Archive | Roads

Love Affair with Cars in need of Couples Therapy?

This comes from a regular reader:

The Pew Research Center has released a report that finds that fewer Americans now enjoy driving than did in 1991. 69 percent now enjoy driving, down from 79 percent in 1991. You can read the executive summary or the entire report at Pew’s website:

http://pewresearch.org/social/pack.php?PackID=16

A couple of the more interesting findings:

  • 28% of Americans feel that driving is a “chore”, opposed to 69% who “like to drive”
  • 31% of Americans think their car has a personality (!)
  • Congestion ranks as the most-mentioned reason that people don’t like to drive

What this study didn’t get into was any discussion of people’s propensity to use alternatives, whether or not they actually existed in their community. Basically, we have here a definition of the problem as certain people see it, with no discussion of solutions. Still, it’s useful to know that the conventional wisdom that people love to drive is waning somewhat.

Auditor to PDOT: Fix Road Fixes

Yesterday’s Oregonian reports that the City Auditor has told PDOT it’s not spending its road maintence dollars as effectively as possible. It’s the old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Apparently PDOT is spending so much resource rebuilding the really bad roads that it underspends keeping the new ones from deteriorating.

The economics of this were extensively discussed by the PDOT Budget Advisory Committee. In some ways the challenge is understandable: the public gripes about a failed street. It’s visually obvious (more so when you drive over it). On the flip side, the optimal maintenance schedule for a good street calls for resealing it before it has visually degraded – so the public wants to know why you’re “wasting” money on perfectly good streets.

On the other hand, I have to wonder a little bit about the culture of the Bureau of Maintenance. These are dig and pave kinds of folks, the same folks whose responses skewed the PDOT stakeholder survey with some very negative numbers for things like bike lanes.

Happy Birthday to the Interstate Highway System

As an article in last week’s Economist (sorry, you probably have to jump through some registration screens to see this) reminds us, it was 50 years ago this month that President Eisenhower signed the bill creating the Interstate Highway System (hanging a carrot of 90% Federal matching funds in front of states).

The impact on our landscape, cities and economy has been tremendous, in both positive and negative ways. The key question is what is the direction for the next 50 years?

When the Money Runs Out

There was a transportation panel at last week’s Illahee symposium, “Oil Water and Oregon”. Of course the gas tax came up. As the gas tax loses buying power to inflation and greater fuel economy, the funds available for maintenance continue to get squeezed.

One panelist opined that the message voters were sending in voting down gas tax increases was that voters didn’t want more roads. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, I suspect some portion of them just don’t want to pay…

But the eye-opener for me was to hear a panelist from ODOT say that they actually have a planning process to look at what facilities they will abandon if they can’t maintain all the roads.

I have a hard time imagining that it will ever come to that, but the fact that they feel compelled to think about is pretty sobering.

New Idiom in Traffic Signaling

The City of Portland is trying a new approach to “left turn yield to oncoming traffic”:

City of Portland installs new experimental Left-Turn Signal with Flashing Yellow Arrow.

The City of Portland’s Office of Transportation will be activating a new flashing yellow arrow left-turn display at NE 82nd and Tillamook on Tuesday, June 6th at 10:00 AM. Previously, drivers could only turn left on a green arrow like at many other intersections in Portland. Often drivers are annoyed when they see gaps in opposing traffic, but are not able to turn left because of a red arrow. On 82nd Avenue a new flashing yellow arrow will be displayed during the time that opposing through traffic has a green light and drivers will be permitted to turn left after yielding to oncoming traffic and pedestrians. Left turners would still get a green arrow if they are not able turn during the flashing yellow arrow.

“This new flashing yellow indication will reduce delay and frustration for Portland drivers” said Commissioner Sam Adams. Adams continued “From a safety perspective, drivers should make sure they have enough time to turn safely during the flashing yellow arrow. If the gaps are not long enough, then they will eventually get a green arrow.”

The new signal display will consist of a combined steady green arrow / flashing yellow arrow, a steady yellow arrow and a steady red arrow. The green arrow indicates that the left-turning traffic has the right-of-way, and the flashing yellow arrow tells left-turning traffic to first yield to oncoming traffic before turning.

Other future Portland test sites will be at SW Barbur Boulevard and 30th Avenue, and at NE 39th Avenue and I-84. If the flashing yellow arrow improves motorist safety and reduces traffic delay at the test sites, then there may be other locations in Portland where this new type of traffic signal might be installed.

Discussion on some neighborhood list servs is that this could be less safe for pedestrians. Thoughts?