There Oughta be a Law

The Oregon Legislature will convene in a short ten months. Now is the time to start developing ideas for legislation, finding sponsors and allies, and trying out your arguments. What changes would you like to see in the laws, what programs you think we should create and fund (and which ones should be killed) and what policies the state should follow in the future?

It may seem early but lets start listing and debating the ideas you have. Let me share a few with you…

The Oregon Legislature will convene in a short ten months. Now is the time to start developing ideas for legislation, finding sponsors and allies, and trying out your arguments. What changes would you like to see in the laws, what programs you think we should create and fund (and which ones should be killed) and what policies the state should follow in the future?

It may seem early but lets start listing and debating the ideas you have. Let me share a few with you:

  1. Suspend automobile no-fault coverage if person involved in crash was speaking on cell phone within 5 minutes of when crash occurs. (Rather than banning cell phones, just make the users responsible for their choices. Who can object?)
  2. Eliminate authority of Speed Control Board over speed limits on local streets. (local streets exist to provide access, not to allow commuters to speed through. Letting local governments set speeds and therefore design would remove a major barrier to making local streets safer, quieter and more pleasant.)
  3. Create “woonerf” laws. (These would require motorists to yield to pedestrians and cyclists on local streets, supporting the previous action.)
  4. Establish an Interstate Cooperation Authority between Washington and Oregon to manage the Columbia River Crossing Project and other regional issues. (An Authority—requiring both state legislatures to approve and Congress to authorize through a Bi-State Compact—could ease both this project as well as provide a way to better connect the two sides of the region severed more by state lines than the Columbia.)
  5. Eliminate business tax deduction for employee parking.
  6. Fund rail improvements in Willamette Valley necessary for high speed rail.

I have a lot more but you get the idea. Let’s create a progressive list of transportation reform legislation.

27 responses to “There Oughta be a Law”

  1. I’ve been intrigued at the idea of requiring cars sold in Oregon to have ongoing fuel economy calculations as you drive (like most hyrbrids do today). Not sure it’s something we can regulate, but informed consumers are good.

    Methinks that at least some drivers in seeing the results of their actions immediately would drive more slowly, more consistently, and be less polluting.

    Also don’t know how much the technology costs.

  2. I would like to recommend that the State, in partnership with regional and local jurisdictions as well as the private sector and community groups, take a *strong* look at constructing a new multimodal rail system to serve the major north/south and east/west axes out of Portland (that is, Astoria to Pendleton via Portland, and Portland to Medford/Ashland via Eugene, in addition to examining the Eastern Oregon corridors). While the road system in the state is in fairly good shape (certainly better than that in most states), the rail transportation system could be better.

    I would use Switzerland as the example, where in addition to roads connecting all towns, rail systems connect most towns, and most trains are electric. The trains tend to carry both passengers and freight, and most destinations are accessible by foot, bicycle or connecting transit from the train station.

    How would this work in Oregon?

    As with Switzerland and Germany, there would be commuter-level service on specific links in the system (Astoria to Portland, The Dalles to Portland, Grants Pass to Ashland, Portland to Salem, etc.) with multiple a.m. and p.m. peak period trips. The backbone of the system would be twice-daily service throughout the state on most other links. Certain backbones would have priority for upgrading of the trackbed to high-speed standards, with the ultimate goal of 200+mph service on the main north/south and east/west spines, with the potential for service of up to ~120mph on the feeder lines made possible by improved trackbeds and tilting/high-speed rolling stock. Small freight would travel with the twice-daily service; large freight would, as now, travel in separate trains.

    Around each station in the system, Tax-Increment Financing would collect the improvement in tax collect as a result of the upgraded transit service, and in addition to user fees collected from passengers and freight, provide all of the operating expenses for the system, as well as contribute to capital cost recovery and debt service on bonds needed to build the initial infrastructure.

    Public/private partnerships would allow increased development intensity around each station to proceed in tandem with station construction/expansion/upgrade, and commencement of service (or improved service in areas that already have some service).

