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Report: Portland transportation emissions ‘increasing dramatically’

Posted by on September 18th, 2019 at 4:57 pm

(Chart: City of Portland)

A 21-page white paper released today by the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability says carbon emissions from the transportation sector are “increasing dramatically” and are currently 8% over 1990 levels.

“The increase… is largely the result of more people moving to Portland and driving vehicles on our roads.”
— from the report

The news about emissions from cars, trucks and other gas-powered vehicles is bad across the board. The 3,216,000 metric tons of CO2 they released into our air is 14% above their lowest levels in 2012 and have gone up year-over-year for the past five years, growing faster than population growth over the same period.

According to Multnomah County 2017 Carbon Emissions and Trends (PDF) the transportation sector accounts for 42% of local emissions. The report looked at sources and trends in Multnomah County from 1990 to 2017. Overall, our emissions are 38% below 1990 levels despite significant population and job growth. However, after emissions tumbled from their peak in 2000 to their lowest levels in 2012, the report found a plateau since then.

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Charts from the report tell the story.

Other sectors analyzed, like residential and commercial buildings and factories, are still headed down. But the same can’t be said for transportation. Here’s an excerpt from the report’s “deep dive” into transportation emissions:

Transportation sector emissions come from use of transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel, propane, ethanol, biodiesel) and estimated vehicle miles travelled. These emissions are the result of driving vehicles powered by gasoline, diesel and propane, the transportation of goods, off road vehicles and equipment used for construction, and a transit system dominated by diesel buses. In recent years there have been more electric vehicles on the road, but because these vehicles are fueled with electricity – charged in people’s homes and businesses without metering – the emissions are allocated to the buildings sector.

Vehicle miles traveled in the county has remained relatively flat since 2010 and people buy less gas than they used to; but the report says the increase in transportation emissions, “is largely the result of more people moving to Portland and driving vehicles on our roads.”

The report’s language is refreshingly direct and serious. The first line reads, “We are in a climate crisis,” and goes on to explain that in order to reach the goals set out by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Portland must reduce local emissions by another 35% in the next 11 years. It’s “a daunting task,” the report reads, “Despite our successes, our emission reduction efforts clearly need to rapidly accelerate.”

This report comes out just two days before what’s expected to be a large-scale Climate Strike rally and demonstration set to begin at Portland City Hall on Friday.

Read the 21-page report here (PDF).

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

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58 Comments
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    No More Freeways PDX September 18, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    All the more reason to join the Youth Climate Strike this Friday! No More Freeways will be tabling on Friday afternoon.

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    Toby Keith September 18, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    This is what happens when you let developers run your city and welcome Californians with open arms. Wheeler has no spine.

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      Shimran George September 18, 2019 at 7:52 pm

      Why are transportation emissions being blamed on Californians? This correlation is specious at best, and at worst is outright xenophobic. It’s a slippery slope when you start generalizing groups of people, and statements like this are something straight out of our POTUS’ playbook.

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        Gilly September 18, 2019 at 8:32 pm

        It’s an old Portland thing. It was always the Californian’s.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty September 18, 2019 at 9:03 pm

          Even if they’re not from California.

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            q September 19, 2019 at 9:32 pm

            They at least are from the Californian states, if not actually California itself.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty September 19, 2019 at 10:19 pm

              Those are the states that are either south or east of us, plus Seattle.

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          bikeninja September 19, 2019 at 9:21 am

          True, check out prime time Henry Weinhard’s beer commercials from the 70’s. They are on you tube.

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          Dan A September 19, 2019 at 9:49 am

          Tom McCall: “I urge them to come and come many, many times to enjoy the beauty of Oregon. But I also ask them, for heaven’s sake, don’t move here to live.”

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        Gilly September 18, 2019 at 9:04 pm

        I would think any drop between 2008 and 2012 would be caused by the recession. I also wonder how much of the increase in transportation emissions is caused by the closure of the ports container terminal and those trucks getting stuck in Portland traffic

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        Toby Keith September 18, 2019 at 10:14 pm

        Its the locust mentality of that state. Consume without limit, then when all is destroyed move on to the next green pasture (Oregon). The only question is who is next?

