(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Though lovers of bikes, transit and walking hate to admit it, driving a car is often the most convenient way to get around Portland. Until we start reconfiguring our roads to give more space to bicycling and dedicated transit lines, that will likely remain the case years into the future.
An odd thing about driving is that not only is it usually convenient; it’s also usually pretty cheap.
The question is, why are we also going out of our way to make driving so cheap?
At least, that’s the question asked Sunday by Tony Jordan, a member of the committee that’s currently advising the city on whether it should raise its downtown parking rates from $1.60 to $2 per hour.
When something is more convenient, Jordan points out, we usually have to pay more for it — and we usually agree that this is fair. An odd thing about driving is that not only is it usually convenient; it’s also usually pretty cheap. But an even odder thing, as Jordan explains, is that we’ve made driving both cheap and convenient even though it causes a whole lot of problems.
Here’s how Jordan explains it:
We are doing it wrong.
Global CO2 concentrations are regularly above 400 parts per million. Drought and famine caused by climate change are destabilizing our political environment as well as displacing and killing millions. Driving directly kills more than 30,000 Americans a year (just barely less than firearms). According to MIT, air pollution from driving kills more than 50,000 additional Americans every year.
Financially, the toll of automobile dependency is no less severe. In 2014, federal, state, and local governments spent $165,000,000,000 (165 billion) on roads, with much of that money being spent on construction of new roadways while our existing roads decay.
In the face of these (and many, many other) downsides, we should be using every tool available to discourage unnecessary driving. but we’re not. In fact, not only does the underlying policy of the federal government not discourage driving (even alone), it encourages it. Locally, Portland is trying harder than many cities, but we still maintain a bevy of policies that subsidize and prioritize the most wasteful and dangerous mode of transportation over the rest.
Given that problem, Jordan then imagines a hypothetical trip downtown, maybe a couple going on a date. He looks at the cost of each option.
I’ve added boldface for emphasis:
The Pyramid of Convenience
Being driven in a private-for-hire vehicle from your location to your destination is the most convenient and, likely, pleasant way to travel in the city. As such it’s quite expensive. To take a taxi or a Lyft from inner SE Portland (4 miles out) to downtown will cost upwards of $12 to $15 each way. A two way trip for a dinner and a movie will cost a single traveller $30 in transportation. Additional travelers add to the economy, however, and taking a friend along doesn’t double the charge. Nevertheless, the cost is rather high and reflects the convenience.
The second most convenient (and therefore valuable) mode is driving yourself or being driven with a friend and parking on street near your destination. The same 4 mile round trip will cost roughly $1.16 cents in vehicle wear, gas, etc. Street parking in downtown Portland for a 3 hour stay will range anywhere from $0.00 (after 7PM) to $4.80. Additional passengers add negligible cost. A couple going on a date from 6-9PM will spend ~$5.96 on transportation.
Slightly less convenient is driving yourself and parking in a city operated Smart Park. You may spend a little less time driving around, but you will have to travel farther to your destination. Things get a little interesting here, however, because Smart Park charges 24 hours, with a maximum $5 rate for nights and weekends. The same person or couple mentioned above will pay $5 for a 3 hour trip, regardless of whether it is during meter enforcement. Total cost ~$6.16, twenty cents more than a three hour stay at a parking meter before 7.
Public transportation is next on our list. It has its benefits, no concerns about driving drunk, you can, legally, read or text en route, you don’t have to look for parking. But you need to walk to the transit center or bus stop. You need to allow extra time for catching the line and for possible delays. You have to share space with other people and potentially stand. You will probably have to walk to your destination and all the same things apply to your return trip (assuming TriMet is still operating that late). Bus schedules are rarely aligned with social schedules, so you will likely have to arrive early or arrive late and you may spend some time waiting for a transfer. TriMet fees are charged at all hours of the day. A single person going downtown for a movie and meal will need to buy a day pass for $5. Additional travelers pay full fare, so date night will cost a couple $10 in public transportation fares (and they’ll have to leave for home around midnight).
Person power is, by some measures, the least convenient way to travel. You must contend with the weather and with distracted drivers. Bike parking can be, at times, more frustrating than car parking and rates of theft are higher. A cyclist has no secure location to store bags or coats. Transit time is likely longer. Walking takes even longer and may be impractical for most trips. The cost, however, is (currently) free and you can leave whenever you want and arrive very close to your destination.
Of course there are some costs of biking such as new tubes and tires now and then, and of course there are lots of factors this calculation doesn’t capture such as physical health, the risk of a traffic ticket and so on.
But generally speaking, Jordan is describing the way most Portlanders think about these decisions. And though he doesn’t get into it here, these costs have been shifting. In the last 10 years, central-city transit fares have become a worse and worse deal compared to driving:
Portland says that because it isn’t willing to start knocking its buildings down to build wider roads, the only way to grow is to double its residents’ use of public transit and halve their use of cars.
If that’s the plan, maybe a good place to start would be to make it more expensive to drive than to catch a bus.
(Note: I adjusted two numbers in Jordan’s calculations: according to the latest estimates, each additional mile driven in a small sedan costs about 14.54 cents. He estimated 50 cents, but that includes fixed costs such as insurance, which most Portlanders pay whether or not they chose to drive for a given trip. The gist of his argument is the same; the driving couple saves money either way.)
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – email@example.com
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.
Thanks for the write-up! If you’re a like minded Portlander and want to help pass progressive parking policy, consider signing up for the PDX Shoupista mailing list, joining our slack channel, or bookmarking the blog at: http://pdxshoupistas.com
I agree. Parking prices should be higher, and more destination neighborhoods (not just downtown) should have metered parking. The funds can be used to improve safety and attractiveness in those neighborhoods (streetlights, street trees, bike lanes, crossings, cleanup) to make the area more appealing to visit and hence offset the additional inconvenience to visitors (businesses will be worried about that).
How much higher? It should not be punitive. I’m thinking maybe +50% more, like $7.00/hour instead of $4.80. Remember that many people have very good, even compelling, reasons to drive. It doesn’t make sense to punish them when they have no choice.
My biggest commitment to bike commuting came when my garage went from $6 to $8 per day. Now it is $9, and just thinking about it makes me happy to bike.
The $4.80 figure in the article was for 3 hours at $1.60/hr.
$7.00/hr. sounds more like NYC.
Well, many have reason, but barely any of those that do actually have a reason to travel SOV. MOST SOV drivers are just being irrational in their travel patterns and selfish in their auto-usage.
Many people have no choice but to drive?
I suspect our definition of many varies enormously. I would say a very small percentage of people have no choice but to drive. Home and work locations are very much a choice.
I live with someone that can’t bike to and for work. I’m sure she’s not the only one out there either. A home visit on 102 and Wygant and then having to get to 168 and Tibbets in 20 minutes is a tough chore even with a car.
And I’d ease up on the work & home locations are a choice thing here in 2015 Portland. If I do contract work I suppose I can pass on a job in Tigard. Do you suppose I pass on it or do I move to Tigard for 4-6 weeks? I personally know some folks that have recently had to move farther east than I would have ever imagined you’d need to do to find affordable housing in Portland. So sure, choices are made, but to pretend like there aren’t external forces shaping lives is pretty bogus.
employers also need to help out here… I would choose a less qualified person who lived closer so that they reduced traffic and were more likely to get to work on time… they can be trained…
offer discounted TriMet passes…
allow people to telecommute one day a week…
Not being able to bike is not equivalent to needing to drive.
So someone who does home visits all over mid-county and can’t ride a bike to do this, the option is what? Tri-met is not an option. Walking certainly isn’t either. Or what about my deck/fence building friend? Hey man, just hit up Mr. Plywood on the way out to the green line for that job you have in Clackamas next week. Easy peasy! You can borrow my bike trailer.
I guess it’s not equivalent but come on!, some people have jobs that require they drive. Count yourself lucky if you don’t have one of those jobs. Not everyone is in that spot in life. Sorry if I’m misreading your comment but some of you people absolutely kill me sometimes.
(1) Our society is set up around the automobile. Many arrangements we’ve gotten used to are tough to imagine reverse engineering onto a bike or bus. Doesn’t mean we couldn’t with enough time and especially a collective realization that we would all benefit, but in the short run this can be hard.
(2) However, hauling lumber or insulation or concrete from Mr. Plywood or rental tools from Lewis Rents over Mt. Tabor with a bike trailer? No problem. I’ve hauled all of those many times. Just because you or your girlfriend or housemate or uncle are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of this, don’t have a trailer and suitable hitch, etc. doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done, we couldn’t get used to this, even enjoy it.
9watts, sometimes you’re biggest offender of fanciful bike utopia thinking. Guys hauling lumber and bags of concrete mix and tools aren’t using bikes. It’s not happening, not as a this-is-what-I-do-everyday type thing. You’ve done it for a home project? Sweet, I believe you have. But if you’re gonna tell me you are a contractor and do this everyday I’d like to come watch this.
You’re welcome to come by any time. Michael A can put us in touch.
Chris Sandersen wouldn’t I don’t think mind if you tagged along with him either. He lives nearby and does this more than I do.
