Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bend solves its road problems in novel way

It takes a special skill to study traffic problems for a living and then opt to make them worse. 

That is what the city of Bend did recently on the city's east side.

West-bound traffic on Wilson is now worse after 'enhancements'
to the intersection at Ninth Street
For more than two years, a two-mile stretch of Reed Market has been under construction that forced east-siders to drive miles out of their way to reach southeast Third Street, the city's main thoroughfare.

Since Reed Market's west-bound lanes have been closed for nearly a year, drivers have been diverted to Wilson, a half-mile north of Reed Market. 

Wilson was originally designed to handle minimal traffic let alone nearly all of southeast Bend's cars, trucks, and SUVs.

At Ninth Street, adjacent to the railroad tracks, there is a four-way stop. Of course, with all southeast Bend vehicles diverted to this intersection, traffic backed up at least a quarter-mile in three of the four directions. 

Obviously, this intersection needed a temporary traffic signal to handle the diverted vehicles.

But, since one of the goals of the Reed Market work was to save as much money as possible to spend on beautifying 14th Street on Bend's west side, no signal was installed. The city knows it can do anything it wants to east-side residents because they never sue the city like west-siders do.

Okay, we dealt with it.

   Recently, the city made "enhancements" to the west-bound Wilson lanes at Ninth Street. 

Before the change, the right lane was for right turns only and the left lane was for left turn and straight-ahead traffic. 

About 75 percent of the vehicles are headed straight to Third Street. About 24.9 percent turns right on Wilson. The paltry remainder take a left on Ninth. This setup worked best at this failed intersection.

Of course, those are just my observations of driving through there every day at various hours.

The city, though, used no traffic counters, which are those rubber tubes you see occasionally on various roads being studied. It just felt like making a change.

City engineers decided it was best to have the right lane on Wilson be designated for right hand-turns and straight-ahead traffic, while the left lane was for left-turn only. So. almost all the traffic is in the right lane while the left lane remains empty.

This "enhancement" caused traffic to back up a half-mile, all the way to 15th Street. In other words, twice as bad as before.

So, to solve this city-created problem, staffers decided a temporary reader board would do the trick.

The reader board on 15th Street tells drivers that the intersection at Ninth and Wilson is now congested and to take an alternate route. Well, no kidding.

But, since Reed Market is closed to west-bound traffic, Wilson was the "alternate" route.

It's a ruse worthy of a Monty Python skit.

When a road becomes choked with traffic that was diverted to that road, just put up another sign that says, "Congestion ahead, take alt route."

Of course, taking so many "alternate routes" could lead you back to where you started, but that's okay.

We're known as "roundabout" Bend anyway.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Simple math leads Buehler not to run for governor

Buehler should retain his House seat
Well, this flirtation didn't last long.

First-term Rep. Knute Buehler, (R-Bend) had made moves, during the legislative session and afterwards, that signaled his intent to run for governor.

The orthopedic surgeon, a pal of disgraced ex-Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, is far more liberal than most Republicans in this state. This fact would've attracted swing voters, provided he would've survive the GOP primary.

He championed easier access to birth control and it passed the Democratic-controlled legislature. He's demonstrated, unlike most GOP legislators, that he can work with Democrats.

However, when Buehler ran for secretary of state against Kate Brown in 2012 and lost, he took up the ridiculous and completely bogus cause of "voter fraud" to burnish his conservative bona-fides.

Despite Buehler receiving endorsements from all of the major newspapers in the state, Brown won re-election easily.

Still, Buehler won election to the House in 2014 in a district with more registered Democrats, by 5 percentage points, than Republicans.

Statewide, the registration gap is even larger, by about 8 percentage points. Oregon is a "blue" state.

Also, after Brown took over for Kitzhaber a few months after his re-election, she led one of the most effective and progressive legislative sessions in years. Her political star is rising.

Brown is likely to run for governor next year. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president, her coattails would surely return Brown to office in Salem.

Buehler's internal polling probably showed him the same thing.

And, since the Independent Party of Oregon now has "major" party status, there is no guarantee it would endorse Buehler as it did during the secretary of state race. I mean, why have another party if it's just going to toe the Republican Party line.

The Independent Party, whose members lean toward Tea Party positions, would likely siphon off votes from he Republican candidate in 2016.

Oregon, which was solidly Republican for more than a century, hasn't elected a GOP governor in more than 30 years.

