Thoughts on the Statewide Transportation Strategy

The Statewide Transportation Strategy is part of the Oregon Sustainable Transportation Initiative. The Strategy aims to provide “promising approaches” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in three main sectors: ground passenger & commercial services, freight transportation, and air passenger movement. The Strategy includes recommendations that are designed also to further other goals such as “livable communities, economic vitality, and public health.” ODOT is accepting comments on the Strategy until 5pm on July 20th.

As a public health advocate, I was happy to see public health impacts explicitly called out in the Strategy. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have significant long-term impacts on well being directly through mitigating the severity of climate change and improving population adaptation. Strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can improve public health in the short-term through increased opportunities for physical activity, improved air quality, and reduced risk of collisions. However, while these co-benefits are mentioned in the Strategy, the Strategy misses key opportunities to connect baseline conditions and strategy elements to these co-benefits.

Whether by design or accident, the Strategy privileges the development and expansion of electric vehicle and alternative fuel technology over the expansion of the use of walking, biking, and transit for ground passengers and biking for urban freight. While any long-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will require the use of all available solutions, these oversights are significant. The benefits of bicycling, walking, and transit and the strategies needed to promote these transportation options are not as thoroughly discussed as other options in the Strategy, even though these modes are well-positioned to promote livable communities, economic vitality, and public health. While electric vehicles and alternative fuels reduce transportation-related emissions, these options offer only limited support of our other societal goals.

We know that increasing the use of walking, biking, and transit for transportation has myriad positive impacts in our communities and on our health, including a reduction of obesity and related chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.1 2 In addition, there is a robust and growing economy related to the bicycle industry throughout the state, and there is increasing evidence that pedestrian and transit-oriented development provides economic advantages. The Strategy can better support its mission of increasing overall prosperity with prudent, integrated transportation and land use planning by better connecting the Strategy actions to the issues described below. [Warning: digging into the weeds of the Strategy below!]

Walking and Biking: Underestimated Benefits

Nowhere in the Strategy is it mentioned that reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips in favor of trips by foot or by bike will result in a reduction in bicycle-car and pedestrian-car collisions.3 4 This is a critically important cost- and life-saving benefit of these particular modes of transportation that should be highlighted and ultimately considered when prioritizing strategies to implement with constrained resources.

In addition, the GreenSTEP model’s smallest round-trip measurement is 6 miles. Nationally, nearly half of trips in urban areas are 3 miles or less, and 28% of trips in urban areas are under 1 mile; 60% of trips one mile or less are completed by car, truck, or SUV.5 Considering the enormous opportunities embedded in those numbers, GreenSTEP’s modeling limitations might cause an underestimate of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction benefits of efforts to shift trips to walking and biking.

Freeways: Barriers to Mode Shift and Health Impacts

Under “Recommendation G10 – Road System Design/Development,” elements cover a broad range of potential negative impacts of road expansions but do not include potential barriers to walking, biking, and transit trips, even though Technical Appendix 2 notes, “Freeways can also act as travel barriers to other modes of transportation.” Because road design can have a significant impact on the safety and accessibility of walking and biking, the Strategy should explicitly include an element related to the avoidance of creating barriers to their use.

Freight: Bicycles and Efficiency Tradeoffs

The Strategy privileges trucks (and the adoption of electric vehicles and alternative fuels) to the exclusion of bikes for freight movement, even though freight by bike is increasingly an option in urban areas across the country and here in Oregon.
Large trucks, particularly in urban areas, are often in serious conflict with other road users, creating costs in human health. Transitioning these trucks to more efficient fuels does not address safety issues. However, switching loads, where possible, to bikes will likely result in fewer serious collisions. Information coming out of London and Paris indicates that bike freight in urban areas can have significant advantages over truck freight – from a need for smaller parking and loading zones to more reliable journey times.6 7

In the Technical Appendix for Freight, “Urban bottleneck removal on Portland area freeways” is included in the case assumptions. The meaning of “bottleneck removal” is not discussed, but this phrase could include everything from widening freeways to signalization changes. While widening freeways in the Portland area might “improve overall efficiency of the freight market,” it also has the potential to impede other modes and negatively impact public health. The Strategy should define suggested methods for “bottleneck removal” and clearly articulate the possible public health and safety trade-offs of these methods.

Public Transit: Underestimated Benefits and Multi-modal Integration

The Strategy misses several opportunities to connect investment in transit to public health and economic benefits. It appears from Technical Appendix 2 that GreenSTEP’s treatment of non-motorized travel includes “the number of household walking trips and the miles of short-distance SOV travel diverted to bicycling” but not transit trips. If that’s the case, the Strategy might underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions reductions of transit-related recommendations. Transit-oriented development is not discussed in the Strategy.

