Archive for the ‘Portland Plan’ Category


The Case for Bicycles in the Portland Plan

December 19, 2011

My friend Elly Blue took the time to submit the following as written testimony for the Portland Plan. I could not have done a better job of making the case for why the Plan must treat cycling as a vital tool in achieving our strategic objectives.

Dear Planning & Sustainability Commission members,

Please consider this email to be written testimony about the key role of bicycle transportation in the economic prosperity/affordability strategy in the Portland Plan. Prioritizing the smooth flow of bicycle traffic throughout the region will continue to provide exponential returns in all elements of this strategy, as I will describe below.

I live in Southeast Portland, where I am a writer and co-own a small business, PDX by Bike, that helps visitors to Portland discover our city by bicycle and enables them to support bike-friendly local businesses. In the last year I wrote a ten-part series of columns about bicycling and the economy, which can be read here. In researching these columns, I was stunned by the growing economic importance of bicycling nationwide not just for people who ride bicycles but for community-wide prosperity. Transportation affects every aspect of our economy, on a household level and societally.

Below is a summary of how bicycle transportation fits in to the Portland Plan’s 2035 objectives for prosperity and affordability. I have provided citations to studies, often shortening the links. I am happy to provide any further citations, information, and commentary that the committee would find useful.

1. Export growth: In a down economy, Portland’s bike export industry is booming. Thanks to our reputation for bike friendliness and the availability of talented workers who understand all aspects of the bicycling industry, companies including Chris King, Rapha, PDW, Nutcase, Ellsworth/Zen, and many others have moved to Portland in the last decade, hired, and grown here. They all provide family wage jobs while producing bikes, apparel, gear, and components that are in increasing demand worldwide.

2. Urban innovation: See above. Moreover, Portland is a hub for the custom craft bicycle framebuilding industry, which is growing as fast as the demand for bicycling nationwide (which is to say very fast!). Entrepreneurs in fashion, writing, coffee, technology and even freight delivery have found success in starting new businesses — or branching out in existing endeavors — to tap into local and international demand for all things Portland and bike. The bicycle braintrust here in Portland is not available anywhere else in the world, and this continues to attract media attention and professional in-migration. These folks are chomping at the bit to provide jobs, and every bit of support they can get, from economic boosts to further improvements in the bikeway network, helps them grow their businesses and give back more to the community.

3. Freight mobility: Bicycle transportation and freight are natural allies. Though we use entirely different roadway systems most of the time, both interests are served by reducing the traffic congestion, road wear, and crash hazards posed by single-occupancy automobiles being the region’s primary mode of transportation. All of these barriers to freight mobility are mitigated by increased bicycle transportation. Moreover, within the city, cargo bicycles can be cheaper and more efficient to operate than trucks; UPS operates a cargo bicycle fleet during the holidays, and the City of Portland has found it economical to have its office supplies delivered by B-Line, a local bicycle freight company. I predict that, with encouragement, we’ll see growth in bicycle freight embraced more widely, including by trucking companies, creating jobs as well as improving bottom lines and community prosperity, safety, and health.

4. Growing employment districts: In 2008, Portland-based firm Alta Planning + Design found that the bicycle industry alone contributed $90 million annually to the local economy, providing as many as 1,150 jobs. Portland’s bike industry has grown substantially since then, despite the economic downturn. Since the Alta study in 2008, at least 100 directly bicycle-oriented businesses have opened in or moved to Portland. Despite lagging job growth overall, businesses tied to the bicycle economy have been growing and adding employees. It is worth noting that these figures do not include businesses that operate by bicycle or that profit from catering to customers, clients, and employees that bike.

5. Neighborhood business vitality: When people ride a bicycle rather than drive a car for most of their trips, they tend to shop and work within biking or walking distance of home. Recent studies have shown that people who shop in neighborhood retail clusters by bicycle spend more money each week than people who arrive by car. Other research has shown that building bicycle infrastructure creates nearly twice as many jobs per dollar spent as building car infrastructure. Bicycle parking in particular has a direct economic impact on local retail businesses. A forthcoming study from PSU, to be released at the end of 2012, is looking at the broader scope of the economic benefits of bicycle infrastructure to Portland’s local businesses. Finally, when employees are able to bicycle to work, economic benefits include often substantial employer savings on parking costs as well as a measurable reduction in sick days and improvements in mental health.

