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Ted Wheeler is Portland’s next mayor; new local gas tax will improve streets

Ted Wheeler is Portland’s next mayor; new local gas tax will improve streets

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Ted Wheeler crosses Tilikum Crossing during Sunday Parkways in September 2015.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland

Portland’s next mayor is a Multnomah County commissioner turned state treasurer who embraced protected bike lanes and more neighborhood greenway traffic diverters from almost the start of his run for office.

Ted Wheeler was drawing 58 percent of Portland’s primary vote Tuesday night, easily defeating opponents Jules Bailey and Sarah Iannarone, among others.

Wheeler also set himself apart on transportation issues by endorsing a local gas tax to improve Portland streets on the day he announced his campaign — a position that rapidly became conventional wisdom among local politicians and won a narrow victory Tuesday night.

“Portland is unique,” Wheeler said in his victory speech. “Portland’s on the move. Portland’s best years are still ahead of it.”

Bailey drew 16 percent of the vote, Iannarone 10 percent. Bruce Broussard, who didn’t make it to any candidates’ forum we saw but distinguished himself on transportation issues by speaking out against a redesign of Foster Road intended to improve safety by replacing two passing lanes with a center turn lane and bike lanes, was in fourth place with 4 percent, followed (in descending order) by Sean Davis, David Schor and Patty Burkett.

Novick will head to runoff in November

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Portland Transporation Commissioner Steve Novick, right, with Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry and gas tas campaign manager (and Oregon Walks board president) Aaron Brown.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The gas tax package, which included promised biking and walking improvements in every quadrant of the city as well as pavement repairs for various crumbling streets, was up by 4,268 votes as of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, enough for 51.6 percent of the vote and enough for The Oregonian to call the race.

With 43 percent of the vote in his race, Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick looks to be headed to a runoff with either architect Stuart Emmons or bookseller Chloe Eudaly. Emmons was slightly ahead of Eudaly Tuesday night, with 15 percent of the vote to her 13 percent.

Novick has been a solidly pro-biking vote on the Portland City Council, though he’s never made it one of his signature issues. He’s also established himself as probably the most vocal progressive on parking policy, speaking in favor of demand-based pricing, and on housing infill, which he has called essential to affordability in the city.

Emmons and Eudaly haven’t gone out of their way to stake out positions on bicycling, though Emmons did send us a photo of himself biking the Eastbank Esplanade a few months ago. On his website, his only stated position on transportation is that “our streets need attention.” Eudaly has made housing affordability, especially for tenants, her signature issue. Whichever of them comes out ahead, expect more coverage of this race in the coming months.

“It looks to me like I’m probably going to a runoff in November against the Oregonian editorial board, which is fine,” Novick told attendees of his election-night party. The newspaper’s editorial board has been a particular foe of Novick’s, endorsing Emmons and being the only local significant media outlet to oppose the gas tax he championed.

Wheeler win could start to reshape City Hall this year

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Then Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler at a
2008 event calling for new local transportation funding.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Wheeler’s election is likely to immediately reduce Mayor Charlie Hales’ influence on the city council as commissioners maneuver for good relationships with Wheeler. In Portland’s unusual system of government, the mayor’s only significant power over his other commissioners is the ability to assign them administrative power over the city’s various bureaus.

Last year, Wheeler reportedly told an Oregonian columnist that he wanted to take the city’s transportation bureau for himself. In a March interview with BikePortland, he described that as an “offhand comment” and that he wouldn’t make any such commitements.

Also at stake: the city council is approaching a series of crucial votes on its comprehensive plan this summer. The plan, which shapes the city’s zoning maps, pits advocates of infill and housing supply against people who oppose changes to Portland’s physical appearance.

Here’s how we summarized our 45-minute conversation with Wheeler last March:

• Like his opponents, he supports expansion of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. Though he backs the gas tax ballot issue, he thinks it won’t raise enough for those projects to make the investments he thinks are needed.

• Though the Portland Business Alliance, the regional chamber of commerce, announced its endorsement of Wheeler the day we spoke, Wheeler said he’s never discussed transportation policy with them. He said he does not agree with the notion (sometimes expressed by the PBA) that auto capacity should not be reduced on major arterials.

• He stepped back from a previously reported statement that as mayor he would take the transportation bureau; he said that was an “offhand conversation” and he’s made no decisions.

• His plan for transportation funding is to pass a gas tax in the short run, then get the 2017 state legislature to allocate more state and federal road taxes to cities like Portland. In the long run, he doesn’t think the city should let any of its pavement degrade, and thinks the city needs incremental steps to improve its credibility among voters.

• His first priority for all transportation investments is safety improvements east of 82nd Avenue. He doesn’t think all new transportation investment should happen there but he thinks East Portland should get the large majority to make up for decades of underinvestment.

• Though he supports increasing housing density by re-legalizing duplexes and garden apartments in residential zones, he thinks there’s some validity to the argument that new tall buildings can make nearby housing more expensive. He doesn’t see a tradeoff between “historic preservation,” which he values, and keeping housing affordable.

• Unlike his opponent Jules Bailey, Wheeler sees “training” as inadequate to addressing apparent racial profiling of people biking and walking by officers in the Portland Police Bureau. Deeper cultural change in the bureau is necessary, he said.

Other races

bob stacey

Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, up for election Tuesday but unopposed, paid early respects at the election night party for Steve Novick and the gas tax but said he had to get to a Richmond Neighborhood Association meeting.

