(Updated) BTA on CRC bike/ped design process: “We’re not going to play this game any more”

[8/26, 4:42pm: This story has been updated with reaction from CRC project staffer David Parisi.]

“The BTA is done with this public involvement theater… we’re not going to play this game any more.”
— Michelle Poyouorow, Bicycle Transportation Alliance

As reported earlier today, the staff from the Columbia River Crossing project held a meeting of their Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting in Vancouver this morning. The big item on the agenda was to get an official recommendation from the committee about which of two design options (with the bike and pedestrian pathway above or below the main deck) they prefer.

According to sources that attended the meeting, the committee voted to recommended the underdeck option, but only if the CRC Project Sponsors Council (which includes Mayor Adams, Metro Council President David Bragdon, DOT Directors from Washington and Oregon, etc…) signs off on a firm maintenance and security agreement.

But for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), the deadline for that commitment has come and gone. BTA Avocacy Manager Michelle Poyourow, who was at today’s meeting, told us that she voted against the recommendation and that they plan to walk away from their advisory role on the project altogether.

“We’ve been trying to make something good out of this project…but there’s nothing on the table for us to support.”

Poyourow said that today’s meeting was their deadline for getting that firm commitment in writing from one of the project’s lead agencies, but that no such commitment exists. She made it clear that the BTA does not support either option on the table, and that — beyond the on-bridge path design — as it’s currently planned, the project does not provide the type of bicycle connections they want.

Beyond the bike/ped pathway discussion, Poyourow said “Bottom line, this project is just bad for the health of our region.”

Poyourow said she believes the CRC staff was caught off guard by the tone at today’s meeting, where what was supposed to be a half-hour agenda item turned into a two-hour heated discussion. “I believe they expected us to just write a memo outlining our concerns, not to request a hard commitment.”

For the past three years, Poyourow estimates the BTA has sent a staff member to twenty 3.5 hour bike/ped advisory committee meetings. But no longer. “The BTA is done with this public involvement theater. This project has not been successful in hearing the communities concerns and we’re not going to play this game any more.”

While Poyourow made it clear she will officially withdraw the BTA from the CRC’s bike/ped advisory committee, she also said that her organization would love to see “something break this stalemate”. “If there’s a proposal that comes from outside the CRC…or a new proposal for this project comes out, we want to support good improvements between the two cities.”

Bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg attended the meeting as a representative of the City of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. He said they will put out a letter on Friday stating their support for an underdeck facility with the strict condition that the security and maintenance agreement goes through.

David Parisi, the head of the CRC Ped and Bike Advisory committee said he feels the talks “are going very well.” Parisi told us today that he was disappointed to hear that the BTA would no longer be on the committee. “I am disappointed that they decided to stop participating. They’ve provided some good insight and have helped the process.”

Parisi added that the BTA put a motion on the table today to not support either option without further clarification on security and maintenance issues — but no other committee member supported it. He also added that the BTA is just one of 12 members on the advisory committee.

Asked about funding for the bike and ped component of the project, Parisi said that his previous comments — which we have characterized as a threat that funding could be in jeopardy if advisory groups did not reach consensus in the CRC’s timeframe — were taken out of context. “It wasn’t a threat, it’s like anything else on this project, if you have consensus on project elements, it’s harder to do value-engineering on it.”

The recommendation of placement of the bike/ped path, and the request to commit to a maintenance and security agreement, will go in front of the Project Sponsors Council on September 4th.

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