Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

TriMet lobbies for more freeways in a misguided ‘fix’ for Portland congestion

Posted by on February 22nd, 2017 at 9:25 am

I-5 traffic from N Skidmore.jpg

Don’t believe the hype.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

This is a guest post from former news editor Michael Andersen.

The top executive of Portland’s mass transit agency said this week that the Portland region has four top transportation priorities, and three of them are to expand capacity of urban freeways.

TriMet GM Neil McFarlane-8

TriMet’s Neil McFarlane has inexplicably assumed the role of freeway expansion advocate.

“These are projects we’ve known we need to do for some time,” Neil McFarlane told the Washington County Public Affairs Forum on Monday, according to the Portland Tribune. “They are necessary to keep our region moving and our arterials flowing.”

Why is the head of a transit agency actively promoting freeway expansion projects?

The fourth project, McFarlane said, is a proposed light-rail line through Southwest Portland into Tigard and Tualatin, along either Barbur Boulevard or Interstate 5.

McFarlane’s words come as the state legislature is, for the second time in three years, meeting behind closed doors in an attempt to strike a late-breaking grand bargain that would increase the state’s transportation taxes and spending. A similar 2015 attempt collapsed at the last minute amid false claims by Gov. Brown’s administration that the state could reduce carbon emissions by widening its freeways.

Let’s ask: does Portland even need to be “fixed”?

Also quoted in Monday’s Tribune article: Senate President Peter Courtney. Courtney, a centrist Democrat from Salem, reportedly told the Tribune’s editorial board that “he heard a clear message from a number of groups about traffic congestion: ‘Fix Portland.'”

Let’s leave aside the questions of who these “groups” are and how large their number is, though the Tribune’s phrasing might remind close readers of BikePortland of the unnamed “stakeholders” who the Oregon Department of Transportation once cited as its reason to continue forcing bikes and cars into the same 45-mph lane on Barbur. (The stakeholders turned out to be the Portland Business Alliance, a regional chamber of commerce, and essentially no one else.)

Let’s also leave aside, for a moment, the suggestion (also endorsed by failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce) that the next lane added to various Portland freeways will be the one that never fills up.

Instead let’s ask: does Portland even need to be “fixed”?

Coming from Courtney, the implication is that Portland’s transportation situation is uniquely problematic, a statewide concern because its traffic congestion is a burden on the state’s economy.

It’s certainly true that the Portland region is light on freeways. We have fewer lane-miles of freeway per resident than all but four U.S. metro areas. And it’s true that cars and trucks often get backed up on our freeways, especially since the local economy started roaring back from the Great Recession to become the fastest-growing regional economy in the country, creating 71,000 jobs in eight years and driving the unemployment rate to 3.4 percent in the midst of a population boom.

I-5 just north of the Rose Quarter — a section of freeway ODOT has wanted to expand for many years.
Image: Google Street View.

But let’s take the claim of Courtney’s unnamed stakeholders seriously and consider whether the Portland region’s admittedly congested freeways are dragging down the state’s economy. First, let’s look at the population of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties as a share of the state population:

Here’s a spreadsheet with all the data in this post, which is from the most recent year available online, usually 2015.

And let’s compare that to the taxes the state collects from the Portland metro area.

So despite their rush-hour struggles with congestion, Portland-area residents are unusually productive for the state. But what about Portland’s very visible poverty (another frequent complaint of the Portland Business Alliance, as it happens)? Is it a drain on taxpayers?

It’s hard to answer this question precisely, but let’s make an estimate by considering the location of Oregonians who receive food stamp benefits.

So not only is the Portland metro area providing more than half the state’s tax revenue, it’s using a disproportionately small amount of food benefits. (And to be fair, this is mostly because of very low food benefit claims in the suburban Washingon and Clackamas counties — Multnomah County leads the state on many economic measures but it’s in the middle of the pack on food benefit rates.)

Advertisement

What about the country’s other three biggest social programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?

OK, now let’s stop focusing on all these costs of a civilized society, and check some things we know are good. For example, there is no more reliable predictor of future economic growth than education. So where do Oregon’s college graduates live?

