Download a PDF of Jefferson Smith’s responses.
Portland’s Climate Action Plan demands we drastically reduce driving from current levels. The Portland Plan aims to create 20-minute neighborhoods in Portland, places where people can get around quickly and easily by walking or biking (with 70% of commute trips in 2035 by foot, transit, or bike). Right now only 27% of commute trips are on foot, transit, or bike. Why do you think more Portlanders do not walk, bike, or take transit for transportation, and what will you do to help Portland meet its goals and become an even better city to walk, bike and ride transit?
Not enough short trips, particularly in East Portland. When we plan our city, we need to see the full picture. We can’t just plan for infill housing, like the City Council pushed in the 90’s, without also a realistic plan and follow through for transportation, parks, local stores, and other basic amenities.
Inadequate infrastructure. Too often it is hard to get from A to B on a bike (or even on foot in East Portland) without crossing a busy road with fast moving traffic. Our layout offers a disincentive to walk, because of a lack of sidewalks, and too few bus stops, many of which lack protection from the elements. My own family’s experience is instructive: my wife and I bought each other new bicycles when we bought our house. Our riding experiences are a bit harrowing, and our walking experiences usually don’t include sidewalks. Our East Portland neighbors face the same context and similarly under-use active transportation. Southwest Portland needs broader shoulders on streets with fast traffic, too. We need to explore a transportation package to invest in paving roads, increasing safety, and otherwise improving our infrastructure as gas tax revenues decline.
Information. Too many commuters are unaware of the routes and alternatives. It often just feels easier to get in the car. The work Tri-Met is engaging in with Open Source tools to improve access to route information and smart phone technology can help. A mayor can use the not-so-bully pulpit to communicate the timeliness of active transportation, as well as the cost savings. Investments in biking cost pennies on the dollar. Portland’s Bicycle Master Plan for 2030 establishes a goal of 25% of short trips by bicycle by 2030. We have to communicate to Portlanders the cost savings – both in tax dollars and in personal transportation budgets – that can be realized by active transportation to meet that goal.
Frequency and convenience of service. We need better and more frequent bus service. The Streetcar is beautiful; buses are more flexible. We should work with Tri-Met on a plan to improve bus service, the quality of the riding experience, and the frequency of pickups.
Safety concerns. We can communicate better about this – crime on Tri-Met has been on the decline everywhere in the city except East of 82nd. We can also improve the reality. The pilot experiment to pipe classical music on the 162nd & Burnside Max station reportedly has seen a drop in service calls of 58%. And it is affordable. The Adopt-a-Station proposal we have been working on would combine elements of Adopt-a-Highway and Neighborhood Watch.
Generally. Five E’s to keep in mind to achieve the Climate Action Plan goals: Engineering, Encouragement, Education, Enforcement, and Evaluation (I like alliteration).
fair funding share
One of every four Portland residents (about 150,000 people) is too young, old, infirm or poor to drive. Would you support a city policy to dedicate at least that percentage (25%) of PBOT’s budget for walking, biking, and access to transit projects?
As far as the mechanism of a specific % floor, I will support and work for a fair funding share, but I want to work with you to make sure we don’t set a floor that turns out to be a ceiling. I look forward to the interview to talk with you about the strategy and the current funding picture. Our current funding for PBOT budget is inadequate to meet our basic needs, including access for walking, biking, and transit. Facing a shrinking pie, we need also to work for a bigger pie. I have talked with Laborers and business people about new funding mechanisms that will provide a dedicated stream not dependent on declining gas tax revenues. This is something we could build a coalition around and get something done. I would love to have your help. We have to pay attention to our relationship with the entire city as we do this. We are all in this together. We need to avoid a false “bikes vs. everyone else” dynamic. Here are some ways to accomplish this:
Communicate better. Cost savings, human health, economic strategy – along with climate realities – are all arguments for Portlanders to understand the importance of investing in future-worthy transportation infrastructure. The active transportation community knows this. I can help communicate it. As a large-sized resident of East Portland who rides a bike too seldom, I will make it clear that my policy decisions are broad-based, fact-based and economically-based.
Work for a broad-based transportation package. I want to work with the bicycle community on a transportation funding strategy that includes shared benefits and connects with the lives of the highest number of Portlanders. We need to look to expand the pie. I would work with you on strategy and planning to determine what and whether a given percentage set-aside is the best move to maximize active transportation planning, or if there are other mechanisms even stronger or smarter (I have heard some concern from advocates that a floor can become a ceiling).
