For my journal assignment I focused on SMART growth in the Portland metro area, and to be more specific, how transportation in the area hindered or promoted SMART growth. SMART growth in itself is described as the planning that focuses on the city rather than the outlying areas in hopes to hinder the development of unsustainable and harmful dwellings of sprawl that we call the suburbs. From many articles I collected in my journal assignment, I discovered that Portland’s focus in the inner city is on density and building up rather than out. In the Portland area we have a very unique government (Metro), which supports this manner of growth through the development of public transportation, biking and bike ways as well as walking and small dense neighborhoods.
The public transit system of Trimet is a key organization when Portland is mentioned in any conversation. Through the articles that I collected in throughout this term, I came to understand the relation that this organization has to SMART growth. Trimet is continuously expanding their network of bus and light rail transport to accommodate the rising population in Portland. By doing this they are saving many people the effort of driving around town, and thus also making the area more sustainable as this cuts pollution dramatically. Their system does not only appeal to the folks inside the Portland city limits, but also to those in the surrounding area who need to travel here for work or pleasure, again cutting our carbon dioxide emissions. The most important factor that Trimet contributes to SMART growth, however, is that it makes Portland city life more appealing to those who might wish to leave the area for the suburbs. It prevents sprawl by creating an atmosphere that is sustainable and easily traveled, adding to the community vibe that is often missing these suburban settings.
From the articles that I collected, I also discovered that the residents and Metro government in Portland also support the development of biking in the battle against urban sprawl for similar reasons that Trimet has been so valued. The development of things like bike paths and avenues create an environment that people want to live in due to the ease of transport and the sustainability of the region. Although less people bike than ride the Trimet system, the metro government hopes to change that by supporting the development of more bike paths and more riders.
The development of a 20 minute neighborhood (a neighborhood in which you can reach everything you need in a 20 minute walk) is something that you would never find in the suburbs surrounding the Portland area, but inside the Portland city limits they are common place and a tool that is used against the sprawl towards the suburbs. Not only does a 20 minute neighborhood cut down on the CO2 emissions of a car trip to the store (thus creating a more sustainable neighborhood), but more importantly it creates a sense of community. A more dense community is not in any way shape or form a bad thing as developers of the suburbs might tell you, but lets you know and be connected to the stores and people around you. Portland involvement in the development of these walking oriented neighborhoods has hindered sprawl and supported the idea of a dense SMART growth.
Although it might not seem to be the case, from the articles that I presented in my blog, the idea of SMART planning is not present in all the plans of the Portland Metro area. Specifically the gateways to the suburbs such as the 12 lane CRC connecting Vancouver and Portland do nothing else besides support the ease of transportation between the two cities and support a less sustainable way of life. With more people being able to cross this thoroughfare with ease, the idea of living in a cheaper city that is close to Portland is very appealing. Although plans such as this one have yet to come into being, they threaten the sustainability of our area by providing much more traffic and pollution. This example shows that we are not done with the fight against suburbanization. We still have much more work to do in the area of Smart growth.
The articles that I presented in my journal painted a very good picture of Portland in regards to SMART growth. We have succeeded in creating a community that people want to live in through means of public transit, biking, and even walking. Although we have difficulties regarding such things as interstate connections, the draw of the suburbs will always be present, and it is a fact that a city can only hold so many people. Although Portland wants to keep building up instead of out, there will be an eventual limit. For the time being, however, our communities close knit and dense way of life is working to fight this, as we can’t simply give up hope of life without the wasteful suburbs.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
TriMet offers 'augmented reality' for riders with iPhones
By Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
May 26, 2010, 4:29PM
Not that it eases the pain of today's nickel fare increase and service cuts, but TriMet has just introduced another cool tool to catch the next bus.
Oregon's largest transit agency has hooked up with Junaio to bring information and scheduled to riders using "augmented reality."
By simply pointing their iPhones (yes, an Android version is coming) in a certain direction, the TriMet Channel on the Junaio 2.0 mobile augmented reality platform will round up the nearest transit stops and schedules.
The free service integrates transit data ranging from station locations, bus routes, to estimated arrival times into the TriMet channel on the junaio 2.0 mobile augmented reality platform.
You need at least an iPhone 3GS, which leaves Hard Drive out of the experiment. (We're still puttering away on out two-year-old iPhone 3G, at least for another month).
The app reportedly works by letting you pan around with your phone’s viewfinder and then marking nearby transit stops, distances, and real-time live schedules of upcoming transit.
“Augmented reality intuitively lays out transit information for our riders” says Bibiana McHugh, an IT manager for TriMet. “We are thrilled to have the augmented reality channel as another means of helping our riders get to their destinations.”
Go to the iTunes store to download the app.
Speaking of augmented reality, and fare rates, remember when an all-zones TriMet was just 65 cents in 1978? No?
Well, here's the recent history of TriMet fare increases:
* September 2004 $1.65
* April 2005 $1.70 (specifically for diesel)
* September 2005 $1.80 (5 cents for diesel; 5 cents for cost of doing business)
* January 2006 $1.95 (again, specifically for diesel)
* September 2006 $2.00
* September 2007 $2.05
* September 2008 $2.30
* September 2010 $2.35 (approved today)
-- Joseph Rose, Twitter: pdxcommute
Commuting to Work in Portland
Despite a decade of rising traffic congestion, the average commute in Portland takes about as long as in San Francisco or Los Angeles 20 years ago.
Average Commute is 24 Minutes
New 2000 U.S.A. census figures show Portland-area residents typically commute 24 minutes to work − a three-minute increase since 1990 but still a shorter journey than in 30 of the nation's 50 top metropolitan areas, including Denver (26 minutes), Seattle (28 minutes) and Atlanta (31 minutes).
Experts say the fact that the numbers don't look worse reflects a natural coping mechanism: Frustrated by traffic, commuters have moved closer to their jobs.
2000 Census Data
The 2000 Census figures are part of the most detailed portrait ever of how people get to work in greater Portland - a region consisting of Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Yamhill, Columbia, Marion and Polk counties in Oregon, and Clark County in Washington.
In addition to basic information on race and gender asked of all U.S. residents in April 2000, a 53-question-long form was sent to one in six households. Workers 16 or older were asked their employers' addresses, how they got to work and what time they began their journey. No questions were asked about other trips, such as for shopping or school.
Their answers reveal that:
Portland stood out among a handful of regions where automobiles declined in importance. Bus commuting grew 41 percent, while the numbers of bicycle riders and people working at home each grew 54 percent - well ahead of the 27 percent growth in people driving alone.
Despite that, the region remains as car-dependent as Puget Sound and Southern California. Roughly 73 percent of Portland-area residents drove alone by car or motorcycle - the same as in Los Angeles and one percentage point more than in Seattle.
Walking lost popularity. Metro areas walkers grew by a sluggish 13 percent, with big declines in small towns and outlying areas. The most popular place to walk was Yamhill County where 6.3 percent of commuters hit the sidewalk. The least popular was Clark County with 1.4 percent.
Most Portland residents work in Portland; most suburbanites do not. Consider the major suburbs of Tualatin, Wilsonville and West Linn, where 20 percent to 30 percent of commuters head downtown. By contrast, 74 percent of Portlanders work within the city.
Less than a third of Clark County residents cross the Columbia River to work in Oregon each day. About 2 percent of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties residents went in the other direction.
In Washington County, an economic engine for the region in the 1990s with 61 percent job growth, the population ballooned 43 percent. Yet residents of the Silicon Forest also had the smallest rise in commuting time.
A key reason: Just 25 percent of Washington County residents work in Portland. The vast majority - more than two-thirds - work in Washington County.
