Saturday, June 14, 2014

Councilor Clem LTE on Third Bridge

Councilor Clem had a letter to the editor yesterday. Others have ably commented on it at the paper, but since it and the comments will disappear into the archives, it seemed worth some duplication.

You can decide how factual or informed it is. But from here it looks like an excellent example of the way support for the bridge is more a political performance of rhetoric and wish than a policy analysis of fact and probability.

Comments are keyed to red numbering in the graphic.

(click to enlarge)
1) "Previous solutions haven’t worked (widening existing bridges or doing nothing) and aren’t seismically safe for the future."

The Salem Alternative is in a liquefaction zone
(via N3B, adapted from chapt 3.18 of the  DEIS)
2) "a funding strategy based on possible sources from local, state and federal transportation funds."

Official River Crossing FAQ on Funding:
"Will the state and for the project? No"
3) "Transportation solutions take decades, just like transit, biking, rail and building Marion and Center Street bridges have."

took less than five years
Transit and bicycling solutions can be implemented just a few years. The giant bridge and highway is one or two orders of magnitude larger, a "mega project." Many of the bike projects in the "Keep Salem Moving" road bond are being executed on something like a five year cycle. The quiet zone project, involving not only the City but also the Railroad, at 12th and Chemeketa was finished in November 2012 (or thereabouts), and in November of 2008 when the bond was passed it was only a vague line-item, "Railroad Crossing Safety Improvement Projects." The Union Street Railroad Bridge was purchased in 2004 and opened in 2009, and reopened in 2010. Even the Minto Bridge is only taking a few more years. Another challenging project, the Boise Redevelopment looks to take about a decade.

Here's the thing.  If the Third Bridge was so obviously wonderful, it wouldn't take so long, and previous efforts to develop a plan would have borne additional fruit. The fact that it's dragging out is a sign there's not a consensus behind it. Salem is able to undertake projects on which there is a consensus.

4) "Regions all over the country are smartly planning for economic vitality and safer transportation for our future generations."

Indianapolis Cultural Trail
Many cities see smart planning for economic vitality and quality of life in quite different terms. About the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and the economic development it spurred, Republican Mayor Greg Ballard says,
America's cities are preparing for a great revival. Many planners note that when our country built the interstate highway system starting back in the 1950s it enabled an exodus from urban areas to the suburbs...that population outflow are reversing and we are witnessing a re-migration to our cities.

For many decades transportation planning centered on the movement of people and goods between commercial and residential centers. Today, our cities face a much different transportation need — one of connecting people to each other and unique experiences.

New urban dwellers want to be connected to their neighborhood and their city through means other than a car. ...

The battle for the future of American cities will be won by the place that attracts and retains talent. ...

The eight-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail used to be traffic lanes and parking spaces. It now carries cyclists and pedestrians and serves as a worldwide model. ... In the few short years since it opened, the trail has attracted at least $100 million in new investment to the city. In fact, just last week we approved a new 28-story residential and retail tower on a lot that fronts the trail in downtown Indianapolis. ... [italics added]
Here in Salem could be focusing on making downtown attractive, lively, interesting, and easy to get around, but instead we are working on a very big way to make it easy to avoid downtown.

This is really the nut of the thing. A central claim of many bridge critics is that the Salem River Crossing represents Eisenhower-era thinking in the 21st century, not a smarter future at all.

(And on polling, by the way, from the very same day's paper!)

Problems with "scientific" polling
Maybe you found other claims that were interesting?


Brian said...

Good analysis of Clem's letter. Regarding earthquakes, at the Salem River Crossing open house last Wednesday I listened to a woman talk with one of the CH2M Hill consultants.

She brought up the liquefaction issue in the area where the current bridge proposal is located. The consultant said the bridge would be designed to withstand a 7.0 earthquake.

She correctly said, "That's ridiculous. We have to prepare for a 9.0 Big One earthquake. If the Salem Alternative can't survive that, why build it?"