Support work like the work of the Community Cycling Center to help active transportation reach more and more people. Active transportation planning will be hugely strengthened by an ever-broadening base of users.
contributing to transit’s success
Transit is the backbone of our regional transportation system. The Federal Transit Administration considers a 3-mile radius around transit stops to be the catchment area for linking walking and biking to transit. While the city does not run the transit system, it provides access to transit, some of the sidewalks at transit stops, subsidizes the streetcar, and helps pay for transit youth passes. Which investments would you prioritize to support the transit system?
Safety investments in transit stops: Adequate lighting, protection from the rain/wind, garbage cans (to keep it cleaner, might make you feel safer), clear signage, and eyes on the street.
Transit youth passes: One of the main barriers to after-school and summer activities is access to transportation. I want to set an objective to have the most robust summer enrichment programs of any major city in the country. To do that, we need transportation. And we need to get these beyond Portland Public Schools to David Douglas and Parkrose – as well as work for a partnership for Reynolds and Centennial. This also helps get the next generation ready to use public transportation.
Paving roads. Maintenance saves money over time. Paving some of our 59 miles of unpaved roads can help more people move around.
Better bus service. While not necessarily linked to federal funding questions, I am intrigued by how we can improve the rider experience and frequency of bus service. Sidewalk-level entry, improved curb appeal, WiFi and comfortable seats for routes where that makes sense and other improvements could cost-effectively broaden the base of bus users.
Generally, look for leverage: We need to leverage local investment against federal programs like Transportation Enhancements (TE), Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP), and other federal programs like Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER). The Federal Transit Administration’s ruling about the 3 mile catchment radius means that a wide array of station area improvements and active transportation access projects within the radius are eligible for federal funding programs.
critical pedestrian investments
For most of the last decade, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has spent about $50,000 a year on new sidewalks, which has done little to meet long-standing needs in historically underfunded areas. Engineering requirements, right-of-way shortages, and other factors mean sidewalks are expensive to build (though compared to highway interchanges, they’re very cheap). How can we create more safe space for people to walk in difficult budget times?
Save money. Sidewalks and curb cuts are expensive, and where possible, we should look at less expensive alternatives. We have asked about more efficient ways to build sidewalks. In some places, it can help to widen shoulders and safety bumps/barriers along the shoulder stripe. I have been told of an interesting hard surface plastic side-path designed as both a culvert and path; we should investigate. We should look for options to channel pedestrians onto accessible side roads where there are sidewalks. Where we can reach accord with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concerns, we should invest in viable, accessible trail alternatives.
Many projects that increase the hard surface of the landscape trigger a storm water requirement that sends costs sky high. Having the ‘sidewalk’ built into the top of a large custom culvert in the ditch may be a cost effective alternative.
Improve Information. We should look to amplify technology options to share information about walking paths – whether someone uses a smart phone or a computer at the county library. A wiki-style/open source answer would probably be cheapest, and probably most easy to update and keep current.
Find Funding. Again, we need to work together for a broad-based transportation package. We should consider an array of options: increasing enforcement with private real estate owners and getting them to pay for sidewalks, investing General Transportation Revenue, and seeking federal grant funding and other revenue sources. And while it might be challenging, if the active transportation and bicycling community shows willingness to the help in the effort, I think we could get something meaningful done.
funding shortfalls and innovation
PBOT has a $16 million budget shortfall for 2012, and ODOT is dramatically short of funds, and falling behind on maintenance responsibilities. Meanwhile, we still lack complete networks of safe ways to get around without a car. Many economists and transportation advocates are excited about the idea of using pricing signals to improve our transportation system. Congestion pricing, demand-responsive parking rates, street maintenance fees, and internalizing the externalized costs and benefits of transportation modes (for example, the CDC estimates $1000 in annual health care savings from every active person) are especially promising. What would you do to bring in more money for our transportation needs? Do you support parking taxes, street fees, or demand-responsive parking rates?
At the risk of playing a scratched vinyl, we need a broad-based transportation package. I would consider all options, including those listed. We should keep in mind three basic principles of raising revenue:
Internalizing public costs (aka Pigouvian taxation);
Progressivity – keeping in mind ability to pay, and
Reality – what we can get done.
