August 30, 2011
Last week we mentioned that the Columbia River Crossing had lowered its cost estimate.
Our correspondent Joe Cortright read the fine print on the document involved (the Cost Estimate Validation Report - PDF, 1M) and found a few interesting tidbits:
Why do they put this out on a Friday afternoon, the slowest news period of the week? Well, because when you read more closely, you'll see that it now appears that the CRC will not be done until 2021 or 2022--if all the funding comes in as planned.
Also, this announced budget savings make no allowance for funding delays. A one-year delay, by their estimate would cost $57 million, which would erase a majority of the newly announced cost savings.
Funding could easily be delayed, but their worst case scenario is a maximum one-year delay in getting funding from states and feds, and claim there's a 90% chance Vancouver voters will approve the CTRAN tax increase at the election in November 2012. So they essentially don't have an estimate of how long it takes if the delay is longer, or one of the things doesn't show up at all, or if they get less money than the full-meal-deal.
They also haven't allowed for a delay in getting tolling approved: See the following from p.85 of the PDF. They think there's a 75% chance they'll get the WA Legislature to approve tolling.
Excluded - funding risks being modeled as separate scenarios. Expect FHWA will grant tolling authority if State approves because it's just for the main bridge (minor risk). WSDOT will pursue tolling authority during the 2012 legislature (ends March 2012). Tolling authoirty will be critical to pursue Federal funding (1/3 of project funding), however, Legislators will be uncomfortable granting tolling authority (which will provide the required 1/3 local funding) unless other funding mechanisms are in place for CRC. Federal piece won't come without state funding. Five of nine local (Clark County) legislators oppose tolling. Significant risk that tolling won't be approved in Washington. AUthority to toll already exists in Oregon.
They are now anticipating a legal challenge to the FEIS. They think that a successful appeal that required a supplemental DEIS would produce a only a 12 month delay. They think there is only a 10% chance that the the NEPA challenge would be successful See page 90 of the PDF
Increase risk. Recent interaction with PEAC and parties involved with bridge type selection push the likelihood of challenge is almost 100%. The likelihood of a delay resulting from the challenge depends on the outcome from this set of potential (mutually- exclusive) outcomes: A) 10% chance that challenge leads to supplemental EIS delaying Activity 4 by 12 months at cost of $1.6M / month (i.e., $19M); B) 70% chance of no supplemental EIS (no delay) but cost to fight challenge of $200-300k/month for 12 months (i.e., $3M); or C) 20% chance that there is no cost or schedule delay.
They've also made no allowance for the effects of the latest Tim Eyman ballot measure -- up in November, that would ban variable tolling, and according to the WA Treasurer, make it impossible to sell toll backed bonds.
August 29, 2011
August 26, 2011
Keeping you up-to-date on the latest goings on with the Columbia River Crossing:
1) The project team has issued a press release indicating they've shaved $100M from the cost estimated based on design refinements. The cost estimate is now $3.5B rather than $3.6B. I feel so much better...
2) Congressman Earl Blumenauer signed on to a "Green Scissors" report suggesting a number of wasteful projects that could be eliminated or curtailed, including the CRC. He left some wiggle room however, indicating that he did not necessarily agree that every project on this list was appropriately included.
3) First there was WikiLeaks, then there was OpenLeaks.... There is now... wait for it... a CRC Leaks site.
August 24, 2011
This announcement from the City has drawn some ire in active transportation circles:
Green street construction will close bicycle lanes and sidewalks on NE 122nd Avenue between NE Fremont and NE Shaver. Construction starts tomorrow (Tuesday, August 23) and will last about ten weeks. The work will also close on-street parking spaces in the construction zone.
At least one observer has suggested that any reasonable alternative bike/ped route takes you at least a mile out of your way.
Surely we can do better?
A couple of recent and very insightful reports on transportation equity:
- Brookings has analyzed transit access among households that don't have access to cars and in some places it's not very pretty (but maybe not so bad here).
