December 31, 2010
So here's wishing all our readers a Happy New Year with our modal biases suspended...
Be safe out there.
December 30, 2010
And no, I'm not talking about Milwuakie MAX.
Instead, it's another transportation project in Clackamas County, one that involves concrete (6-8 lanes of it) rather than steel rails and overhead caternary, one whose price tag appears to be just about the same as Milwaukie MAX, which should merit some interesting compares.
I'm speaking, of course, of the Sunrise Corridor--a new 6-8 lane freeway connecting the current interchange of I-205, OR 213 (82nd Avenue) and OR 224 (Milwaukie Expressway), heading east, just north of the current OR224/212 alignment out to Rock Creek junction, and ending a short distance west of the current "center" of Damascus. The project, if built, would be the first new freeway built on the Oregon side of the Portland metro area since I-205 was completed back in the 1980s. (We've widened several since then, but no new ones have been built).
The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project was just recently published, and the executive summary is interesting reading. (The full EIS can be downloaded from the ODOT project website; one document per chapter--the "old" project website which was hosted David Evans and Associates, the consulting firm overseeing the drafting of the EIS, appears to have vanished).
The price tag? Just south of $1.5 billion. (If this were Dead Horse Times, I'd insert the customary picture of Dr. Evil here, but portlandtransport.com is too highbrow for such cheap editorial stunts).
A billion doesn't buy you very much any more
For the $1.5 billion, what do you get?
- A five-mile freeway stretching from I-205 to Rock Creek Junction, 6-8 lanes in width, along with some realignment and widening of OR212 east of there.
- Three interchanges along the route, one at I-205, one at or about SE 122nd, and one at Rock Creek, including the monstrous new interchange at I-205 shown below. (Click on the picture for a bigger version).
- Various improvements to other approach roads and ramps in the corridor, including a new braided ramp at the current I-205/OR212 interchange, a new access road connecting 82nd Avenue to the commercial area just west of 82nd and north of 224, a new Ambler Road overcrossing of the UPRR tracks, and a network of multi-use paths.
You don't get any transit, naturally, though I'm sure the 31E will use this new freeway if it gets built, and it's still running. This is an ODOT project, after all.
Show me the money
The big catch--there's always a catch, after all--is that out of that $1.5 billion, only $200 million or so has been budgeted to build the thing--$1.3 billion is not an amount you can paper over with an urban renewal district here or there. :) Out of that $200 million, $56 million is the value of land in the right-of-way already owned by various stakeholders. Metro hasn't identified any funding for the project as of yet, though it's included in the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, in the "financially contrained scenario" (i.e. its high on the priority list). Including funds not currently budgeted, it's estimated that over $400 million will be available in the next 20 years--still leaving a $1 billion shortfall.
Tolling has been considered for the project, though it appears to be off the radar screen as of now. (A similar conclusion to the tolling question was reached on the Newburg/Dundee Bypass).
There's one other possible fly in the funding ointment. Currently, there are a few electoral efforts underfoot in Clackamas County to withdraw financial commitments made by county commissioners (albeit commitments which are unpopular with voters) to fund other shorter-term regional projects, namely MLR and the Sellwood Bridge. Were these referenda to be successful, and other regional stakeholders forced to come up with additional funds to complete these projects (assuming further reductions in scope couldn't be made instead)--how might that affect regional contributions to the Sunrise Corridor? While no such deals (or threats, or however you want to spin it) have been discussed in public--generally infrastructure financing deals involve a good deal of horsetrading between different governmental entities. I hope I don't sound like a mafia wiseguy when I make this observation ("nice freeway project ya got there..."), but I could see a scenario where Metro's funding level for the Sunrise project (were it to get that far) to drop by $30 million or so....
The other hurdle the project will face is objections from environmentalists. Oregon's environmental lobby is rather good at blocking or descoping roadway projects--and is far better at it than CPI and other conservative groups are at derailing transit. (Not that I'm complaining. :) And it appears there's at least one big bright red plum for 1000 Friends and their friends to pick on this project--the "independent utility" rule for federally-funded infrastructure projects. For a project to qualify for Federal funding, it has to have "independent utility"--it can't depend on the construction of subsequent projects for proper functioning. The FEIS claims that this condition has been met--but it's a condition that can be challenged in court. A similar challenge helped kill off the West Eugene Parkway, and a good argument can be made the Sunrise Corridor won't be fully effective until the "part 2" project--the so-called "Sunrise Parkway", connecting Rock Creek to US26 west of Sandy--is built. (The Parkway is still in concept phase at this point). And there's also the little matter of traffic on the Milwaukie Expressway--which might see additional pressure were this project built (and especially if the Parkway were also built, and zillions of skiers and freight haulers to start using this route rather than the Gresham street network to reach the Mt. Hood Highway).
There's one more issue worth noting--development in Damascus. A major justification for the project is the urbanization of Damascus--a decade ago, planners were projecting that the Damascus area would see significant increases in population. That hasn't happened (other than in the westernmost parts); and Damascus residents, not particularly liking the County's (and Metro's) plans for their community, incorporated--thus allowing themselves greater control over their land use planning. Whether or not significant development in Damascus will occur, I don't know--but many residents there are opposed to it. But without urbanization of the area, is there still justification for an infrastructure project of this magnitude?
At any rate, it should be interesting.
December 29, 2010
Yuxing Zheng of The Oregonian reports that an initiative petition is being circulated in Clackamas County to require that urban renewal districts, other than within cities, be approved by voters. The sponsors of the petition have a website here. (Our very own Jim Karlock apparently drew the big chart featured prominently thereon). At this point, the website doesn't contain very much information on the proposal (including any draft of the initiative language), just a statement of position and exhortations to send money. (That said, the campaign appears to be just getting started, so I'm not troubled by this---yet.)
While I have my own doubts about urban renewal--a practice which can be abused, and one which as traditionally implemented can deprive various special districts (school, fire, etc.) of tax revenue without their consent or participation (though recent changes in state law attempt to rein in this problem), the way the proposal is structured, according to the article, appears to require the entire county vote on such project, as opposed to only those voters affected by a specific urban renewal program (whether directly in the district, or within service districts affected by the urban renewal program).
The initiative does not appear to have any affect on Milwaukie MAX (if the petition succeeds in referring the proposal to the ballot, the earliest it will appear is September 2011, by which time MLR will well be underway, and the City of Milwaukie UR funds would not be affected), but appears to take dead aim at the possibility of extending the rails further south to Gladstone or Oregon City. The county is putting together a new UR district called the "McLoughlin Boulveard District" (a recent article on the subject) to finance improvements along McLoughlin in the Oak Grove/Jennings Lodge area--essentially the unincorporated segment between Milwaukie and Gladstone. While extending MAX that far south is not likely to happen for several decades at least, I would expect that a big part of urban renewal in the corridor would be in anticipation of a future MAX line.
9,378 signatures would be needed to place the question on the ballot.
We have obtained the petition text and proposed ballot language, which are reproduced here:
ACT TO REQUIRE VOTER APPROVAL OF URBAN RENEWAL
Be it enacted, the Clackamas County electors propose adding the following chapter to their County Code:
Chapter 3.03 Voter Approval of Urban Renewal
3.03.010 A county urban renewal agency shall not be activated or authorized to exercise additional powers without the approval of county electors at a general election.
3.03.020 Every new urban renewal plan, or substantial change to an existing plan, shall be referred to county electors for their approval at a primary or general election.
3.03.030 Whenever an election required by Chapter 3.03.020 will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness, the county shall determine the information required to complete the public notice statements A-D in this section. Public Notice Statements shall be posted on the county website at least 45 days in advance of the election and mailed to county electors no more than ten days in advance of distributing ballots.
(A) "ATTENTION VOTER: IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT [identify local measure number].
(B) "If approved, this measure will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness. Repayment of such debt may significantly reduce the amount of property tax revenues that would be otherwise available for public schools, police, fire, library and other public services within Clackamas County for [maximum duration of indebtedness, listed in years and months]."
(C) "The maximum amount of new Urban Renewal Indebtedness permitted by this measure is [maximum new URI permitted by proposed plan or amendment]."
(D) "The maximum amount of interest payable for this debt is [maximum amount of interest payments for new URI over lifespan of debt].
Public Notice Statements do not need to be mailed to County Electors if printed at the top of the explanatory statement of the County Voter's Pamphlet.
3.03.040 The county shall not approve or amend a plan by any means other than by ordinance. Non-substantial changes to any plan may be approved by non-emergency ordinance of the Board of Commissioners.
3.03.050 Upon the retirement of all urban renewal indebtedness authorized by county urban renewal plans, the purpose for a county urban renewal agency will cease and it shall be terminated. Any continuing obligations or rights of a terminated agency shall be assumed by the county.
3.03.060 As used in this Chapter:
"Urban renewal plan" and "plan" have the meaning given those terms in ORS Chapter 457 as it now exists or may hereafter be amended, or a similar plan adopted under any other provision of law.
"Substantial change" means any change proposed to be made to an existing urban renewal plan that:
(A) Expands the boundary, duration or borrowing authority of any plan; or,
(B) Alters the basic purpose, engineering or financing principles of a voter-approved plan.
"Urban renewal indebtedness" and "URI" mean debt incurred pursuant to an urban renewal plan where repayment is pledged from ad valorem taxes assessed within the county.
3.03.070 Miscellaneous provisions.
This chapter shall become immediately effective upon passage by the electors. If any provision of this chapteris barred from operation by superior law, the other provisions shall remain unaffected. Prior to any public hearing to consider legislation that would conflict with provisions of this chapter or prevent them from operating, the county must provide notice of the proposed legislation and hearing date to all county electors by mail at least two weeks prior to the hearing. Any legislation passed in violation of this provision shall be void.
