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Flanders crossing update: Shifting criticisms and a report from City Council


[Update: Download the presentation given by Commissioner Adams today at City Council (6MB, PDF)…or watch it on YouTube.]

Adams making his case to City Council.
(Bad phone photo)

City Council is poised to hear an ordinance this morning that will authorize PDOT to “enter into a contract with Max J. Kuney Construction, owner of the old Sauvie Island Bridge, to rehabilitate, relocate and acquire the old Sauvie Island Bridge center span for the purpose of moving it to NW Flanders St over I-405.”

I’ll start with a brief update on the project followed by some live reporting (below) once the proceedings begin.

Following the official announcement last week that Commissioners Sam Adams, Randy Leonard, and Dan Salztman had come to an agreement on how to move the project forward (and thus assuring a majority vote on Council), criticism about the project has continued from fronts old and new.

A slide from a presentation given by Commissioner Adams today
(Download full report here – 6MB, PDF)

Since it seems clear that the Sauvie span will be re-used (versus building a new bridge), arguments against the project have shifted to whether or not Portland needs a bridge at that location at all. The criticisms now seem to be focused on how this new bridge stacks up against other priorities.

Mayor Tom Potter has dug in with his opposition to the plan by releasing a statement on his website and penning an editorial in the Oregonian titled, It’s not about bridges — it’s about fairness.

City Council hopeful Amanda Fritz — who many would consider a bike-friendly candidate — has also raised skepticisms about the project. In a blog post (and also in response to a question at the Candidates Gone Wild event) she has taken Mayor Potter’s line of fiscal responsibility for questioning the idea. On her blog Fritz wrote, “I believe Portlanders who live in areas with few sidewalks, bike lanes, or paved streets, deserve basic urban services first.”

Local blogger Jack Bogdanski has raised questions about how PDOT will manage the traffic engineering considerations (like new traffic signals at Flanders) raised by the installation of a new bridge. Read his post and take note of my comments in response at the end.

On the fundraising front, over 120 people showed up to the Pinot Pedal last weekend. NW Portland business owner Jeremy Saville helped put on the event as a fundraiser for the Flanders Crossing project and he said they raised $3,000 from the event. That would go with several other checks that have been written by other local businesses… More on the private fundraising situation later… the proceedings on the ordinance are starting right now…(refresh page for updates).

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Flanders Crossing Project at City Council

Commissioner Adams will present a powerpoint on the project (download Adam’s presentation (6MB, PDF)). He’s speaking now and several large posterboards have been set up.

Amy Ruiz from the Portland Mercury has put Adams’ presentation on YouTube. Watch it below:

“I’m here with another non-controversial, low-profile project. [everyone laughs.] Since becoming Transportation Commissioner my pet project has been to save lives. The system is unsafe because it has been vastlu underfunded. There are some who object other project… based on fairness and equity… fairness and equity are things I have to deal with everyday.. it is a gruesome task for the City Council where we have to decide where to make investments not where people are being killed and injured, but hwere the most people are being killed or injured.

I assume the objections are made with good intentions and a desire to make fact-based spending decisions…

Based on statements I have read and/or watched in the media I would have objected to this project as well.

Adams is now giving a slide presentation. Download it here (6mb PDF).

The Frequently Asked Questions section of his presentation was interesting. Here are a few of them:

“Isn’t Council considering asking voters to approve a $450 million fee to pay for basic maintenance for our crumbling streets?”

•An important part of the Safe, Sound and Green Streets proposal are vital safety improvements. Like the Flanders Crossing Project, the SSGS proposal will save lives.
•Portland’s maintenance backlog is significant and grows by $9 million every year due to inflation alone.

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“Don’t our transportation priorities start in East Portland?”

Most of PDOT’s One-Time General Fund Safety Projects are east of 72nd, Powell and Foster.

•76% of One-time funds for high crash locations
•73% of One-time funds for pedestrian safety projects 4 of 5
new red light cameras east of 82nd
•$1.5 million spent on signal safety project on 122nd
•100% of one-time funds for ADA curb ramps

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Why do you spend so much money on bikes?

•0.7% of PDOT’s capital budget is for cycling improvements.
•6% of Portlanders use bikes as primary commute vehicle. Another 10% cycle as their secondary commute.
•The payoff is huge for public health, air quality, traffic congestion and the civic pocketbook.

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“If crossing at Everett or Glisan isn’t good, why can’t cyclists and pedestrians just cross underneath the freeway at Johnson?”

For someone walking or bicycling on Glisan or Everett, using Johnson would mean traveling an extra six to ten blocks. They don’t do it now and they won’t do it in the future.

Crash data from Burnside, Everett and Glisan show that cyclists are more likely to stay on the high conflict streets rather than divert to other streets.

For cycling and walking to be effective modes of transportation, it has to be convenient, intuitive and safe.

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Presentation is over and now questions are coming into Adams from Council.

Saltzman asks Adams about funding sources.
–Adams says PDC’s $2 million will be decided by May 23rd and that “We won’t be starting any work on this until all the money is in hand.”

