Archive | Statewide Interest

What Happens in the 2015 Legislative Session?

Rob Zako moderates the essential OTRAN listserv. He posted this a few days ago and has graciously given his permission to have it cross-posted here – Chris.

Whether the Columbia River Cross is still alive or dead—there are mixed reports, but the sense I am hearing is that a loss of $850 million in federal funding for light rail has or will kill the project—we are seeing a push for a major transportation funding package in the 2015 Oregon legislative session.

For example, the Oregon Business Association is releasing the legislative priorities. #3 on their list is transportation and infrastructure.

For example, as I reported in October, ODOT is soliciting transportation “needs” from its area commissions on transportation (ACTs) to assemble list of transportation needs. If Lane County’s list of $600 million is representative, then “needs” statewide come to about $6 billion.

The general outlines of the conventional wisdom are clear: As Oregon has pretty much shot its wad (bonded) its transportation funding for the next 20 years, the little remaining funding is now going to smaller projects around the state. There is pent up demand for the big projects, the major highway projects that reduce congestion and allow truck freight to move more freely. Given politics in D.C., there is faint hope that the Feds will come to the rescue any time soon. Lacking any new creative ideas, one can expect a push for increasings in gas / vehicle registration / weight-mile taxes to fund a package of roadway projects. The main debates will be about the details of the new taxes, what new projects will get funding, and lining up the needed votes in the Oregon House and Senate. The playbook is similar to that six years ago when then Governor Kulongoski wanted a transportation legacy and gave us the 2009 Jobs and Transportation Act (House Bill 2001). The difference is that Governor Kitzhaber 2.0 has shown himself to be quite skilled at bringing people together for grand bargains, and that Kitzhaber has bigger priorities than transportation: education, health care reform, jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Transportation *might* fall under the umbrella of reducing GHGs, but it depends on how it is framed.) As with the CRC, one can expect business and labor to line up behind a suitably “balanced” transportation funding and jobs package.

Absent some clearly outlined and well supported proposal for shifting our transportation priorities form the practices of the 20th century to the new realities of the 21st, this is likely how things will go down. I may be wrong, and there may already be behind-the-scenes discussions that could result in a more balanced package.

The game is afoot. Who’s in? What are your ideas?

Thoughts on the Statewide Transportation Strategy

The Statewide Transportation Strategy is part of the Oregon Sustainable Transportation Initiative. The Strategy aims to provide “promising approaches” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in three main sectors: ground passenger & commercial services, freight transportation, and air passenger movement. The Strategy includes recommendations that are designed also to further other goals such as “livable communities, economic vitality, and public health.” ODOT is accepting comments on the Strategy until 5pm on July 20th.

As a public health advocate, I was happy to see public health impacts explicitly called out in the Strategy. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will have significant long-term impacts on well being directly through mitigating the severity of climate change and improving population adaptation. Strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can improve public health in the short-term through increased opportunities for physical activity, improved air quality, and reduced risk of collisions. However, while these co-benefits are mentioned in the Strategy, the Strategy misses key opportunities to connect baseline conditions and strategy elements to these co-benefits.

Whether by design or accident, the Strategy privileges the development and expansion of electric vehicle and alternative fuel technology over the expansion of the use of walking, biking, and transit for ground passengers and biking for urban freight. While any long-term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will require the use of all available solutions, these oversights are significant. The benefits of bicycling, walking, and transit and the strategies needed to promote these transportation options are not as thoroughly discussed as other options in the Strategy, even though these modes are well-positioned to promote livable communities, economic vitality, and public health. While electric vehicles and alternative fuels reduce transportation-related emissions, these options offer only limited support of our other societal goals.

We know that increasing the use of walking, biking, and transit for transportation has myriad positive impacts in our communities and on our health, including a reduction of obesity and related chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.1 2 In addition, there is a robust and growing economy related to the bicycle industry throughout the state, and there is increasing evidence that pedestrian and transit-oriented development provides economic advantages. The Strategy can better support its mission of increasing overall prosperity with prudent, integrated transportation and land use planning by better connecting the Strategy actions to the issues described below. [Warning: digging into the weeds of the Strategy below!]

Walking and Biking: Underestimated Benefits

Nowhere in the Strategy is it mentioned that reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips in favor of trips by foot or by bike will result in a reduction in bicycle-car and pedestrian-car collisions.3 4 This is a critically important cost- and life-saving benefit of these particular modes of transportation that should be highlighted and ultimately considered when prioritizing strategies to implement with constrained resources.

