Heated exchange with top Interstate Bridge project official resurfaces

“I will not listen to nonsense!”

– Greg Johnson, IBR Program Administrator

The top official in charge of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program got into a heated back-and-forth with critics at a neighborhood meeting back in December (view it in the video above). IBR Program Administrator Greg Johnson questioned the man’s credentials and called critics’ claims “nonsense” before a moderator stepped in to cool things down.

The exchange was shared on Twitter yesterday by Bob Ortblad, a retired engineer and active critic of the project. Ortblad has pushed his idea for an immersed tube tunnel across the river (instead of a bridge) for years and it appears that his activism around this issue has gotten under the skin of Johnson.

As we shared in February 2022, Ortblad sees several advantages to a tunnel across the Columbia River. He believes it would be cheaper (the estimated cost of the IBR currently stands at $6 billion), have a smaller footprint, wouldn’t lead to a high bridge with a significant incline/decline, and so on. His dogged advocacy for the tunnel and a general distrust of the IBR team, has helped win support of many people who live on Hayden Island.

The Hayden Island Neighborhood Network supports a “No Build” option for the project and has pushed the IBR to study more options — including a tunnel. On March 5th, Hayden Island Neighborhood Network Board Chair Martin Slapikas wrote a 14-page letter to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission that blamed Johnson and the IBR of a conflict of interest.

Suffice it to say there is no love lost between IBR staff and some residents of Hayden Island.

The exchange at the December meeting came after Ortblad shared a 20-minute presentation about the tunnel. In a Q & A session that followed, Ortblad shared a very sharp criticism of a tunnel option study published by the IBR that he called, “inaccurate.” “[The tunnel study] just doesn’t hold water,” Ortblad told the audience. “It should be retracted.”

Then Johnson was asked a question about whether or not the IBR has a 3-D model of the proposed bridge design (a key thing fueling distrust has been the lack of detailed visuals of the project). Johnson took the mic and said the IBR has a 3-D tactile model of the bridge they created for people with visual impairments. The model is only available for viewing at the IBR offices.

“We don’t have a final design yet,” Johnson continued.

“So that’s a no?!” someone (who appeared to be noted provocateur and activist Joe Rowe) then yelled from the audience.

“We have a 3-D model in our office, sir, where you can come over you can see it.”

“So 10 minutes ago I asked Ray [Mabey, Assistant Program Administrator for the IBR] and he said ‘no’ so I gave him the finger because I know you all lie. So you do have one! What’s the truth Ray?!” Rowe continued to shout.

A moderator then stepped in to try and cool things down.

Then Johnson (with the mic in hand) turned toward Ortblad and said:

“Bob has accused folks, who are licensed engineers, of malpractice. Bob, where’s your license? Or are you just a citizen who is interested? You are talking about folks who are licensed.”

“I had a license for 40 years,”

“But where is it now?” Johnson replied.

Then Rowe yelled, “You work for us! You should answer questions! Take the heat, Greg!”

“Bring the heat!” Johnson replied.

Then when the moderator stepped back in, Johnson said, “I will not listen to nonsense.”

At that point, the moderator took the mic from Johnson and tried again to calm everyone down.

Then a few seconds later, Johnson began to speak again and said, “We’re not afraid to be challenged, but I will not stand for folks’ reputation being besmirched to say we are putting out inaccurate information.”

The exchange shows how pressure around these flailing megaprojects impacts the people who work on them. Two weeks ago we shared how another top staffer in charge of another I-5 expansion project broke down during a meeting after having to tell committee members the project he promised would bring hundreds of high-paying jobs would have to be paused due to a lack of funding.

Zef Wagner, who responded to the video on Twitter, said that despite these pressures, Johnson’s behavior as a public servant was, “truly unprofessional and unacceptable.” “As someone who has been in plenty of public meetings in a similar role, representing a government agency, I certainly hope I never disrespect a member of the public like this.”

The exchange also illustrates just one of the flashpoints around the IBR, a project that just barely received support from the Oregon Legislature this past session. One the final day of the session, lawmakers agreed to commit $1 billion in general obligation bonds ($250 million a year for four years) to the project. That commitment was crucial for competing for federal grants and it matches what Washington has already committed.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Watts
Watts
7 months ago

That activist was way out of line in his opening salvo against Johnson. It is pretty apparent that the issue was a misunderstanding about whether a tactile model is the same as a 3D model, and the activist’s language and outburst was unnecessary and inflammatory. There is clearly a history between these two that likely colored the rest of the exchange.

I am totally opposed to the IBR project as it is currently conceived, but this person does project critics no favors.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago

Unfortunately, the guy shouting and calling everyone a liar because of a trivial point of confusion completely derailed things, so we didn’t get to hear any real exchange between the two (at least not on the part of the video you flagged). I think a back-and-forth between Johnson and Ortblad would have been very interesting.

PeeWee
PeeWee
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Agreed. Your run of the mill white, antagonistic, and entitled “activist”.

Fuzzy Blue Line
Fuzzy Blue Line
7 months ago

I’m always entertained how the NIMBY perspective is portrayed in various BP stories & comments. NIMBYs like the Hayden Island residents trying to shut down a major freeway project = GOOD. NIMBYs against a neighborhood greenway project through a historic black neighborhood = BAD. Let’s at least be consistent and say local interests should have a voice in local projects but are not the ONLY voice. Like it or not I-5 is critical to the entire OR economy. That’s not advocating for the IBR project, it’s just a fact.

Fuzzy Blue Line
Fuzzy Blue Line
7 months ago

Point taken Jonathan & I don’t disagree with how you portray or write every article you post. Maybe it’s more how some readers respond to touchy subjects like the future of I-5 and OR economy. Many advocate for a complete tear down of I-5 in the interest of climate change & livability. That’s fine if you have that viewpoint but you can’t ignore how goods & services move in & around Portland including how that is linked with the entire OR economy from Ontario to Astoria to Bend to Eugene to Salem to Medford to you name it. Major Portland transportation decisions are not made in a Portland stakeholder bubble is what I’m trying to say.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago

I would much rather create a world where we don’t need such large-scale systems to move goods and services around

Think about what it would require for every city to manufacture everything it needs (or, to make it easier, half of what it needs). Avocados, iPhones, fertilizer, pipes, bicycle components, fuel, steel, blue jeans… the world you imagine can’t exist, and probably has never existed, at least not since the US was founded.

We do need a way to ship avocados from California (or, more typically, Mexico) to Oregon and deliver a bunch of Amazon shit to people. If that were all we needed, we could probably do without, but these piggyback on the system delivering the goods that every city needs and no city on earth could ever produce itself. That system isn’t “broken” — it’s what sustains all the comforts and security we take for granted, and has made us all immeasurably better off.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Think about a world where we “don’t need such large-scale systems to move goods and services around” and – bear with me – we also don’t do the cartoonishly stupid caricature you are illustrating.

We do not need to ship things as much, with the same scale of vehicles or the same volume, as we do now. How we get there, I don’t know, but don’t act like Johnathan was suggesting we grow our Avocados in Portland.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

We do not need to ship things as much, with the same scale of vehicles or the same volume, as we do now. How we get there, I don’t know, but don’t act like Johnathan was suggesting we grow our Avocados in Portland.

Clearly, no one was suggesting growing avocados here — JM was suggesting we do without. And I for one can live without avocados. But it’s harder to go without textiles, machinery, bike parts, construction equipment, nails, computers, and the rest of the stuff that arrives or moves around the city by truck.

I’m sure that you and I could agree on some specific imports we could live without (avocados, for example), but if another person wants their avocado toast, either someone will ship the needed avocados, or someone else will need to enforce an avocado ban. Or we could impose higher fees on trucks, in which case the avocados will still get shipped, but guacamole eaters will just have to pay a little more.

In short, your assertion that we don’t “need” to ship things as much as we do is unsupported. Need in this context doesn’t refer to things we’d die without, but rather things we’re willing to pay for.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

This is because your entire ideology is centered around capitalist realism and the superiority of the status quo. Whatever consumers buy right now on Amazon and whatever minor inconvenience they just can’t endure, this seems to you to be as unchangeable as the weather. Whatever people are doing today is in no way influenced by what they’re told they should want, their lack of free time and high stress, their lack of imagination, whatever. If people want to buy some disposable baubles on the internet today, we just can’t imagine a world organized just a little differently if it would prevent that.

