December 30, 2005
Today's Tribune editorializes favorably on tolling as a funding strategy as an alternative to growing congestion...
We have our first release of a WAP/WML (cell phone) interface for the Surfer. Go to:
[If you follow the link in a regular web browser, you're not likely to get anything meaningful.]
Note that it's not 100% complete. We don't have menus to select lines or stops, you MUST enter a stop number. But once you do, you have the ability to surf along stops on the line or to nearby lines.
I'm very interested to hear how well this works on different phones. Please comment with feedback!
December 29, 2005
I got a kick out of the article in yesterday's O about a spat between the parking folks at PDOT and the vendor who manages all those paystations downtown. Apparently some (percentage TBD) of the machines accepted money on Monday, which was a holiday with no parking enforcement.
While I quite agree that the City and vendor need to do better, it seems like a bit of a tempest in a teapot. After all, not so long ago those now-old-fashioned meter heads would take your quarter any hour, day or week of the year, regardless of whether it was within the hours of enforcement! How quickly we become reliant on our technology...
[Disclosure: I was a participant in the process for selecting the paystations, as they were under consideration for use in my neighborhood in NW Portland.]
In fact, I was at a 7:45 meeting this morning downtown where several of the participants remarked happily that when they fed the paystations at 7:40, the expiration time for the coins they put in was calculated from the 8am start of enforcement, NOT from the time they plugged the machine.
I think the biggest bonus is that the machines take debit cards! No more hunting for quarters.
I wouldn't go back. Would anyone else?
December 28, 2005
What if I said that I had a magic bullet that would guarantee citizens significantly less auto traffic congestion and provide beleaguered transportation departments with much-needed funds. How could you say no?
And yet, tolls and congestion pricing have long been considered political suicide in the U.S. However, in the face of shrinking transportation budgets and increasing congestion in cities around the world, we may have no other choice than to take another look at pricing schemes.
In fact, for the last few years, London has begun charging significant weekday tolls between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., resulting in a 30% reduction in peak-hour congestion (as well as a round-trip time reduction of 13%). London's tolling program is also raising significant transportation revenue, which is being invested in improving public transportation. Here is the Victoria Transport Policy Institute's study of London's tolls (PDF, 513K).
A new study in Seattle is looking at if or how cash incentives (the carrot to tolling's stick) alter driving habits. This Seattle Times article compares the reaction of two participants: one didn't change anything about his commute, while the other reports that he "basically stopped driving."
GPS monitors mounted on participants' dashboards track their behavior and automatically deduct charges from prepaid accounts; they get to keep any money left in the account at the end of the study.
The study, called the "Traffic Choices Project," will see how Seattle-area drivers respond to being paid not to drive during the busiest days, busiest times, and on the busiest roads. Study authors plan to measure any change in travel behavior as well as how participants feel about the impact of monitoring on their privacy. Here is more information about the study from Puget Sound Regional Council.
As we wind down toward the end of the year, a pause for a moment of introspection seems appropriate.
First, unless we have a server meltdown, we'll have our 25,000th visitor today. That's just under a month since we hit 20,000, so thanks to our loyal readers who keep coming back to see what we're ranting about.
Also, we've taken the time over the holiday break to update our copyright policy. When we started Portland Transport, since we had no legal entity, we left copyright in the hands or our contributors. Now that we have our very own non-profit corporation, we're getting a little more formal and holding copyright in the name of Portland Transport.
This means that we can think about how we want the material used. In the spirit of the intellectual commons that we hope Portland Transport is part of, we've made most of our content (the part we actually own) available under a Creative Commons license. If you haven't heard of Creative Commons, you should definitely check it out, it's a very cool concept - the opposite of Mickey Mouse being under 100% control of Disney for perpetuity.
So you are now free to reuse most of our text and photos (get the details on our copyright page), as long as you give Portland Transport credit, and don't try and make any money off the reuse. Enjoy and spread the memes in the new year.
December 27, 2005
Thanks to all the folks who've been beta-testing our Transit Surfer tool. We're releasing the official version 1.0 today, and it now has its own domain name: tsrf.us.
There are currently two flavors: a wireless PDA interface (the one that's been in beta test). It's available now at http://tsrf.us/pda.
The new interface is for desktop web browsers, and can be found at http://tsrf.us. It's a little minimalist - you can look forward to enhancements soon...
And a high priority is the development of an interface for WAP phones. Watch this space...
December 26, 2005
Over at http://www.portlandpeace.org/, they're offering a raffle for one of their "Sustainable Energy in Motion" bike tours. We don't know a whole lot about the organization (other than that their blog often picks up links to our posts here at Portland Transport). But the goals sound admirable and the tours looks like fun. Check it out.
December 24, 2005
What place, if any, does the concept of "alternative transportation" have in celebrating the holidays?
In my friend group, a couple of people are staying in Portland, but for the most part we're traveling far and wide. Here's just a sample of where we're all heading from Portland (map here):
- Alamo, CA
- Astoria, OR
- Auburndale, MA
- Driggs, ID
- East Lansing, MI
- Everett, WA
- Las Vegas, NV
- Longview, WA
- Monterey, CA
- Nampa, ID
- Portola Valley, CA
- Silver Plume, CO
- Soldotna, AK
- Toledo, OH
- Winthrop, ME
Sure, a few of those places are in driving distance (Astoria and Longview), but what do you do if, like me, you don't have a car?
Flexcar sometimes has holiday specials, and car rental is an option (but remember, if you don't have your own insurance, it costs a lot).
Still, you can feel isolated by a lack of transportation choices the way you never do during daily life in Portland when it's the holidays and you can't get where your family is.
In any case, most of us are going far enough away that it's a plane or nothing. I believe that my individual transportation choices affect the environment and reflect my values, so what does it mean that I just get on a plane - the least environmentally-friendly form of transportation around - every time it's a major holiday and I want to see my family?
It's easy to think that I get a pass on those because I have an emissions-free vehicle 99% of the time, but hey, that sure sounds like justification to me.
Just as transportation can't be separated from land use, it also can't be separated from the fact that Americans move around, and we especially move away from our families. My friends in Europe are roughly the same demographic as my friends here, but most of them live within shouting distance of their extended families. That means that you can take a train or even bike to visit family...in America, that's simply not an option. And as the cost of fuel continues to rise, what will that mean for families and the holidays? Will people move to be nearer to family if they no longer have the option of hopping on a plane 5 times a year? Or will we just miss each other more?
December 23, 2005
A few weeks ago, we noted that the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the I-5 Delta Park project was due out and there was an option to order it on CD-ROM. Well, we have not received our CD yet (we assume it's "in the mail"), but we did get an e-mail that the EA is available online. The web site also lists the public hearing date (Jan 24), and we would encourage folks to mark their calendars.
The CD we DID get this week is the draft Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) for the Port of Portland. The Port is in fact a major transportation provider in our region, but one that goes unnoticed by many people. We would encourge people to pay a little bit of attention to where they are putting their capital dollars. The TIP draft is also available online (PDF, 9M). That public hearing will be at 9am on January 11th during the regular Port Commission meeting.
By the way, no mention of Peak Oil in the assumption section of the TIP.
