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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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Evan
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Evan

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.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Faustian Bargain?

rick
Guest
rick

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 ?

rick
Guest
rick

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

Adam
Guest
Adam

Does The Street Trust actually have any members left?

wsbob
Guest

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.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

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.”

Seth Gallant
Guest
Seth Gallant

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.

Brad
Guest
Brad

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?

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

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.

J_R
Guest
J_R

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.

Chad
Guest
Chad

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.

I Dont Believe Your Number Magic
Guest

Got any links to these stats?

Will
Guest
Will

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.

X
Guest
X

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.