It’s short sighted and unimaginative. Obviously the world we’re in isn’t some pinnacle of human capability, so why is it you think “people want an avocado” is a good argument for why we can’t imagine a world where we don’t have huge freight trucks running through every part of a big city? I believe there is an alternative, and just saying “but how would you maintain the status quo?” entirely misses the point.

ShadowsFolly
ShadowsFolly
7 months ago
Reply to  John

How do you plan to persuade that other 99.99% of the population who are just fine with the status quo?
We can’t even get the majority of the population to embrace bike and pedestrian infrastructure, how do you think you can persuade people not to want all the junk we buy (I’m just as guilty as the next person but getting better at buying a lot less)?

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  ShadowsFolly

We don’t actually need to persuade them. It (all this great consumer convenience stuff) will go away soon whether we vote for it, or persuade others, or not. The time during which our lives and comforts were governed by *preferences* is quickly coming to an end, *constraints* are taking over. Much less fun but no less real for being uncomfortable or unwelcome. Limits to growth, limits to goodies, to cheap fossil fuels, and to free atmosphere & rivers to dump all our toxins and CO2 into, are all rapidly appearing, are harder to deny every day.

PeeWee
PeeWee
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

You’re probably right 9watts. The “war” in Ukraine will undoubtedly escalate with the American tax payer bearing the brunt of the cost and before you know it we will have those great Soviet bread lines. Enjoy!

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

“The time during which our lives and comforts were governed by *preferences* is quickly coming to an end, *constraints* are taking over. ”

I’ve heard you make this argument before, but I’ll admit I don’t fully understand it. Where will these constraints come from? Will they be imposed by a government agency? Or is it that the price of shipping will become so prohibitive that only the most valuable goods will move around?

Serenity
Serenity
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You can’t ship what doesn’t exist to ship.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  ShadowsFolly

Yeah, it’s a really good question. It seems like it’s clearly possible. If you take the Netherlands for example and their high rate of cycling, they changed the status quo. Cycling, no matter how much we all love it, requires you to go outside even in bad weather and exercise, both things that seem like a big ask to get people out of cars here. But it’s not like the people over there are just built different. Something happened. I don’t know what. To me it seems to be some combination of a little political will and better, less corporate controlled government. Like, here people make it part of their identity to drive a big truck because that’s what we’ve been sold for decades. Many of us have so internalized it that we really do associate driving a big truck around with “freedom”.

So that’s just one thought about changing the status quo. I also think part of the issue is we are mostly all over worked. I think without feeling like we have any control over our lives, people reach out for the little things they can do, and it’s very easy to just buy a thing on a whim on Amazon. That’s the freedom we have, the freedom to click a button and have a thing show up. We don’t have the time to get into other more long term pursuits.

All this, to me, boils down to capitalism (or use your euphamism of choice for it) having complete control of our government and lives and what we see, and it’s very powerful. I think the idea that we can just convince people to “choose other things” is something definitely favored by the corporations because they know damn well it doesn’t work.

I really just don’t know though. I have reason to believe it’s possible to persuade that other 99.99% of people, but if I knew exactly how I’d probably be doing that.

Serenity
Serenity
7 months ago
Reply to  ShadowsFolly

Why would you imagine that such a high percentage of the population is fine with the status quo? I think it has been proven many times over that a very high percentage of people are not just fine with the status quo.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

“your entire ideology is centered around capitalist realism”

If people are willing to pay $2 for avocado, as they seem to be today, and a store can buy them for $1, why are they not going to have them shipped up from Mexico?

That’s not an ideological question, but it is based on the reality that people will do what they’re incentivized to do. In this case, it’s selling avocados. This behavior has been going on since before recorded history in every human society (“trade”). It is not the outgrowth of some ideology.

“we just can’t imagine a world organized just a little differently if it would prevent that.”

How would you organize things differently to prevent this?

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It absolutely is an ideological question, but you are so fully enveloped in it that you don’t see it. It’s the water you swim in. The fact that it’s based on people doing what they’re incentivized to do is exactly the point. Everything about how we have organized things leans towards incentivizing people to make silly short term decisions about buying cheap disposable things, making products unnaturally cheap for how much damage it costs to get them (shipping, water, environmental destruction, traffic, etc), and puts no value on the future (because capitalism doesn’t price the future).

How would you organize things differently to prevent this?

I’m not imagining a world where you can’t get avocados or where we somehow go back to 1700s era technology. But, organize things differently is a code for not organizing things around maximizing profit, as well as recognizing that the person selling their $1 avocado from Mexico isn’t the natural order of things, it’s the result of horrible trade deals like NAFTA.

I don’t know how we change things. Getting people to individually make better choices seems like a dead end. People will choose what’s easiest, as you said. And they seemingly are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. I think it really comes down to internalized ideology and the belief that we should be able to get whatever we want at any time at whatever cost. Like, education seems like it should be part of the picture, but what does that even mean? You can’t get people to acknowledge the damage their extremely oversized truck causes to others directly and indirectly, and that’s right in front of them.

I’m not optimistic that we can get these changes. Overthrowing capitalism seems the most promising, but I think the window for that happening has been missed because it has a stranglehold and it’s not going to let us steer away from the cliff. It won (because might makes right), and now we’re just along for the ride. As 9watts said, we might just have to wait until we’re forced. And that’s sad, but what’s frustrating is people like you (I really don’t want to pick on you, you’re not the only one) who seemingly think about this stuff, and see “the way things are” as synonymous with “the way things have to be”.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

not organizing things around maximizing profit

Good luck with that. Everyone wants to increase their material wealth; it’s pretty much been baked into everything and everyone since the dawn of agriculture.

The way to deal with externalities is to price them into the cost of the goods or services that produce them. I’m totally on board with doing that to a greater extent than we do now, and is one of the reasons I support a steep carbon tax (which I fully realize isn’t going to happen).

By the way, every time someone pays their auto insurance bill, they are faced with the cost of at least some of their potential to cause others harm with their vehicle. It’s far from comprehensive, but it’s also hard for most of us to ignore. I agree with those who say the liability limits are far too low, and it only covers the potential for direct harm, but it’s there, in our face every month.

 Overthrowing capitalism seems the most promising

And good luck with that. Capitalism is what has made our modern world possible, and is responsible for lifting billions out of poverty. It is also what allows those billions to eat every day; overthrowing that system is likely to result in some pretty unhappy people. Overthrowing capitalism would definitely require some pretty severe repression, and would inevitably fail in the end. There’s even some capitalism in North Korea, despite every attempt to suppress it.

You see “the way things are” as synonymous with “the way things have to be”.

I don’t think that’s quite accurate, but as I wrote recently elsewhere, I think the current state of things reflects a (mostly) logical evolution from a past state. Some things could for sure be different, but others, like the basis of capitalism in fundamental human behavior, probably couldn’t.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

price them into the cost of the goods or services that produce them

But that would not be maximizing profits, and who is to tell me what it costs to produce CO2? The government? Get that big government regulation out of here!

This right here should be (but I doubt is) a perfect illustration why “everyone wants to increase their material wealth” is a fiction. All the rules we make about how capitalism operates are entirely arbitrary. We say what is a legal trade, what ownership means, and according to you, can also justify charging a tax for something that is otherwise free. So really, the whole thing is actually just what we decide. Capitalism isn’t natural, it represents the choice to let greed decide all things.

And good luck with that. Capitalism is what has made our modern world possible

So what? Who cares? Its time has come to an end. In the same way, mercantilism is what made capitalism possible, and its time came to an end and was replaced. You’re just assuming we’re at the end of history.

It is also what allows those billions to eat every day

No it doesn’t. That would be labor of people. We can have all that without capitalism. Furthermore, it is capitalism that prevents other billions from eating every day.

