Month: November 2012

How Many Feet Should Sellwood’s Sidewalk Be?

If we build a new bridge over the Willamette River, how much space should we allocate for walking and bicycling?


This shouldn’t be a very controversial subject, but Oregonian writers Janie Har and Steve Duin have made it one. They both attacked Cascade Policy Institute recently for our efforts to save taxpayers money on the new Sellwood Bridge. Some clarification is in order.


Last summer we decided to count all the person-trips going over the Portland Willamette River bridges at the morning peak (7:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.) to see what we could learn about space allocation and user demand. One conclusion  is that space per se does not appear to be critical to bridge use by cyclists and pedestrians.


For example, the Hawthorne, Broadway, and Burnside bridges all have modest facilities for those modes, yet they have large contingents of cyclists and pedestrians. In contrast, the Morrison Bridge has a new 15-foot, barrier-separated bikeway, yet it is virtually unused. Non-auto travel accounts for only 1.8% of passenger throughput on that bridge


Clearly, there are other factors besides dedicated right-of-way that determine the intensity of bridge use by non-motorists.


Unfortunately, local politicians haven’t learned from this experience. The new Sellwood Bridge will allocate 24 feet for two motor vehicle travel lanes, 13 feet for cyclists with dedicated bike lanes, and 24 feet for sidewalks. There is no reason to reserve  this much space for walkers. If cyclists are traveling in their own exclusive road lane, a 6-foot sidewalk on each side will be adequate. Such a space reduction would have saved taxpayers some $15-17 million.


Also, heavy trucks will be prohibited from using the new bridge, due to a legislative funding dispute. This doesn’t make non-motorists on the bridge better off, but it will increase total regional driving and worsen congestion elsewhere.


In an essay published last summer, we criticized the bridge design, noting that trucks should be allowed and that the sidewalks should be narrower. The latter point seemed especially relevant, given that only 2% of all passenger-trips on the current bridge are by walking or cycling, and the potential for drastic increases seems slim given the distance from downtown.


Ms. Har, a professional fact-checker, agreed with our 2% claim, but ruled it to be only “half-true” because local planners predict that non-motorized traffic will skyrocket to 19% of all trips by 2035.


This is, of course, a computer-generated fantasy. It is not an actual “fact.” We stand by our assessment.


Mr. Duin thinks banning trucks is a great idea, while also lamenting the continued use of fossil fuels by motorists. Unfortunately, those two concepts are in conflict. Banning trucks from the Sellwood Bridge will result in greater fuel use, not less.


Mr. Duin also supports the 12-foot sidewalks and the extra spending of $17 million for those sidewalks. Apparently, this is more important to him than the basic road maintenance that Portland has abandoned in recent years due to budget cuts at the Portland Bureau of Transportation.


Increasing walking and cycling is more complicated than simply providing mega-sidewalks and barrier-protected bike lanes. Planning for future bridges and roads should be based on a realistic assessment of non-motorized use and the cost of providing space.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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“Pacific Coast Collaborative” Sends Kitzhaber Back to the Future

Last week Governor John Kitzhaber joined with other political leaders in the Pacific Coast Collaborative to call for a carbon tax. This announcement coincided with the official opening of California’s “cap-and-trade” program for reducing carbon emissions.


It’s not clear why Gov. Kitzhaber thought it was a priority to fly to San Francisco to make this announcement. Apparently, he’s forgotten that the Oregon legislature considered a “cap-and-trade” program in 2009, and the bill couldn’t even get out of committee – despite the fact that Democrats had a supermajority that year. Like elected officials in most other states, Oregon legislators correctly determined that “cap-and-trade” is just a fancy way of saying “carbon tax,” and taxing energy would be enormously unpopular with voters.


The governor is also overlooking the fact that just last year, Oregon left the Western Climate Initiative, a multi-state coalition expressly established in 2007 to facilitate carbon regulation across the West and into Canada. Oregon departed for the same reason every other western state besides California did: Taxing carbon is a political loser. No one outside the far-left environmental movement cares.