Also Tuesday, Commissioner Amanda Fritz and incumbent Gov. Kate Brown won in anticipated landslides, Fritz with 70 percent of the city vote. Jessica Vega Pederson, who had a pro-biking record as state legislator, was elected to the Multnomah County Commission in an uncontested race in southeast Portland. Karin Power, who won a seat on Milwaukie’s city council two years ago on a pro-biking platform and has helped lead that city’s recent political embrace of biking, won an uncontested Democratic primary in the 41st legislative district.

Brown, a Democrat, will face Bud Pierce, a Republican legislator who has promised to “end gridlock once and for all” by adding lanes to every “major freeway.”

Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, a longtime bike commuter who is maybe the single most pro-bike politician in the region, was elected to a second four-year term to represent southeast Portland in the regional government. His colleague Sam Chase, who represents inner northeast, north and northwest Portland and took the lead on Metro’s recent work to approve mountain-biking trails on public land north of Forest Park, coasted to reelection with 77 percent against Colby Clipston.

In Bailey’s county commissioner district in inner southeast and west Portland, Sharon Meieran and Eric Zimmerman are headed to a runoff. The same is true for Lori Stegmann and Amanda Schroeder in Gresham and east county. (Expect BikePortland coverage of these county races, which will shape the future of the Burnside Bridge and Sauvie Island, in the months to come.)

Gas tax work could start in fall

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Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat with her official city vehicle, an e-bike, outside the gas tax election party.

The four-year, 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax will raise an estimated $16 million for each of the next four years, of which 44 percent would be earmarked for safety improvements to local streets — mostly improvements for walking and biking.

Among other things — including various sidewalk and crosswalk upgrades around the city — the project list includes new funding for protected bike lanes in downtown Portland; two neighborhood greenways connecting much of East Portland to the Gateway Transit Center; a neighborhood greenway on NE 7th and/or 9th Avenue in inner northeast Portland; a neighborhood greenway on NW/SW 20th Avenue connecting the Northwest District to Goose Hollow; and $2 million a year for biking and walking improvements near schools, which would be chosen in partnership with local school districts.

In an interview Tuesday night, Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat said that gas tax money will start to arrive in “late fall.” The city will then be able to start paving selected streets and to start planning the first round of safety improvements.

“We’re ready to get to work,” Treat said.

Correction 10 am: A previous version of this post got Ted Wheeler’s current job wrong. He’s the state treasurer. We regret the error; it was a long night.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Commissioner Fritz floats another idea: Car-free streets

Commissioner Fritz floats another idea: Car-free streets

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Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

The day after she drew criticism for suggesting that biking should be deemphasized compared to transit in city planning, Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz went out of her way to put forth a different proposal.

It came Wednesday at the tail end of a report from Portland Streetcar Inc., the publicly chartered rail transit service that Fritz has become an enthusiastic supporter of. Discussion of one of Streetcar’s perennial problems — getting stuck behind cars, either in traffic or due to parking mishaps — seemed to prompt her to ask a question: do we really want cars to be able to use streetcar lanes at all?

And for that matter, she asked, do we really want cars to be able to use the major biking streets?

Here’s how Fritz put it:

I had some comments yesterday about Williams. I think we should be looking at should there be streets that are primarily for cyclists and transit and local access for cars only? Are there other streets that are mostly for automobiles and transit? The more we can keep everybody safe while getting everybody where they need to go, I think that would be a better system, and we’ve already started doing that with the Tilikum Crossing being just for bikes peds and transit. Maybe there are other streets we could look at, or maybe there are other lanes that — yes, cars can go in the streetcar lane. But do we really want them to be? Yes, cars can go on a street that a lot of cyclists use, but do we really want them to?

Here’s the video:

Fritz reiterated her position later that day on Twitter.

To that, safe-streets advocate Steve Bozzone pointed out that her exact proposal — designating a street like Williams for “cyclists and transit and local access for cars” while having other streets be mostly for cars and transit — basically describes Portland’s road system today.

Based on her two rounds of comments this week, it seems as if Fritz had a viscerally unpleasant reaction to the experience of driving north on a dark, rainy Williams Avenue, trying to figure out its unusual weave of lanes for the first time, and then turning left across its bike lane without running into someone pedaling toward her from behind.





Most people would probably be stressed out in that situation, as she was. It sounds as if her comments have in part been her puzzling through different ways to prevent such moments of stress.

One solution, beloved by people around the world who never ride a bicycle for transportation, would be to completely ban bicycles from certain streets. But Fritz realizes that wouldn’t work; some people would disobey, and in any case it would discourage an activity that most Portlanders agree is a good idea in principle.

So she’s touching at the edges of another solution: banning cars from certain streets, something that works well in downtowns around the world. Fritz doesn’t quite embrace that, either. And it’s true that car-free streets have been able to succeed economically in the U.S. only in some pretty specific situations.

But she is coming down on one of the big truths about bike infrastructure, whether it be a car-free street, a truly traffic-calmed shared street or a fully protected bike lane: infrastructure that makes biking less stressful also makes driving less stressful. Whatever you think about Fritz’s other takes on bikes, it’s nice to hear someone saying that out loud.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Bikes should rank beneath mass transit in city hierarchy, says Commissioner Fritz

Bikes should rank beneath mass transit in city hierarchy, says Commissioner Fritz

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Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

Saying that “not everybody can cycle,” Commissioner Amanda Fritz Tuesday urged the city to switch the order of its “green transportation hierarchy” to prioritize public transit above biking.

“Everybody can use the bus,” Fritz, who a city staffer mentioned was supported by written testimony from advocacy group Elders in Action, said at a council work session on the city’s new comprehensive plan. “And our transit system is not good.”

