Trend is Not Destiny

Today I attended a joint meeting of MTAC (Metro Technical Advisory Committee) and TPAC (Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee – on which I am a citizen representative). The purpose of the meeting was to review the 2030 population forecasts, which will help drive the next update the Regional Transportation Plan and the next UGB (Urban Growth Boundary) expansion.

The headline, as has been reported elsewhere, is that between 2000 and 2030 we will add 1.1 million residents to the region, reaching the population level that had originally been planned for 2040.

Ironically, on the way to the meeting, I was listening to a podcast of Smart City (a radio program out of Memphis that is regretably not broadcast locally) talking about the problems of Detroit, which has seen its population shrink by 50% since 1960. Anyone want to pick which problem to have?

The interesting part of the discussion today was not about the faster than expected growth, but rather about the choices and assumptions we will need to make:

Can Damascus come online fast enough to absorb much of this growth?

Will we run out of exception lands and need to begin expanding the UGB onto Exclusive Farm Use lands?

How much infill can we expect? Metro has lowered the forecast for infill, but as Al Burns, a planner from Portland put it “if we expand the UGB, of course we won’t get the level of infill we want.” Al quoted Lewis Mumford: “trend is not destiny.”

Others from Portland made a compelling case that Metro’s input data is missing all the 1/4 acre and under infill developments that are happening in Portland.

If we build a 10-lane bridge over the Columbia on I-5 we get both more commuters and more jobs in Portland. Don’t build it and the jobs go to Vancouver.

Which cities get the growth? Both Portland and Washington County were lobbying for more housing, while Gresham was lobbying for more jobs.

Watch this space…


6 responses to “Trend is Not Destiny”

  1. “If we build a 10-lane bridge over the Columbia on I-5 we get both more commuters and more jobs in Portland. Don’t build it and the jobs go to Vancouver.”

    To understand the full effect I think its important to look at the jobs/housing balance as a whole. If you don’t increase the capacity across the river both people and businesses tend to stick to one side.

    A good example is the comparison of United Parcel and Fedex. United Parcel keeps distribution facilities on both sides of the river. So while United Parcel is moving some jobs to Vancouver, its Vancouver employees don’t have to use a bridge and neither do its local delivery trucks. Fedex has a single distribution facility and sends its delivery trucks and draws employees across the bridges.

    What the model is showing is that without new bridge capacity, businesses act more like United Parcel, with the bridge capacity more of them act like Fedex. Without the capacity, the markets tend to be more distinct, with it they tend to merge.

    For those of us who want to promote alternatives to the automobile it ought to be clear that we will build more livable communities if people to live close to where they work and for work to be close to where people live. The impact of adding capacity to the I-5 bridge is the opposite of that.

    Worse, support for auto-oriented development on the Vancouver side of the river makes it likely that most of those increased commuters will be in their personal automobile.

    The county commission in Vancouver is going through the process right now of opening more of rural Clark County for housing development and WASHDOT is busy expanding the capacity of all the major roads that feed the two bridges across the Columbia. The transit system, on the other hand, is in the process of complete meltdown and cutting service.

    Under the current conditions, its seems to me it is irresponsible to be discussing adding any auto capacity to the I-5 or I-205 bridges in the near future. It is guaranteed to drown the Portland street network in traffic and reduce access to employment for people who live in North and Northeast Portland.

  2. Ross, I need to post a quick comment on the Columbia River Crossing issue. Right now, truck traffic in the I5 Corridor is being affected by the lack of capacity across the Columbia. We have to face the fact that commerce in goods need adequate road systems. I5 through Portland hasn’t seen any improvements in thirty years.

    A new bridge is our gateway. If we continue to grow, we will be stuck with our main commerce route in gridlock.

    A new bridge, designed for cars/trucks/people/MAX and high speed rail will give us all options for travel. I’m not advocating a 10 lane deck, 8 lanes would be my choice. But I am advocating for choice (including high speed rail).

    The new bridge will be tolled I believe, based on the presentation I saw at the last Columbia River Crossing meeting. No decisions, they just did some study on tolls because paying for the bridge will be the issue.

    The second half of the toll issue is the federal law against placing a toll on the I205 bridge.