- Another report (PDF, 361K) looks at some of the same data an analyzes it on a racial and ethnic basis and finds some big disparities.
August 23, 2011
Last week we had a significant achievement for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Portland City Council approved a $2M application to Metro for Federal Flexible Funds to seed a bike sharing program, one the key strategic objectives of the BTA.
But this didn't happen easily. The bike sharing proposal was part of a package of four projects also including access improvements in East Portland, a highly-rated freight project (the Metro criteria insist on a percentage for freight) and safety improvements on Foster Blvd.
Two other projects fell below the cut-line: initial funding for the Sullivan's Gulch trail and a package of sidewalk improvements on Barbur Blvd.
Advocates for both these projects argued forcefully that the excluded projects were a higher priority than the bike sharing project. In particular, a coalition of public health and pedestrian advocates argued that the equity goals of the Metro process were more strongly served by the Barbur project.
As I testified at Council (while supporting the bike sharing application), all 6 projects are worthy - there are no dogs here - all of these are important needs. But this situation was unusual in a couple of ways:
1) We don't often face multiple active transportation projects being so explicitly pitted against each other.
2) I can't recall a prior time when active transportation advocates were not all in strong alignment.
I suspect this is a learning moment in the maturation of active transportation advocacy here in Portland.
Fortunately City Council, in the form of an amendment from Commissioner Nick Fish, provided a funding path for the two excluded projects and everyone left mostly happy (exactly how that funding will come about is still not entirely clear).
But what about the core of the question? Is a bike sharing system (launching in the Central City) less equitable or less important than sidewalk improvements in neighborhoods with substandard infrastructure?
And is equity the only value we need to be striving for?
I'm a big fan of innovation. In an era of diminished resources, we have to figure out how to do things differently - more efficiently - better. Bike sharing is an example of doing things differently. It has the opportunity to transform how we make short trips and make transportation more economical and efficient for many users.
Very often when we innovate in transportation, we do it in the Central City and inner neighborhoods where we have the highest density and therefor the greatest likelihood of success. This has been the pattern with Streetcar as one example (and I hope, and am working hard to ensure that, Streetcar will soon break out of the Central City).
So is it not appropriate to spend some portion of our investments on innovation? By Commissioner Fish's reckoning, some 70% of the funding allocated on Wednesday was being spent in the outer neighborhoods.
And what kind of equity are we measuring? Geographic equity is one factor. And redressing past underinvestment an entirely valid priority.
But the Central City also houses some of the lowest income people in the City (and paradoxically some of the highest - but very few in between). If we can make sure the bike sharing program is accessible to our lower income residents (Can we make it cheaper than a TriMet monthly pass? I suspect so!), then it seems to me that we've gone a ways to address income-based equity.
Let's keep the big picture in focus, and try not to fight amongst ourselves.
August 22, 2011
One of the 'promises' of the Columbia River Crossing project is that it would not cannibalize funding for other projects in the region. The idea was that this was a "project of national significance" and Congress would provide dedicated funding for the Federal component above and beyond our usual allocation.
But as we noted when analyzing the State Treasurer's presentation to the Governor on the CRC finance plan, there was an allusion to using "GARVEE" bonds, to be repaid from future Federal funds.
Now our friend and correspondent Joe Cortright has been closely reading the draft of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and came across this section:
Section 4.3.1 of the Finance Plan, (page 4-7). It lists
"Federal Revenue and Financing Options"
> 40 Federal Formula Funds
> 41 ODOT, WSDOT, C-TRAN, TriMet, Portland's Metro Regional Government
> 42 (Metro), and the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council
> 43 (RTC) receive transportation funding from a variety of federal formula grant
> 44 programs. In an urban area, the metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs)
> 45 program these funds to specific eligible uses. In the Portland-Vancouver region,
> 46 this is accomplished through Metro's or RTC's Metropolitan Transportation
> 47 Improvement Program (MTIP) processes. State and federal funds are also
> 48 programmed in ODOT's and WSDOT's State Transportation Improvement
> 49 Programs (STIPs). While federal formula funds potentially could be used
> 50 for the CRC project, many of these funds are currently programmed for
> 51 other uses, and the finance plan for the CRC project does not anticipate
> 52 reprogramming of these funds.
