May 31, 2011
One of the fundamental "claims" of the Columbia River Crossing is that by reducing backed up traffic, air quality will improve. This week's PSU seminar tackles whether that assumption in transportation projects holds true.
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Spring 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Alex Bigazzi, Portland State University
Topic: Can Congestion Mitigation Reduce Emissions?
Abstract: Policy-makers, researchers, and activists often assume that traffic congestion mitigation results in reduced motor vehicle emissions without proper justification or quantification. This research investigates under which conditions that assumption is valid by comparing trade-offs between increased efficiency and induced travel. Analyses include investigation of varying vehicle fleets - including advanced-drivetrain vehicles. Results demonstrate that higher levels of congestion do not necessarily increase emissions, nor will congestion mitigation inevitably reduce emissions. These results apply for both roadway capacity expansions and traffic flow improvement projects. We compare the emissions effects of various congestion and emissions mitigation strategies, with particular attention to the roll of trucks and the potential of truck-only facilities. Congestion performance measures are also compared for applicability to emissions trends.
When: Friday, June 3, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
May 27, 2011
This defeat this past week by Clackamas County voters of the proposed $5 license fee to help pay for the Sellwood Bridge replacement project has Multnomah County scrambling to decide what to do next. While decisions have not been made, I have a sneaking suspicion that what will happen is certain design elements will be removed, and the bridge will be built without Clackamas County's contribution. (And despite calls from some quarters for the bridge to be tolled for non-Multnomah County motorists, I suspect that won't happen). There are well-known reasons that this is likely to occur--too many people in positions of power have too much invested in the current approach.
But given that I'm a blogger, not an elected official, and am thus unconstrained by the reality of public project inertia, I'm going to view the enterprise de novo: If we assume that the Sellwood Bridge wasn't there (or was no longer open to motor vehicles), and we had $200 million or so to spend on a new Willamette River crossing--what would we do?
Purpose and need
It's a dirty secret of public project management that by controlling the "purpose and need statement", a document which describes the overall scope of the project, one can often dictate the final outcome--any idea which lies outside the "purpose and need" statement is considered out of scope, and discarded. The P&N statement for the CRC, for example, effectively rules out many of the sensible design options proposed other than the big hairy multimodal bridge and freeway rebuild that has been selected.
The Sellwood Bridge project's purpose and need statement says the following:
This statement was the result of careful negotiations among stakeholders, so it likely contains numerous political compromises. However, it's worth unpacking. Some of the stated clauses are obvious items that probably aren't in dispute (safety, modern design, and sufficient capacity); but two important design criteria are effectively constrained by the purpose and need statement: the what (a multimodal bridge), and the where ("within its existing east-west corridor", which has been interpreted to mean "must connect to SE Tacoma Street"). In addition, the fact that this project is being run by Multnomah County implicitly constrains the "who"--Multnomah County is effectively chartered to design, build, operate, and maintain the bridge--and as we saw this past week, that has significant implications.
The purpose of the project, as approved by the project's Policy Advisory Group, is to "rehabilitate or replace the Sellwood Bridge within its existing east-west corridor to provide a structurally safe bridge and connections that accommodate multi-modal mobility needs."
The following four major issues define the need for the Sellwood Bridge project:
- Inadequate structural integrity to safely accommodate various vehicle types (including transit vehicles, trucks, and emergency vehicles) and to withstand moderate seismic events
- Substandard and unsafe roadway design
- Substandard pedestrian and bicycle facilities across the river
- Existing and future travel demands between origins and destinations served by the Sellwood Bridge exceed available capacity
Assuming that these three parameters are variable in our hypothetical reboot, it's good then to turn to the more important underyling question:
Why are we considering building a bridge, and does the reason justify the cost(s) involved? Beyond the obvious why-does-the-chicken-cross-the-road answer, we need to understand what the bridge is for--which means, first and foremost, understanding who the bridge is for.
Is it primarily for residents of Portland neighborhoods near the bridgehead--Sellwood, Westmoreland, Sellwood, Burlingame, and Dunthorpe? Is it for Clackamas County commuters trying to avoid congestion on OR99E? Should be it be a major east-west thoroughfare capable of rivaling the downtown bridges and the Abernathy (I-205) bridge for capacity and throughput? And what modes should it serve, and to what extent? High-speed auto traffic? Local traffic only (including mixed-traffic busses)? Rapid transit? Bikes and pedestrians?
These questions need to be answered before pondering the next level of questions--and the subsequent design and management choices ought to support the stated purpose of the project. My main objection to the current project is that this goal is not met: The project is declared to be of regional importance and assumes significant amounts of regional traffic; this state of affairs is used to justify the unusual funding technique of taxing residents of a neighboring county. Yet the project is being run by Multnomah County, not by Metro or ODOT or any other agency with a broader scope, and the current design--a two-lane bridge which extends Tacoma Street--is incompatible with these regional aspirations. Of course, this is pretty much a description of the existing bridge (other than the fact that its paid for), but decisions made a century ago need not constrain decisions which will be affecting the region a century hence.
At any rate, once the project's purpose is given due consideration, then its on to the next three questions:
Who runs the project, and who pays for it
As noted, Multnomah County owns and operates the current bridge, and is running the replacement project. The county owns and operates five other Willamette River crossings--the Sauvie Island, Broadway, Burnside, Morrison, and Hawthorne bridges, and has ample expertise in bridge construction and maintenance.
The other bridge operators in the Portland metro area are ODOT (who own and operate the Boone, OC/West Linn, Abernathy, Ross Island, Marquam, Fremont, and St. Johns) and the UP (Steel Bridge, LO rail bridge) and BNSF (N. Portland rail bridge, Wilsonville rail bridge) railroads.
