In the June BEE, we scolded a local think tank, the Cascade Policy Institute, for reading into the Sellwood Bridge reconstruction project various goals it did not have, which it charged the new bridge failed to meet. The editorial was actually almost exactly what we sent the institute upon receiving the press release touting its upcoming report on the bridge, which made those charges – and we wrote and sent it with the intention of suggesting they reevaluate their views in the context of what the bridge was actually meant to accomplish, to avoid public embarrassment.
When they responded that the report was complete and they were about to release it, we published the editorial to make sure whatever they published would not go unanswered.
On July 29, John Charles of the Cascade Policy Institute responded with a Letter to the Editor to THE BEE defending their perspective. Since you, BEE reader, cannot judge this disagreement without also reading the original press release, we felt it necessary not only to print the letter but also to print the original press release to which we were responding. Simply placing it in our "Letters" section seemed inadequate, lacking most of the context.
Therefore, we herewith publish the entire Letter to the Editor from Mr. Charles; then we present the entire original press release we were responding to; and lastly we explain our response to the press release, which Mr. Charles questions.
Our credentials for making this response not only involve our living in the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood for the last forty years, and as Editor of THE BEE covering the bridge project from its beginnings, but also our involvement in the bridge replacement project from the very beginning as a neighborhood representative.So, to start, here is the letter we received on July 29 from Mr. Charles:
I find it puzzling that The Bee continues to mischaracterize the Cascade Policy Institute study of the Sellwood Bridge reconstruction (July edition, p. 9).
First, we have never asserted that the Bridge was built by the City of Portland. Obviously it is owned and operated by Multnomah County, which is clearly stated in our report. This erroneous claim by the editor of The Bee was first made directly to me in an email on May 14, before we had even released the report. One has to wonder why a newspaper editor would criticize something he hadn't read.
Second, the report does not claim that a purpose of the reconstruction was to address congestion. There was no way that it could have, because Metro foreclosed that option in 1999 through the South Willamette River Crossing Study. That study adopted a permanent no-growth policy for Willamette River crossings. In 2002 the City of Portland followed with its Tacoma Street Main Street plan, which called for a road diet to reduce both traffic speeds and peak-hour vehicle throughput. By the time Multnomah County got around to deciding on a new bridge design later in that decade, solving congestion was no long [sic] an option.
Our report urges Metro to convene another study group to find a suitable location for a new Willamette River bridge south of Sellwood. Unfortunately, Metro does not seem interested in that option. The only bridge study currently underway is being coordinated by Clackamas County and Lake Oswego, for the purpose of building a cycling-walking bridge.
Apparently Metro's idea of regional planning is to forecast a traffic disaster, then do nothing about it. If that's the best we can expect, perhaps we should abolish Metro. We could just "do nothing" by ourselves, and it would cost a lot less.
John A. Charles, Jr.President and CEOCascade Policy Institute4850 SW Scholls Ferry Road, Suite 103
Portland, OR 97225
That's the letter from Mr. Charles. We are puzzled by his reference to our editorial appearing in the July BEE on page 9, when it actually was in the June BEE on page 8. Nonetheless, presumably he actually did read our editorial – if not in the newspaper, then certainly in his personal e-mail on the morning of May 14 when we sent it to him privately.
We now print the original press release which sparked our original message to Mr. Charles, which then became our editorial when his reply did not address any of the points we'd made. We received this press release in an e-mail on May 14 at 6:53 a.m. It seems to us that what is claimed in the press release differs considerably from what Mr. Charles now says it did. We have only removed the long hotlinks to an Eventbrite RSVP page referenced in the press release in the interests of brevity:
Special Event! Thursday, May 23: The New Sellwood Bridge: Promises Unfulfilled
Please join Cascade Policy Institute for our monthly Policy Picnic on Thursday, May 23, at 12PM, featuring John Charles.
In 2016 the new Sellwood Bridge opened, at a cost of $328 million. The bridge was more than twice as wide as the original bridge, but most of the space was allocated for cyclists and walkers. Planners believed that by placing a moratorium on road capacity and encouraging alternative ways of traveling, significant numbers of commuters would leave their cars behind.
Unfortunately, the planners were wrong. Today the traffic congestion near the bridge is worse than ever, and the anticipated jump in walking and cycling never happened. This presentation will discuss the results of a multi-year case study by Cascade of what happens when elected officials refuse to provide transportation facilities needed for population growth.
Join John Charles for a discussion about the Sellwood Bridge and road diets.
Admission is free, but reservations are required due to space limitations. You are welcome to bring your own lunch; light refreshments will be served.
Cascade's Policy Picnics are generously sponsored by Dumas Law Group, LLC.
