August 8, 2005
Is there an American Transportation Policy?
In 1991 the Congress declared the end of the decades long public works program we know as the Interstate Highway system. Inspired by the German autobahn and horrified by the efficiency of the Nazi war machine, President Dwight Eisenhower envisioned a high speed network of roadways between cities to allow fast deployment of armies in event of invasion. (Originally, the interstate freeways were to end at the edge of cities, not plow through them but that is another sad tale of Congressional pork-barreling best saved for another day.)
50 years and oh so many trillions of dollars later, just about anywhere you might want to go (and some places you wouldn’t) have a 4-10 lane, limited access highway. So, what to do when the big suck of highway building is done? It was called ISTEA, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act of 1991. This 6 year re-authorization of federal transportation spending included a huge shift in policy; made spending categories flexible and gave more spending authorities to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). There were set asides for non-highway projects and the idea that people need transportation options like transit, bikeways and sidewalks became federal policy.
14 years later, what is in the new transportation spending bill just passed by Congress? Given the anti-diluvean, reality-averse character of the ruling party (intelligent design?), the good news is that most of the reforms of ISTEA remain. And some good new additions were made like $600M for Safe Routes to School and a small increase in planning funds for metropolitan areas. Oregon’s delegation is also increasing its clout, with Rep. DeFazio playing a major role in bringing home the earmark bacon--returning to Oregon more money than we pay in federal gas taxes. But earmarks make up only about 10% of the total $286Billion in the bill yet get most of the attention.
The money is heavily skewed towards building new roads, which pleases the land developers who get new lands opened up at public expense, but doesn’t include enough to keep the existing roadway network functioning (one of the big earmarks Rep. DeFazio got was $160M for fixing bridges on I-5. But Oregonians are paying $2.5 Billion of their own money to fix bridges on the national highway system (I-5 and I-84) including bonding of most future modernization revenue leaving most other state projects withering on the vine).
Highway projects continue to get a massive federal overmatch of 80% (raised to 90% in Oregon, again thanks to DeFazio) and require little in the way of justification while transit projects go through a process that could have been devised by Torquemada and typically get only 50% federal funding.
By default, American transportation policy continues to serve the interests of a few: the truckers (who fight desperately any “subsidies” of the more efficient rail system), land developers and the automobile-industrial complex. It is also anti-city (blue-red?) because cities don’t need more roads, they need functioning alternatives to commuting by car which would also free up road space for freight movement to keep these economic centers humming. Contrast this to European and Asian countries that use high gasoline taxes and highway tolls to develop comprehensive, convenient and speedy transit systems that give people real choice in how they travel, support high quality urban environments and support the economy.
Add to the fire an Energy Bill that continues to heavily subsidize oil and gas companies (as Oregon’s gasoline prices hit record highs—what’s happened to the free market, guys?) and ignore alternatives…
I guess I’ve answered my question, “Does America have a Transportation Policy?”
Americans will keep on driving until the oil runs out.
August 8, 2005 8:34 AM
Ron Swaren Says:
While it was right and neccesary to halt the dismemberment of US cities by nulltiple freeways-as envisioned by highway planners in the 1960's such as Robert Moses- finding a solution which doesn't have to be heavily subsidized is a far more complicated task. Particularly when an economic boom is taking place, with the corresponding construction boom, truckers have a legitimate complaint; there are critical deadlines to meet.
Bicycling is more or less obvious for the cost savings v. investment. The problem is that northern cities in the US face an obstacle-winter weather; and I am not so sure that southern cities would not have a corresponding problem in the summer. Therefore other means to travel and commute will always have to be there. (Perhaps southern cities could lend their buses to northern cities for winter use).
Buses are not a costly investment in terms of infrastructure; but the labor costs are probably higher than for local rail transit. I think there needs to be far better analysis of how to make local commuter rail more cost effective. When a LRT vehicle is not being fully utilized (as is often the case with MAX) it represents a loss to federal taxpayers. If we Oregonians don't want to pay for highways in, let's say, Iowa, why would we expect that they would want to subsidize our LRT? And remember, where Oregon or NY each have two senators to vote, so do Nevada, Wyoming, North Dakota, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, etc. However, if other alternatives, such as Streetcar, can show higher occupancy, more diverse and effective routing, lower maintenace costs, lower infrastructure costs, and, importantly, less or no federal subsidy, that is the path that will survive the scrutiny of the representatives of the rest of the US taxpaying public. Perhaps LRT is about ready to run its course.