Lastly, let’s look at maybe the single simplest measure of whether a place is succeeding — whether people are moving there faster than they’re moving away. Here’s what that looks like:

Every picture tells the same story: The freeway-poor Portland area is not only a non-burden on the state economy. It is the main force driving the state economy. The Portland region is out in front of the rest of the state’s economy and much of the rest of the state is drafting off it.

Here is a different Google Street View of Interstate 5. This one is from Woodburn, a city in Sen. Courtney’s district. Food benefit usage is 56 percent higher than in the Portland metro, median incomes are 26 percent lower and bachelor’s degrees are 63 percent less common. Since 2010, the city has added 641 additional residents. But freeway traffic is pretty light!

Is the point of all this that cities outside the Portland area are bad or worthless? Absolutely not — there’s a lot more to life than money. Is the point that Portlanders shouldn’t be paying more than they receive in public services? Not at all, and in fact Portland-area residents tend to be enthusiastic about all the services listed above. Generally speaking, all they ask is to be allowed to continue their disproportionate funding of public services, which improve the state and country for everyone.

The point of all this is that traffic congestion is not a cause of economic collapse. It is an effect of economic success.

In fact, the choices that lead to congestion — a relatively compact urban area that hasn’t been sliced up by freeways, and has spent its money on things like mass transit and libraries and parks and restaurants instead — might actually be a cause of economic success.

It is true that the Portland area’s auto congestion is annoying. But attempting to “fix” it — at least in the way that Courtney and apparently TriMet are urging us to — is the last thing Oregon’s economy needs.

It’s worth wondering whether your state legislators have been hearing that from anyone.

Thanks to Charlie Tso for calling attention to the Tribune piece.

— Michael Andersen: (503) 333-7824, @andersem on Twitter and mike.andersen@gmail.com

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

263
Leave a Reply

avatar
50 Comment threads
213 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
68 Comment authors
qDan AJoe SixpackAndrewMatt S. Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

I’m glad you wrote this Michael! Thank you. I’ve been fuming about this and related issues for a while now and as often is the case when I’m so disturbed by an issue/story it’s sometimes hard for me to put a cogent story together.

There are so many things about this that should concern people:

– Why the hell is Neil McFarlane carrying ODOT’s water on these projects? Doesn’t he realize that the reason TriMet ridership numbers are not carrying their weight in our region is because driving continues to be easier and more convenient than taking MAX or the bus for way too many trips. Could it be that ODOT knows very well that adding freeway capacity in central Portland (and other urban areas) is likely to be controversial so they put forward “the transit guy” to help deflect the anger? Could it be because TriMet is willing to do anything for money so they can build more mega-projects instead of investing in existing buses and light rail to make them more convenient, efficient, and reliable? (Recall that TriMet was happy to see the CRC go forward as long as they got a MAX extension to go along with it).

– It’s 2017 and pretty much our entire legislature is going along with the “We need to fix Portland congestion by adding freeway capacity” mantra as if it’s 1975 all over again. Yes, even the Democrats.

If ODOT thinks they’re going to widen I-5 through central Portland they need to make a better case than the juvenile “It’ll fix congestion” (their current argument is that another lane will decrease rear-end collisions — something more attentive driving and slower speeds can do for much cheaper)… AND if this project goes through it will only be because ODOT and PBOT can guarantee the public that just as much money (or more) in the project will be spent to vastly improve bicycling and walking and transit infrastructure in the immediate area (lord knows we need it).

The congestion issue in Portland exists because driving competes with other modes far too well. We’ve made it too cheap and too convenient – while we’ve knee-capped and starved other options like biking and transit that should be a more desirable option. The idea that we’re going to throw MORE money at driving capacity in 2017 in the Portland region is ridiculous bordering on absurd.

All this being said, I’m not reflexively always against every freeway project. I just have no reason to trust ODOT or TriMet to do the right thing.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I feel like we are living in Jurassic Park. Everywhere you look: Trimet, ODOT, PBA there are dinosaurs.

rick
Guest
rick

Shameful. Even Highway 217 was turned from a boulevard to a freeway and it led to the demolition of homes in the Metzger neighborhood.