6. Access to housing/cost of living: City-wide access to safe, convenient bicycle transportation is key to driving down the often ignored “transportation cost” of housing. In Portland, bicycle infrastructure has been built according to a “low hanging fruit” philosophy. This means that improvements aimed at improving the safety and comfort of bicycle transportation have been made incrementally, and those increments have corresponded with the commute needs of Portlanders who are relatively well-off and politically engaged. This strategy has been effective in creating a world class bicycle network in parts of the city; unfortunately it has also contributed to the association of bicycling as an elite amenity. Meanwhile, bicycling remains an essential transportation utility that is still used and needed across all sectors of society, but which has been provided for with less attention to equity than is needed. One way to create more equitable economic opportunities is to prioritize active transportation facilities by type of street rather than by specific neighborhood or corridor. Also, bicycle-transit connectivity (including investments in the transit system) must continue to be improved citywide.

7. Access to housing/cost burden: Affordable housing, to be truly affordable, needs to come with secure, indoor bicycle parking facilities as well as on-street short-term bicycle parking and access to bike-friendly routes that lead to neighborhood business districts, parks, and schools.

8. Education and job training. Access to education, job training, and jobs is contingent on reliable, affordable transportation. Cars break down, requiring expensive repairs. Portland’s transit service is being reduced while the price to the user is going up. Bicycling is often the most reliable, cheapest, means to travel, so long as no major infrastructure barriers are imposed, such as impassable freeways, major roads without bike facilities, lack of bike parking at the destination, or instructors or employers who are hostile to bicycling. Portland’s Community Cycling Center’s “Create a Commuter” program is an excellent example of one way to provide affordable mobility to those who most need it. Access to the growing bicycle jobs sector is important as well. Portland is already home to a new campus of Ashland-based United Bicycle Institute. Improving access to opportunities to learn bicycle maintenance and manufacturing skills — for instance at community colleges and in high schools — will act as an equitable multiplier for the growing bicycle economy.

9. Household economic security. The direct cost of owning and driving a car is, on average, over $8,000 per year. The poorest fifth of U.S. families spend twice the average, amounting to 40% of their take-home pay. These costs often are directly in conflict with other expenses such as food, housing, and medication. Meanwhile, the cost of bicycling remains extremely low or free. A reasonable commuting bicycle, a lock, lights, and a helmet can be purchased for a one time investment of under $500; maintenance costs need not exceed $150 per year. Community bike projects like the Bike Farm and the Community Cycling Center offer opportunities to receive free bikes and maintenance, and repairs can be done cheaply by owners. Bicycling for transportation further contributes to household economic security by significantly reducing the risk of common, and economically devastating, diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and mental illness. Car crashes are great creators of poverty; and as a major cause of disability, loss of income, and inability to care for others, they disproportionately affect the poor. Likewise, lung and heart diseases that result from over exposure to auto fumes, for instance from growing up next to a freeway, are a public health issue that produces and reinforces economic inequalities.

There is a gender equity issue here too. Women are responsible for the majority of household trips each day, including 77% of passenger-carrying trips. When children can ride independently to school and elders can get around without a car, caretakers (who are statistically twice as likely to be women) are freed up to participate in income earning work. For true household economic security, grocery stores, schools, and workplaces must be clustered in neighborhoods and must be safely and comfortably accessible by bicycle and on foot by someone who is carrying a child and/or heavy groceries. This affects every aspect of the Portland Plan. I would particularly like to draw the commission’s attention to school placement as a vital issue in transportation equity.

Finally, the health benefits of riding a bicycle far outweigh the health risks. And as more people ride bicycles in a given area, traffic safety improves for everyone, no matter what mode they are using. Yet the poorest Portlanders often have the least access to safe, convenient bicycle routes and bicycle advocacy, services, and education.


One question that isn’t covered on this list is the public costs of our transportation system. Portland’s entire bicycle network up until 2008, when it was generally recognized as the best in the nation and among the best in the world, incurred the same public cost as a single mile of urban freeway. Automobility drains money from the local economy as well as public coffers, and our freeways produce massive external costs and are often a barrier to active transportation. The devastating financial results of continuing to invest in road systems for single occupant automobiles is well-described here. Bicycling, on the other hand, both saves and makes money — for local businesses, for the city, and for individual households. The only challenge is to make it available to everyone.

In summary, bicycling is already vital to Portland’s current economy and will even more so to our future prosperity and resilience. If we are to have a viable, equitable, well-maintained transportation system in 2035, it is essential to pursue an overall strategy that encourages bicycling at every level — from street markings to zoning to parking policies to school placement to business tax structures and more.

Thank you for reading this. I look forward to the results of all your efforts.


Elly Blue


How to Testify Effectively on the Portland Plan

November 8, 2011

Tonight was the first Portland Plan public hearing, and I think it points the way for how to effectively advocate for policy in the plan.

