Archive | August, 2007

I Can’t Believe I’m Saying This

I actually find myself agreeing with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.

No, not when she says that bicycle paths aren’t transportation infrastructure.

But in yesterday’s O, she has a letter to the editor pointing out that increasing gas taxes would not help deal with congestion.

She’s right, congestion pricing would be a much better way to go. So are progressives (because it incents desirable policy outcomes) and conservatives (because it’s market-based) going to find middle ground on congestion pricing?

Elasticy of Roadway Demand Illustrated Again

There was a lot of discussion in various media and blogs last week about the traffic jam that didn’t materialize when I-5 was severely limited during construction in the Seattle area. Demonstrating once again that all those drivers apparently do have real choices. Either the trips really weren’t vital, or they have other options. Here’s a column from a Seattle paper, quoted on the Pricelines blog:

The short answer is that this is always what happens….

In 1998, British researchers studied what happened to traffic in more than 100 highway and bridge shutdowns in Europe and the U.S. They found that on average 25 percent of all car trips simply evaporated.

People still went to work. Some commuters drove, some found another way in. Some other trips were just not made.

“Drivers are not stupid,” (Oliver) Downs says. “They change schedules. They don’t take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic.”

There’s that word again. Is it me, or does “little” keep rearing up when the subject is our big problem, transportation?

Seattle’s primary transit corridor, the downtown bus tunnel, is closed. Gridlock was predicted. We dodged that by doing a “thousand little things,” such as moving bus stops and banning cars from Third Avenue.

Now we have closed part of our largest freeway. Still no gridlock. You drivers made sure of that. You did “fifty thousand little things.”

Yet all the plans for what to do next are big. Build big rail lines. Bigger roads. Paid for by the biggest tax increase.

Maybe some answers to our traffic mess are little ….

This is not limited to the Seattle region. Recent local examples include the diversion of West Burnside for sewer construction and major maintenance on the Interstate Bridges.

Fall CRC Update

The Columbia River Crossing project has scheduled several additional open houses in October:

Wednesday, October 17
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Former Hayden Island Yacht Club
12050 N. Jantzen Drive, Portland, Oregon

Saturday, October 20
10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Lincoln Elementary School
4200 NW Daniels, Vancouver, WA

And the only remaining task force meeting scheduled in this calendar year will be held in November:

Columbia River Crossing Task Force
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
WSDOT SW Region Headquarters
11018 NE 51st Circle, Vancouver

Forums? Or…?

There was a suggestion last week on the ‘open thread’ that we have some kind of forums section here on Portland Transport (i.e., a place where anyone can post, without requiring approval from the management).

I’m interested what people think about that. I must say I’m a little worried that the trolls would take it over.

But I will also say that I continue to be interested in publishing a wide variety of voices. So if you have something to say (and can say it in an interesting and civil way), I’m always open to publishing a guest post.

Maintenance, Safety Funding Packages Looks Viable

The latest polling reveals reasonable support for a combination of funding sources to help pay for reducing Portland’s $422M street maintenance backlog and helping fund a variety of safety projects. The PDOT press release is copied below. You can also find the overview presentation on the polling on portlandonline.com. And here is the Oregonian coverage.

Key indications are:

  • There appears to be support for a City gas tax up to about 3 cents per gallon, but not much more.
  • Support did not vary much across several levels of Street Maintenance Fee (a fee added on to your water bill) up to about $6/mo for an average household.
  • A number of optional features that made the package more ‘green’ had popular support.
  • Support for bicycle boulevards was reasonably strong under the logic of ‘reducing conflict with cars’ rather than providing more bicycle connectivity.
  • There is interest in a regional component to the package to help provide funding for maintaining the Willamette River bridges.

The final configuration of the proposed package will be determined after another series of neighborhood open houses.

Public Opinion Survey Shows Support for Local Funding
Options to Tackle Maintenance and Safety Backlogs on
Local Streets and Willamette River Bridges
Citizen Stakeholder Committee Reviewing Options; Neighborhood
Public Open Houses Scheduled for September; Board and
City Council Consideration in January, 2008

(PORTLAND, OR) – Repairing streets, neighborhood and pedestrian safety improvements, signal synchronization to help with congestion, repairs to the Willamette River bridges, and bike boulevards to reduce motorist/bicycle safety conflicts are at the top of Portlanders’ transportation “To Do” list.

