Dual transportation forums pitch ‘transportation transformation’

How are the City of Portland’s plans to move people away from driving cars – and toward riding bicycles and mass transit – coming along? Find out what we learned by attending two, identical, open house events in as many days …

A series of poster boards outline the Bicycle Master Plan Project’s progress.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
To save money – and because both bicycle and street transportation are both priorities in what officials call “transportation transformation” – Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PDOT) held joint open house events on May 5 at Franklin High School and on May 6 at David Douglas High School.

Because the outer East Portland event at David Douglas was very, very lightly attended, read on and learn what we discovered at the inner SE Portland open house.

Bicycle Master Plan Project leader with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Ellen Vanderslice, greets attendee Richard Carpenter at the Franklin High School event.

Greeting arrivals at Franklin High outside the main entrance, PDOT’s Bicycle Master Plan Project leader Ellen Vanderslice helped send people to the cafeteria, and kept a watchful eye on the bicycles parked by the guests.
“This event is a chance for people to get a look at the final phases of both the Bicycle Master Plan Update and the Streetcar Master Plan projects,” Vanderslice explained.

The ‘big picture’ is developing a sustainable Portland,” she continued. “We know that transportation makes up about 40% of the carbon dioxide emissions in Portland.  Transportation is the most rapidly-growing source of emissions. We think that both bicycles and streetcars have the potential to help us reduce our carbon footprint in Portland.”

Amos Hunter and Brad Reber fill in surveys at the Franklin High event.

Planning to accommodate more bicyclists
Before taking the Bicycle Master Plan side, Vanderslice said they were seeking additional feedback from the community.

Studies show, Vanderslice said, that when it comes to bicycles, people fall into one of four categories:


  • “No way, no how” – About one-third of Portland’s citizens will never ride a bike for fun or transportation.
  • “Interested, but concerned” – About 60% of Portlanders say they like recreational riding, but say they “feel nervous” about riding for transportation. “These are the people we’re trying to reach,” Vanderslice said. “We’re working to provide ways to help them feel better about riding more.”
  • “Enthused and confident” – About 7% of riders fall in this category; they are generally involved in bicycle-related projects.
  • “Strong and fearless” – Only 1% of the bike riders are fully committed to bicycles as their only mode of individual transportation (in conjunction with mass transit).


“What’s significant about this plan is that we are adding a lot more ‘bicycle boulevards’. In the first plan, in 1996, we put in many bike lanes; it brought out a lot more bicyclists. We believe that many more “interested, but concerned” riders will bicycle for at least some trips, if they can ride on low-car-volume streets.”
The plan, Vanderslice explained, includes adopting new transportation, parking, and lane policies, including the “Advisory Bike Lane”, a “Cycle Track” that is separated from the main road – or a “Buffered Bike Lane”, painted a little wider than the typical bike lane.

“In addition to providing better facilities, we’re also developing ‘encouragement programs’ and incentives to ride,” Vanderslice said.

Inside the school’s cafeteria, bicycle enthusiasts talked with PDOT staff members, perused a dozen poster boards outlining the plan, and filled in surveys.

“I came to see what the future of bicycling will be in Portland,” said Brad Reber, a self-declared full-time cyclist. “So far, I’m impressed by what I’ve seen.”

Streetcar plans laid out
The other half of the cafeteria was dedicated to PDOT’s Streetcar Master Plan. Staff members used a dozen posters illustrating a proposed, interconnected system of streetcars.

PDOT senior transit planner, Patrick Sweeney, said they were giving the public the opportunity to learn and comment early in the planning process. “Streetcars do things: they are strategic economic development tools for the city, and they provide a connector for walkable neighborhoods.”

PDOT traffic planner Patrick Sweeney talks streetcars with Isabelle Zifcak, principal broker with Mt. Tabor Realty.

Streetcars are different than bus and light rail, Sweeney continued. “Busses and light rail move people from point A to point B. Streetcars are a strategic economic tool that helps build communities along those corridors, so that we can plan to orient and accommodate more growth along future corridors. Thus, streetcars are part of a long-term growth strategy to accommodate and orient future growth along transit corridors.”
The result, he added, will be reduced single-occupancy vehicle trips – and more mixed-use, walkable, commercial corridors and residential opportunities along the streetcar lines.

We asked for clarification: “It’s a tool to increase density?”

Sweeny agreed, saying, “I wouldn’t put it so crassly, but yes, it will help increase population density as our city grows.”

The next steps, Sweeny said, will be to “Look at potential streetcar lines, corridor by corridor, and develop a detailed analysis to fully understand the impacts, and determine how to work within the neighborhoods. Then we’ll be looking at developing financing strategies for how to pay for it.”

Isabelle Zifcak, principal broker at Mt. Tabor Realty, was studying the maps, with special interest in the area surrounding SE 69th Avenue and SE Belmont Street. “I would love to have the Belmont Trolley return, and take people up to Tabor Butte Park – and to my business, of course!”

Portland Mayor Sam Adams says that the City is dedicated to “transportation transformation”.

Mayor Adams pays a visit
When Portland Mayor Sam Adams arrived at the Franklin High event, we walked with him and asked why these two initiatives were important to him.

“First, we need to do well by our climate,” Adams said. “Secondly, we need to provide more Portlanders with more inexpensive ways to get around, in these trying economic times. And, we need to plan for the next 25 years of our City’s growth, and make that plan around the core principles of ‘being green’ and ‘sustainable living’. Bikes and streetcars are fundamental to our efforts. In short, the City is working toward a transportation transformation.”

(This should be viewed to the sound if a light breeze and crickets) An identical forum, presented a day later in outer East Portland at David Douglas High School has scant attendance.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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