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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

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Portland's Pitch to become the Nation's Smartest City

Last week, I met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at Portland Community College to discuss the City of Portland’s application for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The meeting gave us the opportunity to show Secretary Foxx that leaders from around the community are working alongside the City to be a national model for smart technology.

Portland is one of seven finalists under consideration for a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to “help define what it means to be a ‘Smart City’ and become the country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies—self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors—into their transportation network.”

This grant is the first of its kind and presents the opportunity to become a living laboratory for the integration of technology into transportation planning and policy.

Our proposal showcases ways to use technology to address urban mobility problems and address inequities in our city’s transportation system. For example, information kiosks will be installed in areas of Portland where there are large transit-dependent populations. These kiosks would be placed near grocery stores, community centers, libraries and transit stops and would provide free public Wi-Fi, give information about travel options (such as wait times and routes for TriMet Buses), and let users book and pay for a ride via a variety of modes.

Portland was one of 77 cities that submitted grant proposals. Now, we are neck-and-neck in the final round with Pittsburgh, Austin, Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco and Columbus to prove to USDOT that we are America’s smartest city. 

The grant application is due on May 24th and, as the people working tirelessly on this application can tell you, we are doing everything we can to highlight all of the innovative things Portland is doing. Our smart bike share system will be deployed in July, and our city’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure is one of the largest in the nation. Safety and equity are central to our application; we want to make sure we use technology to address the digital inequities that currently divide our community.  

I’m so proud of the people working diligently on our City’s application and was honored to discuss Portland’s future as a smart city—the Smart City—with Secretary Foxx.


If you want to learn more about the Smart City Challenge, USDOT has put together a helpful FAQ.

For updates on the U.S. Dept of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge and PBOT’s efforts to win this large federal grant, you can follow @PBOTinfo on twitter, check the hashtag #DOTSmartCity, or visit:

To find out more about PBOT’s application, please visit:

For a video about the Smart City Challenge, please click here:

And PBOT has been excited to highlight its smart city efforts with the community; earlier this month we visited Jason Lee Elementary School.  See the story here:

New City Budget: A Historic Commitment to Housing & Significant Investment in Public Safety

Today, City Council approved a budget that I believe balances the City’s needs in housing, public safety and transportation.  I want to highlight a few specific new investments:

  • This budget makes historic investments in housing and homeless facilities and services.  The budget includes over $29 million in new investments in housing. This includes:

        --$14.4 million for the Housing Investment Fund, which will be used to develop or preserve affordable housing.

        --Over $12 million for projects prioritized by the “A Home for Everyone” collaboration, including support for homeless veterans, shelters and housing placement services.

        --$690,000 for costs related to maintaining and improving homeless campsites.

        --Additional funds for home repair grants, homeownership assistance and policy development of the City’s Inclusionary Housing program.

  • This budget invests $858,257 in the equivalent of 13 9-1-1 telecommunicator positions at the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC). Like many 9-1-1 centers around the country, BOEC has faced a staffing shortage, which has meant longer, harder hours for our existing staff.  Inadequate staffing can lead to longer hold times for 9-1-1 calls.  Since seconds count in an emergency, we need to do everything we can to ensure 9-1-1 calls are answered promptly; this budget makes an investment in ensuring our 9-1-1 center can continue to serve the public. In addition, the budget directs the Bureau to conduct a staffing study to determine the ideal number of telecommunicators, as well as make recommendations about training, scheduling, ongoing education and quality control.
  • This budgets promises $1.3 million to Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) to permanently fund the 13 firefighter positions that were previously funded by the “Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response” grant. PF&R is a core city service and I’m committed to maintaining it at full strength.
  • The budget commits $1.5 million for paving projects in the next fiscal year, as well as $950,000 for signal reconstruction, $890,000 to replace a bridge and $300,000 for safety projects, via the Vision Zero Action Plan. A total of $300,000 in one-time General Fund resources is added to install rapid flashing beacons at two intersections in East Portland and to implement a crossing strategy involving an evaluation of a series of existing marked crossings on NE MLK Blvd. In addition, the budget allocates about $450,000 for the Out of the Mud Program, which works with communities to identify and bring currently unimproved streets up to code. Although this funding level for Out of the Mud is lower than the $1.2 million investment the City made last year, I am proud that we were able to maintain funding for the program at a level that will allow one or two projects to continue as planned, until more funding is made available.
  • Like BOEC, the Police Bureau has faced a staffing shortage. The Police Bureau indicated that the best way to expedite the hiring of new officers is to increase the number of background investigators, reducing a bottleneck in their hiring process. This budget commits 16 new positions—totaling over $2 million—for background investigators. 