These results were revealed in a recent scientific, city-wide survey of 900 Portland voters conducted by Davis, Hibbitts & Midgall, Inc. The survey also found majority support among likely voters in the May 2008 election for any of the following funding sources: a 3 cent local gas tax, a monthly residential street maintenance fee between $2.60 and $4.50, and a $27.00 annual vehicle registration fee. The survey also showed likely voter support for a combination of these fees, when each fee was at a lower amount.

The survey was completed as part of an effort by Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams and the Multnomah County Board to explore local transportation funding options to address the city and county’s combined $747 million transportation related backlog in street paving, bridge maintenance and safety measures.

“There is strong support out there for a funding package that includes fixes for roads, Willamette bridges, and signal improvements. Reducing car/bike safety conflicts was also ranked very high,” said pollster Adams Davis. “When asked in general terms, around 70% of people asked said they would support spending up to $6.25 a month for transportation improvements. And when asked about specific funding options, at least three get a majority support and the ‘greener’ you make each option, the better it does.”

County Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey, who has long advocated for better Willamette River Bridge maintenance, said, “I appreciate the public’s support for fixing our local streets and Willamette River bridges.”

Rojo de Steffey, Adams, and the “Safe and Sound Streets” Stakeholder Committee were briefed today by Adam Davis on the survey results.

The City is facing a transportation maintenance backlog of $422 million to repave roads in poor or very poor condition; replace old and failing traffic signals; add sidewalks to arterial streets that currently lack them; repair city bridges in disrepair (not including those that cross the Willamette River); and make safety improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. The cost to repair Portland’s transportation infrastructure will continue to increase by $9 million each year if nothing is done to address the issue.

Multnomah County is facing a $325 million maintenance backlog on its Willamette River Bridges, including the cost to replace the aging Sellwood Bridge.

The Stakeholder Committee of over 70 community leaders from businesses; neighborhoods; bicycle, pedestrian, and transit communities; elected officials; and the traffic safety community met with Commissioner Adams to discuss Portlanders’ local transportation priorities and potential funding sources.

Davis’s presentation also outlined the projects with strongest public support, which include adequate maintenance of bridges and overpasses (81%), signal timing on major city streets to reduce congestion and environmental problems (81%), focusing on long delayed maintenance that will reduce the future cost of repairs (79%), an expansion of programs that promote travel options other than driving alone (68%), and the development of bike boulevards to minimize conflicts between bicyclists and motorists on some of the city’s busiest streets (68%).
Residents surveyed previously showed support for a funding package that balances the burden between businesses and residential properties.

In his presentation to the citizen’s committee, Adam Davis emphasized that the complexity of transportation responsibilities and funding is not understood in great detail by the public.

TriMet, the City of Portland, and Multnomah County are often conflated as the general providers of transportation services, regardless of their specific duties over the transportation system. The group discussed the importance of making it clear to the public that funding sources being used for many new projects, such as the proposed eastside streetcar extension, are not available for basic paving and maintenance. “We must be clear with the public that money is not being taken out of our maintenance budget for things like streetcar and MAX,” said Commissioner Adams.

The citywide survey findings mirror results of the less scientific surveys conducted at the neighborhood district Town Halls led by Commissioner Adams in June and July. “There is a growing understanding about the problem and increasing agreement that now is the time to come up with a solution,” said Commissioner Adams.

A series of Open Houses are scheduled for September, and another round of Town Hall meetings will be conducted in October where residents will be given another opportunity to learn more about the problems faced by Portland’s transportation system and lend a voice in shaping the possible maintenance and safety projects for their neighborhoods.

The “Safe and Sound Streets” Stakeholder Committee will guide the process to address Portland’s transportation problems and solutions and to formulate a funding package that will be reviewed at the October Town Halls. The funding package will be fine-tuned through a rigorous audit process.

Complete results of the survey were made available at the meeting and are available online at www.portlandonline.com/transportation, under the “What’s New” heading on the right of the screen. To provide your input on this effort, visit the web site or call (503) 823-1394.