One of our final meetings in the Netherlands was one attended by Tom Miller (Sam Adams' chief of staff) and myself with two representatives of the freight industry: a freight forwarder and a representative of their industry association. The meeting was at Schiphol airport, a major European hub of air freight activity. The area is a major inter-model center, transferring goods between ocean-going ships, canal barges, rail, trucks and air-freight.
There were a number of perspectives that I found striking. One that stood out is a discussion of the reliability of various modes. I was surprised to hear that the greatest certainty of on-time delivery was by water, i.e., river and canal! You can get as far as Vienna by canal from Holland!
One interesting technique they employ is to off-load container ships to barges that then bring the containers to several terminals where they can be transferred to trucks or rail. That way you don't congest one terminal with all the trucks required to off-load the ship. I wonder what would happen to truck traffic projections for the Columbia Crossing if the Port of Portland and Port of Vancouver could cooperate in a scheme like this?
We talked about the growth of trucks and they acknowledged the same trend in Europe and even showed me a schedule of truck deliveries from the Netherlands to Eastern Europe and Central Asia (e.g., Turkey and Iran).
We talked a little bit about the "last mile" delivery problem, particularly in the light of a number of Dutch cities that close their centers to cars. They said that generally deliveries to stores in such city centers were made between 7am and 10am, after people are awake (so noise is not an issue) but before the shops open and large number of pedestrians are present (and when trucks are allowed to deliver in the auto-restricted areas).
If only garbage removal in NW Portland could be organized on these lines!
In fact, several delivery companies have specialized in the niche of delivering to shops in town centers in this pattern. Rather than complaining about the "costs of regulation", they have recognized and exploited a market opportunity.
And of course we talked about bikes. When we told them that bikes lanes in freight districts were controversial in the U.S. and asked about freight districts in the Netherlands, the response was "of course we have bike lanes, how else would the employees get to work?" They also noted that if a company buys a bicycle for an employee to commute on, that's tax deductible.
Finally we asked about truck-bike conflicts, particularly right-turning accidents where a cyclist gets hit by a truck that cannot see him/her. They acknowledged that this unfortunately occasionally happens (although their accidents stats are far better than ours) but that two solutions were being worked on - better mirrors with more visibility (I think this is true here in the U.S., too) and the addition of a bar to the undercarriage of trailers. If a cyclist is hit by a turning truck, the bar pushes the cyclist aside, rather than under the wheels. Gruesome but pragmatic?
December 22, 2005
Todd Boulanger notes that 600,000 people per day cycled into New York during the transit strike (5x normal volume). This press release (PDF, 35K) goes into detail and makes suggestions on how some of that could be made permanent.
Todd also points us to a radio program where this is discussed.
Rail real time arrival display - © 2005 Rick Browning - all rights reservered.
Real time arrival for multiple bus lines - © 2005 Rick Browning - all rights reservered.
In the last few days we've heard quite a bit about TriMet's failures during the 12/18-19 insta- winter storm. The Max breakdowns were one thing, but there were also a number of complaints about misleading internet tracking information ( "there was no notice of anything out of the ordinary with her route....She waited and waited at the stop, but even though multiple buses came in the other direction, no bus ever arrived. She had to walk home") or just no information posted at all. In light of that, thought I would write a quick note about train/bus info promulgation as I saw it in Japan.
One of these days soon I really will start to unleash the vast trove of photos and observations from my 7 weeks in over there this summer/fall.
One series of photos and notes has to do with bus/train signage. It is dynamic and accurate, and no - you don't log on w/yr computer at home. It is right there. Where you are standing and waiting. At the bus stop or the train station - telling you w/text and graphic icon displays exactly how many minutes for the next bus or train. If you are already on the bus or train - it is telling you while you sit in your seat how many minutes to the next stop, how many stops to the end of the line, what order they are in, the amount of time between every stop (real time, not schedule time), what doors to use to get on and off... and once in awhile - an advertisement with women in bikinis... (OK, just faithfully reporting my observations, not endorsing, but it does command at least male attention a little more than icons of train cars - video advertising also provides revenue to the transit agency; is there something wrong with this?).
I attach a few photos. One shows a video screen aboard a train similar to Max (not long distance). The second shows a bus stop with multiple line dynamic electrionic kiosk. These are not displaying static schedule info, but actual real time, variable conditions. My message - if they can do it, we can too. We in the USA are like in the transit stone age, even in Portland. But we don't have to be. I hear TriMet is working on it.
Let's all wish them luck.
Rex passes on this pointer to a discussion from our neighbors to the north on sidewalks and pedestrian issues...
December 21, 2005
We've been combing through our notes from our Netherlands trip, and have one or two more posts left...
While our visit was centered in Amsterdam, we had the chance to visit a number of cities, and Rotterdam provides an interesting contrast. It is the commercial center of the country and a major port city (about half of the land area of the city is consumed by the port). The city center was also destroyed during WWII, so it has a very different feel from the historic streets of Amsterdam.
The attitude toward cars is also different. The planners we spoke to used the phrase "durable access" to describe mobility in the city. They want to give citizens the choice of mode and make them all work well. They have organized major radial corridors into and out of the city and made them work well for cars, transit and bikes. Typically this means that you have the ability to drive to the city center if you want, but you'll find it much cheaper to park at the outskirts of the center and take transit or walk the rest of the way. Pricing of parking is one of the key balancing tools. You can get there by car if you're willing to pay the price.
They are also investing in upgrading their tram (streetcar) service on these radial corridors, with an emphasis on shortening trip time. They are moving the trams to dedicated right of way, giving them signal priority, spacing stops about every 500 meters and using low-floor cars to make boarding easier and faster. More like our Light Rail than our Streetcar.
Nonetheless, they achieve a 23% bicycle mode share in both the city center and the city in general, and you see the same attention to quality bicycle facilities that you do in Amsterdam.
While many of us on the trip fell in love with Amsterdam, the model in Rotterdam may be much more applicable to what we can strive for here in Portland.
December 20, 2005
Vancouver bike advocate Todd Boulanger passes along some notes on how bikes are playing a role in getting commuters in and out of New York City this week.
Some of the measures in place:
- Valet and guarded bike parking facilities
- Coning of bike lanes to make them more protected
Over at Blue Oregon, Leslie Carlson has written a great piece about the health benefits of walking and how opportunities for walking have been engineered out of our society.
In today's Oregonian, Steve Duin bemoans the apparent loss of momentum on doing anything about the Eastbank Freeway and the loss of opportunity for the community.
We're sympathetic to this issue, but what struck us is his passing reference to peak oil: "given the expiration date on our endless supply of oil".
So our question of the day is whether the concept of peak oil has, or is about to, reach a tipping point in public consciousness? If so, how can we leverage this for better transportation policy and choices?
We recently got hold of a file of GPS coordinates for all the TriMet stops. We've employed that to add a new feature to the Transit Surfer. When you view the arrivals information for a stop, you not only get all the lines that arrive at that stop, you'll also get a list of lines that can be accessed from nearby stops, so you can expand your travel choices. With just a click you can then view the arrival info for those lines.
This enhancement will show you up to five lines (plus ties), along with the distance to the nearest stop on that line (it looks within a half mile radius).
This also solves the "what if I want to see the bus going back in the other direction", since a stop in the reverse direction will almost always be nearby.
