Whoops! Did I say that?

Update: 12/18/06

Rex’s piece ran as an op-ed in today’s O, with a response piece from Gregg Weston of OTAK.

Gregg’s comeback is that we should set “audacious goals” for transportation.

Hmmm… should our transportation goals be audacious? Or should our transportation goals be modest and our land use goals audacious? Or some combination thereof?

Original Post: 12/12/06

“Every penny we spend on transportation is wasted.”

Oregonian, November 27, 2006

Whoops! Did I say that? I guess it’s a fine line between provoking constructive debate and confusing people.

Admittedly, my remarks probably did more of the latter. If I have offended any of the committed, hard working transportation engineers, planners and construction crews, or my fellow policy makers and transportation advocates, I am truly sorry.

The point I was trying to make is that travel isn’t free. We need to see it as a cost to avoid or minimize. In this region, government’s annual tab is about $600 million. But even that is dwarfed by how much average families spend to own and operate the cars they need — more than $6 billion a year — ten times what the government spends.

So as we map out our transportation future, there are two ways we can get people to where they need to go and keep commerce moving reliably, and save us all time and money. One, design our communities so that people can perform everyday tasks without having to travel as far. After all, only one in five trips is work related. Two, provide more choices to get around efficiently: safe, appealing sidewalks, bike lanes, and good transit, all so that people can choose something other than sitting in traffic jams.

Granted, many people still live far away from where they need to go on a daily basis. And for others, circumstances change: ­ jobs may move further away or kids change schools. But this shouldn’t force people to leave houses and neighborhoods they like. We’ll all still take weekend trips and have to run errands in the car. Freight will still move on trucks.

Rest assured, I recognize we will need to invest in new roads as well as maintain the ones we’ve got so that car travel and business commerce remains viable.

But as we grow, we owe it to ourselves to build more old-fashioned neighborhoods like the one I live in, with jobs and stores close to home, good, reliable transit, and streets safe to walk and bike along — so that people have the freedom to live less expensive, less transportation-intensive lives. That not only equates to more time doing the things we value, like spending time with friends and family, but it’s also a direct benefit for those who still need to make daily car trips and for time-critical truck deliveries and business travel, because our roads will be less congested.

15 responses to “Whoops! Did I say that?”

  1. Oops, did I say that?

    Yeah I did, and the point I was trying to make to the reporter was not that we don’t want people to move from point A to B, but that we want to decrease the distance from point A to point B. So investments in mobility for short trips (e.g., Streetcars) have greater payback in terms of working harmoniously with our land use plans.

    And, Jim, the last time I checked, you are free to go anywhere in the region you want in your car. We haven’t put up any road blocks. The question here is how much we’re going to spend from the public purse to make certain long trips fast.

  2. Funny how a statement like that can be perceived.

    Sprawl doesn’t always need contained. The Commuter Trains of Chicago keep the costs low, provide minimal delay, and allow people in Chicago to sprawl miles and miles outside of the city core to affordable living.

    I think the Sprawl that is desired to be contained is the vast thousands upon thousands of square miles of cement (or concrete or black top) laced roads and highways multiple lanes wide with little or no pedestrian cross walks, little or no reason to the design of such streets (except as last minute fixes) and such monstrosities that many in America are starting to look at and say, “wait a second, this is kind of unsightly!”

    The question that remains is how do we (everyone from me to Government types) project and accurately allow costs to be defrayed onto the actual users without offsetting the markets so that smarter city layouts are utilized and less sprawling mess is created. How do we actually put road costs back on car users since they tend not to want to pay for it? How do we do the same for Streetcar/Light Rail?

    …In the process how do we allow the business growth that is so desperately needed to keep the populace productive, employed, and happy?

  3. Sure, the fact of allowing people to live further away from the central city, but still easily commute in and out of the city, is not itself a bad thing.

    In fact, frequent readers of this space might notice that I continue to advocate for the creation of an extensive system of inter-urban and commuter passenger rail service. This would be precisely to allow people to live in St. Helens, McMinnville, Hood River, or even Astoria or The Dalles, and commute in to jobs in the Portland region by train.

    I think that commuter rail experience on the East Coast, in Europe and in the Bay Area and the LA region shows that people are willing to commute much longer commutes by train that they would be by bus or car — sometimes two hours each way — because the comfort of train travel allows them to get some work, reading, web-surfing, sleeping, eating or socializing done during the ride.

    For more:

    On a regional commuter rail network: http://undergroundscience.blogspot.com/2006/03/regional-dmu-network-for-portland-or.html

    On a statewide rail network (comments on the Oregon Transportation Plan): http://undergroundscience.blogspot.com/2006/02/comments-on-oregon-transportation-plan.html

    On walking and TOD and placemaking: http://undergroundscience.blogspot.com/2006/05/walking-and-transit-oriented.html

  4. This would be precisely to allow people to live in St. Helens, McMinnville, Hood River, or even Astoria or The Dalles, and commute in to jobs in the Portland region by train.

    Why? Just why?

    How many people really live in Astoria, Hood River, The Dalles – and commute to Portland?

    St. Helens…there’s some possibility, but only some 10,000 people live there. The highway is hardly congested and there’s bus service – just why do we need a train?

    McMinnville…why can’t we start with a bus?

    Then again – Salem is conveniently left out. Salem already has a large existing commuting base (both to Portland, and from Portland to Salem), an ideal railroad route already suited for 79 MPH operation, known traffic flow…and a freeway that carries 80,000 ADT daily (at its low point). Yet many of the pro-commuter rail advocates openly suggest terminating commuter rail at…Canby???

