Streetfight


 

On Friday, Uber switched on an app — and with one push of the button torpedoed Portland’s famed public process.

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But in retrospect, no one, not Charlie Hales, not Steve Novick, should have been surprised by the city’s Pearl Harbor moment. Running roughshod over the public process has been Uber’s modus operandi since launching several years ago in cities around the globe: in Seattle, California, Paris.

In Portland, there were plenty of signs the ridesharing service was closing in: the launch in Beaverton and Hillsboro last month, the letter of support signed by 40 businesses and sent to Portland city commissioners on Thursday.

Still, the company’s Friday surprise shocked supporters and detractors alike. News of Uber’s illegal launch swept through Twitter with all the narrative force of a sex scandal — scripted for the mobile app and transit alternatives set.

I’m guessing Uber is going to win this fight, city threats of retaliation notwithstanding,  As cities get more crowded, as technology reshapes virtually every aspect of human existence, ridesharing is an idea whose time has come. And Portland, until last week, was the only Uber-free city on the West Coast.

Sure, the Silicon Valley company’s tactics leave much to be desired. Love the art, not the artist. That’s the Uber backer’s motto.

The startup’s stealth invasion coincided with another PDX road management fracas — over the proposed street maintenance and safety fee. Ironically, in this skirmish, Novick is the Uber-esque figure, the heavyweight pushing a progressive tax intended to address the deficiencies of the urban streetscape: deteriorating infrastructure, inequities in East Portland and unsafe spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.

Sparked by the grand jury decisions not to indict white policemen for the death of unarmed black men, yet another kind of street protest is sweeping cities nationwide. Tens of thousands of people continue to rally against a profound social injustice: the criminalization of black men who walk, drive or linger in the street.

All told, last week was quite a kickoff to the holiday shopping season: seven days during which control of the public right of way became a touchstone for the changes and challenges facing American cities.

Today, streets are contested territory. Longtime users feel threatened as new and marginalized users demand their share.

Stay tuned: the battle has just begun.

Linda Baker is editor of Oregon Business

 Will Uber’s aggressive business tactics deter you from using the ridesharing service? Be heard by voting and commenting on this week’s Oregon Business opinion poll.