Having Donald Trump as the national face of the party can't help.

With Buehler's bow-out, the Independent Party's new legitimacy and Brown's demonstrated leadership, it looks like the GOP drought will continue unless a true, viable candidate emerges.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Avoid Bend's Old Mill District during concerts

Beer fest at Les Schwab Amphitheater last weekend
Tried to go out for a little stroll along the river today, but was prevented from returning to my car on the river walkway.

It seems that the city of Bend allows Bill Smith, the owner of the Old Mill District, (OMD) to block public access to public walkways and roads.

It was just past 4:30 pm today and my wife and I were walking back to our car, which was parked behind the vacant Orvis building.

A guard next to Anthony's restaurant blocked our way from proceeding north along the riverfront.

She said a concert was slated to begin at 6:30 pm and the Old Mill was banning any "loitering" along the pathway to people who could hear the music for free.

Well, it was about two hours before the concert was to begin. The opening act was doing a sound check. We were just walking back to our car and not loitering to listen to a sound check.

But, we didn't push on pass the guard and continue along the river. Instead, we walked in front of the shops along the road as she directed.

Thank god I didn't buy anything down at the Old Mill aside from an iced latte. In fact, I never buy anything at the ridiculously overpriced stores. And, I've never paid to see a concert there. Now, I'm so glad I haven't.

Occasionally, I go to a movie there or eat at one of the restaurants.

Now, I no longer see a need to visit the Old Mill on the day of a concert if access to the river is restricted.

The Old Mill has received flak before over it's closure of Shevlin Hixon Dr., a public road adjacent to the Les Schwab amphitheater, during a concert. The road is even closed to residents walking home after patronizing the Old Mill's shops, restaurants or movie multiplex.

This is what happens when private interests collide with public access to a natural wonder.

It's important to note this because well-heeled interests are angling to restrict public access to the Deschutes River in downtown Bend when Pacific Power's small hydro facility is eventually dismantled.

A redevelopment of the area will likely occur with major funding from taxpayers statewide. Yes, the wealthy always need corporate welfare to "create jobs."

As they say, socialize the costs and privatize the profits.

Oh, and by the way, they're allowed to cut off access to a scenic river.

Well, I urge everyone to avoid the Old Mill District on concert days. It obviously doesn't need your business.

Also, oppose the current redevelopment plan for downtown Bend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vote yes on Bend's gas tax

The American way of fixing our roads
The Bend City Council recently voted to put a gas tax measure before voters in March, but then also voted to give away $1 million to developers for the vague promise of "affordable housing."

In essence, don't expect potholes to filled until a year after they appear.

Should a gas tax pass, the city will still be short of funds because they won't be collecting building impact fees of at least at $1 million.

Roads will degrade more and we'll have little or no "affordable housing" to show for it.

The gas tax, which is the only fair way to pay for road repairs, may be set at 10 cents a gallon, but will likely be either 5 cents or 3 cents a gallon like most of Oregon's major cities and counties.

A 5-cent per gallon tax could bring in about $2.5 million per year, but with $80 million worth or road repairs needed today, it would take 32 years to fix the roads. A 10-cent tax would get us there in half the time.

This would be a great time to enact a gas tax because gas prices are expected to fall below $2 per gallon this winter. Bend's gas prices are lower than they are in Washington state and about a dollar lower per gallon than Southern California. Gas prices are expected to stay low for at least two more years.

Visitors to Bend will still marvel at the fact that we have relatively low gas prices when you consider it has to be trucked from out of state to get here.

Bend's main industry is tourism and most tourists drive to Bend. The annual beer festival last weekend drew an estimated 40,000 to Bend, which is about half our current population. With a local gas tax, tourists could directly help pay about a third of our road maintenance budget.

Of course, the predicable whiners from the oil industry and Republicans hog the news with doom-and-gloom prophecies should a local gas tax pass.

Even three of our councilors voted against putting a gas tax before voters. One councilor, Victor Chudowsky, even claimed that gas taxes don't work. Right, no gas taxes built our roads in this country. Please, Chudowsky has no business serving in government or anywhere. Someone get him a butterfly net and set him loose.

A committee will help shape the gas tax proposal. It will also look at other funding sources including a monthly fee on city water/sewer/storm bills. But, because our fuel taxes are too low for the road work required, a hefty property tax bond will be needed for major road projects. And, this increased property tax will make housing even less affordable.