While this makes it sound like CRC won't get formula funds, a careful reading shows that it says almost the opposite:
"many funds are currently programmed" and CRC "does not anticipate reprogramming these funds."
What this means is that they won't seek to reprogram currently programmed funds, but they could easily ask for for future and and as yet unprogrammed formula funding.
So in short, if your program has already got a commitment for Federal funds, fine. Otherwise all of the remaining portion of Oregon's share of Federal gas tax revenue could be hoovered up by the CRC.
August 17, 2011
The Columbia River Crossing project today announced the receipt of two grants (one through ODOT, the other through WashDOT) totaling $5M:
CRC received the award available under the Interstate Maintenance Discretionary (IMD) Program with a $2 million grant to the Washington State Department of Transportation and a $3 million grant to the Oregon Department of Transportation. A total of $100 million was available to be awarded nationwide under the IMD program and priority was given to projects with high traffic volumes in urban areas.
I'm not sure whether to be glad it's not local money or in despair that the money pit seems boundless...
August 16, 2011
A number of months ago I signed on to a letter in support of using several million dollars from the regional share of Federal flexible transportation dollars to help jump start a bike sharing system in Portland.
And although a number of friends and organizations that I'm normally allied with are questioning that priority, I'm still very much in favor.
It does pain me that the Barbur Streetscape proposal is currently below the cut line for Portland's submission to this round of funding. I bike on Barbur regularly as part of my bike/transit commute to Wilsonville and am well aware of the deficiencies in the corridor. I've volunteered to be the Planning Commission's point person for the Barbur Concept Plan because I know how important this is. But the sad reality is that there simply aren't yet enough dollars to support all the good projects we have.
So why bike share? A long list of reasons:
- In other cities, it has proven transformative. From Paris to London to Washington D.C. adoption is very strong and changes people's travel patterns.
- It improves safety - evidence is mounting that riding a bikeshare bike is safer than riding your own bike
- It's a balanced funding package. The proposed submission by City Council would include a package of projects in East Portland, safety improvements on Foster Rd. and a freight project in North Portland that fits into an overall transportation plan that makes neighborhood corridors safer. This does NOT overbalance toward the Central City.
- The Central City needs it - it's the "hole in the donut" in terms of bike usage. The surrounding neighborhoods have much higher bike mode share than downtown does.
- It helps the Central City economy and transportation strategy. Over the next twenty years we hope to increase the number of trips in and into the Central City by 50% to maintain its role as the center of our region. That obviously can't be done in automobiles, they simply wouldn't fit. Cycling options are much less expensive than transit investments to move us toward this goal.
- I strongly believe in making transportation options easy to use. My Transit Appliance project is all about making it easier to use transit. Bike sharing makes it easy to ride even if you didn't bring a bike with you.
- It leverages private dollars. The $2M requested would be matched by $2M in private funding.
- It leverages our existing $250M investment in Streetcar (and much more in MAX). Once the Streetcar Loop is completed, we'll have a carbon-free transit loop around the Central City, intersected on the points of the compass by MAX service. Bike sharing becomes the way to move between the stations on those networks easily in a carbon-free manner. With all those options, there's very little reason to drive a car in the Central City.
I could go on, and I probably will at City Council tomorrow...
Saturday I joined about 100 other local electeds, planners, advocates and policy wonks for the 7th Annual "Visionaries Voyage" (also known in the past as the Policymakers Ride). This is a yearly bike ride that visits regional open spaces and natural areas and explores existing and potential trail network opportunities. In recent years this has been a focal point for Metro's Intertwine effort (now spun off as an independent non-profit).
