Notes from outside the House T&I ‘listening session’ in Vancouver

Posted by on February 21st, 2011 at 4:37 pm

The view of today’s hearing for many.
(Photo: Patrick Croasdaile)

At the House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure listening session held this morning in Vancouver, WA, many would-be participants never got the chance to be heard.

I happened to arrive at the committee meeting 35 minutes early, yet was eight people shy from getting in. By my estimation, only a third of those who showed up for the event actually made it into the Clark Public Utilities Community Room. Seeking a way around the barriers to entrance was met with a remarkably hostile response from Clark Public Utilities staff.

“This is nuts, they’re going to have to accommodate us somehow. Why would they hold this in such a small room?”
— Bob Mattila

Hoping to gain admittance, Bob Mattila—a construction electrician from Brush Prairie, WA—remarked, “This is nuts, they’re going to have to accommodate us somehow. Why would they hold this in such a small room?”

Unfortunately for Mr. Mattila and many others, precious few chairs of the only 90 or so provided ever opened up. Frustrated about the lack of space, many people who didn’t get in promptly left the event. Regardless, a dedicated collection of would-be attendees stuck around to vent their frustrations to whatever reporter or passerby happened upon them. I stuck to see what they had to say.

U.S. House T & I hearing-3 U.S. House T & I hearing-5 U.S. House T & I hearing-2 U.S. House T & I hearing-1

The vast majority of folks I met were from Washington and many of them were there to voice concerns that the Columbia River Crossing project was still at a standstill. The issue hot on everyone’s lips was the role light rail should play in the proposed CRC and where on/off ramps should be placed. A good number of those outside stressed that light rail would bring in more crime from Portland to Vancouver. Some believed buses were the better alternative to light rail; some even proposed building a third bridge rather than updating or reconstructing the bridge on I-5.

One gentleman with whom I spoke thought that the entirety of I-205 should be four lanes in either direction. Precious few thought that more people bicycling, carpooling, and riding public transit could reduce the congestion on the existing I-5 Bridge.

Regarding active transportation improvements, an ardent Ron Paul supporter told me that, “The Government can’t force people to live a certain way.” Standing nearby, a bicycle activist and friend, Kiel Johnson, was quick to respond, “But doesn’t a government policy that encourages expanded freeways do just that? It encourages more people to live their lives around their cars instead of more sustainable and lower-cost transportation.” (Induced demand was not a concept widely accepted by many of those in attendance.)

An exception to the trend was a group called Build that Bridge!. A collection of self-described ‘concerned citizens’ from the Vancouver area, their goal is to have some quantifiable progress on the CRC project. They want a 21st century transportation solution that includes increased walking and bicycling infrastructure as well as streetcars and hopefully light rail into the Portland Metro Area. One of their members, Nick Ande, expressed his frustration that for 10 years, very little progress had been made on the CRC. While admitting that he wanted action on the CRC, he was quick to say that “putting a timetable on the CRC isn’t realistic.” Another one of their supporters, Susan Saul, expressed her frustration by saying, “I’m not an engineer, I just want an agreed upon solution.”

Inside the hearing, only about five citizens (one of them a former Washington State DOT Commissioner) were given the opportunity to speak. They were randomly chosen from hundreds of raffle tickets handed out before the event. Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler, the congresswoman who sits on the House T & I Committee and whose office was in charge of organizing the event, acknowledged the lack of space and regretted that not everyone got a chance to speak. “We’ll do better at that next time,” she said, while noting that the Committee will hold a two-week comment period open to anyone who’d like to share their ideas.

[Publisher’s note: This story was written by BikePortland News Intern Patrick Croasdaile. I was inside the hearing and will publish a recap soon. — JM]

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Patrick CroasdaileDabbyEl BicicleroKiel Johnson (Go By Bike)q`Tzal Recent comment authors
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adamdoug2011
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adamdoug2011

man, this is as predictable as it is sad. More “conservatives” lining up for some of that good old government money. sigh.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Thanks BikePortland for covering this event.

I was among over 100+ citizens who were turned away from attending this meeting, most went away before blank written comment forms were distributed. Sadly it was a “cost consideration” that kept a larger room from being booked – from what I was told. I hope it was a case of novice congressional staff learning the ropes vs. other motivations for this logistical snafu.

I was saddened not to hear what Chairman Mica and my new congressional representative thought about transportation and governmental finances – given how important it is. Now it may be a long time until I understand where they are coming from…and them understand where we are coming from…since this may be one of the few meeting sites with such a broad range of opinions on transportation (modes, financing, etc.).