We do need better management of parking, including improving variable and demand-responsive pricing. We should look at what San Francisco has done. We also need to avoid parking scandals and boondoggles along the way.
Congestion pricing helps internalize costs and can help behavior respond to the economics. To do this right, we need to see how to attend to the roughly 3% of rush hour commuters who are low income and couldn’t afford the fee. I look forward to seeing what we learn from Metro’s pilot authorized in HB 2001, although there might be some flaws in the pilot itself. As a general policy matter, I strongly support congestion pricing.
ODOT has testified about mileage charges, and a member of our transportation policy team is advocating for street user fees. Questions remain in terms of enforcement. We should also explore street maintenance fees, a policy concept that gained some degree of acceptance through the bureau’s Safe Sound and Green process. We should look for partners in this effort.
Again, we clearly need a broad-based transportation package in the context of diminishing gas tax revenues. I serve on the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee, and I understand this challenge.
choices and public perception
Critics of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects mistakenly contend cyclists, pedestrians, and transit users don’t pay their fair share in road taxes and other user fees. How would you make the case for allocating funds and limited street space for bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects?
Cyclists, pedestrians, and transit users do pay. Anyone who uses active transportation and also owns a car pays fees. Anyone who owns a home, rents, collects taxable income, or runs a business also helps pay for roads.
Active transportation saves money. Every time somebody gets on a bicycle instead of in a car, the city saves external costs on road maintenance, parking, crashes, congestion, and land costs. If you don’t drive a car, even for some trips, you are subsidizing those who do.
We are all in this together. The solution isn’t pitting bicyclists against drivers, it’s finding a broad-based package to pay for the services the city needs, starting with what we have to maintain. The only way I would support some kind of a user fee is if advocates proposed it as part of an overall solution. I am wary of adding costs to people who bike.
There is significant concern about the silos between departments in the city – an issue that has been noted by candidates for years. A recent partnership between the Bureaus of Environmental Services and Transportation to get traffic safety benefits through smart sewer investments became very controversial. What would you have done differently? Where the goals of PBOT overlap with the goals of various other departments (for example, sustainability, equity, public safety, parks, water), what would you do to improve collaboration to most efficiently use our resources?
Get buy-in. When we did landmark water legislation and budget transparency, we worked closely with the state agencies involved. I would have tried to get buy-in from the heads of both departments beforehand, and let them develop a program/project together.
Build a habit of collaboration in planning. The City should not be limited to 20-year vision planning and 5-year land use planning. We also should return to simpler annual planning for shared strategic objectives. I would spend time every on the second floor, prioritize meeting with Commissioners and encourage regular meetings among Bureau Directors.
Better connective tissue in budgeting: We should better work through the Office of Management and Finance around shared budgeting objectives. If elected, I will follow the example set by Governor Kitzhaber and make the head of Office of Management and Finance the Chief Operating Officer of the city.
Transparency & Communication: I think there was a communication problem that impacted the public perception of project. I would try and do a better job of explaining the project to Portlanders.
Traffic-related crashes are the top cause of death and injury for Oregonians aged 1 to 34. In 2011, 319 Oregonians were killed in traffic crashes, including 15 cyclists. Pedestrian injuries and deaths are a serious problem in Oregon, with one serious injury a day and one death a week. In 2010, 18 pedestrians died in Portland. Traffic speed is the leading factor in crashes (even above alcohol), and one of the largest contributors to whether a crash is fatal. Is safety the highest priority of the transportation system? If so (or if not) what policy and implications does that have, especially when it comes to slowing cars and protecting vulnerable roadway users? What specific policies and projects would you support to improve safety?
Safety is paramount. I support Vision Zero and efforts to approach zero traffic deaths. While we won’t eliminate traffic deaths, we should work to minimize. Traffic speed is the leading indicator of traffic fatalities. This has several policy implications.
- Lighting and crosswalks: Let’s get the basics right.
- Active transportation investments usually dovetail with calmer and safer transportation.
- Shorter trips. When we plan, see the whole picture.
- Last session I supported HB3150, which lets cities reduce speed limits on residential greenways to calm traffic and decrease collisions.
