Friday, July 18, 2008

Walkable Portland

PDX Green has a short post about the walkability score of Portland. In general, we do fairly well, but I question LA taking a higher overall score than Portland did.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

EPA report on the CRC

From the Oregonian - apparently the Feds (EPA) disagree with the whole charades that the CRC committee has been pulling with their so-called assessment of the bridge replacement project. Surprise, surprise, objective outside assessment from people with no bias have raised the issue of increased urban sprawl, as well as environmental issues not even thought of by anyone to date:

In a challenge to Northwest highway planners, the federal government has found inadequate study of air and water pollution that could come from a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds that bridge planners did not adequately examine the potential for a bridge to induce sprawl, increase pollution and contaminate an aquifer that supplies Vancouver and Clark County's drinking water.

The critique is drawn from EPA's review of the Columbia River Crossing's 5,000-page environmental impact statement, and it extends to other areas as well. Among those are whether doubling the congested I-5 bridge from six to 12 lanes will promote suburban sprawl; whether the combination of air toxics, noise and other pollution will punish North Portland communities living close to the I-5; and whether massive pile-driving efforts will stir up toxic sediments, compromising federally protected migrating salmon.

The EPA makes clear in a cover letter to its 13-page account that it is "generally supportive" of replacing the I-5 bridge with new spans that include light rail. But its report is blunt in citing deficiencies in the study of how the I-5 bridge project would affect the region's traffic, growth, and quality of life.

EPA's findings
To view a copy of the EPA's letter, see

None of the findings were a surprise, said Heather Gundersen, environmental manager for the CRC project.

"We have heard most of that from the EPA throughout our coordination process," Gundersen said. "It's something we're going to work through with them. It's something we're going to address point by point."

But the findings reinforced the objections of many local environmental groups, which have argued a new bridge would promote sprawl and undermine the region's efforts to curb global warming.

And the agency's critique underscored concern about the bridge's health effects on poor and racial minorities living nearby, and its impact on children living or attending school near the I-5 - subjects receiving less public attention.

"There was no indication (in the CRC environmental impact statement) of how these vulnerable populations might be impacted by air pollution, noise, diesel construction vehicles and increased traffic," the EPA wrote.

EPA's letter, dated July 1 and addressed to federal highway and mass transit officials managing the CRC project, surfaced Thursday as the bridge won conditional endorsement from a panel of 17 regional leaders. The panel, which controls spending of federal transportation money in the region, includes the mayors of Vancouver, Beaverton, Milwaukie, and Troutdale; three councilors of the Metro regional planning agency; Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams and Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler.

As momentum on the new bridge picks up, it's unclear what effect EPA's assessments will have.

Tom Buchele, a Lewis & Clark law professor representing some critics of the project, said it would take years for the highway planners to address EPA's concerns. He called EPA's assessment "a pretty low grade."

"They can fix it," he said, "but there's a lot of new analysis EPA is asking for."

A key EPA concern centers on the Troutdale Sole Source Aquifer, which extends beneath the Columbia River and supplies 99 percent of Clark County's residents with drinking water. But bridge planners did not examine whether bridge pilings would intrude into water channels within the aquifer, bringing contaminated sections of the aquifer into contact with clean ones, the EPA found.

Air pollution and sprawl are also federal worries.

The CRC's analysis "focuses on emissions trends that are not influenced by the project," EPA writes, and ignore wind, weather and proximity of people to bridge emissions. Those projections also assume a future that features cleaner-burning cars.

The CRC staff had assumed a 12-lane toll bridge would not promote housing or job growth in the I-5 corridor, The Oregonian has reported. In its environmental impact statement, the CRC had concluded land use controls now in place could keep sprawl -and side effects such pollution - in check.

The EPA disagrees.

"Roadway expansion of this magnitude, even with tolls and transit, may stimulate travel demand for use of privately owned vehicles and may contribute to pressures for dispersed development," the letter says, referring to sprawl.

