Commissioner Steve Novick gets PBOT bureau assignment

Commissioner Steve Novick gets PBOT bureau assignment

SE 136th Press Conference-1

Portland’s new Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Mayor Charlie Hales has just announced the city bureau assignments and he’s given the Bureau of Transportation to Commissioner Steve Novick. Another bureau shake-up that impacts bicycling is Portland Parks & Recreation now being in the office of Commissioner Amanda Fritz instead of Nick Fish.

Hales took all the bureaus under his authority when he came into office in order to more effectively tackle a major city budget shortfall.

The assignment of PBOT to Novick is good news. I do not have a lot of experience working with Novick (he’s a City Council rookie); but I’ve been hearing from various sources for months that he’s very solid on transportation issues, that he gets the big picture, is very supportive of bicycling and walking, and won’t be afraid to try new things. Novick, who graduated from Harvard Law School at age 21, is also known as someone with a sharp policy mind.

“The cost of health care and the cost of cars and fuel are huge burdens on families and businesses. We can reduce health care costs NOW by promoting biking, walking and transit.”
— Steve Novick, City of Portland Commissioner of Transportation

In 2009, Novick appeared at a rally to protest the 2009 Jobs & Transportation Act that handed out nearly $900 million in new highway projects across the state. Novick attended a press conference in opposition to the bill by Bob Stacey, the former director of 1000 Friends of Oregon who’s now a Metro Councilor and respected critic of highway projects, the Columbia River Crossing, and so on.

Novick was endorsed by the Bike Walk Vote political action committee in April 2012. That group’s Co-Chair Peter Welte said that Novick, “has been a champion of public health for decades,” and that he, “deeply understands the intersection of community health with healthy transportation and land use planning.”

In his responses the Bike Walk Vote’s candidate questionnaire, Novick said he’s a believer in the parking concepts of Donald Shoup and he’s open to high parking rates as well as congestion pricing. In a 2012 campaign interview for Portland Afoot’s low-car voter guide, Novick expressed skepticism about expanding Portland Streetcar; endorsed transportation revenue changes such as a higher gas tax, per-mile tax and anti-congestion tolls; and said he would “like to continue to support” Sunday Parkways but didn’t see it as the city’s top priority.

On the Columbia River Crossing project, Novick told the Portland Business Alliance during his campaign that he shared U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio’s skepticism that the region can afford the project as planned. Novick endorsed “a phased approach, starting with components that can improve safety and freight movement within a feasible budget.”

At a Bike Walk Vote candidate event in April 2012, Novick tried to rally the crowd by calling out a certain local media outlet: “The next time The Oregonian runs a misleading headline saying that it’s because of bike lanes that people aren’t having their streets paved, I want all of you to march down Broadway and occupy The Oregonian!”

Last April, Novick supported Mayor Hales’ move to restore funding for a sidewalk project on SE 136th Ave. At that event he floated a new idea on how to fund missing pieces of sidewalks. Novick also attended the recent Alice Awards Party put on by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and he was a volunteer in the recent Portland Afoot transit scavenger hunt event.

And Novick is far from a political amateur. He put together a solid campaign for U.S. Senate back in 2008 when he lost to Jeff Merkley.

The other big news for bicycling in today’s bureau assignments is that Commissioner Fritz will now be in charge of Parks. This is significant given the major role the Parks Bureau plays in a variety of bicycle transportation and recreation capacities. Former Parks Commissioner Nick Fish has been a big part of the talks to improve bicycle access in Forest Park. The Parks Bureau is also currently working on the North Portland Greenway project which is part of a TIGER grant application.

Fritz has a mixed record around bicycling. She expressed an odd policy position on bike share in 2011, saying she wouldn’t support it until there was no more “dangerous” bicycling downtown. That said, Fritz is a Registered Nurse and someone who watches the budget very closely. Given that bicycling promotes health and offers the best return on our transportation investment, she should have no problem supporting it when the time comes.

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