Archive | February, 2010

Metro President Candidates on Bikes, Peds and Freight

The fifth and final installment of our series on responses to our candidate questionnaire. Please remember the ground rules on comments for this series

There are some special rules for comments on these posts. As a 501(c)(3), Portland Transport cannot and does not endorse candidates. So please no comments of the form “you should vote for _______ because he said…”. Feel free to comment on the policies, their implications and your feelings about them, but refrain from turning that into encouraging votes in a particular direction.

6. Bicycles and Pedestrians:

Do you support the “Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030” that will be before City Council in February?

[Burkholder] Yes. I sat on the Steering Committee and helped develop the vision. I would like to see a commitment to increase funding to speed implementation.

[Stacey] Yes. More than tripling the mode share of bicycling in the City at an estimated cost of $30 million a year would be one of the most cost-effective expansions of accessibility and mobility in our region’s history.

Would you support a comparable level of bicycle access in other parts of the region?

[Burkholder] Yes. As a founding member of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Metro’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Trails (now the Executive Council for Active Transportation), I have led the effort to make bicycling and walking integral to safe and sustainable communities. Bicycles are smart investments as they are cheap to accommodate, affordable and easy to operate, increase health and are easy on the environment. They also require very little space to store, a good thing as we lose much of our best land for development to car parking.

[Stacey] Yes. Success in Portland will be critically important in making the case that such investment will work elsewhere as well.

How would you propose to fund “The Intertwine”, Metro’s recommended regional trail system?

[Burkholder] Just like any other part of the transportation system, building the trail and on-road Active Transportation component of the Intertwine will require multiple funding sources: Metro’s regional funds, local, state and federal. I am Council Project Lead on the Active Transportation (as well as lead on Conservation Education). Under my leadership, the region applied for $100 Million in TIGER stimulus funds for four projects around the region. Rep. Earl Blumenauer has introduced the Active Transportation Act of 2010 modeled on Metro’s work.

[Stacey] The trails component of the Intertwine (a multi-government, public-private partnership for an integrated system of trails, parks and natural areas) should be funded with a combination of Metro and local park and natural areas bond resources and transportation funds (federal flexible funds and–for the portion of the trail network located within road rights of way–at least one percent of road capital expenditures in the region).

Development has occurred in many parts of the region (including some Portland neighborhoods) under standards that did not require sidewalks to be constructed at the time of development. Current policy holding property owners responsible for funding sidewalk construction has seriously hindered filling gaps in the sidewalk system. How would you propose to accelerate bringing streets without sidewalks within the UGB up to urban standards?

[Burkholder] Sidewalks are transportation facilities. Lack of them puts more people in cars and has real, negative impacts on our transportation system. They should be funded just as other parts of the system. They must also be required to be built as part of all development as part of a complete street. However, retrofitting areas with sidewalks is very challenging. I support focusing on mainstreets and centers, especially accessing business districts and transit lines; ideally each community would develop a fund to infill sidewalks in all areas. Also funding partnerships with regional stormwater agencies can help provide innovative funding partnerships.

[Stacey] Priority for publicly funded sidewalk construction should be given to completion of the pedestrian network in town centers and along main streets and other 2040 corridors, plus connections to schools and other community facilities not located on main streets or in centers. Pedestrians in every neighborhood should have safe, universally accessible routes to schools and to transit and the other amenities and services in main streets and centers, although this may not mean publicly-funded sidewalk improvements on all local neighborhood streets.

Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure have historically received the smaller piece of the infrastructure pie relative to roads and transit. Given regional goals for more active transportation in what specific ways would you prioritize investment in these modes?

[Burkholder] Funding must be increased for walking and biking facilities. They are the lowest cost, highest return way for us to spend our transportation dollars. The vision that is laid out by Metro’s Blue Ribbon Committee makes a very strong case for significantly elevated funding for active transportation. I have been actively seeking find ways to move the delivery of these projects forward, including leading the $100 million metro region TIGER grant application and seeking ways to package federal flexible dollars to go directly towards these projects.

[Stacey] As I have noted in answers above, our region will have an opportunity to reprioritize transportation investment in light of the responsibility to plan for dramatically reduced transportation greenhouse gas emissions over the next five years. I believe the scenario plans for emission reduction will show a need for more walking and biking opportunities in addition to more transit service and reduced investment in highway expansion. Aligning our transportation investments with our policy commitments will be necessary. It will no longer be acceptable to adopt progressive transportation policies and simultaneously approve transportation projects that will lead us to violate those policies.