Potter asks about funding as well.
“At this point I see no private funding coming through”… and he says he thinks it’s inaccurate that Adams has claimed the PDC money and the SDC money can’t be spent in other places.
–Adams tells Potter that he approved twice a list of SDCs that had this project on it. As for PDC Urban Renewal funding, Adams says the Council would have .. As for private fundraising…”We’ve never relied on significant private fundraising in our thinking on our project…we will using private fundraising only to install lighting on the bridge.” He mentioned how they’ve always considered the fact that the River District prioritized the project for funding as a sign of private fundraising.

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Now the public testimony has started.

Scott Bricker (BTA Exec. Director)
– He mentions that the Transportation Enhancement money ($1 million from ODOT) is from a special, discretionary pot that is only used for time-sensitive, historic, iconic projects like this one.

Patricia Gardner (NW Neighborhood Associaition).
-We’ve been voting for a crossing at Flanders since 2002…we’re up to four votes for this in the past two years. We’ve been pushing really hard to get this to happen. It’s a bigger vision. She says when people move to the Pearl people sell their cars and start biking and walking and “we need to make that experience better”.

Catherine Ciarlo (former BTA head honcho — was on Burnside-Couch committee when the Flanders Crossing was first promised)
– She is talking about how the bridge will connect the city. “The central city belongs to all of us… we’d like to visit it by foot and by bike.”

Susie Kubota (Aunt of Tracey Sparling)
– She is directing her testimony directly to Mayor Tom Potter based on his editorial in the Oregonian. She drove out to NE Cully to see the infamous stretch of sidewalk that Potter has referred to. She said his comments in the Oregonian were misleading.

Nelson Abeels (NW Portland business owner for 16 years)
– He is testifying in support of the bridge. Says the idea came from the community. “We will raise money, we will raise funds once this project gets going. There are many businesses ready to give money to this project.”

Jeanne Harrison (Willamette Pedestrian Coaltion)
-In support of the project

James Lee (running for Mayor)
– He opposes the project
– Requests that this ordinance be withdrawn because Kuney has given no warranty that the bridge is structurally safe. Says the bridge won’t meet seismic standards… “You don’t know what Kuney is giving us.” Withdraw project until project plans have been laid out in a report so citizens can form a judgment on the project.

John Reinhold (SE Portland resident)
– In support of the project.
– There are thousands of children and schools, churches, and parks directly West of this location… He thinks it’s “disingenuous” to say we shouldn’t do this project to build sidewalks for East Portland

Terry Parker (citizen activist)
– Opposed to the project
– (He’s talking very fast) “Using backroom deals for a special-interest transport frill.” “Bicycle safety must start with the bicyclists themselves that should start with an attitude change”…”Pearl district developers want this bridge”… “Freeloading bicycle community should pay for it.”

Chris Wirth (East Portland resident)
– He opposes the project. In theory he supports the idea, but worries that disparities will continue in East Portland.

Dorothy Gage (Community activist)
– She’s opposed to the process.
– This is reminiscent to me of the Tram travesty. She wants Council to go back to the drawing board.

MaryAnne Fitzgerald (SW Portland resident)
– She is opposed to the project because SW has priorities too.

Mary Roberts (NW 10th and Johnson resident)
– In support of the project.

Jeremy Grand (SW resident)
– Opposes it…not because it’s a bad project, but because there are other priorities he wants in SW Portland.

Rick Potestio (a biker, walker, founder of Cross Crusade cyclocross racing series and SW resident)
– He opposes the project.
– “Given, all we must do to build on our Platinum cycling rating… I question why this project has received such priority.” He doesn’t feel Flanders is a vital link between the neighborhoods. He brings up the traffic engineering implications of a new intersection at Flanders…Instead of Flanders, he wants improvements on Everett and Glisan.

Doug Strickler
– Supports the project.

SW Portland resident
– Opposes the project based on other needs in SW Portland.

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Testimony is over. Now Leonard is making a comment:

Leonard says listened to the Platinum news on OPB today and thought it was sad because today is a day we should be celebrating making a statement about.

“I view this project as not an east Portland versus West Portland, or not an all-Portland vs. the Pearl, but rather a piece of a complicated, complex infrastrcuture that will create byways and throughways for bicyclists. No one can out East-Portland me…I grew up in East Portland. I knew what the transportation problems are in east Portland.

Some may accuse me for being cynical for this…but I suggest we’re having this division [in our city] because of politics…I learned it is really easy to galvanize people by speaking to their fears and to their suspicions. It is not responsible in my view to do so. That is the context I have viewed this debate.

This debate should be a unifier in our community, not dividing East Portland and SE Portland from the Pearl in order to make political points. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and we all deserve better.”

Saltzman is now speaking.
He is curious about the seismic warranty issue brought up a testifier. A PDOT engineer is testifying and reports that there are no structural flaws found in the bridge. The bridge is in “very good condition”. “The seismic issue has been addressed as well.”

Saltzman: Does that inspection equal a warranty?
PDOT engineer: “No it does not. We will look into that.”

Adams closes:

“As Transportation commissioner I’m trying to instill a more disciplined approach to dealing with needs around the city. All of the investments are intended to make the system safer…when they do get safer we can move down the list. We will always have a list, we will always be working on it. When SW Portland needed something, I fought for it, when East Portland needed something I fought for it. You could point to any of those projects and argue that another part of town wasn’t getting their fair share.”

That’s it for today.

This was the “first reading” of the ordinance and it will be voted on next week (5/7). Stay tuned.

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