A New Process for a New Regional Transportation Plan?

I’ve been banging the drum lately that citizens should get involved very early in policy development to have maximum impact, so they’re not left asking “when did that decision get made?” Well, here’s a golden opportunity.

The Metro Council has been saying that this update to the Regional Transportation Plan will be different – we’re going to stop deluding ourselves by having a “preferred system” made up of projects that cost 3 times what we actually have to spend. That means making some hard choices and really thinking about the transportation system we’re going to live with for the next 20 years.

So what kind of citizen input process do we want to use to make this choices? I have the opportunity (because of my MPAC membership) to participate in a workshop next week to scope the RTP process. What kind of outreach should we be doing and what kinds of discussions should we be having with the region to do this right?

I want to hear your ideas!

11 responses to “A New Process for a New Regional Transportation Plan?”

  1. So I’m going to through out one answer to my own question. I think we should use scenario analysis to look at what happens to the transportation system if:

    – Gas is at $5.00/gallon (or higher)
    – We need to constrain greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels or even reduce them lower

    What other scenario factors might we want to plug in?

  2. Chris,
    Let’s get Joe Cortright to offer an analysis of where the economy is going…will Portland’s future be as a warehouse town with lots of forklift jobs or will it be a knowledge based future with value added manufacturing, etc? This is the fundamental flaw of the Cost of Congestion, it mistook the future for what is in the rear-view mirror. Metro has data on this stuff.
    Also, at the CLF get together this week, I urged that CLF and friends create a “Peoples Bi-State Regional Travel Plan,” which is something that neither Metro nor the RTC can do.
    Last, the Columbia River Crossing decisions need to made in the context of whatever RTP comes out of this process, not as a free standing project. What is done there will drive transportation in this region for the next generation. The Open House is tonight…4:30-7:30 at the Jantzen Beach Red Lion…vote early and vote often!

  3. One thing might be to get in the neighborhoods (via the associations) and find out what people believe, on a local level. Probably sounds like more complications. On an absurdly generalized level, I think I have seen a tension between “Central City Concerns” and “outlying area needs.”

    While I agree with trying to reduce dependence on private automobiles, it is a fact that automobile users get frustrated with bottlenecks and are able propose some simple, yet effective solutions. On the other hand this process should not be turned into a wish list, where projects keep getting added in.

    Yes, indeed, METRO should pursue this method: “When more than one solution exists, consider the simplest first.” otherwise known as Ockhams Razor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_Razor

    That doesn’t mean that the simplest solution will be the final choice; rather that simple solutions should be presumed to have greater merit until proven otherwise.

    I believe alternative fuels are going to become very popular in the next five years. I was just looking at how to convert my Ford 3.0 V6 to the flexfuel version. Not too complicated. Or maybe I will buy a diesel vehicle and go bio. If the fuel expense and CO2 pollution can be rectified it is hard to beat having a car.

    Here are some ideas by which I think we could accomplish a lot of the goal of reducing VMT in the Portland area: Multimodal CC bridge at present RR corridor with LRT, and alternatives,too. Willamette River crossing at Lake Oswego–to reduce distance of Clackamas County-Washington Co travel. If new Caruthers Crossing in Portland, one that also serves the burgeoning SOWA area–e.g. Holgate Bv. to Bancroft. Also consider the 99W/Barbur Bv/FrontAv/NorthPortland Rd. corridor, to accomodate future residential expansion.

  4. Chris-

    You say “we’re going to stop deluding ourselves by having a “preferred system” made up of projects that cost 3 times what we actually have to spend. That means making some hard choices and really thinking about the transportation system we’re going to live with for the next 20 years.”

    I agree with the principle, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a two-tiered system? The first tier represents those projects that can be funded given existing forecasted revenue streams; the second tier represents those projects that are of regional importance, but currently lack funding?

    Ultimately, the first tier will get built, but the second tier might be a useful guide to have, should additional revenue sources open up in the future.

