Neighborhood president quits
By Allan Classen
Ciaran Connelly resigned as president of the Northwest District Association last month, the latest in a spate of resignations that has reduced the 15-seat board to nine members and depleted its Transportation Committee.
Connelly ended his third term as president prematurely after being directed by the board to send a letter he found objectionable.
“I am not willing to volunteer my time to oppose initiatives that I wholeheartedly support,” he wrote in a Feb. 24 email.
The letter criticized the Portland Bureau of Transportation for failing to initiate additional research and public outreach pertaining to three of the 17 diverters in the NW in Motion project.
The NWDA board approved the letter Feb. 22 by a 6-2 vote.
At a Portland City Council meeting last October, Mayor Ted Wheeler promised that extra consideration and public outreach would occur before the project was finalized.
NWDA representatives testified in support of the plan while urging additional “outreach, analysis, monitoring and contingency planning” to ensure that diverting traffic would not clog adjacent streets.
In response to those concerns, PBOT Project Manager Zef Wagner told the council, “It’s totally appropriate for them [NWDA] to hold our feet to the fire and to tell us loud and clear that we need to be engaged with them, not just now, but going forward for years to come, and we commit ourselves to that.”
That satisfied the mayor.
“Why don’t we do this,” Wheeler said. “It sounds like you are willing to make the commitment on behalf of PBOT to continue to work with NWDA. And it sounds like the implementation is going to be an interactive process, that you will continue to engage the community. That makes a lot of sense, and I am appreciative of that.”
But four months later, no special outreach, data collection or contingency planning had occurred. Wagner has met with the NWDA Transportation Committee and answered questions, but nothing beyond that.
Efforts to create an ad hoc committee to work with PBOT on implementation languished. Instead, a flood of grievances, recriminations and resignations erupted over the organization’s City Council presentation, which members of the Transportation Committee felt was too critical of NWiM. Five members of the committee have resigned since October.
Meanwhile, steps to install the diverters by mid-year have advanced unabated. The first diverter, at Northwest 24th and Westover, will be installed this month.
Instead of gearing up to play its role, a divided NWDA delayed until it was too late.
Board member Steve Pinger, who delivered the official testimony to the council, warned that the city’s commitment to work with the neighborhood is meaningless without a mechanism to oversee implementation. At the December board meeting, Pinger expressed his impatience.
“This needs to move forward,” he told the board. “The mayor encouraged us to engage with PBOT on implementation. Too much time has passed.”
Jeanne Harrison, a former PBOT planner who now serves on the NWDA Transportation Committee, saw it differently. She said her committee had not yet discussed plans for an implementation committee.
“This is so premature,” Harrison said. “There is not that much of a big fricking hurry. Nothing happens over the holidays anyway.”
The exchange spurred talk of hiring an outside facilitator to help the board work through its internal strife, but no calls for haste regarding NWiM.
In January, progress on NWiM came before the board again.
The problem, as Harrison saw it, was the “overreach” of the Planning Committee into the domain of the Transportation Committee. The lack of PBOT outreach to the community regarding the timetable and sequence of proposed diverters was not the board’s concern, she said.
“I don’t see why we should slam our heads against a wall if PBOT says they aren’t going to do it,” she said, satisfied with the assumption that “PBOT will post information on the website for the public.”
Connelly “echoed Jeanne’s comments” and recommended following her advice.
In early February, Harrison told the Transportation Committee that Mauricio Leclerc, a PBOT planning manager, had no intention of halting any elements of NWiM. Funding was in place and the plan was going forward. The time for reconsideration and adjustments was over.
“I was clear that none of the projects would be deferred,” Harrison said.
Pinger objected, saying the NWDA board had come to an agreement on NWiM, the mayor agreed with it and PBOT had promised its commitment to that end.
“I get what you’re saying,” Harrison said, “but PBOT staff had a different take on what happened at council. I don’t know what I can do but throw myself in the middle of the street.”
Wagner clarified that different take in a 1,200-word email to NWDA Feb. 12.
“City code has not authorized neighborhoods or district coalitions for oversight over city bureaus or projects,” Wagner wrote, noting that the City Council did not amend NWiM as a result of NWDA’s testimony.
Wagner promised no evaluation of diverter installations outside of annual reports beginning in November or December. That time is needed to allow drivers about six months to adapt their routes and for new traffic counts to be conducted.
The problem with that timetable and sequencing, several NWDA board members have pointed out, is that it provides no baseline measurement from which to assess the success of particular diverters.
“Once a diverter (even of interim materials) is installed,” wrote Larry Kojaku, a member of both committees, “traffic will be blocked so subsequent recorded traffic volume will inevitably decrease, which can only demonstrate its effectiveness. However, subsequent data can never show that the diverter’s installation was not justified in the first place.”
Mike Stonebreaker, a member of the NWDA Transportation Committee, took the Planning Committee’s side on the impasse with City Hall.
“Our testimony requested interaction with PBOT and the neighborhood before implementation,” Stonebreaker told the board in February. “PBOT heard that and chose not to, so as a board, how important is that? We have to reinforce that or it doesn’t matter what we’re saying.”
With only Connelly and Harrison opposed, the board approved a letter to PBOT stating that “NWDA’s support for NWiM was based on this interactive process, but we feel that our specific request has not been reasonably considered by the NWiM team.
“We, therefore, now respectfully ask for your help in directing the installation of the interior traffic diverters at the three locations noted to be deferred until the other perimeter installations are completed and their effect is able to be measured and more clearly assessed.”
Connelly disagreed with the decision.
“If we’re to err, we should err on behalf of alternatives to automobiles,” he said, adding that increasing urban density demands a transition to more compact modes of transportation.