Time to Reboot the RTP?

Do we need to try again on Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan?

Last week we discussed the lukewarm response from progressive transportation advocates, now we have more specifics:

  • Mayor Adams has tweeted that the plan fails to meet the goals of the Portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan.
  • Members of the Sustainability Commission have expressed concern that the plan not only fails to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but in fact increases emissions over the no-build scenario.
  • Coalition for a LIvable Future has released a detailed critique (PDF, 324K).

CLF’s overall criticisms include:

  • Too much emphasis on road expansion (even without the Columbia River Crossing)
  • Increases in greenhouse gases
  • Lack of equity

and some specific items:

  • Washington County is trying to build its way out of congestion
  • Portland’s Streetcar expansion needs to happen at the edges as well as the center of the City
  • TriMet is failing to provide sufficient operating funding for buses

Local leaders should insist that our transportation investments decrease greenhouse gases rather than increase them!

31 Comments

31 Responses to Time to Reboot the RTP?

  1. jimkarlock
    October 27, 2009 at 4:06 am Link

    Chris: Local leaders should insist that our transportation investments decrease greenhouse gases rather than increase them!
    JK: WOW! Finally Chris and I agree on a solution (although we disagree on the problem.)

    To decrease greenhouse gas, we must decrease fossil fuel use. One way to do that is to use more fuel efficient modes of transport.

    A look at actual fuel consumption, per passengers transported each mile, shows that the average USA car uses less fuel than the average USA transit system. For instance, the average big city bus agency (by annual passenger-miles) DOES NOT SAVE energy compared to the average USA car. They get a car equivalent milage of 20.4-24.6 mpg, while the average USA car on the road today gets 22.4. The average new car is mandated to get 31.2 mpg. So transit DOES NOT reduce CO2 emissions (if you still believe Al Gores’s fantasy/get rich scheme that CO2 maters.)

    So, the way to reduce CO2 emission is to get more people off of transit and in to new cars, so as to reduce the amount of transit service needed.

    If you want to look only at our Trimet, it is better, but still only equivalent to a car that gets 26-31mpg. Again, new cars are mandated to get 31.2 mpg, so we need to get people into new cars to reduce CO2.

    BTW, I say CO2 instead of “greenhouse gas” because the most important greenhouse gas, in terms of actual; warming effect, is water vapor, NOT CO2.

    An added benefit is that cars are far cheaper than transit.

    BTW, I have updated portlandfacts.com/top10bus.html to reflect total transit system energy usage for those cities that have wasted money on light rail.

    Thanks
    JK

  2. Bob R.
    October 27, 2009 at 12:04 pm Link

    Sigh… here we go again. The short rebuttal version:

    1. Conflation of urban miles with rural miles.
    2. Limiting conversation to “cars” when people riding transit rather than driving coming from larger vehicles as well.
    3. Confusing CAFE mileage standards with EPA standards and/or real-world performance.
    4. Assuming fuel efficiency gains will not come to transit.
    5. Elimination of electric-powered transit. (When we have significant deployment of electric cars, you can include those too.)
    6. Completely ignoring externalized costs.

    We’ve been over this dozens, perhaps hundreds of times now, and you have yet to correct your assertions.

    If you want to look only at our Trimet, it is better

    Yes, that’s the point, isn’t it? Portland has been making the kinds of transit and land-use decisions that other places are only starting to consider, and it’s working. Kinda blows your entire thesis out of the water.

  3. Ron Swaren
    October 27, 2009 at 12:34 pm Link

    Jim, the electric buses, as proposed by various inventors, would get about 3 to 6x the economy of the standard diesel bus. Promoting something like that to pollution conscious people could actually work pretty well.
    http://green.autoblog.com/2009/05/06/proterra-electric-bus-gets-over-20-mpge-in-tests/

    But I think we will see electric and other alternative autos in increased abundance if public pressure continues. (Hoping, of course, that maintaining them for a long while is not prohibitively expensive–I don’t know why it would be)I have concluded that the expensive imported autos that left coast people like to buy are also not very recyclable. Unless you know how to rebuild their expensive parts yourself! The costs of rebuilding their automatic transmissions could be 10-20 times what the standard American ones were only a few years back.