And the ballot language:
BALLOT TITLE PETITION NUMBER 3-371
Voter Approval of Urban Renewal
Shall the Clackamas County Code be amended to require voter approval of Urban Renewal decisions?
This measure amends the County Code to require voter approval to create an urban renewal agency. The measure also requires voter approval when an urban renewal agency seeks to authorize the exercise of additional powers. The measure amends the County Code to require voter approval to establish a new urban renewal plan or to substantially change an existing plan. The County is required to provide public notice when an election will authorize new Urban Renewal Indebtedness. Any approval or amendment to an urban renewal plan by the county must be done by ordinance. The retirement of all previously authorized urban renewal indebtedness will result in the termination of the urban renewal agency. Any continuing obligations or rights of the terminated agency will be assumed by the county. If passed, this chapter will be immediately effective.
One legal question immediately comes to mind. Clackamas County is a "general law" county, and thus has no county charter--the county's complement of elected officials, their powers under the law, and the manner of their election are specified by state law. Article VI of the state Constitution provides that counties may elect to enact county charters which provide for different arrangements (ORS 203 has a lot of additional detail on the subject)--counties which have done so are called "home rule" counties. Nine of Oregon's 36 counties are home rule counties, including Multnomah and Washington, though Clackamas County is not.
The legal question which comes to mind is: in the absence of a county charter, can the Board or voters of a county vote to restrain their own legislative powers? The petition appears to have the same legal affect as a simple ordinance; and the last paragraph of the proposed petition contains language which essentially purports to prohibit the Board from reversing (via subsequent ordinance) the petition. Does this language have any legal effect? According to a source familiar with the petition, the petitioners investigated this same question and are satisfied that the petition meets legal muster. At the state level, it's a well-settled legal question that ordinary legislative acts or initiative petitions cannot constrain the powers of the state Legislature other than by amending the state Constitution; but county lawmaking might well be different. IANAL and all of that.
December 28, 2010
Last week I shared a clip of my first bicycle. I continue to work my way through the converted video files from my old family Super-8 movies and suspect I may have found an early influence for my multi-modal transportation obsession.
In the summer of 1965 I traveled to New York City with my parents for the 1964-65 World's Fair. I apparently "drove" a car (on a track) and rode both a monorail and an aerial tram...
December 27, 2010
The holiday break has been productive, I had a chance to polish up the first pass ("beta") of a configuration service for the Transit Appliance project.
This is a web-based GUI that lets you configure a custom display for transit arrival information. The idea is to allow this tool to configure multiple applications, and for our first release it's handling both our own Transit Board as well as TriMet's Transit Tracker (Transit Tracker doesn't really need a configuation tool, but for proof-of-concept I needed a second app to show!).
You can check it out here: http://service.config.transitappliance.com/
If you want to use it with some hardware (like the Insignia Infocast), go over to our sister Transit Appliance site for the full scoop on how to connect them. Otherwise you can just bookmark the resulting configuration.
BTW - the project has been attracting some volunteers! I'd like to thank Francis for significant help on the user experience and Matt who's working to bring this to other kinds of hardware. If you'd like to help move this effort forward, reach out (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know. There are lots of ways to help.
Enjoy, and please give us feedback!
December 23, 2010
The next rapid transit corridor to be extensively studied in the Portland Metro area, what many in the media (including us) have been calling the "Barbur Boulevard" corridor, has a new (and more generic) name: The Southwest Corridor.
And it has a new page at Metro's website.
And--it now has $2 million in the bank, or on the way, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Federal Transportation Administration to study the corridor, defined roughly as the travel sheds of Barbur Boulevard/OR99W and I-5. The study areas include the cities of Portland, Tigard, King City, Tualatin, and Sherwood.
At this point, Metro insists that no decisions regarding mode or routing have been made--although many critics would scoff at this claim, believing that "the decision" has been made to build light rail, and that discussion of other alternatives will be for show. (I'd suspect that LRT enjoys a strong advantage, given the 50+ miles of existing track and the potential length of the corridor; but that other options have not been ruled out). Whether service to Tualatin is part of the corridor definition is unclear--the City of Tualatin is involved, but that may be simply because 99W passes through Tualatin's northwest corner just across the river from King City. (The city of Durham is NOT included; which makes me suspect that downtown Tualatin is not within the project scope). And another unanswered question is how much of the defined corridor will actually get served--Gladstone and Oregon City were part of the South Corridor project (which spawned the Green Line and MLR) but rapid transit service to these two cities remains a long-term goal.
Still, a project isn't really a project until it gets a name. And the first milestone on the next rapid transit corridor in the Portland metro area has hereby been passed. :)
December 22, 2010
This year my Christmas present to my family was getting all of my Mom's old Super-8 home movies converted to digital video files.
While going through the videos and cataloging the content, I came across this sequence - my first bicycle, just after the training wheels came off (circa 1967).
Looking forward to smiling big on my bike for many years to come.
December 21, 2010
The benefit is safe for 2011.
Original post: 11/23/10
Part of the stimulus bill was a provision that allowed employer-provided transit benefits to be deductible expenses at the same level as parking: up to $230 per month.
That provision will expire in January and the cap on deductible transit benefits will return to $120 per month.
T4America has a petition drive going to ask Congress to keep the limit equal between driving and transit.
December 20, 2010
From Willamette Pedestrian Coalition:
In cooperation with Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. and Friends of Barbur, a quiet vigil for Angela Burke and all who have lost someone close to them on the roadway will be held Monday 20 December, 2010 at 5:30 pm, tentative location near the corner of SW Barbur Boulevard and SW Hamilton at the gravel turnout. Participants are encouraged to bring a candle, lights, and personal signs commemorating Angela, a loved one lost or call for safer streets. More information regarding exact venue available on BTA and WPC websites and Friends of Barbur Facebook page as it is confirmed.
I understand that a bike ride will leave the PSU/Park Blocks at 5pm to the vigil.
December 18, 2010
A quick quiz for all of you:
What is the most dense city in the Portland Metropolitan area?
Hint: It does not start with the letter "P".
Answer below the fold.
The densest city in the Portland Metropolitan area is Johnson City, Oregon, which has a population of 634 crammed into less than a tenth of a square mile--for an effective density of 11,062 persons per square mile.
OK, so that's a trick answer... after all, Johnson City is little more than an incorporated trailer park, and one that doesn't even have an official web presence. Excluding it, what's next--surely Portland, right?
Nope. The most dense city in the metro area, besides Johnson City, is Beaverton--with a population of 86205, and an average density of 4665 persons per square mile. Portland has a population of 582130, and a density of 4288 persons/square mile. Several other metro area cities, all of 'em on the Oregon side of the river, also are more dense than Portland overall--King City (4652), Gladstone (4619), Maywood Park (4571), and Gresham (4505). Portland, as it turns out, is seventh.
If you add so-called "census dedicated places" to the mix--unincorporated communities which are defined and tracked by the US Bureau of the Census, and for which reliable figures are available, several of these are also denser than Portland. Aloha (5660 ppl/sq m) is even denser than Beaverton, as is the smaller Oak Hills area near Bethany (5865). Other CDPs with significant levels of density include Metzger, Jennings Lodge, and Oak Grove. The densest community north of the Columbia is Lake Shore, WA, at 4110 ppl/sq m.
Of course, it can easily be pointed out that this constitutes abuse of statistics, and I'll agree: The City of Portland includes within its boundaries acres and acres of parkland, including Forest Park, as well as numerous large industrial areas unsuitable for residential use--and much of the city's western parts are no denser than your average suburb. If we only consider the "core" of Portland--downtown, and those parts between the river and I-205, and Columbia Bvld to Johnson Creek--that area has a density that blows away Johnson City. The other communities named don't have anything resembling the Pearl within their borders, after all.
But still, the tale told by the stats is interesting--even if the facts don't reveal the truth.
The complete data, for all cities and CDPs within the metro area. Reliable stats are not available for Damascus, due to its recent incorporation. Density is given first, and then population. All figures taken from Wikipedia; and may reflect different sources; none is older than the 2000 census.
