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The Street Trust says “compromises with legislators” are why they won’t sign I-5 widening opposition letter

Posted by on September 1st, 2017 at 10:58 am

In a blog post yesterday The Street Trust (formerly the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) offered further rationale for why they’ve chosen to not sign onto a letter opposing the a freeway widening project on Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter.

In a post titled, “The future of the Rose Quarter” written by newly hired Communications Director Romain Bonilla, the group said, “While we have chosen not to sign this coalition’s letter, we share advocates’ concerns and wholeheartedly agree that widening highways will not reduce congestion.”

The No More Freeway Expansions coalition has written a letter to Portland City Council and the Oregon Transportation Commission that has been signed by over 25 organizations including the Audubon Society of Portland, Neighbors for Clean Air, the Urban Greenspaces Institute, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and others. Their letter strongly opposes the I-5 widening project and demands that the project is removed from the City of Portland’s Transportation System Plan.

In their blog post yesterday, The Street Trust wrote that, “We share advocates’ concerns and wholeheartedly agree that widening highways will not reduce congestion,” and that, “We all have a role to play in this political ecosystem and we are grateful for our partners and others who are doing their part to help us get there… we encourage these advocates to make their voices heard as we fight together towards our shared priorities.”

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But even with that strong note of support for the coalition’s position on the issue, The Street Trust decided to not sign the letter. Here’s why: “To remain consistent with the compromises reached with legislators and stakeholders in the bill.”

Curious about that passage in the blog post, I asked The Street Trust’s newly hired executive director Jillian Detweiler if indeed a deal was made. And if so, whether she’d like to share more details about it.

Detweiler said no, her organization didn’t cut a deal with lawmakers or stakeholders.

“We opposed freeway projects throughout and got them significantly reduced,” she wrote BikePortland via email last night. “It is inaccurate to say we ‘couldn’t’ sign the letter,” Detweiler continued. “If you are trying to imply some sort of silence was ‘bought’ or agreed to by investments in transit and sidewalks that’s not correct. We just think it demonstrates integrity to not take a lead throwing pot shots at an element in the overall package we supported. We don’t oppose those who do and and in fact we encourage it.”

The bill funds public transit and updates to streets around schools (to the tune of about $12 million per year for the next 10 years). Detweiler said The Street Trust supported those investments, “Because we want people to have safe and convenient alternatives to driving and we want to save lives. There’s no direct benefit to The Street Trust if that is what you are trying to imply.”

If there was no deal made, I asked, what exactly does it mean when they say, “To remain consistent with the compromises… we have chosen not to sign on to this coalition’s letter”?

“Our ideal bill would have no freeway improvements,” Detweiler responded. “To urge legislators to support HB 2017 was to urge support of a compromise.”

Local activists and supporter of the No More Freeway Expansions coalition Steve Bozzone said via a Twitter thread last night that he understands the political game of compromise; but he wants The Street Trust to take a more aggressive stance. “Oregon is burning, Texas is flooding, our children have asthma, and we’re going to support expanding freeways because of safe routes to school money?!,” he tweeted. “When do we draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough? Where is the leadership from our big NPOs [nonprofit organizations]? Now is the time.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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54 Comments
  • Evan September 1, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for publishing this, it helps me understand their position better. I am concerned that they think that $12m in Safe Routes to School is worth $450m in freeway widening. However, it doesn’t immediately suggest a failing on their part — perhaps the politics are indeed so bad that that’s the best they could do.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      If that’s the case Evan… The question I’ve been wrestling with is… Why were the politics so bad in the first place? Why was the table set this way (with freeway projects and a bike tax baked in) to begin with? And what are we doing to change the politics?

      (Added later)
      And Evan, just to be clear, the bill includes $125 million for Safe routes over the next 10 years.