A boom in apartment construction helped. As new rental units outpaced new homes in Hillsboro, rents stayed affordable for tech workers seeking to avoid U.S. 26.
Most Clackamas County residents still leave the county for work each day. In Oregon City, Milwaukie and Molalla, a growing percentage of residents left their city limits for work, and their commute times rose 16 percent, 21 percent and 47 percent, respectively.
By contrast, commuters in Tualatin, Tigard and Hillsboro increasingly stayed within their own city limits, and average commute times in those cities rose 3 percent, 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Texas Transportation Institute 2009 Report
The Texas Transportation Institute publishes their mobility study annually. The Urban Mobility report is considered the most authoritative study of its kind, the Texas report outlines the nation's congestion problem in metro areas.
The 2009 report analyzed traffic congestions for the year 1982-2007. In 2007, congestion in the Portland metro area added 37 hours behind the wheel to motorists' rush-hour trips, a decline of one hour from the 2006 rate. Added together over a longer period, all area motorists experienced 34.4 million hours of delay because of congestion in 2007 − a 21 percent jump from 2002. That's because the average U.S. rush-hour driver still needs 25 percent more time − 29 percent more time in the Portland area for trips than during off-peak times.
The Texas study touts a "travel time index" that has been controversial locally because it doesn't reflect well on Portland. The index compares the time it takes to complete a trip in rush hour to the time it takes in free-flow times. A value of 1.30 indicates a 20-minute free-flow trip takes 26 minutes in rush hour. By that measure, Portland and Seattle tied for the 20th-worst congestion, with a travel time index of 1.29. Los Angeles-Long Beach had the nation's worst, with an index of 1.49.
The average for 90 large urban areas studied is 39.9 million hours of travel delays. For 29 metro areas — like Portland — that are classified as "large," the average is 31.8 million hours.
Other 2009 report findings:
Consider that traffic and congestion normally get worse in the most highly populated metro areas. Portland is the 24th-largest metro area by population, but its 37 hours of delay make it the 34th worst.
And in the 10 years leading up to 2007, the average Portland commuter's delay rose from 35 hours a year to 37. The average for the top 90 metro areas grew from 36 hours a year to 41 hours.
Light Rail Open to Debate
Activists, regional planners and legislators have sparred for a decade about how to address the most visible effect of population growth: traffic congestion. And each camp can find ammunition in the census.
It shows west side light rail between downtown Portland and Hillsboro, which opened four years ago, helped boost the number of rail commuters from about 2,600 in 1990 to 9,100 in April 2000, before the downtown streetcar and airport MAX opened. In neighborhoods lining the tracks, MAX drew 5 percent to 10 percent of commuters.
Critics of the nearly $1 billion west side line say that's a trickle compared to the 800,000 people who drove alone - or the 54,000 who, according to the census, rode the bus. It's also a small portion of all rides on MAX, which average 68,000 per weekday.
"Rail is irrelevant to most people in the region," said John Charles, environmental policy director at the free-market-oriented Cascade Policy Institute in Portland.
But Metro officials say the census greatly undercounts MAX commuters because it asks workers how they "usually" get to work. That leaves out occasional riders. Metro surveys and computer models put one-way commuter trips at 44,000 a day, which would suggest individual commuters number 22,000.
Biking to Work
The Rose City has been judged the most bicycle-friendly place in North America, according to Bicycling magazine in one award and the League of American Bicyclists in another. Portland wins accolades for its extensive bikeways (309 miles of bikeways) and willingness to include cyclists in its master planning. Corvallis, Ashland and Beaverton have been honored as well.
American Automobile Association chapter Oregon/Idaho is the first AAA club in the U.S. to include bicycle service as part of its regular roadside membership benefits package for AAA Plus, Plus RV and Premier members. There is no additional charge for roadside service which applies to all bicycles and tandems, including rental bicycles and bicycle trailers.
September 2006 The average daily summertime bicycle trips across Portland's four busiest cycling bridges have increased by 18 percent over last year. And for the first time that four-bridge total has passed 12,000 daily trips.
The Hawthorne continues to lead with almost double the average daily summertime bicycle traffic of the next-leading bridge, the Broadway. The Hawthorne's average daily count this summer is 5,557 trips compared with the Broadway at 2,856. The four-bridge average daily total is 12,046, up from last year's 10,192.
The counting process: For all but the Burnside Bridge, the city placed automatic traffic counters on the sidewalk bridge paths and left them for up to several days. On the Burnside Bridge alone, which has a roadway bike lane that doesn't lend itself to an automatic bikes-only count, the city stationed a person to tabulate bicycle trips from 4 to 6 p.m. on a weekday.
Portland Ranks First in Nation for Biking to Work
A larger share of Portlanders commute by bicycle than in any other large city in America, eight times the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey data showed 6.4 percent told the survey that they bicycled to work in 2008. This makes Portland No. 1 in bicycle commuting among the 30 largest cities in the country. The percentage of walkers and transit users also rose.
Across the Portland metro area, 21,921 people rode bicycles to work. Statewide, 37,582 people pedaled to work.
Commuting Makes People Miserable
Posted by Dan Savage on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 3:13 PM
David Brooks in today's NYT:
If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting.
Some people can't afford to live closer to where they work, I realize, and many people change jobs frequently and they can't exactly move—which is expensive—every time they land a new gig. And both halves of a couple usually have to work to make ends meet and and the odds that both partners offices or workplaces will be in roughly in the same part of town are slim. But I'll never understand why so many people who do have the option of living closer to work nevertheless choose long, injurious-to-happiness commutes over apartments or homes nearer—ideally within walking distance—of their places of employment.
You might have to sacrifice a little private space—you'll live in a smaller home—or live with a slightly smaller yard or no yard at all. But the time and money you save, to say nothing of the aggravating commute you avoid, more than compensates for those losses. And since living closer to work typically means living in a denser, more urban environment, those slightly less spacious homes are closer to the kinds of public spaces—bars, restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, parks—that come to feel like additional personal, if not private, space.
And, yes, you do have to buy something if you're going to sit in a bar or a coffee shop—that's what you do with some of the money you're saving on gas.
Big CRC News: Earl Blumenauer Nixes CRC from Federal Funding Ask.
Posted by Sarah Mirk on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 2:56 PM
Now this is a surprise.
Last year Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer asked the federal government to earmark $3 million for the Columbia River Crossing (CRC). This year, the project is conspicuously absent from the Congressman's ask.
Check it out for yourself: compare Blumenauer's 2010 vs. 2011 federal earmark asks on his website.
So does this mean Blumenauer (who declared this weekend at the Rebooting Democracy conference, "I bleed green!") has joined the CRC's chorus of critics?
Reached moments ago for comment, Blumenauer says he did not think giving more federal money for planning the CRC would advance the project significantly. Since 2003, the project has received about $25 million in federal dollars for planning.
"We have helped get tens of millions of dollars of study money, and we're moving forward to the point where we need something more concrete to present," says the congressman. "I think people have some concerns that we've spent a lot of time and money and there isn't yet a regional consensus, a vision or a plan to pay for it. These are thing that after having steered all that federal money to this point, that we would like to have seen." He says that he will consider asking for more federal funding for the project once we get "consensus, a vision and a funding proposal." "There is a great deal of concern about not nipping around the edges and not tossing a million or two toward something that does not move the plan forward. I do feel very strongly that we have a partnership, I want to help it."
In contrast, Blumenauer is asking for $5,000,000 in federal funding for the replacement of the Sellwood Bridge and $2,000,000 for the Oregon Sustainability Center.
Blumenauer explains what's different about the Sellwood Bridge and the CRC. "There is a vision and a funding program for the Sellwood Bridge. It was not easy, but people rolled up their sleeves, it took them several years, but we've got a proposal. That's something that's got a bow on it and it's ready to go."