Fritz’s comments drew disagreement from her counterpart Steve Novick, who said the city’s plan already calls for big upgrades to transit and that “historically we’ve spent a hell of a lot more on things other than biking and walking.”

green hierarchy

The original hierarchy was created in 2009 for
the city’s Climate Action Plan.

“The strategy is about the system working together as a whole, and I feel strongly that the best way for that to happen is to design the streets for walking and biking,” Novick said. “The streets will be better for pedestrians and people on bicycles when they’re getting to transit.”

Novick also argued that it’s not true that a vast number of people can ride buses but are unable to bike.

“In places like the Netherlands and Denmark that have made it truly safe to ride bicycles, people of all ages ride bicycles,” Novick said.

You can view their exchange below starting at the 51 minute mark, or click here to jump straight to it on YouTube.com.

Planning Commissioner Chris Smith, who sits on the board of Portland Streetcar and has been deeply involved in both biking and transit advocacy for years, also attended Tuesday’s work session to defend the existing hierarchy.

“Absolutely people need to have transit as a choice,” he said. “Amsterdam and Copenhagen can only have a 40 to 50 percent bicycle mode share because they also have a 30 percent transit mode share.”

But though he said he very much supports more money for transit, there are various ways biking should be a generally higher priority.

“For the distance that can be covered, it’s probably the least expensive form of mobility,” Smith said. “A transit trip costs us up to several dollars; bicycle trips cost the government pennies.”

Smith noted that the city’s transportation plans are built around the assumption that 25 percent of trips will happen by bike in 15 years and 25 percent on transit.

“If it’s 30 percent transit and 20 percent bike, it’ll probably still be a great city, but it’ll cost us a lot more to operate it,” Smith said.





In practice, the city rarely faces direct tradeoffs between biking and transit. A more detailed version of its policy is that transit should be the most desirable mode for trips of three miles or more; biking, for trips of one to three miles; and walking, for trips of up to one mile.

But Smith said the city’s transportation hierarchy would prevent the city from making errors like the one he said it committed when it added a streetcar line on the central eastside’s MLK/Grand couplet without adding bike lanes.

“That is still a black hole for cyclists,” Smith said. “We would not be able to do that in the future under this policy.”

The debate also comes at a crucial time for regional spending. The Metro Council is right now weighing competing pressure from TriMet, freight advocates and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance over whether to send flexible federal dollars to high-capacity bus or rail lines on Southwest Barbur and Powell-Division; to freight access projects; or to biking and walking improvements around schools.

“The deck is stacked in favor of transit right now,” Smith said. “Transit has a multi-billion dollar federal program that this region and this city has shown great enthusiasm for providing local match for. We have the occasional TIGER grant for cycling that’s a couple orders of magnitude smaller than the federal trough for transit. And transit enjoys a regional tax base and an agency that spends that tax base. We have none of those advantages for cycling.”

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Cycling has received a pittance of investment compared to both transit and driving.
(Chart: “Federal and state capital transportation investments in the Porltand region, 1995-2010” – Metro)

Fritz replied that much of that federal money for transit goes to capital projects in the central city, which is of little use to many Portlanders, and that even in the central city, frequent bus service ends after 9 p.m.

She mentioned that she’d recently driven on North Williams Avenue for the first time since it was restriped to add a left-side buffered bike lane and remove an auto passing lane. In the future, she said, she will drive on “side streets” rather than ever driving on Williams again during rush hour.

“There are places and times that people cannot and will not cycle,” she said. “When I got off work at OHSU at 11:30 at night on a weekend night or any other night, I was not going to get on a bike and ride seven miles uphill to get home. I would probably never have gotten home.”

Correction 10:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post quoted Fritz as saying she will from now on drive on side streets rather than on Williams. She said she will do so from now on during rush hour.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Big day at City Hall affects pedicabs, taxi safety and backyard homes

Big day at City Hall affects pedicabs, taxi safety and backyard homes

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Commissioner Fritz.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A flurry of end-of-year activity at Portland City Hall Wednesday led to changes in three different stories we’ve been tracking on BikePortland.

With Commissioner Amanda Fritz playing a key role in all three votes, the council agreed to delay changes to pedicab rules that would have required pedicab operators to hold driver’s licenses and have a year of continuous driving experience; to require a one-time “defensive driving” training for taxi, Lyft and Uber workers rather than retrainings every two years; and to allow small accessory dwelling units to be built near the edge of properties as long as they’re no larger than the garages that have long been allowed near property lines.

“Worst of all is the appalling disregard in this ordinance for pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists.”
— Amanda Fritz

Fritz and her colleagues Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman had pushed on Nov. 24 to postpone the effective date of new pedicab rules until the pedicab industry could confer with city staff. An amendment to this effect by Fish was approved unanimously then, and was (the city said) reflected in the code approved today.

On taxi safety, Fritz and Fish cast votes against the new rules, with Fritz citing “appalling disregard in this ordinance for pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists injured” by drivers of Lyft, Uber and other so-called “transportation network companies.” The ordinance passed 3-2.

And on backyard homes, Fritz cast a lone vote against allowing garage-sized residences to be built without five-foot setbacks from property lines. She was outvoted 4-1.

Here’s what happened in a bit more detail:

Pedicabs
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No car required.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

As we reported Nov. 18, Portland’s effort to rewrite its code for “private for-hire transportation” was prompted by the illegal arrival of Uber last spring. It resulted in the city hastily rewriting its rules for pedicabs without notifying local operators that it was doing so.

Among the proposed rules: pedicab operators would have been required to hold driver’s licenses and have “at least one year’s worth of continuous driving experience in a United States jurisdiction” before certification as a pedicab driver.