Since my regular bike trips our generally restricted to about a five-mile radius, the 30-mile trip from Hillsboro to Dundee (passing parts of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge) was a bit intimidating.
So I rented a Giant e-bike from The e-bike Store. About two years ago I blogged about my experience with an throttle-controlled e-bike. This bike was a "pedal assist" bike that essentially amplifies the amount of force you apply to the pedals.
I was very comfortably able to keep up with the main body of riders (despite some reasonable hills on the route), rather than keeping company with the sweep rider.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I was one of at least three e-bike riders on the trip (including one local mayor).
This affirms my belief that e-bikes are going to continue to develop as an effective transportation tool that allows bicycle users of a variety of levels of ability and fitness to extend their range and cover terrain that they would not be able to on a non-powered bike.
August 15, 2011
So how much longer will we keep spending millions per month planning something that shouldn't, and perhaps more relevantly, can't, be built?
What needs to happen now is:
- Amend the project purpose and need statement to retain the elements that are truly important:
- Reliable freight mobility
- Improved transportation choices for people
- Return to the DEIS phase
- Re-evaluate options based on:
- Realistic demand models
- Least-cost planning
The question now is which leader or leaders are going to step up and have the fortitude to insist on this?
August 12, 2011
A study in Vancouver, B.C. found that merchants perceived that a much higher percentage of customers arrive via auto than actually do.
Obviously this will vary tremendously by type of business (Jiffy Lube probably doesn't get much walk-in business), but this matches my own experience in doing neighborhood transportation advocacy. Merchants tend to cling stubbornly to modal policies that may not actually serve them best.
August 10, 2011
Our friends at Cascade Policy Institute have been busy, with a letter being sent to House Transportation chair John Mica (R-FL) asking that funding for Milwaukie Light Rail be deleted from future federal appropriations. While Mica and the GOP is known to be targeting discretionary funding, including infrastructure, as part of budget cutting exercises, whether the House would attempt to "reverse-earmark" a specific project (blocking appropriations for it via legislation, rather than simply reducing FTA budgets and letting the FTA figure out where to make cuts) is unknown. One suspects that Mica gets plenty of similar letters from engaged partisans all over the country, asking him to promote or quash a wide variety of projects.
More interesting, though, is the letter that Cascade sent to Governor John Kitzhaber--asking the gov to support an alternate, low-cost plan for transit in the corridor. The plan is detailed here; but includes the following items:
- Finish the new bridge over the Willamette River
- Cancel the light rail portion
- Connect the streetcar loop
- Offer more "express" bus service to Milwaukie
CPI thinks that this will cost about $300 million or so, the bulk of which is the cost of the new bridge, freeing up a bunch of money for "other projects".
The projected cost of the bridge is indeed in the $300M range, if memory serves me, though I suspect "completing the loop" will cost more than couch change. Having the bridge would improve bus operations downtown even if no light rail ran across it. However, I can't imagine this idea meeting FTA cost-effectiveness critera--the MOUS for Milwaukie MAX only removes the Park Avenue section. (OTOH, were a project to be paid for out of local funds only, then the MOUS is irrelevant and the project can be whatever the region wants it to be).
Obviously, more runs of the 99 aren't really a replacement for light rail (or vice versa); express bus and rapid transit (whether rail or bus) are two different services which provide two different functions. I've long been open to the concept of BRT in the corridor--given the lack of a strong anchor in the Milwaukie area, and the "funneling" effect the river has on the perpendicular bus service, a good quality open BRT line (which, to me, means more than a space-age looking bus with a distinctive paint job and the occasional signal override) would make an attractive option in the corridor, particularly if it could reach Oregon City instead of Milwaukie. (And express busses can use a busway to provide more reliable service than the 99 barreling down McLoughlin; one advantage of bus over rail is that it is far easier for express vehicles to pass locals). Of course, replacing light rail with BRT--something which was considered early on in the South Corridor Project, then dropped when the city of Milwaukie expressed a preference for light rail--would require significant more planning work.