    Statewide growth management goals could be achieved by allowing existing communities with struggling economies to host new transit-oriented growth. Astoria, for instance, could build more housing for commuters near its transit station, and an upgrade rail connection would allow them to commute into the Portland market in well under an hour, while saving money on housing costs. Astoria would reap the benefit of hosting families with greater income, contributing tax revenue and cashflow to the local economy; Portland would benefit by having Astoria take some of the burden of providing market-rate workforce housing. In time, the hosting of more knowledgeable workers could allow Astoria to develop a more intensive local knowledge-based economy, and even eventually play host to an expansion of the state higher education system.

    Oregon’s congressional delegation could lobby for federal support to assist with constructing interstate links to connect this with systems elsewhere, but the main bulk of the system would be an in-state effort, with the state reaping the rewards.

    The existing rail network ROW would provide most of the ROW necessary for the upgraded system; existing operators would be encouraged to participate as willing partners, rather than risk condemnation and state takeover of their facilities.

    Oregon may double its population over the coming century. By beginning to invest now in this expanded rail/public transportation system, it can easily accommodate the transportation needs of this growth without needing to make significant changes or expansions to its highway system, as well as meet its environmental and sustainable growth objectives.

    Finally, with the aging of the population over the coming decades, more and more people are going to need mobility without needing to use cars, as they lose the ability to drive. Building this sort of integrated rail/public transportation system will allow Oregon’s aging population to travel and live with grace and dignity without needing the automobile for long- and medium-distance in-state trips.

    This is not a pipe dream. This is the future of Oregon’s transportation system, and it is the natural conclusion of the policies quoted in the blog post below, as laid out in the current draft of the Oregon Transportation Plan.

    See my blog posting of my comments on the Oregon Transportation Plan for more:


  3. Two Decrees:

    First – Working toward the end goal of the North/South High Speed Rail Corridor through Western Oregon: Create language that states that infrastructure for the said corridor will be funded first at the Oregon/Washington Border (Columbia River Crossing) and then move South.

    We need to spend the money we have or will get for the projects that first support the largest population centers in the region (Portland and Seattle). Then add faster and faster service farther and farther South.

    Second – Plan and purchase land for a High Speed Rail corridor to the California Border. Use the corridor (next to a freight line?) for walkers and cyclists that can then have tracks also laided down for HSR in the future.

    In others words, start planning and setting up the N/S HSR Corridor. (Location, Location, Location)


  4. #4 sounds good for local operationgs, but perhaps WSDOT and ODOT should work together more closely on the whole regional operations and planning.

    For HSR, perhaps have the tracks be capable of 110-200MPH all the way to Klamath Falls, and work with UNION PACFIC to plan a faster route through the Siskayous. Wished we had a freight rail bypass of Downtown Seattle, avoiding the King St. Bottleneck, and now the problems with the old Great Northern Route to Everett, the hills above it are unstable, and the monsoon caused too many mudslides, shutting down Amtrak Cascades and SOUNDER north of Seattle. Can’t expect people to ride it if the service can be delayed due to weather.

  5. Here here, Garlynn, now that’s the most sense I’ve heard in a long time. Let’s push our elected officials where we want em to go. But let’s also make sure that we’re clear on some definitions. Rail under 100MPH is most certainly NOT high speed. Let’s push to get this done in a timely fashion. They have been developing “HSR” between Chicago and Detroit for years and it’ll never be done and it’s only 90MPH.

    As unpopular as it would be could we take money from road building and use it for rail building? That would be a HUGE first step. We all know we don’t need any new roads in Oregon.

  6. Number ONE is your #1 – cell phones while driving.

    Amost every time I have a close call with a motorist while I am walking, biking, or driving the motorist is talking on a cell phone. It will be very unpopular with the cell phone lobby, but we have to put a stop to this very dangerous distraction.

    Why do we not use cell phones while in the theater? It is not only rude to others, but it is nearly impossible to maintain full attention on the movie.

    Why then do we permit cell phones to distract us when engaged in the most dangerous activity of daily life – driving? It is not only rude, but it puts human lives at great risk.

    It is time to address this with the legal system as the libertarian approach is not working.

  7. One of my concerns about driver accountability has to do with the reluctance of police officers and district attorneys to cite and prosecute drivers responsible for collisions with injuries. In many cases DA’s will cite the difficulty of proving intent to harm.

    In a specific case in Hillsboro a few years ago a woman struck and killed an elderly couple in a crosswalk. Her story was that she thought her child had gotten out of the safety seat in the back, so she turned around to see what was happening. Despite the fact the couple was in a marked cross walk the driver was never even cited.

