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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

Marriage and Flags

It is, of course, awful that so many loving and committed couples had to wait this long to get married... and many, of course, lived and died without ever having had such a chance. But it is also remarkable how quickly America has moved. Eleven years ago I went to the very sad No on Measure 36 election night event, as we endured a 57-43 defeat. (For months afterward, when I would see a car with a "One man, one women" bumper sticker, I would try to pass it and get ahead of it in hopes that the driver would see my "Two men, two women, what's the problem?" sticker.) It was only three years ago that Barack Obama - with a prod from Joe Biden - finally spoke out for love. And it is (as of yesterday!) forty-six years since Stonewall marked the beginning of the gay rights movement.

For the past several years, whenever I've had a chance to speak at a gay and lesbian rights event, I have said: "Thank goodness that there's ONE progressive cause where WE ARE WINNING, and know for sure that history is on our side. Thirty years from now all the coastal cities will probably be under water due to climate change, and the richest 1% will probably have 98% of the wealth and income ... but at least we'll have marriage equality!"

Now that marriage equality is a reality nationwide, far faster than any of us would have imagined just a few short years ago, we should savor the victory, and do so for a long time. But I also see it as a challenge to champions of environmental and economic justice causes: we need to step it up. And we must remember that the fight for true equality for LGBTQ Americans is far from over. Trans Americans, in particular, are subjected to a horrifying amount of sexual violence. And many of the homeless youth on our streets are there because their families have effectively disowned them.

The relative speed of success of the great cause of gay and lesbian rights is highlighted by another dramatic development of the past two weeks: one hundred and fifty years after Appomattox, some Southern states, in the wake of the terrorist attack in Charleston, are actually removing the Confederate flag from their capitol grounds. I remember, living in the Washington, D.C. area, how jarring it was to see Virginia roads named after Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Why not Jim Crow Parkway, I wondered? Benedict Arnold Road? It is appalling that it has been considered socially acceptable, in many states, to display symbols of support for slavery for one hundred and fifty years after we fought a bloody war on the subject. And it is terrible that it took a horribly tragic event to make people think twice.

But when the Governor of Alabama, removes the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds, it's a good day in America. (And when, in his comment on the event, the same Republican governor says that he doesn't want distractions because, among other things, "I have taxes to raise," it adds an extra touch of weird beauty to the moment.)

Oh - one last thing - did you catch the New York Daily News front page? A spectacular effort in keeping with that tabloid's glorious headline history (e.g., "FORD TO NEW YORK: DROP DEAD").

Working together to build safer streets

Traffic collisions not only have an impact on the individuals and families involved, but also on the our first responders, on officers who investigate the collisions and on transportation staff who dedicate so much time and talent to developing safer streets. Each incident weighs heavily on me, and the emotional burden of these tragedies resonates throughout the entire city.

I appreciate the advocacy of many, and particularly those among the bike community, that call for an investment in our transportation system to improve the safety of our streets and expand the network of low-stress bicycle facilities. We need safer streets for people of all ages and demographics on all modes.

Mayor Hales and I are working hard to secure more transportation funding, and even with limited resources and growing needs, PBOT works hard to maintain our existing transportation infrastructure and make incremental safety improvements. There’s still much work to do.

In addition to a statewide transportation funding package, Portland and other Oregon cities could do more to improve the safety of our transportation system if more localized tools would be made available.

We are working in the legislature on House Bill 2621 which would give Portland the ability to put safety cameras to beef up our enforcement on our high crash corridors. These notoriously dangerous roads account for only 3 percent of our road network but contribute to more than half of Portland’s pedestrian fatalities. We know we need to do more and the ability to do more enforcement on these arterials is a critical tool we need from the legislature this session.

In the past few years, we have lowered speeds on SE Division, NE Glisan, SW Garden Home, NE 33rd, and NW 18th. We know that speeding contributes to a high-stress environment for those biking and walking. Reducing speed limits in dense urban environments allows the street to better reflect the context of the surrounding neighborhood. But again, speed limits are controlled by the state, even on local roads. We are working with ODOT for broader authority to better manage our speed limits so they are appropriate to their context.

In reference to Neighborhood Greenways, I hear you.

Portland’s Neighborhood Greenways improve safe routes to schools, provide low-stress connectivity through the City, contribute to improved health outcomes, and help advance our Climate Action Plan goals.

Earlier this month, I asked PBOT staff to look into temporary diversions on some of our highest utilized Neighborhood Greenways. I have asked PBOT work with the community and neighborhood businesses to test temporary diversions around Neighborhood Greenways this summer.

We should also recognize the added benefits of pedestrian infrastructure, which also improves safety for bikes. It’s important to note that people riding bicycles have the same legal rights as a pedestrian in a crosswalk. This year, we are adding 24-rapid flashing beacons.

