Author Archive | landerson

Eastside/Westside Portland…since 1890!

Portland has been trying to tie itself together across the Willamette River for a long time. East Portland, Albina, Sellwood and St Johns were separate cities until voters approved mergers in the years between 1890 and 1915. Geography drives this…its tough to expand to the west over mountain range with heights over 1,000 feet and only a handful of passes (Cornell Rd., Burnside, Canyon Rd., Slavin Rd). But the River is a challenge as well…wide, deep and swift…only Pittsburgh comes to mind when I try to think of American cities that span large rivers (OK, New York too), and the model of how to do this is Frankfurt am Main…but more of that later. To make matters worse, to get anywhere on the opposite side of the Willamette in Portland, there is not just the River, but also a freeway and a rail line that makes the crossing feel twice as long.

Things started with the bridges of course, but the first effort to establish a “second downtown” or to extend the City’s downtown to the eastside was Ralph Lloyd’s vision. A wealthy California oilman, he started buying property on the inner NE side, proposing in the 20’s a grand hotel. The Depression killed that, but later a plan was hatched for a new civic center, which also came to nothing. The first “stake” on the eastside was Memorial Coliseum, approved by voters in the 50’s, and sited by City Council in the South Auditorium Urban Renewal Area (more accurately Negro Removal Area). Voters rebelled and moved it across the river (it became the City’s second Negro Removal Area, which was later followed by “I-5” and Emmanuel Hosp. “NRAs”…read more about all this in E. Kimbark MacColl’s The Growth of a City).

In 1961 the Lloyd Center Mall opened, offering drive-in shopping and a hotel right off the new Banfield Expressway; downtown retail began to shrink as it was more of an “us & them” in those days than a “we.” In the years since, the Lloyd District has added a few high-rise office towers, public agencies (State Office Building and Metro followed the BPA). More pieces were added in the 80’s…MAX, the Convention Center and in the 90’s the Rose Garden, but its been a long slow process…unlike the almost overnight creation of the Pearl District and so far, South Waterfront.

Will the Eastside Streetcar Loop “close the deal?” Maybe. A lot of “smart money” is betting it will, but there are huge barriers to really tying this town together. First the River…we can’t do much there, but we can improve the approach from the westside by removing the floodwall and replacing it with a sloping lawn/meadow, so at least you can see that there is a river there. The new “improved” Naito Parkway, is actually worse for ped access than the old version due to wider pavement thanks to the so called “freight interests.”

But the real barrier is that once across the River, you are only half way there, you still have the freeway and railroad to cross, a substantial distance if you are on foot. The Eastbank freeway (along with the Marquam Bridge) was a mistake that even the head of the Oregon Transportation Commission recognized the day it was done. (Vancouver…beware of a massive freeway/bridge right next door you may live to regret.) It covers the most valuable land in the City, devalues the second most valuable…on the westbank… cuts east side residents off from the River, and offers westside residents who venture to the River a trashed view…the Marquam approaches cutting through the center of Mt. Hood. Views are valuable, and we have sacrificed many to save someone passing through five minutes.

The only benefit of I-5 along the River is that it keeps the Central Eastside cheap and gritty when combined with the UPRR mainline and the approaches to the bridges, and there is something to be said for that. And assuming that in my lifetime we will never have to two sides of the River within reasonable walking distance of each other, the Streetcar becomes the key…a walk surrogate. It really does go faster than a walk…I ran the other day pretty hard for several blocks in a race to the next stop…it was a tie. Adding Streetcar to the Broadway, and later Burnside Bridges will bring the two sides that much closer; it may be that the Hawthorne Bridge might be better in this regard than the eventual light rail bridge further south, as it would link already active areas on both east and west sides.

So we have an urban fabric that has a huge tear…a river, a freeway, and a rail line…that can’t be sewn with walkable stitch, though we are due for a world-class pedestrian bridge. Streetcar has demonstrated its ability to weave together urban fabric from NW to SoWa, so it’s worth a shot across the River.

1% of $2B is…

Lenny passed along this press release about tree planting (PDF, 33K) in conjunction with the I-5 Delta Park project and notes:

The I-5 TF recommended a 1% for Enhancement fund for any I-5 projects…

This is the first one to be implemented with $ from the Delta/Lombard project.

Is the Enhancement fund alive and well in the deliberations of the CRC? 1% of $2Billion is real money. It is above and beyond “mitigation” funds, and was inspired by the I-405 funds in NW/Hillside/NINA.

1% x $2B = $20M
1% x $6B = $60M


Arterial Bridge haunts CRC

The Arterial Bridge option has been haunting the bi-state deliberations on the Columbia River crossing for some time. I was a member of the Governors’ I-5 Task Force…the so called “Trade Partnership”… (I cast the lone dissenting vote on the final report), and recall the night about mid way through our several years long discussion when someone, maybe it was me, suggested that what we really need across the River is a “Broadway Bridge.” This came in the wake of staff’s report that somewhere around a third of Interstate Bridge traffic was “local.”

