Kudos to the Trib

Yesterday’s Tribute was pretty much a special issue on Transportation, including a cover story, editorial and “ReThinking Portland” section on the Regional Transportation Plan update.

Overall I think they did a good job of framing the issues, and I’m in agreement with the editorial about needing leadership across all sectors of the community to deal with the challenge. While the articles don’t frame it this way what I think they add up to is the choice between investing in land use (e.g., the Centers in the 2040 Plan) to provide access versus investing in roads, transit and other transportation infrastructure to provide mobility (and of course the debate about which modes of transportation to fund).

In the self-promotion category, Portland Transport was mentioned in three different articles and two of our regular readers, Frank Dufay and Matt Collier, show up in a photo on the Streetcar (Nick Budnick, author of a number of the articles checks in on this blog regularly). Contributors Jim Howell and Bob Richardson were described as offering pragmatic solutions. And of course Rex Burkholder was prominent in the whole section.

Yours truly got quoted twice, once about Streetcar and once about the Columbia Crossing. I want an apology from Jim Redden, who described me as a local “consultant and transportation activist.” The second part is dead on, but I don’t know where he got the idea that I’m a consultant. Jim, I work for a living :-)

Even Ray Polani got an op-ed about the need for subway.

I’m sure I’ll get several posts out of the content from this issue, but for the moment here’s the set of links to the articles:

13 responses to “Kudos to the Trib”

  1. I dug the articles and thought they where pretty standard fare. The one thing that really ticked me off though was when the one article insinuated that GM built the secrete conspiracy company to go buy up all the Streetcar lines, and directly inferring that Portland’s was bought up and dismantled by said company.

    Historical fact remains they couldn’t turn an operational profit because of price controls set by the city, eventually running the business into bankruptcy. The lines where then abondoned out of cost necessity with roads and other such items receiving more interest and direct subsidies.

    …it’s bad to pass of conspiracy stories as historical fact. Sure some of it is true, but the idea we didn’t land on the moon holds some credibility too depending on which side of the story yer on.

    I still say the biggest problem isn’t which mode or any of that, I still can gaurantee the biggest problem is the disinterest the general public and lack of knowledge said public has in the whole problem and how the Government has an extreme inability to actually meet with a real solution.

    I’m still curious as to why the news sources don’t try to add a little bit more historical relevancy and correlation to current events. It’d be nice to be able to draw these things into modern day conversation without someone spouting off wierd conspiricy theories or the idea that Government has always paid excessively high subsidies to transportation. Both of which aren’t true.

  2. “The one thing that really ticked me off though was when the one article insinuated that GM built the secrete conspiracy company to go buy up all the Streetcar lines, and directly inferring that Portland’s was bought up and dismantled by said company.”

    Not some wacky conspiracy theory — documented by the U.S. DOJ beyond a reasonable doubt per a federal judge. That said, I did not mean to imply that the conspiracy led to the downfall of the Portland streetcar. In fact, if I recall correctly, it was when the front company tried to buy Portland’s lines that the plan was exposed, by a group called the American Public Transportation Association. Jonathan Kwitny, the late, great former Wall Street Journal/PBS reporter and investigative author, wrote about this for Harper’s back in 1981.
    -Nick B.

  3. While I appreciate that the Tribune spent a lot of time putting this section together I fear that it is sounding an alarm that will cause more Portlanders to begin demanding that we have HUGE solutions to the problem of growth.
    As an alternative, I would like to see coverage of proposals that can combine solutions—to kill two, or even three birds with one stone. Perhaps the papers will devote some coverage to our discussion board.

    As a case in point, The freeway binge of the 50’s and 60’s–and as refined by Robert Moses–could have been tweaked, ad nauseum, through the seventies. But Portlanders were willing to look at an entirely new approach. I was there and part of it.

    We need the same spirit now. True, now, just as back then, we do have workable and proven ideas. But with costs continually soaring, even in the new solutions, we need to take an even harder look. I appreciate what METRO councilor Lberty says about being “a hawk on spending.”
    The problem with much of the discussion I am seeing is that there is no proven guarantee that, after these various costly projected are completed, there will not be other needs, that will have been neglected, that are equally critical. This is where combining both future and present needs into a comprehensive plan would get us much further towards a livable METRO region.

    On the positive side I do think a greater number of ordinary citizens–not the career planners, consultants and contractors–are discerning that some of these proposals are just too costly for what they will accomplish.

  4. I also give kudos to the Trib for doing an excellent job of providing information to the public. I also think the title “Rethinking Portland” is totally appropriate. Money continues to be wasted on politically motivated feel good (and often pork barrel) projects while the demand for increased motor vehicle capacity continues to be ignored.

    One of the things I found interesting was Sam Adams saying: “Rather than a rational long-term plan with specific, measurable goals, the dynamic is how we divide the spoils of available transportation funding.”

    Likewise was the quote by Rex Burkholder in the Monday O; “Every penny we spend on transportation is wasted”

    A primary example where both statements apply is placing Max on the downtown transit mall. Experts are beginning to realize that within ten to twenty years, burying Max through downtown will become a necessity, thereby again creating disruption and costing another fortune to relocate the tracks underground. Wasting money now to put light rail on the mall is nothing less than criminal.

    Another example of where both statements can be applied are the proposed bicycle boulevards: $1,521,847.00 for a NE-SE 50s street bikeway, $4,121,141.00 for a NE-SE 70’s street bikeway, and a similar excessive amount of money for a NW Flanders bikeway. Applying a little paint for street striping, bike lanes and lettering, along with a few directional signs have a price tag nowhere near this unwarranted amount of money, but would suffice and meet the majority of actual demand at a far lower and more respectable cost. Sam and the BTA certainly want to have their spoils. Funding for bicycle boulevards of this type need to be denied and re-directed to projects where the true demand for improved infrastructure is far greater.

