Archive | August, 2005

Do Trucks Pay Their Fair Share?

Editor’s note: The City of Portland has just released the discussion draft (PDF, 5.5MB) of their Freight Master Plan.

Last month in a commentary titled “Road funding scheme ignores constitution, physics,” Orval Etter charged that the Oregon Department of Transportation hasn’t been charging trucks their fair share for the costs of roads.

The Oregon Constitution requires that highway user tax rates ensure “fairness and proportionality” between light (up to 8,000-pound) and heavy (more than 8,000-pound) vehicles. According to Etter, heavy trucks inflict proportionally far more damage on roads than do light vehicles — the result of a “fourth power law.”

Orval Etter of Eugene is an emeritus associate professor of public affairs and administration at the University of Oregon.

But in a recent response titled “Oregon a pioneer in the just division of highway taxes,” John Merriss argued that trucks are paying their fair share for the costs of highways.

According to Merriss: “When all costs are considered, the past two Oregon studies have found light vehicles responsible for approximately two-thirds of total highway expenditures and heavy vehicles one-third. These results are generally in line with those of other recent state studies and the 1997 federal study. Therefore, in Oregon, we currently assign two-thirds of the costs of highways to light vehicles and one-third to heavy vehicles.”

John Merriss is manager of policy and economic analysis for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

But at its August meeting, the Oregon Transportation Commission approved Oregon Highway Plan. What such a designation means isn’t completely clear. But the general intent is to give priority to the needs of truck freight on highways designated as freight routes — even over the needs of local communities through which highways pass.

Can anyone shed additional light on this issue?

A Report from our Japan Correspondent

Background: As part of my ongoing, seemingly single handed crusade to look at multitasking of sidewalk spaces for multimodal use I was awarded a grant from the Architectural Foundation of Oregon (AFO) to study the ped/bike zone of urban streetscapes in Japan. So…

I am writing from my hotel room in Kobe looking out at the twinkling lights of the Akashi Kaikiyo Bridge – the world’s longest suspension bridge. All the lights, thousands, change into rainbow hues for 5 minutes at the top of each hour (wouldn’t this be great on Portland’s bridges?). It makes a very good reason to keep drinking in the 17th floor rooftop bar for multiple hourly increments. But the prices don’t.

So far I have been in 4 cities, studied dozens of streets (a few in detail), taken about 600 photos, interviewed about 1/2 dozen planners and academics, presented a paper on “Portland vs. Japan” at the 8th Annual Asian Urbanization conference where I learned a lot about things like the evolution of pan-Asian mega-cities and the transportation costs of distributing fresh vegetables in SE Asia (peas are big in India), while also getting a chance to meet and mingle with planners, engineers and geographer types from Nanjing, Taipei, Bangkok, New Delhi, Berlin, Vienna, Kyoto and the University of Akron (Ohio). During our conference bus tour I got within 30 yards of Prime Minister Koizumi (check this out for cultural difference related to street operations: “Oh so sorry, the Prime Minister is on top of a bus making a speech — yes, that guy right in front of you waving his arms — and traffic is moving slow around him, apologies we are late due to this vexing unforeseen inconvenience” vs. how many blocks would be barricaded for President Bush?) visited a historic Sake factory, and rode up in a tiny cable car halfway to the stars… uh oh… wrong song. Really all research related, I promise.

A trend is going on in Tokyo, and perhaps all over Japan and SE Asia that I have decided to call “collosalization”. Incoherently platted small properties that date back to Japan’s medieval period are being assembled by big developers who are then bulldozing everything so that gigantic new projects – like the Roppongi Hills complex – can be built. A major concern is whether this new type of development can maintain the fine grained texture of built environment that is so much a part of Japanese culture. There is so much detail everywhere…

Next stop was in Oita City, on the south island of Kyushu. This modest port city of around 500,000 is not so far from the size of Portland …. but imagine a Portland where from Burnside to Terwilliger along SW Broadway is a solid unbroken line of parked bikes, almost stacked on top of each other along the edge of the sidewalk. Imagine women with perfect hair in high heels and Givenchy dresses riding bikes around Nordies downtown – in 90 degree weather. Then imagine trains so long you can’t see either end of them coming into Union Station every five minutes. Even if you hate sushi – this should be Portland’s future! To support all the pedestrian vitality, the investment in paving, urban furnishings, etc. is very impressive. Ooops, room lights out – the bridge is doing its rainbow thing.

Kobe is a major port city of about 1.5 million, maybe not so far from Portland’s future build out(?). Very urbane and to some degree Westernized. Because of the Great Hanshin earthquake ten years ago an unprecedented amount of new building and infrastructure has been put in place. Certainly a city with its own distinct personality and some great streets. It has seven different subway lines, three distinct railway lines (often going almost the same places) a monorail and about a dozen different aerial tram lines. I was interested in this last on Portland’s behalf, but it turns out they are all distinctly touristy, so no commuter cable cars. Unless you would commute to the hot springs.