Enjoy, and as always, we welcome your feedback.
December 19, 2005
I've often thought that the philosophies behind open source software and alternative transportation were fundamentally in sync. They're about making better use of our shared commons. In one case, the commons of ideas and their expression, in the other, the commons of our public spaces and transportation infrastructure.
I got a little bit of reinforcement for this idea today when I read the piece in the Oregonian today about Wiki creator Ward Cunningham.
Turns out he's a regular bicycle commuter, from his home in Garden Home to Big Pink.
'Nuff said. Way to lead by example, Ward.
As an occasional transit rider, using the system isn't completely intuitive for me. Any time I don't know when the next bus is coming is a moment when I might get frustrated and give up and get back on my bike. That's why the new technologies TriMet has been implementing have made the system a lot easier to use, which makes me more likely to use (and enjoy) transit.
Real-time displays at bus stops and on the web that let me know exactly when the next bus or train will arrive are fantastically useful tools that make the system work. (And, of course, there are those who are yet more cutting-edge, who want to unplug the system and be able to track real-time arrivals with wi-fi.)
Making the connection between between the schedule and the real live bus makes a real difference even when things are moving smoothly and basically according to schedule. But what happens to these systems when everything goes haywire?
Tonight was a good test of the system. Portland shuts down when it snows, and even the Commissioner of Transportation strongly recommends that citizens take transit instead of driving. It's not impossible to ride a bike in the snow, but even in Portland biking drops a fair amount when the ground is white.
So, if transit is the best, if not only, way to get around today, how do you figure out if and how transit is going to work for you in the face of necessary delays and service changes?
I had the chance to test out how TriMet's emergency information services were doing today. My sister was over for a visit, and while she was here it snowed. Biking back home was not an option, so we checked the TriMet web site to look for detours or delays. The closest bus line had delays, but there was no notice of anything out of the ordinary with the next route south.
We used Transit Tracker to find when the next bus should arrive, and it was coming in a half an hour, so I bundled her up against the cold, and sent her out in the cold world to walk a good long stretch to Hawthorne. She waited and waited at the stop, but even though multiple buses came in the other direction, no bus ever arrived. She had to walk home.
To my mind, this is a failure of the system. If we had known that our route was cancelled or severely delayed, she could have walked home from the get-go, stayed over, or taken a cab instead of waiting for an hours for a bus that never came. Even better would have been if we could have actually known when it made sense for her to leave the house and wait in the cold, because we could be sure a bus would arrive soon after. Luckily for my sister, she could walk a few miles home, but not everyone will be in that position.
I say all this with a great deal of sympathy and respect for TriMet's engineers, operators, and administrators. I know they're doing their best out there. But it seems to me that the real-time information and the reliability of the web site are more important in a crisis situation than ever. Take pity on those of us who will be waiting in the cold for that phantom bus this morning, and please just tell us if that bus will really arrive.
If not, I'm staying home.
December 17, 2005
Based on feedback from users, we've changed the background on the Portland Bike Channel. It's now a collage (updated daily) from Jonathan's photos. It does not rotate, and content above it is no longer semi-transparent. Clearly this was a case of a cool programming feature not being useful to real users :-)
We've also added a link to the SHIFT calendar.
December 16, 2005
Cate points us to an editorial she heard on KINK about crosswalk safety.
And Ron wants to remind us of the UN-HABITAT World Urban Forum in Vancouver, BC:
Portland Streetcar does a ridership sample each quarter. We were all a bit overwhelmed when the summer counts came back and said we had 7800 riders each weekday.
Hold on to that hanger strap, the fall (Sep-Nov) counts are in and we're at 9,000 weekday riders. Saturday ridership is down slightly (6,600 down from 7,600 in the summer) and Sunday is holding steady around 3,000.
What to attribute this to? The RiverPlace extension clearly has an impact, demonstrating the n-squared nature of networks. The value of a node in the transportation network varies as the square of the number of nodes (a theory originating in computer networks). Add more nodes and ridership should go up geometrically, not linearly.
There is also a virtuous cycle at work here. We built the Streetcar to enable high density residential development. Now those developments are filling up, generating ridership for the Streetcar...
History suggests the winter counts will go down, but then we'll come back with more growth in the summer. Next summer will see the opening of the Gibbs extension, triggering the n-squared rule again...
Meeky passes on a link to another (non-Portland) perspective on congestion and the transportation-land use connection.
December 15, 2005
We've had a chance to summarize presentations from the PSU/PDOT Traffic and Transportation for each of the last two weeks. Now we'd like to feature one presentation that we found particularly interesting, something we'd like to do each semester.
Marcia Carlson (PDF 2.5M) has certainly identied quite an opportunity: over the next decade, many surface parking lots in the Lloyd District are going to grow tall buildings!
The opportunity: as 17,000 new jobs and 3,000 new households are added to the district, how can you keep auto-intensity under control?
Marcia's solution? Provide guidance to developers on the number of parking spaces to build, engage the Lloyd District TMA in negotiating group pricing for residents with TriMet and emphasize tools like Flexcar.
We think Marcia's on to something. The Lloyd has great possibilities for building a car free residential culture. Here are some of the advantages in place:
- A strong employment-oriented TMA already in place
- Developers who understand that shifting modes is cheaper than building parking
- A large inventory of parking for employees that could be shared with residents overnight
We suggested a different idea to Marcia: put regulation in place that requires developers to unbundle condos and parking spaces, i.e., when you buy a condo, you can also buy a parking space if you want, but you're not required to! We think this would reduce the number of parking spaces built. How many folks in the Pearl own cars only because they have a parking space (whether they wanted it or not). Today lenders seem to be requiring about 1 parking space for every residential unit in the Pearl. I think this would change quickly if half the spaces didn't sell in an unbundled scheme. And faced with a $15,000 or $20,000 price tag, how many folks would think about whether they really want to bring a car to that new condo?
Go for it, Marcia!
If you're not into the details of blogging, or web site programming, you can probably skip right now to the next post.
But for the geeks, here's a summary of how we created the Portland Bike Channel site that we launched yesterday. I'm writing about this because I think it's an interesting story how how open source technologies can be applied to organize and create value from information on the web.
This site is technically a 'mash up' - a combination of technologies and services bolted together in an interesting way.
The Bike Channel actually has three major components, and I'll mention how each one works, and how we put it all together.
Combining the Content
The site uses the RSS feeds from three other blogs (BikePortland, ORBike and this one) to provide its content. The three RSS feeds are combined with a Perl module called XML::RSS::Aggregate and the results are written out in both HTML and RSS format (so that a combined RSS feed covering all three sites can be subscribed to with your favor reader tool).
The sidebar displays the latest posts from Portland Transport (sure - we're trying to drive up our traffic - and cyclists might be interested in other transportation topics too). It does this by again using the RSS feed. In this case it's displayed with a PHP script called lastRSS (it appears to come from the Czech Republic).
The Background Images
We are lucky to feature as backgrounds photos from Jonathan Maus' (of BikePortland fame) Flickr photostream. We can do this legally because Jonathan allows his content to be used under a Creative Commons license - a sort of open source approach to copyright. In this case, it's licensed for non-commercial use with an attribution required - two conditions we're happy to meet.
