Monday, November 30, 2015

David Bragdon's Reforms for ODOT and our Transportation System

In yesterday's post "Former government official blasts ODOT" it was probably a mistake to start with David Bragdon's observations about the defeat of the Cherriots measure.

As a localizing introduction for the SJ to materials first written for a statewide audience and first given in Portland, they were wrapper, throw-away wrapper even, and represented very minor details. They weren't important to the argument and they weren't worth considering in detail. They were meant to draw in Salem readers.

The Cherriots intro was misleading perhaps
But they did that too well and Cherriots, not ODOT, is what folks have responded to. The comments on the Cherriots measure stoked continuing outrage about our disinvestment in transit and about foes of transit who ran an icky campaign. And while Cherriots and the Chamber is much easier emotionally to connect to than drier reflections on administrative dysfunction at ODOT and the Legislature, our transit mess wasn't the main target of Bragdon's analysis.

So let's see if we can redirect conversation to the meat of the matter. Here's the bulk of his policy recommendations (read the article for full context and analysis, and if that goes away behind the paywall, Bragdon's previous blog post duplicates most of the material):
Put reform ahead of dollars

[Other, better managed] states did not put more dollars into existing governance structures. Reform came first, with several key elements:

•Devolution: Significant authority was devolved from the state to local governments, which are accountable and attuned to the needs of their communities.

•Investing in outcomes: Some states have developed criteria to prioritize investments that have economic and social impact, not claims of “traffic reduction.” Some use measures of technical merit to break the expensive habit of composing wish lists of big projects designed to win the votes of selected individual legislators rather than serve public needs.

•Re-defining need: Some places have also ended the practice of agencies estimating their own “needs” without meaningful fiduciary oversight. Such independent verification could have averted the forecasting “mistake” that Oregon managers belatedly confessed to in 2015, an episode echoing the same management’s discredited traffic and finance forecasts for their Columbia River Crossing plan. [And the Salem River Crossing!]...

•The muddled layers of government defy accountability. The state, counties and cities all own assorted highways, roads, streets and bridges in overlapping rather than adjoining geographies....

•The formula of allocating most revenue, consisting of gas tax and other sources, is totally arbitrary: roughly 50 percent state government, 30 percent county governments, 20 percent city governments....

•The state government is both a contestant and a judge in the distribution of funds, an untenable conflict of interest. A state agency can be a regulator of local government (like DEQ is relative to sewage treatment plants) or a state can be a funder of local government (as Oregon is with K-12) but it can’t legitimately be those things and simultaneously be a competitor with local government, for example in both seeking and distributing federal dollars....

Urban Growth Boundary Rulemaking Could Impact Third Bridge Effort

Third Bridge outside UGB
Over the weekend a reader sent in a note about a hearing on December 3rd regarding some changes to the ways Urban Grown Boundaries are set.

From the hearing notice:
The proposed new rules and rule amendments will establish an optional alternative, streamlined process for local governments outside of Metro to evaluate and amend urban growth boundaries (UGBs) and will implement related legislation enacted by the 2013 Oregon Legislature (HB 2254, codified as ORS 197A) which requires LCDC to adopt administrative rules establishing the new alternative UGB process by January 1, 2016. In addition, the new and amended rules will provide interpretive guidance to provisions at ORS 197A.320 that apply to both the existing UGB process described in OAR chapter 660, division 24 and the proposed new alternative process. The agency requests public comment on whether other options should be considered for achieving the rule's substantive goals while reducing the negative economic impact of the rule on business.
Maybe readers who follow UGB issues and LCDC matters can weigh in on what exactly this means. (From here this is opaque bureaucratic legalese, not at all intended for the general public to parse or have an opinion on.)

Probably it wouldn't merit a post here - except for one thing.

Schedule pushed out again another year
A chunk of the proposed Salem River Crossing is right now designated for an area outside our local Urban Growth Boundary. The City and ODOT are together pursuing an expansion to the UGB in order to accommodate this. The ever lengthening schedule of the process means that the SRC may be positioned to take advantage next year of a new "streamlined process" that would reduce "the negative economic impact...on business."

Without going full-on paranoid, this does at least make you pause a moment to go "hmm..."