In addition, the GreenSTEP model’s smallest round-trip measurement is 6 miles. Nationally, nearly half of trips in urban areas are 3 miles or less, and 28% of trips in urban areas are under 1 mile; 60% of trips one mile or less are completed by car, truck, or SUV.5 Considering the enormous opportunities embedded in those numbers, GreenSTEP’s modeling limitations might cause an underestimate of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction benefits of efforts to shift trips to walking and biking.

Freeways: Barriers to Mode Shift and Health Impacts

Under “Recommendation G10 – Road System Design/Development,” elements cover a broad range of potential negative impacts of road expansions but do not include potential barriers to walking, biking, and transit trips, even though Technical Appendix 2 notes, “Freeways can also act as travel barriers to other modes of transportation.” Because road design can have a significant impact on the safety and accessibility of walking and biking, the Strategy should explicitly include an element related to the avoidance of creating barriers to their use.

Freight: Bicycles and Efficiency Tradeoffs

The Strategy privileges trucks (and the adoption of electric vehicles and alternative fuels) to the exclusion of bikes for freight movement, even though freight by bike is increasingly an option in urban areas across the country and here in Oregon.
Large trucks, particularly in urban areas, are often in serious conflict with other road users, creating costs in human health. Transitioning these trucks to more efficient fuels does not address safety issues. However, switching loads, where possible, to bikes will likely result in fewer serious collisions. Information coming out of London and Paris indicates that bike freight in urban areas can have significant advantages over truck freight – from a need for smaller parking and loading zones to more reliable journey times.6 7

In the Technical Appendix for Freight, “Urban bottleneck removal on Portland area freeways” is included in the case assumptions. The meaning of “bottleneck removal” is not discussed, but this phrase could include everything from widening freeways to signalization changes. While widening freeways in the Portland area might “improve overall efficiency of the freight market,” it also has the potential to impede other modes and negatively impact public health. The Strategy should define suggested methods for “bottleneck removal” and clearly articulate the possible public health and safety trade-offs of these methods.

Public Transit: Underestimated Benefits and Multi-modal Integration

The Strategy misses several opportunities to connect investment in transit to public health and economic benefits. It appears from Technical Appendix 2 that GreenSTEP’s treatment of non-motorized travel includes “the number of household walking trips and the miles of short-distance SOV travel diverted to bicycling” but not transit trips. If that’s the case, the Strategy might underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions reductions of transit-related recommendations. Transit-oriented development is not discussed in the Strategy.

The Strategy also misses the opportunity to support the integration of the transit network with walking and biking networks. While bike parking is mentioned in Recommendation G8 – Mode Shift for Short Single-Occupant Vehicle Trips, there is no explicit treatment of end-of-trip facilities and other investments that have been shown to increase both bike and transit trips.8 Transit trips, on average, cover greater distances than biking and walking trips; in this way the transit network supplements the biking and walking networks, and the Strategy should explicitly include related recommendations.

Pricing: Covering Costs v. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

With a focus on “full cost of travel” for both ground passengers and for freight movement, the Strategy emphasizes fiscal responsibility over greenhouse gas emissions reduction. To achieve the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, pricing mechanisms should focus on this goal rather than indirect goal of covering the “full cost.”

Equity:

Recommendation G4 includes “considering equity concerns” and G7 includes considering “how the revenue generated is used/spent (e.g. on other modes) and the effects on different populations in Oregon,” but the Strategy does not provide enough information to help identify which factors should be taken into account in these recommendations. While the age group analysis and the definition of “equity” included in the glossary are helpful starting places, the transportation system impacts different groups in very different ways depending on factors including income, language spoken, physical ability, and geographic isolation.

Overall, the Strategy advances a vision for Oregon’s transportation future that is likely to result in better public health outcomes. However, to ensure that all Oregonians benefit from the Strategy and our communities receive the highest level of benefits possible, the Strategy must address walking, biking, and transit with as much attention as other actions.

1. Woodcock, J., Edwards, P., Tonne, C., Armstong, B. G., Ashiru, O., Banister, D., …Roberts, I. (2009). Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Urban land transport. The Lancet, 374(9705), 1930-43.

