Opinion: PBOT decisions lack real civic engagement, equity
About three weeks ago, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty stated at a virtual Community and Civic Life town hall meeting that she was committed to civic engagement. However, at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which Hardesty also oversees, that commitment doesn't seem to apply.
PBOT continues to be entrenched in many of the bureau's old ways that exclude the voices of Portland drivers. This includes the absence of seats at the table for taxpaying motorists on PBOT citizen and advisory committees, even though drivers comprise nearly 80% of the Portland Metro area trips and provide the majority of tax revenue for roadways and related transportation infrastructure.
Likewise, all neighborhoods are not treated equally. Unlike the Albina Vision Alliance that seems to be in control of PBOT's role in the Interstate 5 Rose Quarter conversation, most neighborhood associations are not given the same influence and opportunities.
For example, when PBOT makes presentations to central eastside neighborhoods, the projects are in the vein of socially-engineered done deals. Although the presentations are amiable and informative, it is like pulling teeth for the residents of impacted neighborhoods to make significant changes. It often seems as if the only reason public comments are being solicited is so a civic engagement box can be checked off.
Other than the Albina Vision Alliance, about the only groups that have PBOT's ear are alternative mode organizations, such as the Street Trust, which is the glitzy but somewhat deceptive name for the former Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Not only does the Street Trust promote reducing motor vehicle infrastructure such as taking away travel lanes and redirecting motorist paid tax dollars to pay for more bicycle, transit and pedestrian infrastructure, but they also receive public funding for some of their programs and have a campaign fund to support political candidates.
During the past few years with the Street Trust's help, the majority of PBOT projects have, in actuality, increased congestion thereby increasing both fuel consumption and emissions.
Equity is absent. PBOT needs to end its bias toward motorists and the automobile. If Hardesty is serious about her civic engagement commitment, she needs to require PBOT to abide by it and establish genuine equity by requiring citizen and advisory committees to be inclusive of motorist specific representation, which should be proportionally reflective of the mode split.
It is past due time the taxpayers that pay for infrastructure are represented on PBOT committees instead of just having committees made up with a majority alternative mode devotees who want to redirect tax dollars to support the infrastructure they commonly utilize but do not pay for.
Terry Parker is a Northeast Portland resident.
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