    Growth is coming. The secret is out about Portland. If we don’t get Springwater in Gresham and Damascus/Boring going for industial land, the new industry’s will go to Vancouver. Why Not!!! They would have better access to I5 North and can deal with Portland traffic as needed.

    It’s all about good jobs that create value added commodities (design, prototype, and then off shore it, with on-shore customer service).

    We are way behind in our local infrastructure needs.

    I have a letter into the Tribune that talks about the I5 bridge, The Loop, freight, and high speed rail. They are looking for a counter-point writer. Should be interesting and could be out soon.


  3. Ray, how do we keep those 10 lanes from filling up wht SOVs? One of the reasons I like the arterial bridge strategy is that it provides some preference for freight. I think we have to become more sophisticated about giving priority to freight over SOVs.

  4. The real issue is freight. It should take priority over the thousands of WA commuters coming to work in OR. You can build 20 lanes, but they will fill up very quickly with communters who buy cheap land farther out in Clark County because the new bridge gives them that option. A bridge dedicated to Freight & transit is all we really need. Why does the region need to worry about Clark County commuters. They have two options with plenty of lanes. If they choose to live where they live then with that choice comes traffic. Having freight be able to avoid the choices of commuters, solves the economic movement problem, limits sprawl and doesn’t spend billions on something that won’t solve anything.

  5. Ray –

    If you put tolls on the bridge today there would be no need to add capacity to it and by gradually increasing the tolls, you could delay the need for new capacity for a long time. Chris is right. There is very little reason to believe adding more lanes will provide any more capacity for freight and commerce.

    I also think you are misreading the jobs shift data. The jobs that shift to Vancouver without a bridge are local services for the Vancouver market. I believe the regional employers that drive the economy – the so-called traded sector – are at least as likely to locate in Portland.

    For many of the primary factors that deterimine location proximity to services, work force and similar businesses – Vancouver becomes less appealing without the bridge. Of course land will be cheaper there and for some purposes access to Seattle/Tacoma may be more important than access to Portland. But I don’t think Oregon is likely to ever be competitive for those industries where those are major factors.

    So the answer to Why NOT!!! is because they have worse access to South I5, worse access to services and employees and worse access to the region’s largest market.

    I do think we need new capacity across the river at some point. For one thing, we will need to get light rail across the river. Adding capacity for future high speed rail is a good idea as well. And we do need to improve freight access to the Ports. Moreover, Vancouver and Portland’s economies are linked and we need to make them more integrated, not less.

    But as we have seen from the discussion of the the arterial bridge, there is simply not the political will at this point to add new capacity in a way that protects it for freight by making it unavailable for commuters. Putting light rail across the river now is almost useless when there isn’t a transit system for it to connect to that would make it a meaningful alternative for commuters. And adding capacity to the bridge makes the development of such a system in Vancouver less likely. It encourages a continued auto dependent suburban development pattern that is difficult to serve with transit even if the political will is there.

    So timing is everything. We need to start by putting tolls on the existing bridges. Then we need to provide real alternatives for people so they can avoid paying those tolls. And finally we need to add capacity once we are using the existing capacity efficiently.

    In any case, we ought to demand, at minimum, that the number of Single Occupancy Vehicles using the bridge not increase at all from the current level. If we are going to add more vehicles to the Portland street grid, they ought to at least be carrying more than one passenger. That isn’t going to happen just by creating an HOV lane.

  6. On this side of the river we tend to use Vancouver and Clark County interchangeably, but they really are different animals. Vancouver seems to have many of the same goals for development that the regional centers on the Oregon side have. It is the auto dependent new development in semi-rural Clark County and communities like Battleground that is the problem.

    We also need to realize that it is not just “commuters” that use the I-5 and I-205 bridges. It is pretty obvious that a lot of trips are people shopping on the Oregon side. Jantzen beach is the most obvious, but I think if you go to any of the big box retail that have been built in the industrial areas along the Columbia, you will find most of the license plates in the parking lot are from Washington. Its not just the customers, but the employees who live across the river.

    You essentially have a scarce commodity, industrial land, being used by national chains and people in Clark County as a sort of duty-free zone. To the extent we decrease the cost, whether in dollars or time, of crossing the river we increase the advantage of driving to Oregon to avoid the sales tax.

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