Monomodal Fixation Disorder

All of us who have an interest in promoting transportation alternatives have encountered people afflicted with what I like to call “Monomodal Fixation Disorder.” Let’s just call it MFD for short. These poor souls not only prefer to use a single mode for all travel, but more importantly seek to impose their preferences on everyone else. They simply can’t understand why anyone would want to travel any other way!

The classic MFD case we usually encounter is that of the Motorist. Rather than simply being a person who sometimes drives, a Motorist drives absolutely everywhere and thinks that is a superior way to live, a lifestyle for everyone to replicate. They are most often found in suburban environments where the cul-de-sac street network and strip malls make any other mode naturally inconvenient. Motorists despise any attempt by government agencies to paint bike lanes, slow down traffic for pedestrian safety, or spend money on public transit. Not only does the Motorist not benefit from these improvements personally, he or she does not see how anyone else would benefit, since driving is the most superior form of transportation.

In a growing number of cities, but most notably Portland, we find another MFD type that is remarkably similar to the Motorist in attitude if not in appearance: the Cyclist! Usually young, fit, childless, and affluent, the Cyclist is willing to ride a bike for long distances all over the city, in any kind of weather, to any kind of destination, up hills and along dangerous roads. The Cyclist can’t conceive of why anyone in Portland would ever use another form of transportation. After all, cycling is faster than transit, bikes are easy to park, and you get exercise. Given the clear superiority of cycling, the Cyclist starts to wonder why government ever spends money on improving travel for cars or freight. Many Cyclists even wonder why the region is spending money on buses and streetcars, which often conflict with bikes on major roads and move so slowly. Since the Cyclist would never ride the bus, why should anybody else? Let Them Ride Bikes, they cry!

As a new student in the Portland State urban planning program, I encounter the Cyclist version of MFD all the time. When I say I generally prefer to take the bus to campus, many of my peers scoff at the idea of ever riding the bus. One student even wondered aloud whether TriMet’s inconvenient and infrequent bus system might be a good thing, since it could push more people onto bikes. This bizarre statement fails to recognize that for most people, cycling and transit are mutually supportive modes that work best in combination.

When I have brought up the idea that the $190-per-quarter student TriMet pass should be made universal to bring costs down and boost transit use, my fellow students assure me that the Cyclists (and the Motorists, of course) would never support that idea. Why should they subsidize such a clearly inferior mode of travel? It is strange to go to a school with a campus at the center of public transit access in Portland, only to find that they are unwilling to make any serious effort to make transit more affordable to students (for the record, the universal U-Pass at the University of Washington is only $76 per quarter).

I would argue that Monomodal Fixation Disorder is the main reason for the pernicious and destructive tone of transportation debates in Portland, and ultimately keeps us from achieving a just and equitable transportation system. The essence of MFD is the attitude that “what works for me should work for everyone.” It sees transportation as a zero-sum game, in which any investment in one mode automatically reduces the value of another. It is essentially an egotistical position, with no sense of civic-mindedness or recognition that everyone has different needs and preferences. Transportation debates often end up as arguments between Motorists and Cyclists, using nasty rhetoric and ignoring the rest of us who might want a balanced system.

The opposite approach, and a key to a transportation system that is useful and equitable, is to focus on a multimodal network that gives everyone reasonable access to a variety of ways to travel. This is a system that recognizes the inherent differences between people and respects those differences. I personally find it very easy to ride my bike around the SE and NE, but when going to downtown or beyond, the distance and geographic barriers make me prefer transit. However, my neighbor on one side might prefer to take transit for all her trips beyond walking distance, while my neighbor on the other might ride his bike everywhere for casual trips within town but prefers to drive to work so he’s not sweaty and tired. We all have different levels of income, fitness, willingness to endure weather events, and ability to live close to our destinations. Our transportation system has to reflect that.

One important caveat is that the balance of modes certainly needs to change in response to each neighborhood. In a suburban built environment where transit is harder to access and cycling is inherently more dangerous, cars will probably always be the dominant way to get around and policy should recognize that. However, we need to resist Monomodal Fixation and ensure that even in the suburbs people have access to long-distance transit service, bike lanes and bike boulevards, and a better pedestrian environment.

In denser, urban environments like inner Portland, it makes sense to prioritize somewhat more on pedestrian, bicycle, and transit improvements since this is where those improvements will be most effective. Huge swaths of the Portland region fall in the gray area between these two environments. East Portland, for example, is currently an area where driving is often the only reasonable choice for getting to a destination in a reasonable amount of time. Some targeted improvements could give residents many more modes to choose from when planning different kinds of trips.

In my ideal world, everyone would have a set of choices for each trip. If I am going across town, I can ride my bike if it is nice out and I have the energy, but I would also like to be able to take transit if I want to relax and read a book, and I would also like to have a carshare service like Zipcar in case I need the storage capacity or plan on going out of town later that day. Currently many people in the Portland region lack these choices. Transit runs too infrequently or doesn’t run late enough or on weekends. Cycling is unsafe and the bike paths don’t link up to one another. Sidewalks are missing or the street grid doesn’t provide direct paths. Zipcar might not have cars nearby or is too expensive to use. These are the problems that need to be fixed, and to do that the Motorists and the Cyclists need to cure themselves of Monomodal Fixation Disorder and focus on Multimodal Choices instead.

50 Comments

50 Responses to Monomodal Fixation Disorder

  1. Chris Smith
    September 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm Link

    I think you might find that actually quite a few folks at PSU are thinking about how to make that transit pass more affordable.

  2. Chris I
    September 29, 2011 at 7:08 am Link

    I would consider myself to be pretty balanced in mode choice. I spend about half my time driving to work, and half my time biking. It’s about an even 3-way split for errands and entertainment around town, between transit, driving, and cycling. Yet, because most people have MFD with cars, I feel like a cycling or transit activist sometimes.