We got excellent testimony in a number of areas including equity, health and the role of youth in our planning processes. But my colleagues and I shared some common feedback to the testifiers – we want specifics. The Plan covers a lot of areas from a lot of angles. If you think something is missing (or wrong), we’d like you to tell us where, pretty specifically (as in, “on page 37 you should add this idea in the action items”).

So here’s my advice on how to have maximum impact with your testimony experience:

1) Prepare your three minutes of verbal testimony to give us the rationale for your idea.

2) Leave us written testimony specifically mapping out the places in the plan where you think your issue needs to be expressed, and how you’d like to see it reflected.

That one-two punch should do the trick. And as a reminder, here are the remaining input opportunities:

Portland Plan Hearings (public comments welcome)

Tuesday, November 15
5:30 – 9 p.m.
Parkrose High School

Tuesday, November 29
5:30 – 9 p.m.
1900 SW 4th Ave., Suite 2500A

Work Session and Recommendation

Tuesday,  December 13
12:30 p.m.
1900 SW 4th Ave., Suite 2500A

To submit written comments by email

Send comments to with the subject line “Portland Plan testimony.”

To submit written comments by mail

Send a letter with your comments to the Planning and Sustainability Commission, 1900 SW 4th Ave., Portland, OR 97201-5380, Attn: Portland Plan testimony.

For more information or if you have questions, please call 503-823-1303.


Initial Thoughts on the Portland Plan

November 6, 2011

The Portland Plan “proposed draft” has been on the streets for a few weeks now, and I’ve had the chance to read it twice.

Below are some comments that I have provided to staff, but I’m really interested in what you think. We have three hearings of the Planning and Sustainability Commission focusing on the plan, starting Tuesday. Come out and share your thoughts at one of the hearings:

Portland Plan Hearings (public comments welcome)

Tuesday, November 8
5:30 – 9 p.m.
Jefferson High School

Tuesday, November 15
5:30 – 9 p.m.
Parkrose High School

Tuesday, November 29
5:30 – 9 p.m.
1900 SW 4th Ave., Suite 2500A

Work Session and Recommendation

Tuesday,  December 13
12:30 p.m.
1900 SW 4th Ave., Suite 2500A

To submit written comments by email

Send comments to with the subject line “Portland Plan testimony.”

To submit written comments by mail

Send a letter with your comments to the Planning and Sustainability Commission, 1900 SW 4th Ave., Portland, OR 97201-5380, Attn: Portland Plan testimony.

For more information or if you have questions, please call 503-823-1303.

Here’s what I shared with staff:

Economic Prosperity and Affordability Objectives, p. 35

Under objective #2, Urban Innovation, we might consider calling out creating a transportation system that is affordable both for the users (offering lower cost travel options) and for the City (by being less expensive to maintain). Similarly, we can pursue affordability through reduced need for energy through more efficient buildings and infrastructure.

Under objective #5, Neighborhood business vitality, we have called out transit access as a key enabler. We should equally call out pedestrian and bicycle access as success factors.

Urban Innovation Action Plan, p. 41

Related to the comment above I’d like to see an action item around affordable transportation related to Bicycle Master Plan implementation.

Healthy Connected City objectives, p. 61

This the first of a number of places in the plan where we use the phrase “Transit and Active Transportation”. I’d prefer if we used the language “Transit, Biking and Walking” for several reasons:

  • The former language could be perceived as prioritizing Transit over the other individual modes
  • Not everyone will understand what active transportation is
  • There is some debate about whether transit should be considered within active transportation because transit trips almost always involve some walking

Healthy Connected City Health Actions, p. 65

I think we miss an opportunity by not calling out actions related to active transportation here to make the connection between active transportation and health.

Neighborhood Hubs Actions, p. 69

Neighborhood schools are one of the most important and vital anchors for a neighborhood, but they aren’t mentioned in the actions?

Connections for People, Places, Water and Wildlife Actions, p. 71

The Intertwine is called out appropriately as an important resource for habitat, but its importance as a transportation system could use more emphasis (perhaps it should also be called out in a more transportation-related action area?).

p. 73

“Pettigrove” Street is misspelled (should be Pettygrove). Francis would be upset 🙂

Connections Actions, p. 75

The Civic corridors actions do not call out freight. In fact, freight is found nowhere in the Healthy Connected City section (although it is well represented in the Economic Prosperity and Affordability section). Making transit, cycling, pedestrian access and freight work in concert in both Civic Corridors and Neighborhood Hubs is going to be critical to the success of the plan and we should specifically call out the challenge.