    So, how about a law that if you commit a moving violation (speeding, not stopping for ped in crosswalk, etc.) within close proximity of being involved in an injury collision, you have demonstrated intent to harm.

    Laws about speeding, etc. are there to protect others. Therefore if you are violating them you should know that you are putting others are risk. If that comes true you did intend to cause harm. Let’s make that the law.

  8. So, how about a law that if you commit a moving violation (speeding, not stopping for ped in crosswalk, etc.) within close proximity of being involved in an injury collision, you have demonstrated intent to harm.

    Because the causes of such actions (speeding, not stopping for ped in crosswalk, etc.) are not necessarily intentional and may be related to negligence, distraction, vehicle malfunction, special circumstances such as driver injury or impairment.

    The law may need improving, but what we don’t need are more blanket laws that make draconian assumptions about intent and presume to read minds.

    “Within close proximity” is a big loophole too, no? Suppose you make a right turn onto an arterial street and forget to signal. A cop sees you and is about to cite you. Then suddenly, the driver of a car coming the other way crosses the center-line and hits you. The other driver is injured. Clearly not your fault, but under your proposed law, YOU would be charged with “intent to harm” because you committed a moving violation in “close proximity” to an injury collision.

    – Bob R.

  9. How about – if you kill anybody, the state executes you, no matter what the hell your intention is? That’s how we did it in the old west. Might make people sit up and take notice, too. Right now this provides a huge loophole for people wanting to commit murder, as they can conveniently ‘drop a cd’ and look down right before they runover their cheating spouse or a coworker they don’t like.

    I say string ’em up in Pioneer Courthouse Square like they used to do back when I was a kid.

  10. I gotta agree with #1 100%! I also agree with Herman. At least 10-20 years if someone is killed and the faulted driver is using a cell phone.

    I’m sorry I’m serious about real freedoms, liberties etc. But when someone starts putting others in danger – rights gotta be removed from the one endangering.

    Also – there should be more strict adherence to divers license tests, both physical and written. If a person cannot do a minimum of manuevers and pass with at least an 80 percent on their test they should NOT be driving. Also there should be some way to find evident that they can truly control a car, but also control a car in an emergency situation. It’s one thing to drive, it’s another to react and save lives.

  11. and as another election cycle comes up, those standing for election need to be prodded and poked to be clear regarding their views/visions regarding transportation statewide.

    And is there any plans to look at candidates and try to discern the folks that would promote multimode transit so we can support them? i havent seen anything yet on Port_Trans.. yet

  12. Joe,

    As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Portland Transport cannot support candidates. What we CAN do is provide information, as long as we do it in a way that treats all candidates equally.

    So we could hold a debate (I’ve never seen a candidate debate on blog, at least not formally) or we could do a candidate questionaire and post the results.

    Any volunteers want to take this on? What races are of interest? What questions would we want to ask?

  13. Chris-

    three words: Gubernatorial (Democratic) Primary.

    Start with the top? Work out bugs, then expand to more races in time to be informed for November, 2006?


  14. Regarding local transportation, I think intermodal access and extension/expansion of rail lines would be a good focus for legislators.
    I envision light rail lines extending into rural centers where agriculture production can be distributed into the city center hub and/or beyond. Coupled with this would be rail cars designed to transport goods in addition to people and lots more bicycles. In old days farmers would head to market with a horse-drawn wagon, now, they use trucks.
    Legislation should be introduced that requires an emphasis on rail infrastructure investment to link outlying agriculture production (and other goods) through city centers and into other production and industrial areas.
    This infrastructure should take priority over all truck related road and highway improvements. Planners who are visioning increased truck capacity for their road projects should be required to plan around rail-based transportation first, with the goal of integrating local truck traffic (from area farms) onto the rail system for more cost-efficient distribution.

  15. I wonder, what is the condition of the former Southern Pacific Siskayou Line, as far as how much it could take to upgrade to bring Amtrak Cascades to Medford? As for the Portland and Western, it should be upgraded to at least 100MPH, problem is money. Does Oregon’s Constitution have the same mandate that fuel taxes only be used for Highway Purposes?(Just Curious)

  16. The next great legislation should be taking money from all or most of the new road construction budget and giving it to transit or rail projects such as the suggestions above. The problem is always funding, but there’s plenty if we were able to take it from roads. Someone on another post said they don’t think MAX is worth the money, well new roads certainly are NOT worth the money.

