Posted by Elly Blue (Columnist) on March 27th, 2009 at 3:52 pm
An editorial in this morning’s Oregonian criticizes Bicycle Transportation Alliance leaders for their recently stated opposition of the plan to build a new, 12-lane highway bridge over the Columbia River, and for encouraging their members to attend a rally in opposition to the plan.
Claiming that the BTA seeks “to destroy the bridge,” the editorial board advises the organization to “broaden its reach” instead of compromising the “fragile coalition” of interests working on the project.
And, oh by the way, it’s a terrible move for cyclists, too. The governors of Oregon and Washington have promised that the new I-5 bridge will be the most environmentally friendly bridge ever built, providing vastly improved access for cyclists and walkers, in addition to light rail and tolling to control congestion.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that downtown Vancouver is just a few miles, a few minutes and two rivers away from downtown Portland. It’s easy to forget because the nightmare of congestion across one river, the Columbia, thwarts easy access. A drive that should take no more than 15 minutes can easily stretch into 45 or more.
The editors go on to quote at length from a critical comment left on our story about the BTA’s opposition. The commenter claims that the BTA’s stance “only serves to widen the divide between our community of cyclists and the motorists who waste away their lives stuck in traffic.”
Talk of two divided communities of “cyclists” and “motorists” may sound familiar to readers who followed our coverage of the media frenzy around this idea last summer.
The BTA’s Michelle Poyourow has posted a response on their blog (which she also submitted to the Oregonian as a letter to the editor), countering that the editorial “revealed a lack of understanding of what makes communities safe for bicycling.”
Poyourow’s letter continues (emphasis mine):
Our 5,000 members in Portland, Vancouver, and around the state of Oregon overwhelmingly oppose the widening of I-5. Expanding the freeway will result in more traffic, faster traffic, and wider roads, particularly in Clark County. Nothing could be less conducive to safe bicycling and walking.
A better bicycling and walking path between the two cities would be wonderful, but it could not possibly undo the enormous damage done to bicycle safety by the rest of the project. …we cannot get behind the overall project if it contains such an enormous freeway expansion. For bicycling conditions alone, this would truly be “One step forward…ten steps back.”
Sarah Mirk at the Mercury has also responded with a blog post opining that the Oregonian has missed the mark by a wide margin. She writes that
…the BTA made the right choice. Their position isn’t “extremist” or “out of touch with reality” as the Oregonian claims. Their position is well-founded, well-researched and strongly supported among cyclists in town.
Mirk also takes the editorial to mean “that the O is taking the opposition to the bridge seriously.”
The Build Less Bridge Rally (which will be held at 12:00 pm on Sunday, April 5th under the Morrison Bridge in Waterfront Park) is supported by a grassroots coalition that includes the BTA as well as other groups that oppose the bridge for reasons not solely related to bicycling.
Rally organizer Joe Kurmaskie told us earlier this month that the goal of the event is not solely to oppose the current, 12-lane plan for the bridge, but also to promote alternatives such as instituting tolling to relieve congestion.