It’s an immense amount of hubris to think that the way things are with capitalism today, a thing that is actually only a couple hundred years old (despite your assertions elsewhere), is actually just a natural part of being human and also the best we can come up with. It’s nonsense and ahistorical.

jakeco969
jakeco969
7 months ago
Reply to  John

It’s an immense amount of hubris to think that the way things are with capitalism today, a thing that is actually only a couple hundred years old

https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2017-biological-markets/

The argument showing capitalism in the animal world might need to be fleshed out more in this article, but it’s definitely there. For humanity, capitalism is pretty old, even in the PNW. Our ancestors have been trading for a long time using various forms or money and barter.

No it doesn’t. That would be labor of people. We can have all that without capitalism.

Why would the people labor without getting anything in return for their labors? Why would people continue to labor without hope of improving their lot in life?
Honestly curious what you think.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Trading isn’t capitalism and wouldn’t go away without capitalism. Pretty simply defined, and missing a lot of nuance, capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.
Why would people labor? Why have they labored since the beginning of the species? Why have animals labored since the beginning of animals? If what you mean is a 40 hour work week at a job for a boss at a capitalist enterprise, we can get along just fine without that. People worked before there was capitalism.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

But that would not be maximizing profits, and who is to tell me what it costs to produce CO2? The government? Get that big government regulation out of here!

We already have lots of regulation, and I believe there’s plenty of room (and need) for more. “Capitalism” doesn’t mean no rules or no taxes; it doesn’t mean the absence of government service (e.g. post office, fire service, etc.). Maybe we just have a definition issue here, but there is no conflict between capitalism and regulation, as Europe demonstrates.

That would be labor of people.

Unless I live on a farm (and maybe not even then), I can’t eat my labor; I need some mechanism for trading it with those who do farm. That’s what capitalism provides. Perhaps you can walk me through the steps by which a city dweller gets dinner that don’t involve capitalism.

Again, your final paragraph suggests we have a definitional issue. I’ll use the definition here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism. Capital accumulation, competitive markets, price systems, private property, voluntary exchange, and wage labor are all described in the Bible, though Wikipedia dates the origin of “modern capitalism” (which I take to mean the advent of corporations and more formalized systems) to the Renaissance.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

To a definition problem, yes and no. Yes, you’re taking capitalism to mean people trade things. It’s about more than that, it requires private ownership of means of production which is really the worst part.

There are already historical examples of how people can live outside of capitalism that doesn’t require everyone farming their own food. There has been communism. There still is some even, despite the best efforts of the US to crush it. Before anyone brings up how bad things may have been in that system, remember the cold war was called a war for a reason, so basically it’s nearly impossible to get anything meaningful out of the success or failure of that without the caveat that it was basically wartime communism.

Anyway, this is too big a topic for these comments. I’m not going to convince you anymore than I would convince a devoutly religious person that their god isn’t real or a Republican that Donald Trump is actually a bad guy. The belief in the inherent goodness of capitalism is deeply indoctrinated into Americans, and I don’t think I’ll be able to move the needle on that here.

jakeco969
jakeco969
7 months ago
Reply to  John

This is a wonderful discussion and I appreciate the limitations we are all operating under with this medium. I accidentally ended up teaching ESL at a university in Changsha, China at a tender age in 1990. I experienced not having enough food (along with everyone else), was unable to purchase rice as I was not a communist member and experienced firsthand the black market capitalism that flourished which was really the only way to keep food moving amongst the population.
As far as private ownership of Capitol, I always thought that it went back through feudal times to Roman times etc, etc as some one will always have a recognized claim to a means of production that they will then “sell” in some fashion to others while others work for the individuals who have the production. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s all a shame we can’t all be Mountain (insert gender of choice ).

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Yeah, it’s hard and I get frustrated because I’m also not a scholar so I can’t really cite sources on all the things, nor do I have the time to go find them again. Bleh. Glad I didn’t say anything too harsh to you.

With the China example, I don’t know the specifics of your case, but they have lifted more people out of poverty than the entire population of the US in a shorter time than the US has existed, so it’s hard for me to focus on any particular problem they’re having at the same time and let it overshadow that achievement.

As for ownership of capital, a feudal lord owning land and requiring serfs to work it is a different type of organization than capitalism. The king or duke or whoever owns the land and they just let other people work it.

To me, it’s the lack of our individual ability to opt out of whatever economic system we’re in that makes it so important. It used to be the case that you couldn’t be coerced to work because you could always go be Mountain (gender of choice) or more likely, just go farm and hunt a plot of land. Once all the land was spoken for (enclosure in England for example), any “freedom” we have under capitalism is gone. You don’t have any choice, and because someone before you gobbled up all the land, you don’t even have any capital (land) to support yourself. You’re coerced into working for someone else who already has land (mostly from stealing it from someone else). The way I see it, and many others who see this setup as fundamentally unjustifiable, all these commons (land, basically) should be almost entirely democratically controlled, not controlled by corporations who ultimately have their legitimacy rooted in stealing land. They have no more inherent right to it than a Duke has over a feudal plot worked by serfs.

But I’m just ranting, and this is seems really far away from discussions about Portland’s infrastructure and land use. Other than, we’re here talking about begging these corporations (or their interest groups) to not drive bigger trucks faster on land with no good bike infrastructure. By rights, we shouldn’t be asking them pretty please because it isn’t really their land to decide what to do with, we (the big we, the government / demos) should be telling them what they will do and working out the details. Thinking of alternative ways to organize our infrastructure and logistics to get people what they need.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

“they have lifted more people out of poverty than the entire population of the US in a shorter time than the US has existed”

They did it a lot more quickly than that, and it was a great achievement. However what they did was effectively transform their economy into a capitalist one with a totalitarian communist veneer. Very little about China’s economic success can be attributed to communism (except possibly their one child policy which was horribly repressive).

And we mustn’t forget the past and ongoing genocides and systems of mass repression occurring alongside that growth. (Yes, we have our own history with genocide, but that doesn’t make it okay.)

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Leap_Forward

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uyghur_genocide

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_China

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I’m sorry man, it is impossible to talk about this with you. Calling the one child policy communist is baffling. That’s ridiculous. Saying they’re capitalist now is also ridiculous and illustrates another massive misconception.

In actual reality, communism has never happened. There have only been socialist governments with the goal of reaching communism. People who have learned even a little bit about Marx for example would recognize that capitalism is a step on the way towards socialism, and it has to reach a level of development necessary before it can be left behind. I think in China they have simply realized they need to do more of that first, but we’ll see (so long as the genocidal belligerence of the US doesn’t spark world war 3 with our constant warmongering).

(Yes, we have our own history with genocide, but that doesn’t make it okay.)

To put this sequence of words together just in a little parenthetical and not see the problem is just mind boggling. We don’t just have a history of genocide, it’s very very recent and ongoing to this day. The Korean and Vietnam wars put anything China has ever done to shame, they were just blatant attempts at extermination. Then there is what we’ve done in the middle east. It’s disgusting. We’re also one of if not the biggest contributor historically to global warming, a thing actually causing displacement and death today and increasingly as time goes on and we pretend these things are just other countries struggling to get a good grip on their boot straps.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  John

Hi John and Watts! Good discussion! I’m going to ask you to to call it a day, when an exchange becomes this long it has a dwindling number of people who read it.

I’m sure you will both live to meet again on another thread.

John
John
7 months ago

Agreed. The comments here generally don’t work well for a long back and forth, among other things because you lose the ability to read who replied to what 🙂

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

“it requires private ownership of means of production”

I suppose that is one aspect of private property, but capitalism does not require invoking “the means of production”. You could have a capitalist system where the government owned all the land, and leased it to farmers who were free to do with it as they wished. However, free trade is a core part of capitalism, though there may be types of trade that are not capitalistic, such as when force is involved (which might be more akin to theft or confiscation).

“There still is some Communism”

North Korea is pretty much the last man standing. I’ll leave it to you to decide if they illuminate the way forward, but before you do, I would encourage you to read some about life there.

We agree that you probably will not be able to convince me that communism is a viable alternative to… well, to anything. Claims that “communism never got a fair shake because of the nasty capitalists” just aren’t historically accurate.