Jonathan – please post the link for the written comment form and any video of the meeting.

dan
Guest
dan

“cost considerations?” So they’re penny-pinching on meeting space, but willing to pony up for a 12-lane bridge?

jim
Guest
jim

It seams to me that the bridge might not get built because of no money. Probably all the millions they spent so far will be lost, for nothing to show for it. They will probably put some short term plans in place to help reduce congestion. Maybe in 10+ years this will all start up all over again, with more meetings, studies…

Hart Noecker
Guest

That’s Vantucky for ya! “Keep your gov’nmint hands off my soci’lized freeways!”

Charley
Guest
Charley

This whole event sounds like a monumental FAIL. Not to hear more than 5 citizens is just a waste of everyone’s time.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest

I find it hard to imagine that most Vancouver residents would be so eager to cram a combined six or so more lanes of freeway and ramps right through their town. Right between what seems like a classic downtown, and a great historic park.

And I wonder how many have seen renderings of all these ramps and lanes from ground level (a point of view that’s notable for its absence from standard CRC promotional material). Here’s a rendered animation that is obviously meant to put the most pleasant spin possible on Vancouver’s share of this freeway widening, what with all the groomed grass and trees, and the lights strung across the street:

http://www.columbian.com/videos/2010/aug/01/60/

Even with the gloss, it’s obviously a whole lot of ugly overpass. You can look at that and imagine how it would sound and smell, and how you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near it. Who would want that for their town?

And it seems like this is being proposed mainly as a way to get to Portland. Why not make Vancouver itself the preferred destination? Create jobs on that side of the river, and encourage amenities in that downtown. Couldn’t the money it would take to build the CRC (were that money ever to be found) be better spent on that kind of stuff instead?

Bob_M
Guest
Bob_M

Vancouverians by and large avoid their down town, and the Fort Vancouver area is a ghost town except for 4th of July and other events. The activity is in the malls that are accessed by car. I took a motorcycle ride through the area this weekend and went through neighborhoods of McMansions with nary a pedestrian to be seen. To think that Vancouver residents care about their historic park/fort or their “classic” downtown gives them credit for values they do not hold. It makes Beaverton look like Amsterdam.

rider
Guest
rider

Why not make Vancouver itself the preferred destination? Create jobs on that side of the river, and encourage amenities in that downtown. Couldn’t the money it would take to build the CRC (were that money ever to be found) be better spent on that kind of stuff instead?

+1 a million times

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

so… + 1,000,000?

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

“I hope it was a case of novice congressional staff learning the ropes vs. other motivations for this logistical snafu.”

Generous of you, but that hope-y change-y stuff don’t play on that side of the river. Capacity was constrained by design so that attendees could be counted as “overwhelmingly” in support of running their freeway into our city.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

“Why would they hold this in such a small room?”

So they don’t have to accommodate you. And Herrera Beutler’s staff won’t do any better next time. This is just how the game is played. What a farce.

jram
Guest
jram

“A good number of those outside stressed that light rail would bring in more crime from Portland to Vancouver.”

I am blown away by the craziness of this argument. I really hope there are a precious few who actually believe this.

was carless
Guest
was carless

Actually, something like 80% of SW Washington residents believe this. Their transit “system” is beyond atrocious. People move to Clark County (not Vancouver) to get away from “those people” who live in Portland.

One reason i am so in favor of tolling the heck out of suburban commuters: retribution for externalized costs. Make them more amenable to the “Crime Rail” they so loathe. (What a bad euphamism)

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Re:”Crime Rail”
There seems to be this old fashioned/conservative thought process that says that a beat cop can effectively cover a set amount of square footage. This group ignores the possiblity that the beat cop can get overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
No one in their right mind believes that one cop can cover, serve and protect, an entire football game or concert even if that area is his beat every other day.
So is it such a surprise that there is crime on any public transport when the decision is to maintain security by charging a fare; all this does is raise the transaction overhead for the crime that will take place in a place, moving though it is, that has NO security.

deborah
Guest
deborah

I wish this project were ONLY considering improvements to the light rail, biking and walking facilities.

Evan
Guest
Evan

“The Government can’t force people to live a certain way.” Huh?
So when we create a transportation infrastructure that requires people to purchase a car, maintain it, and require by law that they have insurance, in order to get to a job or obtain virtually every good and/or service, we are not forcing them to live a certain way? How exactly does that figure?

Please do some editing here
Guest
Please do some editing here

“met with a remarkably hostile response from Clark Public Utilities staff. ” – any examples of said hostile response? You can’t just throw out a statement like that without explaining it otherwise it is just bias.

