Archive | April, 2012

5 Surprising Things our Low-car Voter Guide Taught Me About the Local Elections

This guest post is by Michael Andersen, editor of Portland Afoot, PDX’s 10-minute newsmagazine about buses, bikes & low-car life.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of a handful of volunteers for Bike Walk Vote, there’s been quite a bit of attention in this election season to local candidates’ positions on bicycling and walking. But the contenders in the May 15 primary haven’t had as many chances to go on the record about transit issues.

Inspired by Bike Walk Vote’s work, my friend Aaron Brown and I decided to do something about that.

Aaron, a local transportation advocate working at The Intertwine Alliance, rounded up the leading candidates in each council and Metro race and put to each of them a series of questions that we thought would matter to transit riders. Earlier this week, I summarized his findings on Portland Afoot’s blog. But we saw a few interesting trends running through all the races, too – and those are what I want to share with Portland Transport.

Streetcar might be in trouble.

Portland StreetcarOf the three top mayoral candidates, only one is enthusiastic about Streetcar’s citywide growth plan. (Guess who.) Presumptive Councilman Steve Novick is downright bearish. Amanda Fritz and Mary Nolan have satisfyingly opposite views: Nolan thinks Streetcar is mostly about transportation, and should expand Lloydward; Fritz thinks it’s mostly about densification, and should, if it goes anywhere, leap 80 blocks east to Lents.

TriMet board reform has surprisingly broad support.

TriMet boardPortland Transport host Chris Smith isn’t the only guy who wants TriMet leadership appointments moved somehow to the Metro level. Charlie Hales, Amanda Fritz, Jonathan Levine, Steve Novick, Mark White, and Jeri Williams all endorsed the notion.

The most interesting argument against such a change was Mary Nolan‘s. Nolan said (persuasively, since she was a major transit ally in the state House) that such a move would make the legislature less willing to subsidize TriMet’s capital projects.

Everybody says they love YouthPass, though it’s not clear that they all understand it.

a PPS student ID with YouthPass stickerWe asked eight City Council candidates what the city should do about 10,000 PPS high schoolers losing free TriMet passes after this school year. Seven of them answered with a variation on "whatever it takes." (Jefferson Smith even cited YouthPass as a way to make transit more cost-effective, which seemed odd.) Only one council candidate suggested dialing it back: Steve Novick, who said it should be offered only to low-income students.

Two important things it wasn’t clear the candidates understood about YouthPass:

  • The state requires PPS to give free transportation to about 3,000 of its 13,000 YouthPass-eligible students: the ones who are on free or reduced lunch; who attend their neighborhood high school; and who live more than 1.5 miles from it. When we talk about saving YouthPass, we’re already talking mostly about kids in middle-class homes.
  • PPS taxpayers are paying for school buses throughout the state, but suburban and rural taxpayers aren’t paying for school passes in the PPS district — even though under the deal negotiated for YouthPass, TriMet is both cheaper and better than yellow buses. This inequity comes from the state level, and stems from the fact that people outside dense urban areas think YouthPass is a handout for PPS. It’s not. It’s a reflection of the fact that living in a dense urban area is extremely efficient.

The local left may be near consensus around a ‘utility model’ for road funding.

a PPS student ID with YouthPass sticker Bob Stacey and Jefferson Smith, two of Portland’s most progressive and wonkiest politicos, both alluded to ditching Oregon’s gas tax for a three-part system: a universal road maintenance fee (presumably paid by person or by household); congestion-based tolling, to reduce peak-hour congestion; and a usage fee (presumably paid by the mile or mile-ton).

BRT has some unexpected bedfellows.

EmX bus rapid transit in Eugene I wouldn’t have pegged either Stacey or Nolan as politicians who’d give up on light rail to Vancouver. But the Columbia River Crossing might tip their scales.

Both said they’d be willing to accept bus rapid transit as part of a compromise that could scale back the planned expansion of I-5 across the Columbia River.

One last thing.

Finally, I can’t resist sharing my favorite moment: Stacey’s confession that he sometimes uses the Internet to look at subway porn — that is, at photos that make Washington Park MAX station look like part of an imaginary Portland subway system.

If I’ve learned anything from helping assemble this fun, hopefully useful project, it’s that every viable local candidate this year is a strong supporter of low-car transportation.