    However, for METRO to consider spending multiple billions on mass transit schemes in an effort to reduce C02 is highly questionable. They have, on the table, (1) up to $20 billion in light rail expansion (2) Another $3 Billion in their CRC project (3) Possibly $10-20 Billion in I-5 reconstruction (4) upwards of a billion in Streetcar projects.

    Once they have settled the extra few million people they tell us will come here—then the local communities will be burdened with massive infrastructure improvement as well. METRO is just mentioning the transit projects at this point. That’s just a small piece of the puzzle with the kind of population increase they are talking about.

    Don’t they realize that people have to go to work to earn the money to pay the taxes for these kinds of schemes? And when you multiply this by the other communities in the US persuaded now to follow this course, that’s a lot of people going to work by whatever means they can to pay for these ideas on a nationwide scale.

    There are lots of other energy consuming activities that COULD be targeted:
    1. High rise offices consume power all week, even though they are only used for a fraction of the time.
    2. Big homes consume lots of energy–especially in the cold parts of the country. A bungalow in Arizona uses very little.
    3. Imported products produce lots of pollution and energy use because the ships are notorious polluters.
    4. Jetliners, power boats and RV’s use lots of fuel. Why go after the auto owner?

    Finally, we could be utilizing the fuel efficient vehicles already approved in Europe were it not for our outdated federal EPA standards. Ford has introduced the Fiesta model in Europe which gets upwards of 60 mpg–but it is not approved in the US. If vehicles were commonly able to get near this mileage it would make a biodiesel blend logistically feasible. We can’t rely on bio fuels at 15 mpg—-but with a 50/50 blend it might be achievable once we are past the 50 mpg mark. There are a number of alternatives in autos coming soon to the market. So it is sort of premature to figure that we are going to induce a massive shift in consumer habits centered around an expensive public transit scheme.

  4. al m
    October 27, 2009 at 2:50 pm Link

    So JK is advocating the government supply each US citizen with a fuel efficient car?

    And by the money/greenhouse gas saved through the elimination of transit in America the goal of complete mobility will be achieved once and for all for our great democracy?

    Free cars for all Americans, who needs health insurance when we all could be driving instead!

    For once Jim K has a good idea!

  5. jimkarlock
    October 27, 2009 at 4:08 pm Link

    Bob R. Says: 1. Conflation of urban miles with rural miles.
    JK: Does that change the basic conclusion that currently available cars use less energy than transit? (NO!)

    Bob R. Says: 2. Limiting conversation to “cars” when people riding transit rather than driving coming from larger vehicles as well.
    JK: You always seem to forget the context. The context is changing people’s behavior (something we all should find repugnant on its face.) In that context which will save the most energy a the lowest cost in money and people’s well being – a change to more efficient car or forcing them to waste 50-100% more time on transit at great monetary cost? (portlandfacts.com/commutetime.html)

    Bob R. Says: 3. Confusing CAFE mileage standards with EPA standards and/or real-world performance.
    JK: OK, then go with the real USA current fleet at 22.4 mpg. Even then Trimet is no great improvement – only a tiny one.

    Bob R. Says: 4. Assuming fuel efficiency gains will not come to transit.
    JK: Tranist has been getting less efficient for years and cars have been getting more efficient. (portlandfacts.com/transit/table2.11.html) And don’t forget that cars getting in the 80 mpg range are available in Europe.

    Bob R. Says: 5. Elimination of electric-powered transit. (When we have significant deployment of electric cars, you can include those too.)
    JK: I don’t see your point – how is it relevant here?

    Bob R. Says: 6. Completely ignoring externalized costs.
    JK: Oh, like transit using MORE foreign oil per passenger-mile than cars?
    Or the mercury, uranium and thorium put into the air by coal power plants.

    Bob R. Says: We’ve been over this dozens, perhaps hundreds of times now, and you have yet to correct your assertions.
    JK: They don’t need corrections – it is your criticisms that fall short.