We get the photos by scanning the photostream with a Perl module that implements the Flickr API, we find those photos that are sufficiently large and have the right aspect ratio to work as a background. We then use another Perl module to scale them to the appropriate size.
[Based on initial reader feedback, the rotating backgrounds will probably go away.]
Putting it All Together
There are two final steps:
First, the main page of the site is a PHP script that pulls together all these various elements.
Finally we use a free service called Feedburner to publish the RSS feed. We don't have to do this, but Feedburner provides some interesting value adds including pretty formatting of the feed (so you don't just see an XML dump if you click on it), statistics on the use of the feed, and some technical tricks to make it easier for a variety of RSS clients to use it (it bridges the RSS vs. Atom wars for those who care about such things).
And of course there's the ubiquitous SiteMeter to provide some rudimentary statistics (for free).
And that's the story. The total amount of new code is less than 500 lines, the rest is making use of open source modules or services with well defined interfaces. The result is a new service for the bike community.
And yes, we'll be happy to share any of our code bits on request.
December 14, 2005
Here at Portland Transport we're announcing a new site today, which we're titling "The Portland Bike Channel".
You can find it at http://bikechannel.portlandtransport.com.
This is an 'aggregated' site. It cotains capsule summaries of the posts to Bike Portland, ORBike and Portland Transport blogs (the bike category only from the latter). The idea is to create a one-stop shopping location for folks who want to keep track of bicycle news in our region. One of the best features is that it allows subscription to an RSS feed that also blends the RSS feeds from those sites.
The site features graphic backgrounds from the Flickr photostream of Bike Portland's Jonathan Maus. Thank you, Jonathan, for making your photos available under a Creative Commons license.
We're open to suggestions of other sites with RSS feeds that we could add to The Bike Channel. We're looking forward to SHIFT getting a feed so we can include them!
Last night a large group crowded into the Plaza Conference Room at the World Trade Center downtown to help give input on how PDOT should deal with a large gap in their budget.
The attendees were certainly engaged, but perhaps a little biased. It appears that certain stakeholder groups responded very strongly to Commissioner Adams' invitation to 'pack the room' made at the Advisory Committee meeting.
When polled about how they arrived at the meeting, 20% walked, 20% biked, 20% took transit and 30% drove alone. When asked about preferred modes, 39% responded 'cycling' :-)
OK, so we know which constituency is the most organized...
But the responses are still interesting. Some reflected a bimodal or bell-shaped distribution, indicating that perhaps different groups had different values, but some were strikingly unified and I think this exercise will yield valuable input for the Commissioner and the Advisory Committee.
Full results are promised on the Commissioner's blog later this week.
December 13, 2005
This post was orginally a comment on TONIGHT: Transportation Budget Forum.
Faced with limited resources and growing demand, I expect PDOT to do what any private sector organization would do…increase operational efficiency by:
Focusing on key customers…i.e. managing demand, Prioritizing maintenance, and Investing in low cost capital projects that support the management and maintenance strategy, and then Marketing the hell out of a great product….Portland’s Transportation Options!
Key customers: offer better service to Freight and non-discretionary auto trips that support economic development by reducing number and length of discretionary auto trips.
Encourage shorter trips:
Support retail revitalization in local neighborhoods (invest in street design projects…wider sidewalks, curb extension, better lighting, trees; calming or redirecting through traffic)
Improve bike, walk and transit connections between employment areas and adjacent neighborhoods (invest in sidewalks, crosswalks and curb extensions, bike lanes, bikeways)
Reduce number of discretionary auto trips…
Complete the city-wide bicycle network…(invest in filling in gaps, improved signage and better general visibility of bike network.
Give preference to transit…(invest in signal preemption, stops at curb extensions)
Aggressively market new & existing transportation options …TravelSmart and PDOT Options…insure that citizens know that they have travel choices.
Extra benefits: reduced energy usage, reduced air emissions including CO2, reduced storm water run-off from streets and parking lots.
Prioritize maintenance on Main Streets and multi-modal (freight, transit &/or bike) arterials that link employment areas to neighborhoods and to regional routes.
- Maintain the integrity of freight routes, major transit streets and bike network.
- Fund replacement of weight restricted and aging bridges that serve industrial/employment areas.
Portland Transport is constantly looking out for first person accounts of commutes or trips that shed light on our transportation system, or our attitudes about it. We invite readers to e-mail their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
I work as a bike messenger, a job which is an easy spin downtown, downhill from my apartment. I live within biking and walking distance of just about everywhere I need to be, or want to go on a daily basis. I have never owned a car, and I haven't even driven a car in over a year. Yup, I am the veritable poster child of bike-friendly, alternative-transporting, givin’-a-hootin'-not-pollutin' Portland.
But a daily cup of piping hot smugness is no kind of reason to get out of bed in the morning. A cup of coffee at Stumptown with my husband Austin is.
Unfortunately, the love of my life works in the belly of the Beaverton beast. It's a miserable commute any way you do it and he's found that biking only prolongs and accentuates the gnarliness. Where he goes, bikes fear to tread. So, while we do our best to minimize driving, his car is still a necessary part of our life.
So this is our commute: Each morning we load my bike into the back of his car, drive downtown to Stumptown Coffee, park, and unload my bike. We have coffee, chat, smooch, and reluctantly head our separate ways. Austin on four wheels, me on two.
The joy I get from this situation is threefold. First, we enjoy a morning coffee date. But we also get to turn my husband's otherwise typical car commute into a carpool! Why should I have all the glory, when we can both exercise commute alternatives?
And last, I derive a dark secret pleasure out of unloading my bike from his car in front of all of the super macho "hardcore" bikers who roll up on their matte black, brakeless fixed gears. Pulling my bike out of his car is SO uncool. But I know in my heart that I am a tough, committed biker and that I have biked in conditions that are not only adverse but completely insane. I have biked sometimes out of necessity, sometimes by choice, sometimes with passion, and most of the time without applause.
I know this, and yet I know exactly how wussy my commute looks. That's okay. My bike is neither a phase nor a lifestyle accessory, and I won't take no flack from any little hipster rolling up on his über-cool fixie. (If they have a problem with that? They can meet me at the bike racks. After school.)
My commute allows me to reconcile the smugness and idealism associated with bike culture, with the beautiful, imperfect reality of our almost-car-free life.
We blogged last week about being asked to be on the PDOT Budget Advisory Committee. Now Commissioner Adams is opening up the input process to the public at a forum tonight. Come and help shape PDOT's priorities!
Commissioner Sam Adams is asking the Portland community for their advice and assistance in establishing future budget priorities for Portland’s Office of Transportation.
Here’s the problem: Over a five-year forecast, Portland expects a funding gap of $43 million for City transportation services. A shortfall of nearly $8-million is projected for the coming year – FY 2006 – 2007. Cost increases in this forecast are driven by three factors – Portland’s declining share of gas revenues; inflation affecting construction materials; and, new partnership requirements. For now, the gap between costs and resources can only be closed through cuts.
To develop a new portfolio of transportation services that closely reflects Portlanders’ priorities, and also squares with available funds, we have scheduled a Public Forum:
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
5:30 – 7:00pm
World Trade Center
Plaza Conference Room
121 S.W. Salmon Street, Portland
Doors open at 5:00pm
At the Forum, state-of-the-art electronic polling techniques will be used to capture a complete and accurate picture of citizen priorities for Portland’s future transportation services.
