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2012 Portland mayoral election: Charlie Hales vs Jefferson Smith

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Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, Jefferson Smith
Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith. Official campaign photos.

This page on the 2012 Portland mayoral election among Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith is part of Portland Afoot's low-car voter guide for 2012. Interviews were planned and conducted for Portland Afoot by active transportation advocate Aaron Brown.

Ballots for the nonpartisan primary are due May 15. If no candidate has a majority, the top two candidates will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.


Relevant endorsements

Bike Walk Vote, the leading electoral organization for Portland's bicycling community, endorsed Smith, citing his "commitment to promoting equitable transportation investments in underserved Portland communities, and his unequivocal cost-conscious critique of the proposed Columbia River Crossing."

Bike Walk Vote also offered "special acknowledgement goes to Charlie Hales, who ... distinguished himself over Brady and compelled our most thoughtful consideration in comparison to Smith. His vision for a multi-modal city and his talent for promoting collaboration between agencies have literally helped build the Portland we call home. We are thankful to Charlie for his work."

The group added that "Brady’s personally positive outlook on walking and cycling were overshadowed by her reluctance to increase local investments in active transportation."

In addition to its endorsement, Bike Walk Vote published the full questionnaires received from each mayoral candidate:

Policy positions

On streetcar expansion

With the Portland to Lake Oswego streetcar project tabled, would you like to see the city continue to invest in Mayor Adams' Streetcar Plan?

Brady: No. "I don’t think this is the time for more streetcars. ... We have certainly figured out how to capitalize these projects, but we’ve not had our eyes wide open about ongoing budget issues. ... Our best transit dollars, in terms of new infrastructure and transit lines and new ways of getting around, in the near future, should be in sidewalk investments and neighborhood greenways."

Hales: Yes. "Well, it’s not just Mayor Adams' plan, of course. If there’s any danger that it is, we ought to double check with the community that that’s not the case. ... I do think we should continue with the streetcar program. ... They are proposing to cut service again, which to me is intolerable. Before we take on any more capital projects, we have to make sure the bus, streetcar system, light rail system can serve the whole community. Once we addressed that challenge of operating money, look around! We're not done. ... I’d love to see us continue to expand the streetcar system beyond the loop that will now open possibilities all around the compass rose, for which way we go next based on where those plans and opportunities at the neighborhood level pull us."

Smith: Maybe. "Unless we get some meaningful federal dollars, my guess is that I would prioritize different capital projects over streetcar expansions. In terms of maintaining and improving current streetcar routes, we should absolutely make investments there. I think the streetcar has largely been a success, but unless there is a clear path for new capital construction funding avenues, I would probably prioritize other things prior."

On transit budgets

What can the city do to make transit more cost-effective?

Brady: Focus on walking, job growth, light rail and neighborhood greenways. The more we focus on 20-minute neighborhoods, the more we end up with walkable options, which are less expensive choices for transit. ... TriMet depends on payroll taxes. ... and what’s happened in Portland is that we’ve have a decline in the number of jobs in the region. As a result, we have a essentially declining revenue issue for TriMet. Part of the answer to the TriMet piece is job and economic development. And, of course, light rail, from an operating perspective, is less per individual to operate. ... I’m certainly a big supporter of the neighborhood greenways project, which certainly allows for creating bikeways through neighborhoods and calming traffic at the same time, making those neighborhoods even more livable and walkable. Those are relatively inexpensive options for creating alternate transportation.

Hales: Create new fees or raise taxes to help pay for it. "For one, keep the [fares] from becoming cost-prohibitive. ... It’s really a big concern. Secondly, look for new sources of revenue, beyond the payroll tax itself. I did propose and we put in place for a little while that every Timbers ticket or every stadium event would automatically be a transit ticket, and we’d bill that into the ticket price. Every boarding pass at the airport would include a portion of the passenger facility charges dedicated to transportation. If we can find some nontraditional sources of revenue like that to help support the system, that would be great. Hopefully, we can keep building the economy so that the payroll tax rises because of that, and hopefully consider an increase in payroll taxes."

Smith: Offer it for free to more teens, reduce crime near stations, pass a local tax increase to help pay for it and prioritize bus projects over rail projects. "One, we can continue and expand YouthPass, so that it not only covers Portland Public School students but so it covers students in Parkrose, Centennial, Reynolds and David Douglas. Two, we can work with the Office of Neighborhood Involvement as well as TriMet as well as the transit police on an adopt-a-station program for public safety around MAX platforms and surrounding areas. If that is successful, and alongside other environmental improvements, as we’ve experienced with at 122nd and Burnside, that might be able to get back safety results, which would increase ridership and might help defray some public safety costs. Three, the city over time should engage in a broad-based transportation package; depending on how broad based that is, it might include partners beyond the city, and go directly to impacting costs of transit. I think that the Mayor and the city, as convener and partner, can hopefully work with the community and with TriMet to start reversing the death spiral of fewer and fewer riders paying higher and higher fares. I think that probably means advocating for poor man’s bus rapid transit, looking at ways that we can prioritize buses in the streetlight systems and giving more preference in terms of lanes. And prioritizing bus travel might help with cost.