    Bob R. Says: Yes, that’s the point, isn’t it? Portland has been making the kinds of transit and land-use decisions that other places are only starting to consider, and it’s working. Kinda blows your entire thesis out of the water.
    JK: If forced density and other nutty ideas worked, how come high density cities are worse than Portland? Kinda blows you argument. (portlandfacts.com/top10bus.html)

    Thanks
    JK

  6. kitty
    October 27, 2009 at 8:23 pm Link

    why is it that just one commenter constantly drives the debate here. I thought we were talking about the RTP not JK.

  7. Ron Swaren
    October 27, 2009 at 9:54 pm Link

    Just heard on the radio tonight (yes, the car radio) that methane gas is 72 times as effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Then we have the gases releases during modern manufacturing processes such as NH3, used in LCD screen manufacturing, reportedly 17,000 times as harmful as CO2. Unless you can point to other greenhouse gases put out by automobiles why pick on cars? Why not go after yak herders in outer Mongolia?

  8. EngineerScotty
    October 27, 2009 at 10:31 pm Link

    If you are concerned about cow farts, I’d bet that the cattle industry in the US (dairy and beef both) contributes a lot more to global warming than do yakherders in Mongolia…

  9. Bob R.
    October 27, 2009 at 11:09 pm Link

    This is not a web site for debating global warming. If you are interested in greenhouse gases, and the relative radiative forcing of each, and the (very important) amount of time a particular gas sticks around in the atmosphere once emitted, start with this Wikipedia summary primer on Greenhouse Gases:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas

    Meanwhile, we can talk about the RTP. For a more detailed rebuttal of JK’s oft-repeated arguments, see any number of hundreds of comments from various folks here in the past.

  10. Ron Swaren
    October 28, 2009 at 7:18 am Link

    Wikipedia! How scientific can you get?
    “This is not a web site for debating global warming. If you are interested in greenhouse gases, and the relative radiative forcing of each, and the (very important) amount of time a particular gas sticks around in the atmosphere once emitted, start with this Wikipedia summary primer on Greenhouse Gases:”

    So I guess we just ignore all comments pertaining to CO2 and global warming in Post #1. It didn’t happen.

    “If you are concerned about cow farts, I’d bet that the cattle industry in the US (dairy and beef both) contributes a lot more to global warming than do yakherders in Mongolia…”

    India, China and Argentina have largest cattle herds. But herds are frequently outsize in cultures where wealth is measured by livestock numbers. I figured you knew that. Beef consumption in US dropped 2 percent last year.

    Since devout muslims don’t eat pork products I guess that leaves them to raise other animals for protein.

    Mud volcanoes are a large contributor to methane, but since they are usually no larger than a football field perhaps the gases could be contained and burned. This releases CO2, a much less harmful gas. In case you didn’t know the planet has been in a general warming trend since the late Medieval “ice age.” I’m working on a fix, right now.

  11. EngineerScotty
    October 28, 2009 at 10:11 am Link

    Wikipedia is generally a good place to start for knowledge on scientific topics, though global warming/climate change might be an exception due to the high number of trolls, spammers, and edit warriors the topic attracts.

    Of course, readers who want more than a summary review of any scientific topic would be well to examine the more primary and scholarly sources cited in each article’s bibliography.

    But Wikipedia-bashing is so 2006.

    Given that GW/CC is indeed off topic here, that’s all I got to say ’bout that.

  12. Bob R.
    October 28, 2009 at 10:19 am Link

    Wikipedia!

    Beats the car radio. :-p

  13. John H
    October 28, 2009 at 10:26 pm Link

    [Moderator: Mischaracterization of moderator policy removed. This is not a site for debate over the existence of global warming, pro-or-con, and any such elongated debates are a distraction and have plenty of other forums where they can occur. We are talking about local policies, based on the assumption (which is in line with the opinions of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists) that human-caused global warming exists as a phenomenon, and that CO2 is a significant component of that. Take your distractions elsewhere. If we were a public health policy blog debating the best policy approaches for flu infection prevention, we wouldn’t have constant distracting debates about whether the virus model of disease transmission was scientifically valid.]

