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Activists will speak out against GM’s support of freeway expansions at TriMet board meeting

Posted by on March 17th, 2017 at 10:35 am

Jessica Engelman of BikeLoudPDX.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The thought of our regional public transit agency advocating for urban freeway expansions — including one in Portland’s central city — does not sit well with many transportation reform activists.

After TriMet GM Neil McFarlane told an audience last month that “It would be nice to make some progress on” three freeway “bottlenecks” in order to “keep our region moving,” volunteers with BikeLoudPDX decided it was time to speak out.

The plucky group is planning to attend the upcoming TriMet board meeting. They want to tell the people who appointed McFarlane that some Portlanders don’t think he should promote a billion dollars of regional transportation funds just to make driving easier.

“It is completely inappropriate for the head of TriMet to advocate for scarce transportation funds to be directed to highway widening,” wrote BikeLoudPDX leader Jessica Engelman in an email about the event. That email has led to an official event being promoted by the group. Here’s more from the event description:

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TriMet’s General Manager, Neil McFarlane, went on record in February advocating for state transportation funding to prioritize four big projects, three of which are interstate-widening projects (I-5 & I-84 at Rose Quarter, I-217, and I-205) and would cost nearly one billion dollars.

It is completely inappropriate for the head of TriMet to advocate for scarce state transportation funds to be directed to highway widening.

As the General Manager of TriMet is appointed by its board, BikeLoudPDX members and our allies are showing up en-masse to the next TriMet board meeting (which also includes 45 minutes for public testimony) to testify that highway widening is generally bad policy, that we want TriMet to advocate for active transportation funding, and that we want a TriMet General Manager who shares these values.”

Unlike past freeway expansion proposals, the powerful political snowball that has formed behind these three widening projects hasn’t faced any organized opposition. The only pushback so far has come from an unlikely place: the Portland Planning Commission. A proposal from Commissioner Chris Smith to remove the I-5/Rose Quarter expansion project from the Transportation System Plan (which would have put the City of Portland in the awkward position of having to explain to regional leaders why it shouldn’t be a priority — or have to put it back into the TSP and give the public an opportunity to debate the issue at City Council) was narrowly voted down 4-6 earlier this month.

The TriMet board meeting is scheduled for this coming Wednesday (3/22) at 9:00 am. BikeLoud encourages people to sign up and speak during the public testimony portion of the meeting (first 45 minutes).

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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rick
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rick

Just say NO !

I wear many hats
Guest
I wear many hats

Freeway expansion creates ghettos, shantytowns, displaces people, and does NOTHING to reduce congestion. It just throws tax money at construction and property development interests. It all gets mashed up when people show up to fill empty lanes.

maccoinnich
Guest

Earlier this week PBOT staff presented to the Planning and Sustainability Commission with updates on two projects that would affect transit: Growing Transit Communities Plan, and the Enhanced Transit Corridors Plan. The presentation is available here:

http://efiles.portlandoregon.gov/Record/10711685/File/Document

The first project is about access to transit, and will make bike / pedestrian improvements around existing TriMet lines. As it gets easier for people to access transit the ridership should grow, and help justify the upgrade of these lines to frequent service.

The second project will look at existing frequent service lines, and determine what kind of small scale capital improvements could be made to speed them up and generally improve service. Examples of what they’ll be looking at include signal priority, queue jumps, bus lanes, and level boarding.

These are the sort of projects TriMet should be championing, not freeway expansions where they don’t even run any buses.

Matthew in Portsmouth
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Matthew in Portsmouth

I left work in Clackamas last night around 5 p.m., driving. It took me over an hour to get home to N Portland. If I had left at 6.30 p.m. it would have taken 45 minutes tops. The worst part of the trip is dealing with the damaged road surface on I-5. Quite frankly, I think we need do not need to expand I-5, but rather maintain it. If people want to avoid bottlenecks, they need change the timing of their travel, or just suck it up. I listen to a lot of audio books during my commute. It would have been quicker for me to cycle home, but that’s another story.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I haven’t looked at the proposal closely enough to have an opinion. My experience with PDX traffic is that it’s never that bad — including during rush hour — except along a few specific routes and choke points. I do believe the I-5 mixing in that area is hopeless and don’t know how much difference the proposed improvements would make.

