Archive | Transportation Planning

[Updated] Secretly Gutting the Transportation Planning Rule

In 1973 the Oregon Legislature passed SB 100 creating a strong statewide land-use planning program. A set of 19 Statewide Planning Goals, are at the foundation of this planning. Every city and county is required develop local comprehensive plans that are consistent with these goals.

Statewide Planning Goal 12 is Transportation. Division 12, OAR 660-012-0000, is known as the Transportation Planning Rule (TPR) and provides the details for local communities to implement Goal 12. The TPR specifically sets details for developing Transportation System Plans, or TSPs, that guide local transportation investments.

On July 19th a Joint Subcommittee of the Oregon Transportation Commission and Department of Land Conservation and Development is set to recommend a complete overhaul of the purpose statement of the TPR! In almost complete secrecy, the process that was sparked by a few stakeholders’ concerned with the words “reduced reliance of the automobile” has turned into a total policy gut and stuff.

The First sentence of the current TPR currently reads:

The purpose of this Division is to implement Statewide Planning Goal 12 (Transportation) and promote the development of safe, convenient and economic transportation systems that are designed to reduce reliance of the automobile so that the air pollution, traffic and other livability problems faced by urban areas in other parts of the country might be avoided.

The TPR provides the teeth to alternative mode advocacy and vision to Oregon’s transportation planning. ODOT is quietly behind gutting it. I appeal to you to get involved demand a transparent and full process.

The LCDC Commissioners on the Subcommittee are: Hanley Jenkins, Ron Henri and Marilyn Worrix

Contact members of the LCDC at: http://www.oregon.gov/LCD/lcdc.shtml#Current_Members

Read the Proposed Changes to the TPR Purpose Statements:
http://www.bta4bikes.org/act/advocacy.html

Read the TPR at: http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/rules/OARS_600/OAR_660/660_012.html

[Thanks to Rob Zako for a primer on the TPR]

Updated July 20, 2005

ODOT has posted a better side-by-side comparison of the old and new language (PDF).

St. Johns Bridge Plan Ignores Chance to Reconnect

Editor’s Note: This appeared as an opinion piece today on Oregon Live with a summary in the printed edition of the O. We’re cross-posting it here to allow a little more exposure and discussion.

Portland’s Willamette River bridges connect east and west, north and south, uniting neighborhoods into one great city. Visitors marvel at the bridges’ beauty, variety, and utility; Portlanders adorn our walls with posters that celebrate the bridges’ engineering details as much as their lofty design.

Yet, as the $38 million upgrade of the 75-year-old St. Johns Bridge nears completion, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is poised to miss a perfect opportunity to strengthen the connections among Portland communities.

The St. Johns Bridge is the only bridge spanning the Willamette River for five miles north or south. ODOT is currently planning to remodel the bridge in a way that endangers pedestrians and bicyclists, fails the freight community’s stated standards for trucks, and is nerve-wracking for everyday car commuters – even though all of these problems can be solved at no cost.

The bridge currently has four narrow traffic lanes, no bike lanes, and substandard sidewalks — an arrangement that makes everyone feel unsafe. Fast-moving twenty-ton trucks mix with cars and bicyclists in the roadway, and bicyclists try to share narrow, substandard sidewalks with pedestrians, as trucks zoom by.

Neighbors in St. Johns who want to safely bike or walk to landmark Forest Park, a short mile away via the St. Johns Bridge, might be advised to take a twelve-mile detour via the Broadway Bridge. In effect, North Portland is cut off from Northwest Portland for far too many people.

Yet instead of improving upon the situation, ODOT is planning to perpetuate it.

ODOT originally wanted to look at different bridge configurations, and spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars hiring outside consultants. Those consultants found that the pinch-points for travel happen at the ends of the bridge, and that “no capacity constraints or operational flaws on the bridge” would result from a new design, one that would use two wide travel lanes with shoulder areas mid-bridge.

Under pressure from special interests, ODOT simply ignored the facts at hand. The result, if it is allowed to go forward, is a bridge that will continue to be unsafe for the quarter of the area’s residents who cannot drive.

There is a solution that benefits neighbors, helps businesses move freight, creates transportation choices, and makes the bridge safer for everyone. Maintaining four lanes at the ends of the bridge, but having the middle of the bridge striped with two wide lanes and wide shoulders, would give everyone room to breathe, making it easy to share the road. Trucks, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians could all fit safely and comfortably.