    [PS… Why the change to your last initial? You’ve been asked to keep it to just one pseudonym before… or was it a typo?]

  14. Ron Swaren
    October 29, 2009 at 9:36 am Link

    I’m all in favor of people riding bicycles as much as they want to. And probably would agree that there may be too many roads incorporated into the plan. Also that “Tri Met is failing to provide sufficient operating funds for buses.” Whether we need a climate action plan that somehow costs multiple billions of federal and local dollars is an open subject… and data which would shed light on whether this expenditure would make any difference in terrestial climate is relevant. That question seems to be central to the original post in this thread. But…hey….there are a LOT of variables on the horizon and I don’t see a problem in discussing them.

    Before committing money in quantities of billions we should know if the strategy is going to work. Otherwise it will have to be redone. Do-overs are spendy.

  15. al m
    October 29, 2009 at 10:10 am Link

    Before committing money in quantities of billions we should know if the strategy is going to work.

    You mean like the Iraq/Afghanistan wars?

  16. Ron Swaren
    October 29, 2009 at 10:41 am Link

    al m, Now that is really off-topic. Where is the moderator?

  17. ws
    October 29, 2009 at 12:23 pm Link

    JK: http://portlandfacts.com/top10bus.html

    JK: Btu/passenger miles of buses was twice as good as it was in 1970 than it is today. (Transportation Energy Book Table 2.13). That shows that our transportation policy that puts automobiles ahead of transit has hurt transit efficiency (and financial sustainability), and that ultimately more passengers on this mode will decrease energy use drastically. Meanwhile, automobiles need to get a glut of fuel efficient cars off the road in order to become even remotely energy efficient.

    Keep in mind, per passenger mile, light trucks consume more than buses (about 2,000 more Btus), and many many people use trucks (and SUVs) as their passenger vehicle.

    It’s best to assess actual energy use instead of segregating certain modes. Some people can’t live without their truck, others are using it mostly for passenger travel.

    Your entire methodology assumes and ignores very critical data that would be key in actually analyzing true energy use.

    But hey, Tri-Met already uses less energy than cars right now, and further ridership will drastically increase its energy efficiency.

  18. al m
    October 29, 2009 at 3:30 pm Link

    LOL!!

    OK Ron,
    I hereby consent to the “off topic decree” and give my permission to the Lord High Exalted Ruler (aka Bob R)to delete my post with prejudice!

    Signed and dated this October 29, 2009 by Al M, aka the ranting bus driver.

  19. EngineerScotty
    October 29, 2009 at 3:43 pm Link

    The War in Iraq isn’t entirely off-topic, given that many suspect it’s being fought to keep gas cheap. :)

  20. Bob R.
    October 29, 2009 at 4:50 pm Link

    To the extent that federal funding will determine the viability of projects in the RTP, it is fair, as a momentary aside, to mention other federal expenditures which may distract from that. It’s also fair, when discussing cost factors in the mode choices made by the RTP, to have momentary debates over the cost of fuel, externalized costs, relative costs between modes, pollution from roadway runoff, etc. I engaged JK on some of those points, and kept my comments brief.

    But now, how about we talk about the specifics in the RTP, and whether those specifics have any hope of meeting the expressed goals of the RTP, rather than hashing out secondary topics?

  21. Ron Swaren
    October 29, 2009 at 7:17 pm Link

    Since I had always figured that problems in Iraq could be handled much more cost effectively by supporting the UN as a proxy mission there I feel I can raise objections about smaller, local boondoggles, too. I’m never PC anymore, at all :(

  22. jim karlock
    November 1, 2009 at 3:04 am Link

    ws Says: Btu/passenger miles of buses was twice as good as it was in 1970 than it is today. (Transportation Energy Book Table 2.13).
    JK: Lets re-word for clarity: Bus fuel efficiency was twice as good in the 1970s as it is today. I’ll add that the reason is that buses use more energy per bus-mile today, and they carry less passengers per bus.