Aloha (CDP) 5660 41741
Banks 3886 1435
Barberton, WA (CDP) 1072 4617
Battle Ground, WA 2553 16812
Beaverton 4665 86205
Brush Prairie, WA (CDP) 305 2384
Camas, WA 1149 17950
Canby 3390 15140
Cedar Hills (CDP) 3881 8949
Cedar Mill (CDP) 3388 12597
Cornelius 1585 10895
Damascus 600 9985
Durham 3144 1395
Fairview 2631 9695
Felida, WA (CDP) 1968 5683
Five Cornders, WA (CDP) 1978 12207
Forest Grove 3850 20775
Garden Home (CDP) 3657 6931
Gladstone 4619 12200
Gresham 4505 101221
Happy Valley 1674 4519
Hazel Dell N, WA (CDP) 3469 9261
Hazel Dell S, WA (CDP) 3053 6605
Hillsboro 3254 90380
Jennings Lodge (CDP)4638 7036
Johnson City 11062 634
King City 4652 2750
La Center, WA 1884 2545
Lake Oswego 3409 36073
Lake Shore, WA (CDP) 4110 6770
Maywood Park 4571 777
Metzger (CDP) 4556 3354
Mill Plain, WA (CDP) 1237 7400
Milwaukie 4256 20835
Minnehaha, WA (CDP) 3464 7689
North Plains 2045 1605
Oak Grove (CDP) 4380 12808
Oak Hills (CDP) 5865 9050
Oatfield (CDP) 3608 15750
Orchards, WA (CDP) 2601 17852
Oregon City 3164 31826
Portland 4288 582130
Raleigh Hills (CDP) 3830 5865
Rock Creek (CDP) 4690 9404
Ridgfield, WA 421 4314
Rivergrove 695 324
Salmon Creek, WA (CDP) 2674 16767
Sandy 2045 7070
Sherwood 3931 16115
Sunnyside (CDP) 2621 6791
Tigard 3795 47460
Troutdale 2671 15465
Tualatin 2929 25650
Vancouver, WA 3659 165809
Walnut Grove, WA (CDP) 1891 7164
Washougal, WA 1734 13509
West Linn 3014 24180
West Slope (CDP) 3727 6442
Westhaven/Sylvan (CDP) 2674 7147
Wilsonville 2085 13991
Wood Village 3004 2680
December 17, 2010
If one thing was clear from the past election, it's that there seems to be a growing rift between the City of Portland and its suburbs concerning land use and transportation issues. (Unless explicitly indicated otherwise, only the Oregon suburbs are discussed in this article--parts of the metro area in Washington State are not part of the discussion). We saw evidence of this in the two region-wide races that Portland Transport covered: the Metro presidential election, and Measure 26-119. In both races, Multnomah County largely voted one way (in favor of the more "green" position or candidate), and Clackamas and Washington Counties went the other; and in both cases, the suburbs "won". We've seen it in recent squabbling over the Sellwood Bridge, Milwaukie MAX, and other pending projects of regional significance. The election of Tom Hughes itself had the urban/suburban divide as one of its main issues--the fact that Hughes is the first non-Portland Metro president is itself noteworthy, and he made suburban concerns a keystone of his campaign. And we're seeing the ongoing debate between Metro and Washington County (and Oregon LCDC) over the County's desire to add large tracts of industrial land--a desire which the Metro council has been highly skeptical of.
More after the jump.
If you compare Portland to many other cities in the US, we're fortunate to even be having this debate. Quite a few cities in the United States, particularly in the Midwest and South, have become "doughnut cities", with a big fat hole in the middle. Such places have downtowns and inner cities which consist of vertical office parks (commonly known as "skyscrapers" :) surrounded by acres and acres of decay and blight, largely due to decades of capital flight to suburbia. In some of these cities, even the inner ring suburbs are starting to experience decay, as those who can afford to do so move further and further out from the core, to greenfield developments devoid of any legacy social and financial liabilities. In these places, there is no discussion of what is good for the city versus what is good for the suburbs--as there is no forum to have this debate. There is a constant race to the bottom, as communities compete with each other for industry and for wealthy and middle-class residents, while trying to leave the poor behind. And the losing cities die a long, painful death, while newer suburbs continually spring up on the fringe, repeating the cycle.
The mere presence of Metro--a regional planning authority that actually has some authority--and the UGB, which places severe constraints on new greenfield developments, so far has helped save Portland (the city) from such a fate. Portland maintains a vibrant downtown, and much of the prime real estate in the metro area has a 972xx zip code. (The only Really Wealthy suburban enclave--Lake Oswego--is centered around a unique bit of geography that has no equivalent elsewhere in the metro area). Metro, and the other components of the regional planning framework, provide us with a forum to have such conversations. And if anything, the tone and tenor of the conversation has consisted of suburban complaints that the city is getting all the proverbial goodies, and the suburbs are getting neglected.
Trains are from Mars, and cars are from Venus.
In this debate, transit (especially capital investments in transit) is frequently posed as an urban amenity--and not without good reason. For transit to be effective (and for investments in rapid transit corridors to be worthwhile), there has to be sufficient levels of density in the service area. Transit can work in autopia if there is a big park-and-ride at one and, and a place where parking is difficult or expensive at the other end, but the most cost-effective transit lines have users all along the line, not just at the ends. Given that most suburban dwellers are not going to be within walking distance of MAX (even given an extensive rollout of lines), many view transit with skepticism--something they only would use in order to get downtown. Otherwise, so goes the argument, they're driving.
Many suburbanites instead want more money spent on roads and highways. Cars are ubiquitous in the suburbs, and if one ignores environmental and energy issues (and focuses entirely on traffic), cars scale well in low densities--up to a point, at least. (When a low-density area gets big enough that commute distances start to get really large, then this urban form hits a big brick wall). Automobile mobility performs poorly at high densities, as simple geometry limits the number of vehicles that can be driven or parked within a given area of land. Automobile traffic can be highly disruptive in places where many people get around on foot or by bicycle--which is often the most convenient way to do so in dense urban neighborhoods. And far too much as been written about the devastating impact freeways have had on existing urban neighborhoods.
Thus we have this debate: Should we add more transit out to the suburbs, as Metro intends to do--with MLR set to break ground next year, the LO Streetcar well in design, and the Barbur project now starting initial planning? Should we improve freeway capacity on existing corridors--such as the Columbia River Crossing or the proposal to widen I-5 in the Rose Quarter (or, for that matter, numerous capacity improvement projects already complete or under construction on I-5, I-205, US26, I-84, and OR217)? Should we build new freeways, such as the proposed Sunrise Corridor (whose Final EIS should be published any day now), or other proposals such as the Westside Bypass, and when?
And what about the Sellwood Bridge--is it intended as a shortcut for Sellwood and Westmoreland residents to reach downtown, or as an arterial route for South Metro commuters? Should it be designed differently--perhaps as a direct highway-to-highway connection between OR43 and OR99E rather than as a direct replacement of the existing bridge which lands on Tacoma Street? And how should it be funded, and who should build and maintain it? Should it be an ODOT facility, or a Metro facility, rather than a Multnomah County facility? Today brings word that former Oregon City commissioner Dan Holladay plans to refer the $5 registration fee for funding the Sellwood, recenctly approved by the Clackamas County Commission, to the voters. What would happen to the project were Clackamas County's contribution rescinded?
The UGB debate, land use, and the quest for tax dollars
Similar debates affect land use. Many developers of both residential and industrial properties, especially industrial users, prefer to develop on greenfields--and greenfields are mostly to be found on the suburban fringe of the metro area. There are plenty of vacant and underused industrial tracts in the metro area which could be returned to productive use, and many of these are located in Portland (and in areas which are not suitable for other uses, such as agriculture). Portland would love to see these tracts open to new industrial development. However, some industrial users insist, and the suburbs are happy to back them on this, that only greenfield property is suitable--if industrial clients can't find tracts without prior industrial uses (and the corresponding need for site demolition, cleanup, and other prep work) in the metro area, they'll simply locate in other cities with less stringent land use controls.
And it's hard not to suspect that much of this fight is about money--under the current system of taxation, the bulk of local taxes paid by industry only goes to the enclosing city (if within an incorporated area) and county--an Intel plant in Hillsboro is of minimal benefit to Tigard. Industrial land is the best sort of property to have (from a tax revenue perspective)--it comes with a high assessed value, important for property taxes; it provides jobs and payrolls, and industrial users don't produce excessive number of police calls. It's tempting to reduce the current brouhaha about Washington County farmland to Portland and Hillsboro (and tiny Cornelius!) fighting over tax base. (Such a simplification would be in error, as many participants in the debate don't care about local government tax revenues; but the issue is there). Obviously, a more equitable system of revenue collection and distribution could be devised--one in which cities such as Hillsboro (with large tracts of flat land) no longer enjoy advantages over cities such as West Linn (mostly built on a hillside). That's unlikely to happen, of course, as the winners are unlikely to surrender their windfall voluntarily. (That said, it's worth pointing out that a century ago, West Linn's position along a navigable waterway gave it advantages that Hillsboro lacked; advantages which are no longer relevant today).
Is there hope?
Given all of that--is there hope that some level of agreement can be reached on how to develop the region in the future?
I think so. I hope so. It won't be easy, but a few thoughts on the subject.
- First and foremost, the increasing cost of energy (and the environmental affects of lots of portable internal combustion engines running about) probably does mean that continued reliance on the gasoline-powered automobile is not a sustainable path going forward. It's often asked why transit supporters such as myself continue to support controversial and expensive projects like MLR, despite TriMet's unending ability to look and act positively clueless, and despite the lukewarm reception that the project gets in Clackamas County--this is it. It's a long-term investment, one in providing useful alternatives to the automobile for a future where gas costs $5/gallon or more. And as 2007 taught us, $4/gallon seems to be the tipping point that significantly changes people's behavior.
- Second of all--one of the things to note on the 26-119 ballot is that while Washington County was opposed, the margin was much closer than in Clackamas County. While I don't know the answer to why this is--a key point is that the two biggest cities in Washington County are on MAX. And outside Portland proper, one of the densest areas in the metro area you'll find is the Baseline/185th/Cornell corridor roughly along the westside MAX line. Gresham also has lots of dense developments along the original eastside line. And in both cases--many of the same anti-rail arguments being made against Milwaukie MAX (too expensive, nobody in suburbia will use it, existing bus service is adequate, people hate to transfer and will drive if their one-seat ride downtown goes away) were made against the original Blue Line projects. Yet the Blue Line is by far the most successful and useful line in the system--one of my biggest concerns with the Milwaukie line, and I'll repeat it again here, is that it is too short--it ought to be going to Oregon City. (And the Yellow Line needs to reach Vancouver, for the same reason).
- One remaining issue is that the various governments, particularly the cities, still act as competition--and business leaders are more than happy to play the various city halls off against each other. Just recently, the Port of Portland gave gave a tax break to local software company Rentrak after it suggest it might otherwise relocate across the river to Vancouver. (The value of the break--$35k-$65--is probably far less than it would cost the company to pack up and move, so this news makes one go hmm). Such regional competition can undermine regional planning (or in worst cases, cause it to be used as a bludgeon to stymie the growth of other cities), as mayors and councils pay lip service to regional land use goals, and then look to obtain exceptions for their adjoining greenfields, while enforcing the letter of the law on their neighbors.
