Components of a 21st Century Comp Plan

September 9, 2014

Portland is currently developing a new Comprehensive Plan, only the second full plan in our history (the first was in 1980 – in the last century!). You can learn about the update project and play with an innovative tool – the map app (where you can make comments on the geographic aspects of the plan).

The plan has the traditional elements: land use, transportation, sewers, water lines, parks, etc.

But this is a new century, and I’m concerned that the world we live in now needs some plan components that we don’t have: open data and broadband.

Open Data

Our city is a collaborative effort of citizens, businesses, non-profits and a host of government agencies. The collaboration can only work better when data is shared among the partners. Portland recognized this in 2009, becoming one of the first cities in the country to adopt an open data resolution, and ran a competition for applications using the data sets that were released at the time. But a resolution is only an aspiration, and the effort has waned a bit since that time. Some data sets have been updated, but others have not, and we’d love to see a lot more.

I think the Comprehensive Plan is an excellent opportunity to make this official city policy (and law) rather than just an aspiration. Can we make every new City IT system produce open data (subject to reasonable exceptions based on privacy, security and cost)? Can we make all that data available on a license-free, redistributable and machine-readable way? I think Portland is the kind of city that can do that!


Internet connectivity is a critical factor for economic competitiveness and educational attainment, but the United States lags seriously. Our households have slower access – and pay more for it – than countries in Europe and Asia. Portland currently stands 200th on the global list of cities for access speeds. And the connectivity we do have is not evenly distributed across the city. This is a key equity issue! Atlantic Cities did an interesting set of maps of adoption by neighborhood in a number of cities, including Portland.

CenturyLink has just begun offering Gigabit (50 times the current rates of connectivity) service in some neighborhoods of Portland. And the City is working hard to recruit Google Fiber. But neither offer the assurance of universal service.

I would suggest that a policy of affordable and universally available broadband connectivity is every bit as important to include in the Comp Plan as water and sewer lines. This goal from Portland’s Broadband Strategic Plan might be a good candidate:

“Eliminate broadband capacity, equity, access and affordability gaps so Portland achieves near universal adoption of broadband services for all residents, small businesses and community-based organizations.”

Feel free to discuss these ideas (and suggest details for the policies) here. But if you feel like it’s important for the City to include something about these policies in the Plan, I’d suggest you comment formally. You can attend any one of the four public hearings this fall (the first on September 23rd) or you can send written testimony to the Planning and Sustainability Commission at psc@portlandoregon.gov.

Update: Here are the details on the first hearing:

5pm on Tuesday, September 23rd (room will open at 4:15pm and testimony sign up will start then)
Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, 1900 SW 4th Ave, Portland

Subsequent hearings are:

5pm, October 14th
Parkrose High School

5pm, October 28th
Portland Community College, SE Campus

4pm, November 4th
Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, 1900 SW 4th Ave, Portland


Have Your Bike Shed Ambitions Been Frustrated?

August 3, 2013

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has an ongoing process to clean up and improve the zoning code called “RICAP” (Regulatory Improvement and Code Amendment Package). We keep a database of suggestions, problems and common adjustments and periodically select items from the database to work on in packages.

We’re about to put together another such package, and there’s an issue that I’d like to get some feedback on (it’s not currently recommended for inclusion in the next group).

We allow garages to be built in the “setback” areas of a property (required buffers from the sidewalk or neighboring properties), but other storage structures have to be built in the interior of a lot.

But a garage is defined as being big enough to hold an automobile (9 feet x 18 feet). If you want to build a storage structure for smaller vehicles like bikes, motorcycles, Segways or scooters, you can’t do that in the setback areas.

Have you tried to build a “bicycle garage” and been limited by this zoning rule? I’m trying to determine how significant an issue this might be. Please share your experiences.



Do Food Carts Have Measurable Amenity Value?

December 16, 2012

Data reported on by the Business Journal would suggest that office buildings near food cart pods (collections of carts, not individual carts) have lower vacancy rates!


Trying to Explain the Comp Plan in the Time it Takes to Cross a 20-minute Neighborhood

December 7, 2012

I had the pleasure of being a guest on what the Portland Afoot Podcast called “their wonkiest” episode (but “surprisingly riveting”), trying to make the connection between Active Transportation and our current efforts to update Portland’s Comprehensive Plan.

