Saturday, May 31, 2014

Losers, their Circular Arguments, and Prior Assumptions on the Third Bridge

"It is disappointing that some opponents [of the bridge] have never talked with city staff or other officials involved to get accurate information..." - yesterday's editorial.

Count 'em! A bridge will cost at least ten Courthouse Squares

Marion St. Bridge = 29.7 rating, "structurally deficient"
 collapsed Skagit Bridge was 57.4
The Center St. Bridge (61.8) is only marginally better than the Skagit!

Traffic and congestion is not growing right now
 (etc., etc.)

Who again is peddling inaccurate or inadequate information? Who hasn't sat down for a formal meeting with critics of the bridge? Who argues circularly from prior commitments that "we need a bridge because we need a bridge?"

Seriously, where's the fiction and fallacy?

Pretty rich.

(For more on this see Hinessight and the collated comments.)

So, now that we've exhausted (at least temporarily) the well of irony, outrage, and snark, a more interesting question is: What will it take to be persuasive?

The sentiment for a bridge is mostly a political discourse in which facts are nearly irrelevant. The political discourse swirls and moves practically independent of fact; it's like this autonomous system with its own inertia and motive force. It's much less a conversation than the mirroring of like speaking to like in the partisan echo chamber.

It is not anything remotely resembling a "scientific" discourse.  It is more like a religious discourse, with articles of faith and a priori assumptions that exist in a non-falsifiable domain apart from any question of verifiable fact or actuarial probability.

It may not be possible to be persuasive with fact and probability. Critics of the bridge have been trying that for a few years now.

But if we pretend the discourse is still amenable to fact, I'd love to see the SJ write a piece, "what it would take to convince us the bridge is a bad idea." Let's see the contours and evidentiary burden of that case laid out.

For real - Under what conditions would you finally agree the proposed third bridge is a bad idea?

Walking - overrated!
In that spirit, here's what it would take to convince us here we need a giant bridge and highway, that they would be together a good and necessary thing:
  • Decreasing carbon emissions is no longer necessary; either we've solved climate change or we've learned that we were wrong all along - or we just plain give up on climate change
  • The plateau in the past decade of car miles traveled and trips is definitely past, and disruptive technologies like the google car (and google scooter!) mean everybody's "driving" lots more and we need a huge expansion of road. The fourth bike boom of the early 2000s was just a blip among urban hipsters, and stinky seatmates on transit are definitely out of favor
  • We've solved our road funding problem, and not only have enough to repair and seismically maintain all our bridges and roads, but have transportation budget surpluses to build and invest in a whole bunch of expensive shiny new things
  • And in light of Bent Flyvberg's research that shows very large cost-overruns on mega projects are highly likely, anticipated cost overruns on the third bridge will still be worthwhile and our surpluses are so great, overruns of 100% or more are trivial and won't affect other budgeting
  • Walking is shown to be overrated, and wanting things like "walkable neighborhoods" and "walkable downtowns" is a quaint relic of neo-Victorian, anti-modern nostalgia. Obesity and diabetes and other public health problems are licked. The future is the suburb and exurb that doesn't require walking at all
(Bonus helpful hint!  The main piece about which I feel least certain:  google cars, transit, and the role of an autonomous jitney fleet - though I think they're an argument for better using existing capacity rather than for capacity expansion.)

I think those are the main points. I'd love to see that pro-bridge argument.


Jim Scheppke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Scheppke said...

The biggest delusion of all occurs in the second to last paragraph of the SJ piece -- that "state and federal financing is available." That is a matter of quasi-religious faith with Dan Clem and other true believers in the 3rd bridge. ODOT keeps hinting at the fact that it is not true. They need to hit Clem and his colleagues upside the the head with it. Then they need to turn off the flow of dollars to this absurd and totally wasteful planning project.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

It is about the money. If we could get some sort of statement from perhaps the state or the federal government that there is no money, then the issue of how to pay for it becomes real.

I have been told that a toll might be the only method to pay for the bridge. Putting a toll on all of the bridges, not just the newest one, was the suggestion.

If people in West Salem had to pay a toll to go to the other side of the river to do business or to get to work or recreation, they would likely think twice.

They surely would not vote in onto themselves.

I calculated that if there were a $2 toll for a one-way trip across the bridge, or $4 for a round-trip, this would cost the average person about $1,000 a year for a single-worker household in West Salem.
And $2,000 a year if you were a two-person household.

This would mean that you would pay a $4 surcharge to shop in downtown, go to a movie, go to church, see your doctor, visit a friend in the hospital, or take a trip to Silver Falls Park.