Capitalism succeeds because it’s basically the economic embodiment of human psychology. It’s possible to acknowledge its financial success while still being critical of our economic policies, our corporate legal framework, our social safety net, and our treatment of the environment.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago

I think you and I have very different opinions about us being, “all immeasurably better off.”

Maybe we can discuss that over a meal of readily available cheap and nutritious food, enjoying the fact that both of us have (I hope) had all our children survive childhood while we lead lives of previously unimaginable luxury, and the fact that we can look forward to a longer and healthier life than previous generations. And perhaps we can drink a toast to the fact that billions of people worldwide are better off than they’ve ever been before on any number of metrics.

There’s still lots and lots of room for improvement, but when you look at the larger arc, what’s not to be optimistic about? Sure, climate change, ocean plastics, and other huge problems loom, but the fact that we recognize these threats and are starting the hard of addressing them gives me hope and confidence that we will.

I get that doom and pessimism are the moods of the moment, but I see plenty of reasons for optimism.

jakeco969
jakeco969
7 months ago

This discussion is hard online because it’s not a binary and it’s very hard to judge someone’s opinion and perspective based on a limited amount of typed words. Thanks,

I agree, there are a lot of layers in these discussions and I personally find myself agreeing with small parts of ideas I might disagree with in whole. As an aside, it’s nice to see you writing more in the comments these last few articles. You’ve been focused on many of these issues for a long time and it’s nice to see you flesh out your responses to some of the other ideas presented.

jakeco969
jakeco969
7 months ago

“I also think I have a lot of ideas and perspectives to share that could help the community and I’m not sure what to do with it “
Hmmmm, maybe run for city council?

Watts
Watts
7 months ago

now we shouldn’t really make systemic changes or things wouldn’t be as nice.

I’m not making that argument; not even close. We’re on the cusp of some of the most radical transitions in human history. I am, however, arguing for a dose of realism to go with the fun of imagining a complete reordering of our affairs.

How would you effect the shrinking of lives and better local systems? What actual mechanism would you propose?

Watts
Watts
7 months ago

“Start with making driving a lot more expensive”. Ok, a gas tax, carbon tax, or vmt tax. I would definitely support the first two, maybe the third as well if it were tied to some uncaptured externality of driving. I do think we are moving towards a system where the lines are increasingly blurred between bicycles and motorcycles and cars. I am already seeing them more as points on a continuum than distinct categories of vehicles. I believe this will become more apparent in the future, and viewing things this way may change your perspective on how you think about transportation.

I find it interesting that so many committed bicyclists are electing to move towards the more powered to end of the spectrum, and think it reflects an underlying truth about the viability of human powered transportation.

While I am not in favor of destroying existing neighborhoods, I totally support better integration of commercial services into residential areas to create more walkable neighborhoods. There are, unfortunately, limitations on how far this can go, and I am not sure how to make it commercially viable to have, for example, a small grocery store in every neighborhood. My most creative thought on this front is that communities could create small cooperative grocery stores, but even these have to be profitable enough to be self-sustaining. And it is a lot of work and requires a real commitment from the community. Witness the long and torturous the process of getting a co-op going in Montavilla.

I would also add that Target, for example, has been setting up big box stores in urban areas. There is one downtown and one on Powell that show that the big box retail model can be translated to a more urban setting. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but it is a data point.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

…how to make it commercially viable… have to be profitable enough…

It just infects every part of the thought process! WHY does it have to be “commercially viable”? If it’s a thing that would make the community better (having a small cooperatively run grocery store in your neighborhood, e.g.), what is it that this commercial viability is bringing to the table? How profitable is a city park? How profitable is a fire station? Profit is parasitic here.

Leaving aside taking down capitalism wholesale, why is it so hard to imagine a cooperatively run grocery store, the land granted by the city like a park, the building costs shared, etc. Everyone in the neighborhood wants it, everyone would use it, it would be one step closer to an actual utopia, yet we let this profitability parasite get in the way. The root of the problem in this case is just the cost of the land because we’ve decided to let developers and speculators hoard land to jack up the price unreasonably and unnaturally high.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

Even if everybody wants it and everybody uses it, if an organization spends more than it takes in, I hope you see that there is a fundamental problem. At a minimum, dollars in has to equal dollars out, and even non-profits need a little bit of headroom in case something goes wrong.

As a side note, I love cooperative businesses, and I wish we had more of them. But it takes real work to keep them going.

Serenity
Serenity
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I’m not making that argument; not even close.


It sure sounds like you are. Your brand of realism seems to fairly inflexible, and unimaginative.

Serenity
Serenity
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I have nothing to say you are missing the point. No one is suggesting that every city produce or manufacture everything it needs. The point is that the solutions don’t have to be such large-scale systems.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

We have large-scale systems because they are efficient. Why would it’d be better to be less efficient?

Serenity
Serenity
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Things can be efficient without being massive.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Serenity

Of course. Energy production is one example.

Are there any specific systems in mind that would be more efficient to do regionally but we do nationally or globally instead?

Serenity
Serenity
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You act like it is an either/or proposition. Plenty more could be done locally or nationally, without being global. In many cases, it would be cleaner, and more efficient to do things locally. You also don’t have to get rid of the global entirely to scale it back.
Plenty of your “efficient” large scale, global systems are very inefficient. Take shipping for example: Many more things could be shipped locally instead of globally. Plenty of things are shipped to two or three countries before they get to you, and really don’t need to be. It would be easier and quicker to keep more things local. People would buy more local products if they were more readily available.

Nick
Nick
7 months ago

It is consistent if you realize that the goal is better livability and reduced motor vehicle dependance for everyone.

I-5’s existence and current importance is not some immutable fact of life, we (society) built it, and we also have the ability to examine past decisions and make new decisions, that could lead to more sustainable ways to move people and materials around.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Nick

we also have the ability to examine past decisions and make new decisions, that could lead to more sustainable ways to move people and materials around.

This is absolutely right. Maybe that’s the conversation we should be having — how else could we move stuff around, and what would it take to adopt it? And who would pay for it?

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Paying for it isn’t actually so much of a hurdle. Realizing that ever more crap doesn’t make us happy, that living with, eating, warming or cooling ourselves, with what is closer at hand can be more meaningful, and on that level doesn’t cost anything, is free. But there are other levels (relearning how to maintain our infrastructure with horses and shovels rather than ancient sunlight) that is more burdensome, slow, and will cost something.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

We can’t support 8 billion people with horses and shovels. We have crossed the Rubicon on that one, and there is no going back. We live in a mechanized world, and that’s going to continue.

Where we may agree is that breaking our dependence on fossil fuels is urgent and essential. But that will only work if there’s a promise of a better world on the other side.

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

But that will only work if there’s a promise of a better world on the other side.”
You are very committed to the *preferences* framing. I understand the temptation, but just look at COVID. No one chose that; it was a bunch of annoying, scary *constraints* that upended a lot of things (for many of us at least). I believe that climate change and a lot of other looming threats will manifest similarly. Sometimes even capitalism and lots of money can’t buy whatever you prefer right then. Because *constraints.*

The fact that we have 8 billion people already does make no more fossil fuels look daunting (just from the perspective of agriculture). But if the (chief) options are (a) billions starve because we shift away from fossil fuels, or (b) billions cook on an uninhabitable planet fried by rapid burning of ancient sunlight, how would you choose?

I know, you will say, (c) technology will carry the day, and capitalism will figure out the allocation part.
I think, unfortunately, we are both still young enough that we will live to see which it turns out to be. I will always vote with Dana Meadows.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

Yeah, I’ll go with (c).

By the time hard constraints imposed by climate change arrive, it will be far far far too late to change the outcome. If we want to act preemptively, which we must, then we’re left with preferences or totalitarianism. Given the choice, I know which I would pick.

Damien
Damien
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

If we want to act preemptively, which we must, then we’re left with preferences or totalitarianism. Given the choice, I know which I would pick.

Or – and I think this is my biggest beef with your stalwart defenses of the status quo (from language to lobbying power to transportation preferences to how social power is allocated – I’m challenged to think of any arena you’ve challenged current state, at least here at BikePortland, not to paint any broader than the canvas visible to me): Work to change preferences.

