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Activists hope to weaken CRC ‘signal’ at hearing in Salem today

Activists hope to weaken CRC ‘signal’ at hearing in Salem today

Legislator bike ride at the Oregon Bike Summit-1

A big day at the capitol for the CRC.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A bill that would officially make it “in the state’s interest” to move forward on the I-5 freeway widening project between Oregon and Washington will be given a public hearing in Salem today. The bill, HB 2800, is being pushed by Governor Kitzhaber and many high-profile Democrats and other backers of the Columbia River Crossing project.

A House Joint Committee will hear invited testimony from the Governor as well as Oregon Transportation Commission chair Pat Egan and ODOT’s Deputy Project Director Kris Strickler. If anti-CRC activists are successful, the committee will also hear from dozens of people speaking out against the bill (and the project in general). According to a Facebook page where activists are organizing carpools to attend the 3:00 pm hearing, there are about 40 people so far who plan to make the trip.

“This is a classic Robert Moses strategy to promise anything to get the project started and then re-work the deal however needed later on.”
— Joe Cortright, economist and CRC critic

HB 2800 looks to be a kinder, gentler version of HB 2260, which was considered “egregiously” pro-CRC and dubbed “the CRC Blank Check Act” by critics when it dropped a few weeks ago. Sources who oppose the project say HB 2800 isn’t nearly as bad, but they remain extremely skeptical.

Economist and outspoken critic of the project, Joe Cortright says while CRC backers are making it seem like HB 2800 put limits on project spending and answers other fiscal concerns with the project, the devil is in the details (and the details are pretty fuzzy). “This is a classic Robert Moses strategy to promise anything to get the project started,” says Cortright, “and then re-work the deal however needed (ignored conditions, forgiveness, more money) later on… Superficially, this bill isn’t as egregious as HB 2260; But given our experience with CRC and “conditions” [contained in HB 2800] it’s hardly a reason to be reassured.”

Legislator bike ride at the Oregon Bike Summit-22

State Rep. Tobias Read is one
of the CRC’s most ardent
supporters.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

For instance, the bill puts a cap of $3.4 billion on the total project cost. But are we really to expect that if the project needed more funding that officials would simply walk away from it and leave it unfinished? And that cap of $3.4 billion does not include the $160 million already spent planning the project. Another provision would allow tolls to disappear after construction bonds are repaid. Cortright says that would, “seriously undercut the environmental claims and promises CRC has offered for years,” because CRC staff have said tolling would be a key way to manage traffic demand into the future.

And then there’s the section of the bill that refers to a mitigation fund intended to offset, “any air quality or other public health concerns that may impact the communities along the Interstate 5 corridor.” Instead of demanding that the project create such a fund, the bill includes the soft-ball language of, “shall conduct a study and develop recommendations.” That’s hardly a strong promise.

State Representative and Chair of the House Transportation Committee Tobias Read (D-Beaverton), who has shown up to many Bicycle Transportation Alliance events and joined us for a bike ride at the Oregon Bike Summit a few years ago, told The Oregonian this morning: “I can say for myself that I am convinced it’s time to take a prudent step forward to authorize funding the Oregon portion, and send a signal to our partners in Washington that were ready to go.”

Activists hope to weaken that signal.

There’s still time to head down to Salem to tell legislators your thoughts on this project. Carpools are meeting up at 1:00 pm today at 729 E Burnside. More info here.

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Will new levee regulations impact bikes access on Marine Drive?

Will new levee regulations impact bikes access on Marine Drive?

Roll On Columbia! ride

Marine Drive and its adjacent mulit-use path along the Columbia River is a popular place to ride; but tighter federal levee regulations might impact future access.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

“I don’t think there’s an immediate concern from a bicycling standpoint. But, we can’t be confident how they’ll be dealt with in the future.”
— Reed Wagner, executive director Multnomah County Drainage District

The cover story in last week’s Portland Tribune caused several readers to email us with concerns that bike access on Marine Drive might be curtailed or prohibited in the future. The story, Levee holds back flood of changes outlined tighter safety regulations by the Army Corps of Engineers prompted by levee failures during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Corps now require all levees across the country go through a process of re-certification that introduces much tighter standards about what type of development is allowed on them.

Marine Drive is a key part of many people’s regular bike riding habit. While some folks stay on the road, using it to connect to riding in the Gorge and Sandy River area, others use the multi-use path that’s just yards from the banks of the Columbia River.

Here’s the part of the article that raised some eyebrows:

“Motorists, bicyclists and joggers enjoying Columbia River views along Marine Drive may not realize it, but they’re traveling atop a mound of sand that’s the main bulwark against massive flooding of North and Northeast Portland…

Now, in response to levee failures in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, federal authorities say thousands of trees, buildings and other structures permitted in past decades atop the Columbia River levee pose safety concerns — and may need to be removed or altered.”

And a photo that ran in the story showed someone riding a bike and had the caption,

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the bike path and thousands of trees, utility poles and even buildings erected on the Columbia River levee pose safety concerns and may need to be removed.”

Concerned about the potential of losing bike access on Marine Drive, we called Reed Wagner, executive director of the Multnomah County Drainage District (the local agency in charge of maintaining the levee). Wagner explained that, “Encroachments [things built upon the levee itself] in the past that were OK are no longer OK.” However, Wagner said he doesn’t think it’s time to panic. Yet.