Off to clean my neighbor’s gutter with an extension ladder.
See, looking at Chris Sandersen’s site you can quickly see even he has set up a range that he is willing to work in. He states he does jobs in inner NE/SE and downtown. Give me a break, man. You don’t own a car, neither do I. Good for us. Some people do and they actually need them. Gasp.
Wait a minute – you just implied that I was a fraud. I defend myself and suggest that Chris and I are not frauds, that we actually make a living hauling heavy, bulky crap around by bike trailer, build and remodel houses without a truck, etc. And now you’ve changed your tune and say that because Chris limits his range he is a fraud after all? He used to take jobs in SW but has enough customers within a closer radius. Wouldn’t you do that in his place. I know I would (and do).
As for this –
“You don’t own a car, neither do I. Good for us. Some people do and they actually need them. Gasp.”
Straw man. I never said otherwise.
I don’t think you guys are frauds. But I think marketing yourselves as the bicycle powered handymen is a gimmick and if that works for you guys then congratulations. But that is a spot that a lot of people haven’t found themselves in. Can you agree to this? I have a hard time when people in here get uppity about their life choices and act like everyone else should follow suit. Fantastic that you have enough work within a biking radius of your home. Good for Chris too. Lucky guys….
Chris Sandersen, I don’t know you and am not judging you for anything you’re doing to make a living. I don’t care that you have a boundary set up to where you’ll take jobs per my comment to 9watts above. Etc.
“But I think marketing yourselves as the bicycle powered handymen is a gimmick and if that works for you guys then congratulations.”
I don’t market myself that way. But when someone in the bikeportland comments says it can’t be done I don’t hesitate to disagree.
“But that is a spot that a lot of people haven’t found themselves in. Can you agree to this?”
Are you talking about people needing the service of someone like us, or someone who takes care of business by bike? I happen to know there are plenty of people who are more than happy to hire Chris to do this kind of work, and I have more than I can surround as well. So I guess I’m not following your point here.
You know what I observe when I ride the bus? A lot of people who someone like you would claim can’t walk… walking. I see old people, people with walkers, crutches, canes, and limps. I see people carrying a ton of stuff. I see people with casts on. I see mothers and children.
The fact is, plenty of Portland can’t afford a car and can’t ride a bike, or lives somewhere where it’s dangerous to do so. A LOT of people depend on public transportation and they are the same age and condition as the people who someone like yourself holds up as a shield to defend your position that “not everyone can ride a bike.”
Also, for every person in town who ABSOLUTELY can’t EVER get around without a car, there have to be at least 10 who can, sometimes, do an errand.
When you need to go to Mr. Plywood, DRIVE, but for god’s sake, consider walking or some other way to get around for some of your trips, IF YOU CAN. That’s all we’re asking.
I think you and I are on seperate pages. All I’m saying is that some people have to drive to work. And some people even get paid to drive for work! I am 39 and haven’t owned a car since 21. And I’ve been biking in Portland since before you moved here and Portland wasn’t so blown up. So I’m lucky on that front. But some people aren’t that lucky. Some people have a b.s. job downtown that doesn’t pay much and they’ve had to move out into the 120s+ to afford rent. They drive to work. So it goes. Maybe they shouldn’t but it’s not my call.
I’ve not said anywhere that I’m opposed to public transportation. I’ve also not said that people can’t walk. I did say that walking isn’t a reasonable option if you’re carrying lumber and tools or you do in-home visits with low income families in mid-county. Nor is taking a bus for the same reasons listed. It’s not happening. Accept that.
And in the comment you responded to, I did accept that. I do accept that. What I don’t like is that corner cases are trotted out. Very few people think that we won’t have any cars on the roads. Cars serve us well in transporting goods, inter city travel, emergency transport, etc. I think we agree that most people shouldn’t be using them for shorter trips.
There’s actually a “correct” answer to how much parking should cost: Enough that it leaves some spots open.
If all of the parking is usually full (like it is downtown), then parking is too cheap. If many spots remain empty; it’s too expensive. A specific dollar amount isn’t the best way to do that. The best way is to copy SF and have dynamic parking price adjustments.
why should only rich people be able to park?
I say don’t charge anything for parking anywhere in the city… parking will fill up and people will get annoyed with not being able to park, at all… then they’ll start thinking about other ways to get there…
that’s why I stopped driving to NW 23rd… I parked at Lloyd Center and took Fareless Square (which they should bring back, with parking garages on the outskirts)…
“why should only rich people be able to park?”
Because we (as a society) can’t afford to drive anymore. If we look at this as a dynamic reprioritization, making driving *much* more expensive will raise gobs of money which we then plow into alternatives. Every single country we look to here on this blog has done this. There is exactly no mystery about how to do it (at this level of generality).
And every one of those countries is so different than the US that adopting their approach is impractical. Whether it is the overall geographic size of the nation; states; and even cities or it’s the land use development of local jurisdictions or the ability and willingness to move – these are real differences that affect our adoption of euro-style approaches.
Why so static? How do you think those countries got to be like they are?
Part of the solution includes adding parking meters on all commercial corridors and a neighborhood on-street parking permit system. Looking forward to hear the city’s plans for this at the parking open house tomorrow!
The analysis is for a couple going on an evening or weekend date downtown (?!) A better comparison is a weekday work commuter who would pay $5 for a Trimet day pass or $12 to park all day in a garage. Street parking isn’t available for an 8 hour work day, but $1.60 x 8 = $12.80
Trimet is a good option, although public transit in Portland is more expensive than in other major US cities.
I think he chose this scenario because the policy under discussion here is curbside parking. Like you say, that doesn’t really affect commuters.
Also commuters more likely to have access to employer subsidized transit pass….
Indeed it just occurred to me that I pretty much quit riding Tri-met (even on wknds) when I quit the job that subsidized my pass.
I also point out in my article that the incentives for commuters are even more crazy, tax free parking up to 250 a month, can be combined with a transit allowance (also tax free) of 130 a month. They can give you 20 a month to ride a bike, but only if you don’t take any parking or transit benefit. Truly WTF.
We need to get out of the commuter mindset when it comes to transportation. The best transit/biking cities in the world have corridors that are busy all day long. Prioritizing commuters drives the development of wide freeways and transit systems that serve housing and job locations, and nothing else.
You could included short term car rentals, like car2go. We use it to get downtown, and its only a few dollars more then the bus, but 4x faster!
One of the main reasons I bought a used electric car was because I hate using ICE car rentals (and EV car2goes were not a viable option.)
If you don’t drive much, your choice of vehicle hardly matters. Driving a Hummer 10 miles a month is much less of a problem than driving a Prius 10K miles a month.
In fact, I’d argue it’s better to drive a big used car than a new one if you’re only driving a little — fewer resources consumed on car manufacture, and you’ve removed a potential polluter from the pool that others (who drive more) fish in.
And, if you have a Hummer or Suburban, you can help me move 🙂
Any study on the impact of increasing the cost of driving and loss of business $ coming into a downtown core?
That would not support the narrative that all driving is bad and cycling will solve everything.
and that’s not what I said. People who want or need to drive should be accommodated. We should aim to have them on the road as little as possible by making it efficient to park. We should also stop subsidizing that mode of transportation to the detriment of other modes. The problem is we’re not neutral, policy wise, on this issue. As I point out, we are effectively discouraging other modes by making them less economically viable via a direct subsidy to drive.
Ummm….direct subsidy to drive, how much of a subsidy is there in mass transit???
Mass transit is subsidized because it is part of the solution to meet many local, statewide, federal, and global policy goals. It’s also equitable and accessible to the poor and disabled in ways that private care ownership aren’t. When I decide to bike or take transit, I assume on my own self the inconvenience and extra costs of my choice. When someone decides to drive, they externalize almost all the negative aspects onto society. THAT is why it’s ok to subsidize transit and not private car travel.
Traditionally, the cost of each transit trip to the transit agency is very similar to the local cost of a taxi, in any given city in the USA. In this case, if a taxi round-trip is $30, and the 2 tickets are each $5, for a total of $10, then the subsidy we are all paying for transit is around $20, or 66%. This is paid through mostly Oregon’s payroll tax, but also through a portion of the Federal gas taxes (pays for 83% of the bus/MAX vehicle cost + 15% maintenance), state gas taxes (remainder of the vehicle & maintenance costs, plus some personnel), and local subsidies (for example, Portland youth passes), plus various grants for vehicles and construction.
A large portion of the cost of providing transit is attributable to the inefficiency/congestion imposed by underpriced single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips. Another large portion of the cost relates to needing to provide transit service to sprawling auto-focused areas.
If SOV operators were required to internalize these costs, fewer would choose to drive or to live in the suburbs, and transit would be more reliable and less expensive.
Michael Andersen put together an amazing infographic as part of the Portland Afoot magazine that showed the full costs of all the various forms of public transit. From memory it was a lot more differentiated than you’re making it out to be. Without a good search function here I am at a loss to find the link.
I’m pretty sure that Tony would be happy to endorse a drop in after-hours parking prices as soon as there’s any evidence that a bunch of curbside meters are going empty.
