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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

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 (http://www.opb.org/news/series/unprepared/). 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 - http://www.opb.org/aftershock/.

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.

Committed to improving safety on all our streets

"My heart goes out to the young cyclist involved in Sunday’s tragic crash and I commend the lifesaving efforts of first responders and medical professionals. As tragic as the incident is, it's unfortunately not a unique one. We have long known that crossing and signal improvements along Powell Blvd. could significantly improve the safety for everyone sharing the road, whether you’re driving, biking or walking. The City is committed to reaching our Vision Zero goals to move towards zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries. I look forward to continuing to work with ODOT and I hope that these safety improvements will be prioritized, especially on crossings near schools."

Commissioner Steve Novick

Hales, Novick propose 120-day pilot program for taxis and Uber, Lyft and other Transportation Network Companies

(April 17, 2015) Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick today proposed a 120-day pilot program that will modernize for-hire transportation in Portland and ensure fair competition between all private for hire operators, including both taxis and Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft.

The proposal builds on the recommendations by the Private for Hire Innovation Task Force, which Novick appointed in December to examine the issue and recommend how the City should modernize its regulations. Evolving consumer interests, population growth and a booming tourism industry have generated more demand for taxis and other for-hire transportation service. In addition, Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber and Lyft, have emerged as a new model of for-hire transportation service.

Under the proposal by Hales and Novick, the City would lift the cap on taxi fares, so taxis and TNCs could both set their own fares without city regulation. Both taxis and TNCs would be required to provide service to people with disabilities, provide service 24 hours a day/seven days a week and certify that their drivers have passed City-approved background checks. The City will audit these records to enforce compliance. The resolution directs Transportation Director Leah Treat to create and sign an administrative rule launching the pilot program.

“This is a historic deal,” Mayor Charlie Hales said. “We were able to move from confrontation to collaboration, with an open process and tough negotiations that have come up with a result that will improve our transportation system and creates a real win for consumers.”

“The existing taxi companies have had two lines of argument against the pilot. One is, simply, that they should be protected from competition in order to ensure a living wage for drivers and good service for people with disabilities. Given that our best information is that the average net hourly income of Portland taxi drivers is $6.22 an hour, and given the complaints people in the disability community have about taxi service, we are not entirely persuaded by that argument,” said Commissioner Novick, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “But the other line of argument is that any competition needs to be fair competition. We agree with that, and in order to ensure fair competition, the proposed framework makes some changes to the task force’s recommendations – and underscores certain features of those recommendations that might not have been well understood.”

The Portland City Council is scheduled to conduct a public hearing and vote on the resolution by Hales and Novick (attached) on at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21. The hearing will be held at City Council Chambers, Portland City Hall, 1221 SW Fourth Ave.

Under the proposed framework:

  • The rules for fares will be the same for TNCs and taxis: The City will lift the cap on fares and, as always, have no minimum fare.
  • Background check requirements for taxis and TNCs will be the same. Both can use City-approved third-party background check providers and the City will audit random samples to enforce compliance.
  • Taxis and TNCs will implement service performance measures to ensure timely service for people with disabilities.
  • The TNC companies will not be allowed to pick up passengers until permits have been certified.
  • Taxis and TNCs will both be required to offer 24/7 service. Neither will be allowed to reject trip requests based on the shortness or length of the journey.
  • The City prohibits disclaimers of liability for negligence or other tortious conduct contained in Terms of Service and requires that all tort claims be governed by tort law in effect at the time of a claim.

The framework differs in some respects from the private for hire task force recommendations the City Council heard last week. It does not include a cap on taxi fares. It also includes specific language on TNCs’ legal liabilities.

The Task Force is recommending a two-phase approach, which still guides City action. Phase 1 includes a 120-day TNC pilot program, during which time market data will be collected and analyzed. During Phase 2, the Task Force will assess the market data and solicit public input that will inform recommendations for an overhaul to all of the City’s PFHT rules. The Task Force’s final report is expected this summer and will include recommendations for all modes of for-hire transportation, including taxicabs, TNCs, accessible for-hire transportation service, Limited Passenger Transportation companies, pedicabs and shuttles.

Hales and Novick thanked the Task Force for its recommendations, which were the basis for the resolution. “This task force did the City an incredible service by tackling these tough issues in a very tight timeframe,” Hales said.

“Thanks to the task force, the City Council can rest assured that our pilot program has been thoroughly vetted,” Novick said. “The task force did groundbreaking work, and I look forward to their report this summer on broader for-hire transportation issues.”

The City of Portland has been regulating private for hire transportation for more than a century, and that responsibility was moved in July 2014 from the Office of Management and Finance to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. For more information about private for-hire transportation, visit: www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/pdxrides.

PFHT Innovation Pilot Program

To file a complaint about taxi service, call 503-865-2486 or email pdxrides@portlandoregon.gov.