  3. EngineerScotty
    September 29, 2011 at 7:51 am Link

    There are, fortunately, a few transit users who have MFD with respect to busses or trains. An important point to remember is that most cases of MFD, whether it’s the Motorist, the Cyclist, the Bus Rider, or the Railfan :), is that their technological choices and demands are often extensions of their broader values. This is particularly true for the bus/rail debate within transit circles.

  4. zefwagner
    September 29, 2011 at 8:20 am Link

    I didn’t discuss transit riders too much because due to issues of accessing transit most of them are multimodal thinkers anyway. Everyone walks, bikes, or drives to access transit. I could have mentioned the Railfan, now that you mention it, who thinks rail is the absolute best solution for every single transit need.

  5. Ron Swaren
    September 29, 2011 at 8:30 am Link

    My bicycling upstairs renter just came up with a new disorder a few days ago: broken jaw. Some kind of bicycle accident, he said. I didn’t ask him questions since it was hard for him to talk.

  6. Dave
    September 29, 2011 at 8:49 am Link

    “I would argue that Monomodal Fixation Disorder is the main reason for the pernicious and destructive tone of transportation debates in Portland, and ultimately keeps us from achieving a just and equitable transportation system. The essence of MFD is the attitude that “what works for me should work for everyone.” It sees transportation as a zero-sum game, in which any investment in one mode automatically reduces the value of another. It is essentially an egotistical position, with no sense of civic-mindedness or recognition that everyone has different needs and preferences. Transportation debates often end up as arguments between Motorists and Cyclists, using nasty rhetoric and ignoring the rest of us who might want a balanced system.”

    Yes, this exactly. This is what drives me absolutely insane about traffic issues here. We need to have roads that are easily and comfortably available to all users, and that offer convenient choices. I think part of it is that we get put in, and put ourselves in, these kind of personal categories, and we then feel like we’re facing off with people from other categories. Really, for a lot of people, transportation is not an all-or-nothing choice, a lot of us use multiple means of getting around. Even people from Gresham (for example) often take MAX to get to events in Portland, or to work, rather than driving. Some even ride their bikes that far. I don’t own a car, and I use my bike for most trips, but I definitely make use of Tri-Met on a regular basis for certain things.

    We really need to realize that we need all of these things as a society, and we need to pick the most versatile, scalable and accommodating ones to prioritize (the non-personal automobile ones) for sort of everyday personal use, so that we have space for allowing the automobiles that really need to be on the road (like freight, and those who have to go long distances or carry large loads) to actually move along and not get stuck in insane traffic like they do now. Trying to get everyone into a single-passenger personal automobile, and then complaining that freight can’t get through is just silly.

    The Netherlands have a brilliant multi-modal system where rail and bus access is good, bicycle and pedestrian access is better, access by car is possible, but often less convenient than by other modes unless you’re traveling between cities, and they appreciate that symbiotic relationship between bicycles and transit by allowing bicycles on trains (and you don’t have to hang them up on hooks!), and building gigantic parking structures at the rail stations, as well as offering bike-share rentals at the train stations, so you can easily ride your bike to the station, take the train to where you’re going, then rent a bike at the other end to use until you come back.

    They are a brilliant example of thinking of traffic as a whole problem, and not just planning for one mode, and then figuring out how to squeeze the others in as an afterthought.

  7. Bob Davis
    September 29, 2011 at 9:10 am Link

    I started reading the various Streetsblog sites after following a link in a rail-transit website. They have raised my consciousness about non-automotive transport, especially bicycling, but I am still a railfan and except for places totally unsuited for light rail or streetcar service, back rail projects. As someone who retired several years ago, traveling to work is no longer a consideration, but I have considered buying a bicycle for short errands. The only drawback is that at my age, people don’t recover from falls as quickly, and from what I’ve read, if one bicycles very much, it’s “when” not “if” you’ll take a spill. In what is a great irony, I volunteer at a railway museum that preserves the trolley cars that folks traveled in before Ford’s Model “T” and its successors became the preferred means of local travel. The only way to get to the museum without spending half a day in the process is by driving one’s own car or truck.

  8. EngineerScotty
    September 29, 2011 at 9:52 am Link

    Thanks for coming to the site, Bob!

    As far as the term “railfan” goes; it has nowadays two meanings. One is someone who is simply a railroad enthusiast, which is what I assume you mean when you describe yourself as such. Unfortunately, and more relevant for this post, the term is also used (generally in a pejorative sense) for transit users who are indifferent to (or even hostile to) the bus system–persons who consider trains the only part of the transit system worth using, and/or worth offering public support to.

    Generally, there aren’t many “railfans” in the latter sense among transit activists or on transit blogs–persons with this attitude tend to hold it due to social or class prejudice, and are generally lukewarm supporters of transit at best. But they do exist, and in some places may be in a position to influence transit outcomes.

  9. joeB
    September 29, 2011 at 10:47 am Link

    “the Cyclist! Usually young, fit, childless, and affluent”

    Well, I don’t know many MFD cyclists who are affluent, but otherwise you make a good case.

    I think the apathy toward transit you notice among PSU students reflects a transit system that doesn’t cater to their needs. Trimet’s radial system is designed to get people downtown during peak commuting hours. Most students have late evening classes, and by then headways are 30 minutes or worse. Want to get to a show or friend’s house across town after class? You’re in for a long ride and transfers if it’s even possible. Want to stay late? Be prepared to find a ride or cough up $30 for a cab. Putting a bike on transit is iffy–especially in the rainy season–when one can’t count on space being available. The front of a bus also takes a toll on a bike.

    You talked about putting all the modes on equal footing, but I didn’t see costs mentioned. One of the reasons that MFD cyclists can sound “preachy” is that they’re right: compared to cars and transit users, they pay (mainly through property taxes) closer to their share of full costs (miniscule) on the system. Another reason is that some of them are just really enthusiastic! I guess it’s part of being “young, fit, and childless.”