- Smart enforcement. For example, an experiment showed that just displaying driving speed, along with a smiley face or a frowny face – did more to boost compliance than stiffened penalties. http://www.ted.com/talks/rory_sutherland_sweat_the_small_stuff.html
CRC highway mega-project
There has been a huge amount of pressure to build the most expensive public works project in the region’s history, the five-mile long highway project known as the Columbia River Crossing. Despite being a multi-billion dollar project, bicycle and pedestrian facilities involved are substandard, including an under-highway mile-long path that is mostly only minimum-width and a five-block corkscrew detour into Vancouver, all for a facility designed to serve the next 100 years. The project is diverting billions of dollars from other regional priorities to build an expansion that won’t solve congestion. What are your views on the mega-project? What, if anything, will you do to stop funding for this mega-project until it becomes consistent with our biking, pedestrian, and climate goals, as well as our budgetary priorities? Would you work to stop the City of Portland from lobbying for funding for it at the state and federal levels?
It is no secret that I have had major questions about the CRC. Key funding streams are doubtful. $300–$450+ million from Oregon will require an unlikely gas tax increase or the setting aside of already committed projects (which doesn’t boost jobs, just shifts them); $450+ million from Washington will require moving ahead in the queue of three other major projects; to get federal money will require us to count on the Tea Party Congress that I doubt wants to give it to us; and Oregon’s own Treasury Department has challenged the tolling math. And there are no clear answers on who will cover cost overruns.
From the beginning, we should have prioritized a solution to address freight mobility, cost consciousness, safety, and was in line with our approved climate goals – and de-prioritized local Interstate commuting, particularly single-car occupancy commuting (or moving more of Portland’s economy over to Clark County, where speculators can avoid Oregon income taxes and Oregon land use laws).
If I’m wrong, the current City Council has already voted on it. If the project is indeed nearly fatally challenged, I will support solutions that prioritize safety and freight mobility. I will not support lobbying for funding a project without greater confidence in its soundness, and that it meets Portland’s and Oregon’s priorities. As a legislator, I sat on the Transportation and Economic Development Committee, where I promoted alternative options and helped raise questions that kept the legislature from rubber stamping the project.
Just last week, the Governor suggested removing interchanges and exploring a Plan B. If we get serious about a Plan B, I am intrigued by a common sense alternative that spreads commuters, freight, lightrail, bikes, peds over more than one crossing.
Overall, let’s lead with facts. Part of the problem is that we’ve led with lobbying, rather than with facts and math. To quote a former Metro President, “I knew there was a problem when every time I raised a question, instead of hiring more engineers, the promoters hired more lobbyists.” And while we paying consultants and lobbyists, we aren’t building a project or solving the problem. Let’s get it right first, and do lobbying second.
While light rail and streetcar efforts have generally managed to find funding over the past two decades, bus investments have been cut. At the same time, transportation costs are often more than 20% of a household’s budget, and many households are too poor to drive to meet all of their daily needs. How would you ensure low-income communities receive equitable investments to improve their access to transportation? How should the Office of Equity influence transportation decisions?
I will be the first mayor in the history of the city to be elected and live in East Portland. The challenges of the communities in your question are the challenges faced by my neighbors.
I am the candidate who did not publicly criticize the proposal for the Office of Equity – and advocacy for equity in public transportation was largely on my mind. Transit equity should be among the top priorities of that office, keeping in mind, also the values of active transportation and capturing externalized costs. Advocates should look to build partnerships there.
We should expand bus access – in terms of frequency and price (whether that’s across the board price decreases or a mixture of enhanced passes). I would prioritize new bus infrastructure where applicable over a streetcar to Lake Oswego.
We should also amplify car sharing programs. I supported HB 3149, which established standards for peer-to-peer car sharing so more people can get by without a car.
We need to make sure to have the right people around the table. We should consider workers who do tiring work during the day. We should consider culture. People can save over $5000 by not owning a car. Equity and transit advocates are natural allies; we should promote more partnership.
Portland State University research has found stores adjacent to bike corrals (on street bike parking) have experienced increased foot traffic. Travel Oregon has used bikes as a significant theme in their advertising for tourists and attracting the creative class. Do you see investments in biking, walking, and taking transit as effective and efficient tools for economic development? If so, how forcefully and publicly will you make this case?