The job of any governor is to be a leader. Calling for carbon regulations that have been rejected multiple times is the opposite of leadership. Surely Gov. Kitzhaber can find something to do that’s more relevant to Oregon’s future.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Why Washington’s Parents Will Love Charter Schools

By Liv Finne

Many parents are pleased voters have passed Initiative 1240, the ballot measure to allow charter schools in Washington state. This is especially true of parents whose children are trapped in failing inner-city schools. Earlier this year Representative Eric Pettigrew, speaking for many low-income families in his South Seattle district, put it this way:


“…[E]very year in our district for the last 15, 20 years, maybe longer there’s been a gap – an achievement gap of the students, there’s been a drop-out rate that’s been just unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. And all I’m asking in this [charter school] legislation is an opportunity to move forward and move forward quickly.”


Today, in 41 states across the country, 2.1 million students attend public charter schools. This is a fraction of the 55 million students in the U.S., but their parents are glad to have this opportunity. Word is spreading fast among parents that charter schools create environments well suited to student learning. Waiting lists at charter schools have swollen from about 400,000 students just two years ago to 610,000 students today.


Defenders of the status quo fear charter schools because they see them as a threat to funding for conventional public schools, even ones that fail to educate students. Actually, charter schools take no money out of public education, for the simple reason that charter schools operate within the public education system. Charter schools do, however, offer a new choice for parents, a choice many of them enthusiastically embrace.


Charter schools offer innovative ways to deliver a public school education. Some charter schools offer the famous Montessori school program. Others use cutting-edge computer programs customized to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Some charter schools specialize in science and math. Others help special needs students, like the new charter school in New Jersey for autistic children.


Charter schools are generally smaller than conventional public schools. On average, a charter school enrolls 372 students, about 22% fewer than most other public schools. This allows charter schools to provide more personal attention to students and promotes a feeling of community and security within the school.


Many charter schools require student uniforms. Parents often like charter schools for this reason alone. They know that putting on special clothes for school puts children in the right frame of mind for study and learning.


Charter schools often have stronger disciplinary policies. Many parents are concerned that conventional public schools expect too little from students in the way of behavior and self-control.


Charter schools set high expectations for learning because they must educate students or they risk losing their charter license. Many charter schools outperform neighboring conventional schools, like Massachusetts’ Commonwealth charters, the Knowledge Is Power Program schools in Texas, or California’s Green Dot charters. These schools have either eliminated or significantly narrowed the academic achievement gap.


Charter schools set flexible schedules to meet the needs of students. The rigid rules in conventional schools continually distract students from important work in the classroom. Even simple schedule changes require lengthy union negotiations, and many parents wonder whether instruction time for children is being sacrificed to the priorities of adults.


Parents in a charter school have a real voice in their local school. They can talk to the school principal and to the members of the charter school board. These local school leaders know they must educate students in order to attract families or face financial pressures to close the school.


The charter school structure provides a high level of accountability―to students, to parents, and to the community. In contrast, conventional elected school boards are often more responsive to powerful interest groups than to the concerns of parents.


Giving Rep. Pettigrew’s constituents a charter school option is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. People in many Washington communities are happy with their schools and see no need to change. That’s fine, but parents in districts that are allowing too many kids to fail will love charter schools.

Liv Finne is the education director at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan independent policy research organization in Washington state. She holds a law degree from Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College. Liv is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Why Washington’s Teachers Will Love Charter Schools

By Liv Finne

Mr. Bob Dean is a public school teacher and a supporter of Initiative 1240, the ballot measure voters passed this November to allow public charter schools in Washington state. He is the head of his school’s Math Department, teaches Advanced Placement calculus, and is a past member of the State Board of Education Math Advisory Panel. Mr. Dean describes what teachers must endure in traditional schools today:


“The public doesn’t understand that today teachers are being told what to teach, how to teach, when to teach and now even how they will grade, and who they will pass or fail. They are forced to use unproven methods that fly in the face of their professional judgment and then blamed for the shoddy results.”


Charter schools offer teachers an escape from the unfair burdens imposed on them by traditional school administrators. How do charter schools liberate teachers? Here are six ways.


First, teachers in charter schools have the freedom to design their own educational program and to choose the best curriculum for their students. Teachers in traditional schools have to follow orders from so-called “curriculum experts” sitting at desks in the central district, who often require teachers to use unproven teaching methods and curricula.  For example, “curriculum experts” require Seattle teachers to use a “Reform Math” curriculum that does not work well in teaching children math.


Second, teachers in charter schools can offer real input into how the school’s money is spent. Under Initiative 1240, charter school principals and teachers will be able to buy the materials, books, and technology they need to help their students. Central district administrators, by contrast, make virtually all spending decisions for local schools and consume precious resources in the process, delivering to schools less than 80% of the funding they should receive.


