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News Blog: During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, PBOT focuses on essential services and protecting public health and safety

News article

Governor’s order to restrict travel only to essential trips is mandatory and Portlanders should treat every street as a shared street

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(April 7, 2020) During Portland’s COVID-19 public health emergency, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) urges all Portlanders to follow the Stay Home. Save Lives order and avoid all non-essential travel.

Essential Workers, as you stay outside for us, we will stay at home for you. Thank you. Stay Home Save Lives.

Governor Brown’s Stay Home. Save Lives order—announced on March 23—directs Oregonians to make only essential trips such as to buy groceries or seek medical care. When people do travel they must maintain the proper social distance of six feet apart.

“We need to stay home to flatten the curve,” said Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. “PBOT is working around the clock to continue providing the essential transportation services that Portlanders need, and to prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable community members—I want to thank every PBOT employee for their hard work during this crisis. Our priorities are to keep everyone safe, alleviate economic burdens on essential workers, and to engage with our community now to build a stronger, more sustainable transportation future for Portland when we get through this crisis.”

“Don’t travel if you don’t have to. That’s our main message at this time,” said PBOT Director Chris Warner. “Governor Brown and our public health experts have made it very clear. If we stay home, we will save lives.” 

Director Warner continued by urging Portlanders to travel safely and to look out for each other. “During this crisis, we should treat every street as a shared street. Please don’t do anything that will endanger the lives of other Portlanders. At a time when our medical resources are severely stressed, we want to do everything we can to keep people out of the hospital.”

If you have to drive, PBOT urges residents to make every effort to avoid neighborhood streets and greenways. This is particularly critical in parts of the city that lack bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, where people may walk in the streets to maintain social distancing. There is little traffic at the moment and while Portlanders may be tempted to drive faster, they shouldn’t. The last thing needed at the moment is added pressure on our heath care workers from roadway injuries.

Promoting Healthy and Safe Travel

PBOT has already taken a number of steps to support the Governor’s order and protect the health and safety of Portlanders.

A new, focused approach to street maintenance

The bureau has introduced significant changes to its maintenance operations. To ensure that Portlanders can still travel safely to fulfill their essential needs, crews are focused on maintaining critical assets such as traffic signals, conducting urgent repairs, and responding to emergency situations—including the recent landslide on West Burnside. 

To protect PBOT’s crews and the general public, the bureau has put new health and safety protocols in place. These include modified shifts, social distancing, and other precautions based on current guidelines from local, state, and federal health officials.

Among other work over the last week, PBOT maintenance crews filled almost 200 potholes and repaired over two dozen street sections. In the same time, they removed 110 cubic yards of debris—the equivalent of almost 10 large dump trucks—from city streets. Crews also responded to 22 sewer spills or emergency sewer repairs.

Discounted SmartPark rates

To bring relief to residents and visitors who must travel downtown by car, PBOT reduced the all-day parking rate in the city’s five SmartPark garages to $5 dollars, the same cost as a round-trip TriMet ticket.

Modified Tram Operations

To protect the health of safety of health care workers and patients, PBOT modified the operations of the Portland Aerial Tram, limiting ridership to hospital employees and patients, and reducing occupancy to only 10 people at a time to preserve social distancing.

Virtual Public Meetings

During the first two weeks of the public health emergency, PBOT cancelled all public meetings and open houses to protect Portlanders from the spread of COVID-19. During that time, PBOT developed new protocols for public meetings. Since April 1, the bureau is conducting all public meeting using digital platforms which will allow for public participation while supporting the Stay Home. Save Lives order.

New Safe Travel Measures

Starting this week, PBOT is taking additional steps to promote safe travel and bring relief to Portlanders impacted by COVID-19 public health emergency.

In accordance with the Stay Home. Save Lives order, the first option for Portlanders should be to stay home. If residents must make essential trips, PBOT has taken the following steps to make two transportation options more affordable.

Reduced BIKETOWN fees

BIKETOWN, the city’s bikeshare system, is offering significantly discounted pricing through April 30 to provide all Portlanders who need to complete essential trips with a convenient and affordable transportation option that allows for social distancing. Rides on the pay-as-you-go plan will now be only $0.01/minute with a $0.10 one-time sign-up fee, compared to the regular $.08/minute with $5 signup fee. Overage fees for all current and new annual and month-to-month members will also be reduced to $0.01/minute, compared to the regular $0.08/minute.