Until that happens, pretty hard to argue that businesses are being hurt.
I know I’m not going to be able to speak for everyone, but my family tends to avoid going downtown because its so stressful to find parking whenever we do. When its only me, I’ll bike from our home in Milwaukie into the city center – often times its quicker than driving, find parking and walking to where ever we’re heading.
“No one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”
Guess what… finding parking would be easier if it were more expensive!
You’re assuming that drivers will take an alternative mode of transportation if the costs to park go up. But is that the case or do they find a place with cheap/free parking and drive their instead?
Well, if people who would have driven don’t go to an area due to higher parking costs, that still makes it easier for other people to find parking there. But yes, that would mean there would be in total fewer people going to that area and spending money.
I don’t think that’s a problem big enough to warrant continuing our current parking-subsidy policy – many of those people would still spend their money in Portland, just in a different area (perhaps at an establishment they can walk to in their own neighborhood!)
here in NW they’re installing meters, and in response a lot of people that had free lots are now turning them into metered lots… people are already filling up the one that was previously unused by my employer and walking a few blocks to their building where it’s more expensive to park…
so it seems that people will go where it’s cheap…
The likely policy recommendation is to manage the downtown supply to reach an optimum occupancy rate (of about 85%). Businesses CAN’T be hurt by performance pricing as the stated policy goal is to allow for the same number of people parking (more, really, because of turnover). The only way a business would be hurt is if there aren’t the same number of customers coming in. Empty parking spaces caused by too-high rates would need to be corrected with a performance adjustment. The net change should be zero.
I’d vote for Tony!
And lets not forget the ever so important “Will my bike be there when I come out?” cost.
A $30 ulock solves that problem… Back it up with a $10 cable lock if you’re really paranoid….
Sure, you just might not have your lights, tool kit, pump, or saddle anymore.
Those are in my pannier which is sitting on my lap or at my feet when I go to the Schnitz. 🙂
Leave the tool kit and pump at home. Lock your saddle to your frame (this only needs to be done once, when you first obtain the bike). Either take your lights with you or get permanently fastened lights such as generator lights. Problems solved.
Get a set of pinhead locks for your wheels, headset, and saddle.
Limiting metered parking to downtown pdx and a few other select areas is like trying to fight a fire with a garden hose. The Hawthorne, Sellwood, Lloyd Center, Division, Alberta, Williams, Mississippi, NW, Hollywood, South Waterfront, Belmont, Foster, Sandy, Burnside, Kenton etc. commercial districts should all have extensive and expensive metered parking.
Meters are coming to NW… sometime. PBOT are taking their time about installing them, but they will be installed.
Why do we have the expectation that costs would rise at the same rate across different modes? I would argue that parking requires less infrastructure, maintenance and administration than does a transit system that includes more human factors…such as salaries, benefits, etc. and that have infrastructure that gets deprecated more quickly. t’s not cheap to run a train. Those things add up over time.
Parking requires less infrastucture? I doubt that. How are people supposed to drive to the parking lot without all the roads, highways, and bridges?
Last time I checked, transit needs all of that and more.
The parking spaces themselves have value, whether they are curbside, in a surface lot or in a parking garage. That’s all wasted space that could otherwise be put to more productive use.
A surface parking space in a lot costs about $20,000 to build, including a portion of the asphalt to get to the spot. Underground or in-building lots are about twice that or more, $40,000 per 18×7 foot space. PBOT streets, including sewers, sidewalk, asphalt, etc are about $3 million per mile, or $284 per linear foot, so an 20 spot on your curbed street is $5,680 to build, plus an annual cost to maintain, sweep, and clean the sewers.
Plus the land itself has value.
In areas of Portland with higher land values (downtown, Lloyd, central eastside, etc.), each parking space has a land value of $16,200 or more.
In some places (North Pearl), the land value of each parking spot is over $30,000.
So, for the majority of people parking downtown or nearby, their car is worth less than the land it’s sitting on.
I could be wrong on the $30,000 figure, since I can’t find the source. But the $16,200 should be relatively accurate.
Most downtown Portland blocks are 200 ft by 200 ft = 40,000 sq ft.
A stacked valet car parking space is 20 ft by 8 ft = 160 sq ft.
There are about (40,000/160 = 250) valet parking spaces on a downtown surface parking lot.
If an undeveloped block is worth $4 million (many are assessed as such), then the land value per parking space is ($4 million/250 spaces = $16,000 per space.
Self-service parking takes a lot more space. $25-30,000 is reasonable.
Good luck buying a block of downtown Portland real estate for $4 million. A *quarter* block at SW 13th & Washington sold this year for just over $4 million. As it happens it’s currently developed with 37 stalls of surface parking, giving those stalls a land value of $108,108 each.
I guess your argument makes sense if parking were the only thing required to operate a motor vehicle…
Heavy rail transit infrastructure is more costly on a per mile basis.
But my point is around the people factor…trains need more people to manage than street parking on a per person moved basis.
Might well be true that transit costs are rising faster, but it’s still worth comparing the two trends to understand how they might be shaping people’s behavior.
Heavy rail also moves more people than a lane or two of traffic….
If you think the society-wide cost of moving people via car is lower than moving people via transit, maybe you could look up some studies concerning that question? I’d be really interested in them. Here are some of what I imagine to be the larger costs that should be considered:
*Government-provided labor, as you point out
*Government-provided value of right-of-way
*Individual-provided materials & labor (car, gas, maintenance, driving)
*Crashes, pollution, & noise, and ensuing health costs
*Activity/inactivity and ensuing health costs
…and their long-term maintenance costs are much less than paved roadways!
You are comparing apples and oranges. You can’t look at just car parking and compare it to fixed guideway mass transit. The parking spots are useless if there are no roads to drive on. If you want, you can compare the space and costs to store 1000 cars and 30 busses, or 15 light rail vehicles.
Only because trains are a fully burdened cost. Buses much of off the road system and they pay no fuel tax
How is a bike going to get across a river?
On a bridge.
A dedicated bicycle-only bridge should be buildable for a lot less than a bridge designed for use by motor vehicles, busses, heavy trucks or rail.
Fact of the matter is no bridge in Portland was built for the sole purpose of moving bicycles, so what’s your point?
ride a fat-bike…
The three often undervalued or hidden “costs” of on-street vehicle storage (aka car parking) are:
– lost opportunity costs of the public land set expressly aside for on-street parking [it may have higher value if rented out as cafe space, higher value for traffic safety if made into a protected bike lane or pedestrian crossing with refuge, etc.];
– the maintenance costs of keeping that pavement clean and clear and then resurfaced; and
– enforcement (in addition to the “meter maids” there is the cost of collecting tickets [county court and police payments]), for without enforcement the system breaks down.
There is an awfully lot of parking in Portland that cannot be used for cafes (it’s in the middle of a neighborhood), makes no sense for a bike lane (most small streets wouldn’t benefit from a bike lane), and incur only marginal costs in terms of maintenance. Most of these locations get very little, if any, real parking enforcement.
Your points certainly do apply to some locations, but I would say it is somewhere between a minority and a small minority of on-street parking in Portland.
yep. I think that gets lost in a lot of policy discussions in this city. This city has diverse areas with different needs. It is silly to think about a city-wide parking fee, when so many areas have absolutely no need for one.
The problem is that most of the policy discussions in Portland focus on the inner city, with not as much thought for the outer neighborhoods.
“…The question is, why are we also going out of our way to make driving so cheap? ” andersen/bikeportland
Obvious, easy answer: Attractively priced car parking is good for business. Since business is a major part of Portland’s lifeblood, attractively priced car parking continues to be important, and Portland business and many of the city’s residents know this.
Of course, use of cars can be, and has become excessive in many areas, including Portland, so ways to have other modes of travel be appealing,safe and functional, are ever more important. Basically, many cities, including Portland, have not done a good enough job of making those other modes of traffic more appealing, etc, than driving.
I guess some people like it, but riding the bus doesn’t much appeal to me at all. The light rail is far better, though during rush hour, it really is not pleasant to ride the train. Much more comfortable driving or riding in a personal car.
In terms of bike infrastructure, the city makes small gains in improving it for practical, comfortable and safe riding, but in terms of the larger picture, of a far greater percentage of commuters biking rather than driving or riding light rail, the city is way short of what’s needed.
“Attractively priced car parking is good for business.”
I guess Oslo’s going to go bankrupt then?
Why are the businesses in pedestrian zones in cities the world over doing so well? You sound like the mopes from SE 28th who insisted that if they didn’t get to keep their measly 1 spot per business free onstreet car parking the sky would fall and all the businesses would go under.
In my comment, did I call anyone here names, or attempt to insult them? I don’t think so. Don’t waste people’s time and energy insulting me and the people over in SE with disparaging names. Please knock it off and confine your remarks to the subject.
I wrote what I did, because it’s an obvious and simple fact that Portland supporting driving, is good for business. The city would not do so if it wasn’t good for business. If the majority of business in town was conducted by people riding bikes, instead of people driving, don’t doubt for a second that the city and business community would be jumping to support that mode of travel, as it does currently for driving.