On gas tax

Would you be willing to go lobby the Oregon Senate and House for a higher statewide gas tax or mileage fees?

Brady: Maybe. "We have to be talking to the state about all these options, there’s no question about it."

Hales: Yes. "Yes. … The gas tax as a mechanism is a dinosaur; it’s only a question of how much longer before we have to switch to some new system, such as something based on miles traveled or based on carbon. ... Would we more likely get to that future at the state or local level than by waiting for the federal government to make that change? I expect that here in Oregon, we’ll be talking about that at the Legislature, and whether I keep the transportation bureau as one of my own bureaus as not, as Mayor, I’ll certainly be a lead participant in the discussion.

Smith: Yes. "Yes, I’ll lobby the legislature. It so happens, I’m there. [Laughs] I'm very comfortable doing that. It also reminds us that we have to rethink our transportation funding avenues because the gas tax, for instance, is extraordinarily limited as it comes to transit."

On anti-congestion tolling

Would you be proactive in encouraging anti-congestion tolling on private automobiles on facilities such as the Sylvan Tunnel or I-84?

Brady: Yes. "I think that it’s high time that Portland and Oregon became leaders, just like London and Stockholm, in congestion-based tolling for many reasons. One of the reasons is to reduce greenhouse gases. Another is to slow traffic. If you reduce idling, you not only have environmental benefits, but there’s way less stress in the streets in the cars. I’m a strong supporter. ... I’ll give you an asterisk on that; it can go wrong if you’re trying to use congestion pricing to maximize revenue as your first priority. You have to use it to maximize traffic flow, and making travel more effective, and only secondly as a revenue generator."

Hales: Only after construction projects. "I think certainly on new facilities. I would have looked at tolling on the Sellwood Bridge, after Clackamas County bailed. If Multnomah County residents are already paying for it through their taxes, then they could be exempt, but people from other counties would have to pay. That’s a small scale version of the future; new facilities, whatever they are, transit lines or bridges, are going to require more local skin in the game, and tolls and congestion prices are ways to do that.

Smith: Yes. "Yeah, absolutely. ... My guess is the next step is figuring out the feasibility of congestion tolling; do you do it on all lanes, do you slow down I-84 by actually putting in a stoppage? Do you do it based on getting everybody a little reader in their car? My guess is, the practical and political challenges will be very significant. But in terms of actively promoting the idea that we need to be thinking about transportation revenues stemming from a Pigouvian model, based on externalized costs, absolutely. I think that includes considerations of a road maintenance fee, and that includes congestion tolling, and other sort of user-based fees."

On transit-friendly housing

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find cheap housing near transit amenities. What role should the city play in encouraging workforce housing near transit?

Brady: A large role. "I think the city should play a large role in doing that. ... It depends on how much residential or multi-unit zoning you locate on the transit line."

Hales: with community development corporations. "An aggressive role! And not just in urban renewal districts, where we have the 30 percent housing set aside. That’s been able to provide some affordable housing, but we’ve also got to look at the large area of the city that’s not in an urban renewal area. ... There are some possibilities for community development corporations to have a larger portfolio of permanent affordable housing that they manage, rather than having that always be strictly a public initiative. I was very involved in REACH and hosted a couple of the CDCs that have focused on affordable housing. ... I see some options out there for using those CDCs as the delivery mechanism for more affordable housing."

Smith: Consider lower parking requirements or system development charges, but don't suspend SDCs. "An active role! The tools we have include how we’re thinking about our urban renewal dollars, which means making sure that the 30 percent set aside for housing is a floor, not a ceiling. It includes thinking about parking availability and system development charges when considering permitting. The developers and the developers' chosen candidate have pushed for an across-the-board moratorium on system development charges, with the hope that it will promote investment. The challenge is, if there isn’t a path to pay for the ways to make sure that the services that will make that new housing fit within the neighborhood, then I think it will have some unintended consequences. We have to make sure we can afford the accoutrement around new housing developments. I would question some portion of the premise in at least some parts of town; for instance, there’s a pretty good chunk of housing available near transit corridors in East Portland, and I think we should broaden our view about how we define our city geographically."

On the Columbia River Crossing

See also Active Right of Way's excellent "CRC Voter's Guide."

The CRC project continues to make headlines for its inability to clear political and engineering hurdles. Given the uncertain state of the CRC project, would you ever sign off on a bridge without light rail, a bike/walking route and tolling?

Brady: No. "I can't imagine doing that."