  17. “well new roads certainly are NOT worth the money.”

    Why not? Certainly some new roads are not worth the money, and some new freeway lanes are not worth the money, etc.

    But why the declarative statement that they are “certainly” not worth the money? We’ve had roads since long before there were cars.

    I think a more holistic approach is in order… for any new development or any identified demand, we must look for an appropriate mix of transportation facilities.

    – Bob R.

  18. There is talk around Puget Sound of a regional road package to match the state money, being part of a joint ballot, with the transit improvements being on it too, as part of a joint ballot with Sound Transit. It has been tried before, 1968. Forward Thrust, among several bond measures on the ballot were arterial highways, mass transit, and a multi-purpose sports arena. 2 of the three above passed with the required 60% supermajority, arterial highways(Which the voters would approve then regardless of the cost), a $60 million multipurpose sports stadium, bu only 50% were for the S300 million mass transit system. The $60 million stadium still has not been paid off.

    Light Rail construction continues to progress in Seattle. 5 years ago when the first signs of trouble occured, one KIRO 710AM host began to rail against the project with a fury he still has. He and a select number of guests and callers agreed that it has to go from where the people live to where they wanted to go. Well, I was looking at a book on the old Seattle Muncipal Street Railway, and in 1940, it had a series of streetcar lines that ran from West Seattle, South Seattle, as far north as 85th St(Northern Limits of Seattle at the time), the U-District, Ballard, Capitol Hill, and tackling the three toughest grades on First Hill, were three Cable Cars, 2 that ran through to the shore of Lake Washington. In a little over one year, 26 streetcar lines and 3 cable cars were replaced by Electric and Motor bus Routes. It only took 2 months to do the same to half of the Electric Bus network in 1963. It seems that if it is the powers that be’s right kind of progress, it gets done fast. If it is undoing that progress because we made a mistake, it takes forever to get done.

    In King County, Councilmembers have caved on their wish list, bringing the road improvements down to just 6 corridors, and 2 of them are absolutely essential, as they are bridges and viaducts that are worn out. I405 on the Eastside of the Lake is different, as the only reason it is heavily congestion is the lack of vision by the planners 50 years ago. They wanted a truckers bypass, what they got was mass suburbanization instead. Seattle was formed around streetcar suburbs, Bellevue, Redmond, Burien, Kirkland, Bothell, and other communities along WA I405 were formed around subdivisions and office parks, designed around the automobile. If it was not for trying to maximize chances of passage at the polls, I bet King County could get that road wish list down to 4 corridors, 405, SR99, SR520, and connecting SR509 with I-5. COuld bring the regional roads package down to around $4 billion from the current $7. SOund Transit has a shattered image of a few years ago that pundits, bloggers, and talk show hosts continue to drag out, even though all around them are signs of it getting better. The Everett Herald used figures from Central Link to trash proposed starter LRT lines in Snohomish County. Forgetting that their are big differences between the line being built and the proposed line. Public perception of Mass Transit at the polls will always be influenced by the press, and the Everett Herald was surely not helping.

  19. What are the chances of a “FasTracks” type light rail expansion in Portland being placed on the ballot and passing? The $4.7 Billion FasTracks passed in Denver a few years ago which will expand their small light rail system into a region-wide rapid transit system with several additional light rail lines, bus rapid transit and several commuter rail lines. Salt Lake City’s UTA is said to be considering a similar extensive measure to expand their light rail system.

  20. So it was a radical change in the level of investment, not the system design.

    There continues to be discussion in our region for a bond measure that would fund a combination of road and transit projects that would bootstrap us beyond the ‘slow incremental’ approach we can afford now.

    No one has found a combination that polls strongly however – at least so far.

  21. FasTracks went for large scale expansion by offering all corners of the region a transit project which in turn would make it more appealing to voters throughout the entire region.
    I guess one could say Portland in the 90s sort of went with this approach by proposing fairly ambitious projects like Westside MAX and North-South (didnt N/S win in the two Oregon counties?).
    I was thinking if it worked in Denver (and San Jose in 2000) and has a chance in Salt Lake City, might it work here?