So what are Earl's personal feelings on the current $2.6-3.6 billion bridge plan? "Between healthcare and trying to deal with how we rebuild and renew this country, one of the things I'm not about to do is wade in and tell local officials what to do. Life is too short."
Bike Planning: A new bike system could mean a big jump in cycling
by Alan Pittman
May 20, 2010
Portland hatched a plan this year to quadruple the share of people biking and create “a clean, thriving city where bicycling is a main pillar of the transportation system and more than a quarter of all trips are made on bicycles.” Can Eugene do the same?
Using one of the lead consultants that worked on the Portland plan, Eugene kicked off a project this week to create an ambitious new bike and pedestrian transportation plan.
Hundreds of bikes paraded downtown as part of the May 8 Bike Music Festival
“It’s a pretty exciting time to be working on this,” said city bike planner David Roth, citing a potential big boost in federal funding and increased local bike activism.
“I’m very excited,” said Shane Rhodes, manager of the Eugene Safe Routes to Schools program. “If we build a good solid plan and funding to back it up, then we’ll be on a much better path.”
Roth said he’ll take project consultants, including Alta Planning of Portland, on a bike tour this week of Eugene. The city has $149,000 in a grant through ODOT of federal money for the planning work. The project will go public in the fall with a citizen advisory committee, public meetings and website with interactive map to propose improvements. Roth said he expects a completed plan approved by the City Council in about 18 months.
According to the Portland plan, increased biking can transform a city with a host of benefits, including: safer streets, less obesity, less traffic congestion, less global warming, less toxic air pollution, less water pollution, less taxes, less car costs, less crime and a more neighborly, livable, fun and vibrant city. Biking also boosts the economy and jobs through tourism, property value increases, local bike industry, increasing local spending and attracting the “creative class” that’s key to business growth, according to Portland’s 2030 plan.
About 8 percent of commuters in Eugene bike, according to the U.S. Census. Roth said the Eugene plan could include a mode share goal as ambitious as Portland’s 25 percent.
Eugene is one of the top cities in the nation for biking, but the cycling percentage here has not increased since a high point in the 1970s, according to Census numbers.
However, unscientific bike counts at 17 locations last year by the city, showed a 26 percent increase over the year before. “I think it’s on the rise again,” Roth said of biking. “It’s turning into the cool thing to do.”
Portland surveys found that about half of its residents would be interested in biking but don’t for safety concerns. Planners there focused on making a wider range of people feel more safe and comfortable cycling by offering hundreds of miles of new bike boulevards, bike lanes, separated on-street “cycletracks” and off-street bike paths.
A city of Eugene “statement of work” for the planning contractor appears to emphasize bike boulevards over bike lanes. “The city has already completed bike lanes in most locations where they are feasible,” the document states.
The best bike boulevards have pavement painted with large “sharrows,” traffic calming and cyclists sharing road space with cars on low traffic streets, according to the Portland plan.
But emphasizing bike boulevards over bike lanes has been controversial in some cities. If the design does not reduce through car traffic with cyclist-only diverters, many bikers may not feel safer. Also, if the road is already low traffic and safe for cyclists, the official “bike boulevard” designation may not offer much improvement. If the bike boulevard is low traffic because it doesn’t go to the commercial areas where cyclists want to go, it also has less to offer.
“I think bike boulevards are pretty cool,” said Paul Moore, owner of the new Arriving by Bike cycle commuting store. But he said they should be part of a network that includes bike lanes on busier commercial and residential streets. “What I wouldn’t want is bike boulevards to be the end-all solution,” he said. “They don’t really get you where you want to go.”
Moore said he’d like to see the city convert south Willamette Street in front of his store to two lanes with a center turn lane, widened sidewalks and bike lanes. “The situation out here is horrible for cycling.”
Cities in Europe have found bike boulevards less useful and instead focused on separated cycletracks protected by low curbs, parked cars and/or medians to achieve bike mode shares up to 50 percent.
“Optimally, cycletracks are the best,” said Jim Wilcox, director of the BikeLane Coalition.
But cycletracks can cost much more than bike boulevards; Portland estimated as much as six times more per mile. But they didn’t do an estimate of cost per added cyclist.
Cost may be the biggest obstacle to keeping Eugene’s bike plan from gathering dust on a shelf.
The city has not dedicated a regular source of funding for new bike infrastructure and relies instead on occasional federal and state grants, according to Roth.
Lately, the city has been reducing rather than increasing bike funding. The City Council voted two months ago to divert almost all of the limited amount of flexible federal transportation money (STP-U) it could get to road repairs rather than bike and pedestrian safety projects. The city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) joined the Sustainability Commission in calling for the city to spend all of the several million dollars a year on non-car projects. The city manager’s proposed budget also cut $153,000 from bike path maintenance.
The current regional TransPlan devoted about a billion dollars to cars over 20 years with only about 1 percent of its funding for bikes. The plan included a slight decrease in bike mode share while the region devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to freeway interchanges and bridges. A recent plan update (RTP) spurred a 13 percent increase in driving per capita with a half billion dollars in added capacity to Beltline and other freeways.
The local share of bike funding should increase at least ten-fold, Wilcox said. All the money spent on more and more car projects makes it hard for bikes to compete and is counterproductive, he said. “When we build more infrastructure, we have more people driving, so we build more infrastructure, so we have more people driving.”
Roth said the new Eugene plan will examine possible ways to increase bike funding. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced a “sea change” in federal funding to “treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.” Congressman Peter DeFazio could help Eugene win some of that new funding as chair of the key House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
But even if Eugene had the money, it may lack the political oomph for a bike transformation.
In the 1990s, Eugene had a mayor and three city councilors who regularly cycled to meetings. But now, they all arrive by car. “You don’t have anyone there that’s an advocate,” Moore said.
Right now, the council is spending most of its time working on a plan that appears likely to expand the city’s urban growth boundary to allow more sprawl.
BPAC chairwoman Jennifer Smith called the city’s growth plans “ridiculous” at a meeting last week. She said, “if it becomes more difficult to drive, people will live more compactly. ... The widening of Beltline doesn’t serve that option or the climate policy.”
Roth said the formation of the GEARs bike advocacy group has increased cyclist clout. “Now they’re a pretty big player in how things are done locally.”
But Moore said he’s concerned that GEARs, which formed when a bike advocacy group merged with a recreational riding group, has a diluted mission and less focus on bike advocacy. “We don’t have an advocacy group like the BTA,” he said, referring to Portland’s powerful bike lobby.
Rhodes said the new plan “has the potential to really rally the troops” around bike advocacy.
Eugene’s Sustainability Commission has called for a “complete streets” policy to include bike/ped infrastructure in new projects. But many of the newer road projects the city has completed or is planning, including new roads on the EWEB riverfront project and “multi-way” boulevards on West 11th and Franklin, lack cycletracks or bike lanes. The city has also retreated from building planned bike lanes that involve removing car parking.
Moore faulted the city for not putting bike lanes on the reopened Olive Street downtown. “A mom with kids going to the library, where are they supposed to ride?”
So just how transformative will Eugene’s new bike plan really be? “I’d like to say it will be earth shattering,” said Roth. “At this point, it will be progress.”
Monday, May 24, 2010
No way! Way. Portland dethroned as America's top cycling city
By Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
April 06, 2010, 10:53AM
hawthorne1jpg-c17f459f64827f4b_medium.jpgView full sizeThe OregonianDespite crowded bridges, Portland has be dethroned as America's best cycling city.
Bicycling magazine just released its bi-annual list of "America's Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities" and Portland is ... that's a typo, right?
Yep, after a long ride at the top, Portland has slipped a notch, losing the Bicycling crown to Minneapolis.