The Office of Transportation is committed to identifying short-term and long-term changes to assure the delivery of services within a constrained budget, finding ways to produce cost savings. To succeed, we need you to share your ideas for the City’s transportation budget priorities. Please make plans to attend this important Public Forum. This will be the single most important conversation about the future direction of transportation for Portland.
To RSVP for the Forum call 503-823-1328.
December 12, 2005
Responding to our posts about bikes in the Netherlands, reader Miles Hochstein points us to a post on his photo-blog with a unique pedal-powered-vehicle!
Last week I summarized several presentations from the PSU/PDOT Traffic and Transportation Class. Later in the week, I had a chance to be part of a panel, along with PDOT Director Sue Keil and Commissioner Adams' chief of staff, Tom Miller, which reviewed and provided feedback on another set of class presentations. From these, I've selected one standout project which I'll feature later in the week. Here are the rest of last Thursday's presentations:
Hannah Kapell (PDF 1.4M) would like to change PDOT maintenance policy to prioritize bike lanes. She explains that her route contains streets that are too low in auto traffic volume to justify repaving, but at the same time provide a very uncomfortable cycling surface. Her challenge will be to mobilize both bicycle activists and the neighborhoods involved to work together to put pressure on PDOT.
Kirsty Hall (PDF 1.5M) wants to make the Burnside Bridge a better bike route by improving access at either end. She's taken a careful look at the plans for the proposed couplet and designed bike routes to maximize the potential.
Cynthia Chilton (PDF 1.0M) wants to solve an unsafe intersection on Terwilliger Blvd in an unconvential way: vacate the side street! But local conditions might just make this viable.
Jonathan Austin (PDF 1.6M) wants to make SE 28th Ave safer for bikes and believes sharrows are the tool for the job.
Sheree Tatum (PDF 5.4M) is faced with a majorly substandard street designated as a neighborhood collector. She's got congestion AND speeding. Even the panel was scratching their heads about what to do.
Marian Rhys (PDF 1.1M) wants to de-glamourize the automobile. She's got facts and messages, can she find a way to deliver them?
I'm looking forward to these newly trained activists joining the fray!
December 9, 2005
Today, Portland Transport is releasing a beta test version of our first transit tool, tentatively named the "Transit Surfer".
What it is
The Transit Surfer is our take at an improved mobile user interface for TriMet's Transit Tracker tool. This uses TriMet's real time arrival data to help you find when the next bus or train is arriving. We're actually using TriMet's data. They do have a public interface on this data, but they haven't promoted it. We understand that this will change and documentation will be released early in the new year.
But we asked very nicely, and having been playing with this for a few months now.
You can find the beta test version at http://beta.portlandtransport.com/cgi-bin/pda.pl. This version is designed specifically for folks with phones that have an HTML browser (typically smartphones, i.e., PDA/phone combos), ours is a Treo 600. It does not work very well on WAP/WML phones.
It also works great on a plain web browser on your laptop or desktop computer. But I don't carry my laptop to the bus stop that often (at least not turned on).
Who should use it
The Transit Surfer is aimed at the category of folks we call "Transit-Assisted Pedestrians" (and we include ourselves in this category). People who aren't afraid to walk, and use transit to speed their trip or cover a distance they can't on foot. They are also well acquainted with the transit system and their route options. If there's a faster connection three blocks from here, our feet will get us to the faster route.
At that point, the question becomes one of knowing where the bus (or train) is so we can make choices. That's what the Transit Surfer is about. It's intended to inform you about when the next vehicle is coming, where you may want to make a transfer, what your options are.
Why it's better
- It's fast - there are no graphics, reducing both screen space and bandwidth required
- It's terse - more info on every screen, even the text is minimized
- The navigation is optimized, you can do many things with fewer clicks
Most importantly, when looking at the screen for a given stop, you have links to get to quickly link to data for the previous or (usually more importantly) next stop. With the TriMet interface, I'd need to work back through a set of menus to get to the next stop. This takes care of my favorite approach to using the bus, walking along the route until the bus catches me. With the Transit Surfer I never have a bus pass by me between stops. When I pass a stop, I just click the link for the next stop to get the predicted arrival time.
A screenshot of the interface with the critical links circled
The most awkward part of the interface (this is true for TriMet too) is working through menus. Either lists of routes, or lists of stops on a route. The best way around this is to BOOKMARK. You can bookmark any page in the Transit Surfer, including route pages and stop pages (a page that lists all the arrivals at a given stop).
I would suggest bookmarking a few stops on your favorite routes, especially transfer points. You can then just click your way along the route to the stop you want.
How you can help
- Be a beta tester! Use the interface and tell us what you think by commenting on this post.
- Tell your friends!
- If you know anything about WML interfaces, we need some help for a WAP/WML version.
- Give us thoughts on the name. Have you got a better one than Transit Surfer?
- If you have experience setting up open source projects - we're considering open sourcing this code - please get in touch...
What the geeks may want to know
This application is written in Perl and uses the SOAP::Lite module to communicate with a web service at TriMet.
We have several other interfaces in mind for TriMet's data, so watch this space!
December 8, 2005
Some of you know that I have served for the last three years on Metro's Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee (TPAC) alongside fellow Portland Transport contributor Scott Bricker.
Today the Metro Council confirmed my appointment to the Metro Policy Alternatives Committee (MPAC). MPAC deals with the land use side of the equation.
I'm looking forward to the change in perspective, but also for the opportunity to personally help integrate land use and transportation at Metro. This is particularly important over the next few years as Metro goes through both an update of the Regional Transportation Plan and an update of the 2040 Vision, affectionately know as "The New Look."
So to my colleagues on TPAC, thank you, it's been fun. To my new colleagues on MPAC, here I come...
The Oregonian picked up on a national AP article yesterday about the growing influence of bicycling in Congress, and how that's resulted in an increase in federal funds that can be spent on improving bicycling and walking conditions. The Oregonian article notes that President Bush switched to mountain biking from running a few years back because of knee pain, and his personal interest in cycling may well have contributed to the success of bicycling in SAFETEA-LU (the federal transportation reauthorization act that passed earlier this year).
The article notes that bicycle organizations began formal federal lobbying just three years ago, as the umbrella organization America Bikes brought bicycle industry representatives and grassroots biking groups to the same table for the first time to talk about shared goals. In coordination with the national bicycling advocacy group League of American Bicyclists, America Bikes began an annual conference called the National Bike Summit for groups and individuals interested in bicycling to come together, strategize, share information, and, most importantly, spend a day on Capitol Hill visiting Congressional delegates with a coordinated message: we need more funding for programs that increase bicycling safety and facilities.
Unlike many groups, which have full-time lobbyists visiting delegates every week, these 'lobbyists' are small fry: bike shop owners from every state, grassroots activists, parents who want their children to be able to bike and walk to school, and ordinary folks who love to ride a bike. The success of such a small and unprofessional group is, I believe, related to the relevance of bicycling and walking in the face of rising childhood obesity and diabetes, rising transportation costs and shrinking transportation budgets that don't allow for the kind of road expansion projects which used to be the status quo, the conviction that most traffic crashes are preventable, and a renewed concern about fuel costs, air quality, and community livability. In this climate, bicycling is a solution that looks more and more attractive.