As I also touched on in my comment, it does not seem likely that mode share of commuters biking is going to increase as long as biking infrastructure is of a quality that people currently driving and taking mass transit, will see as inferior, less safe and enjoyable than their current mode of travel.
Arbitrarily making driving much more costly in the hope it would possibly dissuade great numbers people from driving, is more likely to tick them off, and alienate them from being potential support for improvements to biking infrastructure.
You do have to admit, though, that business owners are by nature a conservative lot, generally nervous about any sort of disruption to the operating climate they’ve grown accustomed to.
“it’s an obvious and simple fact that Portland supporting driving, is good for business. The city would not do so if it wasn’t good for business.”
The city sponsors all kinds of hooey for all kinds of reasons, some sound, others not so sound. I don’t see why you think that just because the Chambers of Commerce have always been cozy with city government that this is automatically and forever a truism.
Remember ‘what is good for General Motors is good for the America’?
Until it wasn’t.
GM went down the crapper, and do did the American middle class. For the same reasons.
I think it turns out that what was good for GM was in fact good for America, at least in economic terms.
That is a funny (reverse) logic, Hello, Kitty. Remember highway carnage is excellent for GNP, and so are disasters of all kinds.
I was not saying GM was necessarily good for America, though many in Detroit might say it was. I am saying the economic conditions that helped GM thrive also helped many Americans thrive.
Have you checked with Michael Moore lately? 🙂
All of this in my view is hopelessly myopic.
I was chatting with him just this morning.
Funny, me too.
Great article and very compelling case for increased parking rates! What about increasing taxes on surface parking lots? Raises some revenue and promotes redevelopment! I would like the City to also consider ways to prioritize transit with transit-only lanes, special signals, etc.
The bus costs more AND takes me an hour and a half to get home from work? Awesome. Thank god for the bicycle.
Interesting article. Be nice to see Portland prioritize public transit someday.
I realize I’m an edge case (I log 100+mi/wk biking for transportation) but we can’t find any compelling reason to take transit for most of our trips. And we live a short walk from the new Orange Line! TriMet would need to halve its service interval to be time-competitive with bikes for anything except long hauls in/out of the suburbs.
…and stop stopping so often. Except for the few stretches with low station density, the MAX is about the same speed as a bike.
The IRS figures the operating cost for a car to be 57.5 cents per mile. that is more in my line with my experience.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2015, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car, van, pickup or panel truck will be:
57.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, up from 56 cents in 2014….
….The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile, including depreciation, insurance, repairs, tires, maintenance, gas and oil.
Of course… but is that how your mom, your girlfriend, your uncle think about the relative costs of getting around? I doubt it. If they did, they’d all be bicycling already.
Exactly. Parking costs should be high to address the *perception* of cost. Even though driving is already more expensive to the individual than transit in many cases (to say nothing of all the social and environmental costs), that’s not what’s going to count. It’s important that it seem to be substantially more expensive even when folks aren’t factoring in their sunk costs.
All the tools are in place in the inner city to have a graceful progression of modes for a substantial portion of the population: walking > biking > transit > taxi/lyft/uber > car2go/zipcar > personal auto. Costs should match that new reality.
I used a number much closer to that, it’s still out of line. Even when the cost can be calculated to be more than transit, the difference in convenience and perception of spending tips the balance to driving. Furthermore, as I point out in another article http://pdxshoupistas.com/parking-permits-and-low-car-lifestyles/ if you own a car and aren’t driving it, then you’re REALLY crazy to take the bus instead, as you’ll pay for bus fare and the next miles you drive will be incrementally more expensive for not efficiently utilizing your car purchase.
Excluding the massive external costs, infrastructure, and other burdens. Unfortunately those are hidden from users and never factored into auto-usage.
It would be nice if more normal people rode the bus and train out from where I live in east Portland. Because of that I’d much rather ride a bike to work and only to work because we have secure bike parking. Otherwise I’d rather drive to do anything else in the inner city.
can you define ‘normal’? Do you mean middle class?
I’m angry that Tri Met used $4.50 fuel costs to raise the fare to $2.25, and now that fuel is less than half that, the price of the fare is $2.50.
The cool part is more of those massive unmet costs for the union labor costs will be met and they’ll actually increase service in the coming years.
I suppose that’s a plus to all this mess.
Also, Trimet is still cheaper than most other cities on the west coast per day – Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, all slightly more epensive to highly more expensive.
I’m angry that we didn’t set a level tax on fuel a decade ago. Just keep the pump price constant or climbing by soaking up any dips with tax.
$2.50 is a lot to pay for 2 1/2 hour bus trip.
When I take the #96 to Wilsonville from the inner East Side or the #12 to Sherwood or the MAX to Hillsboro for $2.50 it seems like a real bargain to me, but for a 13 minute hop downtown it is rather steep. Remember when there was more than one rate?
free rail zone rip
My family of 4 is going to Zoo Lights soon. Should we drive there and pay $4 to park, or Max there and pay $15?
Bike, of course.
I think that just like Paper or Plastic? framing this question this way obscures the logical answer, the end run around the whole dilemma: Bring your own.
Haha. Your point is obvious and valid, but I have to say that’s one situation–with the miles long line of cars backed up down 26 waiting to park–where I still can’t fathom that people would drive despite the cost incentive.
Any time you have 3+ people in a car, the financial results are going to be in the car’s favor. And that’s fine. I have absolutely no problem with a family of four driving together to go to the zoo. $5, or even $10 to park is a bargain. The problem is that average vehicle occupancy is 1.2 people. Using a car to move a single person around is incredibly wasteful, financially and environmentally.
Every European transit agencies has group tickets for groups of up to 5 people. This can be family or a group of friends. And the ticket is cheaper than 5 individual tickets, even with kids tickets mixed in. I don’t understand why Trimet doesn’t have that. It is so expensive to take a whole family downtown by bus that it is cheaper to drive and park all day on a Smart Park garage.
Along these lines, child with parent should ride free.
They do up to age 6.
Make it 16 and now we’re talking. Selling one ticket to a parent is better than selling none because the parent and child chose to drive.
Additional flawed incentive: If someone is out on the town and has a few drinks before needing to get home, the punishment for being caught riding a bicycle while intoxicated is the same as the punishment for being caught driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated, despite the obvious reduced potential to do harm.
So why not just drive?
Aside from the ethics that stem from having compassion for others.
This is a great discussion to have for Portland [and one I used to have a lot at the City of Vancouver]…it is even more timely given that there is no longer a transit fare-free zone in the city center. One could rationalize the “underpriced” [non market rate] parking in the CBD when transit was free but this relationship has not flip flopped.
As a lame duck, it would be “visionary” for Mayor Hales to take this task on and institute such reforms as setting up the first parking benefits districts, setting market rates, and metering the congested commercial zones where the utilization is over 85%.
A pet project of mine, so I would add: making the City’s Public Parking garages truly multimodal…by adding secure and useful bike parking…and that is not a wave rack installed on an access ramp / curb island or on ‘level three’…but as a street level accessible space much as PSU’s Bike Hub or Bikestation.
“…parking in the CBD when transit was free…” todd
Todd…have you heard whether Trimet having ended Fareless Square, has reduced the criminal activity the transportation agency claimed was one of the main reasons for ending free transit in the CBD, including Lloyd Center?
My family and I make this choice regularly. And it so disappoints me that the car wins frequently. If we are headed to a Thorns game, even though we now live near the MAX Orange line so it is really convenient for us, it costs 4x more to take the MAX to and from a game than it does for all of us to get in the car and drive and park. Sure we *could* ride our bikes, but again with the mixed ages of the four of use, it’s just not ‘worth it’ in time and effort because it’s easier to drive and park. If it were more difficult (less parking or significantly more expensive), then we would take MAX and/or ride bikes. Which I feel we should do.
To me the big disparity is the cost of long-term and short-term parking. From what I remember, monthly parking in downtown Portland is in the range of $100 to $120 per month. That works out to $5 to $6 per day or about 60 to 70 cents per hour. Short-term parking in on-street metered spaces is about $1.60. Why the big discount for all-day parkers?
Because of the difficulty finding parking and the cost (especially if one gets an over-time parking ticket if one says a few minutes too long), I’ve all but given up shopping in downtown Portland for most of the year. Instead of Powell’s, I buy my books from Amazon. I’d like to buy local, but the extra cost and hassle is too great.
I’ll normally check the Powells website. If its in stock, I’ll make the trip, biking down is faster than waiting for shipping. The free shipping is even cheaper than the 5c/mile on my bike tires though.
if you get rid of the car, then much of this calculation goes out the window and shopping locally can be fun and cheap.
The last two times I bought anything at Powell’s I was on my bike.
When I was working full time, I was a regular bike commuter. There are too many things where are car is the only viable option even for a committed cyclist. As I’ve said many times on this forum, the gas taxes should be MUCH higher and on-street parking should not be given away for free.
“There are too many things where are car is the only viable option even for a committed cyclist.”
