For many years the part of the city government concerned with streets and sidewalks was called the Portland Department of Transportation, or "PDOT" for short, pronounced "Pee-dot" but without any allusion to medical tests or target practice.
In some bureaucratic reshuffling a few years ago, this bit of the government was renamed the Portland Office of Transportation. I don't know whether to a Portland Building denizen, it's grander to be an Office or a Department, but so it became.
Since the renaming, I've had occasional dealings with the transportation folks, and I've noticed something interesting. They all still refer to their agency as PDOT, both in speech and in writing. This week I read a letter from the Portland Office of Transportation that used the acronym "PDOT" a dozen times.
Why not POT? Instead of potholes, we could have POTholes.
The current pair of interstate bridges provides three lanes in each direction. One of the controversies over whether, and how, to replace them is to decide how big the replacement should be. Transportation advocates want the new bridge to be more than six lanes, because traffic demand is growing and requires a larger bridge; transit advocates and others want the new bridge to be limited to six lanes, because (if I understand their argument rightly) putting in more capacity would encourage suburban sprawl.
Let's dissect that argument. First, a new bridge of 8 or 10 lanes would not encourage more people to move to the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area, not even if it is of iconic design. People move here for jobs, not to look at bridges. The rate of growth will be about the same whether or not a replacement bridge has more lanes.
What it will affect is where the growth occurs. A bigger bridge will direct more of that growth to the Vancouver side of the river. A smaller bridge will keep more of that growth on the Portland side. Therefore, the advocates of keeping the replacement bridge to six lanes are saying in effect that Oregon's farmland is less valuable than Washington's farmland, and that sprawl belongs on the Oregon side and not the Washington side. They likely don't know that they're saying this, but they are.
The Federal Reserve Bank rescued Bear Stearns (an investment banking concern), or more exactly found it a dance partner, because Bear Stearns was too big to fail. (James Surowiecki, writing in The New Yorker, parodied the phrase as "too dumb to fail.") The phrase "too big to fail" means that an institution is so large, and therefore so important, to the nation's financial system that it must be kept in business because if it failed suddenly, its counterparties (the MBA's fancy word that means "the people it does business with") would also fail. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are next on the "too big to fail" list.
The immediate result is that businesses "too big to fail" get rescued, one way or another, and they, or the parties who swallow them up, get even bigger. That begs the second step of rescuing businesses that are "too big to fail." The first step is, obviously, to rescue them. The second step is, or should be, to slim them down -- to feed them business Metrecal -- so that they are no longer too big to fail, and if they then make the same silly mistakes (or even new and improved mistakes) the government can let them fail, secure in the knowledge that they are no longer too big to fail.
So for example, if the government steps in to rescue Fannie and Freddie (which it shows every sign of itching to do), the government needs to force Fannie and Freddie onto a diet, and make them get smaller, either by sending back to the private sector some of the mortgage aggregation that Fannie and Freddie have been doing, or by making Fannie and Freddie split into about 5 pieces each.
As a further preventative, institutions that are "too big to fail" should be prohibited from buying any other institution, or being part of any other merger, whatever. Those who are already too big should be kept from merging their way into being an even bigger problem.
I don't think anyone in Washington has come forward to say this, in these plain terms. I would myself, but I don't like the summer weather in the District, and I don't think this can wait until October.
The United States Department of Justice says that conditions at a Chicago jail run by Cook County are so bad as to put prisoners at risk of physical abuse and even death. (Thanks to the ABA e-Journal, where I read this story.)
If I were the Cook County sheriff and had a sense of humor, I would do a point-by-point comparison of my jail with the federal jail at Guantanamo Bay (let's not mince words; it's a jail), see which comes off better, and then ask what the Department of Justice plans to do about the worse of the two.
If having passenger rail service between Portland and Vancouver is really the answer to the problem of congestion on the Interstate 5 bridges across the Columbia, then the low-cost way to provide that service is to use the existing rail track that runs from Union Station across the Willamette Railroad Bridge, through the Peninsula cut, to Vancouver's rail station. Some arrangement could be worked out with the rail company that owns the line and the bridges to run high-speed self-propelled (i.e., not electrified) railcars as a shuttle between the two points, with an intermediate stop at a new station to be built in the Peninsula cut and another intermediate stop on Hayden Island. The cost of the track and station improvements will be far less than the $1.5 billion cost of putting light rail on a replacement interstate bridge. Union Station is next to light rail and at one end of the Portland bus mall, so it will be easy for passengers to get there to take the interstate rail. With only two intermediate stops, the train trip will be fast. And because Union Station is going to be a hub for multi-modal transport, transfers will be easy on this side. C-Tran can reroute buses to Vancouver's train station and provide good connections on that end.