- There are also a lot of unfortunate cultural attitudes involved. Portland is considerally more politically liberal than its suburbs--particularly Clackamas County--and some urbanites regard anything in Fare Zone 3 in the same manner that New Yorkers regard Jersey. And such attitudes of contempt are often reciprocated. It's difficult to see the value of regional cooperation in such an environment.
- Some US cities, such as Indianapolis and Louisville, have been experimenting with creation of regional supergovernments, encompassing the central city and suburbs, albeit with mixed results. In theory, such arrangements can reduce the amount of intra-regional friction, and provide a more equitable distribution of resources and infrastructure, though in the US examples cited, many of the inequities found in non-unified urban areas still exist, with wealthy neighborhoods (mainly suburban) insulated from having to subsidize the higher expenses associated with poorer ones (mainly urban in the examples given). A strong regional government in the greater Portland area would have a much different political dynamic (you'd see more Frank Ivancie's winning elections and fewer Vera Katz's; and almost certainly no Sam Adams'). I'm not endorsing this idea, certainly, but in an article on regional competition and cooperation, the idea of unified government is worth mentioning.
Obviously, working out these issues is hard. And in the current economic climate, when the pie has been shrinking and everyone is fighting to hold on to their piece, it's hard to cooperate and tempting to try and "beggar your neighbor". But given that many of our region's needs need to be addressed on a region-wide basis, some level of regionwide cooperation and trust is essential.
This USA Today article points to a study that suggests that people who live in walkable neighborhoods are happier:
They found those in neighborhoods with higher Walk Score ratings reported being happier and healthier and more apt to volunteer, work on community projects or simply entertain friends at home.
December 16, 2010
News came through this week that the Oregon Bike Summit was being re-christened as the Oregon Active Transportation Summit.
Reaction in the twitterverse was critical - some suggested transit was a very different thing from biking and walking, another suggested that if the tent gets too big, "we might start eating each other's lunch".
I find this disturbing. One of the goals in creating Portland Transport was to provide a forum where advocates of various modes could gather for discussion around a "common water cooler".
I think it's important to remember that modes are a means, not an end. The objectives for our transportation system are human and environment health, safety and access. It's a tenet of this site that these goals are improved by reducing over-reliance on single-occupancy automobiles.
I find "Active Transportation" to be a very useful umbrella for the collection of modes that promote human health through personal motion as an alternative to over-reliance on autos: walking, biking and transit (and yes, there's a lot of personal motion involved in using transit, you very seldom get a door-to-door trip).
There is no question that historically transit does much better at the funding table than the other modes in this bundle, and we need to fix that. But we're not going to succeed by tearing each other down.
Auto-centrism is pretty ugly. But a single-mode-centric perspective for any other mode is no prettier. The only way we're going to build a healthy city for the needs of all our citizens is with a strong mix of a variety of modes.
December 15, 2010
Regular Portland Transport reader and occasional commenter Bill Badrick has a new book out, check it out.
December 14, 2010
Each year I like to feature one presentation from the PSU/PBOT Traffic and Transportation class.
While all the presentations this year were great, Rebecca Hamilton's objective of creating "parklets" in the parking strips on Mississippi and/or Alberta (PDF, 1.6M) struck a
cord chord for me, particularly since this is not a theoretical plan, but something she's working hard to implement.
I've seen this model in European cities, although not at the high level of design that Rebecca shows us in examples from New York City and other cities. As we gradually become less reliant on single-occupancy automobiles, there's going to be a lot of real estate in our rights-of-way and elsewhere that is currently dedicated to parking that can be put to higher uses. Bike corrals have been a first good step in this process. Let's hope that Rebecca is successful in taking us several steps further!
December 13, 2010
One of my "look forward to" events every year is serving as a panelist during the final presentations for the Traffic and Transportation class. This year was no exception and we have another great set of presentations. Tomorrow I'll call out one for special focus. Meanwhile, here's the work of another great set of budding transportation activists:
Scott Kelly wants to make bicycle crossings at the foot of the new light rail bridge safer (PDF, 1.7M)
David Brandt suggests re-orienting the hub-and-spoke pattern of our transit system (PDF, 2.2M)
Claudia Martin proposes roudabouts to improve intersection safety on Skyline Blvd (PDF, 5.3M)
Michael Bidwell looks at the gaps in transit coverage impeding 20-minute neighborhoods in several parts of the city (PDF, 2.3M)
Mary Roberts is seeking funding to build out the Bicycle Master Plan (PDF, 498K)
December 10, 2010
An interesting notice from Metro yesterday that the committee established to recommend policy on how to allocate flexible funds has come out with a recommendation: allocate funds for active transportation to build out complete corridors, rather than to a variety of projects:
Some refer to this as "the light rail model" because of the way the MAX system grew by building one corridor at a time and simultaneously planning for future corridors.
This would differ from the more scattered, piecemeal approach that Portland-area policymakers have typically used, which helped many communities across the region with small street, sidewalk, trail or bicycle projects. That approach has drawn criticism because it generated incremental improvements but not a complete new route.
That's interesting, because just a few weeks ago I questioned whether the 'concentrated allocation of service hours' to new light rail corridors was good policy compared to increasing transit service levels around the region.
Good thing or bad thing?
December 8, 2010
We've talked a lot about TriMet in the recent months, and we've talked quite a bit about GM Neil McFarlane, who has been in charge of the agency for over five months now. But we haven't talked much about the seven folks that are collective Neil's boss--the TriMet board of directors, other than as an abstract entity. (We discussed the prospect of the governor-elect replacing the board prior to the election). And we've discussed some of the legalities around the board--but the board members themselves are probably a mystery to most riders who aren't political wonks.
A bit of summary details: TriMet has a seven-member board, who are appointed by the Governor to a maximum of two four-year terms, and subject to confirmation by the Oregon Senate. The board members serve at the governor's pleasure, and may be sacked anytime; at which point the governor may name a replacement to fill out the remainder of the term (who also must be approved by the Senate). The position is unpaid.
And with that, a bit more (publicly relevant) information on the men and women who currently sit on the TriMet board, and who just voted (unanimously) to fund the first stages of Milwaukie MAX. It is entirely possible that this list will need rewriting in a month or two, when the new governor is sworn in; but for now, these are your Board of Directors.
Richard Van Beveren (president)
Richard Van Beveren is the president of the TriMet board, and represents Washington County. He was appointed to replace Dave Bolender in 2007, when Bolender moved away, and re-appointed to his own four year term in 2008. Beveren is a Hillsboro restaurateur and caterer, and had been involved in much transit planning prior to his appointment. According to the TriMet press release announcing his joining the board...
He participated in station-area planning for Westside MAX and on the citizen's advisory committee for South Hillsboro. He also was a member of the Cornelius Pass Road Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program (MSTIP), and co-chaired the Citizens Campaign for the Washington County MSTIP. Van Beveren served as president and chair of the Land Use and Transportation Committee of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, where he worked with Metro, TriMet, Washington County and Hillsboro City planning staff.
Van Beveren, a business administration graduate from Notre Dame, has also served in many other non-transit-related civic capacities.
Tiffany Sweitzer (vice-president)
Tiffany Sweitzer, a downtown Portland developer who is president of Hoyt Street Properties, represents District 2 (downtown, N, and NW Portland). She is the dean of the TriMet board, having been appointed in 2004. A University of Oregon graduate with a degree in psychology, Sweitzer is the stepdaughter of longtime Portland developer Homer Williams. Sweitzer is likely the board member with the most prominent public presence; she penned an editorial in the Oregonian defending some of the agency's service cutbacks as necessary, and endorsing Measure 26-119.
Steve Clark represents the "west side" (District 3), and has served since June of this year. He is president of the Portland Tribune newspaper (and the other "community newspapers" published by the Tribune), and according to his paper, "is active in statewide transportation and land-use issues. He was a member of Oregon's Big Look Task Force. He also leads the Oregon Business Plan's transportation initiative." Clark lives in Tigard and seems to be the only member of the TriMet board of whom Jack Bogdanski has had anything nice to say.
Consuelo Saragoza represents Southeast Portland (District 4), and along with Clark, is one of the newest members of the Board, being appointed in June of this year. She "is senior advisor to the Multnomah County Health Department's Public Health & Community Initiatives and has held director-level positions with the Health Department since 2000." Saragoza holds a Masters of Public Administration from CUNY, and is a regular TriMet rider.
Dr. T. Allen Bethel
Dr. T. Allen Bethel represents North/Northeast Portland (District 5), and was appointed to a new term in March of this year. Bethel is senior pastor of Maranatha Church of God, (since 1994), lives in Northeast Portland, and has "extensive experience with mass transit and public involvement with organizations and businesses in the Portland region and will work to ensure transit, project development and community involvement are all closely aligned." He was also involved in the Big Dig project in Boston. Dr. Bethel has numerous degrees in religion and theology, including an honorary doctorate from Southern California School of Ministry.
Lynn Lehrbach represents East Multnomah County (district 6), and was appointed to the board in 2008, replacing former (and disgraced) Multnomah County sheriff Bernie Giusto. He is a longtime labor activist with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters represent bus drivers in some jurisdictions and thus have an overlap in focus with Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents TriMet's operators. The Teamsters also represent construction workers, which might represent a conflict of interest given TriMet's involvement in capital projects--that said, Lehrbach is the only board member that the local Transit Riders Union seems to like. Lehrbach has been the biggest critic of Milwaukie MAX on the board, casting the lone vote to halt land purchases for the project.