It is much more cost-effective to spend tens of millions of dollars seismically retrofitting the two bridges we already have, than $450 million on an unnecessary bridge that, seemingly, won't be able to withstand the Big One earthquake that is a matter of when, not if.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Isn't it crazy that apparently serious folks would consider building a new bridge to a 7.0 standard but not consider reinforcing our existing two to a 9.0 standard.

Over at the paper's comments, the one I found most interesting is this:

"Salem's public transportation system could use some improvement. Riding a bike in this town is not safe. Until there are viable alternative modes of transport, people will still need to use automobiles and the HWY 22 crossing over the Willamette will remain congested."

When I see "riding a bike is not safe" the obvious move is to "let's making riding safer" through relatively cheap bike infrastructure.

But instead the commenter says "riding a bike is not safe" therefore "let's build a big expensive new bridge and highway" that will make riding a bike less safe.

Is there any amount of discursive, calm and rational argument that will get over this hump and disconnect?

Janet said...

Thanks for this excellent response to the letter. You ask, "Is there any amount of discursive, calm and rational argument that will get over this hump and disconnect?" This is my personal observation: Salem residents as a group aren't in a position to have seen examples of cities or even neighborhoods that demonstrate that other way of seeing the situation.

Even so-called progressive Portland isn't living up to its promise, as residents cling to car-centric planning and behaviors even when provided with neighborhoods perfectly suited for walking, biking, transit.

The tipping point is way off in the distance, and I think meme-like transmission is the only hope in this time of fragmented mass media and more narrowly defined social subcultures. It will mean starting small and hoping for slow and incremental change in perception and behavior, not to mention qualities we look for in city councilors and employees.

If you can narrow your collection of places that exemplify this way of thinking on a large or small scale, down to one or two really great examples, I'll start finding ways to include them in my conversations and other communications with friends, family members, coworkers, community associates, organizations. I'm not well-traveled or well-read enough to know where the exceptional examples are.

(By "exceptional," I mean the example demonstrates the concept in such a way that it is immediately and/or easily understood by a Salem resident of average intelligence who has lived his or her whole life without reflecting on or questioning the way things are or contemplating alternatives.)

Curt said...

I agree with much of what you say. There are many who are are well traveled enough to have experienced other places outside of Salem. They tend to be more educated and higher income earners working in health care (Salem Health), higher ed. (Wlllamette), and the State. State workers refuse to get involved for fear of rocking the political boat. Others just don't feel like it is worth their time trying to challenge Salem"s provincialism. Still others that have the means and opportunity to travel for either business or pleasure are content with Salem the way it is.

Those that are not content simply leave, as many of the young families that we have met have. Many still work in Salem but choose to live elsewhere.

Example of a typical conversation with someone in this group...

Them: I like Salem

Me: Lets go out sometime. I would like you to show me all the things you like about it.

Them: I like that too.

Me: Awesome. I'm stoked. How about this Saturday.

Them: Thats not good for me. We are visiting family in Portland. Next week isn't good either. We will be in (Black Butte, Bend, Sunriver). After that I have a business trip to (Seattle, Chicago, San Diego). But I'm sure next month we'll have time.

Me: (facepalm)

Curt said...

On the point about Portland. Generally, I think you are right. Though there are concrete examples, like the growing numbers of bike trips over their bridges, where they have made substantial progress influencing the mode share with least cost planning efforts like bike infrstructure.

At least in Portland, you can choose a walkable lifestyle if you want it. In Salem residents don't have that choice.

I also think that people respond to their environments. Take someone who lived carfree in Manhattan and relocate them to Salem and they are more than likely end up in a West Salem mcmansion with a Lincoln Navigator in the driveway because thats just how we roll here.

The last point that I will make about Portland is they have active leadership in city government that use every policy tool at their disposal to advance their transoportation goals. Here I think the Peter Fernandez administration just panders to the lowest common denominator. Our planning goals and policies are just treated like quaint obstructions to that end. Occasionallly their trangressions are brazen enough that they can be shamed into taking some corrective measures. But the city won't get very far that way.

Again I see a similar pattern in city government. Those that won't play ball, look the other way while policies are violated, and accept mediocrity resign and move on to other positions in other towns or private sector where their talents are more appreciated. Salem is then stuck with the castoffs.