“I’m a biker too, and I bike along Marine Drive myself [he’s also former policy director at Metro, so he understands bike path issues]; and I don’t think there’s an immediate concern from a bicycling standpoint.” “But,” Wagner added, “What I can’t say definitely is that at some point that could change… We can’t be confident how they’ll be dealt with in the future.”

Wagner explained that in the next 2-4 years (re-certification is due in two years for the area west of NE 33rd, and four years east of 33rd) he and his staff will come up with a plan for re-certifying the levee. While he said he’s “pretty confident” they won’t have any major encroachment issues that would prohibit bike access, he did not rule it out. Since Katrina, the federal government is taking a much more stringent and conservative approach to levee encroachments. “The Corps standards prefer no development on the levee at all,” said Wagner. So right now, Wagner’s job is to apply the federal standards to our local situation. Like many issues where the feds are strict (Homeland Security), it’s a balance for local officials to weigh federal concerns with practical needs of citizens.

About the tighter regulations, Wagner said, “We want to make sure we’re not overdoing it at risk of our community values. But to the extent it [the federal stance on levee encroachments] continues to trend in a more conservative way, it could challenge some of those values.”

— We’ll track this issue as it unfolds. Stay tuned.

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Bike advocates respond to Obama’s Interior Secretary pick

Bike advocates respond to Obama’s Interior Secretary pick

Sally Jewell at her nomination announcement.
(Photo: Pete Souza/White House)

If you’ve been biking for a few years, chances are you have something in your closet from national outdoor retailer REI. Now the CEO of that company, Sally Jewell has been picked by President Obama to be Secretary of the Interior. With that job comes the rather large responsibility of managing our public lands — many acres of which include (or should include) bicycle access.

Not surprisingly, people who care about the outdoors and about bicycling are thrilled at Jewell’s nomination. REI is a company that has built a solid reputation for not only their commitment to selling bicycles and bike products (not to mention their highly regarded Novara brand), but they are also good partners in the communities they operate in. They regularly donate to bike-related non-profits and they host bike events and clinics at their stores. For many people, the local REI is also the local bike shop.

In announcing the pick, President Obama said Jewell is the perfect person to moderate the debate about how to balance outdoor recreation and conservation with “creating jobs” and economic development:

“She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress; that in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand. She has shown that a company with more than $1 billion in sales can do the right thing for our planet.”

I asked (via email) a few national bike leaders for their reactions to the news…

Andy Clarke, President, League of American Bicyclists:

“We’re excited about the appointment – everything about REI and the company she has presided over suggests that she will perfectly blend and balance the recreation, preservation and stewardship elements of the Interior position. Our nation’s public lands are a treasure to be preserved and enjoyed, and of course we believe that enjoying them from the saddle of a bicycle is by far the best way, and the most effective way to engender a culture of stewardship in all generations.”

Tim Blumenthal, President, Bikes Belong Coalition:

“Sally Jewell is a great pick… As the CEO of REI, she’s done an excellent of blending and balancing recreation and conservation interests. REI has been an exceptional supporter of a wide variety of projects and organizations that preserve public land while encouraging outdoor recreation and stewardship. REI has been a constructive bridge between different groups. She understands mountain biking, the importance of easy bike routes for people of all ages, and the value of the recreation tourism economy. Her experience and outlook should help improve bicycling on public land. This will benefit bicycling and the bike industry.

The Department of Interior manages 500 million acres — about one-fifth of the land in the United States — and offers abundant bicycling opportunities, both on pavement and on dirt roads and trails. We hope to work with Sally and her team (and our time-tested partner, IMBA) to improve bicycling on public land, particularly by making it easier and more appealing for families and children to bike in national parks, national recreation areas, and on BLM land. That’s what we’re doing in cities through our Green Lane Project*, and that’s what we hope to assist on public land, coast to coast.”

[*Note that just last month REI donated $100,000 to Bikes Belong’s Green Lane Project.]

Jay Graves, State Parks Commissioner, Cycle Oregon board member

“From what I have read and heard I’m very excited about Ms. Jewell.

Cycle Oregon has been lobbying National Parks for years to get Crater Lake closed for a half day so we could have a safe ride there last year. I upped the conversation in my meeting with Senator Wyden saying I’d like to see every National Park closed to auto traffic for a half day each year in celebration of Active Transportation. He loved the tie-in to healthy lifestyles and with his senior position now as chair of Committee on Energy and Natural Resources he’s in a position to follow up on that — especially if Sally Jewell was heading things up!”

Sounds like we can expect great things from a Secretary Jewell. Time will tell how she manages the balancing act, because as we all know, the Department of Interior isn’t all about recreation. They also manage permits for oil and gas companies, and Jewell just so happens to be a former Exxon/Mobil employee. For more on her background and the outlook for cycling under her tenure, read today’s coverage from Streetsblog DC and Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

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Forest Park update: Wildlife report, new Parks Director chimes in, media goes crazy

Forest Park update: Wildlife report, new Parks Director chimes in, media goes crazy

Bikes vs. Nature! Run for your lives! Front page
of February 2013 NW Examiner newspaper.