I don’t believe opposing projects like this on principle will get anywhere. Way more people like cars than bikes so that battle gets lost before it’s started. Rather, it’s best to think what would really help people given what we have now and can likely achieve. The track record for cities that have tried to pave their way out of their traffic problems is poor and loosening traffic one place tends to shifts the problem elsewhere — as bad as that area is, it’s hard to imagine this will suddenly make cars start elsewhere on I-5, the Banfield, 205, or anyplace else.

fourknees
Guest
fourknees

I noticed two things this week while in LA.
1. I was in a few places they have recently widened highways and nothing has improved congestion. This is a widely accepted by everyone I discussed with who are very pro car.

2. I also noticed that the “pay to drive” express lanes in several spots did seem to be moving. (I’m sure this varies) This continues to support the types of congestion pricing I’ve read about.

More public education is needed on the lack of ROI on these widening projects and how pay to drive is more effective. Most people will agree that adding an extra lane or two is a good idea. Most also agree they’d like tax dollars to be used efficiently too. Perspectives change on these projects when they know the outcome is no better than today and your govt has wasted a ton of your money to do it that could have been put toward something else.

The opposition in this case needs to be a better job of marketing and educating the public to build support. I know it’s been said before, just not sure of how to effectively get the message out.

Dave
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Dave

Hello, Kitty
Some people would argue they have a right to affordable mobility in any neighborhood they want.
I think this view ignores economic reality, and pursuing it would destroy the city.
Recommended 0

Funny, our country’s appetite for pursuing ill-advised military adventures seems to be without any regard for what we can afford. If we want a decent USA fifty years from now, better vote for any politician who has the guts to say we need to shrink our military to about the size of Luxembourg’s.

9watts
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9watts

Did anyone else read GM as General Motors?

Stephen Keller
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Stephen Keller

Road rationing would reduce congestion. Car with even numbers on their plate can drive on even dates, odd numbers on odd dates; vanity plates without numbers are only allowed out on the weekends. (Yes, I’m kidding, a little.)

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

It will be interesting to learn more about Neil McFarlane’s (TRIMET GM) thinking on this topic…if it is pure foolishness/ misspoken, pragmatism or a real strategy to get HOV/ HOT lanes (for regional express transit) added to Portland’s highway network.

Justin M
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Justin M

I can’t imagine how anybody who actually drives on these freeways would be against widening them. I leave to go to class three hours early on days when i drive just so i won’t have to spend an hour in traffic on the 5. my drive back home after class is 20 minutes. I would love to bike every day but it’s too scary riding home on Barbur at 9pm when it’s raining. I would love to be able to take transit, but I would have to change busses and I am not willing to wait out in the cold rain four times to get to school and back. I bike when I can. I love biking. I really don’t care for driving, but it’s the only thing that works for me this time of year. What kind of people who actually drive these freeways regularly would be against widening? Probably nobody. Those who are against widening probably never drive on the 5 or they’re bike-supremacists who are “car free”. well good for you all, but that’s not the reality that MOST people have to live in.

Justin M
Guest
Justin M

Also, I did not choose another way to meet my mobility needs. The congestion is not my motivator for cycling.

dan
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dan

Hello, Kitty
Probably never. They don’t have that for roads, either.
Recommended 0

Yeah, they have to plunder it from the landlubbers over at ODOT. If only it were that easy…

john prentice
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john prentice

What I find strange about this whole thread is that a great discussion of problems with highway expansion skips over the claim that it is “inappropriate” (BikeLoud) for the head of TriMet to “advocate” (Maus) for a couple of highway projects.

He gave a speech. He said there are four big infrastructure projects being considered in the region, and three of them would, in his opinion, deal with highway bottlenecks.

Why is this “advocacy”? Why is this “inappropriate”? He is certainly well positioned to have an informed opinion on these projects, and it is certainly possible that his opinion about the virtues of these projects differs from BikeLoud activists.

Totally OK to try to educate him, but protest him? As if a requirement of being the head of TriMet is to oppose all highways? Should he also oppose bike infrastructure, since that also takes funding away from mass transit? Or perhaps a head of TriMet needs to be anti car, even though it’s likely that a ton of the ridership drives a car to a satellite parking lot and then takes Max or a bus into their job.