Both county and state ownership pose issues for a multimodal connector of regional importance. Multnomah County has difficulty with self-funding of projects of this sort--as witnessed by its attempt to pass the hat to its southern neighbors; and may not adequately represent the interests of non-county users. ODOT has its own institutional problems--the agency is fundamentally a highway-building agency; and if a highway is not the intended solution, ODOT's involvement may be counterproductive. There are many complaints about ODOT's insistence on an expensive interchange on the current project, and about its involvement with the CRC.
Two other possibilities that have been suggested are Metro and TriMet. Metro, as the regional MPO, has a scope of jurisdiction appropriate for this sort of project, and has a more multimodal culture than does ODOT. On the other hand, ownership and operation of capital projects is something which the agency presently does not do. TriMet does have this sort of expertise in house, and will own and operate the new Caruthers crossing once it is built. TriMet has successfully completed other major civil engineering projects such as the Robertson Tunnel, and numerous smaller viaducts and bridges along the MAX line. However, operation of a bridge which isn't primarily used for transit operations may be outside of its purview.
Where does it go?
The location of the bridge is another important consideration. The current project was pretty much constrained from the get-go to be a replacement for the existing bridge. In some ways, that makes sense--established traffic patterns will be maintained, Sellwood residents won't be angered by losing "their" bridge, and NIMBY objections will be minimized. But the location of the present bridge is a major liability for regional mobility, due to the character of SE Tacoma Street--a two-through-lane neighborhood street with low speeds and numerous pedestrian traffic; an inappropriate corridor for high-volume regional traffic or rapid transit.
Unfortunately, the existing geography and land use of the river basin limits the opportunities for crossing. Wildlife refuges on Ross Island and at Oaks Bottom make a crossing to the north problematic. Immediately south of the Sellwood neighborhood one finds a golf course on the eastern shore. South of that, downtown Milwaukie is on the riverfront, but opposite Elk Rock/Dunthorpe and some of the most expensive and exclusive real estate in the metro area. A crossing between Lake Oswego and Oak Grove would be possible, but would be too far south to handle OR224 traffic.
Any crossing would be further hampered by the fact that the Tualatin Mountains hug the west bank of the river, limiting connectivity further west. (South of Lake Oswego/Oak Grove, the Oatfield Ridge limits east/west connectivity on BOTH sides). South of Taylors Ferry Road, the next major east-west thoroughfare which crosses OR43 is Country Club Road/A Avenue in Lake Oswego. And no matter where a bridge is built, there is the issue of OR43 passing through the Macadam neighborhood, a traffic bottleneck.
What should it look like
Finally, there is the question of what the bridge ought to look like. This is probably the easiest question to answer--it will probably look like the proposed current design, with 2 general purpose lanes, the ability so support mixed-traffic rail, and ample pedestrian/bike facilities. A highway-only bridge is politically out of the question. A "green bridge" might arise out of a future transit project, possibly in the LO/Milwaukie area, but a standalone bridge without support for auto traffic is probably a non-starter.
Given all of that--if the existing project constraints were mostly removed, and the region had $200 million to build a southern crossing wherever it liked--where would you put it, how would you fund it, who would run it, and what would it look like? To make this interesting, feel free to imagine other connecting infrastructure projects in the future, if you like.
And if you think that the $200 million ought to be spent elsewhere entirely, or pocketed--with no more vehicular crossing of the Willamette between Oregon City and downtown after the existing bridge reaches the end of its useful life, feel free to say that as well.
May 25, 2011
Transportation for America has released a new report "Dangerous by Design" (PDF, 1.6M) scoring safety for people walking and riding bicycles state by state and metro area by metro area.
Oregon's rankings are here. Portland ranked as the 7th least dangerious metro, but there are still far too many injuries and deaths and we have to do better.
Accompanying the report, T4America also has an action alert so you can tell your congressional representatives to focus on this issue.
May 24, 2011
As someone who in the last few years has become "AARP-eligible", this becomes more interesting every year:
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Spring 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speakers: Margaret Neal, Jennifer Dill, Arlie Adkins, Gretchen Luhr, Portland State University
Topic: Demonstrating the Benefits of Green Streets for Active Aging
When: Friday, May 27, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
May 23, 2011
I had a blast yesterday riding around car-free streets in East Portland during the first Sunday Parkways event of the year (four more to come!).
There's a Kickstarter campaign under way to help support these events, and as I write this, with just 16 hours to go until the deadline, the effort is just $415 short of it's $5,000 goal (the way Kickstarter works, none of the pledges are redeemed unless the targeted goal is reached).
Please help put this effort over the top! Join me in making a contribution.
A few months ago, I went "meta" and did an article on the Gordian knot of compromises the political process forces on public projects (and on private ones, too; though we seldom get to see the dirty laundry that results from corporate cock-ups). This article, likewise, switches gears from the nitty-gritty of transport projects and politics to the higher-level topic of what forces drive public policy decisions. Today's article is dedicated to the Sellwood Bridge replacement project and the reaction to the news that Clackamas County voters are unwilling to help fund the project.
Rather soon after the vote was announced, Multnomah County commissioner Deborah Kafoury had this to say:
Now that Clackamas County voters have spoken, we will roll up our sleeves to try to complete this important project without their help. Safety concerns dictate that we must fix the badly deteriorated bridge, the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon. Replacing the bridge must remain our top transportation priority.This prompted a few howls of outrage those opposed to the project or its funding scheme (including a regular PT contributor who is a well-known local transit critic), noting that the campaign in favor of Measure 3-372 suggested dire consequences, including possible closure of the current bridge (which is in poor structural condition, and already closed to large vehicles, including trucks and busses) if funding is not secured.