Hakeem Olanrewaju represents Clackamas County (District 7), and was appointed to a term starting in March of this year. A resident of Happy Valley, Olanrewaju is CFO of Regional Financial Services at Providence Health Systems, and previously worked for Farmers Life Insurance Co., Federal Home Loan Bank and Cascade Natural Gas Corp. . (He's already been observed keeping a sharp eye on financial matters at the agency.). He holds a bachelor degree in business administration from Eastern Washington University and a MBA from Seattle University.
A couple things that I notice about the above, after googling them for this article.
- There is a lot of inexperience on the board, with four of the seven having been appointed in the past year, and only one board member (Sweitzer) with four or more years of experience.
- Some of the board members have transit planning experience--often as volunteers or activists; others have a land use background (and one--Sweitzer--is a developer). None of them seems to have much of a transit operations background, nor do any of them have extensive professional or educational expertise in transit. (Hey--I'm qualified! Not.) Only one appears to have any extensive background in finance or accounting. The backgrounds they do have (restaurant owner, developer, journalist/publisher, public administrator, minister, union organizer, accountant/CFO) are diverse--but is this the right mix?
- Most importantly--is this group willing and able to challenge management of the agency if needed? (Obviously, many critics of TriMet would allege that this question has been answered with a resounding "No"). Recent board meetings on controversial subjects have produced many 7-0 or 6-1 decisions (most issues before boards of directors are routine, noncontroversial matters; but every once in a while a vote comes along which gets lots of folks up in arms--like yesterday). When former TriMet board president Loren Wyss tried to rein in former GM Tom Walsh in 1994, it was Walsh who swiftly had Wyss' head served up on a platter. Whether or not govenor-elect John Kitzhaber would back the board or the GM in a dispute is unclear--that said, Walsh served as GM for four years during Kitzhaber's first term as governor.
Updates to come throughout the day... but the bottom line is that the TriMet board today approved a $127 million contract to start building the "Caruthers Crossing" bridge, a key component (and first step) of the Milwaukie MAX project.
Lots of heated testimony, as lots of people came to weigh in. Quite a few Milwaukie business owners testified in favor; and quite a few folks from OPAL, ATU757, and other community members opposed. Regular PT reader Cameron Johnson gave an impassioned speech against, which is here.
Also, the board voted in favor of one of the more controversial parts of the project, the proposal to commit future payroll tax revenues in order to back a $63 million bond. Neal McFarlane answered in the affirmative when asked (by a board member) if he is comfortable with the financials on this. (Ed: It would be nice if more data could be shared, so that we could be more comfortable with this--right now, the narrative that this is all pork-barrel politics seems to have a whole lot of traction).
Both votes were unanimous in favor.
In other news, the family of one of the victims of the April accident where a bus ran down five pedestrians, killing two, has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the agency. And the board also voted to ban electric cigarettes from TriMet vehicles, and limit the definition of "service animal".
Thanks to Joseph Rose, Michael Anderson, and Cameron for covering the meeting on twitter this morning.
UPDATE: First press coverage, from Jim Reddin of the Portland Tribune, here. One obvious issue with the Tribune article is it paints MLR opposition as mainly coming from ATU 757 members who would rather have the funds spent on their compensation and benefits--when in fact, there were many other factions present in opposition.
UPDATE 2: Oregonian press coverage of the lawsuit. In addition to TriMet, other named defendents include former GM Fred Hansen, New Flyer (the manufacturer of the bus involved), and Hadley Products, who manufactured the mirror which it is claimed blocked driver Sandi Day's view. The $20 million award requested by plaintiffs is well in excess of the liability cap for public agencies according to Oregon law ($100k for pain/suffering plus $100k for economic damages). Another lawsuit against TriMet, filed by a woman injured in an unrelated accident, seeks to lift the cap using the landmark 2007 ruling against OHSU as precedent.
December 7, 2010
We're happy to publish this guest post from Portland Afoot's Michael Andersen - he said only Portland Transport's audience was wonky enough to appreciate it! - Chris
Through all the hubbub of the last decade - through the ridership booms and the budget cuts - there's been a little gremlin quietly sucking the juice out of TriMet's budget. And not only is the agency totally unprepared for this gremlin to grow - it sounds as if its leaders, and the Metro forecasts they depend upon, haven't even realized it exists.
I'm not talking about TriMet's much-publicized obligations to its retirees, and I'm not talking about its looming need to serve Portland's growing senior population. TriMet's bosses are quite aware of both these gremlins, in part because we share them with transit agencies across the country.
No, this little guy is TriMet's alone. Here he is:
It's been a gradual slide, hard to spot amid the booms and busts. But from 1995-2000, the working-age (25-64) population in the Metro area grew by an average of 2.9 percent annually. In 2000, that rate began falling sharply; in the next 10 years it's expected to slip to 1.8 percent, then 1.2 percent. Starting in 2020, even if you assume rising retirement ages, Metro expects working-age population growth in the area to fall to 0.9 percent per year and basically hover there indefinitely.
For 30 years, baby boomers have been the secret fuel in TriMet's payroll-powered budget. Even when wage growth slowed, hundreds of thousands of workers at the peak of their earning power kept total payrolls growing. But as boomers slip out of the workforce, TriMet's ability to keep up with growth will have to rely more and more on the wages of the workers who remain.
In other words, just as Portland's TriMet-riding population is poised to swell, the tax that financed TriMet's amazing 30-year expansion is about to shrivel.
The expected drop in payroll tax base growth, 2 percentage points a year, sounds small. It isn't. To prove it, let's look in detail at a big decision TriMet's board will make this week: whether to let the agency borrow up to $60 million from future operating budgets to build a new MAX line to southeast Portland and Milwaukie.
A $60 million construction loan would cost TriMet's general fund about $5.1 million for each of 20 years, and operating the line would cost another $14 million annually.
That's a lot of money. TriMet thinks it can pay the bills, even as it restores and improves service on existing routes, with growth: Metro's long-term growth projections estimate that the payroll tax base will grow by 4.5 percent annually.
At a glance, this looks like a conservative estimate. It's a bit slower than growth from 1995 to 2010. But let's look closer.
There are three factors that drive the payroll tax base, in increasing order of predictability: inflation, real wage growth, and the number of people working (itself mostly a function of demographics).
We'll assume, with Metro, that long-term inflation will be 2 percent annually. That leaves real wages and demographics.
And indeed, if you assume no changes in the Portland area's demographics over the next 30 years, the real wage growth required to meet Metro's and TriMet's revenue expectations would be perfectly reasonable by historical standards - 0.3 percent per year.
There's just one problem: This projection ignores the aging workforce.
So let's use demographic projections from Metro or the state to project future workforce growth. Here's what would actually have to happen for TriMet's assumptions to work:
To stay ahead of our graying workforce and falling birthrate, TriMet would need real wages to grow at five times the reasonable rate ... forever. If wages don't grow at the rate above, the agency will be trapped in its debts and service will suffer.
Keep in mind that this project requires a permanent and nearly unprecedented explosion in real wages in addition to the rising tax rates, overall population growth and continuing inflation that most of us expect. To make the Milwaukie rail numbers work, this unending boom will be needed even if all those things happen, too.
All these projections, by the way, generously assume a long-term inflation rate of 2 percent. That's Metro's long-term inflation assumption, and it's also the upper bound of the U.S. Federal Reserve's long-term projections. If inflation were instead to average 1.75 percent, the middle of the Fed's range, TriMet's assumptions would become even more far-fetched.
At Metro's recommendation, I've also assumed a major shift in the workforce over this period: that 10 percent of people aged 65-70 will be in the workforce by 2020, gradually ramping up to 50 percent by 2040. Frankly, this trend represents a few drops in the ocean.
Finally, let's look at the projections together. The green line represents the economic growth that TriMet and Metro leaders intuitively think they need, based on their life experience, to keep expanding service.
The yellow line is what TriMet would actually need, based on Metro aging projections.
The red line is even scarier: That's what TriMet would need based on population projections from the state Office of Economic Analysis.
But could there be an error in my calculations? Maybe I'm wrong to conflate "working age" population so closely with available workforce?
I wrote TriMet to ask.
TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch defended the payroll tax base assumption, suggesting I compare it to projections from Metro and the Western Blue Chip forecast from Arizona State University: "We think you will find that it is reasonable and in line with what others are forecasting."
Well, the Western Blue Chip forecast isn't much help: it goes only through 2011.
So to check the long-term forecasts I turned to Metro and to Dennis Yee, Metro's chief forecaster, in two phone calls last month. He, too, defended Metro and TriMet's assumptions.
"Anywhere from 1 to 3 percent" real wage growth, Yee said, is "not outrageous."
No? Let's look at Yee's implicit expectations one last time.
Does an indefinite average of 1.5 percent wage growth look reasonable to you? It does not look reasonable to me. Yet it's the assumption on which TriMet is building billion-dollar decisions.
I sent Yee this chart on Nov. 16, along with my calculations, asking for comment. I've since called him twice but not heard back.
Seems to me that someone in TriMet needs to notice it - immediately.
December 6, 2010
Over at the Transit Appliance site, I have a post up outlining the roles and partnerships that I think are necessary to sustain widespread provision of real-time transit information out there in the world.
December 5, 2010
After a whole lot of conversation on the particulars of TriMet and the agency's present situation, time to take a few steps back, and give some thought to how things might be different. We'll start with two issues which are frequently conflated (and some say, rightly so)--funding and equity. By "funding", for purposes of this post, I speak mainly of operational subsidies coming from general taxes--capital projects are a different ball of wax. I do assume that some subsidy is required--there are few first-world cities out there who have complete transit systems which are operationally profitable. I also assume that this is OK--transit is a public good, and on that basis ought to be entitled to some level of public subsidy. I know that some readers object to this, but that debate is not the topic of this thread.