(c) is fantasy, full stop. Copium that we’ll be saved from our own unsustainable consumption so that we can keep it going. It may buy time in the short term, but eventually it will run into the cold, hard constraint of physics.

Our society has a preference problem, not a technology one. Defending that does us no favors.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Damien

“Or work to change the preferences”

I 100% believe this is the way forward and is possible.

We’ll just have to wait and see about option c; there are a lot of really smart and dedicated people working to make that come true, and it’s hard to deny that we are on the cusp of many radical technological breakthroughs that could lead to a major reordering of many aspects of life.

Damien
Damien
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I 100% believe this is the way forward and is possible.

Then here’s my sincere request of you: Put your energy toward this goal, instead of opposing it. Again, I don’t know what you do elsewhere, but the character Watts as played on BikePortland is the most consistent conservative (small c, not to be confused with a misnamed political movement) pushing back against change. Someone called you a contrarian in a thread a while back, but really BikePortland is contrarian, and so a status quo defender feels contrarian only in context. But here’s the thing: The status quo doesn’t need a defender. We’re all aware of it. There comes a point where its dogged interjection at every step is no longer “telling it like it is”, but “defending/advocating for like it is”. If what you just told me is genuine, step back from the latter.

We’ll just have to wait and see about option c; there are a lot of really smart and dedicated people working to make that come true, and it’s hard to deny that we are on the cusp of many radical technological breakthroughs that could lead to a major reordering of many aspects of life.

This is no doubt true, but beside the point: Until we (as a country, society, species, etc) can choose to consume less than the maximum, we’re hosed. Short of defying the laws of physics as currently understood, no technological breakthrough no matter how radical will change that calculus – that’ll just change where the maximum is, and then we’ll increase consumption to match it. Just like adding one more lane to “solve” congestion.

ShadowsFolly
ShadowsFolly
7 months ago
Reply to  Damien

Until we (as a country, society, species, etc) can choose to consume less than the maximum, we’re hosed. 

It’s great to keep saying it over and over, but really, how do we achieve that?
I admit it, I’ve bought lots of crap over the years and looking back I wish I hadn’t. I’m much better at not buying junk now, but sometimes I still do buy something I probably don’t really need but it’s “cool”.
I live with people who do not, and will not, stop spending on junk they really don’t need. I don’t control them, I’ve had conversations with them, but they refuse.
So what do I do to get them to stop?

That’s just people in my sphere so then how do you get the general population to stop? Run for office on a “close the factories of junk” platform?

Anyway, I have no solutions. I’ve spent my life trying to do well for the environment. I know I haven’t always been successful but I’ve made the attempt.
Quite frankly I’m old and tired of trying. Sometimes I want to take a 5 minute shower instead of a 2 minute one just because I might enjoy a longer shower.
I want to buy that bottle of water just because I forgot my re-usable one and not feel guilty about it.
Used to be I had the simple hopes of curb side recycling would have gotten better so we could at least recycle more as a collective group but that’s been a failure.

Anyway, I have hopes that you’ll be successful. And I also am a contrarian and hope that there will be strides with various technologies that will help. And I think that’s where it will end up going is there will be solutions provided via all sorts of avenues. Your way, Watts way, the politician, the scientist, will likely all make contributions to the better good. Will it be in time, don’t know. I’ll likely be long gone by then.

Damien
Damien
7 months ago
Reply to  ShadowsFolly

It’s great to keep saying it over and over, but really, how do we achieve that?

Oh, I don’t claim to know how to get there, only that status quo defenders are actively holding us back.

But to be clear, your issue and the issue I have with Watts’ positions are different: What you describe is preferring to do better, but being constrained by the system we live in. Like someone who wants to give up their car but literally cannot get to work any other way. We’d already be in a vastly better place if more people made as much effort as you do. My beef with Watts’ positions is preferring the unsustainable consumption, e.g., preferring the car even if there are “better” or even “good” ways to get to work (I am not charging Watts with acting or believing this way personally, but defending it as consistently as they do under the umbrella of this “immutable” public opinion makes the distinction pragmatically meaningless). Watts is absolutely not wrong about where the center of public opinion is – they are wrong that a technological solution will save us from it.

Anyway, I have hopes that you’ll be successful.

I’m fully convinced I/we won’t be. Enough to have 0 children and 1 medical sterilization surgery. But to borrow Chris Hedges’ line “I don’t fight fascists because I think I’ll win, I fight fascists because they’re fascists” – the end result doesn’t stop me from trying all the same. I don’t turn to nihilism, but harm reduction. Or to get more specific, suffering reduction.

In any event, I appreciate the input and chance to clarify the personal from the systemic – but I also want to be cognizant of not simply starting another winding thread after a previous one on this same article was called out, so I’ll mute myself here.

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Damien

Watts’ theory of change denies people agency, refuses to allow that all progressive change has always come from the bottom, from exactly those places he refuses to look. It is a Panglossian worldview that enshrines/hopes for/celebrates technical progress while refusing to allow the possibility of social or political progress.

Being dazzled by goodies, goodies that aren’t good for us or the planet, is part of our condition, our curse, but it is not all there is to know about us either. We are able to evaluate our preferences after all, recognize that plastics and pavement and popsicles and porn are not what we need right now, that to have any chance of avoiding the inferno we can indeed must choose more wisely. And conversations like we sometimes have here is one way to understand this better.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

Ok, so what do you propose on a practical level to usher in this new way of being? Bonus points of it has even a 10% chance of getting done without invoking totalitarianism.

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I have made these suggestions repeatedly here over the years:

Opinion makers recognize the urgent need to communicate forthrightly about the climate/fossil fuel/ecological footprint predicament we find ourselves in. No more happy talk, make-believe, smoke and mirrors. Use the bully pulpit not to berate people but to explain the pedagogic centrality of constraints to our future.

Inferences from this predicament for how we live, eat, get around, reproduce must be grappled with. The patterns, behaviors, lives of those who are already living in alignment with where we know we eventually need to be (say 90% below current average) shall be highlighted, recognized as valuable, used as inspiration.

We tried versions of this before: Portland’s 2007 Peak Oil Task Force report, Portland’ 2030 Climate Emergency Workplan, the Oregon Global Warming Commission. All had useful elements, but were allowed to fade from view, starved of resources. We need to bring those efforts out from the shadows and give them lots of milk to drink. So they can grow up and be big and strong.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

“urgent need to communicate forthrightly about the climate/fossil fuel/ecological footprint predicament we find ourselves in”

That would be great.

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Preferences, which you habitually defer to, are not, after all, handed down on Stone Tablets. They arise in ways we can understand, play with, problematize. We can try to massage our policies to intersect with Middle Class preferences (Energy Efficiency policy has by and large conformed to this) and I don’t think this is a promising strategy.
Or we can recognize that importing consumer preferences into policy is exactly backwards. And that policy organized around constraints while less fun could and should be pursued, experimented with.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

I don’t really understand what you’re talking about here, but I take it to mean you want sterner policies. I think COVID holds some lessons for how we respond to acute threats; we seem to be able to take strong measures for short periods, but our resolve can quickly fail. Climate change is not an acute threat, which makes mounting a response of the type I think you are imagining more challenging.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You keep characterizing it as “totalitarianism” but there is a better word for it. It’s just planning. That’s it. That’s what every kind of regulation and artificial constraint is. Speed limit? Totalitarianism. Drinking age restriction? Totalitarian. Our consumption needs to be regulated because we simply won’t do it ourselves. I absolutely would prefer that because the alternative is that nature does it for us. The constraints are there, the only choice is if we let cold, hard, unfair laws of physics do it for us or we plan ahead. It’s like if you were trying to get through a hard winter with limited food and someone was like “Rationing? That’s totalitarianism, I’ll eat as much as I want, it’s my god given right!”.

What it takes is better politics. Less of our “two party” system that agrees on all way too many important things. How we get that, I don’t know, but we do need people to know that it’s a problem. But that might rock the status quo boat, so lets just let Elon Musk fix things for us I guess.

