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By Thomas Barr
(Feb. 1, 2018) I recently participated in a career shadow program organized by Reed College. The program provided me with the opportunity to spend a full week at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), experience first-hand what it is like to work inside the Portland City government, and introduce myself to PBOT staff with diverse interests, backgrounds and skills.
On Thursday, Jan. 4, I attended the PBOT Bureau and Budget Advisory Committee (BBAC) budget workshop meeting. BBAC includes staff and community members who represent various geographic locations, interests, constituencies, and voices. The group informs PBOT’s annual budget and reviews several projects and programs. In addition, the group constantly thinks about the Portland’s future, considering the pragmatism of transportation networks in the city and how it aligns with grassroots small projects and long-term goals.
Meeting discussion varied from the high-tech far-flung future of Smart Cities to current day concerns about blue collar workers' living wages, and everything in between.
My favorite thing about the Transportation Bureau is how the essence of an idea trickles down into “concrete” projects. I think it’s beautiful to see the transformation of philosophical ideas, the slow, big-worded speech with descriptive gesticulations, conversations about fundamental rights and equity, into road diverters and traffic signals.
But when the City has more than one project demanding attention, how does it decide which takes priority? PBOT has been using a number of criteria including equity and readiness to prioritize projects. At the budget workshop meeting, committee members supported PBOT's efforts to consider equity. What is more, the group also emphasized the need for PBOT’s budget to highlight return on investment and potential losses. For example, deterioration of pavement occurs exponentially, so an early response will save time and money. PBOT Director Leah Treat was engaged throughout the committee's discussion, and said of paving strategies, “One dollar today could save you ten dollars in the future.”
One of the highlight of the budget workshop meeting occurred when committee members expressed a desire for greater collaboration between PBOT and other City bureaus for instance the Bureau of Environmental Services can work closely with PBOT to fund the street sweeping program, Street sweeping improves road safety while protecting sewer systems from excess pollution. BBAC members see engagement with other organizations to be an area for improvement.
The perspectives that members of BBAC provide are invaluable to the decision-making process in Portland government. These members of the Portland community have contexts and connections in their respective neighborhoods and a diverse set of priorities. It is incredibly important for city government groups to include voices of members who care and have diverse contexts. Conversely, it is vital for Portland community members to engage and voice their thoughts and opinions, to bring both big thinking and grounded perspective to city government in Portland.
My favorite thing about the Transportation Bureau is how the essence of an idea trickles down into “concrete” projects. I think it’s beautiful to see the transformation of philosophical ideas, the slow, big-worded speech with descriptive gesticulations, conversations about fundamental rights and equity, into road diverters and traffic signals. What seems basic on the individual level is part of a grand picture of what Portland ought to be, and BBAC members bring perspectives, goals, and ideas from across the board to our attention.
Thomas Barr is a sophomore studying philosophy at Reed College in Southeast Portland. He recently spent a week at PBOT, learning about communication and transportation planning.