I am alarmed now that we are considering another 500+million for a very short single line, which in turn is going to neccesitate the costly Portland Mall. There are some sensible alternatives being proposed by rail transit advocates that could serve our needs better. Anything that has to be redone in a few decades is not a good investment. Is the cost for this next phase, which will probably be empty most of the day, going to approach one billion? We are getting closer.
It is only right that US citizens scrutinize which means of transportation are worthy of being bailed out by tax dollars. I realize that there are many vested interests that are begging for their pet project or means of transit to be supported but we can't help them all. AT the same time costs to communities must be reckoned in to the equation; and the freeway net with air pollution, fatalities, noise pollution and congestion were costs that we have successfully curbed.
August 8, 2005 10:28 AM
Ross Williams Says:
"Americans will keep on driving until the oil runs out."
I don't think it is likely that the end of cheap oil will end the facination with the automobile. We will simply find other ways to power them. I think if we are fighting the battle to get people to get out of their cars, there is going to be no easy victory. We need to provide more and better options for them including transforming suburban communities to make them more pedestrian and transit friendly.
Right now the regional transportation policy - as expressed in projects, not words - is for a pedestrian and bike friendly Portland surrounded by a sea of auto-dominated suburbs with an occasional town center/regional mall where people can walk after they have driven there.
I don't think you can safely walk more than a quarter mile in any direction from the Tigard transit center and yet we are investing a huge amount of money in Washington Couny Commuter Rail partly to improve connections to it. The same is true of many of the MAX stops in Washington County. They are essentially park and rides or transfer points.
So I agree with you on the problems with the national transportation policy and I think Portland is certainly doing better. But that is a pretty low bar and Portland is not clearing it by much if you look at what's actually getting planned and built.
August 8, 2005 12:19 PM
Rex, You are basically on target in your analysis I'd say.
Declining global oil production is the deus ex machina that may save ourselves from ourselves... but only at a terrible cost. It will upset the global hydrocarbon economy, including the highway road infrastructure building system... but much more than that.
Highway buliding is deeply intertwined with the American industrial machine and its post war project of building a global empire.
To pull on the thread of highway infrastructure is only to reveal its intertwinement with automobile production, the oil industry, the building industry, the defense industries.
We are perhaps constutionally (in multiple senses) incapable of being "rational" about this. We will consumer every last hydrocarbon, and then the world will begin to change, whether gradually or catostrophically we do not yet know.
Things will change when the cost of movement in an automobile begins to draw closer to the cost of real estate, and it makes sense for fewer and fewer people to move about, and the economically affordable daily vehicular range contracts for more and more people.
The demand curve for mobility is steep... but everyone has practical limits on what they can conceivably pay to move their body around their region. From an historic level of 10% of household income spent on transportation, today we spend 20%. Will we spend 40%?
Low income people are increasingly limited in their mobility... that limitation will move up the income scale.
" Transportation Is More Expensive Than You Think
Transportation costs have increased steadily over the past century, from $1 out of every $10 in 1935, to $1 out of $5 for the average American household today. The poorest fifth of Americans, however, are spending much more. Approximately 39 percent of the average income of households earning less than $14,000 per year was spent on transportation in 2001. "
It's simply too cheap to drive right now. As that changes (if that changes... I think it will), people will choose to where they work and play.
The resulting change will lead people to favor investments that make places more livable, and to support investments in places as opposed to in means to move between places.
Ron, figuring out how to make the hydrocarbon transport system work better is just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I'm not sure how to rationally build for a world of much higher cost / mile mobility ... is there a reason to proactively invest, or maybe we should just keep rearranging the chairs until the market signals that the water is coming over the deck?
Ross, I really think your idea of "other ways to power them" is a fantasy. What are you thinking of? Biodiesel? More energy in than out! Nuclear powered hydrogen generation? Not clear that we could build enough of those poison plants to begin to approach the level of capacity to sustain a hydrogen fuel cell or hydrogen burning transportation economy.
Coal based synfuels? What will produce the energy needed to create those fuels from coal? Nuclear fission again?
Open yourself the possibility that there really is no alternative to hydrocarbons, and that the future will be based not on buidling ways of moving, but on building places that require less movement to live a good life.
August 8, 2005 1:35 PM
Ross Williams Says:
"Open yourself the possibility that there really is no alternative to hydrocarbons"
I think you need to open yourself to the possibility, if not likelihood, that there are alternatives that will become acceptable if we are still auto-dependent when the oil runs out. You named a few of the possibilities.