Steve
Guest
Steve

“All this being said, I’m not reflexively always against every freeway project. I just have no reason to trust ODOT or TriMet to do the right thing”

I could not agree more, but man it sure is frustrating to try to get anywhere if you “need” to use I-5 in NoPo.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

This reminds me of the collapse of the Mayan civilization. When their advanced culture and economy began to fail because of poor agricultural practices and soil depletion, they doubled down on what they thought was important by building more pyramids and conducting more human sacrifices. Todays freeways are our pyramids and the deaths of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are our sacrifices.

Tim Ferguson
Guest
Tim Ferguson

Great argument regarding Portland’s healthy economy, but I think the more pertinent line of inquiry is whether these people have ever spoken to a traffic engineer. “Curing congestion by adding lanes is like curing obesity by loosening your belt” is such a cliché by now that I’m almost embarrassed to repeat it here, but apparently there are people who think about transportation all day who have still never heard of latent capacity. Even if congestion were strangling the city—and again, excellent demonstration that it’s not—fatter freeways would just strangle it with a slightly thicker rope, and everyone who studies this stuff has known it for decades. Sheesh.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

Tom McCall was right.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

McFarlane should be looking past SW corridor and onto the next regional priorities for Trimet:

– Extending the yellow line into Vancouver, whether that is part of a CRC-type project, or a standalone one that provides a local access bridge, or expands heavy rail capacity at the same time (for Amtrak Cascades and commuter rail).
– Light rail on Powell to I-205, and Division to Gresham: a project that would see huge ridership and greatly increase the MAX system’s flexibility and ability to handle disruptions at the Steel Bridge.
– A solution for the Steel Bridge, whether that is a new bridge or a LRT tunnel through downtown.

dan
Guest
dan

I think the statistics cited here just tend to suggest that the cost of living in Portland has gotten so high that people who don’t have well-paying jobs (including those on benefits, homeless, etc.) have been forced outside the metro area. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion that to my mind doesn’t prove or disprove the statement about freeways.

Personally, I’d like to see no money spent on expanded freeway capacity, or some kind of tie between transit funding and road building such that for every $1 for roadbuilding, another $1 (or, since this is my personal fantasy, $2) gets spent on transit. Can you imagine the amazing transit system we could have given that budget?

Slight tangent, but I would love to see the graph of ROI/enhanced utility as freeway capacity iincreases through / around a metro area. I have to believe that the Vancouver BC approach (no freeway through town, everyone exits the freeway onto local streets) is not optimal, but adding a 5th lane when there are already 4 also has sharply diminished returns. How would you even get at that kind of information?

fourknees
Guest
fourknees

It’s not just freeways that full. Look at how packed the MAX is during rush hour periods for example. I’ve seen the same thing with buses. Imagine if during peak times Trimet doubled capacity across the system (Bus, Rail, even the capacity of park and ride lots) from current. I have to imagine this would attract many more to transit by being more frequent (people hate to wait), not being squeezed tight/not being able to sit, create more space for people to bring bikes on board to complete their trips, etc…..

John Bucsek
Guest
John Bucsek

Good article. I still drive because Trimet is so slow.
And before anyone says I should live closer to work. My wife’s commute is not only 1 mile as our home is very close to her workplace.
When I lived in Tigard I could bike to work in Hillsboro in the same amount of time (if not a little quicker) that it took to use trimet for the same distance. I stopped splitting my commute (bike and max) once the fares started to increase ($1.35 beaverton to hillsboro was worth it, $2.50 isn’t).
Now I live in Milwaukie, and while I haven’t tried Trimet for the commute yet, the Trimet site gives an 75 minute triptime for Milwaukie to Hillsboro. That’s not counting the time it takes to get to/from the stations. I can drive that distance in 60 to 70 minutes most days.
So driving remains the easiest option for me, although I will switch back to bike/Trimet later this year.
By talking with other Trimet users I know, our feeling is Trimet made a major error by building MAX at street level through Downtown. It should have been underground or elevated to minimize grade crossings. They also should have planned for express trains that don’t stop at every stop (similar to New York’s subway, were you can use the express to travel quickly and switch to a local if necessary)
Either Trimet needs to become more efficient, or traffic needs to get much worse before more people will stop using their cars.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Its amazing that Tri Met is lobbying for more and wider freeways without even modest efforts at other forms of traffic abatement.The UK and skandinavian countries have been able to reduce central city traffic with demand tolls and other techniques. But it seems that discussion of anything that solves the problem but puts a crimp in easy motoring is forbidden.