The debate about bike access in Forest Park has heated up once again. Last time we checked in on the issue we reported on a positive statement from City Commissioner Nick Fish. Then in December, Portland Parks & Recreation completed a Forest Park Wildlife Report that found, among other things, that bicycling does not pose a major threat to the park’s ecology. Following on that, the Director of Parks, Mike Abbate shared his perspective on future recreational use in the park in an email to park stakeholders (which we’ve obtained).

With what seems like clear momentum from Portland Parks & Recreation for moving sensibly forward to expand bicycling opportunities in Forest Park, those who don’t want that to happen are once again making their feelings known.

“I feel recreation is compatible with this priority and about the importance of improving community health through recreation and the creation of the next generation of park stewards.”
— Mike Abbate, Director of Portland Parks & Recreation

The Forest Park Wildlife Report (PDF here) was completed as per recommendations laid out in accordance with a directive by the 2010 Forest Park Off-Road Cycling Advisory Committee. The 142 page report catalogs wildlife and vegetation, lists threats to the park’s ecological health, makes recommendations to maintain and improve it, and much more. The report is meant to be a baseline with which to monitor future park health and to help make informed management decisions.

Throughout the Forest Park cycling debate, one of the pillars of opposition to improved bike access was that somehow bicycling is inherently bad for the park’s ecology. However, there is no statistical basis for that claim, and the Wildlife Report itself barely mentions bicycling as a threat to the park. Below is the list of threats named in the report:

• Climate change
• Non-native invasive plants
• Non-native invasive insects and other wildlife
• Habitat alteration outside of the park
• Utility corridor management (habitat alteration within the park)
• Illegal park activities: homeless camps, rogue trails, nocturnal
recreation
• Domestic cats at the park perimeter
• Air pollution
• Water quality degradation in Balch Creek
• Parasites, poisons, and persecution
• Fire and fire management

The only specific mention of bicycles in the report relates to that mention above of “nocturnal recreation.” It’s not a secret to the City or to park stakeholders that some people illegally ride their bikes on trails in the park at night. As for “rogue trails,” while a particular rogue trail made major headlines during the Forest Park bike access debate back in 2010, that isn’t a huge problem otherwise and many existing rogue trails are built by runners, hikers, and homeless people who camp in the park.

Forest Park ride-2

When it comes to biking in Forest Park,
we’re on a road to somewhere.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Mike Abbate, the new Director of Portland Parks (he was not in the position during the singletrack debate), seems to understand that what Forest Park needs are more stewards that can help it battle real threats like invasive species. At the end of December, Abbate met with Marcy Houle and Les Blaize — two citizen advocates that you’ll recall were opposed to an expansion of bike access. Following that meeting, Abbate emailed a large list of park stakeholders. Below is an excerpt from that email:

“We agree that the highest priority for Forest Park management is protecting and enhancing ecological health and that Portland Parks & Recreation needs to bring more resources to the park for both ecological restoration and use management and enforcement. I also let them know that I feel recreation is compatible with this priority and about the importance of improving community health through recreation and the creation of the next generation of park stewards.”

When Abbate says he wants to bring, “more resources to the park” and that “recreation is compatible with this priority,” he is almost certainly referring to people who ride bikes. As bike advocates and the Northwest Trail Alliance have said all along; if Forest Park had more compelling bike access, the park would have many more stewards to volunteer for work parties and contribute to its ongoing maintenance. In other words, the large community of people who like to mountain bike have an impressive reputation for sweat equity and responsible stewardship of public lands, but many of them see nothing worth fighting for — or working for — in Forest Park.

Also in that email, Abbate shared specifics about future bike access:

“The consultant [hired by Parks to evaluate new bike trails] recommended enhancing the mountain biking experience by building a portion of single track adjacent to Fire Lane 5. This was presented as the most sustainable option, minimizing the potential for erosion and trail user conflict.

We are now exploring this possibility and have talked to Northwest Trail Alliance who would partner with us on design and funding.”

Obviously, this kind of talk from Parks is not sitting well with everyone.

Allan Classen, publisher of the NW Examiner newspaper (that covers neighborhoods around Forest Park) called people who want better bike access in Forest Park “bicycle zealots” in a June 2010 editorial. And now Classen has struck again with a very unfortunate and unfair article in the current issue of his newspaper.

In a front page, above-the-fold article (download issue here), Classen declares a harmful and false dichotomy with the headline: Bikes vs. Nature. I sold that photo to Classen for the story. He never mentioned details of the story and didn’t asked for my comment on the issue, even though I’ve covered the story closer than anyone in town. Come to find out, sources tell me Classen didn’t talk to anyone other than the two most outspoken critics of bicycling in Forest Park — Marcy Houle and Les Blaize — so it should come as no surprise that the NW Examiner article is very one-sided and doesn’t portray the issues accurately.

Portland Parks & Rec is moving forward with expand bicycling opportunities in Forest Park, not because they are being reckless with this cherished natural resource or because they are bending to the will of an all-powerful “bike lobby.” They are taking these steps because most Portlanders want better bicycling opportunities in the park, because an advisory committee helped inform these decisions, and because the future health of Forest Park depends on its relevance as a place where responsible recreational users are treated equally and fairly.

Stay tuned. We expect lots more news on this issue in the weeks and months to come.