As for the cost of gas gradually forcing changes in urban design, I think that is wishful thinking. The last price spike in the 70's certainly caused conservation, but I don't see any evidence that suburban development was slowed as part of that. Instead people switched to more fuel efficient cars. They may have driven less for a while, but that didn't result in any remarkable changes to the way we build our cities.
If low income people are spending 39% of their income on transportation, is there any reason to think middle income people won't also choose to afford a larger part of their income? When someone is paying $300-400 per month just for a car payment, is $10 gallon gas/other fuel going to bust the budget? I don't really think so.
That is not to say there won't be economic dislocations as fuel prices increase, but I don't think we can count on an oil shortage to force people out of their cars. We need to make our cities and suburbs more transit, bike and walking friendly to accomplish that.
August 8, 2005 3:08 PM
Jacob Brostoff Says:
A long time ago, in my first transportation policy class, in another country (where I first heard about MAX!), a professor made a neat distinction between US transportation policy choices and other industrialized countries' transportation policy choices: mobility vs. accessibility. This fundamental distinction has shaped my understanding of transportation and land use policy choices and outcomes to this day.
I think that we are lucky here in Portland, despite the national policy of promoting mobility (i.e. making it easy to move people, goods and services around, which results in a lot of moving around). Our region, and to a lesser extent, other parts of the state, have begun the long process of promoting accessibility (i.e. being strategic about placing people and goods in a landscape so as to reduce the need to move around). Movement and access are fungible; transportation is a substitute for proximity. Proximity has the advantages of consuming less oil, conserving the landscape, promoting more healthful daily habits and contributing to a pleasant, livable public realm.
In my opinion, one of the greatest challenges facing those of us who would showcase Portland as a model for the rest of the country is reframing "progressive" policy choices as strategic policy choices that solve the same old problem--how to get people, goods and services where they need to be in relation to each other--in smarter ways. We're probably never going to convince the national political culture that it should be more progressive, but we may be able to win the hearts and minds of decisionmakers and the public on the merits. Certainly, as I compare outcomes (for example: transit ridership growing faster than population; excellent air quality for a city our size), I think we have things that other, more conservative places want.
In response to Rex's original question, I think we do have a national transportation policy: promoting mobility. The disadvantages of that choice are pretty clear, especially to those of us living in a place that has had early and continued success promoting accessibility.
August 8, 2005 3:17 PM
Didn't mean to sound snarky... I mentioned the alternatives to point out how improbable most of them are.
The 70's spike went up to $80/barrel in current dollars... but that was a quick spike and went down. Oil futures are now at $63/barrel... but are likely to climb and persist at higher levels bringing about structural changes.
Car fuel efficiency gains offer some limited potential to mitigate the effect of price increases on consumer behavior: you can probably increase by 2 or 3 times the mile/gallon rate... effectively cutting the effect of price on family budget by half to 2/3... but that is a one time gain. Once you get that, demand keeps roaring forward in China and around the world, oil extraction keeps getting more expensive...
I would bet that 40% of family budget for transport is pushing the outer limit on willingness to pay even for the middle class...
After all, that's expenditure on fuel largely, not investment in property through a mortgage. Pure consumption.
The demand curve for transportation is a fascinating question. What are people really willng to spend on their transportation? 40%? 60%? 80% of their family budget? Do you think?
No, there is a point, coming sooner than later I predict, where more and more people are going to find themselves needing to live, work and play in the same place, and it will revolutionize how we build neighborhoods, what constitutes a valuable house and neighborhood, etc.
Location and telecommunication are the two great substitutes for transportation, and they will be increasingly attractive as the underlying cost of movement grows.
I really doubt that making neighborhoods more bike and walking friendly, as you say, will change behavior today as long as people can afford to travel dozens of miles each day on a routine basis to work, to shop to play.
Only when people are really stuck by the high cost of movement in a single place where they live, work, and play will they begin to take those places seriously and invest in them.
August 8, 2005 3:48 PM
Chris Smith Says:
Maybe I should rename the site "PortlandProximity" :-)
August 8, 2005 5:06 PM
As I watch world news, I begin to see events that might have something to do with the powers that be desperately trying to prolong that mobility policy. If that automobile-oil-construction-defense industry complex is as powerful as it sounds, It looks hopeless. But soon science will kick in, pretty much toppling that policy (as it seems we've predicted). What I wonder is if we've ironically secured land space that will be desperately needed for an exponentially growing population. I know I read too much science-fiction, but perhaps that sprawl replaced with density and those freeways replaced with tracks will turn out to be an accidental long-term investment. Just a thought.