Well if the committed cyclist gives up his or her car then everything changes wouldn’t you agree?
Absolutely. The committed cyclist no longer does the things that are too difficult or expensive to do without a car.
We have obviously not had the pleasure of meeting. Not having a car, not relying on a car is not ipso facto a sacrifice. The sooner we discover this the easier it is going to be.
I fully agree. It may or may not be a sacrifice, depending on a myriad of factors, most of which are highly dependent on a person’s situation, which is likely to change over time.
Yesterday I wanted to go from my home in SW to have lunch with a friend downtown.
My choices were:
90 minutes walking and bus
60 minutes bicycling
15 minutes driving
Can you guess which I chose?
Portland’s transportation policies need more carrot, less stick. If we want fewer people to drive, we need better transit.
More and bigger sticks.
To my knowledge Oslo didn’t dig up any carrots when they decided to go carfree by 2019.
More sticks means more push back, and more people seeing bicyclists as the root of ‘their’ problems.
Not necessarily. The sticks under discussion are hardly wielded by people biking. And if some (readers of the O) want to twist this, I don’t think we can do much about it and I certainly wouldn’t make policy based on ignorance of the basic situation.
Oslo has offered the huge carrot of providing a viable alternative to car use in the form of a highly functioning public transit system (and providing incentives for e-bike purchase). Doing something similar here would be fantastic, but expensive.
Also, it is worth noting, that Oslo’s efforts haven’t yet been implemented, and it is not certain that their plan will succeed.
Those carrots predated this recent announcement and were paid for with the world’s highest gas taxes (stick).
That doesn’t mean they weren’t carrots. For the record, I want (much) higher gas taxes here too, but not because it’s a stick.
Now I’m confused.
You’re disagreeing that Norway’s world class gas taxes are a stick?
Of course the Norwegians aren’t dumb (like us). They figured out long ago that if they spend the stick money on carrots to entice the populace everyone (except the oil companies) wins.
I was differentiating based on intent. I don’t want to raise gas taxes because it will punish drivers, I want to raise gas taxes to reduce the consumption of CO2 intensive fuels, and provide incentives to adopt less carbon intensive energy. My point is perhaps subtle, and you could argue the outcome is the same, but I think motivation is important.
OK but you do realize that we have a long history of taxing things we want can’t afford, we want less of: cigarettes, alcohol, carbon. These are called Pigovian taxes.
and those taxes have proven to be very effective at reducing demand.
Hello Kitty was talking about intent. Pigovian taxes in the real world are
(a) examples of the kind of intent he/she objects to, and
(b) are generally set pretty low relative to the level at which they’d make a significant dent in consumption, wouldn’t you agree? But that doesn’t I don’t think invalidate the logic of charging a sin tax.
“90 minutes walking and bus” can take you from the Airport to PCC-Sylvania, which is literally on the far opposite side of the city, roughly 20 miles away.
I’d like to know how you’re able to drive that in 15 minutes.
I’m guessing the walking makes up a significant chunk of that 90 minutes.
SW Portland is not a great place to live if you want to live without a car. If you want better transit access, you will need to convince your neighbors to allow additional housing in the town centers of Hillsdale, Multnomah, etc. Increasing transit service to low density areas is basically flushing tax dollars down the toilet.
“…If we want fewer people to drive, we need better transit.” hipstercide
And as I wrote earlier…better biking infrastructure. A sixty minute bike ride, compared to a 15 minute drive? You sound like you’re a quite a ways out…outer Portland , or, in my case, Central Beaverton. Not positive, but I think my ride into town is about 40 minutes, though there’s the big hill to climb. Hard to make the climb easier with infrastructure.
With outer Portland though…relatively flat between there and Downtown…a bikeway designed with sufficient width to allow some of the people to ride at10 mph and others at 20 mph, could possibly work to reduce the time it takes many people to make bike trips around town today. Make it more comparable to the time it takes to drive. Doing this is what the city should be mulling over.
I’m not against the argument, but the model doesn’t make much sense. The subjects will not make driving decisions based on the price of parking.
I live just outside the streetcar loop (with a rent to prove it), and it’s still more than a four mile round trip to the outer frontier of the SW quadrant. People who do live within that rarefied radius, regardless of means, are either car-dependent or not.
Empirically, drivers do make choices about whether to drive and/or how far away from their destination they’re willing to walk based on meter prices.
“…They also found that the program met its goal of a 60-80 percent occupancy rate for spots.”
As I see it, the main problem is that we have an economy that is based on unreasonably cheap gasoline. We subsidize the price of gasoline through worsened health, both for ourselves and for the planet, yet a significant tax to reflect the true cost of this commodity would be regressive.
What is needed is a systemic reevaluation of the car culture and all that we bargain away for the convenience of driving ourselves around our cities. Only then can we develop comprehensive policies that allow us to reflect the true cost of driving without adversely affecting those who can afford it least. Those policies will likely involve not just gas taxes but also close-in affordable housing and living wages (to name just two things that would need to change).
I know none of this would be easy or realistic, but neither is it realistic to assume we can keep carrying on the way we have for the last 100 years.
Hear, hear, TK: “…neither is it realistic to assume we can keep carrying on the way we have for the last 100 years.”
Another great article, Michael.The toughest challenge is to get people to stop seeing driving as a right and to see it instead as a privilege. And it should be a rare privilege.
Ditto for air travel (which should be a very rare thing indeed–are we insane?), but that’s a story for another day.
But isn’t it in writing that the goal of meters not to produce income but encourage turnover of available limited supply?
Who are you responding to?
There are many ways to use fees or taxes to steer behavior, raise revenue, level or tilt the playing field, etc. Some of the handed down rules about this may or may not still be that useful. I don’t know if we have such a rule. Can you be more specific?
Totally on board with the idea that we need to raise parking meter rates. It should be free to take the bus/train downtown and cost $15/hr to park. And we can call that free area something cool like Fareless Square.
Unfortunately TriMet has proven time and time again that it is on a downward death spiral when it comes to speed, frequency, dependability and most importantly, quality.
Not many businesses REQUIRE a car all day. And if they do, they should be in a less congested area.
I rarely go downtown since the demise of fareless square and the raises in trimet fares, and now it seems they are grumbling about hauling bikes. Raise the parking rates
…will cause a downtown-free lifestyle.
Not to nitpick, but a couple going on a date from 6-9 will actually only spend $2.76, not 5.96, as they only pay for 1 hour of parking. It’s especially significant in the “how people think about it” context, because I know when it’s close to 7:00 the equation changes dramatically if I’m feeling lazy.
I just want to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with driving.
Driving definitely incurs costs, and these should be targeted specifically — CO2, for example, with by a carbon tax; peak hour capacity with congestion pricing; parking issues with smart metering (raising prices as capacity becomes scarce, lowering them when capacity is abundant), etc. All of these proposed solutions are well within our capacity to implement.
With all due respect, this represents cutting edge thinking ca. 1990. These days I’m afraid we can no longer afford to drive, to build infrastructure on the assumption that cars will remain dominant, pretend that doing everything car-related much more efficiently and with full cost accounting is good enough.
If we need to leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground—and our own Jeff Merkely just sponsored a bill to that effect—then what you say is equivalent to smearing honey in our ears; reassuring ourselves that everything will be o.k. when everything isn’t going to be o.k.
What have you seen in your experiences in this world that makes you think automobiles will not remain dominant for the foreseeable future?
I am sure they will change (become electrified, become autonomous, become on-demand), but they will not become a secondary means of transport.
I am 100% on the leave-it-in-the-ground train (I am very aware of the threat of climate change and ocean acidification). I am also 100% convinced that the only way out is through technological changes to the way we produce and consume energy.
I love bikes; I ride for most of my trips; I think bikes are a viable transportation option for lots of people a lot of the time. But the reality is that auto-mobiles (with the literal meaning of that word) are here to stay.
“What have you seen in your experiences in this world that makes you think automobiles will not remain dominant for the foreseeable future?”
We are psychologically predisposed to orderly transitions rather than abrupt, disruptive changes. If we look backwards at the last century plus of our transportation history and we look at our present moment without looking too closely I’ll grant you that the car seems like a pretty good bet. But if we scratch beneath the surface, we realize that our history of automobility relies on one absolutely critical factor: cheap fossil fuels. Our leaders will no doubt move mountains, dam the oceans or whatever they think they need to do to guarantee the continued flow of cheap oil, but there will come a time—and I suspect it will be sooner rather than later—when those efforts will come to naught.
“I am sure they will change (become electrified, become autonomous, become on-demand), but they will not become a secondary means of transport.”
And then there’s climate change, which we’ve already touched on. Leaving fossil fuels in the ground is a challenge we have right now, today. Switching our fleet and our infrastructure (manufacturing, fuel delivery, repair, parts, etc.) over to run our fleet on some other (non-fossil) fuel would take many decades, and will cost so much we’ll give up before we are 1/10th of the way there. It is common as dirt these days to toss out that we’ll just switch to some other fuel, but it isn’t that easy, and it isn’t as if we hadn’t tried. Scale is the problem. Soren can buy an electric car and put wind into the tank, but we can’t all do that. There are a hundred constraints that make this not only impractical but impossible.