I'm not going to debate here whether the "yes" campaign crossed any ethical lines. Bluffing and FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) are part and parcel of political campaigns, and the "no" side engaged in some rather speculative claims of their own--suggesting that approving a $5 vehicle license fee to help pay for this project would pave the way for many more such levies in the future ("its not just $5" was a popular campaign slogan used by opponents). But it was fairly obvious that Multnomah County was bluffing, somewhat--and that they are not about to permit the existing bridge to close without a replacement being built.
This article takes a look at why.
There's a well-known economic fallacy known as the sunk cost fallacy. In the sunk cost fallacy, already-expended (or committed) capital is cited as justification for continuing some course of action, even when that action may be no longer viable. Commonly expressed, it goes like "we've already spent $x on this, so we might as well finish it". Rational analysis shows that the money spent is already long gone, so ought not factor into any decisions going forward--only future costs and benefits should be considered by decision-makers.
Why does the sunk cost fallacy frequently trip up decision-makers? It's not because they can't read a spreadsheet. In many cases, it's because changing direction is tantamount to an admission of error. And in some cases, a decision-maker may have even higher personal stakes riding on a project than just ego or pride--in my professional career, I've been on several projects deemed vital to the health of the enterprise--with the clear implication that heads will roll if the project does not run to completion. Many of these projects ended badly, with heads rolling anyway.
Another way to approach the issue is to note that decision-makers are managing multiple different "resources", only one of which is the money of the organization. Another is their personal political capital--in many cases, a manager (or an entire organization) will need to expend significant amounts of this in order to bring a project to fruition, with the payout only coming if the project completes. And political capital is typically spent all up front--if a change of direction occurs, the political capital is gone.
Yet despite this, a scene that plays out all too frequently in the boardrooms of the world is the executive asking the subordinate if he/she is willing to "bet their job" on a particular course of action. While such queries may be helpful in sniffing out BS (and in providing continual motivation once a course of action is approved), it effectively commits the subordinate to the project--and may cause her to defend the project even when common sense makes it obvious that the whole thing ought to be scrapped.
The public angle
Many aspects of the public sector make the sunk cost fallacy particularly troublesome. For one thing, most public works projects are financially back-loaded: most of the money isn't spent until concrete starts to pour. Given that, prior to the start of construction, there ought to be ample opportunity to explore options and ensure that the project is really the right thing to do. The Columbia River Crossing is often criticized for the over $100 million spent on planning to date, but that figure is still a drop in the bucket compared to the over $3-$4 billion the project is expected to cost (a figure which many critics think is ridiculously low).
Yet the project sponsors are proceeding as if there is a gun to their heads, effectively declaring the current plans closed to any significant modifications. Project leaders, and their sponsors in Salem and Olympia, speak of deadlines and dates as though their life depended upon it--even though the project hasn't secured all its funding yet, and is facing harsh criticism from many quarters.
One likely explanation is that many involved in the project--Governor Gregoire, to a lesser extent Governor Kitzhaber, and numerous officials in both DOTs, have bet a lot of political capital on the project, and thus have quite a bit at stake in seeing it run to completion. Many sponsors of the project all have their wants and desires, and have been promised these (ample highway lanes, green elements like light rail and ped/bike facilities)--and are expecting that they be delivered. A significant change in the project's direction would cause many of these fine upstanding public officials to lose face--and in the case of the elected ones, would provide plenty of ammunition for political opponents. (Both Kitzhaber and Gregoire won election in close races).
In the case of public projects, time is also an important factor for many reasons. If Federal funding is involved, the NEPA process is a major headache; significant changes can add significantly delay. Securing funding requires lots of delicate negotiations, and grants often come with expiration dates--delays in the planning phase can jeopardize the receipt of funds needed for completion. There's also the factor that politicians like groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and often would prefer that these happen during their terms in office.
Finally, public-sector projects frequently attract political opposition of a nature not found in well-run private companies. (In a well-run company, disputes over the necessity and/or parameters of a project are swiftly ironed out, and bad-faith participants are removed. That said, there are many poorly-run enterprises where it is not unusual to find employees or entire departments trying to undermine the projects and initiatives undertaken by some other part of the company). But what is often considered a bug in the world of business, is a feature in democratic politics. And political actors often try to throw wrenches in the gears of projects they oppose (or which are associated with political adversaries), and this is considered all part of the game.
One way to do that is to propose major changes in a project mid-course--which is one reason that savvy decision-makers will regard any such proposals offered later in the project with suspicion. Picking on the CRC again--proposed design changes promoted by Portland mayor Sam Adams were pretty-much rejected out of hand by the project committee and by the governors--who all but accused the mayor of offering proposals in bad faith in an attempt to gum up the works on a project whose current direction the City of Portland is adamantly opposed to. And it wouldn't surprise me to learn that this--along with the whole "iconic bridge" shtick, is exactly what Sam was up to.
Back to the Sellwood
Given that, it's rather obvious that "we may have to close the bridge if this doesn't pass" was a bluff. The Multnomah County commission has invested quite a bit of political capital (and planning dollars) into the current project, and thus isn't going to fold up shop just because Clackamas County voters aren't willing to contribute to the project. (Likewise, Milwaukie MAX is proceeding on schedule despite all the controversy around its funding, and despite the likely prospect of Clackamas County voters overruling the generosity of their commissioners on this project as well. At this point, no county ordinance has been passed to allocate the funds, so there's nothing for opponents to refer to voters--but it'll happen).
In some ways, this is unfortunate. The withdrawal of Clackamas County's funding share provides an opportunity to reconsider the Sellwood Bridge project (there is much about it that I don't care for). Asking one county's voters to help pay for another county's infrastructure is indeed unusual, especially when the design of the project isn't particularly geared towards the users from the other county, so I'm not entirely unsympathetic to Clackamas County voters. More on this will come on my next article.