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          Austin September 19, 2019 at 11:46 am

          Isn’t California kinda on the leading edge when it comes to climate laws?

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      John Lascurettes September 18, 2019 at 8:49 pm

      A significant percentage of Californians aren’t even Californians – people move there too. It is a destination state. People keep having babies. People keep coming to America. They’re all just trying to live somewhere they want to work and live. It’d be nice to solve the supremacy of the car – something the average Oregonian is also addicted to – without trying to lay the blame on some “other.” Whether people are driving in California or in Oregon, or in some red state, their emissions are affecting us all.

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        Toby Keith September 18, 2019 at 10:21 pm

        You mean people actually like high taxes, terrible cost of living, traffic, and homelessness? Here in Portland…oh…wait.

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          John Lascurettes September 18, 2019 at 10:29 pm

          It’s no different than in any major city on the west coast

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          Chris I September 19, 2019 at 7:22 am

          Why haven’t you moved yet? You clearly hate it here.

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        IanC September 19, 2019 at 1:07 pm

        …and we ain’t seen nothing yet.
        Where will people from Phoenix and LA go when there’s no more water in the Southwest, the aging electrical grid can’t provide abundant air conditioning, and they become climate refugees?

        Why, Woodburn and Wilsonville, of course!

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      Middle of The Road Guy September 19, 2019 at 7:58 am

      This is what happens when a Metropolitan area grows in population.

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        Fred September 19, 2019 at 1:25 pm

        You make it sound inevitable, Middle Guy. It’s not! We need new residents to adopt other modes and not just drive everywhere. We also need people who have lived here for a while to change their habits and adopt other modes. Everyone is going to need to cut back on driving to achieve carbon-reduction goals.

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          Middle of the Road Guy September 19, 2019 at 4:09 pm

          I do think it is inevitable.

          Human Nature got us into this situation, I don’t see Human Nature getting us out of it. Now, I am sure it feels good to think that your efforts are making a difference in the world’s 600th largest Metropolitan area…but just remember that all of the residents in all of those other areas need to do even more than you are. I just do not see that happening.

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      Racer X September 19, 2019 at 1:29 pm

      Talk about “Californians” invading your Portland neighborhood!…I know!, we need to barricade the north sides of Interstate and i205 Bridges to hold back the dispossessed Portlanders coming into Clark County, especially with their extra real estate equity. 😉

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    Lowell September 18, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    In related news, TriMet just put in an order for another 31 diesel busses, with 159 more approved for purchase at a later date.

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      MTW September 19, 2019 at 9:53 am

      I read that story in the Oregonian and huge disclaimer that I’m not a scientist, but from my perspective TriMet did the right thing. They are purchasing the diesel buses so they can run higher capacity articulated buses on Division. Those high capacity buses are not yet available with electric.

      So TriMet made the call to absorb the demand for high capacity buses on the Division transit corridor rather than push back the project (to a time when we hope the technology becomes commercially available.) Diesel buses are not ideal compared to electric, but high capacity diesel buses are better than cars. Let’s not make perfect the enemy of good.

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    nrdbomber September 18, 2019 at 8:16 pm

    Lowell
    In related news, TriMet just put in an order for another 31 diesel busses, with 159 more approved for purchase at a later date.Recommended 2

    So you own a company that makes articulated busses today that are battery powered and can run the entire Division route without losing charge and shutting down? C’mon, TriMet is continuing the search for a workable solution. TriMet has five battery-electric buses on hand and another eight on the way. They’ve also approved a contract that would convert many of the 40ft diesel busses in the fleet to battery-electric. These things take time and money …money often in the form of grants that have stipulations. Have a bit of patience.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty September 18, 2019 at 9:05 pm

      We had time a decade ago.

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      igor September 19, 2019 at 7:12 am

      How about trolley busses in the meantime?