Even city staffers overseeing the code rewrite didn’t seem to be aware that this was what the code said. In this exchange with Fritz from a Nov. 24 hearing, Novick advisor Bryan Hockaday said “we did not intend to have any changes” for pedicab companies before conceding that apparently changes had been made.

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Fritz, Fish and Saltzman persuaded the council to preserve the status quo for pedicabs and also for non-emergency medical transport companies, which are also covered but were not consulted about the rewrite.

Because of the difficulty of revising code on a tight deadline, the council left the proposed code language in place, but PBOT spokesman John Brady said in an email Wednesday that the council had included a clause saying that the new rules for pedicabs and NEMT companies didn’t apply.

Taxi, Lyft and Uber safety
Riding Portland's urban highways-8

One safety training and done.

As we reported Nov. 5, Portland’s new rules for taxis and transportation network companies require drivers to complete a “defensive driving” course. The city describes this requirement (which isn’t common on Uber or Lyft drivers around the country) as part of its Vision Zero effort.

But that provision will replace a stiffer one that currently applies to taxis.

“The problem is it’s a one-and-done training requirement, instead of the current mandate for taxi drivers to do a defensive driving course every two years,” Commissioner Fritz explained in an email Wednesday. “Also, the TNCs get to start driving then take the test in 30 days, despite testimony that more accidents happen when drivers are new.”

Fritz also took issue with the fact that the city requires only $50,000 of liability insurance coverage for TNC drivers when they are on their way to or from a job.

“I am baffled as to why any of you would consider your own life, or that of the person you love most in the entire world, to max out in value at $50,000, less than half of one year of our salaries,” said Fritz, whose husband was killed last year in a multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 5. The Mercury has the full text and video of her emotional address.

Fish voted with Fritz against the new rules. Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick voted for them but said he doesn’t think the $50,000 limit is acceptable but hopes to fight it in the state legislature instead of city council.

“Uber and Lyft have made it clear that if any jurisdiction tried to depart from this agreement, they intend to declare war,” Novick said. “If you’re going to pick a fight with a $50 billion company, you’re probably smart to look around for some allies. So I’m going to do that.”

Backyard homes

Sally Spear, right, lives in a backyard home in Northeast Portland with her daughter’s family.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

As we reported Nov. 20, Fritz is not a fan of a proposal to remove a five-foot setback that applies to small homes but not to garages of the same size.

City code has long allowed structures to be built in R-7, R-5 and R-2.5 zones that are no more than 15 feet tall at the peak and 10 feet tall by 24 feet wide on any wall close to a property line, as long as they are “garages” designed to hold a motor vehicle.

A code change discussed for most of this year proposed to remove that special status for car storage, allowing structures like backyard rec rooms or large bike sheds in similar buildings. Fritz said she supported those uses but not another scenario: if the home included a bedroom and a kitchen sink, thus qualifying it as a detached accessory dwelling unit.

Fritz said she’d asked the people at two recent community meetings about the measure and “by a 20-1 margin people do not, in general, support this. I have given both arguments for and arguments against, as I read them in my emails, and did not state my own preference, and it was quite stunning how many people are quite concerned about this. And I believe that it’s going to have backlash against accessory dwelling units.”

She predicted “an explosion of these built as Airbnbs.”

Mayor Charlie Hales, the only other council member to comment on the issue, said he was “sensitive to the concerns” raised by Fritz but said there was “such demand for this kind of housing in the city that we should try to make this work.” He, Fish, Saltzman and Novick all voted for it.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org


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Portland City Council passes Vision Zero resolution

Portland City Council passes Vision Zero resolution

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Vision Zero’s big day.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A few hours ago Portland City Council unanimously passed a resolution that reads, “No loss of life is acceptable on our city streets,” a phrase that’s part of the city’s larger goal of Vision Zero.

Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick introduced the resolution by calling out naysayers: “I think there are people who assume it’s not possible, people might think accidents happen,” he said. “That is not true.”

Mayor Charlie Hales said the city’s official embrace of Vision Zero isn’t just a soundbite. “This is a serious commitment by the city to say ‘This is our goal and we meant it.’” However, despite requests from advocacy groups, the city did not amend the resolution to set a firm target date to achieve Vision Zero and they didn’t dedicate any specific funding to implement the new policy. (One amendment pursued by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance was passed. It requires the city to take specific steps to prevent racial profiling as new enforcement measures are rolled out.)

“[These deaths] are going to continue to happen as long as we have streets that allow for it.”
— Noel Mickelberry, Oregon Walks

The resolution was strongly supported not only by the mayor and members of Council, but also by PBOT staff and advocates who shared powerful testimony.

PBOT Director Leah Treat referred to traffic injuries and fatalities as “a health and social justice problem.” The bureau’s Safety and Active Transportation Division Manager Margi Bradway added that, “We need to reset how we think about traffic safety because what we’re doing now isn’t working and Portland is behind the mark.”

Bradway pointed out that while Portland is better than the national average when it comes to preventing roadway fatalities, we are still behind New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. Those cities average 3.9, 4.0, and 5.2 deaths per 100,000 people respectively while Portland averages 6.2 (the United State average overall is 11.2).

City Council says this new policy will have a wide-ranging impact on all future decisions. To help guide those decisions, Bradway shared a slide during a brief presentation that laid out Portland’s new “Vision Zero Philosophy” (emphases theirs):

  • The death or serious injury of even one person is one too many.
  • Human error is inevitable, thus street design must be forgiving.
  • Responsibility for fatal and serious crashes rest not just on users, but on the system design.
  • In roadway design, either lower speeds or separate users.