But it appears that instead of taking advantage of this opportunity, Multnomah County intends to press on. To be fair, given the decrepit state of the current bridge, time may be really of the essence--and that significant delays in the project might result in the existing bridge being closed without a replacement in the pipe.
But from here, it looks like there's a lot more riding on the current bridge project than bikes, busses, and cars.
May 21, 2011
Apparently, credit card thieves have figured out a good way to quickly turn stolen plastic into cash before the theft is discovered and the card is cancelled: Use them at TriMet ticket machines to buy monthly TriMet passes ($88), a transaction which does not require any identification, PIN number, or signature, and then sell them for cash (often $20) to transit passengers.
What happens when this occurs? The thieves, assuming they are not caught, get the $20. Whoever buys these passes gets a good deal on the pass--as TriMet passes are non-electronic and non-personalized, there is no way for the agency to revoke the pass. The person whose card it is, assuming the theft is properly recorded, gets their money back. The loser? TriMet, who has to eat the chargeback. According to Rose, TriMet lost over $85k last year to this scam.
Much of the problem stems from the fact that no ID, PIN number, or other form of security, other than a credit card, is needed to purchase monthly passes at vending machines. TriMet could upgrade the security of its ticketing machines (bank ATMs require PINs and frequently come with cameras, if nothing else to snap pictures of fraudsters that could assist the police in catching them). But according to spokesperson Mary Fetsch, upgrading the ticketing machines to deter this sort of fraud would cost more than what TriMet loses each year. As she put it, "its the cost of doing business".
A better way to put a stop to this, and provide lots of other advantages to passengers--electronic ticketing. If nothing else, it would permit TriMet to revoke fraudulently-purchased passes, so it isn't providing free bus rides--and were TriMet to crack down in this fashion, word would probably get out and there would no longer be a market for stolen passes in the first place.
May 19, 2011
This is kind of interesting. My belief is that in the past, PBOT's decisions about what projects to submit for the Metro Flexible Funds process have been internal. I'm intrigued to see a public input process here.
May 13, 2011 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Transportation bureau announces public meeting to discuss potential bike, pedestrian projects
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Portland Bureau of Transportation will convene a public meeting to receive input on potential applications for federal transportation funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects under Metro's Regional Flexible Funds (RFF) program. The meeting is scheduled for June 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Room B of The Portland Building at 1120 SW Fifth Avenue.
Metro forecasts that $70.7 million in federal Surface Transportation Program and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program funds will be allocated to the Portland region in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. While some of these funds have already been dedicated to construction of rail transit projects or will fund other transportation programs, $22.5 million is available for local projects. Of that amount $16.9 million is designated for Active Transportation and Complete Streets projects, which are projects that add or improve facilities for bicycling and walking and access to transit. Portland will receive approximately $6.6 million of Active Transportation and Complete Streets project funding.
Projects must meet the criteria described in Metro's 2014-15 project nomination process guidelines. These guidelines and further information about the regional allocation process can be downloaded from www.oregonmetro.gov/regionalflexiblefund (also attached).
Beginning in January 2011, City staff has been working with two standing City committees to identify potential projects: the Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Pedestrian Advisory Committee. These committees are comprised of citizens appointed by the Mayor.
City staff has developed five candidate projects based in part on input from the BAC and PAC (attached). At the June 1 meeting, staff will present these projects to a wider audience for consideration and comment. Members of the public will also have the opportunity to suggest alternative projects. On June 17, The City will submit summaries of up to five candidate projects to Metro.
May 18, 2011
The results from yesterday's election are in, and here's how transport and land use issues fared.
- Clackamas County voters rejected the $5 license fee surcharge to replace the Sellwood Bridge, 63-37. Opponents of the levy hailed this as a victory of suburban values over urban ones ("in Clackamas County, we drive cars")--even though the primary users of the new bridge (as well as the current one) would be automobiles. Multnomah County officials stated that they would look at other options, including deleting the big interchange with OR43 on the west end--a design feature which has been roundly criticized, but on which quite a bit of state funding is conditioned.
- Voters in the city of Damascus rejected their comprehensive plan.
- In Washington County, voters in the North Bethany area north of Beaverton approved a permanent tax levy to help fund the area's transportation needs.
Thoughts and comments? In particular, what ought to be next for the Sellwood Bridge replacement?
Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Spring 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Christopher Yake, Senior TOD Project Manager, Metro
Topic: TOD in 3D: How Transit Oriented is the Portland Region?
Abstract: If a two-dimensional picture is worth a 1,000 words, how much more can 3D imagery convey? As part of its recently completed Strategic Plan, Metro's TOD Program in Portland, OR has developed a new GIS -based transit orientation tool to analyze and compare the readiness of its station areas and corridors for higher density mixed-use development. For the purposes of better capturing a more holistic view of the built environment, this innovative measure expands on the 3 "D's" of density, diversity, and design by adopting the 5 "P's" of people, places, physical form, performance and pedestrian/bicycle connectivity. Given the program's interest in catalyzing near-term private development, it goes further to incorporate a strong "market strength" component. In addition to describing the tool and its future implementation, the presentation will demonstrate how the TOD Program developed and used two- and three-dimensional maps and graphics to help convey the complex methodology and findings to a broad audience of policy makers and stakeholders.
Chris is a Senior TOD Project Manager with Metro's TOD Program in Portland, OR. Along with managing public-private development projects near transit, he led the recently completed TOD Strategic Plan and is participating in corridor planning region-wide. Prior to Metro, Chris specialized in TOD in the public and private sectors.