    ws Says: That shows that our transportation policy that puts automobiles ahead of transit has hurt transit efficiency (and financial sustainability),
    JK: People made their choice to not waste time on transit almost 100 years ago (among other reasons to not use transit). publicpurpose.com/ut-usptshare45.pdf portlandfacts.com/commutetime.html

    ws Says: and that ultimately more passengers on this mode will decrease energy use drastically.
    JK: Then why aren’t the big city transit systems more energy efficient? In fact, the 10 biggest bus systems in the country are actually less energy efficient than trimet and their average energy use is comparable to a 20-25 mpg car. And they cost far more – about 4x the cost of a car. First table, portlandfacts.com/top10bus.html. Why do you keep wishing people to do things against their will and to their disadvantage?

    ws Says: Meanwhile, automobiles need to get a glut of fuel efficient cars off the road in order to become even remotely energy efficient.
    JK: the average USA fleet is 22.4 mpg. Compare that to the 20-25 mpg big city transit above. BTW, the new car standards put new cars far above transit for efficiency. So all you really need to do is wait a few years for the fleet to evolve.

    ws Says: Keep in mind, per passenger mile, light trucks consume more than buses (about 2,000 more Btus), and many many people use trucks (and SUVs) as their passenger vehicle.
    JK: What’s your point? Are you thinking that it will be easier to get truck drivers to switch to transit, instead of a more efficient truck or car? (That is one key delusion of many transit advocates – that people will choose slow, inefficient transit over fast, more efficient cars. Europeans choose cars at $10/gal gas and we will too.)

    ws Says: Your entire methodology assumes and ignores very critical data that would be key in actually analyzing true energy use.
    JK: Data? Such as?

    ws Says: But hey, Tri-Met already uses less energy than cars right now, and further ridership will drastically increase its energy efficiency.
    JK: Not really. Trimet system is equal to cars in the 26.8-31 mpg range. This is near the average new car mandate. (Thanks BHO.)

    Thanks
    JK

  23. ws
    November 1, 2009 at 10:43 am Link

    JK:“What’s your point? Are you thinking that it will be easier to get truck drivers to switch to transit, instead of a more efficient truck or car? (That is one key delusion of many transit advocates – that people will choose slow, inefficient transit over fast, more efficient cars. Europeans choose cars at $10/gal gas and we will too.”

    ws:My point is even small truck drivers are using their trucks in the same fashion as a passenger car without towing anything. You need to assess actual energy use of cars (probably through surveys) to show which truck users are predominately using their trucks in the same manner as a passenger car. People who use their truck / van for work means should be segregated from such statistic.

    Your entire analysis uses averages and segregates passenger cars with trucks, etc.

    Yes, Europeans use cars too. I agree, I like cars and drive one too. That doesn’t mean I don’t want options available as I walk and take transit too.

    Why must you impose your either/or scenarios to mobility?

    JK:“Not really. Trimet system is equal to cars in the 26.8-31 mpg range. This is near the average new car mandate. (Thanks BHO.)”

    ws:Tri-met is not equal to cars, it is better than the car’s current fleet, not mandated new car construction. There’s a difference. The only reason any MPG fleet would go up is subsidization of car buying by the government for more energy efficient vehicles.

  24. ws
    November 1, 2009 at 10:51 am Link

    What are the sources of funds for these transportation projects that make up the RTP?

  25. Chris Smith
    November 1, 2009 at 11:45 am Link

    Anything above a purely local project (e.g., local service streets) winds up in the RTP, so almost any funding source we have is involved.

    But it’s important to note that the RTP is NOT a funding allocation process, that’s what the semi-annual MTIP process is about. Instead the RTP is a planning process that is sometimes the gate for funding flowing.

    So for example, if the RTP does not show that certain air pollutants (Ozone for example) are below required levels, Federal dollars stop flowing to the region until this is corrected.

    Likewise, state land regulations would prohibit certain zoning changes if the RTP did not demonstrate that we had sufficient transportation capacity to serve the land uses.

    So the RTP has much more impact on what projects get into the project development pipeline than it does on making actual funding decisions.

  26. Bob R.
    November 1, 2009 at 12:31 pm Link

    Trimet system is equal to cars in the 26.8-31 mpg range. This is near the average new car mandate.