August 8, 2005 8:48 PM
Michael Wilson Says:
Sorry Rex there is not and never has been a "free market" in America. Does mean we couldn't use one though. But that shouldn't stop the local politicians from opening up the transportation marketplace to other players. Maybe the folks at Raz, or Blue Star have some ideas that will get the local commuter out of the car. Maybe the guy down the street can drive his van in the morning picking up people to then drop off at the nearest MAX stop and keep all those cars off the streets. I guess I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
August 8, 2005 11:43 PM
Ross Williams Says:
I don't think all your alternatives are improbable and you only need one to keep the single occupancy vehicle alive and kicking. You are looking at the price of oil but are apparently forgetting the costs of changing to some other system for delivering services. If you look at the amount people have invested that depends on the automobile, I think the price they will pay to maintain those investments is very high.
"I really doubt that making neighborhoods more bike and walking friendly, as you say, will change behavior today as long as people can afford to travel dozens of miles each day on a routine basis to work, to shop to play.
Only when people are really stuck by the high cost of movement in a single place where they live, work, and play will they begin to take those places seriously and invest in them. "
There is a reason so many people bike in Portland and it is not the winter weather (although, having moved here from Minnesota, the weather helps). My spouse and I both ride out bikes most of the time and use transit most of the rest. We have put 1000 miles on our new vehicle since we bought it in April. Almost half that mileage was a trip to Mount Vernon Washington where she was interviewing for a job. And that trip tells the story.
We had a great time. Fresh local oysters, wonderful countryside, lots of local fresh produce, great scenary. We did a great rural bike trip throught the countryside. There was a lot to recommend the area.
We took our bikes to bike around the town so that we could see how that would work if we moved there and never used them in Mount Vernon. It a town totally taken over by the automobile. Think 122nd avenue without the bike lanes - and that was the bikeable portion. There is simply no way we would have continued to use our bikes the way we do now if we moved there. Even the food coop seemed to lack bike stands.
We tried walking and a six block walk was like an obstacle course waiting at lights to cross the street and dodging turning cars. The only thing to look at was the distant stores behind a see of parking lots. We only saw one other pedestrian the entire time and it was totally understandable why.
You could walk in their downtown of quant 23rd-like shops but it was still as jammed with traffic despite being in a town of only 27,000 people.
On our way back we agreed that if we moved to Mount Vernon our days using bikes as our primary transportation mode were done. We could still use them for recreation, but you simply couldn't get around Mount Vernon on them. Or rather it would be unpleasant.
And so I think it is simply not the case that if you build the right kind of environment it does not change some people's behavior. And if you build the wrong kind it likewise will change it. And aside from the anecdotal evidence, there are studies that show that the built environment effects people's actual behavior. Its not just that people who ride bikes and walk choose to live in Portland, its also that Portland makes it easier for them to do so.
Jacob is right. We have a national policy of mobility, rather than access, and that is a problem. I happen to think he is also right, if I understand him correctly, in arguing that adopting positive, beneficial access alternatives to the mobility policy is the way to transform it. Waiting for a predicted crisis to force people to change has almost always been a failure.
August 9, 2005 11:22 AM
"I think it is simply not the case that if you build the right kind of environment it does not change some people's behavior. And if you build the wrong kind it likewise will change it. And aside from the anecdotal evidence, there are studies that show that the built environment effects people's actual behavior. Its not just that people who ride bikes and walk choose to live in Portland, its also that Portland makes it easier for them to do so."
I agree that you can change some people's behavior, and I certainly enjoy biking to work every day in Portland. But what we've got in Portland is still a cult, a little tiny group of people (did I read 8000 daily bike commuters into downtown Portland?) who do that.
Well, that's great, proud to be a member of the cult, but on a societal scale the vast majority are still completely dependent on their cars, and will remain so as long as they can afford it, and as long as we build our cities on the presumption that people can afford it.
"Jacob is right. We have a national policy of mobility, rather than access, and that is a problem. I happen to think he is also right, if I understand him correctly, in arguing that adopting positive, beneficial access alternatives to the mobility policy is the way to transform it. "
I'm not sure what this alternative called "access" really means. For me the contrast is between a policy of "moving people through space" versus a policy of "enabling life in place."
In a sense this is a longer term goal, and it is only possible when cars are subtracted from the equation.
I'm happy for every streetcar and bike lane in the mean time.
"Waiting for a predicted crisis to force people to change has almost always been a failure."
Yes, but the world has never run out of oil before. :-)
I could point to myriad civilizational collapses that were based on farming and resource technologies that presumed the presence of resources (usually water, soil or forests) that disappeared. Read Jared Diamond or James Kunstler or see The End of Suburbia....