The EPA raises concern that construction noise and vibration could kill or hurt fish if it's too loud. Endangered Steller Sea Lions and 13 species of endangered or threatened fish are found in the Columbia River. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which has responsibility for protecting such animals, did not meet a July 1 deadline to comment on CRC's assessment of the bridge's impact on fish.

Fisheries Service officials on Thursday said they will have their comments will be finished in a few weeks.

Dylan Rivera: 503-221-8532; For environment news, go to:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Public Policy?

After reading the unanimous approval of the new Columbia River Crossing replacement bridge project, in which a team of so-called 'experts' have been at work for several years now pushing a proposal for a new bridge across the Columbia River for I-5 between Portland and Vancouver, Washington... I must say, I'm not really surprised anymore.

I would just like to ask the government officials exactly what the point of all this 'stuff' is - and by stuff, I mean infrastructure: sewers, roads, transit, schools, hospitals, parks, bridges, and the like. I mean... we're in the middle of a massive population boom in the state of Oregon right now, but noone really has been able to grasp or direct any energy at, or articulating a vision, at what our region - and our cities - are going to become.

At the same time, with plans on spending billions of dollars on new bridges, light rail, freeways, and schools, it seems like the political process is the dominant force for directing all this work. Unfortunately, many people have a conflicting vision of what we'd like our city, our state, our homes to become.

The new mayor promotes cycling, then votes on a new bridge. Our governor calls for people to bike to work - then practices it just once, as if bicycling one day out of the year will really make much of a difference. What happened to action? What happened to backing up your talk with action, and real money? To me it seems like the classic bait and switch, calling on the progressive vote with false promise of change, only to spend money on the big-ticket 1960s-era infrastructure projects.

And as I last noted, we probably won't even need any of it. Especially now considering how much press and popularity alternative modes of transportation are getting, for instance.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Vacation Time!

It's been a long time, but I'm finally getting around to some more travel time. I suppose that my two days in Seattle last spring break counted as well, but this time I'll be in San Francisco for five days - a city I haven't visited since I was 12. Yes, I really don't get out that much. Definitely looking forward to some nice R&R - and visiting friends I haven't seen in a long time!

Should be interesting to see a real city for a change - and there is a lot of stuff to see as well!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rethinking the City

So with the way gas prices and vehicle sales are going (see previous post), what does the future hold? Are we just going to continue as usual, but simply downsize our cars, switching to Smarts, scooters, and electrics? Or, as the city of Portland has been pursuing for the past several decades, are we going to start truly molding our cities' urban development patterns?

Of particular importance is the zoning system that has been in place in America for much of this century. Yes, that oh-so-Modern ideal of separation of function; discreet places for home, work, school, and shopping. Aside from the urban cores, like New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and all the others, the newer "cities" are dominated by suburban development patterns that preclude organic development and placement of different uses in close proximity. In other words, nothing is within walking or bicycling distance of each other.

The Overhead Wire has an excellent post on the topic, in regards to laying out a comprehensive transportation service to support such a mixed-use city. Think... New York, Paris, Barcelona, or Tokyo: a dense network of underground rail lines that can quickly whisk you between different sectors in a city.

This differs from the normal system of city center & suburban residential districts that dominated American metropolitan development patterns of the 19th century, however. In fact, a frequent, high capacity transit system will in fact promote mixed use high density development, as it allows people to live without relying on cars - which are a phenomenal waste of land. Not to mention expensive, too.

The Romance is Over

...or, the dominance of the SUV in America is about to end. No big surprise that large, inefficient vehicle sales are down - 55% for Ford alone.

By comparison, Ford's largest SUV, the Expedition, gets 12 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway.

George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said retail -- or non-fleet -- sales of passenger cars exceeded those of trucks and sport-utility vehicles combined for the first time in at least 20 years.

Interesting CIBC report predicting $7/gallon gas within 2 years, among other things:

As gasoline prices climb inexorably, American driving habits are going to have to undergo a massive change, mimicking the driving habits long adopted by Europeans who have faced much higher gas prices.

Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off America’s highways in history.

CIBC Report

*The CIBC World Markets is the investment subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce... not exactly a "looney left" group of hippies claiming doomsday scenarios.