Saturday, April 30, 2011

"...I was really going in."

I only went out for a walk

And finally concluded to stay till sundown

For going out I found I was really going in.

John Muir

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A shameful crossing

The Crossing or "CRC"

When you plan an event or project, be careful what you call it. The name you give it, more often than not, will be what it becomes.

Case in point: "The Columbia River Crossing."

That’s exactly what the governors of Washington and Oregon have given us. A nondescript crossing. Had the project been called the Columbia River Bridge, we would stand a good chance of getting a real, honest-to-God bridge.

Because it was called a “crossing,” that’s what it will be.

A crossing is functional. It gets you from one place to the other. A ford, a tunnel, a ferry, a catapult could do the job.

So can a “composite deck truss” slab of concrete on risers. (See the above rendition of the approved design.)

In government documents, the crossing has even been downgraded to the “CRC,” which has no meaning at all. It’s a bureaucratic insider’s acronym.

The CRC will seem like just more freeway. Its only relationship to a bridge will be that there will be water on both sides.

Never mind that the water is the mighty, power-producing Columbia, celebrated in song and history.

The idea of a crossing is to get you where you are going at the least cost with the least “distraction.” CRC means ASAP.

Bridges (see illustrations above right and below) are so much more than crossings.

They are legendary landmarks. They are beautiful. They say “connections between places and people are important.” They are uplifting experiences. They are legacies, inspiring gifts from one generation to succeeding ones. They are celebrations of the places they span and the places they join.

The Columbia River Crossing is none of these. It’s a crossing.

It is a shame.

Sharon Wood Wortman, aka "The Bridge Lady," who has written extensively and beautifully about Portland's bridges (vis. "The Portland Bridge Book") wrote the following in response to my post.

Re the CRC, as you say, names are everything. How do you name something that is 50 bridges—not just one bridge, plus 5-plus miles of highway?

I, for one, am not mystified by the design—after all, bridges are designed as a result of site conditions, and in this case we can't have a high, sweeping bridge because of the local airport, nor can we have one too low because of the shipping channel.

Also, a bridge with longer spans, such as the proposed cable-stayed and arch options, would not be the most economical due to the relatively shallow river. These options could be built but would cost considerably more than the truss design with its shorter spans. Most people would like a more dramatic bridge than the current choice but no one is offering to provide the extra money.

Maybe the solution is to pressure our political leaders to commit to finding and spending the extra money, as was done for the Fremont Bridge. I am more puzzled that our politicians (thus us) believe we can build to meet traffic demand. For me, it's all about early education. I'm now working on "The Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland & Vancouver—A Book for Young Readers." Those who want to know more about this public works project can visit (donations are tax deductible). There will be a short, condensed section about the CRC, 50 bridges that might be finished about the time the young reader reaches voting age.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

China, US: invite victims to human rights session

This week the US and China are to hold their annual meeting on human rights.

The New York Times reported Saturday that the session could be “more tense than usual.”

In a statement announcing the Beijing meeting, the American side said the talks will focus on “the recent negative trend of forced disappearances, extra legal-defections and the arrests and convictions.”

The rest of the article describes recent, deplorable human rights abuses in China. Abuses in this country are ignored in the story, as if they don't exist.

The Chinese might roll out a few American issues: “illegal” foreclosures, lack of enforcement of laws governing the financial industry, the largest prison population in the world, grotesque income inequities, a plutocratic political system, grossly deficient schools, an absurd, profit-driven health care system, and a defense budget that wastes public resources.

The list goes on.

Before the meeting takes place, the two sides should invite the victims of these abuses to join the government delegations at the table. The victims, from those without health insurance to the unemployed, to political prisoners, to the uneducated, would add reality-based tension to the so-called "tense" discussions.

The talking points shouldn't be hard to find. They were established by Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by the United Nations in 1948.

Article 1 (of 30 articles in the Declaration) sets the tone:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Consider Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

And Article 23: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment....Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

And Article 25: "Everyone has the right to a standard living adequate for the healthy and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social service, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age and other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Both China and the US signed the document more than 60 years ago. Citizens denied their human rights should insist next week that the two countries stop pointing fingers at each other and simply live up to the declaration.

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