Equity, in this context, refers to the levels of service provided to different parts of the metro area. Chris has been spending a great deal of time mapping service levels, and analyzing the results; here we consider the question of what should be, rather than what is.
There's a reason these two topics are lumped together in this thread. One common "formula" for equity is that transit service ought to, in some fashion, be proportional to taxes paid. This is a common refrain heard often from taxpayers in suburban areas with high payrolls and minimal transit service; recently we received news that some business leaders in Boring want to withdraw from TriMet. We'll get to that debate in a moment.
What sort of taxes?
If one makes the assumption that transit is to be partially funded by general taxation (an assumption that is being made for purposes of this discussion)--the first question becomes: What sort of taxes? Ad valorem property taxes? Income taxes? Payroll taxes? Sales tax? Other forms of consumption tax? Fees on unrelated activity (i.e. development charges)?
TriMet, of course, uses the payroll tax as its primary funding source--according to PortlandAfoot, the payroll tax provides around 55% of TriMet's operating revenue. Payroll taxes have some advantages--they're easy to collect (businesses who pay them have to process payroll taxes for other purposes such as Social Security and Medicare; and employees need not do a thing); they have less effect on minimum-wage employees (as the taxes collected don't count towards the wage paid); and they are relatively stable. On the down side, they are less stable than property taxes.
Other common forms of taxation would be difficult to apply in Oregon.
- Levying a local income tax would be a big headache for taxpayers, who would have to prepare (potentially) a third set of tax returns in addition to the state and federal forms they have to fill out now. (Four years ago, the City of Portland considered a city income tax to help fund schools--an idea which was quickly rejected).
- Property taxes have the advantage of stability, and many transit authorities use these for funding. A major limitation on use of property taxes in Oregon is 1990's Ballot Measure 5, which limits property taxes to 1.5% of value (0.5% for schools, 1.0% for other services), excluding bonded indebtedness. This is a total limit; not a per-agency limit.
- Use of sales taxes to fund transit is also common. Sales taxes have a tendency to be regressive, unstable, are far less deductible from federal income tax. And Oregon's anti-sales-tax tradition almost assures that TriMet will not be collecting revenue from the region's cash registers any time soon.
The payroll tax has one other interesting attribute--which is both a strength and a weakness. It relates directly to employment--being paid by employers on payrolls--and many consider that equitable because a primary class of transit users are commuters paying to get to and from work; thus employers are "paying" to have transit provided to their employees. On the other hand, employers are not similarly charged for roads and highways (which are funded via other means). And, as the Boring situation shows (as does the withdrawal of Wilsonville from TriMet two decades ago), this gives employers--especially those located in areas with high concentrations of jobs a lot of leverage. In both cases, high-employment communities are asserting an unfair allocation of service hours--claiming that because their community provides a high proportion of payroll tax revenue (relative to population), it is entitled to a higher "share" of transit service.
The funding mechanisms for roads, on the other hand, aren't employer based--payroll taxes do not fund road construction. Instead, the funding mechanisms for these come primarily from general fund sources (city/county property taxes), fees (construction assessments, license/registration fees), and fuel taxes--a kindasorta user fee; none of which has anything to do with where one works. Other than providing free parking at the job, employers generally don't subsidize employees who drive to work. While roads are subsidized (how much is an interesting debate), the sources of the subsidy are generally unrelated to the workplace.
How to assign service hours, anyway?
That brings us to the whole concept of equity: TriMet has a limited budget, and thus a limited number of service hours. Let's take a look at the map which Chris worked so hard to create:
The first thing you notice is: Most of it's blue or cyan, and the cooler colors on the map mean "lousy transit". The only red or orange ("excellent transit") is downtown and along the Banfield corridor. Green ("decent transit") is found in much of the City of Portland, in East County, along the Westside MAX line, and to a lesser extent along the Barbur and McLoughlin corridors to the south. But much of the area in the Portland metro area is ill-served by transit.
For many, though, that's the way it ought to be. Providing decent bus service to low-density sprawl is difficult and expensive, and such places are designed around the automobile--the vast majority of transit users in these places are those who cannot drive. Providing good service to high density areas is easy--there's lots of potential passengers, and owning an auto in these places is often more expensive or inconvenient, so a higher percentage of residents are likely to take transit. If one views the payroll tax as being paid by employees instead of by employers (an argument could be made that if the payroll tax didn't exist, wages would rise somewhat), this is equitable from a funding point of view as well--high density areas contribute more dollars, and thus "deserve" more service hours allotted to them.
Some urbanists go further, and propose that dense areas receive levels of service that scale greater than linearily with population density.
However, the payroll tax isn't paid by the workers, it's paid by the boss--and levied at the place of employment. People who live outside of the TriMet service district, but work inside it, have payroll tax paid on their behalf; people who do the opposite (live in town but work elsewhere, i.e. in Washington) do not. Thus, attempts by areas with a large concentration of industry to withdraw from the service district are a credible threat.
And, there are quite a few TriMet lines with extremely low ridership--whose only purpose, it seems, is to maintain a minimal level of service to a given geographical area in order to justify collecting taxes from that area. One of those lines, the 84, is the subject of the next section.
The Boring situation
At the present time, the idea of Boring withdrawing from TriMet is still an idea--but it might have some legs. The city of Damascus to the west has long been outside the TriMet boundary (despite being surrounded by it). Some of the complaints lodged by the Boring business owners are entirely legitimate--the service to Boring is very limited, and is designed for Boring residents to get to jobs in the urban parts of the Metro area, not the reverse. (One line, the 84, provides weekday-only service to the are, and only three runs per day). It's nearly impossible, given current scheduling, for a Gresham resident to take the bus to a job in Bornig. And given Boring's extremely low density--it's a small town surrounded by rural lands; more of an exurb of Portland than part of the continuous metropolitan area, providing good service would be difficult.
From a point of view of number of users, Boring isn't entitled to very much service at all; but from a point of view of who pays the bills, Boring has a decent gripe. The annual payroll tax contribution from the community is $2 million; but operating the 84 only costs a fraction of that. Were Boring to withdraw, it would likely mean service cuts elsewhere in the metro area. (An unanswered question, though one which may be mooted by the current service patterns as indicated above: How many employees who work in Boring live there, vs. how many travel there from other parts of the metro area, vs. how many live outside the current TriMet service boundaries?)
Several other exurbs, more distant from Portland than Boring is--have withdrawn from the district over the years. Canby, Sandy, and Molalla all now operate their own transit agencies, which focus on their respective communities. Given Boring's present exurban nature, I'm not entirely unsympathetic to their situation. Were Boring to withdraw from TriMet and form their own transit district (perhaps providing service to Damascus as well), that might produce a net benefit for transit users in the region, even if it produces a small negative for TriMet. (If such a district could reach a transfer agreement with TriMet, so interchanging between the systems doesn't cost riders extra money, so much the better).
On the other hand, it might well be the case that the business owners in question simply want to take the money and run--we'll see.
What about Wilsonville?
A more controversial departure from TriMet occurred in the city of Wilsonville in 1988, when the city elected to withdraw from the TriMet service district, and form its own city-run transit authority, nowadays called SMART, or South Metro Area Rapid Transit. SMART operates six bus lines (providing six-day service; no busses run on Sunday)--three of which provide half-hourly service within the city, and three of which provide connecting service to neighboring transit agencies (TriMet, Canby Area Transit, and Cherriots in Salem). Like the current situation with Boring, Wilsonville businesses complained that payroll tax dollars collected in the city of Wilsonville were being unfairly diverted to subsidize transit service in Portland--and indeed, TriMet did not, at the time, provide significant levels of service to the city. (At the time, Wilsonville had not experienced a major residential boom, and had the unusual distinction of more jobs than residents within City limits). So the city withdrew and started WART, later renamed to SMART. Intra-city service is free (the lines to Tigard, Canby, and Salem are not)--and the city's employers got a tax cut in the bargain as well
The relationship between the two agencies has been somewhat fractious over the years. Early this year, when TriMet discussed reducing service frequencies on WES to deal with its budget crisis, Wilsonville leaders blew a gasket. WES, despite its many faults, is a useful way for TriMet commuters seeking to reach Wilsonville, as one can get to the Wilsonville transit center on a single TriMet ticket, and then transfer to SMART's free intra-city lines. (Use of the SMART 2X line, between Barbur TC and Wilsonville, requires paying an extra fare to SMART--the two agencies do not honor transfers from each other).
Given all of that--how should TriMet (or transit agencies in general) be funded, and how should it (they) allocate service? Is the payroll tax fair, or should something else be used? Is the current service too Portland-focused? Or, is too much money being wasted on unproductive routes to suburban areas (particularly wealthier neighborhoods without much in the way of transit-dependent populations)? Should political subdivisions receive "level of service" guarantees from the agency?
A few specific ideas to consider:
- Should cities (or smaller-scale entities such as neighborhoods) have the ability to "purchase" more frequent service than their population or density might otherwise merit, through some sort of local assessment? (We see this already with some types of capital improvements--Portland Streetcar, for instance, was largely funded with a Local Improvement District).
- Could the Dial-a-ride program be expanded to other classes of transit-dependent riders (beyond the elderly or disabled) to permit the elimination of unprofitable bus lines?
- Are more smaller transit agencies a good thing? Or is it better to have a single region-wide agency? (Or what of the Seattle model, where numerous local agencies--KC Metro, Community Transit, Pierce Transit--provide local service, and a separate agency--Sound Transit--focuses on regional trips?)
- Is "local control" a value worth defending (in the transit context)--or does it lead to inequitable results, particularly when wealthy areas try to separate themselves from poorer areas in order to avoid subidizing them?