I'm taking the view that people are quasi rational economic actors who will respond to price signals... when movement gets expensive people will spend more money making the places they inhabit worth living in. I agree that people will work very hard to maintain their emotional investment in personal transportation... but then again, how much of your family budget is your automobile really worth? At what point do you say "wow, I spend more on transportation than I do on my mortgage. We could live in a more walking oriented community and be investing that money in property that will appreciate instead of pissing it away into Exxon's coffers."?
How much of our faith that there must be an affordable energy source that will enable the car economy to go on forever is based on the deep penetration of the automobile culture into our minds... our inability to imagine a world without the car. Why MUST there be a substitute for oil? Simply because we want it so badly? Simply because there would be great economic rewards for those who figure it out? I don't think that these things guarantee a solution to the problem.
Finally, in response to the original post "Is There an American Transportation Policy" I'd say, no, America IS a transportation policy... it's the defining feature of our national self image... the automobile, movement, the dream of getting away to a better reality We don't just HAVE a transportation policy, we ARE a transportation policy. Transportation drives our imperialism, our global war machine, and everything else we do. Until we become a place building nation we will remain a nation for which the quality of our driving experiences merit more public investment than the quality of our living experiences when we reach the end of our drive.
But yes, let's build more bike paths in the meantime! Let's begin to build the infrastructure that people will need some day. I'm just sayin' people will use them on a mass scale only when they underlying economics change. I don't mean to say that we should do nothing in the interim, but only to interject a note of cautionary realism.
August 9, 2005 3:23 PM
Ross Williams Says:
"I could point to myriad civilizational collapses that were based on farming and resource technologies that presumed the presence of resources (usually water, soil or forests) that disappeared."
How many collapsed as a result of breakdowns in their transportation system? There is no question as oil becomes more expensive lots of things will change. Perhaps modern civilization will even collapse. I see no reason, short of that, to think that auto-based transportation will collapse separately under its own weight.
"We could live in a more walking oriented community and be investing that money in property that will appreciate instead of pissing it away into Exxon's coffers."?"
Of course that's true now. I don't take it as an article of faith that eventually people will reach the point where they recognize it and economics will kick in to cause everyone to give up their car.
"How much of our faith that there must be an affordable energy source that will enable the car economy to go on forever is based on the deep penetration of the automobile culture into our minds... our inability to imagine a world without the car."
Its easy to imagine a world without the car. But that doesn't make it inevitable or even likely to happen without any effort on our part. As you poini out, it is deeply embedded in modern culture. That is why the notion that it will just disappear because the price of oil gets too high is optimistic.
"I'm just sayin' people will use them on a mass scale only when they underlying economics change."
What does that mean? The underlying economics of auto use have changed with little, if any, impact on their use. It seems to me the fantasy is that somehow the future is assured because we will run out of oil. But there is no evidence that is true. If people have only the choices available today they will pay whatever they have to to survive. And if we provide choices now, many people will make different choices now.
I think what is lacking is the willingness to defend alternatives based on their merits, rather than the threat of some awful future catastrophe. There are many things people want in their lives that would improve if they made less use of their cars. We don't need to threaten people, we need to inspire them.
August 9, 2005 4:30 PM
Ross, You might like this:
"How many collapsed as a result of breakdowns in their transportation system? "
How many built their agricultural and economic systems on a nonrenewable hydrocarbon resource, pushing an entire planet past its biological sustaining capacity? We are at a unique moment in human history, and we can hardly let a sample size of 1 stop us from thinking.
No, you should not take economic predictions as an article of faith, but we might be able to agree on what we think the demand curve for automobile transport looks like. We went from 10% (1935) to 20% (2000) of the family budget, and we saw little apparent slackening, but 40% or 60% of the family budget?
Will we get to that price level? I don't know, but read the Tom Paine article above.
I'm not trying to scare people about the end of civillization (although people might do well to consider the matter.) I don't relish the prospect.
I do think that alternative transport and walkable neighbhoods will only happen on a large scale when they make economic sense, not when they simply make ideological or aesthetic sense to people like me or perhaps you. We're not there yet.
August 9, 2005 5:11 PM
Ross Williams Says:
"We are at a unique moment in human history"
Like every other moment in human history.
"I do think that alternative transport and walkable neighbhoods will only happen on a large scale when they make economic sense, not when they simply make ideological or aesthetic sense to people like me or perhaps you. We're not there yet."