In terms of biking and walking infrastructure downtown, we are excited about getting the ball rolling on our multimodal central city plan, the funds of which will be available later this fall. We will look for the best way to implement cost effective infrastructure that will benefit the safety of all users.

Thank you again for your advocacy and stay tuned for more updates regarding our safety efforts regarding Vision Zero, our legislative agenda, and upcoming projects. In the meantime, please continue to engage with us—we appreciate hearing from you!


Some Thoughts About Climate and the City

As the Council considers the Climate Action Plan this afternoon, I offer some observations about climate and the city.

Climate change, or, as I prefer to call it, climate disruption, is the defining issue of this century. I wish it were not true that burning fossil fuels changes the climate. But unfortunately, science tells us that this is fact. If we do not drastically reduce our fossil fuel use, we will see more and more severe weather events, leading to floods and forest fires, which will impose huge increased costs on families, businesses and governments. We will see disruption of our food supply, because, due to drought or other factors, places where we now do grow food will become places where we can’t grow food. We will see massive population displacement, as places where lots of people now live become uninhabitable – in fact Portland has already seen some migration of “climate refugees." Furthermore, we will see the extinction of many, many species– perhaps 20%, perhaps 50%, of all the species in the world.

We in Portland have both a moral obligation and an economic imperative to take steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. I think people understand the moral obligation: we need to do our part to save the world. Even though what we do in Portland will not in and of itself change the course of global history, the worldwide effort will be a collection of local efforts, and we should do our part. But we also have an economic imperative. Eventually, either the world will suffer a climate catastrophe, or national governments will take drastic action to require the reduction of fossil fuel use. They might very well put a price on carbon– either directly, through taxation, or through regulation. When that happens, communities that consume lots of fossil fuels – communities where you have to drive everywhere, for example – will be very hard hit, economically. Communities that have deliberately reduced their fossil fuel use will be much better prepared to live with those new taxes or regulations.

People in Portland are aware of the threat of climate disruption, and they want to do something about it. According to the periodic “values and beliefs” surveys by the firm DHM, 79% of people in Multnomah County agree that there should be stronger government policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 88% of Portlanders agree that “climate change requires us to change our way of life.”

Every day, people in Portland deliberately choose to take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They recycle, and that helps; recycling old materials takes less energy than making entirely new stuff. They put in more efficient light bulbs. They put in more efficient furnaces. People who are aware that growing lentils takes a lot less energy than growing beef might decide to have lentil soup, instead of a hamburger, for dinner.

But I think a lot of people are not aware that one of the things they can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is simply to tolerate things that other people are doing that might sometimes be annoying, or inconvenient, but which serve to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I’m thinking in particular of two of the policies that we have in Portland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that generate a large number of complaints from the public. We have policies that encourage and accommodate bicycling, and we allow new apartment buildings to be constructed, especially along transit corridors sometimes without parking attached. The Climate Action Plan addresses bicycle infrastructure on page 75, and the role of compact growth on page 76.

Many people are irritated by the fact that we build bicycle infrastructure – either because they believe they have been inconvenienced by the addition of bike lanes, or because they think we spend too much money on bicyclists. And many people feel that the addition of new apartment buildings in their neighborhoods is both an inconvenience and an affront.

I think that we – and in saying “we,” I include myself – have made two mistakes in talking about these issues. First, I think people sometimes feel that their concerns are minimized, which makes them feel like they aren’t being heard. Second, we have not made it clear that simply by putting up with bicyclists and new apartment buildings, people can make a major contribution to the fight against climate disruption.

When it comes to people’s complaints about bicycles, we tend to say things like: “We don’t really spend very much money on bicycle infrastructure, and putting in that bike lane either isn’t increasing anyone’s commute time at all or, if it does, it’s only a minute a day.” Those statements are generally true. But a minute stuck in traffic seems like a lot, and any public expenditure should have a strong justification.

I think we need to start saying: “We know many people find it annoying to have to deal with bicyclists, and yes we do spend some money on bicycle infrastructure. But when people are on their bikes, they aren’t using gasoline. And there really are modern cities, like Copenhagen, where a third of people travel by bike, and that’s a major way they have reduced carbon emissions. If we want to meet our carbon emission goals, we are going to need to make it easier for people to bike and walk, instead of drive. So, although we will do our best to crack down on rude bicyclists who break traffic laws, we are going to continue to build bicycle infrastructure. We know many people will never ride a bike. But just by agreeing to put up with the idea of more bicycles on the road, you can still make a significant contribution to fighting climate disruption.”