” A collection of self-described ‘concerned citizens’ from the Vancouver area,” – please provide proof that they aren’t “concerned citizens”. They use of quotes around the phrase is the equivalent of air quotes indicating that you do not take their representing themselves as concerned citizens as truthful.

Patrick Croasdaile
Guest

Unnamed author, thank you for your comments.

Specifically, we tried to get around the line to entrance by slipping in a door we had noticed some other attendees using. Whether it was a matter of our not being allowed to use that door, or that the staff member in question assumed that we could be problematic, I do not know. Regardless, a representative from Clark Public Utilities met us at the building entrance and was remarkably rude to our presence. By “rude”, I mean that he addressed us in a belittling manner and did not seem the least bit concerned that we–or a number of others–were having difficulty getting into the listening session. I believe the only words he used were, “may I help you gentlemen?”, and not in a helpful or concerned tone. It was clear that we were hoping to get in the hearing, and he didn’t seem the least bit concerned. It was a poor representation for his organization, and it was a poor response in general to the amount of people who took time out of their schedule to see what the incoming Republican Congress was planning to do about transportation.

Regarding the “concerned citizens”, that is exactly how these individuals referred to themselves, and that is exactly what I took them to be. I asked Mr. Ande, “how would you describe your organization?” He responded, “we are a group of concerned citizens.” I believe that you may have read a little too much into my use of quotes. I took their response as genuine, and there is no question that they are in fact concerned citizens looking to enact some change/action on the proposed CRC.

The whole time I waited outside of the listening session, I was very moved by the amount o people wanted who wanted to be heard, and yet the T&I committee did not provide an adequate venue to merely listen in. Nor did the T&I committee and Clark Public Utilities provide the most helpful or friendly staff to monitor the event outside the meeting room. The staff members handing out comment cards did not adequately explain how the comments would be chosen, discussed, or followed up on.

I understand full-well that the issues being discussed at this meeting were likely to draw large numbers of people, and that realistically it would have been hard to accommodate all of them. I still believe it is most unfortunate that their response to the overwhelming amount of would-have-been attendees was as terse and dismissive as it was. Furthermore, I believe that the T&I, but more specifically Rep. Herrera–as the Congressional representative for the area–should have been able to predict such an outpouring of interest and planned accordingly.

I believe that my coverage of this event reflects the issues I have just discussed. I am sorry if you felt that my use of quotation marks was unnecessary, and that I was vague. I admit that I could have gone a little bit more into my experience with the Clark Public Utilities employee, but I wanted to focus more on what I heard people saying outside the committee rather than complaining how I was denied entrance to the majority of the meeting. There were too many important issues being discussed outside to have merely focused on my reduced attendance to the listening session.

Thank you again,
Patrick Croasdaile

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“They use of quotes around the phrase is the equivalent of air quotes indicating that you do not take their representing themselves as concerned citizens as truthful”

I think the use of quotes is meant to convey that “concerned citizens” was the exact term used by those who were describing themselves–the same way my use of quotes above indicates that the quoted text consists of your words, not mine. The only quibble here is that perhaps double quotes would have been more correct than single.

Patrick Croasdaile
Guest

I admit my use of single quotes persists, mainly a result of my education across the pond as it were.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest

I just wanted to back up what Patrick said. I went into the Clark building to use the restroom while we waited outside. One of the guards followed me to the bathroom and waited for me to finish using the restroom and escorted in back outside. It was a very uncomfortable experience.

I don’t know how one “proves” someone is a concerned citizen. it might have been interesting next time to post the array of bumper-stickers that were on display in the parking lots. A number of these stickers proved just how concerned these citizens were.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

So you tried to sneak in, got caught, and are surprised they were gruff with you?
Suck it up Buttercup!

Patrick Croasdaile
Guest

That’s not exactly how I would describe what happened outside the hearing.

I tried to find another way into the hearing. I was not trying to “sneak” in, I was merely trying to find a way into the hearing away from the line. It seemed as though the door I was approaching was being used for entrance. Our other correspondent, Jonathan Maus, gained entrance to the hearing away from the line, and I was merely trying to join him in the conference room. The gentleman from Clark Public Utilities greeted me in a less-than-kind tone, and as I have previously indicated, the entire event staff seemed very unconcerned that so many people had turned up and had were very frustrated.

I don’t believe this is a matter of me (or others) needing to “suck it up”. In the end, I got a great bit of information standing outside the hearing and speaking with all of those who had been excluded. Also, I don’t believe an incoming congress and congressional committee should be sending the message, “suck it up” to voters who took time to come and hear what they had to say about transportation. Additionally, the committee in question was discussing a highly sensitive topic with a lot of public money potentially at stake.

~Patrick