In addition to these significant priorities, I was pleased about a few smaller investments, as well.  For example, the budget commits $300,000 for the Parks for New Portlanders Program.  At our budget hearings, a tremendous number of people showed up to express support for this program, including the World Cup Soccer Tournament that draws a huge number of diverse participants from all corners of the city. The budget also commits $10,000 for SummerWorks Interns at the City, a program that seeks to increase youth employment, especially among low-income youth of color. This is an important partnership that I’m pleased to see continue.

Better Naito Brings Safety to Portland's Waterfront

The Better Naito pilot project creates a safe space for the hundreds of thousands of people attending Portland’s events in Waterfront Park this summer. Safety is always the Bureau of Transportation’s highest priority, which is why we worked with festival organizers and Better Block PDX to transform almost a mile of Naito Parkway for the people walking and biking to waterfront events.

Eight months out of the year, there are bike lanes on Naito and pedestrians travel freely through Waterfront Park. During the summer months festival organizers transform the park, putting significant pressure on the current bike lane. In years past, it would be a normal sight to see thousands of pedestrians in the bike lanes, pushing bikes into the auto lanes and making an unsafe space for all road users. Rather than allowing a dangerous situation to continue, Better Naito anticipates this annual disruption, and gives all road users a dedicated travel lane.

This improvement in safety comes at almost no cost to the City. The permits for the lane closure have been paid for by the various organizers of events taking place throughout the summer; the traffic cones and street design elements were brought in by Better Block PDX who fundraised for the improvements on the corridor; and students from Portland State University developed the traffic control plan as part of their graduate level capstone project.

Portland has long been a leader in transportation innovation, from the streetcar to one of the most robust bike networks in the country. Better Naito builds on this history of innovation by experimenting with alternative street designs in a way that improves safety, fosters public feedback and collects data for future improvements. We will be able to propose and garner support for these kinds of improvements in the future because of this public process and collection of data. This sort of “living laboratory of innovation” is essential to Portland’s DNA and has allowed us to become a world leader in tackling local transportation challenges.

Thanks to the help of Better Block PDX, Better Naito will be the largest temporary street project in the nation. The project includes traffic cones, signal timing adjustments and speed limit changes to improve safety for all road users. Another key element of this project is data gathering, from Bluetooth sensors to pneumatic tubes to manual counts of people biking and walking. Based on last year’s data, we learned that travel times were not significantly affected by the single lane reconfiguration and that most auto users chose not to divert to other streets.

The City of Portland is proud to welcome you to our front lawn, Waterfront Park, with a safe and comfortable route regardless of how you choose to travel.

Thank you to all of the community partners who invested time, talent and resources to make this project possible. It is organizations like yours that enrich the fabric of our community. 

For more information or to leave feedback, please visit

A Tour of Middle Housing in Buckman

Eli Spevak gives an overview of the City’s zoning code before touring middle housing in Buckman neighborhood. From left to right: Pam Phan, 1000 Friends of Oregon; Zev Nicholson, Urban League; Tameka Taylor, Urban League; Commissioner Steve Novick, Portland City Council; Mary Kyle McCurdy, 1000 Friends of Oregon; Eli Spevak, Planning and Sustainability Commissioner; Alan Durning, Sightline Institute


Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about one tool that could help us resolve part of our housing crisis: middle housing. I was pleased to learn that the concept struck a chord with Portlanders, so much so that I was asked to host a tour of middle housing. I jumped at the opportunity and asked Eli Spevak, small scale developer and Planning and Sustainability Commissioner, to lead the tour. Eli suggested touring the Buckman neighborhood since it has several examples of middle housing alongside single family homes and nearby larger apartment buildings.