"Despite the cold wintertime climate," the magazine says, "Minneapolis has a thriving bike community. It has 120 miles of on- and off-street bicycle facilities, plus indoor bike parking and other cycling-friendly facilities."
But. But. What about Portland's booming bike economy and its second-to-none percentage of daily bicycle commuters and its $600 million 2030 Bicycle Plan, envisioning a day when 25 percent of all trips in the city will be made on two wheels?
Well, Bicycling loves all that, noting stumptown's "innovative programs, from designated bike-only areas at traffic signals to free bike lights." But, according to the May issue, Portland can no longer call itself "Bike City U.S.A." without sideways looks from a Midwest city known for its long, frozen winters.
Boulder, Colo., Seattle and Eugene round out the top five. Salem was ranked 19th and Corvallis landed at no. 2 on the list of best small bicycling cities.
Bicycling said the cities are ranked based on the number of bike lanes and routes, bike commuters, cycling events and renowned bike shops.
This is sort of a big deal, since many consider the magazine the monthly bible of bicycling. Portland has been quick to hold up the mag's No. 1 ranking for political and tourism pushes.
Still, Portland Mayor Sam Adams wasn't impressed. It's got to be a fluke, he said. Maybe the editors just wanted to freshen up the list with an underdog.
"I believe the author gave them 'extra-credit' for biking during Minnesota's snowy winters," Adams said. "Here 'snow' is a fancy word for 'stay home' -- even for cars."
The magazine story isn't online just yet, but Hard Drive's issue has arrived and it features dirty-mouthed Minneapolis bike builder Erik Noren making a rather disparaging remark about how Portland ain't so bad.
“(Bleep) Portland!” he opines upon learning I am trying to discover why Minneapolis deserves top status over what would seem the logical choice. “All I ever hear is about how cool Portland is. Who rides through the (bleep) we do? We ride more by accident than they do on purpose.”
Them's pedalin' words!
We're waiting to hear back from Bicycling editor-in-chief Loren Mooney to get a more detail on the thinking behind the rankings.
For now, there's just this official quote from a news release:
“Bicycling’s Best Cities list this year proves that great things can happen in short periods of time, even in the largest metropolitan areas. New York City is literally re-engineering its streets to accommodate bikes. And watching a city like Miami pull a 180 to become bike friendly has been incredibly gratifying for us. This year’s list is evidence that a much needed, far reaching pro-bike movement is in full swing, all across the country.”
In other words, it's not you, Portland, it's the rest of the country. Apparently, other cities have caught the bicycling bug. Some are accelerating faster than Portland.
According to Bicycling, Minneapolis has 127 miles of bikeways, with 83 of those being off-street trails. Oh, there's more bike parking per capita in Minneapolis than any other city in the country. What's more, in June, Minneapolis will start the largest bike-share program in the country.
Minneapolis media (we're looking at you Star-Tribune) are already getting cocky.
Portland is going to have to live with No.2 for the next year. But at least PDX is a long way from the worst cycling cities: Birmingham, Ala., Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn.
-- Joseph Rose, Twitter: pdxcommute
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
CRC: Will a summer of non-stop gridlock give controversial project a push?
By Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
May 10, 2010, 8:43AM
Once again, nearly nonstop gridlock plagued northbound Interstate 5 approaching the Columbia River on Saturday and Sunday.
As we reported last week, heavy weekend traffic over the Oregon-Washington border is going to be the norm into the fall, thanks to a joint replacement project forcing lane closures on the I-205 Glenn Jackson Bridge and forcing more vehicles to spill onto I-5.
At least one reader thinks weekend traffic jams just might result in a big boost in support for the controversial Columbia River Crossing.
Robert Sims, who lives in Vancouver but works in downtown Portland, writes:
I was stuck in the I-205 gridlock last Saturday and attempted to end-run the problem by driving down to the I-5 bridge on Columbia. Guess what, the I-5 bridge was also in gridlock as were adjacent arterials. It took me 1 hour and 20 minutes to get over the I-5 bridge. The importance of two fully functional bridges over the Columbia River in the metro region will be painfully obvious to all by the end of the summer.
Hmm. A summer of gridlock is a summer of good PR for the CRC folks. Oddly, we can see some logic to that theory. What do you think?
-- Joseph Rose, Twitter: pdxcommute
Planners ponder an overhaul of Barbur Boulevard
By Joe Fitzgibbon, Special to The Oregonian
March 20, 2010, 6:58AM
Picture streetcars or light rail zipping down Barbur Boulevard. Add in bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly businesses stretching from downtown Portland to Tigard.
Smarten up the image with several busy town centers and adjoining stormwater projects to protect streams and trails.
That's the vision that residents, city and regional planners shared with transportation officials during a recent community forum on the fate of the state highway over the next 10 years.
Marianne Fitzgerald, transportation chairwoman representing 17 Southwest neighborhood associations, wants to kick-start the proposals at a pretzellike configuration of streets and highways called West Portland Crossroads.
The busy hub includes Southwest Barbur Boulevard, Capitol Highway, ramps to and from Interstate 5, along with a mishmash of feeder streets from Portland Community College, densely packed apartment buildings and hillside neighborhoods.
At the top of Fitzgerald's list is the development of a 20–minute neighborhood on the site, a project to make all businesses and services accessible to residents in a 20-minute walk.
"This intersection has been a nightmare for the past 30 years," Fitzgerald says. "We've got lots of services and stores right there, but the challenge is giving families -- including about 3,000 Somalis in the area -- better access to them."
Patrick Sweeney, senior project manager with the Portland Office of Transportation, says his office would seek funding for a planning process that could start this summer, but that any redevelopment needs to be part of a comprehensive study of the entire roadway.
-- Joe Fitzgibbon
Special to The Oregonian
Monday, May 10, 2010
Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030
On Thursday, February 11, 2010, Portland's City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030.
Bicycling creates safer streets, reduces the causes of global climate change, promotes a healthy environment, and limits the effects and health care costs related to inactivity. It provides equity and access to viable, affordable transportation options and creates fun, vibrant, and livable neighborhoods. It supports Portland’s economy and is a sound investment.
To download or view a copy of the adopted Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030, click here.
The key principles laid out in the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 are:
Attract new riders
Plan and design for people who are not yet riding by developing safe and comfortable low-stress bikeways (such as bicycle boulevards and trails) that reduce conflicts between people riding bicycles and people driving.
Strengthen bicycle policies
Adopt policy changes outlined in the Plan, including a new bicycle transportation policy of making bicycling more attractive than driving for short trips.
Form a denser bikeway network
Expand the network of bikeways in Portland to achieve a fine-grained system that offers riders an array of route choices.
Increase bicycle parking
Implement measures to satisfy the growing demand for bike parking.
Expand programs to support bicycling
Expand established programs, and develop new programs, to encourage and support bicycling.
Increase funding for bicycle facilities
Pursue multiple strategies to increase funding for bicycle facilities and other green transportation modes.
Are Portland's bike boxes working? PSU study finds mixed results so far
By Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
January 26, 2010, 6:55PM
Portland State University researcher Chris Monsere clicked on his PowerPoint presentation to play a video of traffic at a green bike box.
On the screen, a sport utility vehicle turned right from Northwest Everett Street onto Northwest 16th Avenue, cutting across the box and nearly hitting a bicyclist with the right of way. The bicyclist hit his brakes, avoiding a nasty collision by inches.
Transportation officials, bike advocates and two-wheeled commuters in the Portland Building's second-floor auditorium last week gasped. A man shouted, "Ouch!"
The video is part of the first study of whether Portland's 14 experimental bike boxes, which began popping up at tricky intersections in 2008, help save cyclists' lives.
