“… it’s less about the number of lanes, per se, and more about the impact on the community.”
— Scott Bricker, executive director of the BTA
This week’s decision by City Council to authorize Mayor Adams to vote in favor of a 12-lane Columbia River Crossing bridge has sparked outrage among many Portlanders. Several comments here on BikePortland have turned into an effort to organize a rally to express concerns about the bridge and disappointment in Mayor Adams and City Council.
Meanwhile, the Portland Mercury has reported on the reaction to Adams’ decision by local green and environmental groups:
“It’s surprising, actually, given the importance of the CRC as a political will test case, how few environmental groups are willing to publicly criticize Adams for his vote in favor of the 12 lanes.”
One group that isn’t mentioned in the Mercury story is the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA). With that in mind, this morning I checked in with their executive director Scott Bricker. Before I share notes from our conversation, here’s a bit of background on where the BTA has stood on the CRC.
At a City Council hearing on the CRC earlier this month, BTA advocate Michelle Poyourow delivered testimony that said in part:
“We believe the Columbia River Crossing can be built in a way that improves our economy and environment. But to do so, it must be BOTH designed AND tolled in a way that inhibits the ‘induced demand’ which usually accompanies new highway capacity of this magnitude.”
Back in June, the BTA issued a position statement on the CRC project. In that statement were several conditions that they said must be met in order for them to support the project. Here is the condition relating to bridge size:
“The current conversation over building a new bridge starts at 10 or 12 auto lanes, however, with the existing bridge currently at six lanes, the BTA believes that an eight lane bridge may be adequate. The BTA will only support a project that provides rigorous analysis of an eight-lane option.”
(Photo © J. Maus)
Today, when I asked for his reaction to Adams’ and Council’s decision, Bricker was reserved and calculated in his response. He did not say the BTA no longer supports the bridge. Bricker said he was, “cautious and concerned about how this might play out.” According to Bricker, and similar to an opinion expressed by Adams and Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard published in The Oregonian on Wednesday, he said the issue is not simply about the number of lanes.
“For us, we have some fundamental principles on this project and it’s less about the number of lanes, per se, and more about the impact on the community,” explained Bricker. “I am more concerned that the pact that was made may not yield the results we expect.”
Bricker said that the establishment of a Mobility Council that would have the ability to manage the bridge once it’s built (a condition Adams gave in order for him to vote yes on 12-lanes at the Project Sponsors Council next week) is a new concept and he wondered if it would be enough to net the end result the BTA is after.
“If this [the management council] is truly groundbreaking and it’s the only way is to concede the number of lanes, than perhaps I am mistaken in my concern.”
“From my standpoint,” he said, “there are still some fundamental questions…if you’re going to manage the system tightly do you need that many lanes?” When I asked Bricker point blank whether or not he was opposed to 12 lanes, he said, “What we are fundamentally tied to are the results and the impact to the community…12 lanes is just a number…To date, most of the green groups haven’t said specifically 12 lanes is the enemy, it’s more the impacts that 10 or 12 lanes would bring to the community.”
Bricker told me that a BTA staffer has spent 1 1/2 years on a project subcommittee to make sure it included a “world class” bike and pedestrian facility (the staffer that sat on the committee, Emily Gardner, was let go last month). He feels like they’ve achieved that goal and have more recently shifted focus to the broader implications of the project.
When I asked if he was disappointed in Adams’ latest decision on the project, Bricker again expressed concerns, but did not share direct criticism of the mayor. He said:
“I’m concerned that it’s [Adams’ proposal for a 12-lane bridge with a new management council] going to lead us to a place that will not result in the fundamental principles that Sam, Sam’s office and the Planning Commission [referring to the “serious concerns” they expressed back in June] have informed on the process.”
Bricker seemed to hold out a bit of hope that the Mayor’s Columbia Crossing Mobility Council and this idea of a highly managed bridge might somehow work out in the end. “If this [the management council] is truly groundbreaking and it’s the only way is to concede the number of lanes, than perhaps I am mistaken in my concern.” But then he added, “I’m concerned about the principles the City of Portland initially stated are being compromised”.
At this point, Bricker says the BTA has no stategic advocacy planned around the CRC issue. They will look to partner up with other organizations and continue to track the project.