Okay, that's the press release. Mr. Charles is correct in saying that the release did not say the bridge project was done by the City of Portland (or Multnomah County either, whose project it was). But, a prominent charge in this press release is that "Planners believed that by placing a moratorium on road capacity and encouraging alternative ways of traveling, significant numbers of commuters would leave their cars behind." That was never the intent – Multnomah County has no such policy or goal; and the "road diets" he decries (with some justification) are policy only in and by the City of Portland, and NOT Multnomah County. That is why we pointed out that the City of Portland was not involved in this project, and thus their "road diet" policy was never part of this plan.The old two-lane bridge was congested already, but – as Charles now seems to acknowledge in his letter – resolving or reducing the congestion was never a goal of the County in replacing its Sellwood Bridge. The bridge connected to a two-lane road (Tacoma Street) at the east end, and a two-lane state highway at the west end, and therefore needed to remain a two-lane automotive conduit (although the new bridge does flare to extra lanes at the west end to connect in various ways to the new state-mandated bypass exchange to Highway 43's two directions of travel; the mandated exchange accounted for a large part of the entire bridge replacement cost).
"Today the traffic congestion near the bridge is worse than ever, and the anticipated jump in walking and cycling never happened," said Charles in the press release. However, there was never any plan for an increase pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the new bridge – just a plan to accommodate what traffic there was safely, in a way the very narrow old bridge could not. Further, to improve auto transit on the bridge, the pedestrian and bike lanes were designed to be wide and accessible enough to allow auto traffic to use them in an emergency to bypass traffic-blocking wrecks on the bridge which previously had stopped traffic completely on the old bridge.We join Mr. Charles in calling for another regional bridge south of Sellwood, however – and we pointedly did so in our original editorial.
The real reason for the congestion, particularly at commute times, on both the old AND the new Sellwood Bridge, has been for many years commuter traffic to and from Clackamas County, enroute to and from Washington County. At the time the old bridge was nearing its replacement, Mike Pullen of Multnomah County pointed out that the Sellwood Bridge was the busiest bridge PER LANE in the State of Oregon, Monday through Friday; even more so than the Interstate Bridge! – and that well over 50% of that traffic did not originate or end in Multnomah County, the county that owned and maintained the bridge. That hasn't changed.
So, clearly, Clackamas County – the county that did not contribute financially to the reconstruction of its most important Willamette River bridge – really does need to build its own bridge.
It seems to us that the most logical and cost-effective place to build one is at Lake Oswego, where a signalized four-lane road extends from the Willamette River all the way to Interstate 5 and Highway 217, and where a connection from the east bank of the Willamette River to four-lane Highway 99E (McLoughlin Boulevard) would be easy to make.
Until it does, however, the Sellwood Bridge will remain congested.Really, the new Sellwood Bridge was constructed by Multnomah County for only ONE reason: The old bridge was rated "2" on a sufficiency scale of 100, was nearly a century old, and from a practical standpoint could not be upgraded and repaired, and thus needed to be replaced.
And it was replaced by a sturdy bridge which currently, we are told, is the strongest bridge in the whole State of Oregon, and the only one today certain to be standing and usable whenever Oregon experiences its 9.0 plate boundary "superquake" someday.
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Follow-up on previous editorials
Our editorial last month questioning the "deauthorizing" planned for Portland's neighborhood associations by City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, with no formal replacement through which all citizens would still have a way of being recognized in a representative way by our quaint form of city government – combined with sudden attention from other news media in Portland, on this unpublicized process that was underway – seems to have stalled the effort temporarily, although Ms. Eudaly still seems intent on finding a way to pull it off.Apparently her hope for an early Portland City Council vote on the proposed "code change" proved harder to attain than envisioned, we are told, because erasing neighborhood associations from what used to be the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (and is now the Office of Civic and Community Life) first required erasing them from the mandates of other Offices in the city, which have them in their code because of their inclusion in the former Office of Neighborhood Involvement's mandate.THE BEE will continue to cover developments in this important matter – as we are able to uncover them.Meantime, as we have been advising you repeatedly this year, the FCC has brokered the sale of all TV channels above 36 (which once numbered all the way to 83) to wireless companies, and existing TV stations using channels above 36 (no matter what channel they call themselves) have had to move down to new channels below 36. KOIN did it last year, and KNMT did it this year. KATU is supposed to, but has kept delaying the process for technical reasons. The most recent target date was "mid-August" to move down from channel 43 to channel 24. Now, we learn from the station, technical issues continue to delay the move, which now won't take place until at least the end of September – "or later".
The bottom line is that if you view KATU-2 free directly from an antenna, someday the station will vanish from your TV. Don't panic when it does! Just "re-scan for channels", and you will receive it again, just as you did before. (If you receive KATU via cable or satellite, your service will take care of this, and you won't have to do anything.) We wish KATU luck in finally getting this done.
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