So far, it appears the benefits of the 14-foot-long boxes might just be in commuters' heads. A preliminary analysis of 918 hours of video shot at 12 boxes failed to show a significant reduction in conflicts between cars and bicycles, according to the study by PSU's Center for Transportation Studies.
At the same time, 90 percent of 717 city motorists polled for the study said they know how the boxes work. More than half said they think the boxes make intersections safer.
Go to the Hard Drive commuting blog to read the entire story and watch video from the study.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
|TriMet's Fred Hansen Announces Potential Cuts|
Sunday, April 25, 2010
TriMet backing away from some planned service cuts
By The Oregonian
April 20, 2010, 5:45PM
After a series of public meetings, TriMet announced today that it is backing away from a few of the service cuts it was planning as part of its effort to deal with budget shortfalls.
But other cuts remain in effect.
The transit agency announced that it will discontinue two bus lines instead of the three it had planned to cut; and that it will not eliminate any of the weekend bus lines it had planned to dump.
The agency still will eliminate the No. 27-Market/Main and No. 157-Happy Valley bus lines but will keep the No. 65-MarquamHill/Barbur, which also had been targeted. The agency will, however, cut back on the number of trips by the No. 65.
Another Marquam Hill bus line, No. 64-Marquam Hill/Tigard TC, will have some route and trip time changes and will provide some of the service no longer available on No. 65.
Also, the agency has decided not to eliminate weekend service by No. 32-Oatfield (Saturday), No. 45-Garden Home (Sunday) and No. 80-Kane/Troutdale (Saturday and Sunday). But No. 45 will have some route and schedule changes while the Nos. 32 and 80 will have a decreased span of service.
There were also some changes in MAX service, which are detailed in the attached document.
TriMet officials said the changes came after a series of public hearings and 10 weeks of public comment that resulted in more than 1,400 comments.
-- The Oregonian
When will WES prove itself? Tri-Met's Wilsonville-to-Beaverton commuter rail still suffering growing pains
By The Oregonian
March 08, 2010, 7:54PM
After a year of disappointing ridership and frequent breakdowns on WES, TriMet is expected to trumpet a rare piece of good news about Oregon's only commuter-rail line this week.
Preliminary numbers show average daily ridership reached 1,260 in February, marking two straight months of growth for the much-maligned Beaverton-to-Wilsonville service.
Just two months ago, ridership on WES -- $161.2 million to build and 10 times more expensive to operate per rider than MAX -- appeared to be on a steady slide, attracting 1,075 passengers a day.
"We're officially in Year Two now," said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch.
True. On a cold morning commute last month, the Westside Express Service turned 1. But the first year may have only reinforced questions about whether TriMet inflated ridership projections to get federal funding and if the 14.7-mile line can ever be viable.
Ridership hasn't been the only letdown.
In 13 months, myriad mechanical problems – from faulty wiring to blooming cottonwoods along the tracks clogging engines – have forced WES riders off the system's three brand new diesel-power trains onto cramped shuttle buses on 16 full days.
On the weekday-only WES, that has added up to more than three weeks with disruptions. Still, many regular riders are sticking with the service.
"WES is great, and not just because it saves me two tanks of gas each month," said Canby resident Deborah Guinther, a funeral home assistant who was on a sunrise train to Tualatin recently. "Of course, if I pull in and see a TriMet shuttle bus waiting for me, I just drive to work."
TriMet dismisses the trains' regular trips to the garage as first-year hiccups. The agency expects the disruptions to become far less frequent once two vintage locomotives purchased for $150,000 from the Alaska Railroad are tuned-up as backups this summer.
As far as ridership, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen says it's way too early to say if the agency's heavy-rail gambit was a mistake. "If we weren't in the worst recession since the Great Depression," Hansen said, "I think it would be a different story."
Perhaps. But the federal government, which paid for nearly half of WES' construction, has always had doubts about the line's ability to attract riders.
During the planning process, federal officials repeatedly challenged estimates submitted by TriMet as too high. Eventually, the Federal Transportation Administration, commonly known as the FTA, approved WES with anticipated average daily ridership of 1,594 during its first year, increasing to 3,037 by 2020.
The only string attached to $59 million in federal money was that WES operate for at least 20 years.
Nationwide, transit agencies vying for funding from the billion-dollar New Starts program have "systematically overestimated" ridership, a federal study found. Even so, the FTA "really had this project under the microscope," said Ross Roberts, a Metro deputy director of planning and development, who worked with TriMet on the projections. "We had a number of very intense sessions."
A Metro computer program looking at travel times, ticket costs and demographics, among other things, calculated ridership.
In the past, the model for local projects have proven to be spot-on -- or even understated. Only MAX's Yellow Line through North Portland failed to meet first-year estimates, while the entire light-rail system has exceeded opening projections by about 3 percent.
TriMet didn't help dampen expectations when it revised estimates in early 2009, predicting 2,400 daily WES riders the first year. By July, officials had stepped back from that number.
In the United States, there's no other suburb-to-suburb commuter rail line quite like WES, just a handful of stops with only one end connecting to a larger rail network. So, it's hard to draw comparisons when measuring success.
Washington County Chairman Tom Brian, who some critics have accused of pressuring TriMet into building WES, said the ridership projections -- produced before the recession -- were bound to fail with Oregon's economic crash. Patience, he said.
"I think it's a temporary problem," he said. "It was for commuters. And there are fewer jobs to commute to right now."
But while officials wait for the economic engine in the high-traffic corridors linking Beaverton, Tualatin, Tigard and Wilsonville to rev up, WES is proving costly to run.
TriMet pays $50.47 per train mile to operate WES, compared with $16.20 for MAX. Meanwhile, broken down by passengers, TriMet spends an average of $20 per boarding; the same cost on MAX is less than $2.
Those costs, TriMet says, will come down as ridership goes up.
But it's hard to find a realistic route that would allow WES to ever meet ridership goals.
Federal rail authorities say it's reasonable to expect ridership to grow strongest in a new line's early years, averaging about 3 percent annually. Using that formula, daily WES ridership would still barely hit more than 1,600 passengers by 2020 -- roughly half of TriMet's projection.
Hansen admits it will be tough. "Was that projection too high?" he said. "My guess is, it was a bit too high."
At the same time, he expects WES ridership might grow by 50 percent once people "discover" it and TriMet begins actively marketing the service.
No amount of advertising, however, can change the monster challenge of WES' location.
Part of MAX's success have been efforts that have spawned mixed-use developments featuring housing around light rail stations. More people closer to MAX increases the likelihood it will be used.
Contrast that with WES, which uses an existing rail line -- a noisy amenity that's more compatible with the rumble of Chicago than the casual whisper of the Portland region's light rail culture.
Look no further than concerns in Tualatin, where frequent horn noise from WES has prompted about $3 million in safety upgrades to create "quiet zones."
There's also the fact that TriMet's lease to use Portland and Western Railroad's freight tracks doesn't allow WES much room to expand beyond 32 daily rush-hour trips. The current contract would only allow the addition of a midday commuter run. Weekends are a non-starter.
Looking at the recent uptick in ridership, TriMet suspects a group of commuters stumbled onto WES during the December snowstorm. While light rail and bus routes experienced severe delays, WES' powerful trains plowed through the ice and snow, keeping their schedule.
On a southbound train with 50 souls aboard last week, there were only two complaints about WES -- no park and ride at the Beaverton Transit Center, and TriMet's proposal to cut service from every 30 minutes to 45 to help fill a $27 million budget hole.
"WES is awesome," said 44-year-old warehouse worker Chris Shaw. "But I don't know if I have 15 minutes of leeway in my morning schedule."