Advocates are celebrating the passage of this resolution, but they hoped the city would go even further.

Testifying through tears as she recalled recent fatalities, Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry told council, “[These deaths] are going to continue to happen as long as we have streets that allow for it… No one should accept this.”

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Mickelberry and other advocacy groups that have formed a coalition around Vision Zero urged Council to amend the resolution to include a firm date. They want to see the city commit to achieving zero fatalities and injuries by 2025. Bicycle Transportation Alliance leader Rob Sadowsky also testified, saying that “Vision Zero policy isn’t effective unless it sets a measurable goal with a target date.”

“I don’t know what the structural improvements need to be on the Burnside Bridge that we can install in short order; but we need to be looking into that.”
— Amanda Fritz, City Commissioner

City council agrees with advocates that this policy is important, but they weren’t comfortable setting a timeline. They say a lack of funding and the potential for political fallout if they’re seen as failures makes a date commitment unwise.

Novick said he’d consider a date, but only after having “further conversations about the pros and cons.” He wants to talk to leaders who worked on Portland’s “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness” and ask them, “What happens to the discussion when you can’t meet that goal?”

Commissioner Nick Fish said he doesn’t think a target date is a good idea. Given his experience dealing with the homelessness issue (which he said people call a failure because it still exists) Fish said while the problem persists, the city has made huge strides. “We haven’t conquered homelessness,” he said, “But we’ve made a hell of a down payment.” Fish would rather set achievable goals and describe what success looks like so the city can “celebrate those wins.”

In his closing statement after voting yes on the resolution, Fish told PBOT staff that, “My concern about a timeline is I want you to have time to do it right. I don’t want people to declare failure when you make progress.”

For his part, Mayor Hales said he doesn’t want to set a timeline “until we know what resources we have to do this.”

On a similar note, Commissioner Amanda Fritz said, “We can’t set a timeline because we don’t have the funding.” “That’s heartbreaking to know there are improvements needed all over but we don’t have funding.”

Less than a year ago, Commissioner Fritz’s husband was killed in a head-on collision on Interstate 5. “It’s been very difficult for me to sit through this hearing,” she said in her closing statement. Fritz added that, as in the case of her husband, “things happen” so we need to engineer our roads in a way that protects against those things. She also, surprisingly, addressed the recent tragedy on the Burnside Bridge. “I don’t know what the structural improvements need to be on the Burnside Bridge that we can install in short order; but we need to be looking into that.”

Interestingly, both Fritz and Novick hinted that in light of this new commitment to Vision Zero, Portland might need to have a new debate about how best to balance our investments in maintenance of existing assets versus safety projects when we invest new transportation funds. “What do we as a community want to pay for?” Fritz asked rhetorically, “We know how to engineer for safe streets, it’s a matter of how we pay for it. We need to re-open the conversation about how any new money goes to maintenance versus safety.”

In the end, the official embrace of Vision Zero by the entire City of Portland (not just its transportation bureau) is an important step forward. But, as advocates made crystal clear at City Hall today, the work has just begun.

“We need to continue the urgency,” Oregon Walks’ Mickelberry implored of Council, “We know where this might happen next and what we can do to stop it. I really don’t want to be up here again two days after someone has died… Hold yourselves accountable. Our communities deserve it.”


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In letter to Mayor Hales and commissioners, national orgs ‘object’ to River View decision

In letter to Mayor Hales and commissioners, national orgs ‘object’ to River View decision

letter

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Three of America’s largest and most influential bicycle advocacy organizations are not happy with Portland’s decision to prohibit bicycle access at River View Natural Area.

International Mountain Bicycling Association President and US Executive Director Michael Van Abel, People for Bikes VP of Government Affairs Jenn Dice, and League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke all signed their names to a letter (PDF) dated March 18th that was sent to Mayor Charlie Hales and all four city commissioners.

Here’s the text of the letter (emphases mine):

We are writing to express our concern with the recent decision to prohibit bicycle use in the River View Natural Area. Any decision to exclude bicycles is disappointing to our organizations as we truly believe that bicycles are an amazing tool for progress. They provide efficient and cost effective transportation, a family friendly form of recreation, and in the case of off road bicycling, a valuable connection to the natural environment. Yet despite that passion we know that sometimes other priorities for funding or even land use take precedence and bicycles are not given priority. We can generally accept those decisions. However, when those decisions are made in an arbitrary and capricious manner that cuts off due process, we must object.

The decision to prohibit bicycle access at River View Natural Area was made with little notice while the planning process was still on going. Cutting a public process short dishonors those citizens who have volunteered their time to their community. It undermines the professional input of the technical advisory committee. Most of all, it disregards the spirit of due process that we expect of government at all levels.

Beyond the procedural concerns, this decision shows an inconsistent application of standards and disregard for reliance on scientific evidence. In their response letter dated March 2, 2015 Commissioners Fritz and Fish stated that “PP&R and BES will be limiting activities at RVNA from now on to passive nature-based recreation uses.” (emphasis added) However, in the Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan bicycling is included as passive recreation and off-road bicycling is also allowed in the Powell Butte Natural Area. Moreover, the offered explanation for the prohibition cited environmental/ecosystem concerns without any scientific evidence that bicycle use has a negative effects also leads us to question the merits of this decision.

As a consolation Commissioners Fish and Fritz advised off-road bicycling advocates to support the budget request for $350,000 to develop a Citywide Off-Road Cycling Plan. That budget request was denied, leaving Portland’s off-road cycling community with a shortage of local trails and no governmental mechanism to improve the situation. This systematic pattern of issue avoidance has repeated itself in Portland for too many years.

