Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Five smart things our regional planning agency is doing to fight climate change

Posted by on October 3rd, 2014 at 9:47 am

A parking lot in downtown Portland. Metro’s ‘Climate Smart’ plan
connects parking and climate policy.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Because its role in shaping transportation happens mostly behind the scenes, it’s sometimes easy to think that Metro is dedicated entirely to the distribution of nostrums.

But the truth is that Metro, the only directly elected regional government in the country, is a major force behind Portland’s success as a city. In much of the United States, the metropolitan planning organization — Metro’s peer — is the belly of the beast. These are the bodies that generate the obviously ridiculous traffic projections that are used to justify freeway construction and spend their federal Clean Air Act allowances on new turn lanes that supposedly reduce congestion but actually accelerate sprawl.

As the climate change news has gotten scarier this summer and the prospects for federal action are remote as ever, it’s worth taking a look at a few things Metro is actually proposing to do on this front as part of the “Climate Smart Communities” plan it’s now considering.

1) It’s officially considering a Vision Zero plan.

We’re told that the City of Portland is moving toward the goal of making street safety a higher priority than travel speed. By proposing to include Vision Zero in its toolkit of climate-smart actions, Metro is paving the way for a regional endorsement of the concept and putting the issue before other cities in the area.

2) It’s enshrining bicycling alongside walking and mass transit as a core transportation goal.

Current text of Metro’s “Regional Framework Plan”:

It is the policy of the Metro Council to support the identity and functioning of communities in the region through ensuring that incentives and regulations guiding the development and redevelopment of the urban area promote a settlement pattern that is pedestrian “friendly,” encourages transit use and reduces auto dependence.

Proposed new text:

It is the policy of the Metro Council to support the identity and functioning of communities in the region through ensuring that incentives and regulations guiding the development and redevelopment of the urban area promote a settlement pattern that makes biking and walking safe and convenient, encourages transit use and reduces auto dependence and related greenhouse gas emissions.

Current text:

It is the policy of the Metro Council to encourage pedestrian- and transit-supportive building patterns in order to minimize the need for auto trips and to create a development pattern conducive to face-to-face community interaction.

New text:

It is the policy of the Metro Council to encourage pedestrian-, bicycle- and transit-supportive building patterns in order to minimize the need for auto trips, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to create a development pattern conducive to face-to-face community interaction.

Can’t hurt.

Advertise with BikePortland.

3) It’s identifying parking policy as a climate issue.

Government-issued free parking, and the government-mandated parking minimums on private property that make it possible, might be the country’s single largest subsidy for driving. By explicitly setting a goal to “manage parking to make efficient use of land and parking spaces” and urging its constituent cities to “prepare community inventory of public parking spaces and usage” and “adopt shared and unbundled parking policies,” Metro is refusing to pretend that free parking is a public good.

4) It’s setting a target for pay-as-you-drive insurance.

Speaking of subsidies for driving, here’s one lots of Portlanders can relate to: why does car insurance cost more or less the same no matter how much you drive? We’ve written about private insurance startup Metromile’s effort to solve this problem with a new pay-per-mile insurance product. Metro’s climate plan is proposing for the first time to set a target of increasing the number of households that use this type of insurance from a little over 1 percent today to a whopping 40 percent by 2035.

5) It’s proposing a statewide “Safe Routes to Transit” program.

Another Metro target for 2035 is to nearly double public transit service hours in the region from 4,900 per day to 9,400. But with the Portland area’s middling densities, all that new service won’t be viable unless a lot more people are walking and biking to bus and rail stops.

Fortunately, making it easier to get to transit stops is wildly popular politically, at least in Portland. California, New York and New Jersey have already used Safe Routes to Transit programs, modeled on Safe Routes to Schools, to improve biking and walking to connect to transit. Metro’s toolbox includes the creation of programs like this at the state and local levels as a way to make Portland’s transit network more productive.

These five items are just a few of the transportation-related measures proposed by Metro in this report. You can learn more about the other ones, and add your voice or ideas to the public comment period that runs through Oct. 30, on Metro’s Climate Smart Communities website.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you.

26 Comments
  • Dan October 3, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Here’s something I’d like to see, and who knows if this is realistic or not — mandate that utility workers & contractors turn off their trucks after they have reached their destination. Tired of seeing humongous trucks sitting around pumping fumes into the air for no apparent reason.

    We had a guy walking around our neighborhood for a half an hour painting little stripes on the pavement, with his truck running next to my house. I asked him if he could shut the truck off and he said he would have to get back into it at some point, and didn’t understand why I would care.