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Anti-CRC rally shows opposition still has strength

Anti-CRC rally shows opposition still has strength

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-1

Bike Walk Vote board member Lisa Marie White
speaks at the start of an anti-CRC event
held Friday night in Portland.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

There was plenty of evidence in Portland over the weekend of the growing movement to stop the Columbia River Crossing project. On Friday, non-profit political action committee Bike Walk Vote hosted a rally at a bike shop in southeast Portland; and on Saturday, several activists had a sit-down meeting with Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek.

At Crank Bicycles on Friday people learned about the project from notable community leaders, filled out letters to send to legislators, signed up for volunteer shifts to lobby state representatives, and donated money to non-profits working to stop the project. The mood was upbeat and the energy level was high as major cracks are beginning to form in the foundation of a project that many people think is inevitable.

For a project that has been fought by activists since about 2006, the event showed that those who oppose it haven’t given up and they’re more organized and fired up than ever before.

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-9

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-3

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-8

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-7

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-6

Standing on a stool in a sea of activists, board president of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN) Chris Lopez did not mince words. “We are unequivocally against the CRC. So much so that we sued the state over this thing.” Lopez acknowledged that the state lawsuit didn’t pan out, so they’ve now sued the federal government. He and other volunteers from NECN are in Salem this week lobbying legislators. “Don’t let them fool you,” he told the crowd, “This is not a bridge project. It’s a highway project and it’s something that doesn’t need to be built… We cannot afford this, it shouldn’t happen, and we can’t do this to future Oregonians! It’s time to take action!”

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-2

NE Coalition of Neighborhoods Board President Chris Lopez

Lopez ended his speech with a warning to legislators: “We have to let our legislators know that if they can’t get behind us on this, then maybe they don’t need to be our legislators for much longer.”

We learned Friday night that non-profit environmental justice organization Coalition for a Livable Future is hiring a full-time lobbyist to work in Salem starting today. CLF’s Board President Jo Ann Hardesty said the lobbyist will talk with every legislator. “They’ll tell them that this project is not acceptable, that Portlanders don’t want it, Oregonians don’t want it, and we can’t afford it.” “There’s nothing about this project that passes the smell test,” she added. “We the people get to decide what a livable community looks like, and that ain’t it.”

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-4

Jo Ann Hardesty of CLF

Metro Councilor (and former executive director of land-use non-profit 1000 Friends of Oregon) Bob Stacey was next to address the crowd. He painted a picture of what our neighborhoods will look like if this project goes through:

“The bridge is 10 lanes, re-stripable to 12 (not counting shoulders, so you could get to 14 lanes if you want). But even at just 10 lanes, it connects to a 6-lane freeway on the Oregon side. What do we need 10 lanes for? The project description has always said we need to push another 50,000 cars through there every morning and night because we’ll have sprawling development in Clark County and those folks will continue to work in Oregon. Where are they going to go on the Oregon side? They’re going to go to Vancouver Avenue, to MLK Blvd, they’ll split off and go to the St. Johns Bridge…There’s going to be massive traffic jams on I-5 southbound, cut-through traffic, a significant increase in air pollution in north and northeast Portland neighborhoods.”

I also recorded his remarks:

Video of Metro Councilor Bob Stacey’s speech.

Stacey said both the City of Portland and Metro have required the CRC project to fund a mitigation program for impacted neighborhoods. “But out of the $3.5 billion budget,” he said, “the project has put aside zero for mitigation programs.”

Then there’s the tolling plan. Stacey is one of many skeptics who think the project’s tolling plans won’t pan out. Once the tolls are put into place, Stacey feels traffic will just avoid I-5, opting instead for the nearby I-205, which would, “Swamp the Banfield [I-84 freeway] and all the east-west arterials through Portland.”

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-5

Stacey called the project a “series of dumb ideas piled on one another” that has been pushed by a “$160 million PR machine”. That same “PR machine”, he added, is “now trying to sell a $450 million down payment by Oregon taxpayers.” (Referring to HB 2260, which activists are calling a blank check for a bad project.)

Then Ron Buel — introduced by Stacey as the “Godfather” and a man many credit as a key part in the movement to stop the Mt. Hood Freeway project — came to the front and showed he still has lots of fight left in him. (Stacey referred to the CRC as “this generation’s Mt. Hood freeway.”)

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-11

Buel is spearheading a group of nine people who have made it their mission to speak face-to-face with 30 state legislators to “sow doubt” about the CRC.

“Let’s look at what’s really going on here. The power elite of this city and this state are on board.”
— Ron Buel

Buel understands how political power works and he’s alarmed at how its shaking out with this project. “Let’s look at what’s really going on here,” he said, at the outset of his speech. “The power elite of this city and this state are on board.” Buel named Senators Wyden and Merkley, all the organized labor groups (except teachers), The Oregonian (he said they’ve written 37 editorials in support of the project since June 2008), and the main business groups as being strongly in support of the CRC.

“This is a steamroller folks! And we’re trying to stop it… And the odds are way against us. Way against us. But, I gotta say, that despite that, despite that, we’re going to win and they’re going to lose.”

Buel pointed out that in many ways, CRC project backers have already lost. He cited the lack of a Coast Guard permit to move forward (due to height restrictions), a pending lawsuit from a metal fabrication company in Vancouver, and strong opposition in Clark County as just some of the major cracks forming in the project. (For a good update on where the project stands, read this article in today’s edition of The Columbian)

As for the growing opposition to the CRC among Republican elected officials in Clark County, Buel said, “They’re not your bike-loving liberal democrats. We’ve been working with some of them and we call ourselves the Green Tea Party.”