2. Giles-Corti, B., Foster, S., Shilton, T., and Falconer, R. (2010). The co-benefits for health of investing in active transportation. New South Wales Public Health Bulletin, 21(5-6), 122-27.

3. Jacobsen, P.L. (2003). Safety in numbers: More walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Injury Prevention, 9, 205-209.

4. Wier, M., Weintraub, J., Humphreys, E.H., Seto, E., and Bhatia, R. (2009). An area-level model of vehicle-pedestrian injury collisions with implications for land use and transportation planning. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 41, 137-145.

5. Flusche, D. (2010). National Household Travel Survey – Short trips analysis. Retrieved from: http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2010/01/national-household-travel-survey-short-trips-analysis/

6. Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility. Freight Transportation for Development: A Policy Toolkit. World Bank Transport Research Support Program. Retrieved from: http://www.ppiaf.org/freighttoolkit/toolkit/policy-framework/policy-measures/policy-measures-regarding-operational-regulatory-licensing/promoting-clean

7. Cycle Logistics. Screen of Business to Business and Business to Consumer Sector to Establish Potential for Bicycle Deliveries Including the Situation of Bicycle Couriers. Retrieved from: http://cyclelogistics.eu/index.php?id=39&folder_id=111

8. Pucher et al., 2010.

Upcoming Jarrett Walker talks in Oregon

Well-known transportation planning consultant (and native Portlander) Jarrett Walker, who wrote the book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich our Communities and our Lives, and authors the blog Human Transit, will have two speaking engagements in Oregon.

The first, down in Lane County, will be entitled “Eugene-Springfield Transit: What are the real questions?”, and will be held at the University of Oregon campus, in Room 182 of the Lillis Building on Wednesday, May 15th from 6:00 PM to 7:45 PM. Two other events will be held at the U of O on the same day, in Room 249 of the Lawrence Buiding; and a planning workshop from 2-4:30. Space is limited for the workshop, those interested should RSVP to sci@uoregon.edu. The other events are open to the public.

The following day, he will be speaking at Portland State University–there, the title of the talk is “Portland Regional Transit: What is the question?” This lecture will be from 7:30PM to 9:00PM at in the Smith Memorial Union, room 338.

A flyer for the UO events is after the jump:

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The Oregon gubernatorial election and transit

PortlandTransport.com looks at the Oregon gubernatorial election between Democrat John Kitzhaber, and Republican Chris Dudley, and its potential affect on transit in the Portland area.
There are many issues on next Tuesday’s ballot which will or may impact transit in the Portland area. All Oregon citizens will be voting for a state representative, and half of us will be voting for a state Senator. All of us will will likewise have a pair of Congressional races to consider. And, there are numerous ballot measures to consider, and more than a handful of local officials to select as well.

There are three races which are of particular importance, and which aren’t limited to a particular part of the Portland area. One of them, the race for Metro President, was covered by PortlandTransport back in February (prior to the primary election), which you can read here, here, here, here, and here. More recently, we have covered Ballot Measure 26-119, the TriMet-sponsored proposal to renew the expiring Westside MAX levy for the purposes of various capital upgrades to the bus system, here and here.

Today we turn to a race in which transit politics have not played a big part in the campaign, but may have a big impact on TriMet and its future plans: the Oregon gubernatorial race, between Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley.

Given that PortlandTransport is a 501(c) organization, the following rules apply:

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.

Why is this race important?

Why is this race important? Oregon’s system of government does limit somewhat the executive ability of the governor–many executive functions are overseen by elected officials who don’t report to him or her, such as the secretary of state and the attorney general. Likewise, the gov has limited ability to intervene in local political matters. However, one interesting state of affairs is that despite being only serving the Portland metropolitan area, TriMet’s board is appointed by the governor. Board members, once appointed, ordinarily serve up to two four-year terms (and must be confirmed by the state Senate); but the Governor can fire and replace board members at any time.

Governors in Oregon have not often exercised their authority to replace TriMet board members out of cycle. In 1986, Vic Atiyeh replaced the entire board in one go; I don’t believe that it has happened since. But 2010 may be an unusual situation, given the economy, the general political instability in the country, and a rising lack of confidence in TriMet management in some quarters. There have been more than a few commentators on Portland politics, including longtime TriMet critic Jack Bogdanski, who seems to be leaning towards Dudley in the hopes that he would (among other things) do exactly that.