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      • Steven September 1, 2017 at 2:17 pm

        “If that’s the case”?? I can confirm that the Safe Routes to Schools investment is way more than $12 million. Please don’t perpetuate ignorance.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 1, 2017 at 2:21 pm

          Hi Steven,

          I beg your pardon. I’m not “perpetuating ignorance”. My comment is completely accurate. When I wrote “if that’s the case” I was referring to what Evan believes about their position. And in my post I wrote $12 milion per year for 10 yrs which I believe is accurate. Is it not?

          Thanks for the comment.

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          • Steven September 1, 2017 at 2:36 pm

            Evan said that he was concerned that “they think that $12m in Safe Routes to School is worth $450m in freeway widening”, which compares a per-year figure with a project grand total. It would be best to not lend legitimacy to misleading statements of that sort by replying to them without some sort of correction (even if you get the figures right in the post).

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            • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 1, 2017 at 2:54 pm

              Ok Steven. I’m guilty of not correcting him. I see your point. Thanks.

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              • Steven September 1, 2017 at 3:21 pm

                Thanks for adding the correction and apologies for coming on kind of strong!

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    • John Liu
      John Liu September 1, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      I think it is $125MM for Safe Routes To School, you dropped a decimal point. And instead of $450MM in freeway widening, it is more like $200MM in local surface street/bike/ped improvements and $250MM in freeway work (numbers not exact).

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      • wsbob September 1, 2017 at 12:33 pm

        Thank you for the numbers breakdown, if they’re consistent with project estimates. I think it’s a good idea to resist public investment in infrastructure that doesn’t provide a significant return, but I think it’s a serious mistake to not accurately describe, as it seems some people are doing, what a particular project being invested in is, and what the actual amount proposed to be spent on the project is.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 1, 2017 at 12:56 pm

          FWIW worth there is no accuracy to be had with this project because it’s too early to know how much it will cost…. Which is precisely what is making people uncomfortable. Highway projects have a history of going way over budget… And they also have a history of value-engineering the non-freeway elements, which is another reason people are skeptical.

          I know people who have studied this project closely and still don’t know accurate cost breakdowns.

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      • rick September 1, 2017 at 12:36 pm

        That kind of well-used money could do amazing things for so many roads.

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  • bikeninja September 1, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Faustian Bargain?

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    • 9watts September 2, 2017 at 10:54 pm

      I’m keenly interested in Faustian bargains, but this one doesn’t strike me as one. In fact I don’t see any bargain, just the usual giving away the store by the BTA. The language from BTA employees is so tortured, so hard to read. Why can’t we have clear thinking and good communication, for once?

      As the old bumper sticker read: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

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  • rick September 1, 2017 at 11:54 am

    450 million dollars for this? How many safe streets, housing facilities, and jobs could be created from some other legit plans? Why not extend the Orange MAX line to the Rose Quarter using some of the the existing freight line ?

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    • X September 3, 2017 at 11:47 am

      The 450 million is public money but as other people have pointed out it’s damn hard to switch it from one pot to another. Putting MAX on a right-of-way given to a rail company a long time ago? You’ll need to roll 20 for 5 minutes straight. But, maybe in the next chamber things will be completely different.

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  • rick September 1, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Meanwhile, Washington has Seattle heavily investing in mass transit, no tax on bikes, yet has a $5.00 fee for metal-studded car tires.

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    • Chris I September 1, 2017 at 3:45 pm

      Basically just Seattle, and they are playing catch up. They should be lauded for it, though. We should be building SW Corridor light rail, and light rail on Powell, but we aren’t willing to pass more local funding. We can’t ignore the Orange Line, though. That was a huge project.

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    • Buzz September 3, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      I’m pretty sure every studded tire sold does a lot more than $5 worth of damage to roads; they should be charging ten or a hundred times that.

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    • Evan Manvel September 5, 2017 at 10:46 am

      … Washington had six huge freeway expansions (only partially funded) in their 2015 transportation package:

      $1.9 billion: SR 167/SR 509 Gateway project
      $1.6 billion: SR 520 “Rest of the West”
      $1.3 billion: I-405 Lynnwood to Tukwila Corridor
      $879 million: US 395 North Spokane Corridor
      $494 million: JBLM Congestion Relief Project
      $426 million: I-90 Snoqualmie Pass

      http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Funding/CWA/

      Seattle is funding what it can. But state transportation packages are a different beast.