Anti CRC sign at town hall meeting

Anti-CRC sign seen at a town hall
meeting in Woodlawn on Saturday.
The meeting featured State Senator Chip Shields
and State Reps Tina Kotek and Lew Frederick.

Another roadblock facing the CRC that activists want to raise awareness of is the inability for the project to secure federal funds. CRC backers are looking for $850 million from the Federal Transit Administration to extend light rail into Vancouver. Buel thinks that because the closest Vancouver station is 38 minutes on the MAX to downtown Portland, it won’t be an attractive option. “So, are you going to get in your car if you live in La Center, Battle Ground, or Ridgefield and drive to one of the three big parking garages [which incidentally cost $167 million to build]?”

Buel added if C-Tran (the area’s transit authority) tries to fund the project without federal funding and from another pot of state money, it will require a vote of support from a public that recently voted 56% against light rail.

Buel also thinks getting a large federal grant to pay for the project is unlikely, given that both members of Congress that represent the project area are not big supporters. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-SW Washington) has been very vocally opposed to it, and Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) has remained neutral. “Thank God for Earl Blumenauer,” said Ron Buel, “He has remained neutral throughout this entire thing, he has not been an advocate for it.”

“How do you get an earmark for federal highway money if neither of the members in the district ask for it?”

Buel stressed that Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek (D-NE Portland) is the key to killing the CRC. On Saturday, Buel and several others (including noted economist Joe Cortright) had a sit-down meeting with Rep. Kotek prior to a town hall event in Woodlawn. According to a source who was at the meeting, Kotek re-affirmed her support for the CRC, saying she wants to make sure it’s “the best project possible” and saying they are working on a number of issues. (Unfortunately, the CRC was not mentioned at all during a packed town hall meeting.)

With a bill in the legislature, the clock is ticking for activists to find allies and make progress. At this point, politicians against the project have been hard to find (or to get a clear opinion from on the record). That will have to change if activists want momentum to finally shift in their favor.

— Stay tuned for more coverage.

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Anti-CRC rally shows opposition still has strength

Anti-CRC rally shows opposition still has strength

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-1

Bike Walk Vote board member Lisa Marie White
speaks at the start of an anti-CRC event
held Friday night in Portland.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

There was plenty of evidence in Portland over the weekend of the growing movement to stop the Columbia River Crossing project. On Friday, non-profit political action committee Bike Walk Vote hosted a rally at a bike shop in southeast Portland; and on Saturday, several activists had a sit-down meeting with Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek.

At Crank Bicycles on Friday people learned about the project from notable community leaders, filled out letters to send to legislators, signed up for volunteer shifts to lobby state representatives, and donated money to non-profits working to stop the project. The mood was upbeat and the energy level was high as major cracks are beginning to form in the foundation of a project that many people think is inevitable.

For a project that has been fought by activists since about 2006, the event showed that those who oppose it haven’t given up and they’re more organized and fired up than ever before.

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-9

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-3

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-8

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-7

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-6

Standing on a stool in a sea of activists, board president of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN) Chris Lopez did not mince words. “We are unequivocally against the CRC. So much so that we sued the state over this thing.” Lopez acknowledged that the state lawsuit didn’t pan out, so they’ve now sued the federal government. He and other volunteers from NECN are in Salem this week lobbying legislators. “Don’t let them fool you,” he told the crowd, “This is not a bridge project. It’s a highway project and it’s something that doesn’t need to be built… We cannot afford this, it shouldn’t happen, and we can’t do this to future Oregonians! It’s time to take action!”

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-2

NE Coalition of Neighborhoods Board President Chris Lopez

Lopez ended his speech with a warning to legislators: “We have to let our legislators know that if they can’t get behind us on this, then maybe they don’t need to be our legislators for much longer.”

We learned Friday night that non-profit environmental justice organization Coalition for a Livable Future is hiring a full-time lobbyist to work in Salem starting today. CLF’s Board President Jo Ann Hardesty said the lobbyist will talk with every legislator. “They’ll tell them that this project is not acceptable, that Portlanders don’t want it, Oregonians don’t want it, and we can’t afford it.” “There’s nothing about this project that passes the smell test,” she added. “We the people get to decide what a livable community looks like, and that ain’t it.”

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-4

Jo Ann Hardesty of CLF

Metro Councilor (and former executive director of land-use non-profit 1000 Friends of Oregon) Bob Stacey was next to address the crowd. He painted a picture of what our neighborhoods will look like if this project goes through:

“The bridge is 10 lanes, re-stripable to 12 (not counting shoulders, so you could get to 14 lanes if you want). But even at just 10 lanes, it connects to a 6-lane freeway on the Oregon side. What do we need 10 lanes for? The project description has always said we need to push another 50,000 cars through there every morning and night because we’ll have sprawling development in Clark County and those folks will continue to work in Oregon. Where are they going to go on the Oregon side? They’re going to go to Vancouver Avenue, to MLK Blvd, they’ll split off and go to the St. Johns Bridge…There’s going to be massive traffic jams on I-5 southbound, cut-through traffic, a significant increase in air pollution in north and northeast Portland neighborhoods.”

I also recorded his remarks:

Video of Metro Councilor Bob Stacey’s speech.