Yes. Since I decided to run for mayor I’ve heard three things from some pretty powerful people, 1) “Portland’s too weird, and weird doesn’t work,” 2) “too much focus on sustainability,” and 3) “we need leaders to make decisions,” not an over-reliance on community engagement. On the other hand, my favorite local economist says the best economic development strategy for localities – and for businesses – is to build on their distinctive strengths. The strengths of Portland, Oregon include creativity, a commitment to sustainability, and a tradition of citizen involvement. We should leverage those strengths, and we should champion them loudly. And I will.
I will make the case based and dependent on the facts. Investments in biking, walking, and transit can be efficient and effective tools for economic development. Many have already made the case for the co-benefits of active transportation: healthier people, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, better air quality, less wear and tear on roads, fewer household resources spent on transportation, and so on. It’ll be important to get not only people who support active transportation on board, but also those whose businesses – according to PSU’s studies – will benefit from bike corrals and active transportation infrastructure. We should highlight and build upon our cluster of manufacturers (e.g., Chris King Precision Components, Oregon Iron Works). We should recruit and incubate companies with active transportation as a selling point (it was for Vestas).
Do you have any specific accomplishments improving biking, walking and transit in Oregon or other places?
I serve on the House Committee for Transportation and Economic Development, and I have been a consistent advocate for future-worthy transportation. We can get you further information about some of my work on that committee.
In my first term in the House, I was one of the very few in my party to vote against HB 2001 in 2009, the transportation package that didn’t steer us toward a 21st century transportation plan. This was the toughest vote in my first session of the legislature. More than once, I have passed the test of facing political pressure and insisting on responsibility and future-worthiness.
I brought together community leaders to create MAXAction, a group that works to enhance MAX as a community asset, particularly in East Portland. We’ve held several clean ups and worked with TriMet to start an Adopt-a-Station program that will combine aspects of Neighborhood Watch and Adopt-a-Highway to keep MAX stations clean and safe while building community.
I also started an organization that has transported thousands of volunteers on buses :)
What makes you a viable candidate?
We are a fast-growing, grassroots campaign.
At the very outset, we won the straw polls at the Democratic Party Summit and on KPOJ radio.
Over 700 people signed up to volunteer on the campaign and our field efforts kick off soon. Our social media presence is the strongest of any of the candidates; we have nearly 2900 followers on our very active Facebook page. In addition to the team and the logistics, my values connect best with the values of the City. While the Portland Business Alliance and the Homebuilders (the developers association) have each selected their candidates, the candidate who wins will be the one that is the candidate of Portland’s people. I have the best case to make there.
And while elections should not be auctions, we will raise the money we need to get our message out. We gathered 1000 donors in four months – we think faster than any city candidate outside VOE in city history. As of January 22, we have raised over $200,000, from about 1100 donors, in just over four months. Most of it is still unspent, because we are spending strategically.
Recent public service. I’m the only candidate who has recently served – in fact, still serves – in an elected office. My candidacy is informed from what I learned from two terms as a state legislator for East Portland, and from being elected and re-elected by my colleagues for leadership in the House.
I am the candidate who has founded and run a successful organization.
I will take what I learned from starting the Oregon Bus Project and the Bus Federation, a 7-figure family of nonprofits with affiliated headquarters in 4 states. The Bus just had its 10th Anniversary… and never missed a payroll. We registered more than 70,000 young voters in Oregon alone, graduated more than 160 Fellows from our PolitiCorps summer democracy training program, and encouraged multiple young Oregonians to successfully run for the Oregon State Legislature. We made mistakes—I certainly did—but along the way I learned valuable lessons about budgeting, planning, hiring, managing, and holding the position where the buck stops.
A recent and relevant track record of making government better.
From transparency to performance-based budgeting to government benchmarks to online voter registration to reducing middle management in government, I have done more than talk about improving government; I’ve worked at it.
Anything to add?
You should join me on an East Portland bike tour. We’ll get on bicycles to share with people what the barriers to bicycling are out there. Be sure to check out my interview with Jonathan Maus, too. It should be out on bikeportland.org
I believe in Portland. I believe I’m the best candidate to represent – and advocate for – the values that make this City great. Part of what’s made us famous, and helped us shift the global conversation toward more sustainable transportation, has been our investments in active transportation. That’s part of what makes Portland, Portland.
I suspect I’m also the only candidate in the mayoral race (and maybe the only candidate in any race) whose House Party Coordinator is a dedicated bicycle commuter and advocate. This campaign reflects our shared values.