Richard England, a 59-year-old software engineer who was checking e-mail with the train's free wifi, said the change might also force him to drive more days.
The engineer's voice crackled over the intercom, directing riders to look at the windows at a rainbow on the horizon. England chuckled.
"But you know," he said, "this trip also saves wear and tear on my psyche. My wife likes it because I'm not coming home furious at some idiot who cut me off on 217."
-- Joseph Rose and Brad Schmidt
Sunday, April 18, 2010
County Cobbling Together Funds For New Sellwood Bridge
BY KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL
Portland, OR January 7, 2010 4:18 p.m.
Multnomah County corrected a new ordinance Thursday. As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, it increases local vehicle taxes to help pay to replace the crumbling Sellwood Bridge.
Last year, bits of concrete were falling off the Southwest Portland bridge and nobody knew where the $300 million need to replace it might be found.
On a federal scale of 1 to 100 that measures bridge safety, it scored a two.
This summer however, the state legislature stepped in.
First, it passed a State Transportation Bill, which will generate about $100 million for the project.
Second, says Mike Pullen, a spokesman for Mulnomah County, lawmakers allowed the two counties nearest the bridge to charge extra vehicle registration fees.
Mike Pullen: "What happened in Salem last summer was a real game changer and is going to allow the Sellwood Bridge to be replaced if we have a few more pieces of the puzzle come into play here."
Yesterday, Multnomah County found another piece of the puzzle.
It corrected a new ordinance that will add $38 every two years to the state vehicle tax. The $130 million that will generate over the next 20 years, can only be used to replace the bridge.
Clackamas County is expected to consider a similar measure in the next couple of months.
The state has also contributed another $30 million to the bridge. And the hope is that the rest, about $40 million, will come from the federal government.
Mike Pullen: "We think we're going to start construction in 2012, late that year. so that's about two and a half years away. And we think you're going to be able to drive across the entire new bridge by about 2015."
That's good news for commuters who spend hours in their cars every week waiting to cross the Willamette River.
The design has yet to be decided, but Pullen says it's probably not going to be a fancy suspension bridge -- because of the cost.
Commuters might also be pleased to learn the bridge will remain open during construction. But warns Mike Pullen, don't expect miracles.
Mike Pullen: "We're not saying that that new Sellwood Bridge will eliminate traffic problems. The new bridge will do a number of important things. It will stand up to a moderate quake, which we don't think the current bridge would. It will have great facilities for bikes, pedestrians and will be able to bring transit and trucks across the bridge. And also it will improve traffic somewhat, especially on the west side around the bridge."
The new vehicle registration tax will go into effect September 1st for Multnomah County residents. It basically doubles the current fee.
© 2010 OPB
Feds approve $75 million for streetcar expansion
By Charles Pope, The Oregonian
April 30, 2009, 11:15AM
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood awarded $75 million in federal money Thursday to expand Portland's streetcar system, a decision that elated local officials who have long supported the stalled project and signaled a new national embrace of urban transit.
The federal government's money and blessing removes the last and most stubborn barrier to expanding the line east of the Willamette River and unleashes an already approved pot of $55 million from local governments and another $20 million from state lottery bonds.
The expansion means jobs -- not only for construction to expand the streetcar system by three miles and 18 stations, but also for manufacturing the streetcars, which will be built by United Streetcar, a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works, in Clackamas.
The new loop is expected to begin service in 2011.
In announcing the money Thursday, LaHood lauded the design and purpose of a project that had been repeatedly blocked by the Bush administration. In the new administration, LaHood said, Portland can be a model for other cities moving to create or expand mass transit.
"Portland has done an outstanding job," he said, noting the city's integration of streetcars, buses and rail. "As a result, Portland is one of America's most livable and sustainable cities with a good plan for managing economic growth and development."
LaHood made the announcement in a conference call with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and David Wu.
The federal decision was not surprising, as President Barack Obama has spoken favorably of mass transit and LaHood reiterated that position in a meeting with reporters recently.
But supporters of the Portland expansion as well as transit advocates nationally said that making the announcement so early in the new administration and allowing the Portland project to leap over other projects sends an unmistakable message of federal support for transit.
The commitment of federal dollars will allow the Streetcar Loop Project to expand east across the Broadway Bridge, connecting the Lloyd District, the central east side and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
The line will then cross a new bridge to connect with the existing system. Construction on the 3.3-mile extension is estimated to cost about $77 million, out of a total project cost of $147 million.
Blumenauer, who has been a prime congressional advocate for the expansion, said it will add to Portland's quality of life but is even more important amid the state's sinking economy.
"It's going to be a tremendous economic shot in the arm for Oregon, putting over 1,200 people to work," Blumenauer said. "And I think it is an opportunity for us to start a new American streetcar industry with Portland as its capital."
He said representatives from more than two dozen cities have come to Portland to learn about the streetcar network. If those projects go forward, he said, it could mean more orders for United Streetcar, the only manufacturer of streetcars in the country.
The fledgling company was launched with the help of a $4 million grant that DeFazio inserted as an earmark in the 2005 federal transportation bill. United Streetcar is working with Skoda, a partner in the Czech Republic, on a prototype streetcar for Portland.
The new loop means an order for 16 new streetcars, Portland Mayor Sam Adams said in a statement praising the federal decision.
The federal money comes from the Small Starts program, designed by Blumenauer. Congress directed the federal bureaucracy to give streetcar proposals credit not only for moving people efficiently but also for spurring growth nearby in the form of restaurants, shops, apartments and condominiums. Bus routes, which can easily change, do not show such nearby development, Portland planners say.
In the past, the Federal Transit Administration had said the streetcar project did not meet a crucial test of cost-effectiveness, intended to ensure that tax dollars are wisely spent.
LaHood said the reversal behind his announcement is the result of a new philosophy about transit that arrived with the Obama administration. "This became a priority when this administration came into office," he said.
"We decided that the concept of livable communities is something that we really want to expand on, and part of that is developing modes of transportation where people do not have to get into their car every time they want to go to the drugstore or the grocery store, or their doctor's appointment."
Wyden and DeFazio, both Democrats, were more direct.
"The real answer is, elections matter," Wyden said. "The priorities are different now, and they are very much more in tune with the needs of the people of Portland."
DeFazio agreed. "The Bush administration had set up a black box test that no streetcar proposal would have ever been able to pass," he said. "They were not following the law, and this administration is."
Friday, April 9, 2010
Green light for TriMet's MAX Green Line
By Joe Brugger, The Oregonian
June 30, 2009, 8:12PM
As a MAX train glided through a brick-lined section of downtown Portland, someone in the VIP crowd of mayors and state and federal lawmakers onboard called out: "Where are we?"
The answer: Union Station, home of Amtrak and nearby Greyhound, a place where no MAX has gone before.
Such small surprises were the hallmark of the first trip aboard the MAX Green Line, the $575.7 million light-rail extension that will open to the public Sept. 12.
Dignitaries from U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and David Wu to city council members and county commissioners from across the region crowded onto a new-generation MAX train for the line's first end-to-end ride from Portland State University to Clackamas Town Center.
The route forms an upside down U, traveling from downtown along Interstate 84 to the Gateway Transit Center before turning south to the mall, bringing MAX service to Clackamas County.
A few things became apparent during Tuesday's back-and-forth trip:
Even after weeks of test trains zipping along, seeing MAX trains on the downtown transit mall still feels weird. While bus riders are used to quick stops and starts, the trains take a while to halt. Pedestrians need to be wary and confused motorists now driving on the tracks could face more than a ticket come September.