Reduced Spin e-scooter fees

PBOT has partnered with Spin—one of Portland’s e-scooter providers—to reduce the cost of e-scooter rentals in order to encourage Portlanders to take advantage of this option for essential travel. Through the end of this month, Spin e-scooter rides will be 50% off. PBOT and Spin may extend this offer further, and PBOT will be increasing Spin’s fleet by 250 scooters to recognize their support for the community. Spin has also announced unlimited, free 30-minute rides for “Everyday Heroes,” like healthcare workers—medical professionals can apply for that benefit on their website: https://www.spin.app/covid19  

When using BIKETOWN and e-scooters, PBOT reminds users to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer after their ride.

Deferred permit renewal fees for Private for-Hire transportation companies

PBOT regulates private for-hire transportation services such as taxis, limousines, and non-emergency medical transport. Many of these companies and their drivers are facing unexpected financial burdens because of the Covid-19 outbreak. To provide temporary relief, PBOT is offering the option to defer the payment of permit renewal fees until July 1, 2020.

Continued project completion

During the public health emergency, PBOT's Fixing Our Streets and other capital construction projects are continuing, although contractors are required to implement social distancing techniques in their work.

A new bicycle connection on NE Holladay as part of the HOP (Holladay, Oregon, Pacific) Neighborhood Greenway to a crossing at NE 122nd Avenue (looking east). Photo by PBOT.
A new bicycle connection on NE Holladay as part of the HOP (Holladay, Oregon, Pacific) Neighborhood Greenway to a crossing at NE 122nd Avenue (looking east). Photo by PBOT.

PBOT contractors recently completed work on the HOP (Holladay, Oregon, Pacific) Neighborhood Greenway in the Hazelwood neighborhood in East Portland. The new greenway provides a low-stress, east-west bike/ped connection parallel to the high traffic NE Halsey and NE Glisan corridors, connecting people biking and walking to essential services like the Gateway Fred Meyer and the Gateway Transit Center.

The $1.5 million project, funded by Fixing Our Streets and Transportation System Development Charges, employed 64 people and had a 29.33% participation of Disadvantaged, Minority, Women, Emerging Small Business and Service-Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises. 

A gravel street was paved street on NE Holladay between 118th and 119th avenues to provide a more direct bicycle route as part of the HOP Neighborhood Greenway. Photo by PBOT.
A gravel street was paved street on NE Holladay between 118th and 119th avenues to provide a more direct bicycle route as part of the HOP Neighborhood Greenway. Photo by PBOT.

The project added bike lanes and pavement markings, constructed speed bumps, and installed crossing improvements at NE Pacific Street at 102nd Avenue and at NE Holladay at 122nd Avenue. It also paved two unimproved road segments at NE Oregon Street between 110th and 111th avenues and at NE Holladay Street between 118th and 119th avenues.

The new greenway is part of the rapidly expanding East Portland bike network including the recently constructed 130s Neighborhood Greenway and the soon-to-be-constructed 100s Neighborhood Greenway.

Support for citywide measures

Bureau staff have assisted with citywide COVID-19 emergency response efforts. PBOT’s Equity and Inclusion team is supporting efforts to connect service providers and community partners with volunteers and resources. Staff in PBOT’s permitting, parking enforcement and streetcar teams are continuing to support populations served by the Joint Office of Homeless Services. Various teams will be working to support food access efforts, including coordination with food trucks and right of way guidance for food distribution sites and in support of food pickups at local businesses.

Information resources

PBOT has created an FAQ about the special measures the bureau is taking in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It is updated regularly and can be found here.

The City of Portland also maintains a list of the changes to city services, including PBOT services, here.

Looking ahead

“During this crisis, we have seen how absolutely vital safe, well-maintained transportation assets are,” said Director Warner. “We will get through this crisis. Today, we are rightly focused on keeping our transportation system safe and accessible. But we also need to think about the future and how we should improve mobility for Portlanders, especially ones hardest hit by this crisis.”

PBOT staff have started to develop ideas for how streets, sidewalks and other parts of the public right-of-way could be reimagined to support social distancing after the current Stay Home. Save Lives order is lifted.

The bureau would like to hear from Portlanders with ideas and residents who would like to contribute are encouraged to email Active.Transportation@portlandoregon.gov