Twenty-three Powell Boulevards

Last week I wrote about research into likely patterns of bicycle growth in Portland, and complementary transportation and land use choices that would be required.

Roger Geller’s analysis also turns to what happens if we don’t get the intended growth in active transportation. If mode splits stay where they are today Portland will see more than 1 million additional auto trips each weekday by 2035, or as Roger puts it, “23 Powell Boulevards”.

powell

So what would that look like? We are not likely to actually construct 23 high-volume arterials, nor are we likely to re-open discussion of additional freeways like the Mt. Hood Freeway.

I hope that somebody will actually model this, but my guess is that we would see this as increased congestion throughout the City’s street network. It would be very interesting to take out the model used for the “Cost of Congestion” study and apply it to a projected future state. What is the economic value of avoiding that congestion? The original study used the number $844M annually throughout the region. We could build a lot of sidewalks, bike facilities and transit infrastructure for that!

19 Comments

19 Responses to Twenty-three Powell Boulevards

  1. EngineerScotty
    June 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm Link

    I haven’t had time to read the report, yet, but assuming that demand for travel increased in this manner without corresponding increases in road capacity–wouldn’t that, by itself, cause more trips to move to alternative modes, or to not be made at all?

    Induced demand is known to work in reverse, after all.

    As far as the “cost of congestion” goes–what about the cost (in lost productivity) of excessive wait times for transit users (whether due to excessive waits at stops, pass-ups due to full vehicles, etc).? Has anybody modelled that–or is such considered lost productivity unimportant given the paucity of freight or VIPs that move via transit?

  2. Ross Williams
    June 25, 2013 at 4:06 pm Link

    Chris –

    The problem with this discussion is that, if we have that much congestion, then the mode split or number of trips will change.

    Or, put differently, to sustain the current mode split with that kind of growth in the number of trips REQUIRES building an additional 23 Powell Boulevards. Otherwise, people will mode shift or drop trips in response to congestion.

    Congestion exists only to the extent there is a balance between the benefits of creating it and the costs to motorists. That’s why you can reduce congestion by making alternatives more attractive. Attractive alternatives reduce the benefits of creating congestion so people tolerate it less.

  3. Joseph
    June 25, 2013 at 4:56 pm Link

    @EngineerScotty:

    I wondered the same thing when the drunk driver took out the overhead wires at Sunset some months ago. I would guess the resulting lost productivity far outweighed the repair bill sent to his insurance company. I’m also certain such costs could not be legally recouped by the transit agency.

    However I have not seen any attempts to quantify this loss of productivity.

    It could be useful to have a figure or a range that could be used to justify queue jump lanes for buses or even dedicated right of way, as undoubtedly one vehicle with, just say 20 passengers, waiting in traffic represents roughly the same latent economic output as 20 vehicles with a single passenger each, so it is better for the local economy to let the vehicle with 20 passengers move to the front of the line. Or to bypass all of that other traffic outright. It does not make sense to force that more efficient vehicle to wait it’s own turn with all of the other vehicles that individually don’t represent the same volume of pent up economic activity.

    Without data, though, this is a difficult message to deliver.

  4. bjcefola
    June 25, 2013 at 7:04 pm Link

    Scotty and Ross, I agree that there won’t be 23 new Powell Boulevards. But it doesn’t follow that people will be shoehorned into alternate transit.

    If city transportation options are sufficiently unattractive folks will opt for suburbs instead. The question isn’t whether we want 23 new Powell Boulevards, but whether we want 40 to 50 additional Scholls Ferry Roads.

  5. Ron Swaren
    June 25, 2013 at 10:26 pm Link

    Given that the Portland area does grow, where is this going to take place? Maybe planners should concentrate their efforts on providing active transportation in what will soon be the biggest county—Washington Co. There is plenty of empty land out there and you can build bicycle paths forever. There are also lots of creeks which could be similar to the Springwater trail close to Johnson Creek.

  6. al m
    June 25, 2013 at 11:01 pm Link

    The idea that somehow more and more people will move into an area that will grow the equivalence of 23 Powell’s is preposterous.
    They planning on putting up a whole bunch of high rises? Is that what this is based on?
    And if they put up 1000 high rise building that hold the population of 23 Powell Boulevards and they want to all drive their cars down Powell Boulevard what business is that of anybody? If people want to do that then let them.
    Is it a free country or not?