When: Friday, May 20, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
In many public transit circles, a distinction is made between "choice" and "dependent" or ("captive") riders--the latter being those users of transit who don't have other options (particularly the automobile) at their disposal, and the former being those who do. This dichotomy is often criticized, for various reasons, including:
- Its a false dichotomy which does not accurately characterize the complexities of choices available to people. Many people find transit more suitable for some trips and driving for others (and walking for others still), and act accordingly. In addition, there is the matter of the "transit dependent by choice"--those who have the ability (financial and legal) to drive but choose not to own a car, and thus are at the mercy of the local transit authority--are they "choice riders" or not?
- It may encourage inequitable behavior by transit agencies, such as neglecting the needs of dependent riders rather than treating them like valued customers. At a minimum, there is tremendous pressure for transit agencies to focus on attracting new riders, which can lead them to take their existing ones for granted.
- It promotes "auto-normative" thinking and the "desperate or dedicated theory", framing public transit as a manifestly inferior solution--something which is only selected either as a mode of last resort, or one which represents an altruistic sacrifice of some sort on the part of the user. Of course, many public transit offerings are demonstrably inferior to driving (from the point of view of the user)--but in some areas the reverse is true.
And with the last bullet in mind, it is useful (as an intellectual exercise, if nothing else) to invert the usual assumptions---thus this article is about the "two types of motorists": auto-dependent ones, and choice drivers.
The plight of auto-dependency
A dependent driver is one for whom there are no reliable travel options other than the automobile--i.e. one who does not reasonable access to public transit and is forced to drive (or ride in) an automobile to get anywhere, particularly for longer distances for which walking is impractical. A choice driver, on the other hand, is one who has good access to transit, but drives anyway. (There are also the auto-dependent-by-choice; those who could afford to live in transit-friendly places like the Pearl, but instead choose to live in transit-hostile neighborhoods, like, say, Cooper Mountain).
Many of the transit critics who read this blog probably are scoffing right about now, and consider this whole discussion preposterous. Even some transit supporters probably are having a good chuckle right now, and wondering to themselves if there might be medications I forgot to take. And--such auto-normative thinking can be forgiven; especially in the United States. The US has spent the better part of a century promoting the automobile--culturally, economically, and politically--that driving a car is ingrained into most Americans' thinking. And for the linguistically inclined, the word "automobile" contains the Greek stem "auto", meaning self--a prefix also found in other words like "autonomous", "autodidact", and "automatic". To many, having a car means independence, not dependence--it means being able to travel at a time that suits you, rather than at a time that suits the transit agency.
Independent of what?
However, this notion of automotive independence is dependent on a whole lot of things. It's dependent on a massive network of paved roads connecting the vast majority of developed places in the land, as well as quite a few undeveloped locations as well. Without this network of pavement, many types of automobiles would be impractical, as would high-speed travel. It depends, likewise, on a massive fuel distribution infrastructure that provides cheap gas at convenient locations--pipelines and shipping terminals, military force to defend these, refineries, fuel trucks, and gas stations. Were this not there, modern gasoline-powered equipment simply would not run. (Other power sources may still be tractable). And it depends on the existence of other automotive industries--auto parts, towing services, and repair shops, most notably. During the early history of the automobile, it was commonly expected that those who could drive cars should also know how to fix them; it wasn't until a critical mass of automobiles were on the road that professional auto repair became a lucrative industry. (In some parts of the world, this is still the case).
Automobile independence also assumes that one can drive. There are many people who cannot--due to age, physical disability, or having the privilege revoked by society.
That said, the US has, in the vast majority of the country, the necessary infrastructure to make driving convenient. We've got the millions of miles of paved roads, the gas stations and pipelines and refineries and fleet of tanker trucks. We've got car dealerships and repair shops in every town, and the world's biggest military. And we've got an aggressive lobby that makes sure none of this is threatened.
The economics of getting places
The economics of transit vs the economics of auto ownership also play a part. Driving a car has several barriers to entry: You have to be able to afford the up-front capital costs to buy one (or qualify for financing)--even clunkers aren't cheap--and you have to be able to license and insure yourself (or else break the law). Many of the costs associated with automobile use are fixed--if you have a car, you pay for insurance, license fees, taxes, and a good part of the depreciation regardless of whether you drive it or not. Car-sharing services can mitigate the expense somewhat, but not completely. Transit, on the other hand, has a very low barrier to entry for users--you only pay for what you use; and most systems provide volume discounts to frequent riders of some sort or another. Thus, its a lot easier to be priced out of car ownership than it is to be priced off the bus. Unless, there is no bus.
That was now. This is later
With all that said, there are very good reasons to be concerned about maintaining the automobile infrastructure into the future; and very good reasons why auto dependence is a problem for the poor today.
The Portland area has, over the years, seen a shift in poverty from inner-city neighborhoods to neighborhoods further flung out. It wasn't that long ago that inner neighborhoods like Albina had bad reputations (partially due to legitimate crime and poverty statistics, partially due to racist attitudes)--nowadays, the poor are more likely to be found in places like Rockwood, Aloha, King City, or south of Lents. Close-in real estate is generally expensive in Portland. And the denser parts of town are where the best transit service is. Rockwood and other parts of SE are reasonably well-served by transit (with MAX lines and parallel frequent service lines); but some of the poor neighborhoods in Washington and Clackamas Countys are not. And looking beyond the region--quite a bit of poverty to be found in the country is in rural areas, where transit (even of the bare-bones variety) simply does not exist. In many of these places, people are truly auto-dependent--there is no other option.
And if you're poor, owning an automobile is an expensive proposition. A 2003 study by the Surfact Transportation Policy Project found that on average, Americans spend 20% of the household budget on transportation; a figure that for the poor, balloons to over 40%. And this was nearly a decade ago, well before the days of $4/gallon gas. The study also found that a major contributor to transportation expense was sprawl--denser cities had lower transportation costs that sprawled-out ones. A report in California found that poor families who drove spent 19% of their budget on transportation, whereas poor families which used transit only spent 2% of their budgets on transportation. And a recent report based on data released by the Oil Price Information Service shows that fuel costs are approaching 9% of the average household budget.