Smokey Bear
Guest
Smokey Bear

Seattle used to have the same problem as Portland in the downtown area. I-5 was only 2 or 3 lanes wide. Then, they added lanes that switched direction depending on time of day and it helped congestion a lot. I did feel uneasy driving thru it because some of it was under ground, under buildings, etc – what if the big one hit – ouch.

Andrew Margeson
Guest
Andrew Margeson

Like much of the Portland area, congestion is terrible and getting worse everyday where I live (West Linn). One of the chief problems is that local streets are used as overflow routes for I 205 between Exits 3 and 8, the area where widening is proposed. Hwy 43 is terribly congested by commuter traffic, making it nearly impassable during rush hours, even for those of us who only travel locally. Unfortunately, these commuters have no options because Max is inaccessible and bus service is pathetic. This commuter traffic dumps into Portland, compounding its traffic problems.

I understand and accept the arguments against freeway widening, but this five mile segment on I 205 seems to have ROW available and is a bottleneck compared to the rest of the freeway. Whether it would actually increase traffic capacity or just move the bottleneck to the I 5 intersection is an empirical question that can be readily studied with models. It won’t do much for our community anyway, unless something could be devised to prevent surface streets from being used for overflow. As for Hwy. 43, there is no possibility of widening and improved mass transit and bike lanes would make a huge difference. According to local government officials, TriMet won’t improve service because of low ridership, but, of course, low ridership results from poor service. Catch 22. TriMet is part of the problem and it’s a shame they don’t focus on that.

When I talk about congestion with people from around suburban Portland one of the constants I always hear is that taking Max is impossible because the Park and Rides are always full and there is no alternative way to access light rail. I know this is true from personal experience. Why doesn’t that concern TriMet?

Congestion pricing is an extremely effective and efficient way to utilize fixed resources like highways more efficiently, but it always dies for political reasons. It is a horrible shame that ODOT is championing an absolutely terrible alternative based on vehicle miles travelled regardless of congestion. Talk about a way to discourage efficient energy use: charge an Escalade and a Civic the same price to use the highway and deemphasize gas taxes. There should be high prices during periods of congestion and no prices when excess capacity is available. That’s how traffic gets shifted, employers are incented to change work schedules, etc. The proceeds could be used to expand mass transit and subsidize transit fares for low income riders.

TheCat
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TheCat

Justin M
Yes. http://www.laloyolan.com/news/traffic-improved-by-metro-s-expensive-freeway-widening-project/article_da18eb18-9197-55fe-be92-71e69557d7df.html
Recommended 0

I just read that article. The title doesn’t match the text, which is primarily about why the high cost overruns and delays resulted in lawsuits and poor conditions for drivers. At the end, there’s a single sentence citing a 30 minute time savings at 3pm and a 5 minute time savings at 5pm – for occupants of the new carpool lane only.

The project isn’t even complete yet. All the studies show those initial time savings will be lost as induced demand causes even more congestion than before. Come back in five years and I have no doubt we’ll find out that there are, in fact, no time savings gained.

RobotGirl
Guest
RobotGirl

9watts
Tigard to Powell. I’d look into Trimet. I take the #96 to Wilsonville from downtown after getting off the #14. In Wilsonville I get on the free circulator down there and then hop on the 1x to the bus mall in downtown Salem. Walk across the river and get on the West Salem Connector. I know, quite a series of buses, but it does work, is fantastically cheap, and provides door to door service very reliably.
Trimet runs to Tigard and to Powell Blvd. Have you tried to line up a schedule, tried it out? You might be surprised.
Recommended 3

I used to all that sort of stuff until I had a family. Now time is more of a factor and school for the kiddo is an extra destination that needs to be factored in. The ability to live and work and have school at various age levels all within easy reach and with travel times that work for all family members doesn’t always happen. So yes, I sit on I-5 way more than I’d like and feel that Lloyd/RQ bottleneck could be helped AND other measures taken to improve both mobility options and the possibility of home/work/school/services being in closer proximity for folks. Not sure why it is presented as an either or and why we must make it hard for people? I’d rather raise the cost of parking downtown… currently, it’s hard to justify bus fare for a family vs the cost of SmartPark .