Third, principals and teachers in charter schools can establish a daily schedule that best meets everyone’s needs. One charter school in Arizona, Carpe Diem Charter School, uses technology to provide instruction during a longer school day, then allows students to take Fridays off, and still achieves better learning results for students. Teachers in traditional schools have no control over the daily school schedule.


Fourth, teachers in charter schools are evaluated on their performance on an individualized, humane basis by a high-quality principal who knows them well. Teachers in traditional schools in Washington state will soon be evaluated on a complex checklist of factors, reduced to a matrix of numbers, which cannot possibly capture a teacher’s unique and quintessentially singular ability to motivate and inspire students to learn.


Fifth, teachers in charter schools benefit from the principal’s ability to place an effective teacher in every classroom. Teachers in traditional schools often receive students in their classrooms who are behind because teachers in earlier grades failed to prepare students properly. Just one weak teacher in a school has a detrimental ripple effect on the many good teachers who receive that teacher’s students in later grades.


Sixth, teachers in charter schools are generally happier as professionals because they are allowed to decide what to teach, how to teach, and how to evaluate their own students’ progress. Teachers in traditional schools have seen their authority eroded, as legislatures and district administrators force them to follow the latest education fads. Excellence in education cannot be standardized or mass-produced. Excellence can only be achieved when the principal and teachers work as a team and have the tools they need to deliver quality instruction.


Charter schools are an effective antidote to the growing standardization of traditional schools. Charter schools allow teachers the freedom to use their ingenuity, creativity, and energy to individualize the education they offer students.


This freedom in the classroom is why charter school teachers in other states have been so successful at educating children, especially the most at-risk and disadvantaged kids. This freedom-to-teach is why teachers in Washington state will love charter schools, now that voters have approved Initiative 1240.

Liv Finne is the education director at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan independent policy research organization in Washington state. She holds a law degree from Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College. Liv is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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What Governor Bradford Learned at Plymouth’s First Thanksgiving

The quintessential American holiday, Thanksgiving evolved from the Pilgrims’ celebrations to thank God for the harvests that saved Plymouth Colony. What most people didn’t learn in school is that nearly half the Mayflower Pilgrims died of starvation in 1621 because many refused to work in the fields, according to colonial Governor William Bradford.


Plymouth Colony originally had a socialist economy. Land and crops were held in common. In the words of Governor Bradford, “the young men who were most able objected to being forced to spend their time and strength working for other men’s wives and children without any recompense.” The colonists lacked a universal motivation to work because they were not directly responsible for their own families. Collectivism incentivized colonists needlessly to rely on the efforts of others. Realizing this, Governor Bradford assigned each household its own plot of land. Families could keep what they produced or trade for things they needed. The result was a bountiful harvest in 1623.


Instituting private property and a market economy, and respecting the autonomy of the family unit, caused Plymouth to survive. Collectivism and central planning produce scarcity and starvation. Private property, free markets, and personal responsibility lead to prosperity and plenty. And a healthy economy, with strong and independent families, enables a community to help those who genuinely need assistance. All are important lessons for America today from William Bradford’s first Thanksgiving.


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Why Has Non-Teaching Staff Surged in Oregon Public Schools?

By James L. Huffman, JD

Associate editor of The Oregonian Susan Nielsen says that Governor Kitzhaber and the legislature face a parent rebellion if they don’t figure out how to reduce class sizes pronto. (“Big classes, fed-up families: As Kitzhaber plans for later, parents ask about now,” November 11). Nielsen is surely right that today’s parents won’t wait for the new top-down education bureaucracy while it studies how to educate tomorrow’s kids.


But Nielsen’s reference to “a tiny support staff” as part of the problem is puzzling in light of a recent report, entitled “The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools.” The report provides a state-by-state accounting of the growth in public school enrollment and employment since 1950. Some will be suspect of the report because it is published by the pro-school-choice Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. But the data all comes from the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education, so it warrants attention.


The bottom line for the nation is that, between 1950 and 2009, public school employment growth has outstripped public school enrollment growth by a factor of four. In other words, student enrollment has increased by 96 percent, and total public school staffing has increased by 386 percent. Between 1992 and 2009 the numbers look a little better, but personnel growth still out-stripped student growth 39 percent to 17 percent.