If you live in area without transit service, this is like an additional tax, and a regressive one at that.
Obviously, active transportation (walking, biking, etc.) is another alternative. Most of us can walk, and many who can't afford automobiles can afford bicycles (which do not need fueling). But the areas in which one is most likely to find auto-dependency, are frequently areas which are inhospitable to pedestrians and cyclists: rural communities with narrow roads and no sidewalks; suburbs where the distance from the home to even the most basic services is measured in miles; and places with busy and dangerous highways. In some parts of the country, there remains political and cultural resistance to active transport--bikers (other than children), in particular, are perceived as weirdos who have no business being on the roads. In many auto-dependent neighborhoods, one finds a double-whammy: no transit, and biking/walking are simply not resonable alternatives. (The transit-dependent are more likely to have good human-powered options available).
And my fear is--things are going to get worse. A big reason I'm a transit supporter is not because I'm hostile to cars (I do drive; though my household is a low-mileage one); but because I'm terrified that sooner or later, the US is going to get the stool kicked out from underneath it. Not by domestic policies demanded by the local green crowd; but by continually rising oil prices (as production gets more difficult, and emerging powers such as China and Brazil start to drive more and increase their thirst for oil), and a decaying infrastructure that we seem to have more and more trouble maintaining. And that's ignoring the environmental consequences of fossil fuels. The nation is dependent on cheap oil, and my suspicion is that this dependency will come back to bite us hard.
For those of us who live in areas with good quality transit, the transition will be painful (oil prices affect all sectors of the economy, not just personal transport), but the pain will be mitigated. But for the unfortunate auto-dependent motorists, it will be quite a shock.
And then this post won't seem so ridiculous after all.
May 17, 2011
A recent Brookings Institute report puts Portland at the 12th best transit city in the U.S. This has gotten a lot of local media play because it contrasts with a recent popular media publication that put us first (more than a few of us were skeptical about that, if happy to accept the accolade).
But more interesting is that Brookings measures some interesting things. For example, nationally 30% of jobs in major metros were found to be accessible by transit within 90 minutes (thanks to Portland Afoot for that pointer).
Portland's profile shows that we do better - about 40% of jobs.
But some of the other data in the profile is also very interesting. On all three measures: coverage, frequency and access, Portland does better by low-income neighborhoods than it does for high-income neighborhoods. This essentially confirms the core conclusion of our own Transit Equity analysis based on Transit Score.
Not of course that we shouldn't strive to do better on all measures.
May 16, 2011
OTREC is pleased to welcome Jim Gattis, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Arkansas, to give a special seminar at Portland State University on Tuesday, May 17th at 3pm. (Learn more about Dr. Gattis and his upcoming visit to OSU and PSU from OTREC's news story.)
What: Free seminar/webinar, "Driveway Design: Lessons from an NCHRP Project"
When: Tuesday, May 17th, 3pm
Who: Dr. Jim Gattis, University of Arkansas
Where: Portland State Engineering Building (1930 SW 4th Ave), Room 315 ("ITS Lab")
Webcast: mms://18.104.22.168:1800 or stream 2 (requires windows media player)
When roadway designers mention driveways, they are usually referring to the area of the driveway near its connection with the main roadway. The design of these driveway connections may seem rather insignificant in the overall scheme of things. However, past studies have reported that between 10 and 20% of all urban roadway collisions are related to driveways. Along urban arterial roadways, research has shown that the frequency of driveways affects both the crash rates and traffic flow quality. Clearly, the design of driveways can affect safety, mobility, and trip quality.
During the NCHRP 15-35 research project, the research team synthesized findings from previous studies and conducted new field research to provide a basis for the recently-published Guide for the Geometric Design of Driveways. This presentation explains some of these findings that have a practical application for roadway design engineers.
May 11, 2011
A few months ago, Portland Transport did an article on the TriMet board of directors, the not-very-conspicuous septet which oversee Oregon's largest transit agency, and to whom GM Neil McFarlane reports. Today, we turn to arguably five of the most powerful transportation officials in the state, the Oregon Transportation Commission. Bike Portland did a similar article in 2009, but many of the faces on the commission have changed since then, so it's time for a refresher.
So who are the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC), and what exactly do they do?
Who are the OTC?
According to the commission's website:
The Oregon Transportation Commission establishes state transportation policy. The commission also guides the planning, development and management of a statewide integrated transportation network that provides efficient access, is safe, and enhances Oregon's economy and livability. The commission meets monthly to oversee Department of Transportation activities relating to highways, public transportation, rail, transportation safety, motor carrier transportation, and drivers and motor vehicles.
The governor appoints five commissioners, ensuring that different geographic regions of the state are represented. One member must live east of the Cascade Range; no more than three can belong to one political party.
The commission is defined by law in ORS 184.612-613:
184.612 Oregon Transportation Commission; confirmation; qualifications; term; compensation and expenses. (1) There is established the Oregon Transportation Commission consisting of five members appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate pursuant to section 4, Article III, Oregon Constitution. The Governor shall appoint members of the commission in compliance with all of the following:
(a) Members shall be appointed with consideration of the different geographic regions of the state with one member being a resident of the area east of the Cascade Range.
(b) Not more than three members shall belong to one political party. Party affiliation shall be determined by the appropriate entry on official election registration cards.
(2) The term of office of each member is four years. Before the expiration of the term of a member, the Governor shall appoint a successor whose term begins on July 1 next following. A member is eligible for reappointment. In case of a vacancy for any cause, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill the office for the unexpired term.