    I don’t think the playing field can be equal until we’re comparing the cost of being “sweaty and tired” on a bike with the true costs of transit and driving. I’m not up on the most recent peer-reviewed estimates, but I’d ballpark the full cost of a 10-mile commute to PSU as about $10 each way on transit and likely a bit more by car. Before you chastise those MFD cyclists outside your bus window, remember that they’re helping to pay the other 80% of your fare!

    Best,
    joe

  10. 2B
    September 29, 2011 at 11:15 am Link

    Just wanted to say that this post was excellent, thoughtful, well-written, and right on the mark. There should be room for all of us on the streets, no matter what our choice of mode.

    Possibly counter-intuitively, now you’ve made me want to investigate PSU’s urban planning program.

  11. zefwagner
    September 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm Link

    The issue of whether most cyclists are “affluent” or not depends on your definition. I don’t think of myself as affluent, and neither do most students, because we are living off student loans and don’t have much income. That said, I would argue that we are in fact affluent in that we have easy and instant access to capital. I am able to borrow virtually unlimited amounts, and most students have other funds either saved up or from their parents. We may be technically low-income, but we sure don’t live like it.

    Most cyclists I know spend at least $1000 on the initial outlay (used bike, helmet, lock, panniers, clothing, etc) and are willing to spend a lot more on maintenance and saving up for the inevitable bike replacement after a theft or accident. This is far less than the cost of owning a car, for sure, but it is more than relying exclusively on walking and transit. Many cyclists with MFD forget that many people are unable or unwilling to spend a lot of money at once on a bike and all the associated equipment. One reason that bike sharing is a good idea is that it spreads costs out over time the same way a monthly transit pass or a Zipcar membership does, so it can get more people to ride bikes.

    Regarding the question of cross-subsidies: while true that pure cyclists “pay their share” more than pure motorists or pure transit users, the truth is that most people use a combination of these modes. That was my whole point. The politically charged debate over who subsidizes whom is predicated on the flawed concept that our entire identities should be wrapped up in our single preferred mode. What we need to do is say that we as a society are going to spend a certain percentage of transportation dollars on each of these modes–the debate is how much on each and where to target these investments. Right now much of this debate is on the extremes, where different people and groups argue for one or another mode. I think the debate should be more about the margin and more about the right mix of investments.

    The N Williams project is a great example of multimodal thinking. PBOT noticed a high number of pedestrian and bicycle accidents resulting from dangerous crossings, high vehicle speeds, and bus-bike conflicts. Their analysis showed that this road is too heavily tilted towards the automobile and not enough on other modes. Most of the road does not carry enough traffic to justify 2 lanes, while bicycle counts show the bike lane does not have enough capacity. The high number of bikes sharing space with 3 different bus routes also hurts transit riders.

    The initial PBOT proposal would reduce car traffic to one lane for part of the corridor and separate bike traffic through a cycletrack or enhanced bike lane. Putting aside the social equity and racial questions that have come up during this process, overall this is a great example of assessing the appropriate balance of modes in a public space. On a road like MLK, the appropriate balance would be different, since it is more important for car and freight mobility.

  12. zefwagner
    September 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm Link

    Another point regarding the idea that cyclists “pay their way.” There is a strong equity issue here. For example, many young students have an easy time finding a cheap shared housing situation in the inner SE or NE. This allows them to easily bike to school with a minimum of time and effort. However, many other students (as well as staff) are older and/or have families, or they have other jobs in other places. For these people it might make a lot more sense to live in East Portland or out in the suburbs. At those distances, cycling quickly becomes out of the question for most people. If cyclists care at all about equity, they should be willing to subsidize and support the ability of others who do not live in the inner Portland bubble rather than self-righteously expecting everyone to be as “virtuous” as they are. There are also many people who live close-in, but physically have a hard time riding a bike. For all these reasons I think even people who only ride their bikes to PSU should be willing to chip in for a reduced-price transit pass for all students. We all pay a health fee, even if some of us never use the health center, and most other fees work the same way. Cyclists might even find the transit pass useful for longer trips or when it is raining really hard, who knows?

  13. was carless
    September 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm Link

    I started out as the first, loving cars, then fell in love with streetcars and transit when I was about 22. After moving to Portland, I became disenchanted from transit, as I had to transfer multiple times to a job I had in Lake Oswego, and eventually moved to the Central city and MFD’d on bikes.

    It has been an interesting learning process, to say the least. And now, as I get older and wiser, I find it funny/odd that people obsess about 1 form of transit over others.

  14. Ron Swaren
    September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm Link

    It would lead to less disorders, IMO, if people would start thinking about how costs on ALL modes could be reduced without compromising safety. Rather than a political analysis of who should pay for what—-which is is very subject to leaving out critical details—how about an economic analysis of how to do what we are doing at a more reasonable cost? I was rather shocked at San Adams’ “commitment” to come up with $600 million for bicycle route funding. I bet there are some alternatives out there that would have a comparable effect at a far smaller cost. One solution might be as simple as drafting some new ordinances. However, my experience with human nature warns me that you never make a deal with no strings attached. If you’re going to provide something for a particular group you need to exact some iron clad promises from them, also, that go towards the greater good.

    We’re never going to get away from the need for heavy vehicle surface transport. There likely will be some far reaching improvements, but I doubt that the basic concept will disappear. But are we abreast of the latest technology that would make this cost-efficient? For example, in early 20th C. civil engineering large, urban bridge structures were primarily metal. Then, with the concept of reinforcing metal, plus the nationwide standardization springing from the Interstate system, concrete took over as the preferred material. However, is this still realistic today? And what if nanotechnology revolutionizes metallurgy and becomes cost efficient? Concrete construction is very labor intensive. Perhaps mass produced prefabbed components would dramatically lower the cost of road construction. And engineering choice should reflect local conditions. Metal might be a poor choice where there is high corrosion potential; concrete might be a poor choice where there is great seismic danger.