Measures, #5 Growing Business, p. 93

I’m struggling a bit with using our national rank order on exports as a metric. Would something a little more quantitative like the percentage of our regional production being exported be a more consistent and understandable indicator?

Measures, #6, Creating jobs, p. 95

I’m not sure if this is aggressive or aspirational (although it’s certainly vitally important). Could we find a more concrete way to connect the measure to the economic development plan, perhaps by having goals for specific sectors or plan components (e.g., neighborhood economic development versus clusters)?

Local Actions, Central City, p. B-3

It might be useful to include bike share in the “next generation built environment”.

Local Actions, Roseway/Cully, p. B-7

Should the development of Thomas Cully Park be called out here?

Local Measures, Cost-burdened Households, p. C-9

Shouldn’t transportation be called out in the “cost burden” measure? The objective statements earlier in the plan call out the combined costs and we’ll get better policy decisions by looking at both issues together rather than housing alone.

Local Measures, Walkability and Accessibility, p. C-10

I’m having trouble understanding the low score for Northwest for walking and accessibility. I realize that the area mapped includes some hillier sections, but it also includes a designated pedestrian district. Are we sure the score is accurate?

Local Measures, Transit and Active Transportation, p. C-12

I wonder if we need to scale this measure a little differently so it better informs investment choices? Having all but one sector in the same category is not telling us much.


Why Economic Development is Hard

May 15, 2011

A very good piece on this week’s “This American Life” radio program about job creation (in Collaboration with the excellent NPR “Planet Money” team). A number of key ideas in the episode resonated for me:

  1. How hard it really is for government to “create” a job, and to measure if you’ve really done it
  2. The challenges in trying to recruit employers, including the potential for this to be a zero-sum game between jurisdictions – or worse – a race to the bottom
  3. The trends (or fads!) in economic development, some of which we have definitely followed here in Portland
  4. The probable wisdom in instead working hard to grow from what you already have

It reinforced for me what I think is a fundamentally solid plank in the draft Portland Plan strategy on Economic Prosperity and Affordability, highlighting neighborhood economic development – doing the hard work to help Portland’s wealth of small businesses grow and prosper.

Follow the Portland Plan at as the draft strategies mature and develop, and let us know what you think about the strategies.


Mapping the Food Cart Ecosystem

November 30, 2010

I just completed the excellent “Cartopia” by Kelly Rodgers and Kelley Roy and it has helped fill in my understanding of why food carts have blossomed here in Portland and what their impact on the economy is.

Some of the success factors include:

  • Carts are treated as vehicles (even if mostly stationary) and therefore avoid building code regulation (attached structures like covered seating areas are covered by building code).
  • Multnomah County health regulations, while thorough (the same as for restaurants) are reasonably streamlined and fees not too expensive.
  • The building slowdown of the last few years has meant that there are property owners motivated to collect rents from their otherwise vacant lots.
  • Start-up costs for carts have been assisted in part by micro-lending (loans on the order of $15,000) by Mercy Corps and other non-profits.

In addition to the direct economic effects of carts (the 500+ carts in Portland are estimated to collectively pay several million dollars per year in rent), the ‘cart economy’ has spawned secondary enterprises like commissary kitchens (regulated spaces where vendors must prepare any food not actually prepared in the carts themselves), several specialty cart builders and related services like gray water management.

So what’s the take-away learning here? I think three things are core to the phenomenal growth of food carts in Portland:

  1. A passionate food community willing to experiment and innovate
  2. An efficient and cost-effective bureaucracy for the essential government involvement (health inspections)
  3. Benign indifference on the part of government to non-essentials (i.e., carts are not regulated as structures because they are ‘vehicles’)

I highly recommend the book and continue to enjoy the energetic urbanism of our food-cart scene. I’d like to think this kind of micro-enterprise model could provide the ground-floor opportunities in other sectors of our economy!


Filling in the Pieces for a 20-Minute Neighborhood

November 18, 2010

A great citizen-created video on what needs to happen to create 20-minute neighborhoods outside the ‘traditional’ Portland neighborhoods.


Veggie Cart?

November 18, 2010

A while back I speculated about whether the “food cart” model could address other urban services needs in an affordable way.

Recently I heard a fascinating story on NPR from Detroit, where “Peaches and Greens” provides healthy fruits and vegetables in “food deserts” in that city.

Could we do that here in Portland? Who would be the logical provider(s)?

P.S. Tonight I dropped by the book release party for “Cartopia, Portland’s Food Cart Revolution” to pick up my copy. Can’t wait to read it.