(3) A member of the commission is entitled to compensation and expenses as provided by ORS 292.495. [1973 c.249 §3; 1981 c.545 §3; 1983 c.428 §1]
184.613 Officers; quorum; meetings; effect of vacancy; seal. (1) The Governor shall appoint one of the commissioners as chairperson, and another as vice chairperson. The chairperson and vice chairperson shall have such terms, duties and powers as the Oregon Transportation Commission determines are necessary for the performance of such offices.
(2) A majority of the members of the commission constitutes a quorum for the transaction of business.
(3) The commission shall meet at least once a month, at a time and place determined by the commission. The commission shall also meet at such other times and places as are specified by the call of the chairperson or of a majority of the commission.
(4) No vacancy shall impair the right of the remaining commissioners to exercise all the powers of the commission, except that three members of the commission must agree in the selection, vacation or abandonment of state highways, and in case the commissioners are unable to agree the Governor shall have the right to vote as a member of the commission.
(5) The commission may provide an official seal. [1973 c.249 §§4,9; 1979 c.293 §1]
Unlike the TriMet board of directors, whose members serve at the Governor's pleasure and may be fired, transportation commissioners once duly appointed are entitled to serve out their terms.
The current commission
Currently, four of the five seats on the Commission are filled. Official biographies of the commissioners can be found here. The chair of the commission is Gail Achterman, who has a background in environmental law and economics. Her term ends in 2012; she has served three terms on the commission already. The vice-chair is Michael Nelson, who has a professional career in real estate, and has previously served in the Oregon Legislature (from north-central Oregon). Nelson's term expires this June. The third commissioner is David Lohman, an attorney with a public policy background. Lohman's term is up in 2013. Finally, Mary Olson is an accountant who runs a financial services firm, and who until recently also served as a commissioner for the Port of Portland. Her term expires in 2013. The fifth commissioner was Alan Brown, a tire dealer who previously served in the legislature and chaired the House Committee on Transportation, as well as previously serving on the Port of Newport board of commissioners; Brown resigned his commission in March and a replacement has not yet been named.
Is this the right mix?
The Oregon Transportation Commission is important because they essentially oversee ODOT--the Oregon Department of Transportation. While the ODOT Director is a gubernatorial appointee (one who serves at the governor's pleasure), his/her duties are limited to an administrative role--major policy decisions are the responsibility of the Commission. The commission is designed (with staggered terms, the requirement for at least one Central/Easteron Oregon representative, and limits on political party membership) to be somewhat resistant to partisan politics.
One thing that isn't required, however, is knowledge about land use or transportation. Some of the current commisioners have practical experience in land use and transportation (beyond serving on other boards or commissions), but several of them do not. Some of the professional backgrounds currently or previously on the commission could suggest a bias towards automobile-based transport and/or low-density land uses.
Governor Kitzhaber has the opportunity to appoint two new members to the commission in the next several months, as Vice-Chair Nelson's term expires next month, and one seat is vacant. Nelson is a Democrat, and Brown was a Republican, so at least one of the new appointees cannot be from the Democratic Party (and the state legislature would probably not approve any minor-party candidates--tempting as it might be to circumnavigate the bipartisan requirement by nominating a Green, for instance). Who--or what kind of candidate--should be appointed to fill these two posts?
May 10, 2011
So here's a paradox. In Portland we attempt to build Transit-oriented Development near Light Rail stations. But the LRT corridors often parallel freeways (both because that's where the demand is, and because we often find right-of-way we can use next to freeways).
As a result, these developments are often near freeway interchanges. But the "Transportation Planning Rule" (TPR for short) often restricts our ability to build near interchanges, in an attempt to protect the capacity of freeways for longer trips. The TRP does not do a good job of recognizing that a lot of the demand for travel will be accommodated by transit.
According to this note from our Eugene correspondent, Rob Zako (via the OTRAN list), it appears that the Land Conservation and Development Commissions and Oregon Transportation Commission may be getting ready to tackle this:
Dear OTRAN friends,
Another important round of changes is statewide transportation policy is getting underway. The following information is taken from the report referenced below.
The Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) and the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) established a joint subcommittee in response to concerns from local governments and others, and a recognition that existing rules and plans are having unintended consequences. Specifically, the interaction of Section 0060 of the Transportation Planning Rule (TPR) with the mobility standards in the Oregon Highway Plan (OHP) can complicate the local process to balance multiple objectives. These objectives include economic development, compact urban development and the need for additional transportation infrastructure to keep highways functioning, which brings benefits to the state overall and especially to traded‐sector business activity. The discussion about balancing, clarifying and streamlining TPR 0060 and OHP mobility standards was organized around three questions:
(1) Whether to initiate formal rulemaking on OAR 660-012-0060 and/or whether to request that the OTC consider amending related provisions of the Oregon Highway Plan.
The committee recommends that LCDC initiate rulemaking on TPR 0060 (OAR 66‐12‐0060). The committee recommends that OTC initiate amendments to the mobility standards in the OHP and associated guidance documents (e.g. OHP Mobility Standard Guidelines).
(2) What are the highest priority issues that should be addressed?
The committee recommends that the topics listed below be included in the scope for an initial phase (approximately 6 months) of amendments. Including a topic on the list does not indicate that the committee has reached a conclusion on the merits of any specific proposed amendment, but rather that the committee believes it is an important and potentially fruitful topic to pursue. The topics are divided into two categories based on whether it would be primarily addressed through the TPR or through the OHP; however, many topics will involve both TPR and OHP.
