BTA will look elsewhere for Portland-Vancouver solutions

Through the Columbia River Crossing Project, our region has a great opportunity to make comprehensive improvements to the Portland-Vancouver corridor. Those improvements could be of lasting value to our economy and the health of our residents and environment…or they could saddle future generations with more congestion, more air pollution, more sprawl and less money to spend on all other transportation investments.

The BTA is more convinced than ever that today’s CRC proposal would give us the latter.

Few renderings of the 12-lane bridge exist; this one was created by Nick Falbo for his very interesting CRC visualizations.

At the start of this year, the Columbia River Crossing Project decided on a 12-lane bridge across the river (after paying lip service for a few months to 8- and 10- lane options). That was the moment when the different bike and pedestrian path options presented by the CRC became dominated by the one that would go underneath the freeway – tucked into the structural tube below the bridge deck, on the opposite side of the bridge from passing light rail trains.

Right from the start, we were concerned. The BTA fields weekly phone calls from residents about unswept and unmaintained bike paths in out-of-the-way places, particularly along highways (the St. John’s bridge sidewalks and the SE Powell Blvd./17th undercrossing, for example) so we know that these paths can be easily forgotten once built.

The BTA, along with all of the other members of the CRC’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, knew that only if the project set a high bar for ongoing maintenance would such an under-bridge path be safe and comfortable. It doesn’t take much broken glass, or graffiti, or cut fencing, or more than one threat of physical harm to keep people out of such a space.

The BTA and the CRC bike committee made our concerns clear to staff six, three, and one months ago. The BTA specifically asked to see a sign of a strong commitment to the perpetual maintenance and safety of this path from either the CRC or the two state Departments of Transportation.

Yet by yesterday’s committee meeting, as CRC staff pressured this committee to (essentially) rubber-stamp the under-bridge path, it was clear that no one outside that subcommittee had been talking about safety and maintenance, much less committing to it.

It isn’t important who would manage this bridge and collect revenues – even if it’s a separate, new entity (like a Bridge Authority or the advisory Mobility Council [48 KB pdf]) the two state DOTs will of course be instrumental in setting it up, and they might be the only agencies with actual binding authority over its operations.

The fact that the CRC did not take the committee’s concerns about safety and maintenance seriously enough to elevate that discussion beyond that room sends an unfortunate but clear signal about the importance of biking and walking mobility to this project.

Since 2008, the bridge pathway design has been stripped of most bicycle and pedestrian amenities. The design has gone

–from two paths on either side of the bridge (at 12′ and 26′ wide) to just one
–from access at both sides of I-5 (which is very wide) in Vancouver to just on one
–from two elevators in the system to one
–from four or more viewpoints along the route to just one
–from 2 open-air, full-view paths to one that is deeply overhung and enclosed along half its length

Further, the quality of the bicycle and pedestrian facilities are always vastly overstated when the CRC presents them to the public:

–the path is touted as “twenty-four feet wide” when in fact it is only so at its flattest, straightest part – most of the route is just the DOT standard 16′ wide
–travel distance on the planned path would actually be LONGER; it is more circuitous than today’s route
–access to the path from Vancouver will require going up 5 blocks worth of corkscrews
–the under-bridge path is always depicted on a blazingly-sunny day at dawn, and never with a glimpse to the east, and the 200 feet of concrete overhang and multiple structural walls
–the under-bridge path is described as “world-class” despite the fact that noone else in the world has ever made the mistake of building one like it

It has become clear to the BTA that our concerns and those of the other bike and pedestrian planners and advocates who have been working hard alongside us for three years are not important to the project. If they aren’t being discussed today, there’s is no reason to expect them to be addressed tomorrow and, most importantly, there is no reason to expect this under-bridge path not to fail.

The BTA can no longer justify pouring our members’ precious resources into a project that is bad for the health and vitality of this region and now has a lousy bike and pedestrian facility to boot.

Improving multi-modal connections between Portland and Vancouver has been a priority for BTA staff since 2005 (when it was included in our Blueprint for Better Bicycling). Even after coming to oppose the overall CRC project due to its harmful secondary effects on the bikeability and liveability of the region, we hoped that – if it were to ever get built – at least some good would come out of the bike and pedestrian path.

But the BTA works for results, not for process and not for appearances. The CRC is not delivering results for the people in this region who care about healthy, active transportation. We will put our energy elsewhere to get those results, and to develop a real solution – that solves more problems than it creates – to the mobility challenges facing Portland and Vancouver.


Comments (13)

  1. Joe Permalink  | Aug 27, 2009 08:14pm

    Shame on you, Michelle.