Stacey said both the City of Portland and Metro have required the CRC project to fund a mitigation program for impacted neighborhoods. “But out of the $3.5 billion budget,” he said, “the project has put aside zero for mitigation programs.”

Then there’s the tolling plan. Stacey is one of many skeptics who think the project’s tolling plans won’t pan out. Once the tolls are put into place, Stacey feels traffic will just avoid I-5, opting instead for the nearby I-205, which would, “Swamp the Banfield [I-84 freeway] and all the east-west arterials through Portland.”

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-5

Bob Stacey

Stacey called the project a “series of dumb ideas piled on one another” that has been pushed by a “$160 million PR machine”. That same “PR machine”, he added, is “now trying to sell a $450 million down payment by Oregon taxpayers.” (Referring to HB 2260, which activists are calling a blank check for a bad project.)

Then Ron Buel — introduced by Stacey as the “Godfather” and a man many credit as a key part in the movement to stop the Mt. Hood Freeway project — came to the front and showed he still has lots of fight left in him. (Stacey referred to the CRC as “this generation’s Mt. Hood freeway.”)

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-11

Ron Buel

Buel is spearheading a group of nine people who have made it their mission to speak face-to-face with 30 state legislators to “sow doubt” about the CRC.

“Let’s look at what’s really going on here. The power elite of this city and this state are on board.”
— Ron Buel

Buel understands how political power works and he’s alarmed at how its shaking out with this project. “Let’s look at what’s really going on here,” he said, at the outset of his speech. “The power elite of this city and this state are on board.” Buel named Senators Wyden and Merkley, all the organized labor groups (except teachers), The Oregonian (he said they’ve written 37 editorials in support of the project since June 2008), and the main business groups as being strongly in support of the CRC.

“This is a steamroller folks! And we’re trying to stop it… And the odds are way against us. Way against us. But, I gotta say, that despite that, despite that, we’re going to win and they’re going to lose.”

Buel pointed out that in many ways, CRC project backers have already lost. He cited the lack of a Coast Guard permit to move forward (due to height restrictions), a pending lawsuit from a metal fabrication company in Vancouver, and strong opposition in Clark County as just some of the major cracks forming in the project. (For a good update on where the project stands, read this article in today’s edition of The Columbian)

As for the growing opposition to the CRC among Republican elected officials in Clark County, Buel said, “They’re not your bike-loving liberal democrats. We’ve been working with some of them and we call ourselves the Green Tea Party.”

Anti CRC sign at town hall meeting

Anti-CRC sign seen at a town hall
meeting in Woodlawn on Saturday.
The meeting featured State Senator Chip Shields
and State Reps Tina Kotek and Lew Frederick.

Another roadblock facing the CRC that activists want to raise awareness of is the inability for the project to secure federal funds. CRC backers are looking for $850 million from the Federal Transit Administration to extend light rail into Vancouver. Buel thinks that because the closest Vancouver station is 38 minutes on the MAX to downtown Portland, it won’t be an attractive option. “So, are you going to get in your car if you live in La Center, Battle Ground, or Ridgefield and drive to one of the three big parking garages [which incidentally cost $167 million to build]?”

Buel added if C-Tran (the area’s transit authority) tries to fund the project without federal funding and from another pot of state money, it will require a vote of support from a public that recently voted 56% against light rail.

Buel also thinks getting a large federal grant to pay for the project is unlikely, given that both members of Congress that represent the project area are not big supporters. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-SW Washington) has been very vocally opposed to it, and Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) has remained neutral. “Thank God for Earl Blumenauer,” said Ron Buel, “He has remained neutral throughout this entire thing, he has not been an advocate for it.”

“How do you get an earmark for federal highway money if neither of the members in the district ask for it?”

Buel stressed that Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek (D-NE Portland) is the key to killing the CRC. On Saturday, Buel and several others (including noted economist Joe Cortright) had a sit-down meeting with Rep. Kotek prior to a town hall event in Woodlawn. According to a source who was at the meeting, Kotek re-affirmed her support for the CRC, saying she wants to make sure it’s “the best project possible” and saying they are working on a number of issues. (Unfortunately, the CRC was not mentioned at all during a packed town hall meeting.)

Speaker of the Oregon House Tina Kotek

Oregon State Representative and Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, shown here at a Town Hall meeting Saturday, supports the CRC project.

With a bill in the legislature, the clock is ticking for activists to find allies and make progress. At this point, politicians against the project have been hard to find (or to get a clear opinion from on the record). That will have to change if activists want momentum to finally shift in their favor.

— Stay tuned for more coverage.

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Alison Graves to leave Community Cycling Center

Alison Graves to leave Community Cycling Center

Oregon Bike Summit 2010-32

Alison Graves at the 2010 Oregon Bike Summit.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortand)

Alison Graves announced to staff this morning that she is leaving the non-profit Community Cycling Center. Graves has been with the organization for seven years, serving the last three as executive director. Her last day will be March 14th. Current Deputy Director Anne Lee will be the CCC’s interim director and the organization will begin the search for a new leader in March.

Alison is married to Jay Graves, the former owner of Bike Gallery who sold his stake in the company back in November. “The time has come to move on,” Alison shared with us yesterday. She said she intends to take advantage of the “opportunity of a lifetime” to join Jay on a long (“a couple months”) trip to explore other cities, to visit family, and to, “Find out what our next chapter is.”

