You hear it time and again: When asked to mention some of the biggest issues facing Bend, politicians and regular folk alike will parrot the same things. Transportation, transportation, transportation... and housing, of course. Recent weeks in Central Oregon have demonstrated no exception.
Below are just some of the examples of the challenges—both cultural and logistical—that plague Bend's overall transportation system.
There was the horrible treatment of a young Black man aboard a Cascades East Transit bus—video of which was released in late August. Not only did a CET driver put the man in a chokehold and make him lose consciousness for the "crime" of not wearing shoes on the empty bus, but it turns out that the driver had a string of charges on his record, including arrests on 23 felony charges, including criminal mistreatment and theft, in 2012. As has been the method in recent years, the man was hired and employed through a third party, not CET, and was fired after the incident.
Buses are one of the few means of alternative transportation in our community, and this was not a prime example of making public safety aboard the buses a high priority. Those who ride those buses already know that routes are limited, pickup locations few, and the system's main "hub," along Hawthorne Avenue, can be chaotic and dangerous for both cars and pedestrians.
Another example of problems, both cultural and logistical: In the City of Bend's recent adoption of a 20-year Transportation System Plan, transit issues got the short shrift, left far below the funding offered for big-ticket items that will clear traffic for masses of cars along Highway 97 and Murphy Road.
Poorly vetted bus drivers and paltry local funds are how Bend prioritizes transit. Not a great offensive in the war on cars.
On another front, the Bend City Council decided this past week to move forward on a pilot program that will issue parking permits for people living in parts of Old Bend nearest to Drake Park. As this week's News story outlines, the program, to be put into place through 2021, at taxpayer expense, will allow residents to get a permit to park on certain city streets, but will exclude everyone else—to the tune of a $50 ticket.
Put it another way: The City is moving to an exclusive system that will allow the parking of cars for people who can prove some connection with Old Bend, while excluding anyone and everyone else who might want to park nearby in order to visit Drake Park and Mirror Pond—a water feature so popular, that everyone in the Northwest knows it by the beer that bears its name. To be fair, the City does have a plan to issue $5 parking passes for special events, but that hardly accounts for the many other days of the year when the average Bend taxpayer will be unable to park on streets they pay to maintain.
And here's yet another kicker: When advised to recuse herself due to her daughter's ownership-via-trust of a property in the proposed permit parking zone, Bend Mayor Sally Russell chose not to do so, and cast her vote alongside the rest.
So let's recap some of the ways Bend's policies—and culture—make transportation such a glaring issue:
-Bend has de-prioritized a transit system that benefits its most vulnerable citizens—including those unable to drive, those who can't afford it, and heck, even the people who might otherwise choose transit because it's a more ecologically sound thing to do.
-Bend and CET have abdicated responsibility for public safety aboard Bend buses, leaving it to a third party to vet and hire drivers. Someone had to be placed in a chokehold to the point of passing out for us to see why that's a problem.
-Bend has placed the priorities of a chosen few over the wider public, creating an exclusive pilot parking program in a part of town used by many for shopping, sightseeing, recreating and gathering.
Is this a war on cars, or just a culture war?
Either way, we're losing.