Last Friday, Eli led our group through the Buckman neighborhood. Here’s a short video of Eli’s tour introduction:

In the two hours we spent in the neighborhood, I was delighted to learn that in Buckman, alone, you can get a glimpse of almost all of the housing types Daniel Parolek, the architect who coined the phrase “middle housing,” discusses on his website.



 An example of a stacked duplex at the beginning of our tour. This house was originally built as a single family home, but because of the housing crisis during World War II, the City of Portland allowed houses like this to be internally subdivided, increasing available housing without building brand new structures.


 Two stacked duplexes, side by side, that fit with, and contribute to, the character of the neighborhood.


 Another stacked duplex, likely subdivided in the 1940s. These homes have a large fenced yard, in which they have built several shared gardens.


One door, but two mailboxes: an inconspicuous stacked duplex. This duplex is also the relatively rare example of newly constructed middle housing. A “For Rent” sign out front advertised high end features—the people in our group thought the monthly rent was high, especially considering our hope that middle housing would be more affordable than other housing options. 


 DUPLEX—Possible Triplex

 The tour group loved this example. While it appears to be a stacked duplex, the “mystery door” on the right side of the above photo (pictured below), suggests that this might be a stacked triplex.

Said mystery door.



These courtyard apartments were built on the equivalent of two single-family lots, and are fronted by a large shared dog run—making use of the extra space in a way that works for the families who live here.


This is another example of courtyard apartments. The entries to these homes are inside of a fenced in “courtyard,” giving the people who live here a greater sense of privacy. 




Dan Valliere, Chief Executive Director of Reach CDC, stopped the group to discuss this multiplex owned by his organization and operated as low-income housing. The structure (the yellow building at the front of the photo) looks like a single family home, but Dan explained that there are several units inside. The meters on the side of the house (pictured above) are a handy hint at the number of units, making this structure a multiplex.


We encountered this structure towards the end of our tour, which is a more traditional example of a multiplex than the one owned by Reach CDC. Multiplexes typically have a wider footprint than a single-family home that was later subdivided and are characterized by five to 10 side-by-side or stacked units, which usually share one entry.


 The tour group saw this unusual structure that might also be defined as a multiplex. It has two doors, but the five mailboxes suggest that there are many more than two units inside.


Next Steps

We wrapped up the tour at The Zipper micro restaurant and discussed what we saw and what Portland should be considering moving forward. While the current zoning code wouldn’t, in many cases, allow Buckman’s middle housing to be built there today, there are some upcoming projects that are worth noting:

  1. Draft Comprehensive Plan Amendment #P45. This policy, which may be refined by City Council before it’s ultimately adopted, would give BPS clear direction about Council intention to look further at middle housing. As with any policy direction related to land use, any action based on this policy cannot happen without a full public legislative process. The specifics of any middle housing policy will continue to evolve with public guidance, and I look forward to hearing from community members about this issue.

New Policy after 5.5

Requested by: Novick, Saltzman, Hales

Middle Housing. Enable and encourage development of middle housing. This includes multi-unit or clustered residential buildings that provide relatively smaller, less expensive units; more units; and a scale transition between the core of the mixed use center and surrounding single family areas. Apply zoning that would allow this within a quarter mile of designated centers, where appropriate, and within the Inner Ring around the Central City.