What are all of these new public school employees doing? A significant number of them are teachers. Between 1950 and 2009 student enrollment roughly doubled, while the number of teachers increased by 252 percent. Between 1992 and 2009 the growth rates were 17 percent for students and 32 percent for teachers. One would expect that with student-teacher ratios declining from 27.5 in 1950 to 15.4 in 2009, there would be a significant improvement in student achievement. But no―according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reading scores have declined and math scores have remained level over the past two decades.


Even more revealing is the change in pupil-staff (as opposed to pupil-teacher) ratio. It was 19.3 in 1950 and 7.8 in 2009. While student enrollment increased 96 percent, non-teaching administrative and support staff increased 702 percent. The authors of the report estimate that if non-teaching personnel had grown at the same rate as student enrollment and the number of teachers had grown “only” 1.5 times as fast as enrollment, the nation’s public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend each year. That’s enough to give every public school teacher in the nation an $11,700 raise, or to help local governments fund other public needs, or even to give taxpayers significant relief.


The picture in Oregon is both worse and worse. From 1992 to 2009 Oregon public school enrollment increased by 15 percent, while the number of teachers grew by 13 percent. Oregon was one of only three states with an uptick in the student-teacher ratio, which is to say a decrease in the number of teachers relative to students. But during that same period, administrators and other non-teaching staff grew by 47 percent—more than three times as fast as student growth. With slightly less enrollment growth than the national average, Oregon has managed to exceed the national average in non-teaching staff growth.


If class size really does make a difference, and 37 years of teaching persuade me that it does, Oregon has been putting its limited education resources in the wrong place. Our student-teacher ratio has risen while our student-administrator ratio has dramatically fallen. Of course, it varies from one school district to another; but Oregonians in general should be asking why those who run our public schools have seen fit to increase their own ranks at three times the rate of growth in student enrollment while allowing for a small decline in the number of teachers relative to students.


A cynic might say the question answers itself.

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How to End Poverty

President Johnson declared a “war on poverty” back in 1964 when the poverty rate was 19 percent. In the 48 years since, we’ve spent over 12 trillion tax dollars fighting poverty. The rate dipped below 11 percent in 1973, but is now back up over 15 percent. Forty-six million Americans are in poverty today. A new report from the Cato Institute, The American Welfare State, concluded that “clearly we have been doing something wrong.”


This year Cato finds that the federal gov­ernment will spend more than $668 billion on at least 126 different programs to fight poverty. State and local governments will spend an additional $284 billion. So, we’re spending nearly $1 trillion every year to fight poverty. That amounts to $20,610 for every poor person in America, or $82,440 for a family of four.


Yet, the government considers a family of four to be poor if its cash income falls below $23,050, which is less than one-third the amount taxpayers are spending to help them. Where does all that money go?


The solution seems simple. Instead of spending a trillion dollars every year fighting poverty, why not just cut checks to the poor and be done with it? We could raise every poor person out of poverty and still return hundreds of billions of dollars back to the taxpayers. And if we hurry, it could all be done by Thanksgiving.

Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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What Is Food Freedom?

Please join us for Cascade’s monthly Policy Picnic Thursday, November 15 at noon. Cascade Board Member and attorney Gilion Dumas will discuss the idea of Food Freedom.

Food Freedom is the rallying cry for those committed to free choice in the foods we eat and feed our families.

The general idea is to keep all food choices legal – whether healthy, unhealthy, local, global, fresh, frozen, or french fried. The goal is to limit government regulation that comes between your fork and your mouth.

Although the general idea is broad, supporters of Food Freedom tend to be particularly interested in certain issues, and these issues tend to focus on smaller producers and local markets. These issues include raw milk, farm-direct meat, pastured poultry, the farm sale of processed foods, and the sale of “home-made” food products.  Food Freedom advocates also find themselves arguing against bans and restrictions on what farmers can grow, restaurants can sell, chefs can cook, and consumers can eat.

Admission is free. Please bring your own lunch. Coffee and cookies will be served. Space is limited to ten guests on a first come, first served basis, so sign up early. To RSVP, email Kathryn Hickok at or call 503-242-0900.

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Portland’s Moody Avenue Project: Subtraction by Addition

Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced Monday that the reconstruction of Moody Avenue in the South Waterfront neighborhood was finally complete after 19 months of work. This $51 million project rebuilt 3,200 linear feet of the street by raising it 14 feet and widening the right-of-way to 75 feet, enough space to accommodate a six-lane freeway.