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  • Adam September 1, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Does The Street Trust actually have any members left?

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    • rick September 1, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      I would join if they opposed this, pushed to ban metal-studded car tires, etc.

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  • wsbob September 1, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    I got a question:

    Does ‘No More Freeway Expansions coalition’ Steve Bozzone, have to drive I-5 past the Rose Quarter district, as a daily commuter, a visitor from other parts of the state to Portland, a through state highway user, or, to what extent does he find himself using this section of I-5, if with any frequency at all?

    Maybe it would be fine to oppose this RQ point specific highway reconfiguration ( I phrase it this way because at best, the project widens just a very short length of the freeway, and is for the basic purpose of improving flow through the area.). If opponents were prepared with some reasonable alternative plans to the project concept that would meet the needs of people currently using the freeway.

    I’d like to hear more details from The Street Trust executive director Jillian Detweiler, about the compromises made by people crafting the transportation plan, and that TST supports.

    Are we to understand that TST and other high profile supporters of this plan feel the amenities, such as those mentioned in this story (“…The bill funds public transit and updates to streets around schools (to the tune of about $12 million per year for the next 10 years). …”), that’s 120 million bucks over the 10 year period, included in the Transportation System Plan…would not realistically have been obtainable in perhaps some sort of stand alone plan proposal?

    Compromise often is the only practical option available. Instead of nothing for people walking and bikig in the area, this plan holds the offer of something in exchange for providing improvements to a short but important section of the freeway for people that have to drive. The entire region depends on I-5 working as well as it can be made to work. It’s a lot of money, but it seems to me that many people will find themselves feeling in favor of spending it for whatever improvement the project has to offer.

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    • Steve B. September 1, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Hi wsbob,
      I drive, bike, take transit and walk along the I-5 corridor daily. I breathe the polluted air along with my neighbors and I sit in the same traffic. I have learned many stories of those displaced when I-5 bulldozed over 1% of the city’s housing stock through Albina, a predominantly black neighborhood. I sat on the Stakeholders Committee for this project, participated in the public process for many years and am familiar with the details.

      The I-5 RQ expansion has been a highway project sugarcoated in some rather basic bike/ped improvements. As much as I too want surface improvements ASAP in the area, there are no guarantees that they will be delivered as currently proposed, if at all. I personally do not believe it is worth suffering the deeply negative consequences and extravagant expenses of expanding an urban freeway in the core of our city. It is a myth that we cannot improve these surface conditions without the freeway expansion.

      As for new, alternate proposals: many were made directly to ODOT and quickly removed from consideration because they didn’t address the (highway) congestion and (highway) “safety” issues that we quickly learned were the real inspiration for the project all along. I think most of those are in the recycle bin at ODOT now, but I bet you’ll be seeing some new visions cropping up soon.

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      • El Biciclero September 3, 2017 at 8:14 am

        “As much as I too want surface improvements ASAP in the area, there are no guarantees that they will be delivered as currently proposed, if at all.”

        I wonder what the probabilities are, here. It does seem that the freeway portion of the package is the assumed top priority, and that if there are overruns, money will be shifted from other improvements to make sure the freeway portion gets done at any and all cost. Then “value engineering” kicks in and portions of sidewalk and other safety improvements to surface streets get engineered away. At the very least, this project can serve as an experiment to see how valuable “compromises” are for future reference. If The Street Trust is going to invest political capital in promoting a bill that contains “compromises”, then they should keep track of the return on that investment.