“I am 100% on the leave-it-in-the-ground train (I am very aware of the threat of climate change and ocean acidification). I am also 100% convinced that the only way out is through technological changes to the way we produce and consume energy.”
You are in good company. Techno-optimists generally make a good living here in this country. But that doesn’t mean they are right, or that we have the time and money and resources to follow all those tempting leads.
“I love bikes; I ride for most of my trips; I think bikes are a viable transportation option for lots of people a lot of the time. But the reality is that auto-mobiles (with the literal meaning of that word) are here to stay.”
It does trip off the tongue and is easy to say. I suspect we’re going to find out here shortly.
Well, when global industrialized civilization collapses, not many people will be driving. But I doubt anyone wants that to happen.
One of these days it won’t matter what we want, what we’d prefer. We will have run out of options and time to implement them. We’ll get what we’ve had coming and we’ll wish we’d started preparing for it a little sooner.
My initial reaction to looking at the chart at the top of the page was “why does the bus cost so much?” But then I realized that the purpose of the graph was to further the narrative of the headline. When compared to driving alone (which, sadly, represents the majority of trips), the cost of the bus drops by half, ranking it below the cost of driving. And the cost of driving alone to work (one of the most common trips) is significantly higher than the cost of taking the bus.
So are the incentives really “backwards”?
Considering that Amanda Fritz and many others constantly cite the proverbial family or mother with kids as a reason to continue happy motoring, the addition of a second person is to combat that narrative. Most private vehicle COMMUTES are SOV, but I don’t know if we even have much data on total trips (entertainment and shopping). Depending on how you calculate the per mile cost, and acknowledging that price is only part of the factor (convenience is worth a lot), the rational choice to go downtown for dinner (if you own a car) is to drive.
The proverbial mother of 2 will want to drive, because taking the bus with her children and/or partner will cost $10.
Should I spend $15 or buy a car, and insurance? Oh, and the $4 parking?
If you already have a car in the driveway, any cost comparisons become pointless.
I don’t see the choice as all or nothing, ie., own a car or don’t own a car.
I’m trying to reduce my own car use. But sometimes it’s just too easy to get in and drive, and very difficult to get where I’m going by other means, especially this time of year.
Absolutely. If everyone, who could, switched to EVs carbon pollution would be enormously reduced. And in the not too distance future, many car trips will be made with self-driving EVs that pollute less than people cycling.
Is that really true, even in Oregon? We are currently at capacity for hydro power, so it strikes me that every additional watt we consume will likely come from coal. Maybe as wind and solar are further built out this will become less true, but at the moment, I think every additional watt we use is an environmentally costly one.
I hope I’m wrong, so if I am, please correct me.
I’m gonna need to see your math on the self-driving EVs that have a smaller footprint than cycling.
I’m assuming the use of renewable energy offsets. I charge my EV with wind offsets which the union of concerned scientists estimates has a mpg equivalent in the thousands.:
(See page 5, Table 1.1)
~70 g CO2e/km for electric vehicle manufacturing
(other LCAs had similar estimates — some a bit lower.)
~3 gCO2e/km for charging including grid infrastructure (Portland Green Source offsets — 98% wind 2% geo/solar)
(I also looked up the CO2e cost of grid and generation potential but this was not even a rounding error.)
~130 g CO2e/km (assuming ~50 calories burned per mile and the average diet)
Forgot to include the reference for the calorie CO2e.
Very nicely done.
That said, I think you’re leaving out the infrastructure footprint. It takes space to store and drive cars, that leads to lower density development which comes with myriad increased costs.
For similar reasons, using g CO2e/km may not be the appropriate measure:
agreed. diet and health also have a major impact on the CO2e of active transport users. nevertheless, i think transitioning to EVs in the short- to medium-term would help limit the damage we are currently causing.
Even with the wind offsets, if you consume one additional watt, that will come from coal (at least until the wind capacity is high enough to allow us to turn the coal plants off). It’s not like the system will throw away a free wind powered watt just because one has “purchased” it.
renewable offsets are a DOE program verified by 3rd parties so i do not fund coal use with my household energy purchases. even so, coal only makes up about a quarter of PGE’s mix and this is will drop sharply when boardman closes in a few years. imo, we need to get people who drive to transition to EVs as soon as possible.
Yes and no. Let’s say you’re paying for wind power. Let’s say hydro and wind are producing at capacity, 10MW and 1MW respectively, and coal (either at Boardman, or imported power from WY) is picking up the rest. If Portland is consuming 12MW, then that means 1MW of coal energy is being used.
If you start charging your 100KW electric car, even though you are paying for wind power, the coal plant will need to produce 1.1MW in order to meet demand (because the “free” energy sources are already being used at capacity, but they can always shovel more coal into the boiler).
So even though you are using 100% certified wind energy, and you may not be “funding” coal energy, you are still consuming it, and any increase in load you put on the system will directly increase the amount of coal burned and CO2 released.
Reducing your consumption does not reduce the amount of wind energy produced; it reduces the amount of the highest cost power, which, in this case comes from coal (which, though cheap, costs more than free).
Now, your willingness to pay for wind energy may mean the system has more wind capacity than it otherwise would (or it may not, this has always been unclear to me). But even with the 100% wind option, your car is really only carbon free in an accounting sense, unless you charge it at times that the entire system is being powered by renewables (like on a windy night), and I don’t know if that ever actually happens.
H, K, As long as I *offset* my use I do not care what the mix is at any moment in time. It’s about polluting less, not personal electromagnetic radiation purity. Moreover, by purchasing offsets at a higher rate I directly subsidize new renewable generation (and the purchase of renewable energy blocks).
“and any increase in load you put on the system will directly increase the amount of coal burned and CO2 released.”
And will decrease natural gas/coal burned at other times! Electricity is kind of like money (e.g. fungible).
I should note that I only use my car for personal trips a few times a year (e.g. trips for work). The most significant motivation for its purchase was to offset ICE trips made for and by my cohabitant*.
*who works in wa.
” and any increase in load you put on the system will directly increase the amount of coal burned and CO2 released.”
this is incorrect. coal generation is static due to the expense of stopping and starting plants. moreover, the enormous increase in PGE-owned and PNW wind generation capacity is proof that offsets work. the only limitation to moving towards a renewable grid is societal narcissism.
I have a question: does anyone know what the ramifications to our landscape would be if Every vehicle in Oregon switched to electric today, and all charging was done using hydro, wind and solar? My gut says we would have to build MASSIVE amounts of solar and wind, but I have never seen that explored or represented. This is my hesitation with supporting EV’s: if it were successful and everyone switched, we may have to swallow some serious environmental damage to keep them charged. Please correct me if I am wrong.
My gut says we would have to build MASSIVE amounts of solar and wind
There is huge potential for geothermal energy in the PNW.
Americans use far more electricity per capita that many developed nations so there are staggering capacity savings available via conservation and efficiency improvements. Moreover, current EVs are an incredibly immature technology that essentially use a heavy metal ICE body with the addition of obsolete battery technology. In the not too distance future EVs will weigh a tiny fraction of current vehicles, have drag coefficients below .15, and enormously improved battery technology. Finally, it’s not as if moving to a 100% renewable grid is something new — Iceland made this transition years ago.
interesting, thanks for the reply. Iceland seems like it has an usually high availability of geothermal potential, plus a relatively small and concentrated population. Regarding solar: I really like solar energy, but once all the rooftops are covered, the temptation is to build solar farms. Solar panels and plants compete for sunlight, and solar panels create impervious surfaces. I realize this can all be mitigated, and we are a long ways from facing these problems, but I wonder what that tipping point could be, when the need for solar panel begins to create widespread environmental damage? IN terms of EV’s, I get that they are a significant improvement over ICE’s, but there seems to be a significant cost to the environment if everyone were to make that switch.
maxD: “does anyone know what the ramifications to our landscape would be if Every vehicle in Oregon switched to electric today”
Your gut is correct. It wouldn’t work like soren keeps saying it would. The amount of renewables on our grid is rather modest right now and already spoken for. If you were to do as you suggest some other customer who thought they had bought renewables would find that they’re burning coal instead. There is no way to magically or even quickly add the kind of renewable capacity to our grid that soren’s conceptual model of wind-powered cars is premised on. It is completely fanciful.
but I wonder what that tipping point could be, when the need for solar panel begins to create widespread environmental damage?
IMO, the environmental cost of renewable energy has been greatly exaggerated on the internet and in the media. For example, current solar panel and lithium battery manufacturing are “relatively” benign.
The problem with cars like pollution in general is that it is a incremental expense. Parking per hour tends to be seen as immediate. Yes owning, maintaining a car is more expensive than most modes even if you are taking taxis and buses but people’s brains don’t work that way.
I agree that vehicle use in Portland (& every city) should be more expensive. However what is Oregon doing to get people driving to the Portland metro area or south to Salem to have a viable alternative. Their high-speed rail project between Eugene and Portland is moving at a snail pace, won’t improve travel times and has limited runs. So if I want to come to portland for work or fun it makes me sense to drive even though I hate it.
