(Graphics: City of Portland/Multnomah County)
A new two-year progress report on Portland and Mutnomah County’s 2009 Climate Action Plan released today (PDF) shows per person carbon emissions have dropped 26 percent in Multnomah County since 1990. Overall, emissions are 6 percent below 1990 levels. These reductions come despite a huge spike in population growth and a national trend that is headed (unfortunately) in the other direction.
The City’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Multnomah County Office of Sustainability tout a variety of efforts that have led to the emissions reductions: more energy-efficient homes; curbside food composting; green buildings; 7,000 new trees planted last year; and of course, a continued focus on a transportation system that gives people options to driving.
The progress report found that total transportation emissions are down one percent from 1990 levels. However, per person emissions from transportation have dropped 22 percent in that same period. According to the report, one of the reasons for those declines are “increasingly complete and connected neighborhoods.”
The report also found that in 2010, total gasoline sales fell to just below 1990 levels despite a 26 percent increase in the population. This echoes an overall decline in per capita vehicle miles traveled in the Portland area that has been falling since 1997 and is now as low as it has been since 1984.
The 2009 Climate Action Plan included a chapter on Urban Form and Mobility. One of the goals to achieve (by 2040) was to, “Create vibrant neighborhoods where 90 percent of Portland residents and 80 percent of Multnomah County residents can easily walk or bicycle to meet all basic daily, non-work needs and have safe pedestrian or bicycle access to transit.”
In the new two-year progress report, the City and County specifically point out that the new Sellwood Bridge is coming with 37 feet of “bicycle and pedestrian space” and just 24 feet of lanes for automobiles, “greatly improving bicycle and pedestrian safety and mobility across the structure.” The report also gives a nod to PBOT’s nearly 10 miles of new Neighborhood Greenways that were built last year.
All in all, the City and the County are making great progress to reduce carbon emissions. I think they could do much more in the transportation sector by more fully incorporating bicycles into plans, projects and policies; but so far — in the transportation sector at least — urgency about climate change still can’t overpower politics.
But on a less cynical note, I like what BPS Director Susan Anderson said about the progress, “No single action, nor single entity—public, private, non-profit, or individual—is responsible for these accomplishments. Instead, they are the result of many thousands of people, businesses and organizations taking action every day—at home, at work, and at play.”
Put another way, simply riding your bike is a great way to feel like you’re doing your part.