I think alternative transport and walkable neighborhoods already make economic sense - thats why they exist. Where they exist, home prices are higher and rents are higher. We hardly need to wait for some oil pricing crisis for the economics to work. What we need to do is invest in transit and walkable communities - the market for them is already there.
The problem is that instead of investing in them, we are investing enormous sums to sustain and encourage auto dependent communities. This is the I-5 mega bridge project, the Highway 217 expansion, the I-205 expansion, the Sunrise corridor and the Sunset Highway widening to name a few. All of these are investments to try to keep the economics working for auto-dependent development at the urban edge.
To be clear, I support the expansion into Damascus and it will require transportation investment to make that work. I just hope as much money is spent on the pedestrian, transit and local street grid systems as is being spent on the limited access highway connection.
August 9, 2005 5:13 PM
Lenny Anderson Says:
I think it is save to say that national policy never leads, but is always reactive...politicans ride waves, they don't create them.
The "freeway revolt" began in San Francisico in 1959 when the freeways there began to cross "the Slot" into the middle and upper middle class districts north of Market Street. The vision of a double deck freeway through Golden Gate Park and along Fisherman's Wharf got things going! Portland caught on in time to kill the so-called Mt Hood freeway and begin to shift federal transportation dollars away from freeways to other options like light rail and arterials.
A recent study...not yet published...by UrbanTrans for Metro's Regional Travel Options subcommittee demonstrates that already people in this region are making sensible transportation choices...living close to where they work. Based on 2000 census data, the clustering seen is impressive...people who work in Hillsboro live in Washington county; those who work in the Clackamas TC area, live predominately in Clackamas county. Creating affordable and attractive communities is key.
Good data support the fact that communities with good transportation infrastructure for all modes of transportation, offer residents more choice, and those residents choose to walk, bike, use transit more.
So leadership in transportation is local, and our region is providing that leadership. Now, we need to take it too the next level and follow the example of SF...replacing out of date freeways with modern boulevards...where the Embarcadero Freeway (with the help of Mother Nature) was replaced with a boulevard with a bayside promenade and lightrail. The Eastbank Freeway would be a good place to start.
Lenny Anderson, NE Portland, Project Manager Swan Island TMA
August 11, 2005 10:30 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
I don't think that rising petroleum prices will in the long run force people out of cars. We will just find another way to power them! Do you think GM, Toyota or BMW are just going to go out of business? Have high petrol costs forced Europeans out of their cars?
Relating that to the Portland Metro area: I hope there are plenty of transportation alternatives, particularly in the rapidly growing suburbs. Still, we need to be realistic; people will want to use automobiles, too-even hybrid or fuel-cell types- and our METRO transit planning needs to recognize that reality. And the unchangeable fact of the West Coast is--People will want to move here, because it's nice! So expect more "growing pains." Fortunately, our transportation system is getting ready for them, far better than Seattle's has been.
August 12, 2005 9:48 PM
I'll have to agree with Ron's last point. It sounds a lot like Portland is preparing far better than other cities at supporting a higher population. Public transit ridership precentages will increase at least as fast as traffic delays do, but will relieve that traffic a lot faster than just widening and paving. Hopefully voters will be patient enough to see their investments through in the longrun.
August 12, 2005 10:38 PM
It seems to me that access has been part of our basic land use laws since the eary 70's. Mobility should be for goods and services. Where as Access should be the guiding light for each individuals personal choice. The two have been mixed together in our culture to the point where mobility is considered a right.
I have chosen Access by being close to a main "town center". Many others around America are doing the same in their own cities or deciding to move here for that feeling of "access".
The automobile will always be with us until the cost outweights the mobility. But more and more of us along the I5 Corridor want assets like high speed rail to help us transition into a society where "access" is vital and mobility is a possible vacation of camping with the grandparents and trips to the stores.
My Motto: Our High Speed Rail future starts at the Columbia River Crossing.
August 13, 2005 2:25 PM
Ron, you say "We will just find another way to power them!"
Well, people who have analyzed the physics of energy storage disagree with you.
"Do you think GM, Toyota or BMW are just going to go out of business?"
GM? Sure, if only because of health and pension costs, to say nothing of their inability to manufacture a car anyone wants to buy. http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/business/business-autos-ford-restructuring.html
Toyata and BMW may find other ways to survive in a smaller market as makers of high end cars for the rich, but the bottom of the market is dropping out already. Look at Toyota's Scion division... designed for the young (with lower incomes), yet they can only sell them to the middle aged (with relatively higher incomes).
As oil futures reach $70/barrel, and then double again, the automobile industry will find it harder to produce a car that middle income people can afford to buy or operate. That's a given... the only question is how soon?