Sadly, neighborhood disconnection is currently carrying the day. ODOT is buckling under to special interests, and ignoring the facts it spent our tax dollars to learn, as well as its obligation to provide safe facilities for all Portlanders.

The St. Johns Bridge is named after settler James Johns, who started the local ferry system across the Willamette River with a single rowboat in 1852. It’s disappointing that the bridge bearing his name has become a symbol of disconnection rather than connection.

Bridge renovations offer a once-in-a-generation chance to make real improvements in the relationship among Portland neighborhoods. Our children will live with the results of today’s decisions, and it’s our responsibility to make the best choice.

Instead of settling for an unsafe bridge that limits options, we should leave our kids a safer, better facility that reconnects our neighborhoods and our city. The bridges are a symbol of Portland. Let us reconnect.

Evan Manvel is the Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Erik Palmer is the Land Use Chair of Friends of Cathedral Park.

Why Doesn’t “Share the Sidewalk” Work?

America is an entitlement society. Unlike European – or even more strikingly, Asian culture – we don’t share. We don’t cooperate. Every special interest group has their own identity and expects their own separate but equal facility.

Non-transport example: look at how Portland solved the dogs in parks problem. Not by getting dog owners and non-dog owners to cooperate and follow common sense rules of civility better. No. Instead ugly chain link fences were erected like miniature Berlin walls in our parks, creating dog only areas and in the process further atomizing both our social and physical shared resources.

But this is a transport blog, not a dog blog. So how about sidewalks and bike lanes? Why do we need bike lanes AND sidewalks even in constricted downtown right of way situations where the space simply doesn’t exist?

And in those cases where there isn’t enough room – why does a winner take all ethic operate so that NO bike lane is built but sidewalks are FULL IDEAL width?

Without going into any details – hard fought “visionary” urban corridor plans like Burnside and Hawthorne where bikes have been basically shut out could have looked really different if a shared bike/ped facility had been designed. But even in the case of the Burnside plan, which has 30′ wide sidewalks no one knows what to do with – the possibility of mode sharing was never mentioned. To do so would be to risk having every bike person and every ped person in the room start throwing chairs at you. Why?

Our new South Waterfront Greenway will have strictly separated bike and pedestrian pathways (at double the price for one). Peds will get all the waterfront views and ambience, bikes, banned from waterfront access, will be pushed back into the shrubbery – so they can “go fast”. This decision was made by city of Portland planners in secret with no opportunity for public input or comment. They said it was obvious this was the only right way. Why?

Why can’t bikes and pedestrians share facilities and why can’t new facilities be designed to encourage sharing? Examples from Europe – and Asia are staring us in the face. In Japan tens of thousands of bike commuters share the sidewalk with pedestrians every day. No one dies or even gets into fist fights. [www.japanesestreets.com for amusing if not engineerocentric view of what it is like on an urban street in Japan.]

Every thoughtful transportation planner in the Metro area will tell you the problem with advancing Portland’s bike masterplan is that all the “low fruit” has been picked. All the easy streets with sufficient right of way for bike lanes have been converted. What is left is the dreaded parking removal option or just a bunch of discontinuous routes never to be completed. Why can’t anyone look at shared sidewalk facilities to fill missing links?

To study the hows and whys of successful sharing I will be spending 7 weeks in Japan starting this August on a fellowship grant from the Architectural Foundation of Oregon. I hope to file some communiques from the field and have more to tell you when I get back. Meanwhile, please get me your questions and comments for my upcoming research! I hope to use all of you reading this blog as a brain trust for my fellowship. If we can’t share the sidewalk, let’s at least share ideas.

Home Sweet Home – But Still with Work to Do

As a transportation consultant, travelling around, working cities throughout the U.S., I am struck always by all the things we are doing right here in Portland. On a recent visit to Dallas, Texas, where I was raised, a hideous haze of air pollution sent my asthma into full flair. I met with the Parks Board of a fast-growing bedroom suburb south of there. This town has close to no land-use or zoning regulations, land is cheap, demand is high. The town is growing so fast that plots of land that the most current maps show are vacant, and that City staff think are undeveloped, are already platted out and construction has started. Houses are built right up to the edge of flood-prone drainageway creeks and country roads are being widened to the standard seven-lane cross section. Working in these towns, you realize how much we have learned, how much we have to share. Welcome concepts include requiring developers provide sidewalks, improving the streetscape, developing trails and bikeways, purchasing or requiring conservation easements and streambank protection, and introduction of native vegetation.