Both Alison and Jay have made it clear they intend to stay involved with bike advocacy. Alison is a board member of the League of American Bicyclists, a post she will keep.

Graves took the helm of the CCC in 2010, and continued a restructuring of the organization that was started former leader Susan Remmers. Graves’ legacy at the CCC will be remembered for bringing the issue of racial equity to the forefront of the bike advocacy movement. Her work helped institutionalize the idea of racial and social equity far beyond the CCC. In 2009, she led the groundbreaking Understanding Barriers to Bicycling project. That project made bike advocates confront a difficult question, which we tried to answer in a 2009 story titled, Is our bike scene too white?.

Bike Hub opening at New Columbia-10

Graves speaking at the dedication of the Bike Hub
in New Columbia last summer.
National Bike Summit 2010 - Lobby Day-15

Graves (on right, in orange scarf) lobbying
for bikes on Capitol Hill in 2010).

Graves’ focus on the issues of race and equity raised awareness of the issue locally, regionally, and nationally. Graves spearheaded a committee on equity in the Portland Bike Plan for 2030, which led an entire chapter devoted to the topic. She reached out to organizations like ODOT, TriMet, and east Portland neighborhood activists to put on events like “Bikes for All” and the “Equity Ride.” The CCC also went out into the community and established a presence — and a relationship — with social service and low-income housing organizations. That work was capped by the opening of the Bike Repair Hub in the New Columbia neighborhood last summer.

“Once we started to talk about these issues,” she recalled yesterday, “We started to connect with other people in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Major Taylor clubs around the country. We began to share ideas at the national level.”

Once the conversation started on the national level, Graves says, “The national organizations and the bike industry started paying attention.” She cited how the industry-funded non-profit Bikes Belong helped fund their Bike Repair Hub, how the Alliance for Biking and Walking began to pay attention to community bike shops, and how the League of American Bicyclists added equity and race-related topics to the agenda at the National Bike Summit. Graves shared that she’s excited for this year’s National Bike Summit where she says the League is set to announce a new diversity initiative.

Platinum celebration at City Hall-67.jpg

Jay and Alison Graves in 2008.

Asked whether she feels she’s built a strong enough foundation for her work to continue without her, Graves didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely.”

Looking back, she said, “I’m very proud of asking an important question and I’m very optimistic about how that question and how the answering of that question has been taken forward by many people in a lot of different ways.” Graves said confronting the lack of diversity in the bike scene was never an easy conversation to start. “It was challenging and it involved a lot of personal growth. I’ve learned a lot in the process about institutional racism, white privilege, and so on. And the work’s not over.”

Graves says the next chapter that the CCC plans to take on is to use bikes for “employment pathways.” “We’ve heard from many people in the communities we work in that to making biking relevant you should make jobs with it. Bikes provide people with an infrastructure of opportunity.” The CCC is in process of developing programs that will offer bike-related job training for people from underserved communities. “How do we create a path to mechanic jobs, retail positions, and beyond?”

As for what Graves will do after a few months vacation, she said she might end up back in the environmental education field (where she worked prior to the CCC). “Bicycles haven’t been part of the environmental movement as much as they should be. Maybe there’s an opportunity to help connect that dot.”

Best of luck Alison! Your perspective, hard work, and eloquence around what is often a sensitive issue, was an inspiration to many.

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New company will use bikes to power billboards, promotions

New company will use bikes to power billboards, promotions

PDX Pedal Promotions is a new company that will unleash bike-riding “brand peddlers” throughout the streets of Portland. These riders will pedal around billboards towed in trailers behind bicycles and will do other other bike-based promotions. They call it “Portland style advertising.”

Here’s more from their website:

”PDX Pedal Promotions offers outdoor mobile billboard advertising. Unlike wrapping the [pedi]cabs, our peddlers tote billboards behind their bikes! This method of advertising has proven to be extremely effective, memorable & personable. Not only do our brand peddlers distract the audience with your mobile banner, we also act as brand ambassadors by handing out promotional material and engaging with the audience to create a personable & meaningful experience. Eco-friendly advertising gives your company a ‘green-edge’ which is also hip with our Portland crowd.”

The company was co-founded by two entrepreneurs with many years of marketing and business management experience. Tracie Benjamin and Ryan Conner. Benjamin tells us she’s lived in Portland for 23 years and worked at an ad agency in downtown Portland prior to launching Pedal Promotions. “Every week I would pass hundreds of bikers while commuting around the area,” she shared in an email yesterday. Benjamin says her new company is an attempt to make brand impressions off-line, in a more personal way. “That idea, combined with Portland’s culture, landed us PDX Pedal Promotions.”

The company is sponsored by Volt Electric, a Portland-based electrician services provider owned by Benjamin’s business partner, Ryan Conner. He says many of his customers want to be “eco-friendly” so he’s confident bicycle-powered advertising will be well-received.

PDX Pedal Promotions will focus their routes on Portland’s central city, from Nob Hill in northwest, Lloyd Center in the east, the central eastside, and the South Waterfront. Clients will purchase packages of one to 10 rides lasting three hours each.

