Best Practices for Web 2.0 Engagement in Planning

April 1, 2012

Via Planetizen:

This piece from the Placeshakers and Newsmakers blog gives some practical advice for how to do online engagement for planning projects.

One huge takeaway is that you have to explain what the constraints on a project are. It’s easy for someone approaching your web site/tweet/facebook post to assume a blank sheet of paper. And that’s never the reality.

I can’t count the number of times on my transportation blog that I’ve had to reply to a comment on one of my posts with another comment saying some form of “gas tax revenues can’t be used for non-roadway improvements…”

It’s vital to create the proper context when soliciting community involvement online.

But while I’m on the subject, I want to pass on my compliments to the Portland Plan team for their excellent use of online tools and social media throughout the Portland Plan process. I hope many of you can join us on April 18th when the plan goes before City Council (6pm, Council Chambers in City Hall).


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 psc@portlandoregon.gov 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 psc@portlandoregon.gov 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.


Trees = Greater Property Values?

October 18, 2011

Sorry, I have badly neglected this blog. Happy to have a few interesting tidbits to post now.

First up, we know that higher Walkscores increase property value. Now we have some evidence that trees do the same thing (well, at least they increase rental values, which should be a strong correlate).

I learned a lot about how trees create value earlier this year when we processed the re-writing of Portland’s tree code. Now a study suggests that street trees can increase a property’s rental value by $21/month, while on-lot trees add a bit less than $6.


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 http://pdxplan.com as the draft strategies mature and develop, and let us know what you think about the strategies.


Bikes and Streetcars: Raising the Level of our Game

March 7, 2011

At Tuesday’s Planning and Sustainability Commission meeting we have a work session around the Locally Preferred Alternative for the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit project. The steering committee recommendation is streetcar, mostly using the current Willamette Shoreline rail right-of-way, except for a few blocks on Macadam, and with several alternative routing options toward the Lake Oswego end of the corridor to be studied further.

This is consistent with previous comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that the Commission had provided to the Mayor (Portland’s representative on the project steering committee).

So now the question becomes whether Portland should include any conditions on its approval of the recommendation.

I expect that tomorrow we’ll have some discussion about mitigating the impact on several parks and natural areas that the alignment passes through in Portland. And I’m planning to offer some language along the following lines:

The streetcar alignment should be designed and executed with a significantly higher degree of bicycle compatibility than achieved in prior streetcar projects, with the goal of creating an environment that will attract “interested but concerned” potential cyclists, including:

  • Safe and comfortable crossing designs where bike facilities intersect the alignment
  • Safe and comfortable treatments where bike facilities run parallel and adjacent to the alignment
  • Convenient access (including bike parking) to platforms, particularly those outside the Portland Central City
  • Good connectivity for the bicycle network in or near the envelope of the transit corridor
  • Safe and comfortable bicycle access should be maintained without interruption during construction
  • The project contingency funds should be sufficient to provide the ability to mitigate unintended impacts to bicycle facilities during or after construction

So what’s the fuss? The Streetcar Loop Project hasn’t repeated some of the mistakes of the past like putting bike lanes between parked cars and rail, where an opening car door leaves you no place to escape to. And where possible we’ve put streetcars in the left lane, away from the bike lanes, and even created a new neighborhood greenway on Marshall in the Pearl to keep bikes well-separated from the rails on Lovejoy.

But for all our progress, we got a lot of things wrong, including:

  • Crossings that aren’t close enough to perpendicular
  • An intersection at Broadway and Larrabee that is almost certainly less safe than it was before streetcar
  • Inadequate wayfinding that leaves folks in the Pearl unclear about where to go

and a myriad of small details that all could have been better.

The big opportunity identified in the Bicycle Master Plan is the “interested but concerned” portion of the population – up to 60% of us – who would be willing to use a bike for some trips, but don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to do so. The level of design we achieved on the Loop project is an improvement, but in my judgment in many places it will not assuage the concerns of the “interested but concerned.”

We have to do better. Let’s commit ourselves to doing so on this project.