  7. Anandakos
    June 26, 2013 at 1:25 am Link

    Folks,

    It all depends on the price of fuel for whatever sort of cars are available in 2035. If we get high behind and make the big investments in renewables that would allow us to replace the fleet with electric cars, the TCO of cars will remain low enough that suburbia will continue to be viable and will take a good portion of that population pressure. Portland proper will become relatively smaller than other parts of the region.

    Obviously, I personally hope that “suburbia” is somewhat more compact than it is today, but that seems to be the trend because of the cost of land.

    However, if we charge ahead believing in the Shale Fairy, by 2035 we will be faced will terrible energy shortages and the economic dislocations from it. There is no escaping that reality. Shale will last at the outside 20 years and then THAT’S IT unless submarine hydrates prove to be the bonanza some predict.

    That’s a mighty big “unless”, so people would very likely be crammed together in the cities because the cost of food distribution will be so great that food except that which is grown locally will not be available in rural areas.

    Of course VMT will plummet when the price spirals over fifteen or twenty dollars per gallon (in constant dollars). Tri-Met (or whatever comes after it) will have to buy a bucket of buses, but at least they’ll have de facto priority.

  8. Ron Swaren
    June 26, 2013 at 11:11 am Link

    “However, if we charge ahead believing in the Shale Fairy, by 2035 we will be faced will terrible energy shortages and the economic dislocations from it.”

    No, not really. By then there will be plenty of technology for all kinds of fuel, including synthetic gasoline or diesel. Jim Karlock used to point out that the 20th C. had technologies for producing those, too; but now he has been banned from Portland Transport.

    I’m not arguing that it should.

    The latest EV offering from Chevrolet promises 80 miles per charge, there are 60 mpg. diesel cars available in Europe and elsewhere, and I think 200 mile rane electric are just around the corner.

    There will be plenty of energy from all modes.

  9. al m
    June 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm Link

    Jim Karlock used to point out that the 20th C. had technologies for producing those, too; but now he has been banned from Portland Transport.

    ~~~>Jim Karlock is banned? As in forever?
    Oh come on that’s not true right?

  10. Joseph
    June 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm Link

    Al, seriously.

    It’s all of our business how people use our infrastructure. If we don’t provide incentives for people to make better choices regarding our available infrastructure, we’ll all end up paying more in the end, either with money or happiness, or both.

  11. al m
    June 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm Link

    It’s all of our business how people use our infrastructure. If we don’t provide incentives for people to make better choices regarding our available infrastructure, we’ll all end up paying more in the end, either with money or happiness, or both.

    I think for lack of a better word ‘market forces’ will force the situation into whatever state of homeostasis is required for economic and physical survival.

    I am not a fan of central planning by government ‘officials’ with vested interests. The government is moving against the wishes of the majority of the population and that can’t and shouldn’t be supported.

    I’m worried about the transit system right now, not 25 years from now. Always thinking about the future means you are ignoring the present and the present is far more important than the future.

  12. Joseph
    June 26, 2013 at 5:43 pm Link

    I agree re: market forces, when the market bears the full cost of what it “wants.” Since that doesn’t happen in reality, we need to be nudged into making decisions that are better supported by the available choices, without forcing others to bear the true costs of those choices.

    Additionally, when our choices end up sacrificing the economic viability of our region, we need to nudge harder to ensure we don’t screw everything up. There are practical limits to things like land and money, and we can’t just keep adding to make everybody’s first choice practical for the region as a whole.

  13. al m
    June 26, 2013 at 7:12 pm Link

    Additionally, when our choices end up sacrificing the economic viability of our region, we need to nudge harder to ensure we don’t screw everything up. There are practical limits to things like land and money, and we can’t just keep adding to make everybody’s first choice practical for the region as a whole.

    —>I think that the ‘choices’ are made by economics if you want my opinion. Portland is in this boom phase primarily because Portland was cheaper to buy property than any other city on the West Coast. That’s changing rapidly as the developers are moving in and taking over.

    My main objection is the premise of this post, 23 Powell Blvds in 20 years. I just think that is a preposterous assumption. I can’t read 30 pages of that study but I just don’t buy it.