Adam
Subscriber

Someone needs to pay to send our elected officials a few books about the folly of car dependency. You can’t build your way out of congestion. You can only give people other options, something you’d think the head of TriMet would understand fully. If money is supposedly tight, why are we throwing any money at the most expensive, least effective type of transportation infrastructure? Building more highways is simply a waste of taxpayer money, as they provide no long-term benefit and only serve to increase our ever-expanding maintenance backlog.

Portland does not need more expressways, we need less cars! Stop giving in to corruption and Big Oil, and start building solutions that will actually benefit the people!

SEPDXRider
Guest
SEPDXRider

I think driver education would do more to resolve congestion than anything else.

I think a significant portion of congestion is due to POOR and SELFISH DRIVING HABITS.

POV: About 20 percent of drivers are causing significant congestion because they have ZERO clue how to merge and properly lane change to avoid causing congestion.

We need to collectively learn to ZIPPER – at speed of traffic – from our on ramps. We need to collectively get better about lane changes and tailgating during rush hour.

I’ve seen it with me own eyes, we do it every darn day some of us. I’ve become the angel of mercy every morning trying to lead by example. I merge awesome.

I match the speed – if the freeway traffic is 5 mph, I go 5 mph… all the way to the end of the merge lane where traffic begins to move again.

Anyone notice that traffic begins moving AT THE END OF THE MERGE LANE?

Obviously not everyone because people still cut the white line, pull into a line of stopped cars, and then stop the adjacent lane because its all about them.

Now my technique… it’s amazing…

I look back in my review and the stopped cluster I saw at the top of the ramp IS NOW MOVING.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

One point to consider when mulling over the various options for moving people around… there is new technology on the not-too-distant horizon that promises to completely upend the way people traverse our city. No one has any idea what the future will look like, except that it is very likely to be different than today.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Michael, good to see your mind at work again…

Or perhaps this is a savvy strategy by Neil McFarlane, a toe in the door, realizing that new highway capacity will allow the “opportunity” to add HOV or HCT Lanes or even tolling [Trumps Public + Private financing] along these corridors…assuming state/ local solons allow it.

I hope TRIMET learns from CTRANs (and CoVs) implementation of The Vine B[R]T and does add protected/ dedicated lanes in any future BRT lines in its system. [CTRANs The Vine does not have any dedicated lanes…and now cannot reach its last station & hub due to AM I-5 traffic back-ups.]

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

PS. Michael – does your data include the “Vancouver” population or income taxes in your “Portland Metro” numbers?

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Follow…..The……Money….

Somebody promised McFarlane money in exchange for his statement. Whether that be odot money or some other money. He wants something…And the other groupmwsnts something. Hence….His career ending statement. And…It is career ending.

Portland Oregon, the state with almost zero cat pool lanes. Why? Start there. Imagine the travel time from Portland to the couve on trimet with cat pool lanes the entire length….Even across the bridge. Or from downtown to Gresham…Down the dreaded i84.

McFarlane doesn’t want amazing bus service…That is small potatoes. He wants more and more light rail
Big money and big exposure.

By the way, how much bike right of way is next to that light rail Neil?

Yeah, we get it. The bigger the budget, the bigger the salary.

More freeway typically brings more money for light rail.

Follow the money bike Portland.

michael_pdx
Guest
michael_pdx

Just to echo some of the good comments here: this is nuts.

I’m usually a pretty stalwart fan of TriMet, since I rely on it and always have going back to my first ride in 1984. I’ve always associated “living in a city” with “riding transit” but keep learning over and over again that’s not a given for other people.