Keep in mind: The assumption of this site is that public transit is a useful thing--so this thread is not an invitation to discuss proposals to privatize or defund it altogether (i.e. fares should pay 100%).
December 3, 2010
Yes, it's that time of year again. As the year winds down and you think about generating tax deductions before the calendar turns over, I humbly ask you to consider Portland Transport.
Our needs are simple and our treasury is sound, but we did have more expenditures this year than normal as we ramped up our transit appliance efforts, buying some hardware to prove out the concept, and securing some new domain names to organize the services for these new devices.
If you value the work and discussion here at Portland Transport, I would urge you to click the donate link.
$5, $10 or $25 goes a long way to helping us continue the site and the services. And demonstrating to the IRS that we have a diversity of contributors goes a long way towards keeping our 501(c)(3) status healthy.
Each year I am blown away by the generosity of our readers, and I thank you in advance!
December 2, 2010
Part 1 (of 2) of a transcript of OPB's "Think Out Loud" program of November 30, 2010, covering public transportation in Portland, featuring show host Emily Harris, and guest Neil McFarlane, GM of transit. Lots of stuttering and such has been elided, and I probably screwed up somewhere... please feel free to submit corrections.
Text after the jump.
Harris: Hello, I'm Emily Harris. Today on Think Out Loud, "What Do You Want from Public Transportation".
Harris: When and why do you ride public transit? We asked people in our public insight network that question. Richard Carson of Beaverton says he doesn't use public transit, because it's not easily accessible, plus he doesn't want to wait in the rain, and he finds many drivers and passengers inconsiderate. Cerita [sp?] Rucker takes TriMet five days a week, because she doesn't have a driver's license, but the busses don't run late enough for her to get home after an evening class, so she has to ask a friend for a ride. TriMet is the big player in public transit in Oregon; the Portland metro area agency says people got on a bus, MAX light rail, or Westside Express train almost one hundred million times the last fiscal year. But this month, the agency wasn't able to win voter support for a bond measure to buy new busses, and to improve bus stops. That means bus improvements will come more slowly. Before the vote, routes were already cut back. But rail is going ahead, with a new MAX line connecting downtown Portland to Milwaukie, and a possible new Rapid Streetcar along the west side of the Willamette River. Where TriMet puts its money is a constant question for riders and taxpayers alike. The agency faces major challenges, budget gaps, enormous employee healthcare costs, drivers who have been working without a contract for more than a year. There is a push to elect the TriMet board; it's now appointed by Oregon's governor. What do you want from this public agency with an almost $900 million budget? What do you want from public transit outside the metro area? We'll check in this hour on a debate in Eugene over building fast bus lanes there. You can join this conversation any time, our number is 1-888-665-5865; our website is opb.org/thinkoutloud.
Starting us off this morning is Neil McFarlane; he's the General Manager of TriMet. He's joining us in our studios this morning. Thank you very much for coming in!
Neil McFarlane: Pleased to be here, Emily.
Harris: So, what have you revamped after the bond measure failed?
McFarlane: Well, first of all, just to back up a bit, the bond measure did pass in Multnomah County, so we were pleased for that. Obviously it didn't pass in Clackamas and Washington counties, so overall it failed by a 52-48 margin, about 26 thousand votes out of a half million cast. I think what we learned is that we, first of all, it was a very busy ballot, and second of all, it's very hard to get the message out. The bond measure had a very small campaign associated with it, so I think we had a hard time getting the message out...
Harris: The message was, that failed to get out, was what?
McFarlane: Was really that this was aimed at trying to get ahead of the curve, and serving the region's growing population of elderly and disabled people. We know in the next twenty years, the population of seniors is going to more than double, so how do you serve that growing population that will depend more and more and more on public transportation? That was the message that we were trying to get out, trying to get out. I think that we have, frankly, we have a lot of other controversies that began to sort of swamp that message, including many of the issues that you noted at the outset. We had a Kindle-reading bus driver, you might remember that. We had some safety issues that have put a great deal of attention on.
Harris: The bus driver turning left and killing several people?
McFarlane: Exactly. We had a number of other controversies, including the controversy over our union contract. So I think it was very hard, in what was frankly a rather sour public mood, to get a really positive message across.
Harris: What does this mean, though, in a practical sense, obviously you're not going to be buying as many busses that people can get on or off more easily, and you're not going to be improving bus stops as quickly. In five years out, or ten years out, are the improvements going to be made--it's just going to take longer, or are you going to revamp somehow, take a different direction?
McFarlane: I would say that, if you look at the bus replacement, we would still be focused on maintaining our fleet and making those replacements over time. But rather than being able to remove the busses with steps and stairs, which are an impediment to accessibility, we'd replace those with the low-floor busses which are much more popular and easy to use for everybody, that's going to take a number of years now. We'll probably be in the position of forty busses per year, rather than the 150 in a very short period of time, that was proposed by the ballot measure.
Harris: So in about four years to come up with what you want to do in one year.
McFarlane: Exactly. And so it will take some time to do that. Now the bus stop improvements, there is no money identified in our budget or ongoing resources for those. Those are simply in the hunt for additional resources within the region; there is no plan right now to find and fund those bus stop improvements. And I think that's a tragedy long term.
Harris: On our blog, a downtown resident--she didn't say which way she voted on the measure--but she says she feels unsafe waiting for 40 minutes at 10PM for busses which used to come more often. Cutbacks to service which happened this year had nothing to do with the bond measure not passing, from what I understand.
McFarlane: Well, it very well may have...
Harris: The cutbacks were before the bond measure went on the ballot...
McFarlane: The second round of bus cutbacks occurred in September, which was obviously within the election timeframe. TriMet has, over the last two years, reduced service by about 12% overall. We were very surgical about that and we were very methodical. We looked at a number of other savings before we got to service. Just for an example, our budget over the last two years has been reduced by about $60 million, on an annual basis. Right now we have an operating budget of $420 million, so you can begin to see what proportion that was. We had an efficiency program within the agency which saved us on the order of $20 million on an ongoing basis, which was our productivity improvement program--thank you, TriMet workers, for instilling that...
Harris: A number of layoffs and some pay freezes...
McFarlane: We had 120 positions less, we're in the third year of a pay freeze for all management employees, furloughs, so we've really dug deep to try to find savings. One of the savings, by the way, was delaying capital--bus purchases, in order to preserve as many dollars as we could for service, that was really our priority. That said, when the economy swings so badly in the wrong direction, and our payroll tax receipts drop so dramatically, there's nothing left but service at the end of the day, because it's over 80% of our budget is directly for service.
Harris: And as you said, the service cutbacks this year had nothing to do with the bond measure; the bond measure was specifically for these capital investments.
McFarlane: That's right.
Harris: The downtown resident, who doesn't like waiting at 10PM, who doesn't feel safe waiting for a bus that comes less often, also says that TriMet spends too much money on gadgets, and not enough on basic service. She gives an example of schedules, which aren't posted at many bus stops, and she was told it wasn't cost-effective. But then, she writes, the agency instituted a text-message version of TransitTracker, which is of no use to those people who have no text messaging service. In addition, she says the voice part of the system has big flaws, it takes a long time, and she asks "what are you supposed to do when you're holding a phone, an umbrella, packages", and the she asks, "I wonder if TriMet employees actually ride busses"? I know you do ride the bus, but what's your sense of how well in touch with the needs of riders and with the desires of riders?
McFarlane: I think, it's really... I ride the bus on a regular basis, as you noted, on a regular basis, I think most TriMet employees do. I wish all did, because I think it is really important to be in touch with that. I would say, in response to those questions, we actually have now, 2 million contacts a month through that TransitTracker real-time arrival information.
Harris: Is text messaging part of it?
McFarlane: Text messaging is a very small part of it. There' s the calls, there's the mobile TriMet website that allows the same sort of checking with a smartphone, if you have an iPhone, one of the more popular applications in the Portland region is PDXBus, which allows, sort of, more automated response to what is the next bus. So frankly, with all those tools, and people are using them at an incredible rate, again, 2 million times a month, somebody uses one of those tools to find our real-time schedule arrival information. Nobody should be waiting out forty minutes for a bus, because you should be able to find a nice warm place, if you have to, because the real-time information is going to be there.
Harris: You know, I use it because there is no schedule at the bus stop, and I realize it's real-time vs posted, but there's not much of an alternative if you don't, if there's no information... why isn't desired schedules, or planned schedules, posted at the bus stop anymore?
McFarlane: We actually find that, when we talk to our customers, when we survey them, they prefer the real-time arrival information, so that's best done through these mobile devices, that we find on the order of 97% of our riders are carrying a cell phone or a smartphone.
Harris: Let's take a call from Virginia, who's phoned in from Cedar Mill. Virginia, welcome to the show! Good morning, go ahead please!
Caller: Thanks for taking my call. I'm really so happy that you're covering something out in Washington County. We often think that it's Think Out Loud only in Portland.
Harris: Oh, dear, well, welcome to the show, and tell me about Washington County and your public transit experience.
Caller: I work from home, Neil, so I don't commute, so it's not necessarily a personal issue, but I am involved in planning and [inaudible] and involved in bus pooling when they changed and put in Route 50 out here, and I was fairly shocked to find out that there's not that much, people that I spoke to said that there's not much high level of discussion between Washington County and TriMet about ways to improve the overall planning and making developments give their residents a safe and convenient way to get to the closest transit stop, and in my understanding, when someone proposes a development, they have to send letters to all of the service providers such as water, schools, and all that, and TriMet regularly returns letters saying that they can't serve the devlopment, and the county accepts that, and that, in my opinion, that's what has left us in the state that so much of our suburban areas are completely ill-served by transit.