The public process of the Southwest Corridor project is moving along, with publication of a project fact sheet, and the designation of committee stakeholders. The fact sheet is the more interesting bit, given that it comes with this map showing the corridor area (map courtesy Metro):
As you can see, in addition to the "obvious" areas close to OR 99W, the study area includes Washington Square, Lake Grove, and Durham/Bridgeport; however it does not include Tualatin, other than the northwest corner of the city.
August 9, 2011
John Charles at CPI is now demanding an apology from Metro councilors Burkholder and Collette, on the grounds that the two , in public testimony, suggested that CPI is receiving funding from the (cue scary music) Koch brothers.
In testimony offered before JPACT last July, Burkholder stated the following:
My understanding is that it was brought up by John Charles of Cascade Policy Institute. And the stories I've heard is that they've received a significant boost in funding from the Koch brothers, a wealthy set of people who are funding climate denial kind of actions and anti-transit and anti-urban redevelopment issues, and so they have significant numbers of staff people who are out there fanning the flames and providing misinformation...
Charles denies the claim concerning Koch funding, stating that CPI has "received not one penny" from the brothers Koch--although admitting that Cascade has two interns on staff who are so-called "Koch fellows", being paid by the Institute for Humane Studies, a DC-based libertarian think tank that happens to have one Charles Koch serving as chairman of its board of directors. (The last detail was left out by CPI).
Of course, CPI doesn't disclose who its donors are, so we'll have to take it at its word that Koch money isn't funding its activities--keeping in mind that money is the most fungible commodity out there.
Charles goes further to object to the part about "fanning the flames and providing misinformation", calling it a "serious charge". Whether or not the output of CPI constitutes "misinformation" or not I'll let others decide--but the fact of the matter is that CPI is, essentially, a lobbying organization. Fanning the flames is its raison d'etre; it's what it does. It's what it is paid to do, ignoring the question of who happens to providing it funding. People and organizations give Cascade Policy Institute money in order to aid and support its agenda. CPI receives money precisely because its funding sources hope that CPI will have an influence on public policy, and CPI attempts to do so on several fronts, including both public testimony and published articles. And given that CPI has been in operation for a while now, and continues to receive funding, one might suspect that its donors believe that it is successful in these endeavors.
BogartClaude Rains in Casablanca--I'm shocked, shocked to find lobbying going on in this establishment!
Without irony, however, CPI then goes on to complain about Metro's Opt-In panel as follows:
It is certainly true that Metro suffers from a lack of diversity, but that problem will not be solved by internet polling or offering small bribes to groups to receive "free surveys" of their memberships. The problem will only be solved when the Metro Council recognizes how severe the group-think mentality has become, and includes contrarian voices in meaningful conversations at the decision-making level.
Small bribes? Unless Charles is referring to $50 gift card drawing that Metro used to encourage participation in Opt-In, I have no idea what he is talking about--perhaps it's Charles who has some 'splainin' to do. The suggestion that a public agency is soliciting bribes (even small ones) sounds to me to be a more serious accusation than the suggestion that a lobbyist organization is engaging in (gasp) lobbying. At any rate, Metro has been rather circumspect in its desire for greater diversity in Opt-In.
Here at Portland Transport, we take pride in fanning the flames a bit as well, albeit in the other direction. There's nothing wrong with having opinions and trying to influence public debate, and I don't begrudge Charles or CPI for participating in public process. It's their constitutional right, and I encourage it. We are proud of who we are, and our biases are stated front and center here. However, if CPI is going to engage in this role, it ought to a) own up to it and be proud of it, and abandon the ridiculous pretense that it is neutral; and b) not be surprised (or outraged) when public officials push back.
OK, this is staged... but here's a public service announcement from the city of Vilnius, Lithuania, encouraging motorists not to park in bike lanes.