    I have this basic aversion to the concept of the government trying to engineer the % of walking, bicycling, transit, and auto trips. This kind of thing just doesn’t sit with me sorry. The reason why bicycling is doing so well is the cost of gas and the crummy and expensive transit. Once again its all about the money. Somehow the world survived and progressed for centuries without all this central planning.

    I guess it’s just against my religion, I can’t buy into it.

    I’m of the mind you perfect what you have, then you add, slowly and carefully to what already exists.

    For example I would like to see buses every eight minutes on the system in place now rather than grandiose plans for 20 years from now.

  14. bjcefola
    June 26, 2013 at 9:15 pm Link

    Al, putting money into street repair is as much planning and manipulating transit choice as putting money into bike lanes.

    Do you object to that too?

  15. Ron Swaren
    June 26, 2013 at 10:21 pm Link

    “Al, putting money into street repair is as much planning and manipulating transit choice as putting money into bike lanes.”

    Well, now we sure are getting philosophical. No, road building is not “manipulation of transit choice” because people have decided they want a lot of things that need to happen right away. Like getting a taxi, or police to your door, or the Portland BDS needs to come to your place. This is a straw man argument that road building and maintenance is basically self serving strategy for SOV’s.

    Please think about your statements.

    And Al is right that since buses have a proven track record it is smart to examine, first, ways to improve them.

  16. al m
    June 26, 2013 at 10:44 pm Link

    Al, putting money into street repair is as much planning and manipulating transit choice as putting money into bike lanes.

    ~~~> I’m for bikes and bike lanes and light rail and all of mass transit. But we can’t have our cake and eat it too!
    Interestingly enough the trimet board was discussing the Southwest expansion plans, and I did my own ANALYSIS of that conversation between Stoval and one of the planners at Trimet.
    I make the same point there that I have been making here.

    (There are some comments on that about portland transport commentators but they were not trying to be disrespectful, i don’t think they appear disrespectful but you never know how people take my comments)

  17. al m
    June 26, 2013 at 10:55 pm Link

    If you try to watch that video you are better off with the youtube version. Vimeo just doesn’t play right anymore, not sure what happened to them but they are going downhill.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-vuEWW4DKU

  18. bjcefola
    June 27, 2013 at 6:38 am Link

    Ron, what would better improve city services? Spending an extra $7M on pavement or spending an extra $7M on city services?

    I’m not denying there are multiple uses for roads, that is true of all transportation infrastructure. But deciding what, where, and how to fund that infrastructure necessarily requires planning and necessarily influences people’s choices.

    Acknowledging that doesn’t prove any particular policy, but it does allow for a more honest discussion that hopefully leads to policy more in line with our goals.

  19. Garlynn
    June 27, 2013 at 10:42 am Link

    Hmm, my RSS feed reader took a holiday, so just seeing this thread now… apologies for intruding on the end-of-thread conversation, but has anybody else read the City of Portland Comprehensive Plan Update Scenarios Report?

    http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/449300

    I’m concerned that none of the scenarios laid out here actually come anywhere near meeting most (or any) of the goals laid out by the Portland Plan; and specifically, that a massive increase in total VMT is forecasted for all scenarios, regardless of other factors.

    Now, it’s likely that the City / Metro’s models aren’t sensitive enough to the land use policies inherent in some of these scenarios; that complementary transportation infrastructure investments aren’t being properly articulated as a part of the modeled network for each scenario; and that the price of fuel assumption is too low.

    Still, this would seem to suggest that Roger Geller’s analysis is actually very timely, and we really do need to be having this discussion now, as a part of the Comp Plan update. We’re not going to be building any more Powell Blvds in Portland, much less 23 of them. For this massive level of VMT increase to take place within the City (and yes, that IS assuming that most regional growth continues to take place in the suburbs; Metro assigns Portland a capture rate of total regional growth that seems conservatively low to me), those cars will need to drive and park someplace. It seems to me that not enough thought has yet been put into determining the answer to the following question:

    What scenario + package of strategies will allow us to meet the goals laid out for VMT reduction in the Portland Plan?

    …which would allow us to have a following conversation about the trade-offs inherent to these strategies…

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