So Portlanders if you want to have less cars on the road start looking beyond your borders and start lobbying the Legislature.
“what is Oregon doing to get people driving to the Portland metro area or south to Salem to have a viable alternative.”
There are lots of alternatives: Amtrak (bus and train), Greyhound, public buses: Trimet+Cherriots, vanpools, etc.
Sure it all could be better but in the meantime gas is just too cheap for many people to take the trouble and use what we have. I am regularly the only person who takes the Timet 96 to the end of the line and boards the Cherriots 1X on to Salem. I’m not that into complaining when increases in ridership of the opportunities we already have could solidify and even perhaps expand those services.
Finally I’ll say (as a former fan) that high speed rail would in my view be a huge mistake. One enormous side effect of such a system would be to encourage sprawl, subsidize people who for any number of reasons prefer to live even further from where they work than they do now.
given that high-speed rail (or hyperloops) would replace airplane trips it is a no brainer from a pollute less perspective.
We see this differently. We are no longer in a pollute less phase but in a leave it in the ground phase. Building complex electric transport infrastructure today does not represent a ramp down of our reliance on fossil fuels or any simple switch from airplanes to rail.
Since you so love electric propulsion, help me understand how we are going to generate the electricity without fossil fuels, not only for the present uses to which we put electricity but all the transportational ones you love to flog? And over what time frame?
Well, despite my contention that Soren is powering his car with coal, I mostly agree with him in the sense that a transition to electric transport is a necessary (but not sufficient) step in the move to a decarbonized system.
I don’t know what the energy source for this electricity will be, though as long as it’s not coal, we’re probably better off, at least for a while.
I know you disagree. If the only alternative you can propose is that people stop traveling between cities, then I’ll just say that your delusions are greater than ours. People simply will not do that. Not in America, not in Europe, not in Asia. Or at least not until it is far, far too late.
“If the only alternative you can propose is that people stop traveling between cities, then I’ll just say that your delusions are greater than ours. People simply will not do that. Not in America, not in Europe, not in Asia.”
People have always traveled between cities, millennia before fossil fuels, and they will continue to long after fossil fuels have disappeared from use. But the speed and scale of long distance transportation as fossil fuels took off is unprecedented. That will go away. There is no way it could not in my mind.
“Or at least not until it is far, far too late.”
If we want to avoid the “far too late” bit, we better hope that we can find an alternative energy source that will scale up rapidly and to the extent that it will displace coal (a process that could be helped along with a generous carbon tax). And it would need to do so not only here but in India and China as well.
Expecting people to curtail their travel until that energy source is available is unlikely to happen. Expecting them to walk to San Francisco is unlikely to happen. Expecting them to ride to work in Atlanta is unlikely to happen.
You may think that vision of the future is utopian, but we had all better hope it becomes reality.
“If we want to avoid the ‘far too late’ bit, we better hope that we can find an alternative energy source that will scale up rapidly and to the extent that it will displace coal (a process that could be helped along with a generous carbon tax). And it would need to do so not only here but in India and China as well.”
Interesting isn’t it that we can never think of a demand solution, only a supply solution.
“Expecting people to curtail their travel until that energy source is available is unlikely to happen.”
Especially if we give up before we even (dare) try, eh?
“Expecting them to walk to San Francisco is unlikely to happen.”
Funny. My great great grandfather came up from San Francisco to Portland in 1844 (before fossil fuels). I wonder how in the world he managed?
“Expecting them to ride to work in Atlanta is unlikely to happen.”
You gotta start somewhere. When there’s nothing to put in your tank (Cuba 1992?) even those who were convinced that they were not the kind of people who would ever deign to get on a bike got over those hangups.
“You may think that vision of the future is utopian, but we had all better hope it becomes reality.”
I think it neither utopian nor would I like it to come to pass. I think it is delusional and therefore quite dangerous. It relies on hope rather than clear thinking. This is not a recipe for getting ourselves from here to there.
Ok… what is your recipe, and how would you get people to join you at the table?
(1) Straight talk
(2) Highlight the experiences of those who currently live at the levels of energy use we can afford (~3% of mean)
(3) Come up with strategies for how to get there, at all levels: individual, small group, block, neighborhood, city… Organize contests, opportunities for learning from each other, embrace the challenge, allow that we could achieve this without it being inconvenient, miserable, no fun, just different. None of this is particularly difficult; the problem is that those who have achieved this, or happen to be these low levels, are for all intents and purposes invisible and so we are prevented from learning from them.
Sorry Tony and Michael.
Fun stuff, but how did we drift this far?
This is on topic given the quotation in the OP.
How would a city like NYC eat on a 3% energy budget? No meat, of course. But it’s not like they can grow wheat in their parking stalls.
Thanks for continuing to engage me on this.
NYC to eat on 3% of current energy budget.
That is a fair question, though admittedly a bit far afield from transportation which we were talking about. Food energy is not my specialty, but I suspect that if we looked at this question closely we could eliminate some sizable fractions by shifting
– from meat to plants
– from global to local
– from chemical to organic
– from large scale to small
Cuba learned a huge amount about how to do this in the nineties (see Brian Willson’s post here for a taste). One thing I do know is that the average Cuban lost something like 15 or 20 lbs during their ‘Special Period.’ Eliminating fossil fuels from agriculture will be a challenge, but it isn’t in my view as if we had a choice. The question is not whether but when, and the sooner we start the easier it is going to be.
We may discover that cities on the scale of NYC are hard to feed at the current caloric level without fossil fuels. This leads to several different conclusions:
(a) let’s not think about this, or
(b) let’s set our minds to figuring out what combination of changed diet, localization of food systems, and population policy could make this work.
The reason I chose NYC (and not, say, Portland) for my question is partly its size, but mostly that it is in the east, where growing seasons are shorter than elsewhere, and where the topography is not well suited to large scale grain agriculture (which is itself incredibly energy intensive). Local agriculture cannot feed NYC, and while I am a huge supporter of organic farming, I am not sure it is viable on the scale needed to feed a large city. Soil nutrients need to come from somewhere, and if we move from meat to plants, it won’t be from animals.
My real point, of course, is that 3% is a highly unrealistic number, and that is why I look at new energy sources. Developing a new energy production technology is the only way we’re going to get out of the climate problem. Efficiency/reduction will certainly help, but it’s only a part of the solution.
“My real point, of course, is that 3% is a highly unrealistic number, and that is why I look at new energy sources.”
Well it is written into our 2050 climate goals that many jurisdictions have now adopted. Kevin Anderson* has been widely quoted as saying that we’re on the hook to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by 10% per year going forward. This is perhaps a more easily visualized if no less difficult conceptualization of this transition. Using less is perhaps unappealing but it is not unrealistic in the least. What is unrealistic is pinning our hopes on new energy sources, on something untried, undiscovered, unknown.
“Developing a new energy production technology is the only way we’re going to get out of the climate problem. Efficiency/reduction will certainly help, but it’s only a part of the solution.”
Because you say so? I’m so tired of this kind of assertion. Please explain how a supply side solution is realistic, sensible, obvious, whereas a demand side solution is the opposite?
I assert that supply side improvements have to be a large part of the solution because people in NYC want to eat, people in Houston won’t ride bicycles to work, and people in Vermont want to heat their houses.
I 100% agree we need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels; if I could, I would implement a large carbon tax today. Where we disagree is that I think we will need to replace fossil fuels with something, and you seem to be arguing we can replace them with nothing.
Before we go further, do you think this fairly describes our disagreement?
“I think we will need to replace fossil fuels with something, and you seem to be arguing we can replace them with nothing.”
Close, but not quite. It isn’t that we can replace the with nothing; it is that we cannot replace them one-for-one with anything we have so far found. That choice vs constraint dichotomy again. The Energy Rate (of Return) On Energy Invested (EROEI) is the first and by far the most important reason for this. Anything we might choose to substitute will have a dramatically lower EROEI. Fossil fuels have historically given us something like an EROEI of 100:1, though today we’re closer to ~10:1 and falling fast.
The following is from an interview with Charles Hall in Scientific American (link below)
What happens when the EROI gets too low? What’s achievable at different EROIs?
If you’ve got an EROI of 1.1:1, you can pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If you’ve got 1.2:1, you can refine it and look at it. At 1.3:1, you can move it to where you want it and look at it. We looked at the minimum EROI you need to drive a truck, and you need at least 3:1 at the wellhead. Now, if you want to put anything in the truck, like grain, you need to have an EROI of 5:1. And that includes the depreciation for the truck. But if you want to include the depreciation for the truck driver and the oil worker and the farmer, then you’ve got to support the families. And then you need an EROI of 7:1. And if you want education, you need 8:1 or 9:1. And if you want health care, you need 10:1 or 11:1. [In another article Charles Hall suggest if you also want the arts – you need an EROI of 14:1]
Civilization requires a substantial energy return on investment. You can’t do it on some kind of crummy fuel like corn-based ethanol [with an EROI of around 1:1].