  1. Zoning Map Update. Currently, the Planning and Sustainability Commission is considering recommending changing some R5 zoning to R2.5 in locations where the existing Comprehensive Plan allows R2.5 zoning. Changing the zoning in this year’s update would bring it into alignment with plan designations that have, in some cases, been in place for 20-30 years or more. And, this is significant because R2.5 allows much more opportunity to build middle housing than R5 zoning.
  2. Residential Infill Project. The Residential Infill Project will address the scale and design of new infill houses and home additions on both regular and narrow lots. It also will determine where new houses on narrow lots would be allowed. Finally, the project will explore whether single dwelling zones should allow more types of housing. This includes buildings that have two or more units and more than one small house on a lot. Allowing for alternative types of housing in single dwelling zones could address the concern that new infill does not fit into our neighborhoods while also creating more and smaller housing units. This is key to keeping housing costs down while increasing the variety of housing available for Portlanders.
  3. Multi-dwelling Code Project. Funded through a Metro grant, BPS will review the multi-dwelling zoning code. Like the current Residential Infill Project and Mixed Use projects, this project will look at how current codes are working. It will document the quality and quantity of new development that results from the current code. Recommendations will include how to improve multifamily development and expand middle housing design options in the multi-dwelling zones.
  4. BPS Study of Middle Housing. BPS staff mapped potential middle housing study areas for Council consideration during work sessions on the Comprehensive Plan.  Those documents are available here. Council may direct BPS staff to study middle housing opportunities outlined on the map and in the table; staff would then come back to Council with recommended code or map changes to implement those ideas. If we pursue this study, there will be multiple opportunities throughout the process for engagement and public involvement before Council adopts any zoning changes.

More Portlanders deserve to live in areas with access to recreational amenities, transit, and jobs. Middle housing could provide access to these livable, walkable neighborhoods, offering more environmentally friendly housing choices, as well. When used in addition to other tools like inclusionary zoning and land banking, middle housing could get us one step closer to solving our City’s housing crisis. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on Council towards a solution. 


You can view the full album of our tour and discussion here:

Commissioner Novick fills pothole on NW 12th and Everett, demonstrating need for heavy trucks to pay their fair share for road maintenance

One of the maintenance teams in the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) let me tag along on their shift this morning to fill the 7,700th pothole of the fiscal year at NW 12th and Everett. 

When you reach 3,000 hits in Major League Baseball, you’re a lock for the Hall of Fame. I believe that our maintenance workers deserve a similar honor for the large number of potholes they fill in their careers at PBOT. The crew leader for the maintenance team I joined today, Cory Long, estimates that he has filled 20,000 potholes in his 17 years with PBOT. Based on Cory’s calculations, the utility workers I joined today would almost all be inducted into the “Pothole Hall of Fame”—Billy Spires with 13,200 potholes in 11 years; Nills Thornberg with 6,600 potholes in 5.5 years; and Jeff Peterson with 3,600 potholes in 3 years. Mark Bartholomew has only been with PBOT for 6 months, but he’s probably filled a few hundred himself.

I am so grateful for the hard work all of our maintenance teams do every day, because even without the necessary resources to conduct preventive maintenance and keep every street in “good condition,” these teams keep our city running with the resources available. We’d have even greater cause for celebration if we had the resources to do more preventive maintenance and have fewer potholes to fill.

Portland’s temporary local fuels tax, if passed by the voter’s in May, will not include a ten-cent diesel tax on vehicles over 26,000 pounds. The decision not to apply the diesel tax to heavy trucks was based on a concern that heavy trucks, with fuel tanks averaging between 120-300 gallons, would bypass Portland’s only truck stop. A heavy vehicle tax ensures that heavy trucks pay their corresponding fair share of a potential 10-cent temporary fuels tax.

The goal of the heavy vehicle tax is to ensure that heavy truck users, like others who depend on our roads, will help pay for the cost of street maintenance. Streets in poor and very poor condition, like the section of NW Everett with the potholes we filled this morning, are much more expensive to fix than to maintain. Thus it is a better use of public resources to keep streets in good condition.

The Bureau of Transportation started the Back to Basics program in 2013, with the goal of maintaining more than 100 lane miles of City streets each year. Since 2013, PBOT has met or exceeded that maintenance goal.

At the event this morning Maintenance Operations Group Manager Suzanne Kahn said, “This year, we are once again on pace to meet our Back to Basics goal. To date, we have successfully treated 94 miles of streets. The fact that we are so close to the finish line, despite having experienced one of the wettest winters in a long time, is a real testament to the work of our maintenance crews.”