    OK, and as to the outreach process:

    * Involve the BTA and scope what it would take to build out the bicycle system. What does “build-out” mean to the citizens of the region? Where are “bicycle freeways” appropriate (continuous Class 1 facilities prodiving important intra-regional connections)? Where are additional bicycle bridges, overcrossings and undercrossings needed? How can bicycle tourism be accommodated?
    * As somebody else suggested, go to all the neighborhood groups. Ask them what needs exist for their local pedestrian systems. Where do barriers exist that prevent people from walking from their home to the nearest grocery store for that quart of milk in the morning? What can be done to make walking more popular?
    * Scope the transit system needs, not just with Tri-Met, but with citizens and the neighborhood and business groups. Where could streetcars not only assist with moving people, but encourage the development of higher-density pedestrian districts? How do streetcars fit in with a regional light rail and commuter rail plan?
    * How can blogs be used to collect feedback and integrate it into the plan? :-)

  5. * How can blogs be used to collect feedback and integrate it into the plan? :-)

    All the Portland community, activist, and wonkish blogs need to be indexed under the city of Portland’s website (or a nonprofit), and some sort of connection be linked to the neighborhood organizations… and perhaps the visioning process Potter started.

    Not just one voice, but many voices. Although we are all net-bound, more and more this is becoming the preferred method for speaking out for citizens. With net-saavy politicians (even Potter has a blog), I think it will be useful to see – at a glance – what issues are important to various parts of the city. And places like Portland Transport, etc, can excel at being focused on specific issues.

  6. I agree with the principle, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a two-tiered system?

    Unfortunately that’s exactly how we got to where we are. The 2nd tier became the collector for everyone’s pet projects. A ‘stretch’ set of projects is probably a good idea, but it needs to be a realistic stretch, not everything but the kitchen sink!

  7. Okay the BTA has a role in this, but has anyone asked if RAZ transportation, or Blue Star can provide any ideas since they are in the transportation business?
    From my perspective local governments on both sides of the river need to look at opening the market to private companies to provide services.
    It won’t cost taxpayers a penny if private companies invest a few dollars, or a few million
    to buy buses, or vans of some sort to use.

  8. Michael Wilson

    It won’t cost taxpayers a penny if private companies invest a few dollars, or a few million
    to buy buses, or vans of some sort to use.

    The only problem is economically speaking, mass transit is monopolized by the Government Sector. So there is no real business model to go into the transportation business with. Thus the reason Raz only uses minimal investment system i.e. busses and the like.

    If we want the market to actually provide services based on what people want, first off the subsidized expectations that people have that it is cheap and easy to provide transportation needs to be done away with, second the subsidizations need to go away.

    So on that note, which I commonly write about and fuss about, we aren’t going to see real growth money/capital investment from the private sector until it actually makes sense.

    I know in some parts of the country (namely Texas & North Carolina) they are starting to privatize toll systems and roads (interstate/highways) and also private investment is starting to take off in Texas by the billions of dollars.

    Oregon however with it’s current political system will see none of this effort as it doesn’t make sense.

  9. …particularly if it promotes sprawl or damages the natural landscape.

    Texas doesn’t exactly have that kind of problem.

  10. Every time the RTP is updated, Metro fails to cost out and model a “transit intensive” alternative. The reason given is that there is no money available to build and operate such a system, so why spend the money to model it? The result is that the public never has the information available to possibly change priorities about how money is allocated. What if it turns out that for the same money as will otherwise be spent on a batch of highway expansion projects, a transit system could be built that would attract enough riders so that net congestion levels on the highway system would be no worse than if the highway projects were built and the transit system weren’t expanded? Given that this would probably result in decreased energy use, decreased pollution, and no reduction in available choices, it is possible that the public would go for such an alternative.

    However, people are never given this choice. It is deemed “too expensive” right up front. Even when Metro was being “visionary” and developing the 2040 plan, the transit component was downright uninspired. But I think it is more than just cost. A visionary transit plan would need to be designed according to valid transit design principles. One fundamental principle is that what counts in mode choice, above all, is relative travel time. A “transit intensive” plan would obviously have a subway link connecting the east-side and west-side Max lines, giving transit riders a short-cut across the region, while motorists must negotiate I-405 and congested bridges to make comparable moves.

    Neither TriMet nor Metro has the political guts to design such a plan, even as a “throw-away” option. It gores too many oxes. Still, the citizens should ask for this option. Whether or not there is only the faintest chance that such a plan would ever by implemented, the mere exercise of designing a “transit intensive” plan would be most illuminating. I want to make clear that this should be an open process with citizen involvement, and I personally am willing to accept that what is “obvious” to me is not necessarily what an open process will come up with.

    Also, this isn’t an anti-bike idea. It complements all non-auto modes. I mostly ride my bike to work, and like to walk. But if we don’t pressure Metro on this, it will never happen.

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