It's possible that insiders think the new streamlined process would be advantageous for the Third Bridge effort. (It's also possible this is wholly a red herring.)

Here's the project site on the "streamlining" for more information and staff reports and proposed rule language.

The hearing is Thursday the 3rd, in the LCDC Basement Hearing Room, 635 Capitol St. at 8am.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Former Government Official Blasts ODOT in Today's Paper

You might recall the talk that David Bragdon gave at the Portland City Club a month ago.

In it he launched a pretty detailed critique of ODOT's management and current processes.

It looks like a wall of text - but read it!
In today's paper he's got an extension of the analysis with some specific commentary on Salem:
On Nov. 3, voters in the Cherriots district rejected a tax increase to improve transit. That same election day, 13 out of 16 transit referenda across the nation from Maine to Washington state passed, with a wide variety of places like Fraser, Colorado, Flint, Michigan, and Snohomish County, Washington, saying yes to taxes for transit.

Salem-Keizer joined only Box Elder County and Utah County, suburbs of Salt Lake City, in saying “no.”

Are Oregonians and Salem-Keizer residents hostile to better transportation, when conservative jurisdictions in suburban Atlanta and the legislature in Wyoming are not? No. But here’s one difference: Salem-Keizer residents cast their ballots amid low confidence in government’s competence, partly due to a loss of credibility that had happened in Salem months before.
That loss of credibility? He talks about the collapse of the "transportation package" at the Legislature as a partial result of unreliable estimates and modeling from ODOT. That seemed to him an ingredient in the Chamber's ability to sow discord and misinformation.

(I'm less sure this was that much of a component in the Chamber's campaign and its reception by the citizenry, but it's certainly background noise. In any case it's remarkable how many other transit measures passed around the country, and how retrograde Salem's refusal seems.)

And he has more:
The good citizens who have been appointed to ODOT’s board [the Oregon Transportation Commission] also have limited means to create change. The last time a board memberasked a meaningful question of staff was when chair Catherine Mater, a Corvallis civil engineer, questioned the prioritization of a coal project which evidently did not meet technical criteria. For doing the job of commissioner and asking tough questions, Mater’s reward was to be removed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The chilling message to remaining commissioners endures: Your role is to rubber stamp whatever staff puts in front of you. [link added]
He concludes:
While other states move ahead, Oregon has stuck with a balkanized and irrational transportation governance model. Glowing danger signals like chronically flawed forecasts, under-maintenance of core assets and increasing debt should alarm anyone concerned with Oregon’s competitiveness.
If you missed the critique the first time around, it's important reading. Check it out.

The problems Bragdon identifies contribute to the insanity of the Third Bridge effort, contribute to our difficulties with stable funding for transit, contribute to our begging ways for basic sidewalks and bike lanes, and underlay our commitment to hydraulic autoism and all the carbon emissions that implies.

He's right: We need a thorough-going transportation reform.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The River Used to Freeze Over! Rally Sunday on Climate Change

Can you imagine ice skating on the Willamette River?

The historic photo record is clear that the river iced up a whole lot more, and more often, than it does today. We used to experience more intense and more extended periods of real cold.

Ice skating and play on the Willamette River in Salem
late 19th century, via Oregon State Library
But our winters are warmer now, and they're getting even warmer still. We see it in changes in vegetation on mountain meadows, we see it in the recession of glaciers, we see it in snowpack depth.

Even ski operators also say
"climate change is real"
In support of the Paris UN climate meetings the local group is having a rally tomorrow on Sunday. From Salem Weekly:
In Salem please join 350 Salem OR on Sunday November 29 at 1:00 pm at High and Court Streets downtown to walk to Riverfront Park for a short rally at 1:30 pm with speakers, music and art.
It's time for a tax on carbon, really.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

This 1899 Handcycle Testifies to the Usefulness of Bikes

I didn't find the ingredients for a satisfying Thanksgiving post this year, but maybe this will do. Even though this isn't charity per se, as a man could fill a small closet with suits for $100 in 1899, it seemed like a sweet note that testified to local ingenuity and the enduring usefulness of human-powered mobility for independence and pleasure.