Now, I know McFarlane knows what “induced demand” means, and can’t explain (short of speculating on what quid might come with this quo) this goofy argument that expanding the freeway will solve anything.

Traffic HAS become much worse in the last few years. It’s impacting my bus ride, which used to be maybe 20 minutes to get home to North Portland, turning it into more like 30-40 minutes. You know what’s worse than a 40 minute bus ride? Driving in heinous traffic! (I want to echo the guy who mentioned how people’s thoughtless/incompetent driving adds to the problem). The long bus ride has me on the verge of getting back to the bike commute as Plan A.

I always land in the same place when I think through these issues: sure the traffic is really bad, and I find it so intolerably bad that I’ll change my behavior in a variety of ways to avoid it. But for most people, regardless of how much they complain about it, it’s not THAT bad (yet), because they are not making different decisions, but rather continue to add their own little contribution to the problem, driving alone at the same time as everybody else.

Kate
Guest
Kate

I suspect that the stakeholders that are saying “fix portland — it’s hurting the State economy” are thinking of freight movement through the Portland area. It’s true that freight gets stuck and doesn’t have much travel time reliability and it does impact Or businesses.

That said, there are other solutions and I don’t really understand why TriMet would carry water on these projects, except that their own buses are also getting stuck on our arterials. I think the only capacity solution TriMet should be carrying are for BAT lanes (bus only, or business access + transit and typically bikes). That would go a long way toward making TriMet more competitive to single-occupant driving.

q
Guest
q

I’ve heard that compared to most cities, a high percentage of Portland’s freeway traffic, especially near downtown on both sides of the river, is very short drives. The reason is that people use the freeways as city streets, and the reason they do that is because the freeways provide the most convenient short-distance routes.

For instance, a lot of Marquam and Fremont Bridge traffic is people simply crossing the river. People heading up 43/Macadam from south of downtown get on the freeway just south of downtown, then off only one or two exits later. Same thing on the eastside.

It all means lots of short, local trips on freeways that really get bogged down with people constantly getting on, then switching lanes (and I’ve never seen a city with so many freeway entrances dumping people into the fast lane, so they have to get over to the slow lane to exit) and getting off a half-mile later. Mixing these short trips with people using the freeway to go from Salem to Vancouver and you have a mess.

What it all means to me is that a lot of freeway traffic doesn’t NEED to use the freeway, and could be better served by better bus service or other alternatives.

In Trump We Trust
Guest
In Trump We Trust

Can more MAX trains be added so they run more frequently? Just asking in case they are getting to be too full. I do know some of the parking lots are filled to capacity at rush hour – that’s a big incentive to drive.

Driving is just a lot more convenient is what it boils down to for many people. Don’t have to be at a bus or MAX stop at a particular time, can stop on the way home for groceries, etc. And you don’t have to sit next to a coughing person who just arrived in country and hasn’t had their shots.

Greg Spencer
Guest

It really is disheartening and even bizarre to see TriMet’s general manager push for freeway expansion. But part of it is probably that TriMet doesn’t have the political support from ODOT or the City of Portland to become a viable solution to congestion. No matter how nice your busses are, they can’t get through rush hour traffic without bus lanes. Good bus service needs dedicated lanes and signal priority, but it can’t get that without the assent of the road owners/managers. If TriMet had this support, the picture would be quite different. Portland might even get some bus rapid transit (BRT) like they have in Seattle now.

Of course, reallocating road space away from cars is a political hot potato. But it alleviates congestion because bus lanes are more space efficient than car lanes. A great example is Dublin, where they reallocated a bunch of road space from cars to BRT (“Quality Bus Corridors” is the term there) over the last 20 years. Car drivers complained at first, but once they system was in place — giving commuters a faster way to get to work — loads of people switched from car to bus. After awhile, public opinion flipped and now BRT is there to stay.

curly
Subscriber
curly

Imagine the cover photo with all the single occupancy vehicles removed and you’d have a roadway worth driving. Raise the price of fuel to $5.00 a gallon and you’d have a similar roadway. Then the complaint would be that our current mass transit/active transportation system is woefully inadequate.