    Regarding mass transit: I have been convinced that Portland can do much better. Our train fascination wasn’t so bad when the costs were more comparable to surface options or, as with the 1990 Transportation Plan, we were faced with some very obvious and startling choices. However, as other cities wrestle with the same problems—-and at the same time with the realities of tight budgets—we can be learning from them and evaluating whether we are still on the most economically reasonable path.

  15. Wells
    September 30, 2011 at 9:31 am Link

    Motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians & transit users may acquire MFD Syndrome from their ‘perceived’ need to achieve a minimal travel time between points A & B. The further the distance, the more chronic MFD Syndrome becomes. Motorists will experience chronic MFD. Bicylists, pedestrians & transit users experience mild MFD because its remedy involves taking steps to reduce the ‘actual’ need for long-distance travel which they have done with their modal choice.

  16. Jason Barbour
    September 30, 2011 at 10:20 am Link

    …I have brought up the idea that the $190-per-quarter student TriMet pass should be made universal to bring costs down and boost transit use[.] […] It is strange to go to a school with a campus at the center of public transit access in Portland, only to find that they are unwilling to make any serious effort to make transit more affordable to students (for the record, the universal U-Pass at the University of Washington is only $76 per quarter).
    And at Eastern Washington University in Spokane Co., WA, students can ride Spokane Transit for the looks-like-a-typo price of $6.50 a quarter (a required fee that’s billed with tuition). Spokane Transit even increased service to the EWU campuses at a time they cut service across the overall system because it’s well-used and well-liked.

    I think you might find that actually quite a few folks at PSU are thinking about how to make that transit pass more affordable.
    I hope so. The student transit pass price difference and method of collection is one of the reasons I decided to attend EWU instead of PSU.

  17. John Reinhold
    September 30, 2011 at 10:21 am Link

    This is a good piece. I do, however, disagree with this:

    “In a suburban built environment where transit is harder to access and cycling is inherently more dangerous, cars will probably always be the dominant way to get around and policy should recognize that.”

    Policy in large part, has created that situation. Policy should instead focus on making all modes effective in all neighborhoods, otherwise it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    If building cul-de-sacs and massive residentially zoned developments makes biking, walking, or transit impractical then people will of course use more cars, and if we justify cul-de-sacs and massive residentially zoned developments because more people drive then where did that get us? It is circular…

    What we need to do is have policy and planning get rid of the differences between the suburbs and the city with regards to transit (as best as is possible). You *can* make a suburban style development that is attractive to people and yet is very bikable, walkable, and has accessible transit. The basic thing which needs to happen (and probably would require policy to make it happen) is to make sure that any dead-end or cul-de-sac is still passable via foot or bicycle. Let the cars drive around, but let the pedestrians and bicycles take the most direct route possible. That single change alone would make suburbs 100% more accessible to biking and walking.

  18. EngineerScotty
    September 30, 2011 at 10:30 am Link

    What we need to do is have policy and planning get rid of the differences between the suburbs and the city with regards to transit (as best as is possible). You *can* make a suburban style development that is attractive to people and yet is very bikable, walkable, and has accessible transit. The basic thing which needs to happen (and probably would require policy to make it happen) is to make sure that any dead-end or cul-de-sac is still passable via foot or bicycle. Let the cars drive around, but let the pedestrians and bicycles take the most direct route possible. That single change alone would make suburbs 100% more accessible to biking and walking.

    And by the same token, more gridbusting in the inner city (closing residential streets to cars at key points to discourage autos from using them as thoroughfares, but permitting bike/ped access).

  19. Ian Stude
    September 30, 2011 at 10:33 am Link

    As one of the people responsible for the bicycle and transit programs at PSU, I feel obligated to chime in. But before I get to the PSU-centric discussion, I’ll admit that I’ve gone through my own phase of modal hubris, back in the honeymoon phase of my relationship with bicycling. I think this is often the case where youth, passion, and pride coalesce — so I try to be understanding of others as my own views become tempered and (hopefully) more rational.

    A quick side-note on this subject, having just attended a city council meeting about the 50s Bikeway Project: When you find yourself in the position to speak to decision makers and the media about a bikeway project, or a transit project, or a whatever-mode-you-support project, I recommend checking your personal travel habits and MDF at the door. While it’s valid to say “I ride transit, so I know what I’m talking about,” it doesn’t help to say “I ride a bike everyday and I’m totally carfree so I think this bike project is best for everyone” This only serves to marginalize the relevant things you have to say. This is not to say I haven’t fallen into this trap as well. I’ve certainly let my own pride get in the way of my well-reasoned goals.

    So back to PSU, if anyone is still interested. The issue of universal passes for PSU students is one that has been pursued many times, and I sincerely hope will be taken up again. The comparison with University of Washington is a bit unfair, however. They negotiate with multiple transit providers, rather than just one, which gives them greater leverage. They started their program over 15 years ago when the relative price of transit service was more manageable and an appropriately sized student fee was easier to pass. The $76 quoted is the price of their opt-out program, allowing those who drive, cycle, etc a way to forgo participation and not pay the fee. UofW Students have just recently passed an amendment to the program making it truly universal — no opt out available — which will reduce the cost further. By comparison, the estimates given by TriMet to PSU to offer a universal pass system with no opt-out feature were considerably higher: approximately $90 per student per quarter in 2009. Adjusting for increased transit fees, this figure today is likely closer to $100 per term. To put that number in perspective, PSU incidental student fees currently total $220 for full time students. This would amount to a 45% increase in incidental fees, which is, in my opinion, politically impossible.