For folks who live, work or pass through downtown, little changed when the airport's Red Line opened in 2001 and North Portland's Yellow Line started in 2004. The new trains still went mainly east-west along Morrison and Yamhill streets. But Green Line riders will find themselves passing Chinatown and Union Station before a sharp right turn to the Steel Bridge -- thus the "Where are we?" moments. The Yellow Line will take the same north-south route starting in late August.
Close-in neighborhoods could be big winners. Hollywood, Rose City Park and Montavilla MAX riders along Interstate 84 will be able to choose among Blue, Red or Green Line trains to and from downtown Portland and that means more frequent service.
There's no sign when you reach Clackamas County, a center of retail and housing growth. But you know you've arrived when you see the Home Depot at Southeast Johnson Creek Boulevard -- and feel your stomach churn when you realize it's about two stories below as the MAX whooshes by on an overpass.
The crowded hills of Happy Valley rise to the left. Then, almost with a bang, the massive yellowish sign for the Century Clackamas Town Center movie theater looms into view, a beacon of suburbia that says you've reached the end of the line.
The first MAX Green Line round trip pauses Tuesday as a TriMet worker clears leaves from a switch near Portland State University. Federal, state and local officials filled the train and cheered the service at a reception at Clackamas Town Center.
"People have a tendency to believe that Clackamas County is a rural county," said Bob Williams, who represents the area on the TriMet board. "They don't see all the growth."
Williams recalls walking the route when he first joined the TriMet board 10 years ago, hoping he'd see a train there one day.
Rick Gustafson, a planner and transit deal-maker, said he remembers when Multnomah County and the Oregon Department of Transportation decided in the 1970s to preserve a corridor for mass transit along the planned Interstate 205. That effort made way for the Green Line a generation later.
Even then, they thought light rail could come to Clackamas County.
Bridge to Disaster
A Proposed New 12-Lane Bridge over the Columbia River Will Cost $4.2 Billion, Increase Traffic, and Do Little to Alleviate Climate Change. What the Hell Are We Thinking?
by Amy J. Ruiz
A man driving a gray Toyota pickup truck seems frantic; veering in and out of lanes trying to pass other traffic on the Interstate Bridge. His furtive moves don't do him much good—moments later, as we crest the green steel bridge headed south into Portland, we're greeted with flickering brake lights. Traffic slows to a plodding 20 miles an hour. We've stumbled into the morning congestion, a daily feature of the Vancouver-to-Portland commute.
Fortunately, it's a commute I never have to make. I drove to Vancouver on a recent morning to guide my Oregon-plated car into the current of vehicles bearing Washington plates purely as an experiment. I spent twice as much time in the southbound lanes trying to return to Portland as I had in the northbound lanes venturing into Vancouver. My blood pressure rose. I cursed OPB's April Baer for reminding me about the traffic I was clearly stuck in.
Like me that day, the vast majority of people driving across the bridge each morning—and back across each evening—are coming from Vancouver. According to 2005 numbers, 64 percent of people crossing the bridge southbound hopped onto I-5 via one of Vancouver's on ramps. Northbound, 60 percent of vehicles jump off the freeway into Vancouver. Unsurprisingly, Vancouver—with its cheaper real estate—is functioning as a bedroom community to Portland. And unsurprisingly, those commuters would like an easier commute into Portland.
One answer may be on the way, in the form of a $4.2 billion, 12-lane replacement bridge, coupled with light rail or bus rapid transit, and smoother on and off ramps in the five miles surrounding the bridge. Traffic engineers say the new bridge across the Columbia River—AKA the Columbia River Crossing—will make travel between the two states easier, safer, and faster.
It's the biggest public works project in our region's history, it's been years in the making, and local government bodies are poised to make final decisions on the project in the next few months. The problem is, even if we build one of the proposed new bridges, traffic is still going to increase from today's levels. And in an era of climate change—when a state task force has recommended drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 75 percent below 1990 levels—increasing lanes and thereby increasing commuter traffic is simply unacceptable.
A Recipe for Disaster
Nearly everyone agrees that the bridge and the five miles of freeway surrounding it are trouble spots. Columbia River Crossing graphs show that current collision rates are proportional to traffic volumes, but "appear to increase two-fold" during peak congestion. Short entrance and exit lanes give drivers little room to maneuver into a through lane. The bridge lifts about once a day to allow river traffic to pass underneath, and "three to four times more collisions occur" on the bridge during a lift, when traffic is stopped. (The bridge has the only red light on I-5 between Mexico and Canada, too.) Transit options are limited, carrying an average of only 3,475 people across the bridge each day. Clearly, the crossing could be improved.
In 2001, Oregon and Washington agreed. The "Transportation and Trade" partnership recommended coming up with solutions to congestion in three spots, including the bridge over the Columbia.
In 2005, the Columbia River Crossing project was born. By last spring, the 39-member Columbia River Crossing (CRC) task force narrowed down the possible solutions to five that address the area's problems: "congestion, dangerous travel conditions, and travel demand that exceeds capacity," according to a CRC summary. The options include both a 10-to 12-lane replacement bridge and a four-to five-lane supplemental bridge that would augment the existing span, which would be downsized to four lanes. Both of those options are being studied twice: once with light rail, and once with bus rapid transit. The fifth option is a "no build" option that compares the alternatives to doing nothing.
A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) analyzing those five options will be released sometime this month. From there, the public can weigh in for 60 days, and the local jurisdictions—including the City of Portland and Metro—will vote on the "locally preferred alternative" chosen by the CRC task force. Once the agencies agree on an alternative, the project will be submitted for federal funding, with the goal of starting construction in 2010.
The DEIS isn't out yet, but there's already data on the five alternatives—and the numbers don't look too good.
Right now, 134,000 vehicles cross the bridge in a given day.
If we do nothing—absolutely nothing—that traffic is going to increase thanks to growth in the region, causing many more hours of congestion. By 2030, CRC staff estimate, 184,000 vehicles will use the I-5 bridges daily, a 34 percent increase from today's levels, and they'll be stuck in eight hours of northbound congestion, and seven hours of southbound congestion. In other words, that section of freeway will be clogged up just about all day.
But if a replacement bridge is built, paired with high-capacity transit like light rail, and tolled, traffic in 2030 will be only 178,000 vehicles a day. That's a decrease, project staffers argue, if you compare it to 2030 traffic without a new bridge, transit, and tolls. Indeed, according to their math, the $4.2 billion project gives us a three percent reduction in traffic—compared with sitting around and doing nothing.
But according to the project staff's own numbers, it's light rail and tolls that has the biggest impact on the traffic in 2030, reducing it by a whopping 20 percent. CRC staff compared a new bridge with transit and tolls to a new bridge without transit and tolls. Without the alternatives and fees, roughly 225,000 vehicles would use the bridges in 2030. With them, 2030 traffic is cut by one-fifth—to the 178,000 figure.
The problem is, no one has bothered to study what happens if we do the things that deter people from crossing the bridge in the first place. Ideas that would give commuters an alternative, but don't make driving an easier choice. In other words, could we reduce traffic by 20 percent today by building light rail to Vancouver, and tolling the bridge now, without spending billions of dollars on a new, bigger bridge? Instead of giving Vancouver drivers a continued excuse to drive their single-occupancy vehicle into Oregon every day, why not give them reasons to leave the car at home?
But that option's not on the table. What the hell are we thinking?
Climate Change Is Coming
According to the final report of Governor Ted Kulongoski's Climate Change Integration Group (CCIG), released in January, Oregon needs to "act now" to address the threat of global warming.
If we don't, the prognosis is grim.
"A broad scientific consensus tells us that climate change is accelerating, and that it is happening at a speed that was unanticipated even recently," the CCIG report says. "It is urgent that we act now, both to reduce the cause of this earth-transforming crisis by rapidly driving toward a low-carbon economy, and to begin to prepare for and adapt to the changes that mitigation cannot prevent."
