash-strapped. That leaves Amanda Fritz, whose record on transportation isn’t that impressive.
We’re also waiting to see who replaces Ray LaHood as US DOT Secretary. D.C. sources I’ve heard from say he’s definitely leaving by spring. The question is, will Obama play it safe with the appointment or will he take a gamble and choose someone like, say, NYC DOT Commish Janette Sadik-Khan? My money’s on him playing it safe. Who knows, maybe LaHood will make this big announcement at the National Bike Summit in March. I’ll be there to ask him.
The other big thing on my mind this week has been the issue of equity. For years now we’ve heard activists from east Portland say they deserve more active transportation spending. Well, as I pointed out this week, they’ve gotten it. $20 million or so in the past few years alone — and a good deal of it has been bike-related. Meanwhile, Portland’s downtown bike network is stuck in the 1990s. Short of a few buckets of green paint here and there, we are falling way behind in creating streets with adequate bicycling access. That needs to change. PBOT needs to go big, put the business owner boogeyman behind them, and start making downtown streets safe and accessible for people on bikes.
Our friend Aaron Brown Tweeted this a few days ago about riding on SW Broadway (Portland’s marquee downtown street):
As much as I enjoy biking up SW Broadway, it might be time to pick up less dangerous pastimes, like playing with matches or juggling knives.
— Aaron Brown (@ambrown) January 9, 2013
Speaking of street redesigns, it was amazing to watch ODOT punt on the Barbur road diet idea at the PBOT bike advisory committee meeting Tuesday night. Despite strong community support of the idea, and a forthcoming project that will repave and strip the road (a perfect time to do it), ODOT reps seemed resistant to even consider it. A PBOT staffer even offered to do the traffic analysis and design for them; but they still simply referred the idea to the SW Corridor planning process. That process is a long-range visioning exercise that wouldn’t result in any changes for at least 15-20 years.
The Barbur road diet is a perfect chance for ODOT to make good on all the “We love active transportation!” proclamations in recent speeches and policy memos. Getting that agency to actually change is turning out to be harder than we all imagined.
I leave you this weekend on a happy note. After that bike path rage story I shared on Wednesday, I thought we could stand to hear something a bit more heart-warming…
This morning’s freezing temps and icy roads created quite a commuting catastrophe. Readers have shared well over a dozen crashes in our comments alone. One person who went down was Sally R. who wrote us this story:
I am a bike commuter and these days commute in the dark morning. I left my house Friday morning knowing it was freezing, but the road conditions outside my home in Portland were fine. I commute from SE Portland to the airport.
Halfway to work, I started to see ice crystals on the road and felt my tail sliding. I slowed, but still fell over, hitting the road on several spots on my body. A truck who had just passed me stopped to make sure I was okay. I was fine, but he offered a ride anyway all the way to my office and lifted my bike into his truck. My office was at least 2 miles out of his way and it probably made him late to work.
I just wanted to share a story of dark-morning kindness from a car to bicyclist to balance out some of the road rage reporting. The driver was Peter Botke an arborist owner of Bud’s Expert Tree Care, and we will be calling them to help with tree care at our home.
And, I have learned my lesson to heed the weather report more closely.
Thanks for the story Sally. That’s a good one to end the week on. Please note folks, the ice is scheduled to continue. Read our tips and please use extreme caution if you head out on two wheels
Thanks to all of you for making this a great week. I appreciate all of your comments.