    Note: the current PSU transit pass program is partially subsidized by TriMet (by charging PSU slightly less than the all-zones rate for each pass) and partially subsidized by PSU Parking revenue. No student fees are currently allocated to this program. And before you suggest we simply raise parking rates to pay for more transit subsidies, let me nip that in the bud. PSU has a very limited supply of parking that has now reached the price threshold. If we charge more for the parking we have, the quantity of parking sold will go down, very likely resulting in a decrease in total revenue. The only option to generate more parking revenue is to build more parking, which is false because then we would need to direct most of our revenue to paying for the bonds on the construction of said parking, again resulting in a net revenue decrease. Parking revenue is clearly not the answer.

    Meanwhile, transit costs are only going up. This brings up many questions as we look to the future. Should PSU continue to partially subsidize full-access to the TriMet system when approx. 54% of transit users live within the two-zone boundary? By subsidizing transit access that reaches to the far edges of our metro area, are we supporting lower density land use patterns? But conversely, isn’t a program that serves those farthest from the school most likely to replace an automobile trip? And does a far reaching program wind up reducing more carbon pollution than a one that is geographically smaller but reaches more people? What would be the effect of fully subsidizing transit use in a much smaller area, closer to campus (like say the streetcar system)? Would this be enough to offset the higher cost of living within reach of this system? And would that be enough to shift peoples housing choices?

    I should stop there, but suffice it to say, I’m very interested in exploring any and all options that lead us to a more sustainable university and more affordable and desirable transportation choices for PSU students. I sincerely welcome your input.

  20. John Reinhold
    September 30, 2011 at 10:36 am Link

    Let me give an example. My current neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee is very very suburban. (I know, I know – but we are a mile from work and school so it actually reduces our transportation footprint).

    There are a bunch of businesses like grocery and restaurants and whatnot to the south of us, and some really nice greenways along a small river to the north of us.

    You can’t get to either of them from this whole neighborhood, without going WAY out of your way and out on to major busy arterials. Merely *three* bike/pedestrian cut throughs at key spots would reduce the distance for anyone to walk or bike to shopping or greenways by 50% to 1000% (depending on the house). We literally have houses that have a completely off-street protected greenway to get to some fairly major employment areas less than two hundred feet from their front door – but as currently designed they have to go more than 2 miles around just to get to the greenway. From my home, I could get to the grocery store and small shopping district in a quarter mile but due to cul-de-sacs I have to go almost two miles.

    The entire region was designed 100% for automobiles. They actually have a large park near us that would be a great neighborhood connector to the greenways – but they built physical barriers including drainage channels, walls, and fences which cut off the neighborhood from the park and the only entrance to the park is from a major arterial such that the only realistic way to go to the park is to drive. A neighborhood park (including playground) not even connected to it’s own neighborhood via foot or bike traffic.

    You should see the looks I get when I bike to the grocery store (which by the way has no bike racks). Last weekend I went biking around – even made it fairly close to the University of Memphis – and I stopped at several restaurants to get menus and various shops to check out what they had and whatnot. Not a single place had a facility for me to lock my bike up. I had to use stair rails or street signs every single time. Not even the whole foods here has a bike rack…

    Don’t even get me started on the bus system here… :(

  21. Chris I
    September 30, 2011 at 10:49 am Link

    John,

    That’s a depressing situation. You seem like you would fit in better around here. :)

  22. John Reinhold
    September 30, 2011 at 12:04 pm Link

    Chris I: I lived in PDX until July… We just relocated here. It’s going to be like starting from the ground up again. . .

  23. Ron Swaren
    September 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm Link

    You should see the looks I get when I bike to the grocery store (which by the way has no bike racks).

    But you’re getting exercise, right? Don’t complain about the “looks.” Maybe they actually admire you.

  24. Chris I
    September 30, 2011 at 1:27 pm Link

    I would be less concerned about the looks, and more concerned about getting hit by a pickup truck or getting harassed.

  25. Erik H.
    September 30, 2011 at 10:53 pm Link

    I would argue that Monomodal Fixation Disorder is the main reason for the pernicious and destructive tone of transportation debates in Portland, and ultimately keeps us from achieving a just and equitable transportation system. The essence of MFD is the attitude that “what works for me should work for everyone.”

    Basically, the disorder that afflicts every transit planner in the Portland metro area:

    light rail, commuter rail, Streetcar…

    …”Nobody rides buses”, which is why our bus system has been disinvested upon repeatedly in favor of the rail system to the extent of TriMet’s admittance it will refuse any funding for new bus purchases for five years in order to preserve funding options for Milwaukie MAX. Never mind we have buses that should have been replaced using federal/state funding NINE YEARS AGO.

    And it’s the “railfan” that criticizes the bus rider for “choosing” to live near bus service and not MAX service as if it were the only factor involved in housing decisions. (Never mind housing costs, proximity to other services and schools, the fact that families often have two workers who don’t work at the same location, etc.)

    Yet, when communities want improved and additional bus service TriMet repeatedly gives excuses as to why it can’t be done (see Oregon City, Tualatin, Tigard, Forest Grove) but there is no expense spared when it comes to rail, even if it means propping up an unproven company in Colorado and paying their utility bills to the tune of several million dollars (which could and should have stayed local in the form of improved local bus service, but instead that money has disappeared and not in our community.)

  26. Bob R.
    September 30, 2011 at 11:25 pm Link

    Basically, the disorder that afflicts every transit planner in the Portland metro area: light rail, commuter rail, Streetcar…

    Every one? All of them? Evidence?

    (Does your definition of “every” in the “Portland metro area” include Vancouver’s C-Tran? Wilsonville’s SMART? Sandy’s SAM?)

  27. Jason McHuff
    October 1, 2011 at 11:58 am Link

    refuse any funding for new bus purchases

    What evidence do you have that someone came to TriMet with a offer of guaranteed money for buses and TriMet said “no”?

    Their Fiscal Year 2012 budget includes $8 million in Federal grants for buses, plus over $13 million in other Federal funds.