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  • bikeninja September 1, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    This compromise on the part of the Street Trust reminds me of the battle to save old growth forest. The timber corps would want to log a giant swath of land, and the big legislatively oriented environmental groups would always want to make a compromise and allow them to log half of what they proposed ( or something like that) for the sake of consistency and reasonableness. Then in a few years the Timber barons would come back and want to log the other half, knowing they would get another compromise. This prompted the leader of one of the local grassroots environmental groups to to remark ( this is a paraphrase), ” We have to win every time, otherwise the forces that want to cut all the trees, strip-mine all the mountains and cover the earth with pavement will nibble it all away one bite at a time.”

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    • rick September 1, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      Timber is being used to make multi-store lighter-weight buildings in less time than concrete and steel in Portland.

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      • B. Carfree September 1, 2017 at 9:28 pm

        We’re really veering off-topic here, but you don’t need old growth for those glorified glu-lams. That’s a good thing, too, because we removed all the big trees decades ago, per the story you were commenting on.

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  • Seth Gallant September 1, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I don’t usually chime in on these discussions, but I feel pretty strongly about this one. I’m disappointed that this project is being characterized as an expensive freeway widening project when it is, in fact, an expensive project that does many things to improve safety and operations for many modes of travel. Yes, it is adding lanes to the freeway for a short stretch that will result in a marginal improvement in traffic flow and safety. But a substantial share of the project cost is going to improve local street connectivity and help knit the community back together that was so badly sliced apart when I-5 was originally built. The project includes numerous improvements to our ability to get across I-5 by bike and on foot and improvements, such as the proposed lid, that will make those overpasses much less unpleasant places to be on a bike or on foot. I’m a big advocate for active transportation and creating good urban streets and spaces for people, not cars, and I think this project represents a reasonable compromise and a good opportunity to repair damage that was done in the Rose Quarter area in the 60s, despite the fact that it also adds lanes to the freeway.

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    • soren September 1, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      subsidizing fossil fuel infrastructure while oregon burns and texas floods is incredibly short sighted. we can fund multimodal improvements in the rose quarter without making a faustian bargain with an incredibly regressive highway department.

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      • Racer X September 1, 2017 at 2:04 pm

        …dont worry as 10 years after this project is built …most of the local delivery trucks and commuters will be driving EVs … just yesterday I saw my Lay potato chips being delivered to our Safeway by a 100% EV step van truck [salmon or coal powered perhaps].

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        • 9watts September 2, 2017 at 10:57 pm

          Powered by….?

          EVs don’t run on fairy dust.

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          • Buzz September 3, 2017 at 1:45 pm

            In the PNW they are powered by salmon-killing dams, in other parts of the country they are coal and nuclear powered…

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    • peejay September 1, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      I’m disappointed that there are still people defending freeway expansion projects in 2017, especially people who should know better. Shaming everyone who opposes this project is not going to accomplish anything good.

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    • Kate September 1, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks Seth. I weigh in only occasionally because it’s easy to earn a target on your back in these comments. But I think you’ve fairly characterized the proposal. Of course it’s imperfect, but as far as compromise and support of multimodal improvements using combinations of state and fed funds, it’s pretty progressive. I find it disheartening that we’ve reach such as divisive place now that any compromise is considered heresy. I think the characterization I’ve seen in the comments have set up our city’s transportation as a purity test, rather than trying to work to make things smarter and more balanced, while recognizing that certain places (like between one interchange on an interstate) there are going to be statewide interests who want to see an effort made to improve flow during the worst times of peak travel. Which leads to the congestion pricing discussion, which I am thrilled will be part of this project.

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      • Doug Klotz September 1, 2017 at 4:13 pm

        Kate. I should have mentioned congestion pricing. A good outcome would be if congestion pricing were tried on I-5 ( and elsewhere?) before initiating this project. Just as a trial.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 1, 2017 at 4:20 pm

        Hi Kate,

        I don’t think this debate is disheartening at all. I think it’s a debate Portland needs much more of. This city — its advocates and its leadership – has been far too willing to compromise its values far too many times. Incrementalism has been the hallmark of Portland for so long that we are now failing to keep up and move forward as fast as we need to. The times have changed and Portland needs to change with them. There are many people in this community – myself included – who don’t compare every policy debate to how “it’s always been done”. And instead we say, “This is how we believe it should be done. Right now, damn it!” I think that’s a healthy approach and what I’ve seen is that people close to power and process (like professional advocates, electeds, their staff, and so on) aren’t as comfortable with that approach. There’s safety in the old incrementalism, there’s the reasssurance that you won’t mess up any relationships, I get that (trust me, I’ve got a lot of complicated relationships… including most recently with your old boss Earl B). I’m noticing a recurring split in the community where people are fed up and want to see clear, bold and ambitious actions — not just the same old words with nothing to back them up.