    Recommended Thumb up 18

  • Josh G October 3, 2014 at 10:36 am

    To play devil’s advocate, I get that Vision Zero could encourage many concerned potential bikers and ped.s to get out of cars, but if we say, limit the whole city to 15 mph, would that get us any closer to our unrealistic CO2 goals? Don’t combusting cars run best around 40mph?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • adam October 3, 2014 at 11:15 am

      Does the plan call for reducing vehicle speeds to 15 MPH? “Combusting cars” are just not efficient at all. Are you assuming they will be the default transportation device of the future? The point, I think, is to implement urban planning that encourages arrangements for living, working and transportation dependent on less energy intensive solutions.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

    • nuovorecord October 3, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Well, one way to look at that idea is that if 15 mph is all the faster you can go, why not go 15 mph on a bicycle rather than a car? Particularly if parking a car will actually cost you a fair market price?

      Recommended Thumb up 12

      • Dan October 4, 2014 at 6:12 pm

        If we charged the fair market price for gasoline ($15/gallon) I think demand would dip a bit too.

        Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Christopher Sanderson October 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Certainly, another way to reduce trips, pollution, and encourage safety is continuing to support a robust industrial-commercial sector in the city. Besides, why scare off all those businesses to outer reaches of the city or other places in favor of more butt-ugly, soviet-style apartment buildings? A fence supply business on SE Division moved out their space in favor of one of those buildings.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • John Liu
      John Liu October 3, 2014 at 10:51 am

      Maybe it is good to spread jobs more broadly around the city, instead of concentrating them in the close-in city. If the guy working at the fence supply store lives east of 82nd, he’ll have a shorter commute.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • Christopher Sanderson October 3, 2014 at 12:08 pm

        Yeah, but what if the guy wants to live in a hip, arts-rich area with plentiful dining options, and now has to commute to Camas? I think it’s interesting to take a case like San Francisco. Very few blue collar, industrial, contractor-type jobs operate in that city. Many have fled south to the Peninsula in places like San Bruno or San Mateo. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few places left (Dog Patch, Potrero Hill) which hosts these sectors of business, but it’s not the same as it was just even 10-years ago. Just saying, I’d hate to see Portland’s gritty underbelly banished to the hinterlands.

        Recommended Thumb up 7

    • maccoinnich October 3, 2014 at 11:06 am

      Having people live close to streets that allow for walking, cycling and transit use is a great way to reduce carbon emissions. Denser cities have a far lower carbon footprint than less dense cities.

      Presumably nobody forced Fox Fence to leave SE Division. But if we’re going to make aesthetic judgments about any of the new apartment buildings, lets not romanticize this (https://www.google.com/maps/@45.505276,-122.617343,3a,75y,212.77h,84.11t/data=!3m5!1e1!3m3!1sKHBG1iUydy0v6QWYJ5LL4Q!2e0!5s2007-07).

      Recommended Thumb up 7

      • Christopher Sanderson October 3, 2014 at 11:55 am

        Ha! Man, that’s work space! I’ll take that bad-ass space over bland Sackhoff buildings anyway. At least that Fox Fence space had character!

        Recommended Thumb up 5

    • Alex Reed October 7, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      I think the City is more or less bending over backward to encourage light-industrial uses close-in. As an economics major, it appears to me that the City is using zoning to keep the supply of close-in industrial space considerably above what it would be on the open market. Evidence for that is that being zoned for industrial in the central eastside industrial district causes a $5.00 to $7.00 decrease in rent per square foot vs. office space, accounting for other differences in per-square foot cost.

      The fact is that Portland’s commercial sector is becoming more and more productive, driven especially by the software industry. I haven’t heard about industrial-sector growth at nearly the same rate. So, if space is needed by both business sectors, commercial will win out because those businesses are making more money.

      I think a similar argument can be made for residential rents, but I don’t have the numbers to back it up.

      Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/blog/real-estate-daily/2014/08/why-companies-like-viewpoint-are-flocking-to-the.html?page=all
      “Research by commercial real estate firm JLL indicates that average asking rents for office space in close-in Eastside are around $29 average per square foot. Industrial space in close-in Eastside is about $16 per square foot. Even allowing for expenses such as taxes, maintenance, electricity and utilities, which would add around $6 to $8 per square foot to the industrial price, office space is still substantially more expensive.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kari Schlosshauer October 3, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for covering this, it’s important. Likely the most important thing we have to do in our lifetime.