  28. zefwagner
    October 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm Link

    Jason is correct that TriMet is purchasing around 40 buses per year for the next several years. The downside is that because voters did not approve the bus replacement measure last year, and federal grants don’t come close to paying the full costs, TriMet is mostly paying for new buses by borrowing against future operating revenue. Borrowing is also funding part of the Milwaukie LR line. I am concerned about this pattern, since debt service will start consuming more and more of the budget over time. The state or the voters need to give TriMet more taxing authority or provide additional grants for capital costs, otherwise they will continually have to dip into future operating revenue. Most transit agencies try to build up reserves for bus replacement, but TriMet hasn’t had any for a long time.

  29. Ron Swaren
    October 1, 2011 at 9:29 pm Link

    If bicycling is going to be promoted as public policy, someone had better start tackling the liability issue. Getting hit by a 60 lb child on a twenty pound bike is bad enough. Getting hit by a two hundred pounds of bicycle and rider, perhaps traveling downhill, is another. And your experienced, professionaly employed and relatively cosncientious cyclist isn’t the only one operating on Portland streets and trails. There are a lot of people, especially in this city, who apparently don’t even think about visibility, could care less if they ran into you, and have an agressive, irresponsible attitude.

    1.Pedestrians have the right of way, even on “bicycle trails”, not to mention sidewalks.
    2. Many bicyclists wantonly defy state law on illumination, and have no warning devices.
    3. Bicyclists DO NOT carry insurance, or at least proof of insurance as motor vehiclists are required to do under threat of fine.
    4. Many of them would just ride off, especially if at night when they knew they wouldn’t be seen
    5. Is there any requirement for a bicylist who hits someone to stop and exchange insurance information, or even some ID? There should at least be public education programs for pedestrians who are hit, to inform them of what legal steps they need to take when an accident occurs to protect themselves from financial expenses.

    It’s time for policy makers to start acting like adults and come up with statutes and policies that protect the public. There is a difference between gaining popularity and votes by endorsing a cultural phenomenon, and actually acting in behalf of the general public interest.

  30. Bob R.
    October 1, 2011 at 10:44 pm Link

    Do you have any statistics (or do you know of any organization which is actively gathering statistics), which suggest that damages from bicycle-pedestrian collisions even begin to approach those from motor vehicle-pedestrian and motor vehicle-cyclist collisions? Motor vehicle operators are required to carry insurance for a reason, after all. Before proposing a completely new regulatory requirement, some statistics would be a good thing.

    It’s time for policy makers to start acting like adults and come up with statutes and policies that protect the public.

    One of the ways in which policy makers can behave like adults is by applying a bit of perspective to an alleged problem.

  31. EngineerScotty
    October 2, 2011 at 12:31 am Link

    Keep in mind that laws such as hit-and-run apply to bikes as well.

  32. Ron Swaren
    October 2, 2011 at 8:55 am Link

    Bob, I wouldn’t even waste time trying to provide statistics to you. You can do your own research.

    Keep in mind that laws such as hit-and-run apply to bikes as well.
    There is a distinction between whether the law is there, and whether people respect it and the police figure they can track an offender down. But some people live in an imaginary world whee every wrong act is caught……

  33. Aaron Hall
    October 2, 2011 at 9:47 am Link

    Ron Swaren Says: “Bob, I wouldn’t even waste time trying to provide statistics to you. You can do your own research.”

    Bob’s not proposing new regulations, you are. It’s up to you to provide statistics that back up your proposal.

    “There is a distinction between whether the law is there, and whether people respect it and the police figure they can track an offender down.”

    And how would new regulations change that? If someone hits a pedestrian and flees the scene now, how is a new law going to correct that behavior? And how would a new law be any different than the existing hit and run laws currently in place?

  34. EngineerScotty
    October 2, 2011 at 10:19 am Link

    Ron,

    Presently, the police policy regarding hit-and-run incidents is to fully investigate (and try to apprehend the perp) if a serious injury or death is involved. Otherwise, they just take a report, but won’t otherwise lift a finger. Many moons ago, our car was backed into by some woman, who simply turned her head, glared, and drove off. Even though we provided the police with her plate number, they basically told us that they could not do anything. (This was the Portland Police Bureau–overstaffed small-town PDs may have a different policy).

    Were a bike to run over a pedestrian and cause serious injury (or kill her) and then flee the scene, I can assure you the cops would be all over it. And not only that, certain elements within the media would likely hype up the incident, using it as an excuse to hold a sensationalist informal referendum on bike policy (“are bike lanes dangerous? Tonight at five”). Auto hit-and-runs happen with regularity, but nobody suggests we should stop building roads and highways when they do.

    That said, I can’t think of ANY incidents in recent memory where a bike hit a ped, causing serious injury or worse, and then took off. Serious ped-bike collisions seem to be rare.

  35. Jeff F
    October 2, 2011 at 11:48 am Link

    That said, I can’t think of ANY incidents in recent memory where a bike hit a ped, causing serious injury or worse, and then took off. Serious ped-bike collisions seem to be rare.

    It’s difficult to find any numbers at all on ped/bicycle collisions. There’s a ton of data on pedestrian collisions and on bicycle collisions (Portland Police seem obsessed on racial demographics), but virtually zero on collisions between the two modes–perhaps because the numbers are close to zero.

    There is a Seattle study containing a chart of types of pedestrian collisions. Out of 531 incidents, three involve a bicycle hitting the ped.

  36. Lenny Anderson
    October 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm Link

    As a bicyclist I mostly just say “Good Morning” to peds; something that’s hard to do from a car.
    On the other hand, the other morning I was pissed enough to consider how I could legally damage an SUV with my bike. I came up empty. They could kill me and get a mere ticket. Its just not a fair fight!