KristenT
Guest
KristenT

There are a lot of good points being made here and questions being asked. My question is:

Where, exactly, does TriMet think I-5 and 405 can expand to? I mean, a lot of the freeways in the Portland area are bounded on both sides by structures/walls/rivers/other roads. Are they envisioning a double-decker sort of arrangement? Or a tunnel arrangement for through-only traffic, so the freight can get through Portland without all those pesky other drivers?

JF
Guest
JF

Yes, yes, yes. We drastically need to improve our highways here. And add that SW Max line to Tigard. Our traffic is amongst the worst in the nation, and getting worse each year. Unfortunately, the entire metro area is never going to be a bunch of bike commuters. That is not a realistic aspiration.

de
Guest

This is a strangely constructed article. I thought it was going to be about the usage of freeways in Portland and then went into a weird “us and them” thing about who pays for social services in the state. I don’t really see the connection. Very few people will get the exact amount back in services that they actually pay in taxes. It will usually be less or more. Making the jump from education to traffic congestions seems pretty dubious

“In fact, the choices that lead to congestion — a relatively compact urban area that hasn’t been sliced up by freeways, and has spent its money on things like mass transit and libraries and parks and restaurants instead — might actually be a cause of economic success.”

That’s an interesting idea, but how can that be shown?

Neat ideas, but there should be some support for assertions in forms of citations (or sources for data for graphs).

Jon
Guest
Jon

I believe that the only things that actually cut down on freeway congestion is tolls during peak periods. People adjust behavior when it is expensive. Road use is essentially free. You can use them whenever you want without paying any extra money. If it cost $5 to drive on I-5 from 7am to 10am and 4:00pm to 7:00pm people who could wait would and people who could not would pay. Extra lanes just allow people to live farther from work and creates more and more sprawl and traffic.

JP
Guest

A cautionary tale: Los Angeles just spent one billion dollars adding a single lane to a 10-mile stretch of “The 405.” Travel times did not improve.

Induced demand is well understood by readers of this blog, but some people may never get it.

It may be more useful to ask, “Do we want our beautiful city to look more like Los Angeles, Huston, or Atlanta?” If so, we better start widening freeways.

Dave
Guest
Dave

The widening of 217 is project that needs to happen. It’s already been completed at the very north and south ends. Unfortunately with the way the streets in area have been laid out, there are few good north/south alternative roads to take the burden off.

The other issue is that if the red line had been extended down the side of 217 to Tigard and Tualatin (replacing WES), we would have a transit alternative but with Trimet ignoring this option and admitting that WES can’t be fixed with more stations, frequency and operating hours, there is no other option but to add freeway capacity.

Many of you may hate freeways but this thing already exists and there are few alternatives available to it.

Ted
Guest
Ted

Bravo Michael!

m
Guest
m

The increase in truck traffic resulting from the significant reduction in shipping from the Port is often overlooked as a contributing factor that should be a priority of the Governor and others.

q
Guest
q

Oh, good. Because saying I was being sarcastic would be like saying my using “moi” was pretentious.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I wonder if you would see a statement like this from Trimet if they were governed by a group of people who actually use the service rather than people who generally choose to drive even though they are provided with a free pass to use Trimet. We desperately need leadership from Trimet to create a service that is viewed not as a charity but as a legitimate form of transportation, and unfortunately at this point I think we have an appointed board who views it as a charity. I am sure they mean well, but the service that is being provided is closer to a soup kitchen than a restaurant people would go out of their way to eat at.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

Thinking about this more during a quick lunch ride gets me even more upset.

Why do we have countless meetings and process and debate about spending a pittance on simple, basic things like safer crossings and protected bike lanes to help save people’s lives —yet ODOT/TriMet/PBA/Port of Portland can meet behind closed doors and put together $500 million project as if it’s a foregone conclusion.

Why would we spend $500 million on a central Portland freeway that works relatively well when we have n’hoods in east Portland where people die and are injured at an alarming rate? And others are so afraid of the streets they’re essentially held hostage by them.