We request that Portland Parks and Recreation, Bureau of Environmental Services, and any other city agency that administers public lands collaborate with the North West Trails Alliance and other local off-road bicycling advocates to develop a strategy to address the shortage of off-road bicycling opportunities in the city of Portland. We look forward to Portland living up to its status as a progressive thought leading city that embraces bicycling in all forms.

Sincerely,

Michael Van Abel
President and US Executive Director
International Mountain Bicycling Association

Jenn Dice
Vice President Government Affairs
People for Bikes

Andy Clarke
President
League of American Bicyclists

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The letter only mentions some of the problems and unanswered questions that are still swirling around this decision. It also, unfortunately, got that bit about the budget wrong. As we just explained in a previous post, the budget request for the Off-Road Cycling Master Plan is still alive.

Also worth noting is that the League of American Bicyclists is the organization that has given Portland its much-ballyhooed “Platinum” ranking. Many people in the community feel like Portland should have its platinum status revoked as a result of the River View decision. In 2006 the League made access to singletrack trails a criteria for platinum status and Commissioner Nick Fish had to defend Portland’s ranking after his failed attempt to get more singletrack access in Forest Park in 2010.

It’s worth noting that Portland’s most recent official Bicycle Friendly Community application (submitted in 2013) leaves the questions about singletrack access and mileage completely blank.

platinumapp

Detail of the City of Portland’s application to the League of American Bicyclists for “Platinum” Bicycle Friendly Community status.

Even so, Portland’s platinum status is probably safe for now. It would be a very bold move for the League to revoke it just for this River View decision, especially outside of the renewal application process. Our ranking was renewed in 2013 and won’t be up for renewal again until 2017.

Getting back to the letter… So far we’ve seen one response. It was sent to an IMBA rep Wednesday night from Commissioner Fritz. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear Laurel,

Thank you for your letter. Please pass along to the signatories that it contains inaccuracies. For instance, I included funding the Citywide Off-Road Cycling Master Plan in the Portland Parks & Recreation 2015-16 Proposed Budget, at the NW Trail Alliance’s request. The Council has not yet taken action on the Parks Budget proposal.

Unfortunately, mountain biking enthusiasts seem to be putting all effort into protesting the curtailment of cycling at River View, rather than lobbying the five members of Council for approval of the significant $350,000 budget request. I agree completely with the last paragraph in the letter – that is precisely what the Master Plan would accomplish, if funded.

River View is currently an element in a lawsuit regarding appropriate use of ratepayer dollars, so I cannot comment on the merits of the request to mountain bikers to stop using the property pending the Master Plan process. It seemed prudent to Commissioner Fish and me to make the decision without public process, given the lawsuit is still active.

Interestingly, unlike the March 2nd memo that announced the decision, Fritz does not mention conservation goals as the reason biking has been banned in River View. Instead, she claims the decision was based on the 2011 lawsuit, even though a judge ruled in the city’s favor in 2014. (We explained why Fritz might still have reason to worry about the lawsuit in a previous post).

This change in spin from Fritz could be a sign she’s that she has realized it was a mistake to put environmental concerns front-and-center, since — as the letter points out — there’s simply no relevant science or transparent feedback process she can point to that backs up her claims that biking is incompatible with River View’s conservation goals.

We are working on a meeting with Fritz as well as many other angles to this story. Stay tuned.

— Read all our River View coverage here.

The post In letter to Mayor Hales and commissioners, national orgs ‘object’ to River View decision appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Oregonian editorial calls on city to ‘reconsider its bike ban’ in River View

Oregonian editorial calls on city to ‘reconsider its bike ban’ in River View

river view natural area

River View Natural Area, looking north.
(Photo: City of Portland)

The City of Portland’s defensive legal move to ban mountain biking in Southwest Portland’s River View Natural Area is an unfair breach of trust with mountain bikers, according to The Oregonian’s editorial board.

“River View, where cycling has occurred for years, remained the best city option for serious, if limited, mountain bike trails,” the newspaper wrote in a scathing editorial published online Wednesday. “To that end, cyclists attended meetings, participated enthusiastically in the public process upon which Portland places so much emphasis and trusted the city to act in good faith. The city did not.”

As we reported on Monday, Commissioners Amanda Fritz (who runs the city Parks Bureau) and Nick Fish (who runs the Bureau of Environmental Services, which manages stormwater runoff) announced that although “passive” activities such as “hiking, wildlife viewing, stewardship, education, research, etc” will continue to be allowed in the natural area along the Willamette River after March 16, mountain biking no longer will.

For many in Portland’s large and rapidly growing community of mountain biking lovers, the response was outrage and despair.

Riverview Cemetery

A ride last fall in Riverview Cemetery.
(Photo: Paul Souders)

Southwest Portland resident Paul Souders seemed to crystallize many feelings in a comment on this site:

I (and many other IMBA/NWTA members) volunteered to remove ivy, improve trails, and plant native flora. All with the good faith that by being Good Citizens we could sway hearts and minds. I involved my kids with this process, for example my son and I planted vine maples along Palatine Hill road last winter. He was REALLY EXCITED to ride here — that’s why he bought a mountain bike, and indeed he talked me into NOT selling mine, so we could ride together on the trails almost literally out our back door! Sorry little buddy, you can’t ride here anymore either.

I put literal blood and sweat (no tears yet…) into showing that I’m a good guy and can I please have a little singletrack? Well, sorry, chump!

For 20 years I’ve recommended this course of action: work within the system, be a good citizen, etc. vs poaching trails. I feel like a sucker. You can see where that will get you.

