Monday, December 18, 2006

Clark Co. Calls Columbian's Columbia Crossing Coverage Crap

It's not typically necessary, while fulfilling our charge to bring you the best of Oregon politics and culture statewide, to check out-of-state newspapers--even ones close by, like Clark County's Columbian. Our state media are by no means perfect; for instance we had to find out from Chicago's Sun-Times that Gordon Smith went to Utah earlier this month to beg lobbyists for money. But if we had to check every outlet by hand to scan them for Oregon stories, we'd go downright batty forthwith.

...and we'd be pretty stupid too, since Google will do the searching for you automatically, returning periodic updates about your topic via email. One such item came over the wires Friday, with implications for communities on both sides of the mighty Columbia--the Columbia River Crossing Project released the results of a Hibbitts survey commissioned by them to query Clark County's interest in running light rail across the river as part of any new crossing plan.

The reporter's angle, as seems usual with traditional media nowadays, was to parrot back what Hibbitts and the CRC gave them--Clark County residents want light rail now!
Light rail appears far more popular in Clark County today than when it was resoundingly defeated by voters nearly 12 years ago, according to a new poll released Thursday by the Columbia River Crossing study group.

The poll showed 68 percent of Clark County respondents favored extending light rail into Vancouver and farther north as one method of addressing Interstate 5 congestion. In the three Portland-area counties, 76 percent of respondents favored light rail across the Columbia River.

Clark County respondents also supported a new bridge, more lanes and employer incentives for flexible work hours, but opposed tolls.
Did you catch that last line? Respondents supported rail--but also a new bridge and more car lanes. OK, so they're open to the idea of rail now, but in the context of their other responses that hardly translates into the reported sentiment of "bring it on." The paper also tries to fashion the response as a turnaround from a decade ago, when county voters emphatically said no mas to mo' MAX. But that's problematic as well, since that was a specific proposal to spend a specific amount of money on a single, specific mode of transport construction, whereas the survey merely asked if people liked light rail as an option.

One speculation in the article suggests that the apparently increased interest may be due in part to the current cultural millieu, in which light rail is an established part of getting around in Portland metro, that didn't exist as late as 1995. While being as loosely supported as any other conclusion in the Columbian piece, I think it's a reasonable conclusion. But the reporter, in using the Hibbitts release (and CRC's touting of it), appears to have accepted that rationale as sufficient proof that attitudes have indeed changed. This comes despite a valiant attempt by members of Vancouver's City Councill--even rail-supporter Mayor Royce Pollard--to dampen outsized enthusiasm over the results:
[Pollard] doesn't think light-rail supporters should see the poll as definitive.

"I looked and it and said, 'Wow!' and said then 'Wait a minute, let's settle down.' I don't think anyone should be jumping up and dow n. A lot of details need to come out and a lot of people need to get engaged. It's probably pretty valid, but there's a lot more to come. There are good signs, but it's not the end of the game yet."

Clark County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris sounded dubious. She pointed to a section of the poll where respondents were asked, without prompting, what was needed to ease I-5's congestion. Only 13 percent of Clark County respondents mentioned light rail or mass transit while 82 percent mentioned highways and new bridges.
Morris' comment is insightful and, to this survey statistician's mind, probably gets a lot closer to the real feeling of Clark County residents--sure, if you ask "what do you think about having a light rail line into Portland?" people may well respond favorably. But the issue to people is not light rail, yes or no--it's the much broader question Morris points out: how would you like to see congestion addressed? Without being asked specifically about light rail, among respondents it barely came up--as opposed to more car-based solutions, which more than 4 in 5 respondents saw as the way out of gridlock.

It so happens I think that attitude and belief is preposterous, reminding me of Metro President David Bragdon's campaign line that "building roads to stop congestion is like having sex to prevent pregnancy." But this wasn't a policy paper; it was a survey, the premier resultant fact from it being that MAX across the river is still not seen as what's needed to deal with congestion--The Columbian's "we're loving it!" tone notwithstanding.

OK, fair enough, folks on the other side of the Gorge are not champing at the bit to get into bed with Fred Hansen. The online version of the article spurred a flood of comments, and as an Oregonian you may be shocked to see the vitriol with which some Washingtonians reject anything Oregon, and particularly the Portland part. Several were supportive of the idea in their comments to be sure, and others correctly called the survey analysis into question in an intelligent manner--but others simply vented in all kinds of nasty ways against what they see as the enemy to the south. Take a gander at some of them below, and feel the love!
Light rail is 1890's technology choo-choo trains at a tremendously high cost. There is NO WAY trains can do more than make a TINY dent in commuter traffic. Evidence is all over Portland, where traffic jams are still the "norm" and light rail has done nothing but obstruct traffic and cost a hell of a lot of money.

Building more roads and freeways would be cheaper and better serve the public, but idiot liberals don't like that idea. Liberals would rather have you on foot or riding bicycles in the rain after leaving your cave to work or shop.

Face facts - Liberals want to take this country DOWN, not "up".


I would rather sit in My Car Listening to my Sat. Radio and not have to Smell Drunks, Cigarette Smokers, and Listen to Disrespecting Youths, Their Language and their Music. For Me Any Price I Pay for My Car VS the Cost for Light Rail Which Doesn't even Closely Pay For It's Self is Worth Every Penny. Or as Mastercard Would Say......PRICELESS.....


Light Rail is about politics and control pure and simple. Portland wants control of Vancouver and this is there chance.

Light rail will NOT remove any cars from the freeways, it will take off the buses.

As for crime on the line, check with the Portland Police and you will find that the Light rail stops are their highest crime and drug trafficing rates in the areas.

The one that I really wanted to showcase--referring to our flagship city as the "Soviet Socialist Republic of Portland"--seems to have been taken off the board, by persons unknown. But you get the idea. As a final gesture to return the dialogue back to earnest discussions of whether light rail is really pulling its weight as a mode of transportation, I invite you to peruse a pair of fact sheets from Tri-Met covering rail ridership--this customer profile from 2005 {pdf} showing (for instance) that over 80% of Tri-Met riders use either MAX or the streetcar in their travels; tend to use the MAX on almost one out of every three days; do so predominantly by choice and use it extensively for recreation rather than commuting...or this one from October {also pdf}, indicating that MAX riders save Oregon roads from nearly 23 million car trips per year--cutting commuter traffic on the Banfield and Sunset Highways by as much as 26% and saving tons in aerial pollutants in the bargain...

Update, 1pm--
I see Chris Smith over at Portland Transport has The O's story on the survey, including a mighty helpful link to the survey questions and results {pdf, again}.