Damien
Damien
7 months ago
Reply to  John

What it takes is better politics. Less of our “two party” system that agrees on all way too many important things. How we get that…

Breaking my self-imposed muting because this particular point has a local and concrete action one can take to go in that direction: Find a way to sign this petition: https://www.starvoting.org/star4or2024 (and then obviously vote for it in 2024 if the petition is successful)

Also write the CoP council and tell them their shenanigans around charter reform need to stop.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Damien

“Write the CoP council and tell them their shenanigans around charter reform need to stop.”

Surely you don’t think that charter reform was the perfect package — maybe there are ways to improve it (my vote would be for increasing the number of districts from 4 to 5 so that the westside could be its own thing — as it stands, some eastside community is likely to be disenfranchised).

In any case, you will get a vote on any changes they propose.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

but there is a better word for it. It’s just planning

Sure, so long as any limitations are enacted democratically and could be reversed democratically, and don’t infringe on our basic constitutional and human rights, then that’s not totalitarianism.

The point I was making is that I don’t think the world could revert to “horses and shovels” via democratic means.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Yes, a point I agree on is “horses and shovels” is not a solution. Modern farming and mechanization are basically a necessity to avoid an actual apocalypse.

don’t infringe on our basic constitutional and human rights

When you have a supreme court that will go as far as to take up a case where someone makes up a guy to get mad at so they can change the law, I don’t know what this even means anymore. The court is corrupt and they’re the last word on what is “constitutional”, and you can always find some huge sample of people who will call anything unconstitutional. Nobody knows what it means.

On doing things “democratically”, we had the new deal at one point which was done by a whole lot of measures that weren’t exactly voted on. It was just actions taken by a leader who wasn’t entirely bought and had an ounce of courage to just do things. We don’t have those leaders at the moment, but if we did, I wonder how many people would whine about it being unconstitutional and infringing on personal freedoms.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

“The court is corrupt…”

Delegitimizing government institutions you disagree with sounds like somebody else I know. Don’t be like that guy.

When I referenced staying within the Constitution, I was thinking more of things like locking up people who spoke against the good of the order. While I am definitely pro-democracy, I am also aware of the dangers of majoritarian rule to the rights of minorities. It’s why institutions like the courts and the law are so important, and why I disagree with simplistic notions of “majority rules” and “elections have consequences”, as preached by both the left and the right.

The New Deal was enacted legally by a leader acting boldly. The Inflation Reduction Act, misnamed as it is, is a pretty big deal, also enacted legally. I welcome bold leadership that adheres to the law.

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

Yes I agree “horses and shovels” is not a solution…”

Agree all you want.
I’m not saying folks will prefer, will voluntarily, enthusiastically switch from paving equipment with 1000 hp and dump trucks and track hoes to horses and shovels. I am saying we will rediscover that the work—a modest version of it—can once again be accomplished with horses and shovels as Hwy 30 was, for instance, built in the Gorge a century+ ago, once we come to grips with the fact that the oil and heavy machinery that runs on it is too costly, to risky to keep using.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

It’s true we rely on some superfluous automation. And some construction type of work is possible by hand. And in a sustainable future, we might do more of that, the same way we should be pedaling to get around.

But heavy machinery for instance is actually a good use case for electric in my opinion. It’s never going to be necessary to replace heavy earth moving equipment with human power. Even if we didn’t have access to fossil fuels it would still make more sense to produce renewable fuels with electricity (where batteries or cords aren’t feasible).

I think fixating on big heavy machinery is a distraction. For how big and dirty it might look, it’s not really a big part of the problem and there is still absolutely a need for it, and it’s feasible to power without fossil fuels.

Farming on the other hand, you are out of your mind if you think that will be done by human labor. Go somewhere they grow a lot of wheat, with fields literally as far as you can see. Manual farming is not a thing the human species can go back to. That’s fantasy. That is, unless we let literally billions of people die, which you can believe we need if you want but I don’t. Certainly, more possibilities open up with a smaller population, but it’s not necessary. And we wouldn’t go back to farming either, we would go back to feudalism.

We’ll see though. Any future that doesn’t let billions of people die will require actually planning for the future, unlike what capitalism does. It will mean active management of consumption, unlike the nonsense Darwinian behavior of “fReE mArKeTs”. For that we’ll need someone to have the political will to tell people what they need to do and make it happen so that in retrospect the next status quo warriors can pretend it was actually what people already wanted. And it will have to involve the working class exercising the power they have over corporations instead of the other way around. And that’s the tricky part.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

“Planned agriculture” has a long history of failure followed by mass starvation. Capitalism has managed to give the world far more food security than it has ever had.

Your objections are ideological, not practical.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You’re making connections where they don’t exist. The sun also made progress around the milky way galaxy during the age of capitalism, that doesn’t mean it’s thanks to capitalism.

Again, the most successful IMPROVEMENT in quality of life (and with it, less starvation) has been under Communist China. The US has been a capitalist mecha for it’s entire existence, yet went through massive depressions and periods of poverty, a dust bowl, starvation, opioid epidemics, the list goes on. And the thing that pulled us out of depression that would have spelled the end of this country was a president making (limited but real) moves away from capitalism and we’ve been riding that ever since. That progress has been eroded to nothing and it’s why things are falling apart in this country and anything more ambitious than paint on a road seems unattainable.

It’s odd you calling me ideological. I’m just pointing out history and making the simple, self evident observations about how unsustainable our current economic system is. I’m not the one believing in the magic of fake innovation to solve all our problems. That is a religion.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

For all the economic chaos in our history, we have never undergone anything remotely like the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward. We’ve never had policies like the one child policy (which I concede was entirely necessary, but so incredibly repressive).

We are drifting pretty far afield here so I’ll close by suggesting you read more about China’s post World War II history. It looks like the “Chinese miracle” may be coming to an end, but how they got from where they were to where they are is both fascinating and harrowing. Contemporary works about people who escaped North Korea may also shed some light on what life in a true communist paradise is like.

I am so so thankful that I was born here and not there.

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

Manual farming is not a thing the human species can go back to. That’s fantasy. That is, unless we let literally billions of people die…”

John, you and I have taken some whacks at this before. Your framing extrapolates our past dominance, our position-in-the-world as lords who get everyone else and the minerals and fossil fuels and atmosphere and fresh waters to do our bidding into the future. The epoch during which gave rise to your we-are-almighty language of ‘let billions of people die, (or not die)’ is being eclipsed by a very different world in which we (USers, Humans) are no longer in charge, are no longer in a position to make those unilateral calls. COVID is just a recent example of this, but there are many others I think we both recognize and understand and don’t need to enumerate here. My shorthand for all of that is constraints. You and I probably agree that we have gotten used to and in some sense enjoy relying heavily on fossil fuels to do all that work for us. But that dependence, that convenience, that habituation says nothing whatsoever about how plausible or feasible or realistic it is to just keep that all going indefinitely, because, well, otherwise billions die.

And, for that matter, attempting to keep it going at all costs will almost certainly guarantee that billions will die.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Damien

“preferring the unsustainable consumption”

Here’s the thing though. I absolutely don’t prefer unsustainable consumption. I don’t live my life this way, and no one else in my life lives this way. I absolutely wish people would drive less, but all the solutions proferred to get there won’t work. “Build a separated bike network”, “more buses”, and so on all seem to deny the reality that people strongly prefer driving to riding their bikes or taking a bus for many reasons which we could both name. Those reasons are real and need to be acknowledged. “Less shipping” is meaningless without attaching a mechanism.

I support several mechanisms for making driving more expensive (especially a carbon tax that would capture the climate externalities from a whole range of activities, including mindless consumption, but also it’s far inferior cousins the gas tax and congestion pricing), and have said so repeatedly on this forum and, more importantly, to my elected officials, but I believe none of them are politically feasible (witness Kotek’s retreat from even a modest tolling proposal, and the city council’s retreat from a tiny gas tax increment, and the state and federal government’s reluctance to raise the gas tax there). That’s not me being contrarian, that’s reality. That’s what we have to deal with.