The Strategy also misses the opportunity to support the integration of the transit network with walking and biking networks. While bike parking is mentioned in Recommendation G8 – Mode Shift for Short Single-Occupant Vehicle Trips, there is no explicit treatment of end-of-trip facilities and other investments that have been shown to increase both bike and transit trips.8 Transit trips, on average, cover greater distances than biking and walking trips; in this way the transit network supplements the biking and walking networks, and the Strategy should explicitly include related recommendations.

Pricing: Covering Costs v. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

With a focus on “full cost of travel” for both ground passengers and for freight movement, the Strategy emphasizes fiscal responsibility over greenhouse gas emissions reduction. To achieve the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, pricing mechanisms should focus on this goal rather than indirect goal of covering the “full cost.”

Equity:

Recommendation G4 includes “considering equity concerns” and G7 includes considering “how the revenue generated is used/spent (e.g. on other modes) and the effects on different populations in Oregon,” but the Strategy does not provide enough information to help identify which factors should be taken into account in these recommendations. While the age group analysis and the definition of “equity” included in the glossary are helpful starting places, the transportation system impacts different groups in very different ways depending on factors including income, language spoken, physical ability, and geographic isolation.

Overall, the Strategy advances a vision for Oregon’s transportation future that is likely to result in better public health outcomes. However, to ensure that all Oregonians benefit from the Strategy and our communities receive the highest level of benefits possible, the Strategy must address walking, biking, and transit with as much attention as other actions.

1. Woodcock, J., Edwards, P., Tonne, C., Armstong, B. G., Ashiru, O., Banister, D., …Roberts, I. (2009). Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Urban land transport. The Lancet, 374(9705), 1930-43.

2. Giles-Corti, B., Foster, S., Shilton, T., and Falconer, R. (2010). The co-benefits for health of investing in active transportation. New South Wales Public Health Bulletin, 21(5-6), 122-27.

3. Jacobsen, P.L. (2003). Safety in numbers: More walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Injury Prevention, 9, 205-209.

4. Wier, M., Weintraub, J., Humphreys, E.H., Seto, E., and Bhatia, R. (2009). An area-level model of vehicle-pedestrian injury collisions with implications for land use and transportation planning. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 41, 137-145.

5. Flusche, D. (2010). National Household Travel Survey – Short trips analysis. Retrieved from: http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2010/01/national-household-travel-survey-short-trips-analysis/

6. Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility. Freight Transportation for Development: A Policy Toolkit. World Bank Transport Research Support Program. Retrieved from: http://www.ppiaf.org/freighttoolkit/toolkit/policy-framework/policy-measures/policy-measures-regarding-operational-regulatory-licensing/promoting-clean

7. Cycle Logistics. Screen of Business to Business and Business to Consumer Sector to Establish Potential for Bicycle Deliveries Including the Situation of Bicycle Couriers. Retrieved from: http://cyclelogistics.eu/index.php?id=39&folder_id=111

8. Pucher et al., 2010.

1 Comment

One Response to Thoughts on the Statewide Transportation Strategy

  1. Garlynn Woodsong
    July 17, 2012 at 2:26 am Link

    Heidi-

    Right on, your analysis of the current draft of the STS is entirely correct as far as I can tell.

    Here’s the letter that I submitted as a comment on the STS:

    Dear OSTI Committee-

    The Oregon STS is a good first step, but it’s not nearly visionary enough to achieve the stated goals. More out-of-the-box thinking must become the norm in order to achieve success.

    For instance, the proposal seeks to reduce the carbon impact of freight movement through minor shifts, rather than investigating wholesale electrification of the statewide rail network so as to achieve carbon-free travel when using that mode. Oregon should be exploring long-range visionary ideas such as wholesale electrification of all major rail lines, connection of all major metropolitan areas (greater than 50k people) by high speed electric train (at least 110mph top speed, 220mph top speed for the mainline Portland to Rogue Valley), and implementation of a “bicycle interstate system” to allow bicycles to move around the state in safety on their own protected ROWs. And, of course, all of this needs to be closely coordinated with intensification of land use and smart urban design.

    Only by reaching for higher goals can we ever hope to achieve them. If we set our sights too low, I’m afraid that’s all we will achieve.

    I didn’t really focus on bike/ped or the shortcomings of GreenSTEP, so thank you for bringing these up in your post! I was more struck by the overall lack of visionary or next-paradigm thinking… this document seems to represent 20th century thinking still.

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