However, despite the huge expansion, motorists are actually worse off than they were before. Only two lanes are reserved for motor vehicles, and they now have to share space with the slow streetcar, which blocks traffic four times an hour in each direction. Virtually all of the new right-of-way is allocated to bicyclists and pedestrians, who only account for 13% of total passenger throughput on the street.


Motor vehicles do the heaving lifting, moving 63% of all passenger trips on Moody. Not only is this a large number, but it’s growing: Auto traffic is up 55% from just two years ago. As the district continues to develop, this road will be unable to handle future traffic loads.


The Moody Avenue project was a waste of $52 million, and it now has the South Waterfront district locked into a street pattern that is doomed to fail. Taxpayers should demand better from their elected leaders.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Is Driving Less a Good Thing?

Recently, the Metro Council received the results of a four-county household travel survey – the first such survey conducted by its staff since 1994. Among other things, the results showed that 81% of all regional commuters use a car to get to work, compared with 90% in 1994.


Metro Councilors were very excited by this apparent drop. They immediately took it as proof that the agency’s anti-car, pro-density policies are “working.” Council President Tom Hughes directed staff to quickly come up with a favorable “storyline” for the survey.


However, that may be a difficult task, because the evidence about regional travel patterns is more nuanced than it appears. For example, automobile commuting has dropped, but that has generally not translated into higher transit use. In fact, market share for transit in Portland has flat-lined for the past 12 years, as shown below. Travel is shifting to biking, walking, and telecommuting.


Mode Share for Weekday Commuting in Portland














































                  Source: Portland Auditor’s Annual Community Surveys


This has caused a large mismatch between mode-shifting trends and public expenditures. Since 2000, we’ve opened a commuter rail line, created the Portland Streetcar, added four new light rail lines, approved construction of a new transit bridge over the Willamette River, and watched TriMet’s annual budget grow by 142%. Yet, the transit market share for commuting is stuck at 12%.


Even worse, transit share is actually declining in TriMet’s most natural market, downtown Portland. According to the Portland Business Alliance, between 2001 and 2010 the transit share of commuting travel for downtown workers dropped from 45% to 38%.


Other travel behavior metrics are equally puzzling. For instance, Metro regularly keeps track of daily vehicle miles traveled per-person (VMTPP) in the region. Since 2000 the VMTPP for Portland residents has declined by 4 percent, from 20 miles per day to 19.2. Yet the daily VMTPP for Vancouver travelers dropped by a much bigger margin, from 21.8 miles to 17.23 – a 21 percent change.


So if Metro Councilors hope that their staff will create a favorable “storyline” showing how regional land-use policies have led to reduced driving, they will also have to explain why the drop has been much greater north of the Columbia River.


But putting these conflicting trends aside, the biggest problem with Metro’s response to the survey is the agency’s worldview that driving is socially undesirable, so if we have less auto commuting, the region is automatically more “livable.” Not only is there nothing intrinsically wrong with driving, one easily could make a case that high levels of personal automobile use are indicators of an economically vibrant and socially dynamic region.


Increased driving is strongly correlated with higher incomes. In the Metro travel survey, transit mode share for households with less than $25,000 of family income was 9 percent, but only 2 percent for households with income greater than $75,000. How many people in the region would be unhappy if all households had incomes greater than $75,000 but transit use dropped as a result?


ODOT data shows that for every new job created, we should expect to see another 15,500 vehicle miles travelled each year. If total auto use went up because vast numbers of new jobs were created, would that make the region less livable?


And numerous studies have shown that access to a private automobile is critical to improving the economic wellbeing of low-income households, especially for those seeking employment. In fact, a growing number of progressive social service agencies (including at least one in Portland) are now running low-income car loan programs to help get poor people into private wheels. Should we discourage such programs because they cause transit use to drop?


Every trip has a purpose. If that purpose can be met best through a privately owned motor vehicle, then it does not make us better off to have politicians artificially discourage auto use by using parking meter revenues to pay for the streetcar, disallowing needed highway expansion, raising the TriMet payroll tax rate, subsidizing high-density projects with tax abatements, and cannibalizing scarce roadway capacity for light rail.


Instead of scheming to put a political spin on its new travel survey, Metro should use it to start a new conversation about how to define “livability.”

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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