Hales: No. "No. That’s an easy one."

Smith: Not ruling it out. "I will base my decisions on the facts, and I have tried to be careful about committing in advance to things with a price tag attached. I am committed to active transit, and I know that it can save significant dollars and contribute to better health in the region, and that will be part of my calculus."

On Sunday Parkways

As Commissioner, will you continue to support city funds for Sunday Parkways?

Brady: Not indefinitely. "I love Sunday Parkways. I think we need to expand Sunday Parkways. ... I would love to eventually have the program be owned by the community. ... I think it ultimately should be owned and sponsored by city and private partners. We’ve used the city as a launch pad."

Hales: Yes. "Absolutely. I have so enjoyed Sunday Parkways, as a leader and as a Portlander. Just being out on that street in that river of people on their bikes! The huge variety of people that you see, which is everything from serious riders to people who have obviously got an old bike out of the garage and pumped the tires back up."

Smith: "Yes."

On high school transit passes

What if anything would you do to continue YouthPass after it expires in May of 2012?

Brady: Maintain it one way or another. "We can’t let this expire. We have to find a way to fund it, even if it’s a fundraising initiative from private folks until we can get the TriMet dollars back to afford it. ... I think YouthPass has to be the highest of priority of transit riders that we have on our agenda to try and solve that problem."

Hales: Maintain it one way or another. We have to do it. Where the revenue comes from to pay for it, whether its going to the philanthropic sector at the foundations, what public funds we use, I don’t know. ... Having the students using the transit system and developing the habits of citizenship based upon using transit is wonderful, and we should never lose it. We’ve got to keep that program."

Smith: Try to share the cost with partners. "I'd fight for it in the budget. I’d look for other funding streams, trying to build partnerships and try to include the city in a partnership. One of the thing that our city – the “small-c” city – needs to do is to amplify our offerings in summer enrichment and summer programs, as well as after school. One of the key barriers and limitations is transportation. We have to be finding grounds for resources for students who travel."

On TriMet reform

Some riders complain that because TriMet's management answers to the governor's office in Salem, local transit riders' needs are neglected. Would you, as an elected official, support any initiative involving reforming TriMet for more local control?

Brady: Use diplomacy first. "Maybe. I think the real answer is making sure that we have the right leadership at TriMet. As mayor, I would work with the other mayors as region to really demand accountability on service and safety from TriMet through the governor's office to make sure he or she was making the appropriate appointments to the board."

Hales: Yes. "Yes. I think that this latest round of potential service changes and service cuts illustrates the problem of a board appointed by the governor as opposed to some representation from the community. ... It’s not the only way to do this. And I am open to other models."

Smith: Use diplomacy first. "Depends on the initiative. I think that as Mayor, I could and would use two levers already available to us, one being direct engagement with the Governor’s office, I was on the governors transition team and steering committee. That doesn’t mean the governor’s office will always agree with Portland or with me, but I think we can have conversations. And also, remind the TriMet board that other options exist including Metro’s influence or authority. And hopefully with those softer paths, Portlanders will be able to feel that TriMet is advancing their interests."

On the candidates' favorite places

And finally: What's your favorite public transit facility and your favorite active transportation facility?

Brady: The Springwater Corridor. I’m a 15 bus rider, and a Blue Line MAX rider. I love the Springwater Bike Trail. In the last portions that have been built, it’s making the trail more and more accessible. I worked on Zenger farms for over six years, and the Springwater Corridor goes right by the farm. It’s kind of fun to just ride out there. And someday, we’ll have an access point off the trail right into the farm! More pieces to build!"

Hales: The streetcar, and the unbuilt bikeway to Astoria. "My favorite bus ride is the 19, since that’s the one I ride, but my favorite transit facility has to be the streetcar. It has both transformed the city and created a whole new toolkit; some people complain about the streetcar, and say it’s too slow. One of my opponents complains, “I’m worried about empty streetcars.” Well, we don’t seem to have a problem with empty streetcars. It’s a pedestrian amenity, not rapid transit. There’s another option that, in some places in the city, makes sense.

"My favorite pedestrian and bike facility is the one that we can’t use yet, because I want to make it happen. That’s this 100 mile trail to the coast on the old railroad right of way that is right on the riverbank on the Columbia from the St Johns Bridge all the way to Astoria. I want to ride on that, and I want to see walkers, bike riders, skateboarders, rollerbladers, and everyone else, heading north down the river on that first day. I want to be there for that trip!"

Smith: Gateway Transit Center and the Eastbank Esplanade. "My favorite transit space is the Gateway Transit Center. I think it offers tremendous untapped opportunity. My favorite amenity might be the Eastbank Esplanade."

BikePortland interviews's Jonathan Maus has covered the mayoral race extensively and interviewed each mayoral candidate on bicycle-related issues in spring 2012. His reports are below:

See also

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