From my own perspective as resident of the eastside of Portland who crosses the Willamette River often, this was an “Ah Ha” moment, and it appeared that many colleagues on the Task Force shared this reaction. I cross the Willamette by car, bike, bus, MAX depending on time of day, trip destination, etc. Car trips may be over the Fremont Bridge or even the Marquam, but are often via the Broadway, Steel or Hawthorne Bridges. But the point is that I have lots of options and chose the one best suited to my purposes. Travelers across the Columbia have very limited options…they must use a freeway bridge, whether they drive, take transit or even bike.

As the Task Force neared the end of its work, staff reported that the “8-2” option…a new eight lane freeway bridge with a new two lane arterial bridge…performed very well. At that point I made a motion, seconded by then Portland Mayor Katz, to include in the final TF recommendations for further study a “6-2-2” option…keeping the existing bridges and adding two 2-lane arterial bridges, one adjacent to the current bridges and the other at some point within the heavy rail bridge alignment. This motion “failed” on a tie, 10-10 vote. Interestingly enough some “yes” votes came from Washington side representatives, while three “No” votes were cast by those on the Oregon side…Port of Portland, ODOT and sadly, Metro.

I was assured at the time that the “6-2-2” option would be included in any DEIS. Clearly the largely consensus based process of the Task Force had broken down and the Facilitator has simply ruled “tie means exclusion, rather than inclusion.” So in the end the “6-2-2” was sort of recommended, I voted “No” on the final recommendations and the powers that be did not invite me back to the expanded Columbia River Crossing effort…for which I am grateful.
These task forces, commissions, studies, etc. are really public relations campaigns, the staffs of which are sort of like the panels of experts hired by the cigarette industry to tout the benefits of cigarettes, etc. Staffed and funded by the big DOTs, how can we expect anything but “big project solutions”…until their work is subject to truly independent review by the federal courts, which I believe will and should come to pass in this case. Until that time, we won’t really know the score.

So how bad is the congestion on I-5? For five hours every day, AM & PM peaks, its not fun, but that is not much more than 10% of the operational time of the roadway (24 hours x two directions = 48 hours; 10 %= 4.8 hours). Most of the weekday and almost all thru the weekends, the roadway is fine. Add to this the impact of incidents, which account for 50% of congestion, and you have to wonder…is the sky really falling? I am repeatedly reminded of the predictions of our energy needs in the 70’s…how many nuclear power stations did WPPSS (otherwise known as “Woops”) start to build? I-5 needs to be better managed and incidents reduced; there are lots of low cost strategies to do this effectively.

But what about freight?…in the peak hours on I-5 freight represents about 10% of all vehicles; reduce the numbers of SOVs by 10% and theoretically you could double the amount of freight getting through in the peaks. For true interstate freight movement there is I-205, and indeed lots of loads from the Puget Sound area to California go via I-90 and US 97. UPS the parcel delivery company whose main hub in on Swan Island already has solved its I-5 problems…it has 100 or so employees at a Clark county sub-hub. A UPS employee commented to me that if WashDOT really wanted to help freight, they would legalized “triples.” When I see raw logs hauled through Portland in the middle of the peak, I have to ask, “what freight crisis?” Another section of a bill of goods.

And is freight movement really that critical to the regional economy? Joe Cortright, a highly regarded student of this issue, was pretty clear the other night that its not. Surely no one will argue (except the Port of Portland) that the containers of frozen French fries and straw cubes moving to T-6 are the cornerstone of the regional economy. Intel did not lose market share due to whatever delays they may have in getting product to PDX. But this is not about freight…the first project endorsed by the “I-5 Trade Partnership” Task Force, Delta/Lombard, removes an existing freight advantage…the add-lane off Columbia Blvd. Southbound…for the benefit, God love ‘em, of Clark county commuters driving alone into Portland.

So what happens if nothing is built? More Clark county commuters join vanpools & carpools, ridership goes up on C-Tran’s new 4 and 4 Limited buses to Delta/Vanport MAX, fewer people move to Clark county, more Clark county residents opt for lower paying jobs there (sans Oregon income tax), some N. Portland businesses with a high % of Clark county employees (or whose owners live in Clark county) move their businesses north, some Clark county residents who work in Portland move to the revitalizing neighborhoods in N Portland. The sky does not fall! People adjust. Indeed property values edge up in N/NE Portland and cool off a bit in rural Clark county.

The Arterial Bridge with MAX is really a compromise…more vehicle capacity, but not so much that its overwhelms Portland, real competitive transit options, especially to North and Northeast Portland, and all at much lower costs…one small bridge now and maybe another later. Curious, but the staff opposition to this option, to even analyzing this option, appears to be based on two arguments…1. it will not carry enough traffic and 2. it will carry too much traffic. Certainly it will be a busy structure, and it will allow the

worst offending on/off ramps on I-5 to be removed, and it will cost less. Most important, It will give Clark county residents a choice…take the freeway, take the arterial, take MAX, take a bus, ride a bike…sound familiar? To not demand a fair and impartial analysis of this option borders on the criminal.