"Have high petrol costs forced Europeans out of their cars?"
Yes they have. Europeans drive fewer miles, in smaller engined vehicles. But their fuel is still cheap at $5/gallon. Just wait and watch.
"Still, we need to be realistic; people will want to use automobiles,"
Too bad wishes aren't fishes.
"and our METRO transit planning needs to recognize that reality."
Which reality? The reality that they want them, or the likelihood that it will be increasingly difficult to afford them?
Ray and Ron, I believe that census statistics show the most rapid growth in "exurbia"...Nationally, people are still choosing the most car dependent lifestyles they can find and still moving to the car dependent sunbelt states. Don't kid yourself that the world is moving to Portland. Younger adults, yes. But there is no clear demographic trend favoring "access" over mobility nationally. We're still digging ourselves deeper into a car dependent hole, partying like there is no tomorrow, as amply illustated by the recent transportation bill.
August 13, 2005 2:55 PM
Ross Williams Says:
From How Things Work:
"The "fuel" for electric vehicles costs a lot less per mile than it does for gasoline vehicles. And for many, the 50-mile range is not a limitation -- the average person living in a city or suburb seldom drives more than 30 or 40 miles per day."
That is with today's technology.
August 14, 2005 12:17 AM
Miles, I do agree with you that our culture still worships the car. I told a right wing radio host back in 2000 that I was "addicted to Oil" (which he didn't or wouldn't understand to mean "everyone") so I totally understand your point of view. I took my son to the annual hotrod and classic car show today in Gresham. Awesome classics but the people really do place alot of their blood, sweat, and tears into a piece of metal that runs on a finite resource. It will turn to dust.
But there are individuals all over the world looking at the mega-trends and its dawning on them that our dependency on petroleum is creating a situation of global unrest.
Some of us are speaking with our location for housing and the cars we purchase. Some of us are only buying bulk food stuffs. Some of us are choosing "green power". Some of us are moving to cities that are looking to the future. I agree that its mostly the young that see this path. But isn't it the young that we want here (the creative class).
Seniors are coming here too and with Bankers Life experts calling Portland number one for seniors I would think we will see even more plus fifty developments.
August 14, 2005 8:43 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
If transit planning had some close correlation with the cost/benefit analysis of vehicle operation you would have a better argument. It is more closely related to how many indivuduals decide to go somewhere at a given time of day in their own vehicle, whether it is a geo metro or a chevy corvette. And I would rather determine what will be appropriate, now-- before expensive development takes place in the greater Portland Metro area-- than attempt to rectify this a decade or two hence when the costs of acquiring property, paying for construction materials, labor, etc. will be much, much higher. METRO is asleep at the switch, I am afraid largely beholden to a new set of vested interests, which squeezed out the old highwasy lobby (equally bad). At our Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood meetings one of the recurring topics is Clackamas Co's. unwillingness to expedite their own traffic-with some new throughfares-and keep it out of our neighborhood.
Moreover, what works in Portland will not work in winter bound Detroit or sprawled out Kansas City or Dallas. The notion that Portland's ideals will somehow work throughout the US, is some ego driven local boosterism. But perhaps with some location-specific adaptation thay will have a positive influence.
Someone else says we "worship the car." I have to carry tools with me, get to a variety of places, run errands all over town--and I wish I could do that with my bicycle but I can't, and many other people are in the same fix. And many who do commute by bicycle unfortunately work somewhere in the corporate system that perpetuates the problems that transit planners struggle with.
Yes it is a good goal to lure people out of the automobile. But perhaps we should lure them out by making mass transit far more attractive than other options, not frustrating their need to get something done, efficiently.
I support much of the "new urbanism." I had been pointing to Vancouver BC's model of metropolitan planning about two decades before the current BC craze, and also to San Francisco. This model is found in many cities in the Commonwealth and some US cities, too. But every US city is going to have different issues. Given the American proclivity to measure economic health by the volume of business activity we can expect a future of complicated transit planning for busy Americans needing to get somewhere fast.
The Portland Metro area is now in a period of rapid change--i.e."growing pains"-- and as various satellite communities rush ahead with development I am afraid that a lot of essentials will be left out. E.g.- "park-and-ride- lots are passe', and will waste land, There should be transit hubs with both rail stops, multi-level parking, and business facilities. European cities have entire underground complexes, fashioned around their subway sytems.