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The Oregonian’s Kelly House followed up with a report Tuesday that added some back story: the root problem here is that the city purchased the land in 2011 with money from stormwater utility fees. The purchase was pegged on a disputed claim that protecting the 146-acre riverside parcel from development would protect habitats in the Willamette.

From House’s coverage:

City officials acknowledge their decision puts the squeeze on mountain bikers, but they contend keeping the trails open creates environmental hazards that could put the entire property in jeopardy.

River View was one of multiple city projects called into question in a 2011 lawsuit alleging the city improperly used utility ratepayer money on items that didn’t qualify for the funds. A judge ruled the property’s ecological importance makes it an appropriate purchase.

City attorneys warned Bureau of Environmental Services leaders that allowing “active recreation” like mountain biking at River View could jeopardize that ruling, said Jim Blackwood, Fish’s policy director.

The city attorneys presumably consider biking down a hill to be active and/or recreational in some way that walking or running down a hill is not — or at least they fear that a judge might say so.

It’s the convoluted cause of this bike ban that seems to have pushed the Oregonian’s editorial board to weigh in on Wednesday:

The problem isn’t that mountain biking threatens to do meaningful environmental harm. Properly managed, it doesn’t. The problem, rather, is that the city is worried about the legal ramifications of using utility funds to buy parkland for the purposes of enhancing watershed health, then allowing aggressive, if badly needed, recreational use. … Cyclists aren’t the problem, in other words. They’re collateral damage.

The editorial closes with sentiments that echo Souder’s (and also of mountain-biking leaders like Kelsey Cardwell, board president for the Northwest Trail Alliance):

The memo concludes by promising to seek money for a “Citywide Off-Road Cycling Plan” and – gallingly – noting that “community advocacy will be necessary to encourage the Mayor and Council to fund this request.” Pulling the rug out from under a constituency that had been playing by the rules is a pretty strange way to enlist its assistance. It should come as no surprise to Fritz, Fish and other city officials that cyclists don’t trust them much.

There is a way out, however: If the city wants to re-establish faith with mountain biking advocates, it should exercise an abundance of leadership – heck, even a little will do – and reconsider its bike ban. On the off chance that this creates legal complications – and this is far from a certainty – at least commissioners can say they went out on a limb for their constituents.

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Amanda Fritz touts street funding plan and hopes for third term

Amanda Fritz touts street funding plan and hopes for third term

DSC_0203-1

Commissioner Amanda Fritz in 2011.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The 2016 election cycle is revving up all over the country, Portland City Hall included.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz surprised many local political pundits yesterday when she announced her plans to seek a third term. The announcement came the same day that the once-marginalized city council member won a 4-1 vote to dedicate 50 percent of surplus money over the next four years to “infrastructure maintenance and replacement” for roads, parks and emergency services.

The Oregonian reports that Fritz’s proposal will apply to “one-time funding identified during the annual budget process or excess money carried from one budget to the next.” It’s apparently intended as a sort of make-up call for the city’s infamous failure to follow through on a 1988 plan to dedicate 28 percent of utility license fees for transportation.

Opposing Fritz’s measure was her colleague Dan Saltzman, who said the council was “setting ourselves up to be criticized” by attempting to tie the hands of future councils.

For yesterday’s article, Fritz told The Oregonian’s Brad Schmidt that she plans to finance her 2016 campaign largely out of a life insurance payment from her late husband Steve Fritz, who died in a freeway crash in September when a person headed the opposite direction hit a tanker trailer and then veered across the grassy median into him. He’d been commuting to his job as a psychiatrist for Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

Amanda Fritz is the only non-incumbent ever elected to Portland’s city council with public financing. Two years after her 2008 victory, Portland voters killed publicly funded elections, which were loudly opposed by the Portland Business Alliance, the regional chamber of commerce. In 2012, Fritz won a second term by donating $300,000 of her own money into the campaign.

“Fritz said her husband had picked up extra shifts, working the equivalent of two full-time jobs, in the years since to help rebuild their savings,” Schmidt reported Wednesday.

Fritz has been an uneasy ally for low-car transportation advocates over the years, sometimes passionately supporting sidewalks or opposing the Columbia River Crossing and other times saying she couldn’t support a bike sharing system until people stopped riding bikes illegally downtown.

In her reelection announcement, Fritz listed “Identify funding to maintain basic infrastructure” as one of her priorities for the next two years.

More recently, she joined the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Oregon Walks in support of a “street fund” based on a progressive income tax, but not until opposition from the PBA and others had apparently driven her colleagues away from that plan.

Schmidt’s piece called Fritz “the city’s most unconventional and unlikely politician,” and that may be true.

Two other council members will also be up for reelection in 2016: the pair that at least for the moment are most tightly in charge of the city’s transportation policy.

Mayor Charlie Hales said this month that he’s started fundraising for a reelection campaign. Schmidt reported Wednesday that Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick “said he’ll run again in 2016.”

The post Amanda Fritz touts street funding plan and hopes for third term appeared first on BikePortland.org.

MTB advocates will deliver petition, request planning funds at Parks budget hearing

MTB advocates will deliver petition, request planning funds at Parks budget hearing

Ventura Park Pump Track grand opening-19

Portland kids deserve more places to ride off-road.
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Almost one year after Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz quietly destroyed hopes of new singletrack bicycling opportunities in Forest Park (at least in the short-term), off-road advocates plan to deliver a strong message to her at an upcoming budget hearing.

Their request? Find the money to fund a citywide mountain bike master plan that would address Forest Park trails and other cycling opportunities like family-friendly pump tracks in local parks.