Justin M
Guest
Justin M

It’s a (should have said) poorly-written article to be sure, but the data it points to is interesting. Also, considering the millions of people who have moved to LA since the project began, the fact that congestion hasn’t gotten worse is also worth pointing out.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

The thing which really gets my goat is that most of the congestion about the Rose Quarter bottleneck is due to elective events happening at the arena, nothing more. Blazers games starting at 7pm on a weekday is just evil to the majority of us who do not attend nor wish to.

If they are willing to spend $500M to ease congestion largely to move people into the Rose Garden spending a few hundred million less and beefing up TriMet service, a new dedicated transit bridge and shuttle busses would make more sense. But no, some ODOT, MAGA guys in Salem want everyone in their cages to get to the games without looking at poor people.

Jim Labbe
Subscriber
Jim Labbe

Jonathan… can you post the location of the Trimet Board Meeting next Wednesday in the main body of the article?

pdxbusman
Subscriber

Read it and weep TriMet. Don’t waste a dime on widening. Figure out a better way.

http://cityobservatory.org/reducing-congestion-katy-didnt/

“It’s yet another classic example of the problem of induced demand: adding more freeway capacity in urban areas just generates additional driving, longer trips and more sprawl; and new lanes are jammed to capacity almost as soon as they’re open. Induced demand is now so well-established in the literature that economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner call it “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion.”

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

How many billions for these futile tweaks?

How many billions less or a simple crossing at Lloyd Center? Just one?

Matthew in Portsmouth
Guest
Matthew in Portsmouth

rick
On what bike route ?
Recommended 4

Springwater Trail, N Williams, N Ainsworth, N Willamette.

Paul Atkinson
Guest
Paul Atkinson

9watts
“Portland isn’t Amsterdam.”
Interesting style of conversation you are exhibiting. We here tend to look at places like Amsterdam or Copenhagen or other European cities and appreciate some of the arrangements that seem to work there as far as the overall transportation network is concerned, people getting around by means other than a car, not owning a car, more money in people’s pockets, etc. So let me ask you this:
– would it be so terrible if we tried to make Portland a bit more like Amsterdam?
– if the answer is no, then why the histrionics?
Recommended 6

It’s also good to remember, when making that argument, that Amsterdam wasn’t always like Amsterdam.

They became that way, and I believe we can follow a similar path if we choose. We may or may not choose that, but it’s not impossible on the face of it just because they went first. Literally the opposite.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Hello, Kitty
I will simplify the argument and state that I see roads as a public good (but am not shocked that you do not). I am not opposed to levying drivers more heavily to pay for their upkeep, but I do not see that as a moral argument for inherent fairness.
I share your dislike for our current transportation system, but that is a question quite separate from how to pay for the one we have.
Recommended 2

I am absolute not arguing for people paying for transportation proportional to their use of it. I’m just pointing out that drivers don’t (even though many mistakenly think that they do), so it’s particularly absurd to expect cyclists to.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Hello, Kitty
We’re really luck to have MAX at the airport… when you visit a city that has no decent airport transit, it really underscores the point.
Recommended 0

This is true. Portland has an airport that is accessible by both transit and bike. Many cities have neither.

I can and do use both modes when I arrive or depart PDX, and I’m grateful to have both options at my MSP home as well.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

longgone
Live in a place where people move to without impunity and deal with the outcome. When are you people going to get it. I suggest that you quit pissing up a tree and ride yer friggin’ bike. Guess what? Butt loads of people need freeways. Hell, just today after my bike commute home today, I used no less than two interstates and a major arterial road along with countless side streets in the metro to get shit done for myself. Sorry.
Recommended 3

I can sort of you imagie you writing this as Lars Larson or Glen Beck is playing in the background…And almost spitting at the screen. I get it….And was once like you. Here is the deal….Are there two lanes east to west and North to South for a freeway? Great. The conditions for freight and military movement have been met. See? Wasn’t that easy?

Moving on…..

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Chris I
Yep, Seattle has definitely solved their congestion problems!
Recommended 2

They did. Adding density and adding transit. Although WSDOT, seeking to remain relevent, still adds road capacity like a drunken sailor.

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

I wrote the board recommending installation of 2nd max line over the river taking the place of 1 or more of the freeway projects. Currently when their is a switch problem or other issue at Steel bridge, all the Max system is affected.

Also suggested GM of Trimet should advocate for public transportation funding since that is part of the job!