A. TPR Amendments
A1. Exempt rezonings consistent with comprehensive plan map designations
A2. Practical mitigation for economic development projects
A3. Exempt upzonings in urban centers
A4. Address traffic at time of urban growth boundary (UGB) expansion
A5. Technical clarifications: transportation system plan (TSP) update and multiple planning periods
B. OHP Amendments & Guidance Documents
B1. Exempt proposals with small increase in traffic
B2. Use average trip generation, not reasonable worst case
B3. Streamline alternate mobility standard development
B4. Corridor or area mobility standards
B5. Standardize a policy framework for considering measures other than volume to capacity ratios (v/c)
(3) How should the process be structured to recognize the joint authority of LCDC and OTC concerning these issues?
The committee recommends that these two lists be addressed in parallel coordinated processes with several check‐in points, including further meetings of the committee. Draft amendments would go to the respective bodies for formal hearings with a target date of December 2011.
In particular, LCDC will need to appoint a rulemaking advisory committee (RAC) consisting of 12-15 members representing a wide range of interests including:
* City planners (a variety of sizes and regions)
* County planners
* Metropolitan planning organizations
* Advocacy organizations
* Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee (CIAC)
* Small business representative (especially important for the fiscal impact statement)
* State agencies: DLCD, ODOT, Business Oregon
The RAC would be chaired by an LCDC commissioner. The RAC would meet monthly to prepare draft amendments and to review the fiscal impact statement.
For more info, see:
May 9, 2011
Nice piece on NPR Sunday that suggests that we may have reached 'peaked gasoline' (i.e., peak demand for gasoline) in the U.S. as folks make alternative choices (even as the economy comes back, gasoline use is not tracking upward with the economy).
However, worldwide demand continues to rise because of the appetite in developing countries (India, China, etc.), so pressure on prices is likely to continue.
May 5, 2011
I can't say I have a lot of love for folks who attempt to use the initiative system to limit the role of government. I cut my teeth in statewide politics a decade ago working to oppose measures by anti-tax activists that would have gutted critical services.
But now here is Tim Eyman, Washington State's answer to Bill Sizemore, but with a bent for transportation, pushing an initiative to prohibit variable tolling, which could be one more source of heartburn for the Columbia River Crossing.
Sigh... but I don't think I'll bite. Just as I wouldn't really want to ally with anti-transit activists in Clark County, I don't think this is the way to take down the CRC. There are too many good reasons to change it.
Besides, I don't really think of myself as an 'enemy' of the CRC, I see myself more as the 'loyal opposition'.
May 4, 2011
Listen to the show (mp3, 26.5MB)
Tori and Michelle interview Sue Macy, Author of Wheels of Change, How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) and Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza, editor of Cycling - Philosophy for Everyone: A Philosophical Tour de Force. Both books are available as premiums in KBOO's pledge drive.
Last post we were being asked, now someone is going to explain it to us:
Center for Transportation Studies
Spring 2011 Transportation Seminar Series
Speaker: Robert Schneider, UC Berkeley
Topic: How Do People Choose a Travel Mode? Factors Associated with Routine Walking & Bicycling
Abstract: Walking and bicycling are being promoted as transportation options that can increase the livability and sustainability of communities, but the automobile remains the dominant mode of transportation in all United States metropolitan regions. In order to change travel behavior, researchers and practitioners need a greater understanding of the mode choice decision process, especially for walking and bicycling.
This presentation will summarize dissertation research on factors associated with walking and bicycling for routine travel purposes, such as shopping. More than 1,000 retail pharmacy store customers were surveyed in 20 San Francisco Bay Area shopping districts in fall 2009, and 26 follow-up interviews were conducted in spring and summer 2010. Mixed logit models showed that walking was associated with shorter travel distances, higher population densities, more street tree canopy coverage, and greater enjoyment of walking. Bicycling was associated with shorter travel distances, more bicycle facilities, more bicycle parking, and greater enjoyment of bicycling. Respondents were more likely to drive when they perceived a high risk of crime, but automobile use was discouraged by higher employment densities, smaller parking lots, and metered on-street parking. Interviews suggested a five-step theory of how people choose travel modes. Walking and bicycling could be promoted within each step: awareness and availability (through individual/social marketing programs), basic safety and security (through pedestrian and bicycle facility improvements and education and enforcement efforts), convenience (through higher-density, mixed land uses and limited automobile parking), enjoyment (through street trees and supportive culture), and habit (through roadway and parking pricing).
When: Friday, May 6, 2011, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: PSU Urban Center Building, SW 6th and Mill, Room 204
May 3, 2011
May 2, 2011
It appears that the Governors are serious about moving the Columbia River Crossing forward, but I still don't see it happening until they pin down local match commitments from the respective legislatures.
Meanwhile the folks at Third Bridge Now tell me they have been busy lobbying at the Oregon Legislature with their alternative vision.
PIPTA (the Pacific Intermountain Parking and Transportation Association - I understand why they use the acronym) are holding their annual conference in Vancouver, USA in July.
They've just issued their call for presentations. You've got until May to shape up your ideas.
May 1, 2011
As a new month begins, so must a new open thread.
To get the ball rolling, this morning's Oregonian has a front page article on the changing faces (and races) of inner north-northeast Portland, mainly along the MLK Jr. corridor north of downtown. In 1990, Portland's population of non-whites was mainly concentrated in the corridor. Today, much of Portland's African-American population has been further north and east; and Washington County has seen a significant influx of Latino immigrants, with a particularly heavy concentrations around Hillsboro, Cornelius, and Forest Grove. The Latino communities seem to be mostly new arrivals to the region, but the shift of (generally poor) blacks from traditionally-African American neighborhoods like Albina to places like Rockwood, ought to give pause. Gentrification has most certainly come to North/Northeast Portland, and many people who used to live there cannot afford to live there any more.
What role transit, or other infrastructure improvements, have in this is hard to discern. The Yellow Line did open on the western edge of the region in 2004, but most of the neighborhood in question is cut off from MAX by the freeway.
But this is the Open Thread, so feel free to discuss any relevant topic you like!