Download it here or search for “Portland Afoot Podcast” on iTunes.


Transecting Portland’s Urbanism

September 30, 2012

“Transect” is a word given an additional usage by new urbanist planners to mean a continuum of neighborhood types ranging from the dense central city out to the increasing less dense edges of a region.

Today, returning from the East Portland Sunday Parkways, I rode home on the Springwater Trail and had the opportunity to transect Portland’s various flavors of urbanism, including:

  • A restoration project on Johnson Creek helping bring salmon back to the creek
  • The “Cartlandia” food cart pod – a bike-friendly oasis, complete with beer garden, on the very auto-centric 82nd Ave – where I had lunch (and I can’t see what all the fuss at City Council about the liquor license was about – it’s a very family-friendly environment)
  • Light industry and urban agriculture (Zenger Farm), side-by-side
  • The vibrant, built-in-the-streetcar-era urbanism of the Sellwood neighborhood
  • The amusing urbanism of Oaks Park, side-by-side with withe nature-in-the-city urbanism of Oaks Bottom
  • Kayakers enjoying Ross Island, just before I encountered our newest streetcar terminus and rail museum
  • A view of the downtown skyline from the Eastbank Esplande

We are truly blessed…


How Should We Assess the Health Impacts of West Hayden Island Development?

June 19, 2012

Sometime this fall, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission will be making a recommendation to City Council on whether or not to annex West Hayden Island for the purpose of enabling the Port of Portland to develop a rail/marine terminal.

The question is already controversial and it’s easy to see this being positioned as a “jobs versus the environment” choice (although in fact I think it’s really more nuanced).

I’m just sitting down to read the draft plan (PDF) and plan to attend the open house Wednesday night. I expect this will be one of the most challenging decisions I’ll be involved in while on the Commission.

But before we get to the big decision, we have an important step on the way next week. Staff will brief the Commission on what factors we might want to have go into some form of Health Impact Assessment as part of the decision-making process this fall. The briefing packet (PDF, 111 pages, sorry) outlines what health information we already have and what we may want to collect (for example, more noise data).

But the meat of my question is expressed in the staff memo introducing the packet, suggesting the issues we might want covered by a Health Impact Assessment:

  • To what extent would the distance and topography between the WHI [West Hayden Island] port and residences in EHI [East Hayden Island] provide an effective buffer that would mitigate noise effects from the operation of the facility or the rail traffic to and from the facility?
  • To what extent would port-generated rail traffic on the elevated rail line that currently crosses WHI cause a noticeable increase in noise effects over current rail traffic? For example, the time of day, duration, or both of port-generated rail traffic may cause a noticeable increase in noise effects.
  • To what extent would port-generated truck traffic on NHID [North Hayden Island Drive] cause a noticeable increase in noise effects over current or projected truck traffic? For example, the time of day of truck traffic may cause a noticeable increase in noise effects.
  • If a HIA [Health Impact Assessment] determines that port-generated traffic would cause a noticeable increase in noise effects, what types of measure could mitigate these effects?
  • What is the geographic extent of the affected air shed and what populations, schools, employment centers, etc. are located in this air shed?
  • How will port-related activities affect air quality in the affected air shed?
  • What other sources of air pollution are present near the WHI port and what is their contributions to air pollution in the affected air shed?
  • What is the current prevalence of asthma and other respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer risk, low birth weight babies in the affected air shed?

Today’s topic for discussion: are these the right questions to be asking? Are there other factors we should consider?

Also, I anticipate the argument will be made that some of these factors cannot be judged without a more specific facility design, and assessment should be postponed until an Environmental Impact Statement phase (after annexation). Others will argue that these are critical issues and should be assessed before annexation.

What do you think?


Telling the Climate Action Success Story in One Infographic

April 11, 2012

One of the duties of the Planning and Sustainability Commission is oversight of the City’s Climate Action Plan.

This week we got our second annual update on the progress of the plan. Last year when we got the first report, it took several slides to show how efforts in different sectors contribute to our overall carbon reduction efforts.

At the time, I challenged staff to try to tell the story in one slide. Then I forgot about it…

But they didn’t! This year they presented this slide, which does a wonderful job of telling the story:

index - Copy

Click image to show full size

Well done! My thanks and congratulations to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff, not just for this wonderful graphic, but for a great plan that we’re truly making progress on.