A week of excellent transportation conversations

Last night I went to Plan B (SE 8th and Main) for “An Evening with Roger Geller”, an interview of Roger Geller, PBOT’s Bicycle Coordinator, by Jonathan Maus of BikePortland. The main subject was the draft 2030 Bike Plan, which is likely to be adopted by City Council in January. It was a good conversation — by turns personal, wonky, political, and funny. My two favorite quotes, which I posted on Twitter during the evening, were:

You build for the future you want.


We’re talking to the choir a bit here, but it’s still important for the choir to show up to church.

The second one perhaps needs a little more context if you weren’t there. He was speaking in response to the concern that the conversation about the Bike Plan and cycling in general is not happening enough outside the ‘bike bubble’ of interested, active cyclists. Since despite my newcomer status in Portland, I’m certainly already inside the bike bubble, I don’t really have any idea, but I liked his point here and the analogy is fun.

You build for the future you want. Let’s build it out. Let’s get 5000 (clothed) cyclists to rally at City Hall. Let’s get more funding, so it’s not bikes or streetcar; or sharrows or bike boulevards, but both/and. Bike everything, all the time. Okay, maybe not, but I’m wholly enthusiastic, and particularly happy to know that they are planning to use all available traffic tools to manage the newer bike boulevards they will be building. Portland’s bike boulevards are sometimes more notional than actual, and still get crazy traffic. Put Ellen Fletcher Bike Boulevard-style diverters on them, take away the superfluous stop signs, and you’ve really got something great.

I found it interesting also to watch Roger’s deflection of fundamentally political questions. I don’t fault him for this, as it is really up to us, as citizens, to get politics and political will and funding stuff going, but it was interesting to see. At one point he commented rather simply “no” when asked if there was tension between being a cyclist personally, and believing in cycling, and building out infrastructure with all its many challenges and compromises. I saw in that an admirable passion for doing concrete things to advance cycling, even if it’s sometimes unclear which concrete things will be the best in the long run.

Tonight was a view from a different level: Gordon Price presenting at the Portland building, as part of my PSU/PBOT Traffic and Transportation class. Our coordinator had promised us a really great presentation, really great, but I have to admit I was skeptical. We’ve sat through a lot of presentations, many of them interesting, in the eight sessions we’ve had.

But this one was really fantastic. I was incredibly impressed by Mr. Price, in both style and substance. It probably helps that he totally reminds me of my dad (who is also a balding, sixtyish Canadian professor, albeit one who has mostly lost his Canadian accent over the years).

He had a comprehensive presentation about the development and state of the auto-dependent society, and not one that totally relied on numbers and text but which effectively used images of all kinds — photographs, maps, 3D maps, charts — to tell the story of the auto-dependent landscape vs. the human-scale landscape. He took examples from all over the US and Canada (even San Mateo, CA, where I used to live).

What I was most impressed with was the way his presentation explained what the auto-dependent society gives us that we want. We want privacy, space, autonomy. Obvious, right? But it’s overlooked so often in discussions about transportation and land use; it’s seen as obvious that we in fact don’t want suburban sprawl. Or if we do, we shouldn’t because we are bad people to want something that is so clearly bad in its end-stages. But it comes out of human impulses, human desires. No, it doesn’t work, but it’s important to respect the point. Even in high-density areas, he pointed out, household sizes are tiny. People occupy a ton of space per person compared to what they used to, so in order to fit enough people in, we have to go up, up, or otherwise be clever about space usage.

Some favorite quotes:
“Motordom never really worked on its own terms.”
“…an urban region designed for the car.” (a perfect description of 95% of the Bay Area)
“They laid out a continent that way…we walk in chains.”
“Congestion is our frind. You’re going to have it. Where do you want it?”
“If they can do it in Detroit, there’s gotta be hope.”

And the most interesting for me personally:
“As a cyclist I am not a big fan of rail in the street.”

Last, a relayed Tom Robbins, that I liked because of my interest in systems:

A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.

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