A big problem we have facing the alternatives is they’re all so low EROI. We’d all like to go toward renewable fuels, but it’s not going to be easy at all. And it may be impossible. We may not be able to sustain our civilization on these alternative fuels. I hope we can, but we’ve got to deal with it realistically.”
and more here:
“growing seasons are shorter than elsewhere”
The growing season in New York was probably once slightly shorter than it is now. People have solved this conundrum for thousands (hundreds of thousands?) or years by putting up food. This is still an option. We don’t just have two options: wait for Amazon to send us something or, if they don’t or cant, go hungry.
It is endearing that you treat New York City’s size as fixed, given, the starting point, and derive the need for energy to continue supporting it. What if the density of a place like New York City is the problem; what if there isn’t a way to feed that many people in that particular patch of ground indefinitely? Don’t you think it would be worth considering a Plan B?
9watts your comments on EROI are completely off base. Why you are so stridently opposed to developing non-hydrocarbon energy generation is mystifying to me!
The majority of studies find that the EROI of renewables and hydrocarbons are similar:
I also think that there is an absolutist thread in your thinking about transportation and energy policy. Movement away from our hydrocarbon economy will not happen overnight.
NYC’s size is not fixed; it is growing. Without importing food from the grain belt, the city cannot survive. If there is a mass out-migration from NYC (and other cities unable to sustain themselves locally), where will those people go? Where would they be welcomed?
This conversation is getting ridiculous. If we don’t find ways to generate a lot of energy without CO2 emissions, then it’s game over. I do my part, but I had a job that involved doing the math, and I realize my personal efforts are a meaningless gesture, but one I still feel compelled to make.
from the Hall paper you linked to:
“The EROI for the production of oil and gas globally by publicly traded companies has declined from 30:1 in 1995 to about 18:1 in 2006 (Gagnon et al., 2009). The EROI for discovering oil and gas in the US has decreased from more than 1000:1 in 1919 to 5:1 in the 2010s, and for production from about 25:1 in the 1970s to approximately 10:1 in 2007 (Guilford et al., 2011).”
You keep inventing new straw men.
I never said I was opposed to developing renewables. I am however opposed to making unrealistic assumptions about the speed and ease of substituting renewables for fossil fuels without massive (10-fold – 75-fold) reductions in demand (which I think is much more plausible than hoping for renewables miracles).
As far as this happening overnight…? Who said anything about that? Upthread I asked you specifically for a timetable by which to switch to renewables-via-electricity fueled personal transport. If you responded to that I missed it.
“If we don’t find ways to generate a lot of energy without CO2 emissions, then it’s game over.”
I’ll ask again, why do you only allow for supply-side solutions?
And what do you mean by game over? Game over for the high-energy, high-consumption lifestyle we’ve pursued for the past century-plus?
Because there’s no doubt in my mind that it is game over for that regardless, not because I’m a meanie and want to deny others the goodies I’ve enjoyed but because without continued draw down of the stored sunshine of millions of years there’s no way to sustain this. If you know otherwise, let’s hear it.
I don’t allow for only supply-side solutions — reduction is clearly needed, but that can only account for 20% (say) of what we need to do. It is fantasy to imagine that we’ll somehow be able to convert our society to a radical new model that does not depend on energy consumption.
Since I can’t go with fantasy, I have to go with hope and trust in human ingenuity.
By game over I mean entering the great unknown of a very different climate situation, and all the upheavals that will follow.
But your shares are completely made up.
Your 20% you ascribe to the potential for reductions (something Californians did in 2001 without breaking a sweat), is counterbalanced by some hand waving over on the human ingenuity side. I’m still curious how you would defend or explain this split? Gut? Hope? Tarot cards?
Using dramatically less energy is not only possible, it is discoverable right now—at the household level—right under our noses in whatever category you choose. The challenge is to find ways to scale up that pattern. And since we know it works at the household level, scaling it up is—and perhaps you’d agree—far less fanciful than crossing our fingers, hoping some smart geeks will save us through some new invention.
Lots of smart people have studied what it would take to scale up renewables in time to avert climate disaster and all those I’ve read either dissemble or suggest that it will be unbelievably difficult and expensive and probably won’t work.
My figure is completely made up (because I don’t remember the figures I’ve seen), but 20% is in the ballpark for what others have said is doable with a reasonable effort. It’s not just 20% of residential consumption, but 20% of industrial consumption as well (it’s easier to turn down your thermostat than to turn down your steel furnace).
Ok, here is a source:
They show roughly 50% reduction, and of their solutions to get there, about 2/3 are various demand side reductions. 2/3 of 50% = 33%. Accepting that figure changes nothing in my thinking.
NRDC are always out in front with this sort of calculation. You’ve got plenty of good company. I know Rob Socolow, whose data underlies this chart. -50% by 2050 is itself a now wholly obsolete estimate, but who’s counting?
This is what we get when experts, pencil necks, people who are paid to study abstractions but never actually talk to people (well Socolow did talk to people in 1978 in the Twin Rivers study that made him justly famous). I disagree with NRDC’s reproduction of Socolow’s wedges as much as I disagree with your gloss of it.
1. conservation and efficiency improvements.
2. Renewable energy generation+improved storage (hydrogen, thermal, hydrological, liquid/solid batteries).
3. Nuclear fission — liquid thorium.
4. And in the long term: fusion and beamed energy.
We know how to change mode split and get more commuters to leave their cars at home. In the 90’s Lloyd TMA (now Go Lloyd!) instituted an area wide transit subsidy program with 6,000 or so employees enrolled; at the same time PBOT in partnership with Lloyd put in on street parking meters. There followed a dramatic shift from drive alone to transit. On Swan Island acres and acres of valuable industrially zoned lane are dedicated to auto storage, free to employees, but not “free” to someone! Its the biggest, most costly commute option incentive in place there; some major employers, Vigor Industrial and UPS, have very generous transit subsidies. Sadly Daimler Trucks NA does not, and they account for almost half the area’s employees. They are a “car company” after all!
Yes, raise meter rates downtown, add meters to close-in commercial streets, impose a carbon tax to get gas up to over $3 for a start. And put in place a $5 per month per spot on all parking, public and private; use those funds to get TriMet fares down to $1. Corvallis does something like this.
If the goal is to limit parking downtown, why not just outlaw parking downtown? Give it a try – see if the commissars take the bait.
No need to actually make a serious comment, right? Just make up some hyperbolic straw man and see if it floats!
Charge whatever surface lots charge. Period.
What our modern, western “developed” species needs now more than ever is creative imagination. We have lived in the century-long blip of oil that has conditioned our minds that speed and volume are “progress”, when in fact our way of life is totally unsustainable. We are spoiled in our comfort and convenience, built on outsourcing the consequent pain and suffering inflicted on other peoples and Mother Earth. We shall soon enough painfully learn that Nature Bats Last. And since we have considered ourselves as separate from and dominant over nature, rather than being an intrinsic part of her, we are on the verge of striking out. Nature does have a carrying capacity and we long ago exceeded it.
The private auto-mobile, and massive grid electricity, both enabled by the burning of fossil fuels, have produced what are now molecular particles of mass destruction. This blip will not be repeated, nor be maintained. It is sobering to realize that both sets of my grandparents were married in the 1890s before grid electricity and before the private automobile.
Will we adapt with a new consciousness that understands Indigenous values of living in local and bioregional reliance, where relationships build on principles of slow and small? Probably not, but we are capable of radical, quick shifts if we can really experience the necessity to do so in order to survive.
I was in Cuba in 1991 at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Consequently, Cuba’s supply of oil immediately ceased. I watched the first boat load of bicycles being unloaded in Havana harbor (from China). At the same time, I witnessed the arrival of the first of many thousands of teams of oxen that were to replace tractors. I re-visited Cuba in 2000 and saw how the Island nation of 11 million people had now developed a decentralized organic garden food economy and 250,000 teams of oxen were in use by farmers throughout the country having replaced replaced tractors. There were organic gardens in virtually every Hanana neighborhood, in fact more than a thousand of them. Small scale solar was installed on most rural school roofs. The 1950s cars that remained on the roads were required to pickup people standing along the road needing rides.
If we could see, or more precisely “feel”, how close we are to the dangerous precipice of collapse, even being extinguished, due to our “modern” way of life with cars and endless dependence upon more and more electricity, we could change as if in an instant. Sharing and caring, living with less and local, would become memes.
If Portland is wise it would make bus riding free; it would do everything to discourage and limit car use in the inner city; do everything to encourage walking and cycling, especially erecting seriously protected lanes. At any rate, our dependence upon the convenience enabled by of the one century blip of easy oil, is now in the way of our creative imagination.
Hello Kitty, Soren,
starting at the bottom since it was so hard to nest properly above.
On the technical challenges of switching over to renewables:
One sentence excerpted:
“Add the battery storage component though, with the annual capital investment reaching a combined US$10,155 billion, and the situation takes on a decidedly more extreme character. Remember, this is still not total annual investment in energy supply, just wind & PV generation capacity and the batteries for storage.”
I’ll be curious for your response.