Coming back home, I biked from SE Portland to Metro for a meeting, breathing in the fresh air, grateful for how easy it is to get around by foot, bicycle, or bus in the inner parts of Portland. And yet we have such a long way to go. Downtown Portland remains a frightening place for new and less aggressive bicyclists; we need a fresh and comprehensive look at needed downtown bicycle improvements. Some of the suburbs are making great strides in becoming more bicycle/pedestrian/transit friendly. For example, the progressive leaders in Wilsonville, where we’re working on a bicycle/pedestrian/parks/transit plan, are guiding both new development and retrofit of existing development in the right direction. But much of our suburban development remains auto-centric, with little relief in sight.

I live a few blocks from SE Portland’s Edwards Elementary, which is being closed along with the neighborhood school program at Richmond. This leaves one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Portland without a school in walking distance. We have cherished our walks to and from school with our 6-year old son, our close-knit community of close-by families, the ease of a 2-minute bike ride or 8 minute walk to school. In concept, the closure is due to declining enrollment (although not at Edwards). It also reflects Portland Public School (PPS) District’s focus on expansion of special-focus magnet schools over traditional neighborhood schools. Furthermore, it reveals a disconnect between the City of Portland, which is investing signficant funds into “Safe Routes to School”, or helping increase bicycling and walking to school, and PPS, which leaves bicycling and walking opportunities, health-oriented transportation, and neighborhood cohesion out of the picture. Safe Routes to School programs in other cities are having rapid and positive results, with more kids and parents bicycling and walking. Hopefully we’ll have the same positive results here.

Movie Review: End of Suburbia

Going to a movie is something I rarely do — public life doesn’t leave too many nights free and frankly I’d rather spend time with the family or a good book than risk most Hollywood fare. But last Wednesday I went to a screening of End of Surburbia put on by a newly formed group of concerned citizens billing themselves as Peak Oil Portland. I’ve got to say, the film veered perilously close to being a horror flick — complete with approaching, seemingly invincible monster that will destroy life as we know it.

Given that the American lifestyle is so dependent on massive consumption of energy, any talk of reducing energy use engenders accusations from the pro-business camp of being “anti-growth” and “anti-prosperity.” The film’s thesis that the reduction in energy will be involuntary and drastic, and will cause widespread economic disruption if not collapse. No wonder some in the audience began to wail about the threat to their retirement funds and quality of life. I wonder how it will be received by those that repeat endlessly the mantra that “quality of life begins with a job” as a magic incantation against regulation and taxation?

With stars like urban critic James Kunstler and oil investor Matthew Simmons, End of Suburbia will be hard to ignore. Events like the 2003 failure of the east coast power grid and recent dramatic reduction of oil reserve forecasts by Shell Oil as well as the Saudis add evidence to the claim that we are really going to burn up all the natural gas and oil. (We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto. In the real world resources are limited.)

Of course, way before that happens, world demand for energy combined with declining or more expensively extracted supplies will cause large and unending price hikes. Our country is very vulnerable to any disruption in our energy sources. We import most of our energy (80% of oil, 50% of natural gas) and consume much more per person than other industrialized nations. End of Suburbia details in excruciating detail the profligate nature of suburban development, going beyond the energy issue into a general critique of sprawl and promotion of more urban development as a partial response to the coming energy crisis. Will smart growth and new urbanism be enough? What do we do with the hundreds of square miles of suburbs if gas prices climb to $5-10 a gallon?

Kunstler’s dark vision sees the suburbs as future slums for those without the bucks to buy a place in town where they can live without a car. He goes farther to point out that today’s comfortable middle class won’t just be car-less but may not have jobs at all as today’s economy requires huge inputs of oil to operate. In this he is seconded by the capitalist Simmons. Sustainable, locally self-reliant economies will become necessary, not a utopian indulgence in the future these two foresee. The greedy myopia of Measure 37, encouraging conversion of prime farm, orchard and forestland into vacation homes and subdivisions, is exposed as suicidal when imported food will once again be made a luxury by increased costs of shipping goods around the world and it is prohibitively expensive to commute by car.

What can we do here? The good news is that much of what we are doing is helping reduce our dependence on fossil fuel: light rail, farmers markets, bike lanes, insulating houses, keeping tight urban growth boundaries, building housing in city centers. But, if the problem is as great as laid out in End of Suburbia there is much more we need to do.