Where’s the debate about these freeway projects? How can get this far along on the I-5/Weidler thing without a real debate or a vote at City Council? I have a hunch that if this came to council there would be a robust response from all the Portlanders who care about the environment, transportation reform, public health, oil dependency, and so on and so forth (oh wait, maybe that’s why it hasn’t come to council — they’re clearly afraid of the pushback).

joe adamski
Guest
joe adamski

In 1798 Thomas Robert Malthus famously predicted that short-term gains in living standards would inevitably be undermined as human population growth outstripped food production, and thereby drive living standards back toward subsistence. (shamelessly cribbed from ScientificAmerican).
Point is no matter what you do, folks will continue to overpopulate, over-consume, etc. Build a new freeway and in no time it becomes over capacity. So why bother? Don’t build and folks will be forced to make decisions over choices. Live here, work there? Deal with it. Our desire to make responsible choices only encourages irresponsibility.

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

My goodness, tax collections, welfare payments and education are the only relevant indicators of economic health? It’s so simple! And everyone knows that a random google street view photo is the only way to measure traffic congestion. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Michael. You’re better than this.

Vote on It
Guest
Vote on It

Trimet, the Democrats, the Republicans, they are all in the pocket of the freeway lobby. If people are serious about climate change, pollution, livability, stopping government waste etc., they need a plan to go directly to the people with a ballot measure/referral to stop the freeway madness. Getting people statewide to veto a tax increase for a polluting mega pork project in Portland would be an easy sell.

Peter W
Guest

Three things:

1. Oregon’s Global Warming Commission specifically called out transportation as an area that needs work, in a report just released that shows Oregon may be 20% over our carbon emissions goal for 2020 . I wrote about this here: https://medium.com/p/oregons-global-warming-commission-has-some-state-budget-advice-33c1992f6539

2. I heard rumors about this TriMet/freeway thing 2-3 months ago. I’d love to see someone dig into how long TriMet & McFarlane have been involved in closed door talks about expanding highways, and the details of what the political / financial trade is. Trib article: “He also said no single level of government can pay for all of those projects” (what does McFarlane mean by that?)

3. If McFarlane thinks Portland needs him as a spokesman for the freeway lobby, perhaps he shouldn’t be working for a transit agency.

Spiffy
Subscriber
Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

I205 was supposed to be freight and overflow highway. It then morphed into the suburb highway and birthed Happy valley and countless other suburb sucking developments. See the pattern?

I say, turn i5 into into a surface street like Greeley. And widen i205 to 20 lanes….Right through Clackamas.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Why is McFarlane shilling for Lars Larson? From Seth’s own “about page” https://trimet.org/about/leadership.htm
I’ve never liked driving — so when I last moved, I made sure I lived close to good TriMet service. Now, Monday through Friday, I rely on TriMet 100%.

Hmmm….Well so you don’t love driving but yet…You are advocating for more driving?

OrigJF
Guest
OrigJF

Its all about planning for 2035 or 2040, not for today. The expected growth for near urban areas in the Pac-NW over the next 10-20 years is astounding. City/Regional planners see $$$ in potential revenue for their respective areas. Property taxes, income taxes, business taxes, tolls, etc… Today’s metrics are not what is driving the lobbying (pun intended). By demonstrating the transportation system is trying to reduce congestion is a way to attract more people to live here.

Unfortunately… the premise the planners are using is that people will continue to use vehicles at the same rate they are today. There is not much they can do to defend less vehicle trips in the future based on current models. All the traffic models show major growth the current roads cannot handle.

This doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with lobbying for more/bigger roads.

Christopher Sanderson
Guest
Christopher Sanderson

What if we all lived 1-2 miles in proximity to where we work? Sounds idealistic, I know. However, I am often in disbelief looking at all the vehicle traffic that migrates from the western burbs, Vancouver, and what not. If someone wants to drive from Vancouver to Portland everyday, and enjoy the tax benefits and cost of living that results from living there, then suffer the commute.