When it comes to people’s complaints about new apartment buildings, we tend to say: “But wait – because those new buildings are going in, there will be enough of a market in your neighborhood for groceries and ice cream that you might get a new grocery store within walking distance, and a new Salt and Straw, too. It’ll be a 20-minute neighborhood! And trust us, you’ll still be able to find a parking spot.” But some people’s response is: “I don’t mind driving to the grocery store. And I don’t want eggplant-flavored ice cream with kale sprinkles. And if I can’t find a parking spot in front of my house ten times a year, that’s ten times too many. And despite all the talk about our great transit system, there’s a lot of places I just have to drive to.”

I think we need to say to those Portlanders: “We realize that those new apartment buildings can bring inconvenience. But adding more apartment buildings in the city is critical to reducing carbon emissions. For one thing, people in apartments tend to use less energy for heating and cooling than people in stand-alone houses. Also, when you have a lot of people in one place, grocery stores and restaurants do spring up within walking distance, and driving less is one of the keys to reducing carbon emissions. And when you have a lot of people living close together, public transit becomes more viable – a light rail line is a lot more economical if it picks up 30 people a stop instead of 5 people a stop – so even for longer trips, transit will become a better option. New York City has far lower carbon emissions than we do, and that’s largely because they take the subway everywhere, but the subway only makes sense because there’s a lot of people per stop. We know that the promise of better transit in the future doesn’t help you right now, but we're asking you to be patient.

"And we know that you're especially concerned about apartment buildings without parking, and we're working on polices to mitigate the impact of those apartment buildings on parking availability. But we're not going to require a parking space with every new apartment, because if we build the city around the idea that everyone will always drive, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So we’re asking you to put up with those apartment buildings, as annoying as they might be, as part of your contribution to fighting climate disruption.”

We know from history that Americans are willing to sacrifice for a cause. During World War II, people put up with rationing of food and gasoline; rich people put up with incredibly high taxes. They knew the stakes were high, and they were ready to do their part.

I think it’s time we saw the fight against climate disruption in similar terms. I want to get to the point where some people, when they see a bicyclist getting off their bike, say: “Thank you for your service.” I want to get to the point where people say at dinner parties: “So there’s a new apartment building going in next door, and the construction’s noisy and it’ll mess with my view and it might make it harder to find a parking space. But I’m not complaining. Anything for the cause.”

And yes, I realize that might sound crazy. But the only way we are going to avert climate catastrophe is if a lot of things that seem crazy now become true.

Portland set to approve biggest General Fund investment in transportation in 30 years

This afternoon, the Portland City Council is poised to approve a budget with "the largest General Fund investment in transportation in 30 years," said City Commissioner Steve Novick. The $29 million of discretionary revenues slated for transportation is the largest allocation (adjusted for inflation) since the 1985-86 budget.

"This budget ends a long period of City Hall neglect of our transportation system," Novick said. "We've known all along that gas tax and parking revenues weren't enough to maintain our streets and make them safer, but in the late '80's, for reasons lost to history, the City Council drastically reduced the General Fund contribution. If we had invested this much General Fund in transportation all along, our streets would be in much better shape."

Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat observed that "the General Fund allocation will be focused on basic maintenance and safety needs. We will repave a section of Burnside; repave a section of 122nd Avenue; and make crossing improvements along 122nd Avenue to make it safer for the 10,000 seniors along that street to walk to bus stops and support TriMet’s effort to provide frequent service along 122nd."

The budget also includes $300,000 to begin to expand Portland’s Safe Routes to School programs to middle and high schools.

The $29 million includes the General Fund’s historic allocation to PBOT of about $9 million, which mainly pays for street lighting. The $20 million increase is focused on pavement maintenance and safety. It also includes reconstruction of five substandard traffic signals in East Portland and bridge maintenance at NE Glisan and 90th Avenue.

“In last year’s transportation funding conversation, the Mayor and I consistently heard people say that the City needs to put more skin in the game – allocate more discretionary revenue to transportation,” Novick said. “The allocation of $20 million, consistent with the priorities identified in the Our Streets effort last year, demonstrates the City’s commitment to better maintained and safer streets."

OPB: Taking the Lead on Earthquake Preparedness

Several months ago, OPB started a series titled “Unprepared – Will We Be Ready For The Megaquake?” to focus attention on the earthquake danger faced by the Northwest, and show the public how to prepare ( I want to personally commend OPB for the time and effort they are bringing to arguably the greatest threat faced by our community.

So far they have sent local scientists to Japan to study the Tohoku earthquake, embedded reporters with families living off their emergency kits for a weekend, hosted online chats with experts to answer preparedness questions, and unrelentingly covered earthquakes on the air and the web. They even created a program to enable you to look up your address to see how a Casacadia quake may impact your neighborhood -

I encourage you to check out their website and pay attention to the OPB’s coverage throughout the year, culminating in an hour-long documentary in October. I also hope others in the local media will join OPB in educating the public about earthquakes and sharing how we can become more resilient.