    Recommended Thumb up 11

  • Ben H October 3, 2014 at 10:43 am

    And 1 not so smart thing they are doing…dropping plans for light rail to the SE.

    http://www.oregonmetro.gov/news/steering-committee-drops-rail-sets-course-powell-division-studys-future

    I appreciate the editorial focus on positive concepts that Metro/PBOT are advancing and think it’s a great conversation to have but recognize that when it comes time to deliver there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to advance the ideas into reality.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • hat October 3, 2014 at 10:56 am

      Also appreciate the positive outlook. However, this planning project was awful. The evidence by APTA shows an increase in transit use when considering rail… and no increase when considering buses.

      http://www.apta.com/mediacenter/pressreleases/2014/Pages/140310_Ridership.aspx

      Metro’s planning process all but excluded LRT for INNER Powell, which would have had significant ridership increases (as evidenced by past rail projects and the above APTA numbers. This, for me, was one of the most disillusioning planning projects they have had to date.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

      • MaxD October 3, 2014 at 11:25 am

        Bike / MAX combo works much better for me than Bike/Bus. I bike daily, MAX occasionally and almost never take the bus. Unless the BRT has dedicated lanes, I doubt it will promote redevelopment or increased ridership like LRT can.

        Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Lynne October 3, 2014 at 10:46 am

    part of what influences my decision to bike somewhere is the availability of secure and convenient bike parking at the other end. Now, if THAT were subsidized anywhere near as much as much as public auto parking…

    Recommended Thumb up 14

    • Dan October 6, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      Bike lockers, on the sidewalk or inside businesses. Would be cheaper to maintain than a parking space.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Dave October 3, 2014 at 11:18 am

    This might be accomplished by a hard ceiling on the price of property to see it limiting the potential for speculative profit kept spaces affordable for small business–and residents!

    Christopher Sanderson
    Certainly, another way to reduce trips, pollution, and encourage safety is continuing to support a robust industrial-commercial sector in the city. Besides, why scare off all those businesses to outer reaches of the city or other places in favor of more butt-ugly, soviet-style apartment buildings? A fence supply business on SE Division moved out their space in favor of one of those buildings.
    Recommended 1

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Paul in the 'Couve October 3, 2014 at 11:35 am

    We would need to consider the possible unintended consequences of reducing speed. More time running or less efficient operation might be one. I think much of that would be reduced by less time idling at stop lights. Some other unintended consequences might be even more helpful. If people get used to the idea that they can’t drive 30mph or faster most of the time, they might be more inclined to reduce or shorten car trips, or use other modes because the relative advantage (perceived) of driving might be lower.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Dan October 4, 2014 at 6:17 pm

      Allowing Idaho Stops for bikes would reduce idling time at intersections for cars.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley October 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Am I the only one who’s stunned that Metro acknowledges parking policy as a climate issue, while the City of Portland is still tying itself in knots kowtowing to every single on-street free parking space in existence?

    Recommended Thumb up 18

  • Todd Boulanger October 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Nice photo!…as a editorial foil to the topic.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Dwaine Dibbly October 3, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    I really need to check into by the mile insurance.Since 10/20/2013, Mrs Dibbly & I have driven less than 700 miles. Why keep the car? Well, it’s paid for, and we own our parking space, but the real reason is so that we have a quick way to get out of town when the zombie attach hits. (Yes, we could sell our parking spot, but from what we’ve heard, the last time someone tried to sell a unit in our building without a parking space, they took a big hit.)

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • jeff bernards October 3, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    E-BIKES should be a major part of any CO2 reduction program. You will get people out of their cars and onto an E-Bike before they will get them on a regular bike. They’re huge in Europe ($8 gas), maybe a gas tax hike works too? just saying. They should be putting up charging stations. I was just in Germany, they have a whole tourism program geared towards the E-Bike with strategically placed charging stations. I had a customer who wanted to take their E-Bike on Cycle Oregon’s weekend ride, they were told no. Places like REI, that sell E-Bikes, should have a charging station at their bike racks.
    I have an E-Bike (for those that don’t know) On my regular bike I might ride 10-12 miles doing errands, on my E-bike 30 miles. I still pedal 10 miles worth, so it’s basically a human powered hybrid.
    Advice to anyone who wants to be a bike mechanic, learn the e-bike. I’ve seen them charging $100 an hour to work on an E-Bike.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • jeff bernards October 4, 2014 at 2:23 am

    A FEW QUICK FACTS ABOUT E-BIKES
    18 times more energy efficient than an SUV
    13 times more energy efficient than a sedan
    6 times more energy efficient than rail transit
    and, of about equal impact to the environment as a conventional bicycle.
    FROM E-BIKES WIKIPEDIA

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Peter W October 6, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Wasn’t there a plan, from like 40 years ago, to reduce car use in Portland?

    Oh right, there was: http://bikeportland.org/2013/02/15/over-40-years-ago-city-of-portland-memo-outlined-disincentives-to-the-automobile-82960

    Recommended Thumb up 0