I was in South Florida, where my parents live, and their freeways and main thoroughfares are monstrosities several lanes wide. Traffic there is still daunting for those who use the roads there. Likewise, I do not think that expanding capacity is necessarily the answer. Again, that begs the question: what if we lived closer to where we work? Not only would we reduce traffic, but have more cohesive communities. Just my thoughts.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Wow, Neil M is not so bright.

I think his time leading TM is short. All these old baby boomers are proving to be more a roadblock to progress than republicans in this state. Get out of the way if you don’t want the radical change we need.

Rob
Guest
Rob

I don’t agree with the underlying mindset that improving freeways undermines the goal of improving bikeways. They’re not mutually exclusive. The applicable federal, state, and city agencies should focus on improving safety and efficiency for both. It’s a legitimate concern for Tri-Met as its buses sit in rush hour(s) traffic with the other 90+% of commuting Portlanders. I feel fortunate to bike commute and avoid that daily slog, but I’m not blind to the fact that it’s impractical for most folks – especially families with kids who can’t afford to live close-in. (That reality will only get worse.) I’m not suggesting the interstates should balloon to 10 lanes, but they should be widened with better, more efficient interchanges. I would also love to see more light rail lines, better bike routes, more greenways, and improved crosswalks for those run/walk commuters. All are valid.

Erleichda
Guest
Erleichda

Lots of great conversation; I have scattered thoughts but the thread is that we would like to change the need for the roads and not the roads. I agree.

1. Has anyone mentioned the changes to freight on our roads due to the loss of freight by ship at the Port of Portland? I haven’t researched the numbers lately.
2. Housing costs have pushed folks further out. That’s a fact, though I don’t know the numbers.
3. The tualatin mountain has very few ways across whether surface streets or highway. With such a divided population moving further West due to housing costs and perhaps fleeing PPS even surface streets are overwhelmed with cars now. With major employers growing outside of downtown, the ability to live in Portland as many of us used to is gone I’m afraid.
4. I agree that the density downtown has left families in a lurch. We have wanted to move downtown once our kids hit middle/high school but we would never afford it now. The interaction with where people are choosing for kids to go to school is a very important part of all the traffic, in addition to where they work.
5. Also, our culture of kid activities is problematic. Competitive sports teams, over involvement and the push for all activities to meet a lot to excel, to compete with others far away…these are our enemies at our house currently.

As this is a wonderful bike forum, few of the above issues are completely solved with biking unfortunately. I’d suggest strong public schools (aside: why is our airport so amazing and well funded but our schools aren’t??), support for living strucutres for families downtown and sane school activity culture as a large part of a solution. Biking would be much more viable in that world.

Last, I agree with Elon Musk that in the future…the solution is underground. I think Tesla does hyperloop tunnels for freight first, renewably powered.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Portland is one of the last large cities that has largely bucked the trend of expanding mobile car storage and car storage in general. If they fall to the demands of the vehicle lobby, everything falls.

Joe Sixpack
Guest
Joe Sixpack

Interesting conversation. The problem with MAX not having its own right of way and running on surface streets is it’s basically just a fancy, expensive bus on tracks and tied to power lines. It’s ridiculous that both I 5 and 405 are two lanes each direction through the city center. It’s not really feasible to widen them, but something needs to be done. I-5 in NOPO is 2 lanes + the HOV lane. Many of the commuters are from Vancouver and they refuse to pay for anything. If I’m going downtown I take TriMet, but anywhere else it’s just not feasible. I can drive to OHSU in 20 to 40(if there’s traffic) or I can take an hour to hour and a half on bus. Another problem with MAX is it takes forever to get through downtown because it stops every 2 blocks. Isn’t Orange line ridership below what they expected? Before we cause more congestion by taking lanes of traffic away from cars for MAX or bus that people MIGHT ride we should widen I5, 405, 84 or build alternate routes. Have you ever been to a city PDX’s size and seen its two main freeways only 2 lanes wide through the city center?

Joe Sixpack
Guest
Joe Sixpack

It’s obvious the traffic engineers in PDX are crazy. I was shocked when they rebuilt the sell wood bridge and didn’t add any lanes for cars. They built a whole new bridge and it’s still one lane each way. That’s just silly.