That’s because in the Portland we’ve built, it’d be politically suicidal not to be. In other words, we are the change Ray Polani was waiting for.

The May issue of Portland Afoot is a guide to good places in Portland to fix your bike.

Creative Commons I-205 photo by Doug Kerr, and EmX photo by Gary Cziko.

We’re Number 10!

Transit service is a painful topic right now, but we might want to take a second to remember that relative to a lot of other places, we’re still in a pretty good place (but will never be complacent).

The good folks at WalkScore have released a ranking of major metros by their aggregate TransitScore – and Portland comes in at a very respectable #10 nationally (as reported by GeekWire).

TriMet publishes proposed FY13 budget

TriMet has published its proposed FY13 budget. I’ll peruse it a bit more myself later tonight, but a few observations courtesy of OPAL after the jump (sorry, Facebook access required for the OPAL link).

I’m not endorsing any conclusion which may be implied by OPAL; however, these are good questions to be asking.

  • Contribution to the Streetcar is $9.3M, prior contribution was $6M. Initial planned contribution was $9.6M, the $300k difference has been portrayed by TriMet as a cut. OPAL seems to regard the Streetcar (and TriMet’s contribution thereto) as a luxury item and a waste of money, and appears to skeptical of TriMet getting too much involved in getting into the land-use business, and appears to be opposed to some (if not all) of this subsidy. The increase is due to the upcoming opening of the Eastside Streetcar. TriMet’s position is that its funding of the Streetcar is essentially the same amount of money that it would take to provide equivalent bus service on the route.
  • OPAL also points out that the agency’s contingency fund is $20M rather than $10M. TriMet includes the following comments in the budget (pages 11-12)–apologies if there are any errors, as the budget PDF disallows copy-and-paste, so I’m typing this in by hand:

    Budget “best practice” requires the establishment of reserves or “contingency” to provide an entity with a source of funds to provide for unexpected costs. TriMet’s FY13 Contingency is $20 million, which represents 1.5% of Total Requirements. Under State law, the use of funds in the Contingency requires a resolution of the TriMet Board before funds can be transferred and expended. If the Contingency Funds are not used in FY13, they become part of the Ending Fund Balance and are available for FY13 cash flow. Given the uncertainties facing TriMet in FY13, including the outcome of a decision by the ERB relating to past union health care costs, uncertainty about future health care costs which result from the labor contract, diesel fuel and the cost of other materials, and the economy, a contingency of 1.5% of total requirements is prudent but very modest
    This level of contingency is expected to provide TriMet with sufficient resources to withstand a modest decline in revenue or modest cost increases compared to budget. Given the uncertainties in the economy and the labor environment, the Contingency is sized to provide sufficient funding for operations in the event of adverse results in the fiscal year.

    The big question: Should they lose to the union, can TriMet keep service levels the same by consuming the contingency fund (at least for FY13), or will another round of cuts be coming down the pipe?

More Reflections on car2go

Now that car2go has been in operation for a few weeks, I’ve had a chance to use it a handful of times and have some additional observations.

There’s also been more than a little chatter on the interwebs among transportation advocates that car2go makes it too convenient to use a car!

In my own use, I found it mostly competing with transit. The cases where I’ve found myself looking at the iPhone app to find a car are when I’ve planned to use transit, but the next vehicle is more than 10 minutes away. In one case I did rent a car.

I suspect that if you’re already car free (or the member of a one-car household like me, without immediate access to the family vehicle) car2go DOES compete with transit and cycling.

In general, the ‘sustainability win’ for car sharing is that it makes it more likely that your household will give up a car (or not buy one to start with). From that perspective, I think that having car2go in the mix may very well encourage more folks to go car-lite or car-free.

index - Copy

Don’t do this with your car2go

Courtesy of cfarivar [Ceative Commons licence]

The ‘parking advantage’ has also been interesting. It’s terrific not to have to worry about meters, time limits or residential-only zones, but there is only a slight advantage in manifesting parking spaces (the car does fit in some spaces smaller than an average sedan could get into). So I still found myself driving around looking for spaces. It’s very frustrating to be circling the block at 35 cents per minute!

The other question I’ve seen around the net is whether you can take advantage of the small vehicle size and park perpendicular to the curb. The short answer is no, the car2go documentation says not to:

Vehicles parked in curbside spaces must be parallel
parked unless the location specifically requires
perpendicular or angle parking.