The candidates

The two major party candidates are, of course, John Kitzhaber, a former ER physician who served as the state’s Governor from 1995 through 2003, and as president of the Oregon Senate prior to that; and Chris Dudley, a former professional basketball player (who played two separate stints for the Trail Blazers) who nowadays works as a financial adviser. Kitzhaber is FTMP a known quantity, given his prior service in the position; during his tenure TriMet built Westside MAX and the Red Line. Transit wasn’t Kitzhaber’s first priority as governor (his pet project was the Oregon Health Plan), but he was supportive of it. His prior career as an emergency room doctor did lead him to long oppose increasing the state’s speed limit, after the US Government repealed the 65MPH limit back in the 1990s; and he also has a credible record with environmentalists. In a statement to PortlandAfoot.com, a Kitzhaber spokesperson gave conditional support to Milwaukie MAX, stating:

John Kitzhaber respects the legislature and governor’s prior commitment to light rail, and he sees the benefit of jobs as an important reason to continue to support the project. Should new information arise that requires he and the legislature revisit this project, he will certainly do so, but until that time, he supports this important capital investment in Oregon’s future.

Much less is known about Dudley’s positions on transit. PortlandAfoot.com asked his campaign several pointed questions on the issues, including both MLR and whether Dudley might consider wholesale board replacements, and got non-answers. One of Dudley’s primary opponents, Allen Alley, came out against MLR during the primary season; and Dudley did not stake out a position in response. This can be seen as an improvement over gubernatorial candidates in other states, such as Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both of whom are campaigning on pro-automobile, anti-transit (and anti-high-speed-rail) platforms. New Jersey governor Chris Christie has made quite a bit of news for his position on the ARC tunnel project. On the other hand, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, like Dudley a well-known entertainment personality who made the jump into politics under somewhat similar circumstances, has not been a hindrance to transit expansion in California’s metropoli. The focus of Dudley’s campaign has been fiscal issues: lower taxes and reduced state spending (in particular, reductions in wages and benefits for public employees), though he hasn’t given much indication of what would be cut–whether spending reductions would be across the board, or only targeted mainly to programs disliked by conservatives.

What could happen?

At the present time, the race appears to be a dead heat. Kitzhaber was generally popular during his first stint as Governor, and was free of major scandal; but spent eight years playing defense against a hostile legislature, and famously suggested that the state was “ungovernable” near the end of his second term, a remark which has haunted him somewhat in the second act of his political career. (Dudley was primarily known as a defensive player in the NBA–an observation offered only here for the sake of levity). Dudley is probably the first GOP gubernatorial candidate in quite a while not pushing a social conservative agenda–he’s generally avoided social issues, in contrast to many prominent Republican candidates elsewhere in the country. These factors, and the overall poor electoral environment for Democrats in general, suggest that this is in fact anybody’s race.

And whoever the next governor is, will have Portland-area transit issues on the agenda.

Last year, the Oregon Legislature granted the TriMet board the authority to increase the agency’s payroll tax, which TriMet has indicated it will do in 2014, prior to the planned opening of Milwaukie MAX. (The increase assumed in the financials section of the EIS). The authority is contingent on the Board finding that the state of Oregon no longer is in a state of recession. But 2014 will be near the end of the next governor’s term; and if the governor takes a more hostile position to transit (or to taxes in general), things could get interesting. The governor could, once again, replace the TriMet board en masse, nominating members who decline to do so. (As MLR would be nearly complete by that point, and cancelling it not a viable option; this would result in service cuts elsewhere on the system). Of course, Metro could respond to that by taking over TriMet, as it has the right to do under ORS 267.020.

Unlike Governor Christie in New Jersey, there is probably not much that an Oregon governor could do on his own to cancel MLR, even if he were to be opposed to the project. State funding has already been appropriated. The Legislature working with the governor would be another matter–it wouldn’t be difficult for a motivated legislature to withdraw the appropriation and scuttle the project. There isn’t much polling on the Oregon legislative races, though–I expect the GOP to pick up a few seats, but I would be astonished were the GOP to take control of both houses of the Legislative Assembly.

Bottom Line

Like it says up at the top, this blog is a non-profit corporation, and cannot explicitly endorse either candidate. However, we can–and I do–encourage all of you to vote, regardless of who you are voting for. It is, after all, the ultimate expression of the public’s will; and even though we often love to gripe about the government; we ultimately get the government that we select–and deserve.

So if you haven’t done so, mail in those ballots.