  37. Ron Swaren
    October 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm Link

    Any time there is a major phenomenon elected officials are duty-bound to respond. If a virus struck our state and caused a lot of serious illness or death, officials would respond. If an earthquake struck the Oregon coast, officials would respond. Our legislature has responded many times in drafting new laws on vehicle use.

    Therefore when another phenomenon emerges, I think there should be a response. I don’t particularly like some of the laws we have now but follow them. I think there will be a time, soon, for the Legislature to craft some new laws on new phenomena. Some of which might even be to protect people from reasonably foreseeable events.

  38. Bob R.
    October 2, 2011 at 9:14 pm Link

    Therefore when another phenomenon emerges, I think there should be a response.

    Yes, but it would be helpful to demonstrate, beyond occasional anecdotes, that a new phenomenon has actually emerged. (In this case, a phenomenon of significant numbers of harmful bicycle-pedestrian collisions.)

    A virus outbreak will generally have a statistical significance which is measurable be epidemiologists. Similarly, seismologists can probably tell you a lot about the significance of an earthquake.

    Contrary to the attitude displayed when you said, “I wouldn’t even waste time trying to provide statistics to you”, when I ask for statistics I’m not trying to shut you down or make a counter-claim against your assertion. Rather, I’m merely asking for something to back up your claim. Is there any “there” there?

    And if, for some reason, such collisions are not being tracked adequately by any appropriate agency, I think that’s a very good place to start. The Portland Police Bureau is tasked with tracking incidents which affect “vulnerable road users”. If they aren’t already, it makes sense to track actual injuries when two different “vulnerable road users” collide, even if a motor vehicle isn’t involved.

    But thus far you haven’t answered these very basic questions. I asked you for stats *or* whether you knew if anyone was tracking such statistics.

    When you tell me to “do [my] own research”, it implies that you haven’t begun to do yours.

  39. Ron Swaren
    October 3, 2011 at 7:35 am Link

    When you tell me to “do [my] own research”, it implies that you haven’t begun to do yours.
    Unfortunately. Bob, that is a risky assumption on your part.

    I am prepared to present both national and regional statistics, when needed, to Oregon’s transport agencies and Legislature. Suffice it to say that since 1980 there have been a recorded 38,000 bike/ped collisions nationwide, and I would think these are the consequential ones. Additionally this would probably show an exponential curve, since bicycle use, esp. among adults, has been on a rapid increase.

    Please look at this as for being for the good of all involved. There’s really nothing intended to reduce individual happiness and enjoyment. We want all citizens of this great state to have a happy experience—-and sometimes some minor precautions are in order. So if not in this Session, perhaps the next. Cheers.

  40. Bob R.
    October 3, 2011 at 9:25 am Link

    I am prepared to present both national and regional statistics, when needed, to Oregon’s transport agencies and Legislature.

    Well, it would also be just terrific if you could present some of those here.

    Suffice it to say that since 1980 there have been a recorded 38,000 bike/ped collisions nationwide

    OK, now we have a beginning of a discussion. So, how many of these resulted in serious injury or death? How do these skew for urban/rural? How many of these also involved a motor vehicle?

    38,000 since 1980 works out to an average of about 25 per state, obviously this will skew based on population and the urban/rural split. But at an average of two incidents per month, especially in light of just how many automobile-pedestrian collisions occur.

    Using stats from this page at WalkingInfo.org, if you add up deaths and injuries from motor vehicle-pedestrian collisions in 2009, there were over 63,000 incidents, or an average of 1,260 per state. (The good news, according to that page, is that these figures have been decreasing over time.)

    So it’s important to know the injuries/deaths associated with your stats, in order to compare the severity of the situation to automobiles when considering whether to implement new regulations. Thus far, at most (assuming all of your 38,000 incidents resulted in at least an injury and that no motor vehicles were involved), the ratio of incidents involving motor vehicles to those not is 50:1.

    Applying a bit of perspective, it seems to me that allocating resources and energy to helping those 50 is money/time better spent than helping that 1. This is not to dismiss your claims or the pain and suffering which may be experienced by that one, rather it’s an attempt to assess the situation, and apply a bit of perspective to setting policy priorities.

  41. EngineerScotty
    October 3, 2011 at 10:38 am Link

    Jarrett at Human Transit has a follow-up.

  42. Ron Swaren
    October 3, 2011 at 11:24 am Link

    I would think if there were submarine bicycles a lot of the conflict might go away. The Willamette is wide open and in the Columbia you only have a 4 kt, current to deal with. It could be a little tough in shallower routes like Johnson or Fanno Creeks.

  43. EngineerScotty
    October 3, 2011 at 11:27 am Link

    Or we could put the cars underwater instead. :P

  44. John Reinhold
    October 3, 2011 at 11:43 am Link

    Ron: “I would think” and “would probably show” is not any way to *prove* anything.

    No one here has ever said that a bicyclist hurting someone is ever a good thing.

    What has been said here is that chasing the infinitesimal amount of bicycle-on-pedestrian collision injustice at this point in time would be a fool’s errand and a waste of limited resources which could be better put to use trying to deal with the thousands of car-on-pedestrian collision injustices which happen daily…

    But if we don’t need to use actual facts or numbers – I would bet that more people are injured by tripping on sidewalk damage than are injured by being hit by a bicyclist. The problem is that even when people DO report either type of accident – very rarely is it tracked in such a way that it can be “counted” in a statistical report later on.

    As a cyclist, and a pedestrian – it annoys me when cyclists are rude or inconsiderate, and when they ride at night without lights. But in the grand scheme of things I find having a *real* concern about bicycles not using lights is missing the forest for the trees.

    I also know that none of us are perfect. Every one of has sped, rolled through a stop sign, accidentally ran a red, turned from the wrong lane, jaywalked, rode a bicycle on a sidewalk downtown, crossed a “do not cross” line, turned over a double-yellow line, or any number of things. Pick some, we all do them.