Last year's Oregon delegation to the Bike Summit (pictured above with Congressman DeFazio) included representatives from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Cycle Oregon, and locally-owned bike businesses Team Estrogen and the Bike Gallery. We visited every Oregon delegate, and I'm proud to say that they not only gave us their time and attention, but also that every one of them is a member of the National Bike Caucus. The resulting Federal Highway Act, though several years overdue, has now been passed. Titled SAFETEA-LU, it includes $1 million annually for Safe Routes to School programs, $5 million dedicated to six Portland Metro-Area regional trails, as well as designated money for a recreation bikeway in the Columbia River Gorge, Sellwood Bridge improvements, and other trails throughout the state (here is a complete list of the Oregon bicycling projects included in the bill).
Ordinary Oregonians who want to ride a bike for transportation, fun, or exercise will all benefit from these community projects, and we'll be seeing the effects of this new legislation for years to come.
My favorite part is the comparison of driving costs with the transit fare!
What this highlights is that TriMet has great data, and a real willingness to be innovative. Here at Portland Transport we're very well aware of this. Tomorrow we'll be launching a transit tool of our own, relying on TriMet's data. Watch this space...
A few days ago we reported on coverage in the Oregonian about the Oregon Transportation Plan update.
We got the full dog and pony show at TPAC last Friday, and want to point out a few things of note.
First, for opportunities to see the plan presentation, and to learn how to provide comment, visit the outreach page.
We were also interested to note that a sensitivity analysis was conducted for high fuel prices ($5/gallon gas, I believe). It's buried in the technical appendices (PDF, 788K) on page G-5:
Increasing fuel prices would dampen economic activity in Oregon. Growth in employment and gross state product would slow for the state overall. The Portland region would be less affected than other regions due to its large size and more compact development pattern. The further an area is from the major trade hub of Portland, the more high fuel prices would lead to economic concentration and isolation. A rapid fuel price increase could have significant impacts on choice of mode for both passengers and freight, with more passengers choosing, for example, public transportation and more freight moving to rail.
The conclusion was that businesses would likely locate closer to their markets and that generally it would be pretty bad for the overall economy. But the suggestion was that it would not greatly impact statewide transportation facilities. Hmmm...
Adapting the built environment for bikes is not always a matter of big capital investments. Sometimes it's the little things, like this strip outside the window of a shop in the old city of Utrecht. It's just a notched strip of metal that you can lean your bike against. The notches keep your bike from sliding and falling against the window.
December 7, 2005
Listen to the show (mp3, 11.8M)
Esteemed bike lawyer Ray Thomas discusses a new law that's good news for cyclists.
One of the things that I love about cycling in Portland is the variety and creativity of bicycle culture.
The upcoming BikeCraft Faire and SHIFT Social on December 7th is a great opportunity to see this in practice.
The best place to get details is over at Bike Portland.
If you're a blogger one of the technologies you have to track is RSS, and it's a quick jump from RSS into podcasting. So I often run into interesting podcasts. Last week I stumbled across Bike Talk and their podcast.
The show is out of Davis, California, which is significant since Davis is the first city to be awarded Platinum status for its bicycling environment, something Portland dearly aspires to.
I've listened to a couple of the half-hour weekly programs, and find them interesting. A recent show (MP3, 15M) included tips on winter commuting, which were quite useful for Portland since Davis has a similar climate to ours.
Now of course, Portland has its own bicycle radio program, the KBOO Bike Show on 90.7FM at 9am on the 1st Wednesday of every month.
But I've never heard it! That's not a time I'm near a radio, and anyway my radio dial is pretty much super-glued to Oregon Public Broadcasting (sorry KBOO). AND IT'S NOT PODCAST.
So it seems to me that if Portland wants to be a Platinum cycling city, we need to podcast our bike program! One benefit is for folks like me who would listen if we could time-shift the program. The other is to export our experience to the rest of the world.
So what's it going to take to get this done? Portland Transport will be happy to help. If KBOO or the show's producers can get us the audio in any electronic format, we'll be happy to convert it to MP3 and host a podcast here.
What do you say?
I've written here briefly before about the PSU/PDOT Traffic and Transportation Class. I believe it was originally the brainchild of Earl Blumenaur when he was Commissioner of Transportation. It was designed as a training ground for neighborhood transportation activists. Ably facilitated by Rick Gustafson, a series of guest speakers provide the background on how the transportation system works, and most importantly, how to access the bureaucracy to get it to respond to issues important to you.
Yours truly got his start in transportation advocacy after graduating from the class seven or eight years ago. And Rex Burkholder was in the first graduating class! I recommend it to anyone interested in transportation as the perfect primer.
So this class is very well aligned with the mission of Portland Transport and a natural opportunity for a partnership. We have agreed to host the student project presentations here on the blog, and this week I'll sit on the panel (along with PDOT Directory Sue Keil, and Sam Adam's chief-of-staff, Tom Miller) that gets to critique the featured presentations.
The first batch were presented last week, and here's the rundown:
Tim Helzer (PDF, 28K) wants to create new pedestrian paths on Hayden Island, mostly along existing streets to supplement what today is essentially only one pedestrian connection along the length of the island. He plans to mobilize the neighborhood association to work with property owners toward this goal.
Christina Davies-Waldron (PDF 18K) wants to expand use of BioDiesel in the region. Her focus is on analyzing the market and increasing supply and access. There are potentially strong tie-ins here with Oregon's Ag sector.
Catherine Van Ginkel (PDF 34K) wants to reduce dependence on automobiles and plans to use media advocacy to start by shift trips to schools to non-auto modes.
Debbie Merrill (PDF 812K) wants to re-engineer the intersection at SW 57th and Barnes in her neighborhood to make it safer. And she has the data and maps to make her case.
Michael Kinney (PDF 327K) wants to make a segment of NE 33rd which has no sidewalk safer for pedestrian. He has excellent photo documentation of the problem.
December 6, 2005
Friday's Oregonian has an article about the City lowering speeds on Capitol Highway.
While we're all in favor of lowering speeds for safety, we also note that article indicates the City refused a suggestion from the neighborhood association to add a crosswalk. Will Stevens of PDOT is quoted: "adding crosswalks without a traffic signal or without a center refuge for pedestrians would not be safe."
So just to give PDOT some ideas we've collected our various posts about crosswalks in different cities and countries in one category for easy viewing.
I agree strongly with the recent posts by Rex and Evan about the Costs of Congestion report. This report helps define the shape and size of the existing and future congestion problem. The report outlines our robust transportation industry and that congestion can increase business costs.
While short on details, the PBA said they used the Regional Transportation Plan as the model to building out an illustrative transportation plan. Realistically, both the presentation and the report focus on highway development, investments that will only slow the inevitable gridlock.
The PBA presentation discussed Return on Investment (ROI) as a tangible reason to invest, that is if the region invests $10 billion over 20 years (rather than the projected $4 billion), we will see a 2:1 ROI, or $20 billion in economic benefits.