It would also mean that your friends would pay a surcharge to come to your party in West Salem, or just stop by for a visit.

A trip to the beach would cost $4 more and you would have to figure on losing a bit more if you went to the casino.

And then when people are taking this $1- 2,000 out of their annual budgets, what would be the impact on the local economy? Unless you expect everyone to have a pay raise, paying a toll to do just about anything in the area, would put a damper on the local businesses.

Really, when you think about it, unless there is some sort of 'bridge fairy' this is an idea that is going no where!

Curt said...

N3B's reputation as intransigent NIMBYs is accurate, well-earned, well-deserved and makes it easy for mainstream Salemites to tune out the sound facts they have tried to inject into the debate. It is also plainly obvious to the majority of Salemites that on a range of other issues N3B supporters are just as tone-deaf to relevant facts that are inconvenient to the outcome that have decided on. On other issues (Pringle Access, downtown parking, Civic Center, North Hospital Campus, etc.) they have been the most active and vocal opponents of walkable density and urban vitality in the core of the city. N3B has had many opportunities to make a positive contribution toward a better urban future for Salem but consistently refuses.

So once it became apparent that these people are only capable of obstructionism, there is very little to be gained from talking to them. Mainstream decision makers are rightly very suspicious of their ability to negotiate in good faith. Those on that have listened to N3B and expended considerable political capital getting their concerns addressed in the Salem Alternative are also the ones that N3B has punished the most. It is easy to see why mainstream folks do not want to join them under their tent.

They also gambled away tangible positive outcomes in favor of a political prize and lost. The new Council is considerably farther to the right than this one and Salem's short term future is looking much worse. This was very similar to the 2010 midterm election where the extremism of the Tea Party turned out to be Democrats best defense in holding on to the Senate. With friends like that who needs enemies.

Like the Tea Party, N3B is likely to interpret these events not as the predictable outcome of their arrogance and political recklessness; but as indicative of an ongoing conspiracy to disenfranchise them. And the cycle of victimhood will only fuel more self destructive behavior in the future.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

@Curt - Well, I don't want this to become a thread about N3B's comportment - but I will say, and we broadly agree on this point I think, that the current mania for free parking has distorted and delivered some real setbacks to a whole lot of policy debate in Salem.

@Jim and Susann - I disagree that the "biggest delusion" is the financing. If money were available, the giant bridge and highway is still a terrible idea.

"We can't afford it" should be a secondary rather than the first reason to oppose the Third Bridge.

Some good things are expensive, and if a big project were cooked up to seismically reinforce the bridges, seismically reinforce every school and medical clinic in Salem (etc.) - it wouldn't be so obvious that collectively we shouldn't sacrifice to make it happen. Making the foundation of opposition to the bridge a structure of anti-fee and anti-tax sentiment might be politically expedient - maybe even necessary for a "green tea" alliance - but it is not necessarily sound policy.

(Tolling, for example, might encourage some people to live closer to downtown instead of increasingly far out in West Salem. That's a separate discussion, but tolling has some real benefits and is too quickly ruled out.)

Susann Kaltwasser said...

My point is that to a voter, cost is everything. It may not be the right attitude, but it is real.

I think that in a perfect world people would live close to where they work and where they can get the services they need so they could bike or walk.

Trouble is that this is not realistic. People pick where they live for a variety of reasons. We are a car dependent society and will be for a very long time.

As we age it becomes even more the case. We used to live in an area that my husband could walk to the store, walk the grandchildren to the park and get what we needed in our own neighborhood.

But two things happened that we had no control he had a heart attack and our grandchildren grew up and went to school. They lived in West Salem, so to be close enough to see them everyday, we moved there too.

My guess is that a lot of people do not have the luxury of picking where they live or have the health necessary to be able to walk or bike any more.

My other point about tolling is that it is sort of like sales tax. It seems so un-Oregon-like. Voters aren't going to go for it, so we need to be realistic.

I agree about the bridge design. It is not the right solution. I think we all want to see another bridge...even if we don't actually need it...we want it. But this location is not the right one and the design just creates more costly problems.

I still have not figured out how it will keep log trucks off the Center Street bridge and out of downtown, and I have not figured out how putting more cars onto Wallace Road fixes anything.

I have lived in Salem pretty much all of my life and I recall my parents talking about a proposed bridge at the end of Mission...then a decade or so later at the end of Kuebler... but never in this location.

Again, it is a case of wishing vs reality. We need a bit more of the real and less of the wishing it were so.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Re: "My guess is that a lot of people do not have the luxury of picking where they live" and "in a perfect world people would live close to where they work and where they can get the services they need" and the whole matter of "cost."