7. Freight:

Metro’s role in planning for the movement of goods and services is primarily focused on trucks and how they fit into the street/road system. Should Metro undertake a stronger role in rail and marine freight planning? If so how would you accomplish this?

[Burkholder] Projections show that trucks will continue to carry about 80% of freight and almost all local freight movement. The greatest impact on local communities will therefore be truck movement, but these investments must be made strategically, focusing on the key freight and intermodal corridors. Currently trucks just sit in traffic with other vehicles. I support creating targeted and innovative sets of solutions to effectively move freight without adding freeway miles. I also have successfully advocated for rail investments in the region, especially in the congested “Portland Triangle” through Oregon’s Connect Oregon program.

Marine and rail are national or multi-state issues. My efforts to change federal transportation policy include calls to create a national rail policy (both passenger and freight) which the new administration has responded favorably to.

[Stacey] Metro should focus on (land-side) surface transportation and rely on the Port of Portland to provide planning leadership for air and marine transportation. Metro should be able to rely on the Oregon Department of Transportation for rail freight and intercity passenger planning. However, in the past ODOT has lacked the resources to pursue comprehensive strategies for improving intercity rail service, either in partnership with the railroads or independently. My initial approach will be to advocate for a comprehensive state rail transportation strategy led by ODOT and supported by the Obama administration’s strong interest in improved passenger rail service (which, to be cost-effective and well-designed, must take into account existing and future demand for rail freight). Ideally, Metro and the region’s local governments will be able to serve as active participants in such a state-led effort. Failing that, Metro should seek to form a consortium of local governments in the Willamette Valley to explore opportunities for improving freight service and passenger rail service.

Metro President Candidates on Transit

Part Four of our series on responses to our candidate questionnaire. Please remember the ground rules on comments for this series

There are some special rules for comments on these posts. As a 501(c)(3), Portland Transport cannot and does not endorse candidates. So please no comments of the form “you should vote for _______ because he said…”. Feel free to comment on the policies, their implications and your feelings about them, but refrain from turning that into encouraging votes in a particular direction.

5. Transit:

There are competing perspectives on the priority of expanding the regional and local (e.g., streetcar) rail transit system versus investment in the bus system. One argument is that per-trip operating costs for rail are lower than for buses and that rail is more successful at attracting choice riders and supporting compact development. On the other hand, many transit-dependent families must rely on bus service which has seen level funding or cuts in recent years.

Should the current practice of allocating growth in transit operating revenue primarily to rail expansion continue?

[Burkholder] We must continue to invest in the most cost-effective transit options. Light rail provides high quality service to large numbers of users and is a good investment. I also support the focus that transit agencies have put on frequent bus lines. These create a more fiscally sound transit model and reward communities that build at the density that good transit service requires. Transit agencies, especially Tri Met, find that frequent bus service that connect to light rail is very effective. We need to better connect walking and biking to transit stops, as well, with secure, sufficient parking for bicycles.

[Stacey] No. Transit operating revenue should be applied to transit operations. There isn’t enough payroll tax and farebox revenue to maintain current transit service hours; siphoning off revenue to bond for capital expansion is a mistake.

Do you support using funds that would otherwise be available for operations to bond for capital construction?

[Burkholder] It is key that transit agencies have the resources to operate the systems that they build. I have supported bonding regional flexible transportation funds to pay for the capital costs of light rail extensions as well as streetcar matching funds. I have also advocated at the state for using ODOT’s federal flexible funds for transit funding (the Transportation Vision that formed the basis for HB2001 included state transit funding equal to 20% of the state highway budget). These are better sources than operating funds.

[Stacey] No. In addition to the “user pays” transportation funding concept I describe above, the region should consider expanded transportation system development charges on new development (also known as “transportation impact fees”) that include the cost of future transit capital improvements required to serve new development. These charges could be used to generate all or part of the local match required to obtain federal funds for transit capital.

How should equity considerations be factored into transit planning?

[Burkholder] Equity is addressed directly through performance measures in the updated RTP and shall be addressed by all transportation investment decisions, whether transit, road or other. Affordable housing must also be provided along HCT routes. Metro’s Transit Oriented Development program has helped build 800 units of affordable housing close to transit. Transportation related fees would ideally be progressive, one reason why taxes on property value or auto values are effective to address equity.