August 15, 2005 11:08 AM
Ross, Electricity is cheaper per mile for many reasons related to the cost of coal, natural gas, nuclear power, oil and alternative sources. I wouldn't assume it will always be so, or necessarily be so. Your post led me to do some reading on the energy/mile issue, and while I didn't find a definitive answer it appears that the life time energy consumption of electric vehicles is only slightly better than gas vehicles.... and the total cost is very much influenced by hydrocarbon and other source generation costs.
Ray, I'm here in Portland for the same reasons... but since the topic was national policy, I think it bears noting that most people are not making Portland like choices.... including most people in Portland. Yes there are more here... but nationally the trends are all negative... bigger vehicles, more driving, still.
Ron, I'm all for farsighted investments in the infrastructure needed for a post-hydrocarbon economy, but at what level?
You point out that METRO is falling short, and I'm just offering one reason for that, namely, that it is very difficult to get people to imagine a post-automotive existence, much less invest in the infrastructure for one, while cars are still, as you point out, so practical.
You say "Yes it is a good goal to lure people out of the automobile. But perhaps we should lure them out by making mass transit far more attractive than other options, not frustrating their need to get something done, efficiently."
But why is it good to lure them out when cars are so useful to so many people? (Well there are air quality reasons... but the influence of all transit riders is probably small.)
Isn't it a smarter goal to "price" them out? And if price should be the policy, shouldn't we do it through fuel taxes? The Europeans had the political will... but then in Europe there is a meaningful distinction between the governments and the oil and auto industries. Not so true here. Well then, we'll just have to wait for scarcity.
I'm skeptical about "luring" people out of their cars given how useful cars are and cheap gasoline is. I really don't believe it will happen at current price levels. Notwithstanding a few motivated people like me (and readers here), most folks are economic animals, and will rearrange their lives to maximize their convenience and personal utility functions (as you attest in your case).
Another way to price them out is to get out of the business of subsidizing cars through the construction of public infrastructure to facilitate their use (roads, highways, etc.)... but like cheap oil, publicly subsidized highways and roads are at the core of the American polity. Very difficult to uproot.
Due to the forthcoming declines in oil production, we are approaching an era in which price will begin to affect residential location and automobile ownership decisions, but we're not there yet. We aren't willing to tax fuel and thus car use, but we might do well to stop subsidizing the roads that cars drive on.
A huge factor in the transport change process will be social class. As the price of auto based mobility climbs, it's effect will be distinctly class/income based... we don't have a very good record of meeting the needs of the lower 50%... so we will be slow in responding. Not until the middle class begins to feel pinched will policy makers respond... I predict. But by the same token mass transit, to the extent it can be built, represents a positive attempt to respond to the needs of lower income folks as they begin to get priced out of auto ownership by rising fuel costs.
For me the interesting question is how far ahead of the market the public sector can and should get... building for a world of expensive movement means creating "access" by new means, mass transit and high access places. But how much do we spend now, in advance of actual market demand for alternatives, and to what extent is such spending unjustified because it builds expensive underutilized infrastructure? These are the questions circulating in my mind these days.
The difference between your take and mine might be summed up in terms of time horizons... I'm talking about 10 to 20 years, and I sense that you are talking about 5 to 10 years... and the problem is that while planning can take a 10 to 20 year perspective, investment is more limited.
August 15, 2005 3:26 PM
Ross Williams Says:
"I'm skeptical about "luring" people out of their cars given how useful cars are and cheap gasoline is. I really don't believe it will happen at current price levels. Notwithstanding a few motivated people like me (and readers here), most folks are economic animals, and will rearrange their lives to maximize their convenience and personal utility functions (as you attest in your case)."
We are all economic animals. But we all have a lot of other motivations as well. From a political standpoint the advantages of providing people with options that they are free to choose, rather than forcing them to use options they don't want to use ought to be obvious.
There is an Australian transporation options program that first identified those who had some interest in changing their transportation behavior and focused its efforts on them. It simply ignored those that weren't interested - they got no messages about why they should change their behavior. Not only were resources targeted more effectively, but there was no backlash from people who wondered why money was being wasted on getting people to do things they didn't want to do.
The same general strategy is now working in Portland as well. The fact is that there are many people who have an interest in walking, biking and using transit who aren't or who would like to use it more. Figuring out the barriers that prevent them from doing so and removing them is going to get us further than adding to the cost of driving for everyone.
"Electricity is cheaper per mile for many reasons related to the cost of coal, natural gas, nuclear power, oil and alternative sources. I wouldn't assume it will always be so, or necessarily be so."
My point was that it is not inevitable that individual transportation modes - i.e. autos - will disappear with oil. It is not inevitable that electricity is going to become scarse and expensive in the future just because oil does either.