The question I wish people would address is how do we create change in a way that is actually possible and would actually have the intended effect.

I see “option c” as the only path forward, short of totalitarianism or catastrophic disaster. It helps that I see the prospect of new technology as not only possible, but inevitable. For those who do not share this view, “option c” probably looks unrealistic, and I don’t know where that leaves you.

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Two words: road diet. Induced demand works both ways. Remove lanes of travel and people will naturally adjust accordingly. That should be a preference-friendly step.

The problem is seeing the way things are now as somehow privileged. If people want to drive more than we are forced to build more lanes. But that was a “totalitarian” choice to just add more lanes, and it seems completely reasonable to go the other way too.

I’m just thinking of the other story on the BP front page about the person hit at the bus stop on Cesar Chavez. That road has no business existing in its current form. It is a disgrace and should be cut down to two lanes, and we should be doing that all over the city.

I know I keep saying “we should” and “this or that should happen” and in practice that means action by the city or some bureau, and I just don’t know how to make them do things. Vote them out, yes, but that’s a pipe dream. Probably direct action is what is needed, that’s what moves the needle, but I’m no organizer.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

Road diets are fine with me, though travel demand will not simply evaporate — people will still live and work where they do; most people aren’t out driving for fun during rush hour.

I think 4 and 5 lane arterials are very dangerous, but then I’ve built much of my life around not driving so the cost to me of most road diets is low. I may be the only one on this forum who has actually written to PBOT asking them to reduce the number of lanes on 39th for exactly the reasons you stated.

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Damien

Thank you, Damien.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
7 months ago
Reply to  9watts

But if the (chief) options are (a) billions starve because we shift away from fossil fuels, or (b) billions cook on an uninhabitable planet fried by rapid burning of ancient sunlight, how would you choose?

Just as it is today, the starvation would be an intentional choice. Creating enough food to feed tens of billions* could be done on the ecological footprint of the state of Rhode Island.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/08/lab-grown-food-destroy-farming-save-planet

https://www.solein.com/what-is-solein

Fermentation of autotrophic hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria requires only electrolyzed water, CO2, and common minerals (not necessarily in pure form and present in seawater). We would need some carbohydrates and lipids but these could be be generated via bioengineering of Xanthobacter (or via bioengeneering of yeast fermented with Solein byproducts).

* Given current trends, it’s likely global population will start to decline sometime around 2050.

John
John
7 months ago

It’s almost like the content of NIMBY arguments matters, not whatever their other leanings are. Good things are good, bad things are bad, whether it’s NIMBYs saying it or not.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John

The content of NIMBY arguments matters — good things are good, bad things are bad

Agreed. I wish folks around here would worry less about how to label each other, and focus more on the content of their arguments.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Market urbanism (YIMBYism) has become a cult-like subculture where motivated thinking, confirmation bias, and viscious “othering” of the nonbelievers are normative behaviors.

SD
SD
7 months ago

Be careful not to confuse NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) with NIABYs (Not In Anyone’s Back Yard)

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
7 months ago
Reply to  SD

Don’t build anything that is near anything that is near anything else (BANANA).

PTB
PTB
7 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
7 months ago
Reply to  SD

Oh great, another acronym.

Charley
Charley
7 months ago

The government’s community-feedback systems that allow for NIMBY behavior have various origins, ranging from a desire to prevent apartment building (to keep out immigrants and Black people), to stopping the building of waste treatment and other noxious industries in minority neighborhoods.

So those systems have had a variety of impacts, from good to bad, depending on one’s perspective.

Much YIMBY discourse these days comes from the left or center-left, so it focuses on the use of “process” to slow down or prevent environmentally and socially beneficial development. It’s impossible to rely on a philosophy of either strict pro-process or strict anti-process beliefs, because the effects can be so different!

I’m happy to stand up and say that I support a process slowing or preventing a mega-highway project, while also supporting property rights regarding the building of green infrastructure (housing, bike lanes, renewable energy, etc.).

It’s not at all hypocritical because the incentive structure that determines development is not blind: we can make it easier to build pro-social projects and harder to build anti-social projects. The incentive structure merely reflects the values. Right now, those structures are weighted against good projects.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Charley

That environmental process you describe was developed at the behest of environmental organizations, and is the primary tool they use to slow down and discourage development of new fossil fuel infrastructure, mines, and road construction. But because the process is “content neutral” it can also be used to slow so-called “pro-social projects”.

If you want to learn more about how this actually works, and the difficulties changing it, you can listen to this recent episode of The Ezra Klein Show:

https://pca.st/episode/03bc84cc-d6a0-4cb2-a1f2-665d43eba676

Roberta
Roberta
7 months ago

Is there a report, study or document that the IBT team can point to which verifies a submersible tunnel is not feasible and WHY?

Just listening to Johnson say … “ThAt’S WhAt tHe ExPerTs SayzssSs” is a lot different then having a signed and engineered stamped report saying it’s not feasible.

If we don’t have that then, yeah I’d like to continue the conversation on the submersible tunnel. Especially if a local engineer with 40 yrs experience is saying it’s feasible. How cool would a viewing window be, if we could see the fish and the whales go by?

Will
Will
7 months ago
Reply to  Roberta

That signed and stamped report does exist. Notably it came from the same engineering firm that Johnson used to work for. Technically it’s probably sound, but its assessment of the lack of suitability of the tunnel relies on an insistence that there be an interchange on Hayden Island, and seems to believe that the Coast Guard won’t change the location of the navigation channels if a tunnel is built.

Fred
Fred
7 months ago
Reply to  Will

Why can’t there be an I-5 tunnel and ALSO a local bridge from Portland to Hayden Island? I hate the insistence that there be one – and ONLY one – mega-project solution for all of the various needs in this area.

EJ transportation
EJ transportation
7 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Using the current bridge from Portland to Hayden Island (and building rail and road tunnels to Washington seems like the most obvious solution to me (providing that the FAA and Coast Guard won’t allow for a fixed span bridge, and that we’re able to keep tunneling costs under control)

Will
Will
7 months ago
Reply to  Fred

There certainly could be, and that would be my preference. The current IBR plan will have a local bridge to Hayden Island from the Oregon side and an interchange on the Island. But the interchange will only be for traffic from the Washington side. Apparently it was considered to much of an inconvenience for Washington shoppers to have to take a local bridge to go to Best Buy…

Chris
Chris
7 months ago
Reply to  Will

Those Washington Drivers should be going to the BestBuy in Olympia or the Ikea in Seattle instead of trying to dodge the sales taxes.

Chris
Chris
7 months ago
Reply to  Will

The location of the navigation channel can’t be moved until after the tunnel is completed and the existing bridges are removed. I haven’t seen enough of Mr. Ortlab’s documentation to see if that is taken into account.
Unfortunately, all planning/construction of the Immersed tunnel would have to be done based on the existing navigation channel.

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
7 months ago

As long as they keep arguing, the bridge won’t be built and costs will rise beyond anything that makes sense. If the British and French can build a tunnel under the Channel, we should be able to build one under the river. Let’s go!

Roberta
Roberta
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

That’s an interesting comparison. English and the French built a tunnel together across 31 km of ocean channels. Sounds like a historic miracle. I’m nuclear [unclear] why is this not included as an option? If we can sink the Max rail station at the zoo, surely we can tunnel the Columbia R? What am I missing? ELI5?

blumdrew
7 months ago
Reply to  Roberta

The chunnel was also extremely expensive, though it was do able (unlike a bridge). It also was a historical miracle, especially considering British politics and history.

Here, there aren’t really any super crazy engineering hurdles to consider. There are far more complex tunnels that already exist in the US for roads. The Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, or the Transbay Tube come to mind. Interfacing a tunnel with the existing freeway might be challenging I guess? But also considering the BNSF railway at the Washington bridge landing (that the highway goes under now), it’s not like a high bridge would be simple. And since the Coast Guard wants at least 174 feet of vertical clearance (the current height of the raised lift), with a preference for unlimited it really doesn’t make much sense in practical terms why the tunnel isn’t at least a primary option for the IBR team.