[Stacey] Every community in the region should have access to high quality, reliable transit service, with the density and frequency of service determined by the population and employment density of the service area. By the same token, every community in the region should provide access to housing and services to households at every income level. Equity of opportunity will be possible only when housing choice and transportation choice are available to all.

Is TriMet’s current governance structure with a board appointed by the Governor and State Senate appropriate and does it provide sufficient accountability to TriMet’s constituents? If not, what alternatives would you suggest?

[Burkholder] I very much respect the hard work of the Trimet Board, yet, with very little State financial contribution to this region’s transit system, it is odd that the board is not regionally appointed. That said, I would need to see significant failures in meeting regional needs to change a system that has been successful.

[Stacey] TriMet’s governance structure is essentially the same as the Port of Portland’s or the Oregon Department of Transportation: governor-appointed citizen commissions head all three. ODOT has an even larger impact on the transportation system in the metropolitan area than TriMet, and the region has less ability to influence appointments to the Transportation Commission. I would be interested in facilitating a review of the governance of the metropolitan transportation system as a whole, rather than focusing solely on TriMet.

Is transit operating funding adequate? If not, what additional sources of revenue would you propose/support?

[Burkholder] It is clear that we will need more transit service in the future (we actually could use it today). I would like to replace the Payroll tax with a Carbon tax so that we aren’t dis-incenting employment, rather encouraging lower consumption of petroleum and other fossil fuels.

[Stacey] Operating revenue is obviously not adequate: we’re cutting service on core trunk lines and MAX. Regarding revenue increases, see my discussion, above, of “user pays” funding possibilities for the transportation system generally. One specific concept that would not require constitutional changes is a per-space excise tax on business-owned parking–or that portion that is in excess of required minimum parking standards. A nickel-a-day per space fee on all parking region-wide would generate an estimated $125 million a year for transit operations.

Should TriMet have a rainy-day fund to protect operations during economic downturns? If so, how would you fund it?

[Burkholder] This is an obvious but not so easy to implement idea. As someone responsible for a large government agency’s budget, I understand how difficult it is to put aside reserves for future needs when current needs exceed revenues.

[Stacey] This is very desirable. Of course, to get there we first need an economic upturn, and then TriMet would either need new revenue sources or would have to restore or increase service less than it has during past periods of economic growth, despite urgent demands for more service. Any effort to create a reserve fund will depend on adopting new revenue sources and eliminating the practice of bonding anticipated future operating revenues to pay for capital improvements.

City Club’s Big Ideas for Transportation Governance

City Club of Portland has just released its transportation governance study report: “Moving Forward: A Better Way to Govern Regional Transportation” (PDF, 5.5M).

Among the big ideas for reforming transportation governance in our region:

  • Shift most of the money that ODOT spends inside the region (other than for the freeway system) to be programmed by (but not necessarily spent by) Metro.
  • Form a bridge authority under Metro that would manage the Willamette River bridges (including those owned today by the County and ODOT) and a number of other regionally significant bridges.
  • Shift to a “utility” model of transportation planning that would more rigorously do cost-benefit analysis and ensure adequacy of funding for the transportation system (analogous to what State law and the PUC require of private utilities).
  • Reform the membership and voting structure of JPACT to give more voting power to the Cities and Counties, in contrast to the significant power held by Metro Councilors and agencies (TriMet, Port, etc.) in today’s voting structure.

I’m sure some readers will be interested in what the report does not recommend:

  • Having Metro take over TriMet (not enough reason to do so)
  • A bi-state transportation planning body for the whole Portland/Vancouver region (desirable from a policy point of view but politically infeasible today due to very divergent views about transportation on each side of the Columbia)

A must-read for anyone interested in transportation in our region. If nothing else the review and discussion of the current system is very educational – probably the best single place to get a primer on how things work.

And I hope our local leaders will seriously review the recommendations.

I look forward to the discussion at City Club on the evening of March 3rd (5:30-7pm at the Club offices as 901 SW Washington) and the vote at the Friday Forum on March 5th (11:45 at the Governor Hotel).

Oregonian Lays Off Transportation Reporter

Dylan Rivera, who for the last several years has covered the transportation beat, was laid off from the Oregonian today, along with more than 30 others from the newsroom.

This will likely leave Joseph Rose, who has lately transitioned from the ‘commuting’ beat (and still maintains the “Hard Drive” blog) to a more general transportation focus as the main writer on the topic we love so dearly.

A hat tip and best wishes to Dylan…