Their ROI calculations include the value of commuter’s personal time; in fact it’s over 50%. It’s easy to argue that personal time is not calculated in corporate balance sheets. Individual time is qualitative in nature, like other important goals such as livability, air quality, personal health, and access for low-income persons.
Without personal time, the expected ROI is 1:1. This is way too low.
When investing for economic reasons, the region and ODOT in its Oregon Transportation Plan update need to achieve a higher return. The business community, both large and small, must work with government and citizens to develop a more effective measurement tool that directs our limited resources towards strategic projects that can incubate a multitude of industry types and sizes.
I applaud Metro for discussing the Price of Government model as a way to reinvent the future transportation and land use plans. However I have heard less from Metro about what they currently value. Metro should engage the issue ROI from a strategic inquiry. Public questions include “does investing in the centers measure also bring significant economic investment? Could it do better than expanding our freeways?”
Metro should also be pushing investments that make the transportation industry more efficient overall. The upcoming Metro Freight Plan must do what the Portland Freight Master Plan did not, seriously take all modes into account. Water, rail, and ground transportation all have needs and Metro must focus on the primary bottlenecks that increase volumes while abating congestion.
The PBA presentation offered one potential solution, pricing the freeways. Above all solutions, pricing is the most effective at curtailing traffic congestion. Rather than spending $6 billion more, the region could collect this amount and distribute funds more judiciously.
There are many reasons to invest in transportation, economic develop being only one. Yet with these lenses in, government must get serious about spending the money in ways that will most improve the economy on all scales. Luckily, I believe that strategic investments will also lead to facilities that are good the qualitative ideals like livability and healthy communities.
I start to pen this piece on PBA/Metro/Port’s “Cost of Congestion” with exhaust fumes in my nose after walking past two Port of Portland landscape crewman blowing leaves off the freshly cut grass at McCarthy Park…perhaps a symptom of the Port’s disconnect from reality in this age of Peak Oil and global warming.
But where was I…As I entered the packed Metro Council chambers to hear from the “business community” on our transportation “crisis,” I wondered why JPACT (Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation) and not JPACE?…Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Education…if we are really concerned about the future of our economy.
Before you read further, switch over to Sam Adam’s blog and read Chris Coleman’s piece on “Creativity: The Fuel in our Engine” He cites the work of Joe Cortright among others, and I will defer to them on the analysis of the numbers in “The Cost of Congestion to the Economy of the Portland Region. But after 30 years in the printing and paper industry and six running the Swan Island TMA, I am convinced that “Talent,” and that means education, is where its at.
Here are a few data points. I have not seen a ship at Terminal 2 in weeks, if not months; Terminal 6 is down to 1 ship a week; ship repair is just hanging on here on Swan Island…the competition both north and south does not have 90 miles of river to contend with. Portland is here, no doubt, because in the days of river navigation, it was the sweet spot. With less than 1% of the West Coast container traffic…and that number is going down, not up…its long past time for us to re-think our regional transportation strengths and weaknesses.
True, Portland exports a lot of wheat and minerals, imports a lot of automobiles…almost all of which come and go by rail and/or barge, but my guess is many of those container unit trains are just turning right as they come out of the Gorge and heading for Tacoma. The Port’s motto…”Possibility. In every direction” reflects its apparent unwillingness or inability to focus on core competencies while it pursues pointless dreams of big league status in the West Coast Ports league.
Meanwhile at adidasAmerica’s North American HQ, 900 designers, marketers, product managers and assorted others are making good money but not manufacturing or shipping a single shoe! Even Freightliner has more engineers in Portland than truck builders. Without talented and innovative engineers and skilled operators who can add value, we won’t have to worry about transportation because there won’t be anything to ship.
But OK, let’s accept that our future will have a lot of trucks and that moving freight will be important; two things jumped out at me from the study. First, Swan Island’s Going Street and Rivergate’s Columbia Blvd. are missing from the list of congested roadways (see Figure 4-1, p. 32)…the two busiest arterials serving the primary industrial, shipping districts of the region. Note that SH43 (#11) to Lake Oswego & West Linn is on the list…a key freight route for sure!
Second, note just above the map that trucks currently make up just 1.5% of all vehicle trips and about 5% of vehicle miles traveled (Table 4-1). Take that into account before you hyper-ventilate at the numbers on p34…that truck vehicle miles of travel will more than double. Its an increase from “not much” to “not a lot more.”
So the key point is that the congestion we do experience, primarily in the peak hours, is due to folks driving their private autos to work. Many do this because they have no option…there is no MAX to Clark county, not even an arterial bridge. And one of the reasons N. Going Street and N. Columbia Blvd work well now and will into the future is that they suffer from no through commuter traffic (not to mention the hard work of the Swan Island TMA in expanding transportation options.)
A lot of area residents…who are not mindless water molecules…have figured our their own solution to congestion and long commutes…live closer to where you work. Take a look at Metro’s Rideshare study, done by UrbanTrans; according to 2000 census data, people tend to live close to their worksites.
So, if you do want to put your money on “reducing congestion” as the key to our economic future, why not continue to pursue even more vigorously the proven strategies that have been the foundation of the region’s transportation strategy for 30 years…providing transportation options (MAX, Frequent Bus, a completed bike network, etc) and then marketing the hell out of it. TravelSmart in the Interstate Corridor reduced drive alone auto-trips by 9%. Then take all the money we save, and put it into education…pre K through post Doc!
It is a curiosity to me that when the private sector comes to the public trough, they forget the keys to their own business survival…low cost solutions, efficiency, and innovation.
P.S. But why do I harbor suspicion that this study is just another salvo in the public relations war for more roads? Take a look at the one funded project that nearly everyone in the room at JPACT, who are wringing their hands about freight movement, supports …widening I-5 at the Slough Bridge. This $50 Million plus project will remove the add-lane from Columbia Blvd southbound and will shift congestion south into the heart of North Portland, restricting freeway access from Columbia Blvd, Going Street and Greeley Avenues, the main arterials serving the region’s industrial heart. Great for commuters from Clark county, but better for “Freight,” my foot.
December 5, 2005
A while back, we noted that Commissioner Sam Adams had two critical hires to make, a new PDOT Director, and a new head for the planning section. These hires will help shape the next step in Portland's transportation evolution.
For now, Sam does not appear to have set a direction for the Director hire. Sue Keil, an able administrator, is firmly in place as Interim Director (and intends to apply for the permanent position), but Sam has not indicated criteria for the search process.
But recently the second slot has been filled. I had a chance to meet Paul Smith (no relation) at Friday's TPAC meeting. Paul brings a wealth of experience, having worked on the City of Boston's bicycle plan, been a principal at Alta Planning, and served as an MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization - the federal speak for 'regional transportation planning') Director back east. His resume shows a strong ped/bike orientation.
Welcome to the upper left corner, Paul, we'll be looking for good things from you!
Of late, the book The Price of Government has gotten a lot of attention. The thesis of the book is that citizens essentially pay a fixed percentage of their personal income to government (36% for the last 50 years in the U.S.) and government needs to figure out how to spend it most effectively. I don't necessarily buy into the whole idea (many European states have higher 'costs of government' and arguably better quality of life), but I wholeheartedly agree that government needs to budget on the basis of meeting citizens' needs, rather than continuance of a service model (current service level budgeting).