    Let’s focus on knowns rather than hypotheticals; the last thing we need is a gold-plated railroad to nowhere, that nobody rides, but sucked precious transportation dollars to build. Even a small reduction in Salem-Portland traffic would mitigate congestion on I-5 and 217. What would St. Helens rail mitigate?

  5. Putting the question another way: Is encouraging people to live farther away the best use of limited transportation $$$ (whether it be highway capital or transit operating costs)?

    Also, I thought it was Rex Burkholder (?) who said that comment, knowing that he thinks you shouldn’t have to travel anywhere to get/do things.

    As for rail service from Salem, there is Amtrak. While it may be overboard for many, I know there at least used to be some people who commuted on it.

  6. Keep in mind that a region where people move around and visit each others neighborhoods and towns is a vastly more dynamic and interesting place. While it need not be a necessity to get in the car to get milk or a newspaper it should certainly be an option via transit to get anywhere in the region one might want to go.

    A rail link to Salem is obvious and should be part of the inevitable high-speed connection between Vancouver-Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia-Portland.

  7. Erik-

    Yes, you’re right — commuter rail levels of service between Salem and Portland would be a great addition to the list. I think I left it off because the Cascades service already operates there. However, Cascades should run more often, at higher speeds, with faster running times between Salem and Portland.

    As for why run commuter rail to St. Helens, or any of the other places that I mentioned?

    The reason is to tie those places into the Portland economy more closely. The point is not just the trains. The point is a coordinated transportation and land use plan. Any place served by a commuter rail station would need to have a plan to have, say, a minimum of 2,200 housing units located within a half-mile of the station area, and be able to deliver those units within x many years of the beginning of service. Those housing units would also need to have more local services to serve them.

    This would be a shot in the arm for the local economy, it would take a little pressure off the UGBs of both the town in question (say, St. Helens) as well as Portland, and it would allow people to live in the country, work in the city, but not need to drive a car for their commute every day.

    The point is *not* congestion relief. Why? Traffic is a sign of a healthy economy. Parking policies (making people pay for parking at employment centers) plus traffic & gas prices are the incentives that make people think about alternatives, such as taking transit, walking or biking.

    The point, then, is about enabling a healthy and successful land use policy by linking it to a fully-functional transportation system that provides many options for living and getting around.

  8. The point, then, is about enabling a healthy and successful land use policy by linking it to a fully-functional transportation system that provides many options for living and getting around.


  9. Do I detect Rex doing a little back pedaling here from positions previously held? And I don’t just mean the statement: “Every penny we spend on transportation is wasted.”

  10. Zoning such that it’s sole intent is to influence any type of “choice” behavior is social engineering and should not be a part of any type of planning.

    Market forces should decide the location, type, and density of housing and commercial development, and transportation should be designed and built around those choices. Zoning should only be used to prevent incompatible uses (such as a 5-story condo building going up in a single family neighborhood).

  11. Market forces should decide the location, type, and density of housing and commercial development, and transportation should be designed and built around those choices.

    So the private sector decides land use and the government has to respond with transportation to whatever gets built?

    I don’t think so. I want my tax dollars spent a lot more responsibly than that.

  12. Zoning should only be used to prevent incompatible uses (such as a 5-story condo building going up in a single family neighborhood).

    If you are truly advocating for market forces, what is the incompatible use between a 5-story condo and a single family neighborhood? Both uses are residential… the only real “incompatibility” would be aesthetic, not practical, because you call for building the infrastructure to match what the market does on private land.

    A true incompatibility would be a noisy factory or a refinery or a loud nightclub going in to a residential neighborhood… not just more residents.

    – Bob R.

  13. While a few (we’re talking single digits, folks) people may use Amtrak Cascades to commute between Salem and Portland, it isn’t practical for the vast majority of folks.

    Why? One train a day, leaves Salem at 6:57 AM. Arrives in Portland at 8:20 AM (okay, there’s a bit of schedule padding there, so arrives closer to 7:55-8:00 AM.) If you’re due into work at 8:00, you’re late, guaranteed.

    There is no service to Washington County, other than a transfer to MAX, and you might make it to work by 9:00 AM. Far too late for most, unless you’re one of the few lucky folks that can telework or have truly flexible schedules.

    What if you work in Salem, then what do you do?

    It is simply impractical to force all state employees to live within five miles of the state Capitol, and private-sector jobs are simply better in the Portland area than in the Salem area. A two-earner family might have one work in Portland and the other in Salem – are we to discriminate against them by forcing one of them to quit their job? It would be nice if transportation weren’t an issue, but it’d also be nice if health care wasn’t an issue either, or many of the other government services that exist. What if every person would have a full education by the end of the 12th grade – we’d have no need for public colleges/universities, and an immediate savings (in Oregon) of $1.5B annually. What if we didn’t have to pay for prisons – we’d save another $1.3B annually. But like those other governmental entities, transportation is a must. Should we try to save money? Absolutely – but artificially restricting spending, and forcing convoluted projects that have shown little to no reduction in demand in highway use, is likewise not necessarily an effective use of limited dollars.

  14. There’s a commuting company that says they’ll be coming in April of 2009 or something like that which goes back and forth between Salem, Portland, Oregon City and Clackamas. I don’t know if they have multiple routes or busses, but this sounds like what people have been needing for a long time. As long as the price is reasonable I guess and it doesn’t have to make 2 dozen stops along the way increasing the time, this could be a good way to open up opportunities for people. It’s called Inter-City Commuting (I found them at intercitycommuting.com).

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