Finally. Better late than never. This was my "glass half full" attitude toward a front page story and lead editorial (regarding different subjects) in the Salem Statesman Journal today.
The story, "Building Support to Stop Third Bridge," focused on the three leaders of No Third Bridge, a grass roots movement aimed at stopping city leaders from wasting $700 million of taxpayer money on another bridge across the Willamette River.
This was the SJ online comment I left about the story:
Good story. But there are more facts to tell about this unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid for looming $700 million waste of taxpayer money.
It was telling that Peter Fernandez, City of Salem Public Works Director, said he supports all the much cheaper alternatives put forward by the No Third Bridge folks -- including, I assume, retrofitting the current bridges to withstand the "big one" earthquake that is a matter of when, not if.
So basically Fernandez is a No Third Bridge supporter! Welcome on board the stop-the-bridge train, Mr. Fernandez. Why? Because the only thing Fernandez said in support of spending the $700 million isn't true: "the future indicates we need that new crossing."
Ooh, I love vague philosophical pronouncements. Who is that "future"? Can we interview the future? No.
All we have are present-day evidence of flat or declining traffic loads across the current bridges, clear trends away from cars and toward alternative means of transportation, definite signs that young people and baby boomer types favor living in walkable central mixed use areas, not the sprawling suburbs the City and Chamber of Commerce are looking at in their way-back-when glasses.
The future will be different from today. That's why it is called the future, not the present. What Salem builds today will help shape that future. Salem should be creating the future it wants, not rely on vague fact-free notions of The Future forcing us in a certain direction.
Visit No Third Bridge on Facebook and learn more about why this project needs to be stopped before it bankrupts taxpayers and damages Salem's livability.
I had something to do with today's story, since starting in May I urged Statesman Journal executive editor Michael Davis to do more and better reporting about the Third Bridge.
To his credit, Davis told me that he would run a front page story focusing on the opponents. I gave him contact information for the No Third Bridge leaders.
But I hoped and expected that the story would run before the City of Salem public comment period ended on June 21. Kind of hard for the public to express their opinion on the most expensive public works project in Salem's history if they don't understand both the pro and con sides of the bridge issue.
Well, that's water under the bridge, so to speak.
Reporter Tracy Loew did a good job introducing Statesman Journal readers to the many reasons why it doesn't make sense to build a hyper-expensive Third Bridge. I'm looking forward to more stories from Ms. Loew, an investigative reporter.
There's lots to investigate here. The No Third Bridge folks offered up some ideas:
A nice profile of the leaders of the NO 3rd Bridge effort in the Statesman Journal today. Let's hope it leads to more investigative journalism on the 3rd Bridge.
There was a recent article in the S-J that stated that investigative journalism was their highest priority. We haven't seen nearly enough investigation during the seven years that the 3rd Bridge has been under consideration.
Here are some things the S-J could investigate:
- Why was the River Valley subdivision approved in West Salem just a few years ago when it is directly in the path of the Salem Alternative plan for the 3d Bridge?
- How come only three of the eight recommendations of the 1998 Bridgehead Engineering Study that would increase the capacity of the existing bridges have been built?
- Why did the City install a stoplight at the end of the Front St. exit ramp from the Center St. Bridge that backs up traffic on the bridge at peak hours?
- It is true that peak hour traffic on the existing bridges has not increased since 1995?
- How would building a 3rd Bridge downstream from Salem in the Willamette River floodplain increase the risk of flooding in the City?
- Who are the members of the Third Bridge Alliance and what motivates them to want to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to build a 3rd Bridge?
- What are the chances that any state or federal money would be made available to build a 3rd Bridge in Salem, or would the entire bill come to us?
- How much, exactly, has been spent to plan the 3rd Bridge since 2006 and where have those millions gone?
The editorial was about an ill-advised proposal by the City of Salem to install parking meters in downtown Salem. It followed a belated meeting by the Statesman Journal editorial board with Carole Smith, Eric Kittleson, and Stephen Perkins -- leaders of the Stop Parking Meters Downtown initiative campaign.
Back in May the Statesman Journal editorialized in favor of moving ahead with downtown parking meters after only talking with proponents of the proposal. (I can't find this first editorial on the SJ web site; have asked online staff for help in locating it, as I'd like to contrast the two editorials).
Pleasingly, today's editorial takes a much more cautious, analytical, and public involvement-needed tone.
Interestingly, it is titled "Don't err in parking meters for downtown Salem," though the SJ editorial board did just that when it rushed to judgment on supporting parking meters in that first editorial before getting all the facts and hearing opposing viewpoints.
Salem Breakfast on Bikes has a good analysis of the Third Bridge story and parking meters editorial. Check out "Parking Meter Editorial and No Third Bridge Front Page Piece Show Contrasting Approaches."
Better late than never, the paper finally ran a piece on the N3B group. Its timing, of course, is curious: Long after the City Council deliberations and vote, long after the information might have served the public interest for this milestone.
The approach in the piece, also less analytical and more personality-profile, differs interestingly from a sort of companion editorial on parking meters.
(It should be noted that the reporter behind the N3B piece previously worked in depth on WESD, and is an investigative reporter rather than features writer. We can hope that her piece is just the start of more in-depth reporting!)
If the paper has seemed locked into the a priori conclusion and circular logic of "we need a bridge because we need a bridge," on the matter of parking meters, in their editorial today they show a significantly different spirit of inquiry, exhibit analytical curiosity and sophistication, and a willingness to innovate and experiment.
They also met with parking meter critics in a formal editorial meeting, a courtesy they did not extend to N3B advocates.
Yes. In fact, no Statesman Journal staff member talked with any Third Bridge opponents prior to the Salem City Council voting in favor of moving ahead with the project. I think No Third Bridge deserves a meeting with the editorial board.
Just as the editorial board changed its mind about parking meters after meeting with opponents, I'm pretty sure meeting with the No Third Bridge folks will cause some SJ editorial board members to look differently upon their "let's go for it" editorial in favor of a Third Bridge -- which, again, was written without learning the arguments against it.