        I hope we can have these different elements of the debate flourish without people marginalizing others approaches and without the veiled insults like calling someone’s views a “purity test” or using a word like “heresy” in the context you used it.

        Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate your participation in the comment section and if I ever see someone putting “a target on your back” here I will delete and/or moderate them ASAP.

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        • Kate September 1, 2017 at 5:54 pm

          Thanks for the thoughtful response Jonathan!

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        • Kyle Banerjee September 4, 2017 at 10:00 pm

          I don’t find the debate particularly encouraging. As far as I can tell, most people here who oppose it do so because they don’t want to see a freeway expansion.

          This is no more a freeway expansion than converting an especially busy and dangerous intersection to a fully protected one for hikes and peds is a bike lane expansion.

          If people are unwilling to even acknowledge legitimate issues that lead to projects like this, let alone seek common solutions, the likely outcome will be continued marginalization of cycling — and more actual freeway expansions.

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          • 9watts September 5, 2017 at 6:57 am

            “the likely outcome will be continued marginalization of cycling — and more actual freeway expansions.”

            That could be one outcome. Others are also conceivable.

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            • Kyle Banerjee September 5, 2017 at 8:40 am

              You mean like making cycling totally irrelevant? 😉

              Douglas lists some concerns even the biggest motor advocates will probably be willing to consider. Most of the stuff I see here has little chance of having any impact aside from contributing to an image of cyclists as reality deprived kooks.

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              • 9watts September 5, 2017 at 6:21 pm

                “cyclists as reality deprived kooks.”

                reality is a funny thing.
                I suspect that we’ll look back on those who inveigh against automobility as prescient, as aligned with ‘reality’ in a way your arguments are not. Politics~meteorology~reality…

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    • Steve B. September 1, 2017 at 4:35 pm

      Hi Seth,
      Do you have a source for these numbers and the break down of highway vs bike/ped/transit? Thanks!

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  • Brad September 1, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    This will be the first year since I moved to Portland in 1999 that I don’t renew my membership with BTA; clearly their new leadership/direction has moved too far from what had been a unique (and effective) set of goals focused primarily on Bicycle Transportation. I want to support an organization that remains focused on Bicycle Transportation (i.e., improving its safety and increasing its prevalence) in Portland and beyond. The change in name is more than symbolic, their statements highlighted here underscore that they have lost my support completely, alas. Me thinks they have become too much of a ‘playa’ in the political arena, have let the fog of politics cloud their view of important goals. When one of “The Street Trust’ (?!?) outreach staff called me to ask about my failure to renew, I spoke calmly to explain my reasons, to which her response was nil. So disappointing. Where oh where has the real BTA gone?

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    • Beth H September 1, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      The BTA died awhile ago, and so did my support for it.
      The Street Trust is the very logical next incarnation of an organization devoted much more fully to political lobbying and noticeably less to education and advocacy for human-scale transportation and infrastructure. In short, they decided that compromise was better than meaningful change. The Street Trust does not represent me or my vision of the future of transportation, and I have no time for them.

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  • Doug Klotz September 1, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    What was not clear to those of us participating in this plan 7 years ago, was the safety implications of the plan. This project would spend $450 million on an area that has had (AFAIK) zero fatalities and few major injuries on the freeway. They’re slow speed side swipes etc. because of the merges.