    It is really bad to focus on other people’s faults when we all do little things ourselves. I GUARANTEE that at some time there has been a person who has looked at every one of us and our behavior and thought “look at what that jerk just did”. Even though we are all actually pretty nice and good people.

    So lets remember that almost no one is out to actually hurt other people and get away with it. Some times people just make mistakes or err in judgement…

    Now what were we discussing here again?

  45. Ron Swaren
    October 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm Link

    And those thousands of daily, car on pedestrian injustices are happening here?

    Please relax. I’m just trying to help bicyclists find a way to avoid collisions and also, hopefully, protect them from injury. How you could read anything else into what I stated is beyond me. An important part of policy is to accurately judge trends and prepare.

  46. John Reinhold
    October 4, 2011 at 5:16 am Link

    “And those thousands of daily, car on pedestrian injustices are happening here?”

    No, that is nationwide – just like your statistic of 38,000 bike/ped collisions since 1980 is nationwide.

    :)

    “An important part of policy is to accurately judge trends and prepare.”

    I think on that we all agree. Everyone here wishes they would keep better statistics for bicycle and pedestrian “events”. They are trickier, as they will often go unreported, especially if they are minor or happen to someone who is alone. I wrecked my bicycle coming off the east end of the Hawthorne bridge, onto the Esplanaude. I had one hand on the handlebars, was juggling something in the other hand, and when I squeezed my brake lever my weight shifted forward into the single hand on the handlebars, causing my front wheel to dramatically turn sideways and I went over the handlebars. I rolled and jumped up like nothing happened, I was unscathed in all but pride. My bicycle suffered a bent handlebar and a broken bell. I replaced them and until now it was never “reported”. :)

    Autos have more strict reporting requirements and so there is much more data. How do we collect that for bicycles and pedestrians without invading to much provacy, being too big-brother-draconian? Sounds like a job for the “new” IBM…

    Data is good.

    I think where we disagree is the need to build a “policy” around some sort of a “problem”. Existing laws should handle things, in my opinion. I am rarely for creating new laws if we have existing laws in place that merely need enforcement.

    “Please relax.”

    No one is upset. Well, at least not me. This is a wonderful forum and a great discussion! And Ron, you have been a good participant engaging in legitimate discussion with reasonable comments. So I think we are doing fine. :)

  47. Ron Swaren
    October 4, 2011 at 9:10 am Link

    Pedestrians have a right to wear all black clothing and walk through crosswalks on busy streets on dark rainy nights. Whether they should is open for discussion, IMO. Defensive driving informational campaigns have helped to reduce traffic accidents. Why not defensive bicycling instruction–combined with higher statutory requirements on illumination? Even if I don’t suffer any broken bones or internal injuries I don’t relish being impacted by any vehicle.

    As far as motorvehicles causing accidents I agree that there are a lot of bad drivers out there. This also needs to be tackled as an educational–and probably a regulatory– effort. People should feel safe no matter what mode they are using.

  48. Erik H.
    October 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm Link

    What evidence do you have that someone came to TriMet with a offer of guaranteed money for buses and TriMet said “no”?

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/COMM/docs/OTCminutes2011feb.pdf?ga=t

    Tri-Met Executive Director of Government Affairs Olivia Clark spoke about Tri-Met’s plan to replace 250 buses in the next five years, 40-50 buses per year. The plan is to use federal or general funds, and not state funds.

    TriMet is not even asking for state funding which is routine (in addition to federal funding).

    http://trimet.org/pdfs/publications/cacreportbudgetrev.pdf

    TriMet began to issue debt to fund bus replacement over the life of the vehicle

    Few if any other transit agencies would use debt financing for a bus when 80 to 90% of the cost is paid for by the federal government (with the state often picking up the matching funding).

    Not only that – but debt repayment is an operating, not a capital expense – so doing this not only forces TriMet to pay more for the buses, but also causes the “operating cost per rider” to skyrocket. This directly results in TriMet reporting a high bus operating cost (because of debt repayment) while TriMet doesn’t do the same with rail, causing the rail operating costs to plummet (on top of TriMet capitalizing many of the maintenance activities on the rail side, further dropping the operating cost per boarding ride.)

    Why is TriMet acting like this? Nobody knows…except that it reeks of the monomodal pro-rail attitude pervasive at TriMet. It does not make sense to operate this way – and no other transit agency does it, BUT TriMet.

  49. zefwagner
    October 5, 2011 at 10:22 pm Link

    Erik has a point. Few transit agencies issue debt to pay for bus replacement. Instead the standard practice is to build up capital reserves and then use a combination of reserves and federal funding to purchase buses. Bus replacement is one of the most common uses for federal money, as the feds recognized long ago that most transit agencies would otherwise be tempted to run buses until way too far past their safe operating life.

    TriMet seems far too content to continually issue revenue bonds that use up future operations funding. They need to start projecting capital needs like bus replacement and start building up a reserve ahead of time. The desire to build a new light rail line every 5 years or so makes this very difficult to do. The Milwaukie line is far enough along that I don’t really think it should be stopped, but it would be prudent to wait a lot longer before building the next light rail line in order to give TriMet a chance to get back on it’s feet.

    Another strategy would be to focus on projects with lower capital costs, like BRT for the SW Corridor. If there was ever a corridor in the Portland region that was well-suited to BRT, it’s the SW. People will complain about other areas getting light rail and them not getting it, but we need to start looking at what modes are appropriate for which areas. In the SW you just take half of Barbur and make it exclusive or semi-exclusive bus lanes. People will throw a fit about lost car lanes, but with I-5 parallel to Barbur most of the way, that complaint will be unjustified.

  50. Jason McHuff
    October 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm Link

    80 to 90% of the cost is paid for by the federal government

    If that’s true, then why are they only getting a FTA grant of $6 million towards a total purchase of $22.6 million? (From page 7/PDF page 10 of the Fiscal Year 2012 Approved Budget)

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