It’s an idea proposed by Fritz herself and one they feel will finally break the logjam that’s preventing the Parks Bureau from moving forward on any significant projects that improve access for bicycles.

“Show up and tell Commissioner Fritz that the time is now to fund that plan and start moving forward on making Portland more off-road biking friendly.”
— NWTA call to action.

In February 2014 Fritz announced via a blog post that, “I believe that a citywide Master Plan for cycling recreation is needed prior to embarking on individual projects.” That was a blow to advocates who had spent years working in good faith with Fritz’s predecessor (Commissioner Nick Fish) only to have promises broken and processes derailed.

Some off-road advocates feel the call for a master plan (made first by Parks Director Mike Abbate in a letter to the president of the Northwest Trail Alliance on January 21, 2014) and claims of budget woes are just more stall tactics. They say the current Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan does not prohibit the creation and use of singletrack and they cite several examples where Fritz has found Parks funds for projects she personally cares about. There’s also some concern that advocating for the master plan would effectively halt any projects in the pipeline.

Regardless of those reservations, advocates plan to support Fritz’s idea and put all their weight behind the citywide master plan at a public hearing on Wednesday. With that plan in place, they figure there will be no more excuses for City Hall

“Show up and tell Commissioner Fritz that the time is now to fund that plan and start moving forward on making Portland more off-road biking friendly,” reads a call to action sent out by the NWTA this week.

Andrew Jansky with the NWTA says they plan to ask for $200,000 for the planning effort. Most of the money in Parks’ 2015-2016 budget is spoken for; but there’s still room for Fritz to use discretion and fund other priorities.

The NWTA launched a petition on Moveon.org back in November urging City Council to create a “citywide master plan for recreational cycling” that they say is, “decades overdue.” The scrappy organization with about 1,000 members has collected over 2,500 signatures so far.

NWTA staff and members plan to present that petition at Wednesday’s hearing. A key argument they’ll try and make is that too many kids lack safe places to ride bikes in Portland parks. They’re hoping for a large turnout of people who value mountain biking and off-road cycling in all its forms — from pump tracks to singletrack.

If last month’s huge show of support for bike trails in Metro’s North Tualatin Mountains project is any indication, they won’t be disappointed.

    Portland Parks Budget Dialogue
    Wednesday January 7, 2015
    6pm-8pm
    Ladd’s Addition
    St. Philip Neri Church (Carvlin Hall, 2408 SE 16th Ave)
    Facebook event here

The post MTB advocates will deliver petition, request planning funds at Parks budget hearing appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Sunday vigil set to honor and remember Steve Fritz

Sunday vigil set to honor and remember Steve Fritz

CRC Rally-104

Commissioner Amanda Fritz at an
anti-Columbia River Crossing
rally in 2009.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

All of Portland is hurting for Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz’s family this week.

Carpooling to his job in Salem, Steve Fritz was killed in a traffic collision Wednesday after a northbound pickup crossed the freeway barrier and collided with Fritz’s Nissan. The husband of the city council member died at the scene.

A vigil for Steve Fritz is planned this Sunday, Sept. 28, at 5 p.m. in Terry Schrunk Plaza, across the street from City Hall at 1221 SW 4th Avenue.

“We will have an open mic and will be collecting letters to be given to the family at a better time,” wrote Cameron Whitten, a local human rghts activist who got to know Fritz during Occupy Portland’s 2011 encampment and his subsequent hunger strike outside City Hall for housing justice, in an email. Whitten, who later supported Fritz’s reelection campaign, is among the organizers of Sunday’s event.

For her part, Commissioner Fritz wrote on Wednesday that her family would be suggesting charitable donations in lieu of flowers or cards:

Oregonian reporter Joseph Rose has a good report about the cable barriers, absent from this stretch of Interstate 5 but gradually being installed around the state, that might have prevented this collision. We wrote last month about the success of those cable barriers in Minnesota, installed as part of that state’s “Toward Zero Deaths” campaign to prevent traffic fatalities.

The Fritzes met 37 years ago — Steve was 17, Amanda 19 — while they were working at a Salvation Army children’s camp in New Jersey. As I first read on the Portland Mercury Wednesday, Amanda described her husband on her campaign’s site as “my soul-mate and the love-of-my-life.”

The Mercury was also among the outlets that shared the words of Steve and Amanda’s son Maxwell, who wrote this about his father on his successful college admission essay to Princeton University:

My father drives a car painted in zebra stripes. The inside is crammed full of stuffed animals, seat covers, and air fresheners devoted to his favorite animal. He even has the zebra edition of Zoobooks magazine prominently displayed in the back window. On weekends, he frequents a counterculture group that plays croquet using bowling balls hit with sledgehammers, has “nuclear family picnics” on the lawns of power plants, and launches pumpkins out of cannons. He also wakes up early every weekday, straightens his tie, and happily drives in that twelve year old Nissan Sentra to his work as a psychiatrist at the Oregon State Hospital.

He has a simplicity in the logic behind his decisions that makes many of the worries in my life seem silly. He painted his car because he was bored with it. He set up a stand along a marathon route offering runners free doughnuts and beer because he thought it would be entertaining. He constantly teaches me that even in the real world, being content is not contingent on adhering to the expectations of others.

I often wonder what my life will be like decades from now, but if it is anything like my father’s, I will know I did well. I expect many of the details will be different. I do not plan to become a doctor, turn vegetables into projectiles, or remodel my automobile into a work of art. However, if I follow his lead, I will be able to open my eyes on a Monday morning and smile about both the weekend in the past and the week ahead in the future.

Our hearts are with the Fritz family here at BikePortland, as in so many other Portland homes and workplaces.

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