The CCIG report doesn't mince words in describing Oregon's future, if we don't make drastic changes. "Sea-level rise is likely to erode beaches, flood low-lying areas, and increase the damage during storm surges. Changes in average growing season temperature will change the types of wine varietals that may be grown in Oregon, making some areas suitable for wine growing that presently only support less valuable crops, while making some high value wine grapes such as pinot noir more difficult to grow. Changes in climate will affect public health, as patterns of communicable diseases and disease vectors in Oregon change; chronic disease risk factors like ambient pollen concentrations, the prevalence of smoke from forest fires and physical activity patterns are altered; and economic changes threaten communities and put some Oregonians at risk for family violence and suicide." In other words, we're all going to die (and drink bad wine in the process).
Thankfully, the CCIG came up with a plan. It's not an easy one, however. According to the group's calculations, "we must reduce emissions by 42 percent from forecasted business-as-usual levels."
The "Oregon Strategy"—a 2004 report recommending greenhouse gas reductions, which the state legislature adopted last year—dictated a similarly tough goal: Emissions need to drop significantly, to at least 75 percent below 1990 levels, by 2050. Considering that we're currently pumping out emissions at a level that's 22 percent higher than 1990 levels—and we're expecting considerable population growth in the near future—we've got a lot of work to do.
According to the Oregon Department of Energy, transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon, accounting for 34 percent of emissions.
Smartly, the CCIG report devotes an entire chapter to transportation and land-use recommendations, urging the state to reduce "vehicle miles traveled." According to the report, "it is the area in which the state can have the most influence." Moreover, "reducing [vehicle miles traveled] is simply the single most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
Though the report doesn't specifically address the CRC project, the general recommendations caution against expanding infrastructure—which is exactly what the CRC project, which began before either report was issued, is poised to do.
"Traditionally, improvements in transportation systems have focused on supply, increasing capacity to meet travelers' needs. However, new infrastructure is expensive and may induce demand, locking governments into a spending cycle of adding increasingly more capacity as more drivers take advantage of new facilities."
Last October, Sightline, an environmental think-tank based in Seattle and focused on the Northwest, released a study addressing highway expansions' impact on emissions. Not surprisingly, Sightline found that building more roads increases greenhouse gas emissions, even when improved fuel efficiency of future vehicles is taken into account, and even if the highway expansion project initially relieves congestion (cars that aren't idling in stop-and-go traffic pollute less).
"Sightline assumes that rush-hour traffic will flow more freely after new lanes are opened, and that congestion relief will raise the effective fuel efficiency of vehicles on the roadway," wrote Sightline's Clark Williams-Derry. "However, consistent with academic findings and real-world experience, we also assume that new highway capacity in a metropolitan area will gradually be filled by new trips, and that congestion and stop-and-go driving will gradually increase to approximately the same level experienced prior to the highway expansion."
Applying that logic to the CRC project—which, project staffers say, is bigger than the current bridge thanks to auxiliary lanes that allow for smoother entrances and exits—Williams-Derry points out the potential long-term effects of a bigger bridge. "You're increasing the capacity of the corridor. The end result is that there's going to be more space in the corridor and in that facility for more cars. Over the long haul, any cars that get diverted from the main freeway lanes into the auxiliary lanes, that's going to free up more space for long-distance traffic on the Columbia River Crossing."
And according to Sightline, "Adding one mile of new highway lane will increase CO2 emissions by more than 100,000 tons over 50 years." To put that in context, the average US citizen is currently responsible for 20 tons of CO emissions each year.
Groups like Sightline aren't the only ones raising alarm bells about building more roads. Locally, critics of the big bridge are emerging as the CRC project nears a decision-making point.
Joe Cortright, an economist with Impresa Consulting in Portland, released an economic analysis of the CRC project on February 13. In it, he compared the cost of the bridge project to "80 OHSU aerial trams," which "works out to nearly $2,000 per capita from each of the region's two million residents."
He picks apart the CRC's own numbers, and concludes that the bridge isn't going to solve any traffic problems. Instead, it will exacerbate congestion: "Growth in trips across the Columbia will be 70 percent greater with the bridge than if we don't build the bridge... The presence of larger transportation facilities encourages people to take trips they would otherwise avoid, or re-route."
And that traffic will spill over into the rest of the transportation system, Cortright argues. (Watch out, North and Northeast Portland.) "Presumably, with four or five travel lanes in each direction, there will be no congestion on the bridge. But what about the rest of the traffic system? How do they manage this volume without congestion on the rest of I-5? How do I-5 and North Portland road networks handle the additional 13,900 peak hour trips that will be generated by the new bridge?" Cortright asks.
The CRC's Transportation Planning/Traffic Engineering Team, along with project finance specialists, issued a March 3 memo reviewing Cortright's analysis. The CRC staffers called Cortright's analysis "incorrect," because, for example, he uses numbers from a preliminary 2002 study.
Cortright responds: "I used the newest data I could find on their website when I put it together. They've come up with some other numbers. It doesn't lead me to believe that what I wrote was wrong," he says. "What we know is—and what their data shows—that bridges cause more traffic, and tolls reduce it. It you want to reduce traffic, tolls and transit are the way to do it."
The Coalition for a Livable Future (CLF)—a group of over 90 organizations working for "healthy and sustainable communities" in our region—is pushing for a "climate smart" Columbia River Crossing. The current proposals, according to the CLF, represent an "outdated freeway expansion project that will increase global warming pollution, harm people's health, and undermine our region's vision of a sustainable economy."
Instead, the CLF wants to see a project that "reduces the growth in driving," according to Co-Director Jill Fuglister, who's also a member of the CRC task force. They recently adopted a "Climate Smart" resolution that says "we only support a Columbia River Crossing Project that will reduce the growth of driving in the future."
More Lanes, More Problems
Fortunately, the six local agencies involved in the project on both sides of the river—on this side, that's the City of Portland, Metro, and TriMet—have veto power over the project (Metro votes in April, and Portland's city council votes in May on the preferred alternative). CLF members are hoping to convince one agency to put a stop to the big bridge plan.
As that battle shapes up, local political leaders are gathering information, and beginning to take sides. At the City of Portland, Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams "really wants to hear what the community has to say on it," says his chief of staff. Mayor Tom Potter, according to a spokesperson, "has serious questions about how it's got to this point," but doesn't believe it would be a good idea "to pull back" at this time. Commissioner Dan Saltzman hasn't taken a position yet, and Commissioner Erik Sten will likely have left office by the time the issue hits the city council.
Commissioner Randy Leonard says his position has been consistent: "I would be generally supportive of the project on the condition that it has light rail, pedestrian and bike lanes."
At Metro, Councilor Robert Liberty has "very serious reservations about the project. It shows weaknesses in how we make decisions about transportation. It's a failure in creativity in how to define and address the problem."
He'd prefer to start by tolling, and then build the bike and pedestrian plus transit connection as a second phase.
So far, Liberty is the most outspoken of local leaders, but he says several of his colleagues on the Metro council— which will also consider the project—are "raising concerns."
It's unclear, however, if Liberty's strong views will trickle over to the City of Portland. "There's something basically wrong with the idea that the approach to Portland, which is trying to brand itself as a leader in sustainability, is a 12-lane bridge. How we spend our money says a lot about what kind of place we are, and I think we can do a lot better than this."
In this blog I hope to highlight the smart planning (or lack thereof) in the Portland Metro Area. I will mainly focus on the interplay between avenues for transportation that provide an avenue for urban sprawl (bridges, freeway development) and those that focus on urban development and redevelopment (Trimet) as they provide a means to get around the city easier.
Thanks for reading,
Thanks for reading,