Politicians in Washington refuse to consider raising the federal gax tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, so it is left to the states to raise fuel tax even as they scratch their heads and wonder how to fund road repairs. The federal gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993, so the burden falls to the states. Even a penny per gallon per year would do wonders for fixing our crumbling infrastructure and put people to work. Fuel taxes in much of the developed world are $3 dollars to $4 dollars per gallon.

It's remarkable that people can't figure out why our roads or bridges don't get repaired. If we don't want to pay for them through a modest increase in the gas tax they won't get fixed.

It's not complicated.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Anger Amplifier in Chief and his no-Trump bid for the presidency

As Donald Trump taps into the angst curdling among Republicans, he also has plenty of energy left over to trash the tenets of Dale Carnegie or what ever is left of decency.

For that, he's been rewarded with front-runner status by a large margin among the ridiculously large Republican field trying desperately to win back the presidency.

And that's after his deplorable comments about Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly, who would otherwise only be known to the Fox crowd.

Whereas President Obama has Luther, his Anger Translator on Key and Peele, Trump is the Anger Amplifier for the Republican base, which hates Mexicans, women (the Kelly comments), losers (John McCain lost to Obama) and anyone who currently works in Washington, especially Lindsey Graham.

Graham was the only Republican candidate to criticize Trump's statements on Mexicans. The rest waited until the "McCain-is-no-hero" comment before piling on.

Trump, who has stayed at the front of the GOP polls, is not just a gift to Democrats, but to Americans everywhere. He articulates what the craziest among us believe deep down in their hearts.

He exposes American enmity towards anyone who is not a white male or Christian.

While Trump opposes gay marriage, he personally mocks traditional marriage by marrying three times.

Trump is the ultimate Republican. He claims he's much richer than he actually is. He has exploited the bankruptcy court four times. He's supremely egotistical and has a comb-over hairstyle that no one envies.

Trump is the emperor with no clothes, but doesn't know it. His supporters, which include those who back his dissing of McCain's war record, can't see that Trump is actually naked and afraid.

By claiming that McCain is not a war hero, Trump demonstrated he is not only an idiot, but also lacks any sensibility to be a doorman at his own hotel, let alone be president of the United States.

His comments on Kelly shows that the GOP war on women is alive and well.

Yet, he's ignited the Republican base like no other candidate.

That is the sad legacy of Donald Trump. There are so many Republicans, and other Americans, who are so full of hate that they can't see the writing on the wall. They are true losers.

Let freedom ring.

Friday, August 7, 2015

So long, Stewart, you did well

The news won't be the same without Stewart
Now that Jon Stewart has left the building, we no longer have a voice of sanity/hilarity to keep us really informed on the issues of the day.

When Stephen Colbert bailed on his show last year, I was more bummed than I am today after Stewart's last show, but it's still a down day.

Together they formed the yin and yang of satire and mockery.

They cut through the bullshit better than any other news sources out there.

Stewart made reference last night to how they approached the show by being ever vigilant of the "three layers of bullshit" that cover, and sometimes, smother us.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart mocked the way "real" news channels, particularly Fox and CNN, covered the news with layers of bullshit.

He did so in an often hilarious way. Also, the field segments were often brilliant take-downs of the way "60 Minutes" does their ambush interviews.

What the "real" news channels got wrong about Stewart is that he didn't just appeal to "millenials," but to us "baby boomers," too.

And, we don't just get our news from The Daily Show. In fact, Daily Show viewers are often more informed than most Fox News addicts.

Studies have shown that those who rely on Fox News for their information know less about what's going on in the world than those who watch no TV/cable news at all.

What Fox News and CNN don't admit is that they are in the entertainment business, just like Stewart.

They pretend to inform and enlighten, but they do the opposite. Fox News, in particular, traffics in hate and paranoia.

Jon Stewart didn't pretend he was anything other than a comedian, and provided better insight into the daily news than anyone else out there.

Stewart was also impressive by the diversity of his staff. He not only had many nationalities represented, along with many women, but he also gave breaks to the oddballs, misfits and class clowns out there who wouldn't have enjoyed such success otherwise.

His legacy is showing how us, and future comics, how to understand the news of the day through biting humor.

"Bullshit is everywhere," he said. "If you smell something, say something."

The torch has been passed to a new generation.