    Yet another example that meets the criteria of both statements is the proposed extension of the streetcar to the Eastside. From transportation prospective, busses are cheaper to operate. Even proponents of this extension say the streetcar would mainly benefit developers – developers that also receive cheap property from PDC and all those property tax abatements and other tax breaks from the City that continue to have a negative impact on school funding and other city services. Furthermore, if built, the Eastside Streetcar will add congestion on the Broadway Bridge, and on the MLK/ Grand Avenue couplet by blocking traffic when this slow moving obstacle to traffic flow stops for passengers, and/or may require taking away a motor vehicle traffic lane on both streets just as freight traffic on those streets may increase. That pushes the demand for greater motor vehicle capacity elsewhere which also must be funded. The question also remains, is it the streetcar, or tax abatements, subsidies and breaks that really entice the new development

    Still another example are curb extensions that are included in many of the proposed MTIP projects. Curb extensions create congestion when busses block other traffic by stopping at them for passengers, thereby increasing over all fuel consumption for motorists. Curb extensions also have a direct negative impact on the movement of freight on many streets, and require trucks to drive over the sidewalks when making turns. It is not just pennies that are being wasted on curb extensions, but millions of dollars.

    Another interesting information piece was about funding. Nowhere were income taxes or property taxes, other than those associated with new development, identified as a source for transportation funding, thereby supporting the premise that neither contributes to a significant portion of transportation costs. The exception however is that property owner’s pay for sidewalks and street lighting (that benefits everybody) comes out of the City’s general fund.

    One of the issues that appeared to be missing from the articles were any questioning of whether transportation dollars should be directly used to subsidize development. One example is the Eastside Burnside-Couch designed to specifically benefit the Burnside Bridgehead Project. It has also been openly stated as grabbing land (now part of Sandy Boulevard) at 12th and Sandy for new development. Statements made by transportation officials included this project as being an 80% – 20 % split; 80% for development and 20% for transportation related issues. With transportation dollars a scarcity, this entire discussion about transportation dollars directly subsidizing development needs to take place before any more money is spent to line developer’s pockets.

    Another item missing from the account was any discussion about the users of alternative modes of transport being required to pay a greater share of the transportation infrastructure (and transit operations) price tag. Because that was not anywhere to be found, I therefore openly say directly to the Trib: “It is time this discussion take place in a venue such as your newspaper, and not let Sam and Rex continue to stifle this type of discussion for their own gain. The bicycle mode of transport must be directly taxed to pay the price for bicycle infrastructure, and transit fares must better reflect the true financial costs of providing the service. Come on you Editors at the Trib, it is time you also got on board and write about this needed funding source.”

  5. I was wondering where the post on this was…

    And I agree that putting MAX on the mall is a waste of money. Not only will it probably need a tunnel in the future, it will be more expensive to operate (due to speed and disruptions), slow buses and not attract through-downtown riders.

    Also, it might be nice for motorists to have streets with bus pullouts (vs curb extensions), but they have abused the privilege by not letting buses back into traffic. And the Burnside couplet will solve real problems: parking, left turns and one of the worst intersections in the city.

  6. MAX on the Mall will be fine, but there probably is a subway in our future, when someone is brave enough to proposed a $1Billion property tax measure…fat chance.
    What was missing from the Trib supplement was any discussion of transportation demand management, the best examples of which are the Lloyd District TMA, Travel Smart and the ODOT/Metro DriveLess SameMore campaign. In the Lloyd District more and more employees use transit, no new parking structures have been built, but employment continues to grow. The TMA has broad support from the business community which recognizes an effective, low cost solution when they see one.
    I think the path to the future is the one we are on…no more freeways, more efficient use of existing infrastructure (read TOD) and completion of the transit (MAX & bus) and bike networks.
    Thriving cities are busy, dense, congested…I think that’s what we want, and a million more people will come here in part because they see what we have created and want to be part of the fun. Education is much more critical to our future well being than transportation.

  7. “-Nick B.”

    Did you actualy go research that?!?!?! I’m always amazed when people go research stuff and find the commonly towed “line” isn’t always the truth.

    That’s awesome, hats off to ya!

    …and trust me, with how much cars annoy me, and they REALLY annoy me (at least as primary transit modes, race cars are awesome) I really really really really wanted to believe the whole conspiracy of evil car companies and oil conglomerates destroy americas transit system story. But then I looked up and found the the historically relevant facts.

  8. Before this thread gets completely hijacked…

    Kudos, indeed, to the Trib. How cool is it that we have a local newspaper put in this kind of effort? And rather than some “party line” or tarted-up press releases, we get a variety of opinions, story lines and approaches to a host of issues.

  9. Nick & Adron,

    Just take what you read at that website with a big grain of salt … it’s a well known anti-rail website, with a pretty well known anti-rail executive director.

  10. 1. The Trib is usually pretty good about putting out transit oriented articles.

    2. I read the Rail Myth’s. And frankly, I never believed any of the myths. I like rail because I like living in a city that isn’t dependant on cars. I like having walkable neighborhoods. And that is reason enough for me to support lightrail and streetcars.

  11. I read the trib section on the wasy into town on Max, was very impressed… still not sggestion of a tube under the Columbia BART style… may be the solution to running streetcar to Vancouver..
    preferably to east Clark County where the industry and jobs are for Oregonians to go take. will study the trib section more closely later today…

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