November 24th, 1899
In the present time, both the Assistance League and the Northwest Hub will be wanting donated bikes, and possibly other items as well. The Bike Peddler's also got a project going with the local Boys and Girls Clubs. There may be others that we don't know about, too. Ask your favorite bike shop if they have holiday charity drive going or are helping others in more discreet ways they don't necessary advertise or otherwise make public.

via the Statesman's Catalog of Giving
Consider one of these in your holiday donation plans, pay it forward, and return the thanks as you are able.

Be safe out there and have a lovely holiday.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Design, not Density, Should be Debate at State Hospital North Campus

The Rams Head Pub and The Campbell Hotel building
via McMenamins at NW Hoyt and 23rd
Elsewhere a skeptic about the redevelopment at the North Campus of the State Hospital summed up the case for the infill to be more single-family housing. It's worth considering in detail (words are quotes, but the order of some paragraphs has been altered). The feelings are sincere, though at least from here several of the claims seem unfounded or dubious. More than anything, they attest to the feeling of not being listened to and not having a project that is any kind of meaningful collaboration. But they also suggest that the conversation is at least partially rat-holed on density when it should instead be about design.
Try seeing this from the perspective of the people who already live here. We have been fighting to be heard through NESCA and other means for over two years. Some minor accomplishments have been made, but the City, during visits to NESCA meetings, has steadfastly denied plans for 450+ units of low income housing at North campus.

Not many people believed them.

[E]veryone in official positions has denied the North Campus was under attack from the City on the housing front. Such a development would render our remaining neighborhood of decent single family homes a new "crime central" requiring it own substation!

I've always wanted single family homes of a design compatible with the surroundings. There would be room for a range of such housing, including duplexes & lower income. What I'm afraid of is the whole slum landlord thing.

Putting aside characterization a of tenants, just the numbers are horrific: at the low mark of 3 humans per unit, that's 1,350 new bodies in the neighborhood. The local schools gave NO capacity for even one more child. It also means 840 vehicles or more coming and going 24/7.

Park & D will need widening, so the will take all our front yards (alá 17th) and our homes will be worth nothing!

Widened streets, more traffic and no green space is still very disappointing. I tend to think of "space" as what we have now. I'm not considering the typical postage stamp lawns or cookie cutter deciduous trees that seem to be favored in similar developments. I would prefer set backs, meandering bike & walking paths, maybe a water feature or two. There should be a children's play area in the middle, not at the margins. It would be nice if most of the existing trees were built around, and saved. Surely the population deserves such grace notes.

It's scary to lose 30 years of effort.
Nobody wants Cookie-Cutter Apartment Blocks

The cost of the land as well as the need for lower-carbon and lower-car lifestyles means that it is highly unlikely the parcel(s) can or will be developed simply as more single-family housing on the same template and spacing as the surrounding neighborhood. It doesn't seem possible at all to fight that battle. It's nearly certain that's not even on the table. So we need to give that up.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

City of the Future and Cranksgiving - Sunday Newsbits

Two pleasant notes in the paper are worth mention this morning.

Though it's all USA-Todayified, there's a graphic and article that summarizes some of the likely or possible changes in urban transport that are coming in not so very distant future.

Of course there is uncertainty, and of course different folks will emphasize somewhat different features or directions, but it seems overall like a decent enough summary of a significantly less autoist and more multi-modal future that is not an outlandish and unlikely fantasy. In many cases these are features to leverage, not bugs to resist.Though it was interesting to see them filtered through the panopticon of the smartphone - the tech angle, not the lenses of urban planning and infrastructure, increases in the marketplace of transportation choices, greenhouse gas emissions, or the transportation toolbox and best tool for the job. It was framed up in the flavor a la mode of smartphone tech, and walking was a conspicuous omission.

There was also a terrific feature on Cranksgiving!

Cranksgiving happens all over the country. And scanning twitter yesterday, it seemed like the SJ might have been the first major media outlet to report on it. So that early online notice and this print version is nice to see!

A little Postscript

November 20th, 1915
Newspaper from another era. Here's a Thanksgiving ad from a century ago. The vision of Uncle Sam sharpening the axe for one of the turkeys is a little grim, but the number and density of small neighborhood grocers is notable. Maybe the most interesting item is the Sunnybrook Dairy on Center Street. That's where the Wilson House is today, I'm pretty sure. According to their history, the Methodist Church bought the site in 1923.