This new company will join others that offer bike-based advertising and promotions. B-Line PDX, primarily a cargo delivery company, wraps their large trikes with advertisements and passes out free products at events. Portland Pedal Power, who also mainly focuses on delivery, offers a suite of mobile marketing services. Several of Portland’s pedicab companies also carry advertising messages on their cabs.

— Learn more at PDXPedalPromotions.com.

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PBOT will begin installing new 20 mph signs next month

PBOT will begin installing new 20 mph signs next month

Ginny Burdick with new speed limit sign

The wait is almost over.
(Photo: Michael Andersen/Portland Afoot)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is gearing up to install 300 new speed limit signs throughout the city. The new signs are the result of a law PBOT passed in 2011 that gives the city legal authority to lower speed limits by 5 mph on residential streets that have been specifically designed as bikeways (a.k.a. neighborhood greenways). Since these neighborhood greenway streets are already at 25 mph, the new law allows PBOT to set the new limit at 20.

The big unveiling of these new signs was in August of last year; but PBOT has yet to install any new signs. We asked PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson for an update on the project last week. Anderson says they plan to begin installing the signs early next month and installation should be complete by April or May. The 300 signs will cover about 70 miles of streets at a cost of $30,00 to $45,000.

The map of locations where the signs will go (which we shared last summer) closely mirrors where PBOT has focused neighborhood greenway projects in the past (PDF). No word yet as to whether or not PBOT plans to accompany the new signs with targeted enforcement actions; but that might be a good idea. As we all know, laws are only as powerful as the enforcement and compliance that accompanies them.

Another speed-related issue we’re following is the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s push to extend the 20 mph speed limit policy beyond Portland. As we reported earlier this month, the BTA has put lower speeds atop their 2013 legislative agenda. Specifically, they will lobby state lawmakers to allow all cities and towns in Oregon to lower residential speed limits to 20 mph. Stay tuned for that debate.

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Community gathers to dedicate Tracey Sparling memorial ‘Pedal Garden’

Community gathers to dedicate Tracey Sparling memorial ‘Pedal Garden’

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-9

PNCA President Tom Manley holds a plaque that will be mounted near the Pedal Garden.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-13

A large crowd gathered inside Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland today to remember former student Tracey Sparling and to dedicate Pedal Garden — a work of functional art that doubles as the school’s main bike parking area.

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-3

The crowd at PNCA Commons during
today’s dedication event.

After opening remarks by PNCA President Tom Manley, the crowd — which included Tracey’s mom Sophie, her dad Lee, and her aunt Susan Kubota — heard from two speakers, each of whom offered a different perspective on the project and what it means to the school and the community.

With a photo of Tracey on an easel on stage beside him, PNCA alum and board member Jean-Pierre Veillet, told the story of Pedal Garden. He shared that when he first heard about Sparling’s death he got in touch with PNCA’s Dean of Students, Michael Hall, to ask, “How can I do something?” Then, 11 days later, he continued, “Brett Jarolimek too would be lost to the PNCA community, on his bicycle.”

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-4

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-5

Ultimately, Veillet continued, he felt it was the “immense responsibility” of the PNCA community to remember Tracey and Brett in the only way they knew how: “We wanted to make something. That is what we do.”

In his remarks today, Veillet shared more about what the community created…

“The Pedal Garden is a new beginning, it is fertile soil, another place to launch forward from, a place to for students to network their caring and creativity into the fabric of our community…

Tracey Sparling’s passing caused even those who didn’t know her great grief… We share our respect for her and we continue to be fearless in the boundaries of our creative hearts because the cause is so great.”

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-6

Francesco Cupolo

After Veillet spoke, a current PNCA student shared his thoughts. Francesco Cupolo didn’t know Tracey; but he did know her way of moving around the city. Cupolo bikes across the river to the PNCA studio on the east side several times a day. He told the crowd that he moved to Portland for three main reason: “I wanted a dog, a garden, and I wanted a bike to be my sole mode of transportation.”

Cupolo came to Portland in large part because of our bike-friendly vibe. He shared today that the Pedal Garden, “speaks to that same commitment to establishing supportive infrastructure for cyclists that I noticed before enrolling — and it does so in a meaningful way, that touches my heart.”

After the speeches, the crowd moved outside where the lead fabricator of the Pedal Garden, David Boekelheide, presented PNCA President Tom Manley with a plaque. Boekelheide then hung his own bicycle on one of the flower hooks.

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-8

PNCA President Tom Manley.
Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-10

David Boekelheide tries his creation.

After the crowds dispersed, I chatted with PNCA Dean of Students Michael Hall. He referred to Pedal Garden as, “Art meets utility meets memory.”

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-1

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-16

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-18

And Lee Sparling, Tracey’s dad, said it was nice to see so many people show up today. “But it’s also bittersweet,” he added, “This is all bringing back some memories that are difficult to deal with.”

Pedal Garden dedication event at PNCA-11

Left to right: Susan Kubota, Lee Sparling, Sophie Sparling.

Lee’s comment reminded me how important it is that we never forget October 2007. As budgets cutbacks loom and a transition is taking place in City Hall, our city’s commitment to safe streets cannot waver. While Pedal Garden is a beautiful monument to a person and a tragedy that touched many of us deeply, I think J.P. Veillet put it best when he said during remarks today, “The Pedal Garden is built of lasting materials, humble intentions, and true heart. Please remember the true lives and true losses that it took to make this place.”

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