We already have a railroad bridge. We don't need another one. We need to get better use from the one we already have.
The justice system will eventually come to a conclusion about the tragedy in Silverton last week, in which a police officer shot and killed a young man who had beaten on the wrong door. Others have commented on whether the officer was justified. The thought that struck me, as I read the story, was that 20 years ago it might have been a story about a police officer named Hanlon who shot an illegal alien named Gonzalez; but last week the story was of a police officer named Gonzalez who shot an illegal alien named Hanlon.
I am still working on the Laquedem Plan to Finance Interstate Transportation And Make Tax-Free Shopping Easier for Washingtonians, but one piece of the plan involves some overlooked bits of Chapter 267 of Oregon Revised Statutes, the chapter that sets out the powers of mass transit districts such as TriMet.
A mass transit district (in this case, TriMet) has the power to build, buy, lease, and operate any improvements and facilities necessary or desirable for the mass transit system of the district. It may also enter into contracts with public agencies of the State of Washington to act jointly or in cooperation with them. ORS 267.225 allows a mass transit district to enter into agreements with other governmental agencies for the joint use of public right of way.
"Mass transit system" includes anything that provides mass transportation for passengers, or provides for the movement of people. This includes bridges that carry buses and allow people to move.
To pay for the system, a mass transit distrct can impose service charges and user fees under ORS 267.320, and it can use these funds to finance the construction, repair, operation, and use of any part of the "primary transit supportive system." The phrase "transit supportive system" means those facilities that are the surface transportation system of a county, including roads, rest areas, park-and-rides, transfer stations, malls, and parking lots. The "primary transit supportive system" means "those facilities upon which or adjacent to which the district physically operates."
If TriMet will operate buses across the Interstate Bridge, then the bridge can be part of the primary transit supportive system, and TriMet can acquire the bridge and charge tolls. (The highway department itself can't charge tolls because the bridge has been paid for -- long story -- but other agencies can, if they can acquire the bridge from ODOT and WSDOT.)
In fact, as I read the statute, TriMet can charge tolls for pretty much any part of the transportation system that it can acquire, as long as it is operating a transit system (meaning a bus) on the bit of the system for which it's charging a toll. It's something to think about.
The City of Portland installed red-light cameras some time ago. They flash and shoot when motorists run red lights. A clerk reads the photograph, looks up the license plate on the car (the automatic photo captures an image of the driver and the front license plate), and sends a citation to the car's owner.
Apparently a noticeable number of red-light runners drive cars without front license plates. So the City has instructed its parking meter readers to issue citations to parked cars that don't have front license plates. (My thanks to Worldwide Pablo, who blogged about this news here.)
Oregon law requires most motor vehicles to display a front plate and a rear plate when operated on a public highway. Motorcycles and some out-of-state cars are exempt, and can display only a rear plate. The problem that the City will face, when some bright soul or knowledgeable blog reader notices, is that the state law on license plates makes it a Class D violation, not to have a car that has only one plate, but to operate the car on a public street or highway when it has only one plate.
The relevant statute is ORS 803.540, part of the Oregon Vehicle Code. The code defines "operating" to involve movement. Parked cars aren't moving. When the meter reader tags the parked car, it isn't being operated and it isn't in violation of the statute. Perhaps someone operated it without a front plate to get it to the parking space, and perhaps someone will operate it without a front plate to get it from the parking space, but when it's parked, it isn't being operated, and the owner isn't violating ORS 803.540. (The full text of the statute is below the break.)
I got this inspiration from something that happened to me a few years ago, when I was walking toward my parked car in the parking lot of a business. A police car had stopped behind my car. The driver asked me if it was my car. I said it was. He said, "Did you know that your tags have expired?" He then explained that as he hadn't seen me operate the car on a public street, he couldn't cite me for operating a car with expired tags, and recommended that I first give him a chance to get out of the parking lot and a safe distance away, and then second get my car and me to DEQ at once. I did both.