    The City has now adopted Vision Zero. If eliminating fatalities and serious injuries, the $450 million would be much better spent on the arterials within Portland, where people are dying or being seriously injured, such as Powell, 82nd, Division, Lombard, etc. If the city really means to reduce these crashes, funds should be spent to achieve that goal, rather than reducing side-swipes and allowing crashes on I-5 to be cleared faster. Even ODOT admits the project will not reduce “recurring congestion”, it’ll only allow crashes to be cleared faster. Yes there are improved connections planned on the surface streets in the Rose Quarter, but those could be done without this project and, at least for bike and ped connections, at a fraction of the money.

    Let’s address the real safety concerns first. They’re not on I-5.

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  • J_R September 1, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    I worked for several years in Vancouver and regularly commuted by bike from SE Portland. I rode either Vancouver/Williams or Interstate through N Portland and across the awful Interstate Bridge. When there was a crash or stalled vehicle on I-5 in north Portland there would be very significant diversions of what is usually I-5 commuter traffic to my bike routes on Vancouver/Williams or Interstate. Usually that diversion also was accompanied by harried, aggressive drivers trying to make up “lost” time due to the I-5 congestion.

    I even notice more cut-through traffic on my neighborhood streets when the collector and minor arterial streets become congested. Traffic is getting worse due to population growth and “congestion is your friend” is not making my bicycling any more pleasant or safe. Some capacity expansion to keep longer-distance motorists on streets where I will never ride seems a fair trade-off.

    I do not subscribe to the philosophy common on this forum that anything that enhances motor vehicle is evil. I haven’t studied it in detail, but I’m tending toward support for the proposed Rose Quarter I-5 widening as long as the project includes all the bicycle and pedestrian enhancements that have been identified.

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    • soren September 1, 2017 at 3:46 pm

      have you read the relevant documents?

      https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/408845

      i found the non-highway improvements to be *mostly* about placemaking and recreation, not about multimodal connectivity and vision zero. in fact, apart from trails the only specific transportation cycling improvement depicted has already been built (the bike lanes on NE 7th).

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    • Chris I September 1, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      Unfortunately, this project will have a negligible impact on congestion and crashes. The improved street grid will be a welcome change, though.

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    • 9watts September 2, 2017 at 11:03 pm

      “I do not subscribe to the philosophy common on this forum that anything that enhances motor vehicle is evil.”

      Although that perspective does crop up from time to time, it is hardly common. With climate change becoming more real, more concrete every day, sometimes I wish it were more common.
      Nature bats last.

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  • Chad September 1, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    All of the opposition to this project seems to assume that there’s some amazing, politically viable, alternative project that will take its place if we just get city council to reject the project. How probable is this?

    Even though the freeway component is regrettable, at least the RQ project includes some real improvements for cyclists and pedestrians and the freeway caps would be great for the city. It would be a shame if No More Freeways PDX succeeds in getting the RQ project off the menu, only to have the funds reallocated to some highway project that devotes 100% of the funding to hardcore highway expansion and includes absolutely nothing for alternative transportation.

    I think that this is an important part of the calculus that I haven’t seen discussed here yet.

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    • soren September 1, 2017 at 9:32 pm

      “at least the RQ project includes some real improvements for cyclists and pedestrians ”

      please list them.
      and let’s compare these so-called “improvements” to those that are already contrained in the TSP or potentially funded (via TSDCs)/

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  • I Dont Believe Your Number Magic September 1, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Got any links to these stats?

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  • Will September 1, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    Wow. This is sadly disappointing but not surprising when you remember TST gets their funding largely from government transportation agencies. Many of their staff seek careers with ODOT and other government agencies. Of course they don’t rock the boat. They like to talk big in their fundraising letters so their members feel engaged but when it comes down to it they’re a rubber stamp on whatever ODOT, PBOT, and Trimet feel like doing. Greenwashing at its finest.

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  • X September 3, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    We have your wonder drug, it’s going to cost you $12 million a year for the next 10 years. It’s wrapped in this horse turd which is, like, three or four hundred million. You’re welcome.

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