That's because there's a whole lot of market failure in transportation!

If things were priced right, people would be able to do a better job of pricing their living arrangements.

Right now transportation is insanely subsidized, and one partial consequence of this is "drive 'til you qualify" is a real rule.

Since, for example, new housing permits in West Salem don't include an SDC for the Third Bridge, the true cost of the transportation infrastructure to serve those houses if they were all built out and their residents needed to make drive-alone trips is subsidized by everybody else, and folks who are thinking about buying or have bought in West Salem are enjoying an artificially depressed market in this regard.

On the other side, right now Salem we're engaged in a large cost-shifting project because of market failure. We're on the tail end of a big $100 million road bond funded by taxes on houses and property. A "streetlight fee" was floated to supplement this. The Downtown Parking District requires infusions of Urban Renewal funds. Locally it seems like we do everything we can to shift the costs for car infrastructure to non-car sources of funding.

At the Federal level, the Highway Trust Fund has required large infusions tax monies because the gas tax hasn't been adjusted since 1993 - not even indexed for inflation. The Trust Fund will be empty this summer. There too costs are shifted towards non-car funding.

What looks like a benign, neutral, or "natural" order of things is in fact artificial, planned, and very highly subsidized by funding transfers other than user fees.

If transportation were priced correctly, other things would be cheaper, and we'd make better decisions and not overuse, indeed waste, an artificially cheap resource. There's not enough of a price signal tied to the use of roads and cars.

Additionally, our hamstrung transit is a big casualty of this. If we subsidized drive-alone trips less, transit would be more attractive, and would require less subsidy of its own - though public transit will always be a public good in a way private car trips are not, and some amount of public subsidy appropriate. And of course a fully functioning transit system means getting rid of the second car - and its costs - becomes much bigger possibility for households.

In general, voters who look mainly to costs should want more efficient markets! And that means things like tolls and gas taxes are good policy solutions.

(In so many ways this is a libertarian, free-market argument, interestingly!)

Anonymous said...

We meter water. We meter electricity. Why does this logic disappear when we talk about parking or tolling and gas taxes?

Anonymous said...

Love your blog- one of the best ones in Salem- I don't always agree with it but it is always thoughtful and pretty accurate. Don't ruin your reputation by quoting anything in Hinesight or directing people there "to learn more" when it is riddled with specious lies and useless posturing. Thanks for your opinions. They have been helpful over the years.

Curt said...

Word anonymous. SBOB does itself a great disservice by referencing the repulsive hate of Brian Hines.

On this point:
Walking is shown to be overrated, and wanting things like "walkable neighborhoods" and "walkable downtowns" is a quaint relic of neo-Victorian, anti-modern nostalgia. Obesity and diabetes and other public health problems are licked. The future is the suburb and exurb that doesn't require walking at all.

The one candidate that embodied values of walkable urbanism the most in this campaign was Sheronne Blasi. While in Ward 7 she successfully got the entire council to support a pedestrian easement at Pioneer Alley. This was after council had voted numerous times to vacate it. She moved from suburban Ward 7 to more urban Ward 2 specifically because it is more walkable. She ran for council so she could promote more walkable development along 12th and State St. and built a coalition of affected businesses, nearby property owners, the Chamber, the Mayor, and other councilors to do it. But when a young, educated, talented, connected, ambitious person tries to bring this kind of change to Salem; N3B, Brian Hines and the rest of the NIMBY gerontocracy targets her with what many have called the most vicious political witch hunt in the history of Salem.

So if they really think walkable neighborhoods are a good thing; why do they direct so much of their hate to the people that are attracted to them?

Here is what I don't understand about the funding argument. Does SBOB really believe that that funding will not be there? I don't believe it will ever be funded; which is why I don't fear the bridge anymore. Salem will never have a bridge in my lifetime. And I am probably the youngest contributer to SBOB.

So if you want people to believe what you say about the Highway Trust Fund and the state of transportation funding in general: maybe its time to act like its true and stop over-inflating the threat of a bridge.

Most Salemites who want (not need) a bridge are much closer to the SBOB point of view on the broad range of urban development issues than the N3B crowd is. I say that having contributed to N3B for at least a year and knowing some of the younger people in the Chamber. They are the future of Salem. N3B is the past.

Carol Baumann said...

I'd never heard "improving access to I5" as a reason for this bridge. Do we know how many people crossing the river in either direction actually have I5 as their destination? I can think of lots of reasons to cross the river that don't involve a trip on the interstate.