    No, JK — you should really stop doing this after being corrected so many times. The CAFE standards for new cars are NOT a real-world figure, they aren’t even the EPA mileage figure you see on the sticker, which is adjusted to at least try and reflect real-world performance. The CAFE standards are based on a particular testing regime, and while it is terrific that the standards are being raised, any automotive engineer will tell you that the CAFE number is NOT the number the car will actually achieve in normal use.

    You’re continuing to make at least two important mistakes:

    1. You’re comparing actual real-world results for transit to a theoretical number for cars which isn’t going to be the real-world result.

    2. You’re still conflating urban and rural miles. Transit is an urban service, and automobiles do not perform as well MPG-wide in urban settings as they do in rural settings.

    In the past you’ve dismissed these criticisms as “nit picking”, but you’ve never updated your numbers or assertions. They aren’t nit-picks, they are fundamental flaws in your analysis.

  27. Dave H
    November 1, 2009 at 2:29 pm Link

    People made their choice to not waste time on transit almost 100 years ago (among other reasons to not use transit).

    Really? I used TriMet yesterday to run to two stores, and grab dinner. Total time (including eating) was about 75 minutes. Doing the same trek with my car would have taken about 60-65 (again, including eating.)

    Transit can be slow, for example going all the way across town. That’s why the region is considering the next HCT corridors as part of the RTP.

    For trips of 3-8 miles it’s fairly time-efficient since there’s no looking for parking, wandering 6 blocks from where you finally parked to where you’re going, etc.

    In suburban areas that’s not a problem, but unfortunately for your argument there are a lot of good things downtown. If you plan your trips right transit can be very time-efficient.

  28. jimkarlock
    November 1, 2009 at 3:24 pm Link

    Bob R.: Trimet system is equal to cars in the 26.8-31 mpg range. This is near the average new car mandate.

    No, JK –
    JK: Ok, show us better numbers from credible sources.

    Thanks
    JK

  29. Bob R.
    November 1, 2009 at 5:03 pm Link

    JK, your quoting style has struck once again. I never said the words you’re attributing to me.

    As for posting numbers from “credible sources”, no, I don’t need to do your homework for you: You made the original assertion. It’s your responsibility to back that up with credible numbers *and* credible analysis. Nobody has (yet?) called into question your particular data sources in this thread. The main problem is your analysis of those sources. You’re using the numbers inappropriately and it leads to incorrect conclusions.

  30. Ron Swaren
    November 1, 2009 at 6:43 pm Link

    I could see a lot of potential in propulsion technology (for buses) that is both cost effective and much lower in emissions. Fisher Autobody is apparently exploring these ideas (in the US) but it is hard to say whether they can grab a large share of the market against the major manufacturers. Fisher has also developed lighter, more durable chassis and body structures. I don’t think that making them comfortable and appealing is rocket science, either, although I realize there is a concern for low maintenance materials in a municipal fleet. Personal vehicles are also seeing a trend towards innovative design and reduced weights—at least in the concept cars.

    It would make no difference to me whether a commuter vehicle runs on rubber tires or rails as long as the transit time is comparable—or I had something to do en route. In fact I can easily see how an ultra modern bus could be a lot more comfortable than what we have now in the MAX. And why wouldn’t something sleek and modern attract people to use it? On long distance routes, such as I-5, the problem is that planning hasn’t kept up with the demand level. But traffic has merely gone past the tipping point of congestion. The I-5 wasn’t congested until the explosive growth of jobs occurred in Washington Co. in the late 1980’s. Before then it was at a tolerable level–for bus transit, too.

  31. jim karlock
    November 3, 2009 at 6:31 am Link

    Bob R:
    JK, your quoting style has struck once again. I never said the words you’re attributing to me.
    JK: Oops – that didn’t come out very well!

    Bob R: The main problem is your analysis of those sources. You’re using the numbers inappropriately and it leads to incorrect conclusions.
    JK: Please provide better analysis to support your claims that my numbers are flawed. Or at least mention specifics problems, otherwise one might think you are just throwing out general stuff to distract from not having any real criticism.

    Thanks
    JK

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