Aside from sketching, which takes forever, everything takes a lot longer than it would in the US. I stand and stare at the ubiquitous sign monument maps on the street for ages. Figuring out what train to catch, where to eat, which direction to walk in, how to talk to people… it all takes time. And then there are the distractions. Virtually everything: folding bikes, stationary shops, women in kimonos, comic books, robotic welcoming cats, temples, shrines, cable cars (Kobe has them all over the place), did I mention food?

Well, this is getting too long and maybe unfocused. Wanted you all to know I am surviving despite my substandard Japanese and super-standard height (only banged my head once today – improving). It is fabulous being here. Hope I can bring back some condensed experience that will be – if not immediately useful – at least thought provoking.

for now – sayonara,


Write Happiness into the Transportation Plan

Yeah, Portland is a national leader in transportation and land use planning. Early visionaries set the pace: Governor Tom McCall, Neil Goldschmidt, Ernie Bonner, followed by recent stars: Charlie Hales, Elsa Coleman, Mia Birk, and my favorite Rex Burkholder just to name a few. (Extra)ordinary citizens also shaped the vision of a lively, 24-hour downtown and neighborhoods with destinations worth the trip and the trip worth taking by foot and bike: blank walls right next to a sidewalk are outlawed, public art is plentiful, wide sidewalks and town squares allow us to linger and interact, bike lanes mark the way to sustainable transportation and physical well-being. We understand we must make the route pleasant and convenient or few will choose active transportation over driving. And recently, we have made the connection between public health and transportation, but at the Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness in Nova Scotia, Canadian Catherine O’Brien Ph.D. is asking us to make the connection between happiness and transportation.

Let’s incorporate the H word into transportation planning in Portland. Remember when livability rhetoric included transit and pedestrians, but it was hard for leaders to say the B word? Now bicycling is mainstream. Catherine O’Brien says we need to include happiness in the planning process. Plan for children “talking to friends, kicking pebbles, negotiating snow banks, jumping in piles of leaves or puddles.” The Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition in partnership with the City of Portland and other communities around Oregon are increasing the opportunities for children to walk and bike to school and kick a few pebbles along the way. Instead of children’s safety perhaps we should make children’s happiness a planning goal.

Consider spiritual wellbeing and transportation. If you ride a bike on a tree-lined avenue or interrupt your walk to admire a neighbor’s blooming passion flower with your child in hand, you know what O’Brien means by spiritual well-being in relation to transportation. O’Brien’s paper quotes Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota.

We had to build a city not for businesses or automobiles, but for children and thus for people. Instead of building highways, we restricted car use. …We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. … All our everyday efforts have one objective: HAPPINESS (conversation with Peñalosa in Ives, 2002).

In Portland, we’ve reached planning goals other cities covet, but how much more can we achieve if we consider happiness first in transportation planning? Can we actually write the H word into the Transportation System Plan?

Bookshelf: The Long Emergency

//ref=nosim/”> Link to book at

Link to book at Powell’s
Link to book at Multnomah County Library

List Price:

With all the discussion of Peak Oil this week, it seems very appropriate to add this to the bookshelf this week.

Kunstler convincingly makes the case for our proximity to peak production, then goes on the make a very depressing case for the impact this will have on world society and economy. I think (hope) his scenarios are overly pessimistic, but this book keeps me up at night.

One interesting note is that Kunstler lists nuclear as one of the few energy technologies that could readily fill the energy gap left by exhausted fossil fuels. I wonder how the environmental community is going to react to what could become an uncomfortable reality?

The countervailing view of course is that human ingenuity will work out alternative energy sources. But will it happen fast enough to prevent significant disruption?


This hit my inbox today:

2005 Pedestrian Crosswalk Enforcement Action

The Enforcement Action was very successful in raising awareness about the ‘Stop and Stay Stopped’ Oregon Crosswalk Law that requires motorists to stop for pedestrians when they are in the motorist’s lane, the lane right before the motorist’s lane, or the lane immediately after the motorist’s lane.

Police issued a total of 25 citations and 3 warnings to drivers that violated the law during this Enforcement Action. Violation of the law carries a fine of $237.

During the event multiple people that work in the area applauded Police and Transportation for their work in bringing more attention to this crossing.

Moira Green, Lloyd District Traffic Management Association, provided the news media with her own personal near-miss pedestrian crossing experience at this location and expressed her strong concerns for the safety of workers and community residents that use this crossing.

Enforcement Details
Location: 800 Block of NE Multnomah St. (Tuesday, August 23, 2005)

*Total Citations Issued: 25
*Total Warnings Issued: 3