Can you imagine Sam Adams driving that APC? :)
A post at Sightline looks at comparative taxis per capita, and taxi fares. Portland has a relatively low number of cabs per person, and relatively high fares.
Would we benefit from looser restrictions on the number of taxis in Portland? How would we arrive at the optimal number? Do we need a limit at all? How might removing the limit change the transportation picture here?
August 7, 2011
An Associated Press story goes into an issue the Oregonian as studiously ignored - no one wants to pay for the Columbia River crossing. The article, which has appeared in the Seattle PI and on the KATU site includes skeptical remarks from Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio:
"I would say that there is a very, very, very, very grim prospect for transportation investment with these people in charge and Obama in the White House, since he won't stand up to them," DeFazio told The Associated Press.
He said Republicans want to cut current transportation spending by about a third, leaving little room, if any, for new projects.
Our friend and correspondent Joe Cortright is also quoted:
"It strikes me as very interesting that nobody has appropriated the first dollar for actual construction," Cortright said. "At some point, you have to ask: Will there be money to build it?"
August 5, 2011
The first step I recommend for any budding transportation activist is to take the PSU/PBOT "Traffic and Transportation" class. It's your one stop guide to what gets decided by whom and where to apply pressure.
Applications for free citizen scholarships for the 2011 edition of the class (starting in late September) are now being accepted.
Go to the head of the line...
August 4, 2011
OPAL (Organizing People, Activating Leaders) is running an online petition drive requesting that TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane prioritize discretionary funds toward restoration of bus service over other uses:
TriMet has cut 200,000 hours (over 15%) of transit service in the last two years. These cuts result in a heavier burden on the growing number of people who depend on public transportation. We experience longer wait times, overcrowding, and missed connections. Diminishing service is a barrier to accessing jobs, education, recreation, housing and health. We ask TriMet's General Manager Neil McFarlane to adopt a policy to use all discretionary funds to restore transit service first, until all 200,000 hours are restored.
TriMet has declared that restoring frequent service is their top priority, when resources permit. The current TriMet position is that restoring cuts will take over 10 years - beyond 2020 - this is inadequate and unjust. We urge Neil McFarlane to support the transit dependent community by each year recommending a budget that directs all discretionary funds to restore transit service, guided by a transparent methodology that takes into account the needs of transit-dependent riders.
We appreciate TriMet's new efforts to engage more meaningfully with environmental justice communities, including OPAL and our Bus Riders Unite community group. We are disappointed however in the lack of transparency and accountability measures. We urge TriMet's GM McFarlane to use his authority to restore transit first.
August 3, 2011
Listen to the show (mp3, 25.9MB)
Michelle and Tori talk with riders from age 7 to 70.
August 1, 2011
I'd like to introduce the author of this guest post. Matt Conway from the Bay Area has been my co-developer on the Transit Appliance project and among his significant contributions are the adapters that allow the Appliance to work with transit agencies in the Bay Area. He has now created a version of our display application targeted at the 3.5" screen of the Chumby One device. - Chris
We are pleased to announce the release of Transit Board™ Personal, an application optimized for the small-screen environment of a Chumby One or similar device. These devices are right at home in a variety of settings where even an 8" display would be overkill, for example next to a cash register in a small coffee shop or on your desk at home or work. The Chumby One is the official target device, but I've also had success testing it on an iPhone as well as a standard PC running Linux.
The application only shows one line at a time, switching between lines at a default speed of one line every 3 seconds (user-configurable, of course).
The application isn't just for small screens, though: it works just fine on larger monitors, as well, and can greatly increase the readability of the transit information. I tested it on a 19" LCD I have, and I could still read it easily about 20' away (which is as far away as I could get in my living room). It's a good option for locations that are served by just a few lines (for example, the Northwest Portland stop shown in the image).
The application is available in the application selection dialog during appliance configuration. Take a look at the install instructions to set the page up on a Chumby or a dedicated PC.