Unless you consider less savory things – like how ODOT probably has a slew of contractors used to working on bridges, and a tunnel may involve bringing in someone new. Or maybe it’s a Robert Moses Brooklyn-Battery bit and some head honcho wants a monumental bridge just for its own sake. Or maybe ODOT thinks they can cram more lanes onto a bridge than they can into a tunnel. I’ve also seen the IBR say that indigenous leaders didn’t want a tunnel because it would involve dredging the bottom, which I found to be interesting – considering that the port has been dredging the lower Columbia for well over a century, and that a bridge would involve a similar level of river habitat destruction by creating new pilings.

So it’s all a bit of a mess, and how you read it depends on how much you trust your state highway department.

EJ transportation
EJ transportation
7 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

A tunnel is definitely possible under the Columbia. Way more complicated tunnels have been built in recent years like the St. Gotthard Base Tunnel (which goes underneath the bottom of the Alps) and the Seikan Tunnel (which connects Hokkaidō to Japan’s main island)

But all English-speaking countries have a history over the past few decades of construction costs going up by 3x-10x higher, because they all copied worse practices from the US and UK.

It would behoove the IBR to research why this happens so that they can keep the costs of the bridge or tunnel under control

Not Suckered
Not Suckered
7 months ago
Reply to  Roberta

Yes, a light rail tunnel is possible just as a long mountain light rail tunnel is possible. The world has many foot, cycle, roadway, and railway tunnels under rivers and harbors so as not to conflict with shipping, plus needing reduced gradients from reduced height differences from ground level used.

Were tunnels considered for the Columbia? Yes. Look at the first link here, of two, on page 30 of this PDF document, marked page 25, to start.

https://www.interstatebridge.org/media/xdbdhl4x/ibr_rivercrossingoptions_final_remediated.pdf

And for a second link, here is the new Bergen tunnel for cyclists and pedestrians built along with a light rail tunnel through a mountain, and evolving from a typical ordinary evacuation tunnel into special facilities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8rOsGotlfo

blumdrew
7 months ago
Reply to  Not Suckered

Yes, and those studies have such glaring holes. 175 feet below river bottom is absurd for a bored tunnel, and no justification as to why it has to be so deep are given in the study. And somehow throwing out that an immersed tunnel “may have archaeological impacts” is extremely disingenious. It’s the middle of a very industrialized river that is regularly dredged by the Port. Additionally, claiming that there will be no connection to the Marine Drive path for the immersed tunnel (despite the tunnel starting at Hayden Island!) is yet another glaring hole.

Calling a cut/cover tunnel for a highway exchange “impractical” shows exactly how lazy our state DOTs are too. There are countless examples of things like this!

Chris
Chris
7 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Reading through the documentation, it looks like 175 feet is the lowest point of the bottom of the tunnel. The top of the tunnel would be kept 60 feet below the river bottom. It sounds like that would be for a 4 bore option and it would be shallower for a 2 bore option.

The ‘archaeological impacts’ is usually a reference to using land in Fort Vancouver National Park. The National Park Service is against giving land over to freeway development. The Immersed Tunnel option could not be built under the existing bridge. I would think the railroad grade, existing SR 14 interchange and continued development of the Vancouver waterfront south of the bridge would complicate things. A portion of the existing SR 14 interchange is on NPS land and I believe the land between the railroad grade and Columbia Way is also NPS land.

The issue with the cut/cover highway exchange is probably specifically related to the downtown Vancouver/SR 14 interchange.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

“If the British and French can build a tunnel under the Channel, we should be able to build one under the river. Let’s go!”

Like The Chunnel, it needs a catchy name. I propose “The Cunnel”.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Likely the colloquial name will be something like the Orygunnel, for those who can’t pronounce Oregon correctly (i.e. most Americans.) However, like most highway projects, it will officially be named after the most unlikely highway official when it finally gets completed in 2057 – the Strickler Multimodal Underwater Tunnel or SMUT.

Fred
Fred
7 months ago

The tunnel option should absolutely be on the table. If there were a Navy base on the Columbia River, we would already have a tunnel.

blumdrew
7 months ago
Reply to  Fred

If only the sitting president had a blood feud with the primary architect of the IBR project, then we could get the department of war to declare the new bridge plan as a hazard to navigation thus necessitating a tunnel.

robert wallis
robert wallis
7 months ago

Many of your commenters miss the point trying to be made by the unruly person in the audience. I spoke to him after the meeting about the importance of being civil and it became apparent that he was infuriated over what he perceived as deceit. Opinions are all over the place on what the outcome of the project should be. Elected officials will decide. Those elected officials, and their citizenry, need to be given accurate information to help them make the right decisions. False information has no place in the process of public infrastructure decision making. It is clear to me that the public is getting inaccurate information on the IBR. That information is influencing decisions that may have been different if the information was accurate. That behavior (providing the public with inaccurate information) should not be tolerated anymore than rude behavior at a public meeting should be tolerated.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
7 months ago
Reply to  robert wallis

Advocacy 101: The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease. Those who are rude, loud, obnoxious, and lie through their teeth generally get a lot more funding and stuff built that those who are civil and honest. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.

robert wallis
robert wallis
7 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

It certainly has been that way for a long time, but things are changing – I hope. If it were not for that hope, I would not believe what i do – that the tunnel option, which was rejected because the DOTs made an engineering error, will eventually be seen for what it is – great for Portland and Vancouver. You Portland folks do not have an elected officials who can stack up against Vancouver’s Depture Mayor – Ty Stober – who is the only local government official to ask that the tunnel option be evaluated. Please lean on those in Portland’s City Hall to follow Mr. Stober’s lead. Please check out the organization Save I-5 Waterfronts and my bet is you will agree.

blumdrew
7 months ago

The high bridge project has huge regulatory hurdles to clear that simply do not exist for a tunnel. Both the Coast Guard and the FAA have effective veto power if the high bridge is too low (and thus impedes river navigation) or too high (and thus impedes flight paths into Pearson field). A tunnel conveniently has neither issue! And avoids any complex interactions with the BNSF railway on the Washington side of the landing.

And since ODOT and WSDOT are hellbent on not having a moveable span, it will be more expensive and necessitate rebuilding at least 3 interchanges no mater what. A tunnel would require only rebuilding two (Hayden Island and WA-14).

Is there any real benefit of the bridge? You are just saying that Mr. Ortblad is being a booster/cheerleader for the tunnel, not that the tunnel itself fails on its own merits. The light rail gradient is a relative non-factor in all of this, considering the MAX already has places with 4.5%+ grade (Tilikum Crossing), close enough to the high bridge max gradient to be a relative non-issue.

Daniel Reimer
7 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

It is my impression as why ODOT is pushing so hard for a fixed bridge is because they want more freeway capacity. It seems like the bridge they are pushing for could be striped up to 6 lanes. Are there immersed tunnels out there that could accommodate 10-12 vehicular lanes, 2 max rails, and ped/bike? It’s probably why they aren’t considering it.

ODOT will only pursue a bridge replacement if it comes with more freeway lanes.

Ted Buehler
7 months ago

For anyone who wants to get the current working drawings for the IBR/CRC-II, this is how I did it for the CRC-I.

In their conference room in 2008, they had a 6′ long printout of the current bridge design. I passed through the conference room going to attend the bike/ped design advisory meetings.

I filed a public records request for a digital copy of the 6′ long printout currently hanging in their main conference room.

I probably repeated it every 2 or 3 months to keep track of changes.

This should work for the IBR/CRC-II, especially if anyone has been to in-person meetings at their offices and has visually confirmed the presence of a plan/diagram on display.

Ted Buehler

robert wallis
robert wallis
7 months ago
Reply to  Ted Buehler

This is exactly the type of comment that makes BP great. Thank you.

Ted Buehler
7 months ago
Reply to  robert wallis

Thanks! I thought it was pretty clever myself. On my first request they said “we don’t have anything ready to show the public” or something, so I had the idea to ask for the current version on display. There were probably a few other bits to the story that I don’t remember. But I’ve heard similar stories from other people in the public records request world. Identify a specific document you want to see. Make sure it exists. And they need to give it to you.