  22. Back in 2002, I suggested over I-776 on the NWCN forum that Seattle not only stay the course on Light Rail, but expand on the plan. I mentioned about Portland, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose, Sacremento, and San Francisco all have Light Rail, and that Seattle did not. One person said they did not care which city had it and did not, he did not want to have to pay for it. We have to spend money to make money, and Light Rail has added to property values in cities that have built it. So much that they keep expanding it, and San Diego even is plugging gaps that were made to avoid tunnels, as evidenced by the new subway that went through San Diego State University. It is time to start investing a little bit more. Washington alone is expected to grow by 100,000 residents a year, and we have little room in Puget Sound for more highways, and Central LINK LRT continues construction.

    It’s going to be tough to win over the voters that do not like LRT, but it can be done, especially if you already have an operating example. (I just hope for ST phase 2, that the 1.6 miler in Tacoma is good enough of a success) Spokane, which is in danger of being bumped by Vancouver as the 2nd Largest City in the state can do their first LRT line for less than $1 Billion, maybe even $500 million. It was a tough sell just to get more money for the bus system in Spokane.

    I was looking at a list of abandonment dates for the Seattle Municipal Street Railway in 1940-41, it took just over a year to abandon 28 streetcar lines and 3 Cable Car Lines. It seems if it is the right kind of progress, their is no obstacle. The only thing delaying it was not enough buses and 2nd Wire to do it overnight.

  23. Evergreen TF,

    I am of the mind that there is a mixture in costs vs benefits depending upon the local situation. Here is a page to compare various US cities utilizing commuter rail:

    There probably should be better incentives to get people to use mass transit. But,it is really hard to make a fair analysis. If a person uses public transit to go to a routine job and then after getting home drives errands is that better than a person who drives to work and then makes his stops on the way home?

    I would guess that people who don’t use mass transit feel they can better organize their lives by private transportation. And whoever said that the jobs that people on mass transit go to are somehow, in the final analysis, environmentally friendly?

    The strength of commuter rail is as a tool for urban development. What upsets most opponents is that we have been coming up with LRT systems that need a lot of care and feeding–via federal taxes. I think they are correct in pointing out that in raw costs per passenger trip buses are far cheaper. Since I was active in defeating the freeway proposals (ala Robert Moses) I can say that the alternative, MAX, was supposed to be a lot cheaper: projected at $8 miilion per mile in 1979. It was double that when it was done. Now new MAX lines are projected at $80-100 miilion per mile. What will they be in ten years: $200m? $300m?

    Motor vehicles are sources of many types of pollution. Rail transit would be a lot better if you can get people to use it and the costs are held down.

    Laws to change:
    How about eliminating the seat belt requirement on everything but Interstates, and US and State of Oregon Hwys posted above 45 mph? This law annoys me a great deal. I got a ticket in Milwaukie when I was only going a few blocks at low, residential speeeds. If you have to make a lot of stops its a pain. I hate to see traffic citations used as local revenue sources.

  24. Inflation helped. The Forward Thrust Proposal that failed at the polls in 1968(and again in 1970), the local match was an unheard of $300 million, for a comprehensive system in the Metro Seattle area, which at the time Mass Suburbanization was only concentrated in communities in South King County and communities along the Eastside of the Lake. Now the three largest counties in Washington State have populations of over or near 1 million. Sound Transit Light Rail ended up at $2 Billion over-budget, but that was for tunnel, the bane of all railroads and transit.

    When the cost-overuns first happened 5 years ago, someone called into a talk show host who was critical of the project saying that they have to build it from where people live and to where they work. Well, the Community Transit and Sound Transit buses come from Lynwood and Tacoma. Two places the line that the voters rejected the year before they approved what we are getting would have started from.

    Also, in 1963, the last year Electric Buses were the primary at Seattle Transit, they were $1 million in the black(probably due to the World’s Fair Traffic the year before), then when the Mass Dieselization of 1963, they went $1 million into the Red. They chose a good paint job for the Diesels, Red and Silver. Red as in the ink they helped put the system. What happened to make Seattle Transit consider diesels, when they had access to Cheap, Hydroelectricity, was Olympia exempted Municipal Bus Systems from paying fuel taxes. THe commission overseeing Seattle Transit was accountable to no-one, not the voters, not City Hall.

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