  2. Jason Permalink  | Aug 28, 2009 09:13am

    Good for you, Michelle. Good for standing up to something that is just plain bad and not settling for the status quo.

  3. Marcus Griffith Permalink  | Aug 28, 2009 10:20am

    The BTA has once again opted to disregard its responsibilites to the bike community in favor of adopting a five-year old’s mentality of taking their toys and going home over in useless and ineffective protest over a technalicaity of when a document would get signed–note note the susbtance of the document or agreement, but the signature date. WOW, that sets a new low for even the quickly becoming out-dated BTA.

    I can understand if the BTA left the advisory committee because of ethical or legal grounds; but to simply walk-out as part of a publicity stunt? Unacceptable.

  4. Peter W Permalink  | Aug 31, 2009 12:31am

    Nice writeup Michelle. It certainly sounds like there are plenty of good reasons to quit participating in the CRC bike/ped committee.

    I hope that by leaving the committee, the BTA has more time to organize advocacy against the CRC in general.

    hmm… just a thought – maybe the BTA could get Nick Falbo or another person with graphic skills to create some illustrations showing just how bad the CRC will be.

  5. Benjamin Foote Permalink  | Aug 31, 2009 10:57am

    Thank you Michelle. And thank you to the BTA for working to ensure that transportation in our region is approached with the kind of care that will provide world class results.

  6. Jim Lee Permalink  | Aug 31, 2009 11:05am

    Anyone who wants to see how an honest and productive citizens’ advisory committee for a major project ought to work need only attend a few meetings on TriMet’s new bridge design.

    Meetings of Vera Katz’s group are open and welcoming to all attendees. At the recent one I suggested that with bridge gradients of nearly 5 percent, downhill speeds of cyclists would be inherently hazardous to walkers, but the problem could be obviated if bike lanes were on one side of the bridge and pedestrian lanes on the other. Most present thought it was a good idea, and one member of Katz’s committee noted that it would simplify approaches to the bridge, and so reduce costs.

    TriMet has made great effort to give everyone a fair shake, because they intend their bridge to function as well as possible, meeting our transportation needs for the rest of this century and beyond.

  7. beth h Permalink  | Aug 31, 2009 02:12pm

    I worry that this approach may leave the BTA in a position of weakness rather than strength. Does the BTA leadership have a concrete plan of action to circumvent what it considers “public involvement theatre” (from an earlier statement) and actually either block the present design or muscle something better into place? How much power does the BTA actually have in this situation? It is unclear to me.

  8. Josh Permalink  | Aug 31, 2009 02:21pm

    Michelle, you rock.

  9. richard Permalink  | Sep 01, 2009 01:34am

    I’m only an occasional cyclist (more of a walker), but I fully support the BTA’s decision to walk from the CRC.

    I think it’s analogous to Sister’s Of The Road’s decision to walk away from the SAFE committee (over the now unconstitutional sit-lie ordinance)

    It’s one thing to be offered a seat at the table.

    It’s quite another to be told that your meal will be crumbs( but, “we’ll let you decide if they’re white or wheat, and btw, you’re on the clean-up crew”).

    The BTA is taking a stand against fake democracy, and I applaud and support .


  10. Sam Permalink  | Sep 03, 2009 02:04pm

    Thank you for finally taking a stand against the CRC!

  11. Johanna Permalink  | Sep 04, 2009 01:19pm

    I’m also really concerned about the CRC project – wondering if there is any kind of action the rest of us can take. I’m a member of the BTA, but I don’t want to always only rely on you to do all of the action. Maybe there needs to be a stronger presence from the community, not just an activist organization. Who can we contact? Could the BTA put time into organizing some kind of gathering or action?

  12. Joshua Permalink  | Sep 10, 2009 11:00am

    I agree with Johanna’s statement.

    It is easy (shouldn’t be, if all parties are giving equal consideration) to dismiss 2-4 people in a meeting, representing something you may not agree with. It is much more difficult if thousands show up.

    Now, we all can’t fit in the meeting room, and propbably wouldn’t be let in. However, if some made it in and many more were outside, perhaps they would be more inclined to care?

    Bring your bike of course.

  13. Mary Ann Permalink  | Sep 11, 2009 05:32pm

    The design should be called the “CRC Underpass for Homeless Housing.” If they are able to ignore the noise from all the cars, trucks and semis rolling over their heads, the homeless, mentally ill and drug/alcohol addicts will have a sheltered place to sleep as well as convenient access to panhandle in downtown Vancouver. This amenity should help the CRC qualify for additional federal funding! Just do not expect this tax payer to ride my bicycle across. My personal safety is too important.