Harris: Just TriMet say, OK, we see you're putting up a development, but we're not going to be able to serve it, Virginia, thanks for your call.. Neil McFarlane, what happens in Washington County when a new development goes in, and they send you a letter saying, OK we're building 500 houses here, can you serve us, do you just write back and say, I'm sorry?
McFarlane: We do have limited resources, there's no question. And what we have to do is prioritize our operating resources to serve the needs that actually have the most riders.
Harris: Isn't it sort of a chicken and an egg situation?
McFarlane: There definitely is, and I would say, first of all, on the allegation, or the thought, that there isn't a lot of coordination between Washington County and TriMet is wrong, we actually work really hard with Washington County at the very top levels of leadership within the county, to coordinate our land use and our transportation policies. And Washington County actually has been a leader in this Transit Oriented Development, for example, around the Westside MAX line that runs all the way out to Hillsboro, of course. So there are places in Washington County that are very well served by transit, by TriMet, and there are places that aren't, and so we have a mix, and that's probably true throughout the whole region. I would say generally on the suburban areas, we are in this transition, and you're right, there is a chicken and egg between land use and transportation and the service we provide, and what we need to do, I think, is work harder to provide better service to our suburban jurisdictions, and obviously that is a matter of resources over time.
Harris: You lost the ballot measure in the suburban counties, in Clackamas and Washington Counties, how much do you think that's because of lack of service?
McFarlane: Well, I think that there probably is a significant part of that. I would say that generally, what we find is that the people who ride our service and use our service, are our strongest supporters, because they understand how important it is, how important it is to have the connections that we're talking about and the accessibility improvements that we're talking about with the ballot measure. For example, in Multnomah County, where we probably have more service, and we are more a part of everybody's lives on a daily basis, we did better than in our suburban counties, so I think that there will be a transition over time, were we begin to serve the suburban counties more. And by the way, the rail investments are key to that, because they provide those really strong links, those backbone services, between key communities within the region, and provide us a focus for local bus service within communities.
Harris: We'll talk more about rail and bus later in the program, but for some context, we queried members of our Public Insight network from Washington and Clackamas County about their use of public transit, and some people complained that the parking lots are full at the MAX stations, and sometimes they have to drive away from downtown to find parking, so they can take the train into downtown, and they are concerned that there are not busses that are bringing people in. But we'll get to busses and rail later in the show. I want to remind people that we are talking about public transportation today, my guest today is Neil McFarlane, he's the general manager of TriMet. You can share your experience with public transit, whether in or outside the Portland metro area, what do you want from public transportation? Our number is 1-888-665-5865, our website is opb.org/thinkoutloud. I want to bring Michael Anderson into the conversation now. He's the editor of PortlandAfoot, it's a monthly that promises great information in ten minutes a month. Michael Anderson, welcome to the show!
Anderson: I'm glad to be here!
Harris: You track lots of transit issues, and you wrote, right after the ballot measure that TriMet lost earlier this month, that the ballot measure struck you as an example of "institutional mistrust of the public". You wrote the agency's policies could be worse, and I know some are trying to make them better, and then you wrote, but "after several months of covering TriMet, I found it unpleasantly reminds me of the public housing agencies I've covered, a group of well meaning public servants who are certain that the voters, in their hearts, don't approve of their work, public servants who therefore conclude that voters must be kept in the dark for their own good". What is your, what is your basis for that comment?
Anderson: I guess it's the, well, I guess I think that... TriMet, from what I've seen from reporting, TriMet has deep faith in its philosophy of transforming the community, of building rail and inducing development, and changing our habits over time, giving us options over time, which is fantastic--I totally believe in that, but, I have, every time I ask questions, it seems like, what if it doesn't work, what if things go differently, what if you're wrong about this, it seems like TriMet's not preparing for that answer, and I guess I, I feel like, in the structure of its governance, by having its selected board, and in the amount of, its attitude towards public engagement in general, I've been disappointed by the agency's willingness to engage with its critics. Which I think is kind of weird in Portland, where we usually err on the other side.
Harris: Well, give me an example if you could be specific?
Anderson: Yeah, sure, the.. several meetings ago, there was a discussion about, I'm not sure what the issue was, but it was there were some people who were talking about rail-building, and came to the TriMet board meeting, and said, here are our complaints, but the board had already voted on the issue in question, and someone asked the chairman, why, why are you taking our testimony only after the vote, and the chairman said, it's because you already, we already know, more or less, what you are going to say, the same people come every time, so what's the point in taking testimony first. And the same people come every time, obviously, because it's difficult to get your testimony heard. I think they've changed it since then, but it was a characteristic, I thought.
Harris: Is that your conclusion, that the same people come every time, because it's difficult to feel heard? Or is it because, not that many people come to public meetings and comment on things, in general?
Anderson: Especially not at 9 o'clock in the morning. It's a deep challenge to get anybody to be involved with local policy. It's really important to people's lives, but there's just not enough, sort of, connection to how it matters, you know, what I can do about my bus being on time or my train being in the right neighborhood.
Harris: I'm going to get Neil McFarlane to respond to what TriMet is trying to do in outreach, since losing the ballot measure, but Michael Anderson, with PortlandAfoot, what do you think specifically, then, is not happening with public transit because of what you are describing as a disconnect between the agency and people.
Anderson: Well, I think what.. my biggest fear, for my readers, is that the agency is accustomed to this "and we can do this, and we can do that, and we can do this" philosophy that arises with a situation where is not a lot of internal dissent or debate, or external dissent being considered, and where, if we're going into this environment long-term where we're going to have to make, to prepare for declining public services, and be more of an "or" government, I'm afraid we're mortgaging the future of service based on the assumption that we can do this and this and this and this.
Harris: You mean... MAX and Westside Express, or...
Anderson: Yeah, right. Were going to consider votes to borrow up to $40 or $60 million dollars to build a new rail line, and it seems to me that the assumptions may be questionable that they can afford that longterm without cutting service.
Harris: Stay with us, Michael Anderson... Neil McFarlane, how are you... how are you trying to be in touch?
McFarlane: Well, I think, first of all, we recognize that we need to constantly work and improve with our contact with the public and particularly, our riders. Our biggest effort, really, is to make sure our riders are satisfied and happy, so as you mentioned, Emily, at the onset, one hundred million times a year, somebody steps onside a TriMet vehicle. So, we want that ride to be a good positive ride, and we want to make sure our riders know how to communicate with us about issues or problems they have. They can call 238-RIDE, they can text us, they can email us, and we do promise a response, every one of those comments do get responded to. Number two is, we do have a number of forums for citizen involvement, for example, for each of our capital projects we've got a Citizens' Advisory Committee. We've got a Citizens Advisory Committee on our budget overall. We are about to from a Citizens' Advisory Committee that will focus on the safety initiatives and safety education within the community, so that we have that important link into our system. I think the other part is that I and others at TriMet do need to spend a lot more time out in the community. I've been general manager now for five months, over the last month I've had a series of lunches in each of the counties, where I've brought together heads of associations, or business groups, or local elected officials, and just asked the questions about how is TriMet serving your community, and how we can do that better.
Harris: What did you hear that surprised you in those lunches?
McFarlane: Well, actually, what I heard was great support for TriMet, believe it or not.
Harris: Is that the message that's going to drive the agency forward? Michael Anderson was just talking about, well, groupthink more or less.
McFarlane: I do think that you have to be careful about groupthink, but let's step back for a moment, and say where has this region and this transit system led? We are now the 23rd largest city, or region, or service area, yet we're number eight in per-capita ridership. We carry more people than any transit system our size. So the decisions of the past have had a great effect on building a great transit system, that is balanced, and beginning to be more balanced between bus and rail, so that each mode does the important work that it is needed to be done, that they do the best. And so I think what we've heard from most of those conversations is, frankly, we want more. We want more local transit service, much as your listener from Washington County noted, they want more local service, they want more connections to the MAX line, and they want more MAX and streetcar service as well.
Harris: So you feel, it sounds like Michael Anderson is saying, you do want to do it all. Michael Anderson, how do you see the question of rail vs bus. Is that a legitimate question, or does that just get tossed around as a convenient way to debate public transportation?
Anderson: I would say, I love the MAX, I ride it almost every day, I think its... it seems like the evidence shows that it's totally more effective in that long-term transformation that you want out of the city, but, if you compare it to the transit used in Seattle, my understanding is that the Seattle transit usage is higher per-capita, even though they've invested far less in a rail network, and it seems to me that that proves that if you have really good bus service, given a similar level of density, that you can do good things to, if you do. Portland hasn't taken that route.
Harris: OK, Michael Anderson, we need to let you go, thank you for being with us this morning.
Harris: Michael Anderson is the editor of PortlandAfoot, a monthly news magazine promising information--all you need in ten minutes. You're listening to Think Out Loud, it's the radio show that invites you to be involved. We're talking today about public transportation. What is your favorite thing, or your biggest beef, about public transportation in your area, whether that's TriMet or you're outside the Portland metro area. You can tweet us, we are @ThinkOutLoudOPB, with your favorite thing or your biggest beef, or you can call us, 1-888-665-5865.
The Portland region is begin recognized by the EPA as one of five communities highlighted for "Smart Growth Achievement". The award specifically calls out the 2040 growth concept.
December 1, 2010
Listen to the show (mp3, 26.5MB)
Tori and guest host Michelle Poyourow talk with Rob Sadowsky, Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation alliance about BTA's agenda for the 2011 Oregon Legislative Session. Several bicycle-oriented small businesses weathering the recession are also featured.
Have at it. Santa will take note of who's being naughty, and who's being nice. :)
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Fall 2010 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Jennifer Dill, Associate Professor, Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University
Topic: From Spokes to Sprockettes: A History of Women and the Bicycle
When: Friday, December 3, 2010, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204