Author Archive | emanvel

Metro’s Congestion Study

The Portland Business Alliance, Metro, and others got decent ink this morning about a report they purchased on the costs of congestion, and a proposed $6 billion plan to address it.

Both the Oregonian and the Tribune reported it as, well, media tend to report on economic studies — go with the press release. Skimming the report, a couple things struck me.

First, more than half of the benefits projected are in personal time benefits ($418 million a year). Economists rightly note that these benefits should be measured. But there is substantial disagreement on how to value these costs. For example, if people are on the cell phone in the car (gasp!), are they really losing the time? And if people are choosing to spend their time caught in congestion, instead of on a bike, in transit, changing jobs, or creating toll roads to avoid congestion, is it accurate to project the value of that time as an hourly wage? I didn’t see at quick glance, how the economists measured the time saved in the report, but it’s a pretty mushy subject. If you take these out, the costs and benefits of building are roughly equal — the region may as well do nothing.

Second, I was surprised at how low the return was overall. Even accepting the personal time benefit measurement, spending money on traffic congestion only pays back two dollars per dollar spent. There are probably many other ways to spend public money that would have much higher benefit-cost ratios, as well as higher net present value of net benefits.

As far as the overall goal of encouraging more money for road expansion: I think folks are dreaming if they think that voters, who recently defeated a gas tax increase by a 7-to-1 margin, will want to pony up another $6 billion for benefits that certain businesses and individuals get disproportionate amounts of. Congestion may be a problem — but its solution is far away due to triple convergence (see Anthony Downs), and our lack of desire to tax or toll.

A final note, I didn’t take the time to note whether the time lost due to construction delays was factored in as a cost. It often isn’t, and indeed, sometimes highway expansions cause more time lost than they save when finished.

Indelible Earl

The League of American Bicyclists selected the top 25 people (PDF, 1M) who have “indelibly changed the face” of U.S. Cycling. Our own Earl Blumenauer is #22.

Enjoying the Rain


There’s no avoiding the truth. I got wet this morning biking to work.

In what was a rare Portland rain (usually it’s just drizzle), I put on my rain pants and my mediocre raincoat and biked through some serious rain and puddles to work. Coming across the Hawthorne Bridge, I was glad to see that Breakfast on the Bridges wasn’t closing up, and didn’t call it off because of the weather.

I stopped, and enjoyed free coffee and a Voodoo donut, and conversation with TriMet’s Kiran Limaye and the City of Portland’s Greg Raisman. We waived at the Coalition for Livable Future’s Teresa Huntsinger as she rode by (late to work?) and chatted about recumbent bicycles. Other dedicated cyclists rode by, and one stopped, along with a pedestrian. Smiles abounded, despite the wetness.

Cheered by the coffee and the company, I re-mounted my bike and got to work, where I found our bike racks full (as always), and employees bustling about but generally happy.

Taking off my wet socks and trading out my shirt, I was soon dry.
And felt alive.

Alive from biking, from feeling the weather, from being with these people, and living in this place. I love this job.

Time for More Diverse Vehicles

Biking to work this morning I passed a golf-cart like vehicle that was chugging down the street. I was reminded about how uncreative we are with our choices of vehicles. Most households have a couple of cars — and those cars are overbuilt for what they’re actually used for 95% of the time. They’re set up to carry five people, go really fast, etc. — when almost all our trips are single person to a close destination where speed isn’t paramount. It’s like using a sledgehammer to kill the housefly, or using a blunderbuss when a rubber band gun would do.

For getting around town, we could use those golf cart vehicles, which, if moving at 20 mph, would get us to our five-mile destination in 15 minutes, compared with 12 minutes for a 30 mph car ride. Many folks are moving to FlexCar for their second car, but we it seems we could be using more scooters, golf carts, electric bikes, etc. (and, of course, normal bikes) for short trips of one person. With transportation expenditures almost equal to housing costs, it seems just cultural expectation (and mental difficulty in adding fixed costs to marginal costs in our heads) that’s preventing us from thinking more creatively about matching our vehicles to our needs.

Traveling in the future may involve twelve or twenty significantly different types of vehicles all moving around town. From the Segway to the bike, the wheelchair to the golf cart, the pick-up to the bus, it seems more diversity is the way of the future.

When it comes to bikes, there are definitely some creative vehicles out there, and the industry seems to be constantly offering new products that actually meet the trips — the new around-town cruisers are the perfect example. When will other industries catch up? What price will gas have to reach?