4-6-9 Outline for Portland Plan?

November 1, 2010

The Portland Plan Advisory Group is beginning to ponder the potential strategy groupings for the Portland Plan. This will inform the next round of Public Open Houses that will happen in February and March.

The current draft structure is 4 Principles, 6 Drivers of Change and the same 9 Policy Areas that we’ve worked within for the first two phases of the plan. To break it down:

4 Principles (aka Goals):

  • Equity (fairly distributing benefits and burdens)
  • Safety and Opportunity (success in education, economically and quality of life)
  • Health (people and planet)
  • Resiliency (framed in terms of climate change, but I think this is great way to think about sustainability too)

6 Drivers of Change ( aka strategies)

  • Economic Opportunity
  • 20-Minute Neighborhoods
  • City Green
  • Environment for Learning/Education
  • Innovative Technologies & Practices
  • Equitable Decision-making

And the 9 topic areas we should all be familiar with now:

  • Prosperity and Business Success
  • Education and Skill Development
  • Sustainability and the Natural Environment
  • Human Health and Safety
  • Equity, Civic Engagement and Quality of Life
  • Neighborhoods and Housing
  • Design, Planning and Public Spaces
  • Transportation, Technology and Access
  • Art, Culture and Innovation

My “big question” at the moment is whether six strategy bundles is the right number. I don’t have any problem with the fundamental outline of the strategies, but I wonder if we can really keep in six different things in mind as we make the real world choices that will make the plan succeed or fail. Everything I know about human psychology suggests to me that three is a much easier number of things to carry around in our heads.

So I’m going to be looking for ways to re-combine and re-package these ‘drivers’ as we work through this phase of the plan development. Please help me!


A New Planning Tool: Health Impact Assessments

October 25, 2010

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about Health Impact Assessments (HIAs). Last week I attended RailVolution where there was a panel on this tool. And last week’s PSU Transportation Seminar was a report on such an assessment for the Bike/Trail master plan in Clark County. The talk gives an excellent overview of what this tool is all about, you can listen to it here (MP3, 28.4M).

I’m most familiar with HIAs in the context of transportation projects, where generally the factors considered are how will the project impact air quality (either by increasing or reducing emissions) and what opportunities for active transportation (biking, walking) are created or destroyed.

It seems to me that HIAs could be a significant driver for building out our bicycle master plan – but we don’t seem to have made the political connection yet between bicycle transportation and public health. I hope that will change, and maybe HIAs can be part of that process.

This is particularly timely as we’ve just added a public health professional, Dr. Gary Oxman, the public health officer for Multnomah County to our Planning and Sustainability Commission.

So this question for today is: as we develop the health strategy component of the Portland Plan, at what level should we apply HIAs as an analysis tool?


Food Carts: Affordable Urbanism?

July 26, 2010

Anyone who’s paying attention has noted the explosive growth of food carts in Portland over the last decade and particularly in the last couple of years. At a City Club tour and discussion a few weeks ago, I gained a better understanding of why. I think there are three factors converging in this economy that fuel the recent growth:

  • Low Barriers to Entry – Multnomah County (Health Department) provides relatively affordable inspection and licensing of the carts. About $800 in fees will get your business launched and used carts start at about $10K (new carts are about $25K locally, driven by the high demand – many entrepreneurs travel to other states to find used carts). So carts represent a relatively low cost way for someone to start a business in these tight credit days.
  • Land Pricing for Underused Property – Carts are an attractive proposition to folks who own some pavement – the rent a cart can pay is greater than the revenue generated by parking fees, even at downtown parking rates.
  • A Receptive Market – Carts provide an affordable meal for customers who may find their own wallets under stress.

Remarkably, food cart pods are popping up all over the City – as far east as 122nd Ave – and in the suburbs. And they’re not just about food. A pod on N Vancouver includes dry cleaning and shoe repair. We even have a blog specializing on these carts, and I’m told an iPhone app is not far away. Despite being distributed around the region, these carts are essentially urban. Folks don’t generally drive to these carts, they arrive on foot or sometimes by bike.

How far can we take this? The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has just issued a challenge to see if a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) can deliver via a cart (it’s been done in New York City).

Which leads me to wonder if we could use this phenomenon as a low-cost way to seed new 20-minute neighborhood business districts? Once we have figured out where these districts want to be, and have created suitable zoning, could we clear a couple of sites, put in water and power  hookups, and rent them out to carts? Would this attract other businesses to the area? How many of the essential services for a neighborhood could be delivered via a cart? Let me know what you think.