We're about to see two applications of this in local transportation budgeting. Metro now has an RFP out on the street for its Regional Transportation Plan update process, and has specifically called out the "budgeting for outcomes" process for the contract. A shorter article form (PDF, 2M) of the book's message is actually called out in the RFP. From that article:
"Traditional budgeting, which focuses on costs rather than results, is the dead horse of the public sector. When we budget for costs, we get more of them. What we don’t get is the innovation and accountability for results we need if we are to win the competition for public support."
But the main focus of this post is the PDOT budget process. Commissioner Adams has committed that he won't seek a new revenue source for transportation until he has shaken every dime out of the current budget. To that end he has engaged a consultant team to apply the budgeting for outcomes process and established an advisory committee to help guide the process and give input on the desired outcomes. I was invited to be a member of the advisory group and attended the first meeting last Thursday.
The task is daunting. PDOT has a budget gap of $5.5M in fiscal year '06-07, growing to $11M in FY10-11.
Meanwhile, PDOT is charged with operating and maintaining a set of civic assets valued at more than $10 Billion (yes, that's Billion with a B). These include streets, sidewalks, signals and their controllers, lighting and a few buildings.
Our job will be to rate PDOT's service and compare that to our perception of the City's needs. Where PDOT is exceeding expectations, that's an opportunity to look at dialing back expenditures and redeploying those funds either to invest in areas where PDOT is not meeting expectations, or to plug the budget gap.
We'll need your help. There will be a citizen input session, complete with electronic polling (and refreshments), where you can weigh in on these questions:
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
5:30 to 7:00 p.m.
World Trade Center
Plaza Conference Room
121 SW Salmon St., Portland
After that, our advisory committee will reconvene in January to provide our advice to PDOT management.
So what do you think - where can PDOT afford to trim? Where do we need more investment?
December 2, 2005
Here is why I think this is an important, possibly historic effort. For the first time in many years, leaders of both the business community and transportation agencies are sitting at the same table, in the same room, having a discussion about the issues we face as a region.
The numbers are not the message.
The message is that we are facing a difficult future with many trends converging to make it so and that pointing fingers doesn't help. There is plenty of blame to throw around. For example, trucking interests really did cook their goose in '97 when they opposed more money for roads unless the weight-mile tax was eliminated. On the other side, government has promised more than it could deliver ("temporary inconvenience for permanent
improvement") and still proposes mega-projects that have no foreseeable source of funding, praying for Congressional manna to fall from the sky.
Add loss of competitive advantage, lost economic opportunity and more time stuck in traffic to the list of undesirable outcomes that result from continuing with the status quo. The big deal is that there is a growing understanding that we can't continue to see transportation through the lenses of the last century.
It's not working now, and it won't work in the future.
Now the question is, "What do we do to avoid such a future?" The report did not make recommendations beyond listing a variety of strategies to choose from. Where we go from here is all our responsibility. I hope the update of the Regional Transportation Plan will provide us the means to make those choices. We are designing the process to elevate those projects, programs, and actions that respond most effectively to how they create the community people want to live in. (for an idea of the radically new approach we are taking, or to bid on the contract, see
So, let's celebrate the fact that when this study was presented yesterday, the Metro Council chambers were packed to the rooftop yesterday with members of JPACT, the Bi-State Committee, the Portland Freight Committee and many interested citizens (a shout out to Chris, Lenny, Scott and the rest of you bloggers!)
Full text of the Congestion Study is available at: http://www.metro-region.org/article.cfm?articleid=16673
The Portland Business Alliance, Metro, and others got decent ink this morning about a report they purchased on the costs of congestion, and a proposed $6 billion plan to address it.
First, more than half of the benefits projected are in personal time benefits ($418 million a year). Economists rightly note that these benefits should be measured. But there is substantial disagreement on how to value these costs. For example, if people are on the cell phone in the car (gasp!), are they really losing the time? And if people are choosing to spend their time caught in congestion, instead of on a bike, in transit, changing jobs, or creating toll roads to avoid congestion, is it accurate to project the value of that time as an hourly wage? I didn't see at quick glance, how the economists measured the time saved in the report, but it's a pretty mushy subject. If you take these out, the costs and benefits of building are roughly equal -- the region may as well do nothing.
Second, I was surprised at how low the return was overall. Even accepting the personal time benefit measurement, spending money on traffic congestion only pays back two dollars per dollar spent. There are probably many other ways to spend public money that would have much higher benefit-cost ratios, as well as higher net present value of net benefits.
As far as the overall goal of encouraging more money for road expansion: I think folks are dreaming if they think that voters, who recently defeated a gas tax increase by a 7-to-1 margin, will want to pony up another $6 billion for benefits that certain businesses and individuals get disproportionate amounts of. Congestion may be a problem -- but its solution is far away due to triple convergence (see Anthony Downs), and our lack of desire to tax or toll.
A final note, I didn't take the time to note whether the time lost due to construction delays was factored in as a cost. It often isn't, and indeed, sometimes highway expansions cause more time lost than they save when finished.
There's also a segment with local Portland educational thinker Laurel Dukehart about getting high school dropouts back on the path to college.
December 1, 2005
Yesterday's Willamette Week features an article about the cities (including Portland) and state agencies converting the motorpools to use carsharing companies like Flexcar.
Clearly this is a good deal for the governments, they are saving real dollars on the vehicle costs. And presumably it's good business for Flexcar.
But why is it good for transportation in Portland generally? Because carsharing is a 'virtuous circle' operation. The more customers there are, the more vehicles there are, which means using them becomes more convenient, generating more customers. So the conversion of any fleet to Flexcar makes carsharing more useful for all of us.
And carsharing is good for the community for a number of reasons:
- Reduces auto-ownership (freeing up parking in dense neighborhoods like mine)
- Research shows that carsharing users are more likely to use transit, bikes and their feet for many trips, with all the accompanying benefits to the community in reduced congestion and environmental advantages.
So my question is, what are other fleets, perhaps in the private sector, that we could encourage Flexcar to go chase?
Our traveling companion Jeff Mapes writes in the In Portland section of the Oregonian this morning about our field trip to the Netherlands. Over at Bike Portland Jonathan has already done a nice summary of the article so I won't repeat it here. I'll just take the opportunity to mention that we've created a new category to consolidate all our posts regarding the trip (20 and counting).
When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man 50 years ago, her courage gave face to a movement that would forever change our society and institutions. Her heroic act on Dec. 1, 1955 sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and for 381 days blacks, who made up the majority of bus riders, refused to ride. By saying “no” to inequality, Parks said “no” to discrimination of Black Americans through segregation that included separate drinking fountains, restrooms and schools.
TriMet, the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) and the community commemorate Rosa Parks’ legacy and the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott.
TriMet is also displaying a historic photo essay commemorating Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement inside and outside buses from December 1 through February. You can also see them at trimet.org/rosa to learn more about Rosa, the boycott and the civil rights movement.
Moment of Silence
TriMet wll also briefly stop all buses at noon to observe a moment of silence for Rosa Parks. Bus operators will make the following announcement: “We ask for a moment of silence as we remember Rosa Parks’ legacy. Today marks the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest after refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.”
Rosa Parks died October 25, 2005 at the age of 92.