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        soren September 19, 2019 at 9:58 am

        Why would anyone choose a proven technology that uses permanent infrastructure instead of a new one that is based on carbon intensive batteries that need to be replaced every 6-8 years, lacks range (requires more buses), and becomes unusable when heating and air conditioning demand is high?

        https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/01/electric-bus-battery-recharge-new-flyer-byd-proterra-beb/577954/

        Plus trolley bus wires emit electromagnetic radiation.

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          John Lascurettes September 20, 2019 at 10:37 am

          “Plus trolley bus wires emit electromagnetic radiation” — so does the sun. Using “EM radiation” (which includes visible light and infrared heat) as a scare phrase is like saying you don’t want Sodium Chloride in your diet.

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            John Lascurettes September 20, 2019 at 10:38 am

            … And yeah, I realize you were saying it, tongue firmly in cheek.

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              soren September 21, 2019 at 3:58 pm

              Fear of EM radiation from more street wires is one of the arguments I’ve heard supporting opposition to trolley buses

              Of course the batteries connected to powerful Electro Magnets in a BEV bus are, somehow, of no concern.

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                John Lascurettes September 22, 2019 at 12:22 am

                pre-cise-ly!

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                GlowBoy September 23, 2019 at 8:40 am

                Even if you are concerned about electromagnetic radiation from electric buses, it doesn’t come from the batteries. Batteries are DC and emit no radiation. The motors, controllers and (in the case of trolley buses) overhead wires do emit radiation because they are AC.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty September 23, 2019 at 5:52 pm

                I’m particularly concerned about the DC radiation emissions from batteries since we obviously don’t yet even know how to measure them.

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                John Lascurettes September 24, 2019 at 9:15 am

                Again. Heat is radiation. Visible light is radiation. Radio is radiation. Any form of energy in this universe is radiation. It’s a misnomer to use that a concern equal of that with high-energy radiation such as x-ray, gamma ray and so on. Trolly wires will be pumping out no more radiation into you than the power line on the pole just outside your house — and less harmful energy into you every time you walk around outside without sunscreen or a hat.

                I would worry more about where those battery busses are getting their rare-earth metals for energy storage and what do they do with them when they need to be disposed of?

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty September 24, 2019 at 9:45 am

                That sounds like something someone addled by DC battery radiation emissions would say.

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                John Lascurettes September 24, 2019 at 4:27 pm

                I do have this new huge scar on my head from skin cancer — thought it came from the sun. :p

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      maxD September 19, 2019 at 9:44 am

      the streetcar has potential to be much cleaner than an articulated bus (depending on the source of electricity). The initial cost is higher, but the lifetime costs are lower since the tracks last many times longer than roads.

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        Chris I September 19, 2019 at 10:07 am

        The Division corridor should be a MAX line. We already have a yard at Ruby Junction, and a short spur track south could feed a line connecting the Green Line along I-205 and outer-east Portland. Division has more than enough ROW to support a MAX line.

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    Tom September 18, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    A 35% reduction in emissions during commute time could be achieved if ~3 out of 5 current SOV commuters were incentivized to carpool with just one other person. They only need apply the appropriate tolling sticks and carrots to make it happen.

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    Fred September 19, 2019 at 5:50 am

    I lay the blame for this increase squarely on employers who are NOT located in downtown Portland and who are NOT doing enough to discourage SOV commuting. Many of these employers are doing NOTHING to incentivize cycling or transit, and continue to incentivize solo driving by deducting parking costs from pre-tax pay.

    Many downtown employers are doing a lot to incentivize cycling, carpooling, and transit – kudos to them. Look at what OHSU does, for example: valet cycle parking, incentive payments to cycle, transit passes, “Go By Bike,” etc. But if you are new in town and you get a job outside downtown, you’ll be driving alone. Look at the Nikes, Intels, and many others, and ask what they are doing to exacerbate the problem.

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      Chris I September 19, 2019 at 7:28 am

      I work in a factory out on the fringes of east Portland/Gresham, and our SOV commute rate is about 99%. And this is with the company providing: free transit passes, covered bike parking, showers, carpool parking spots, and bike lanes on site.

      Our biggest barriers to riding are:
      1. Employee decision to live on the fringes of the metro area. Most commutes are over 20 miles each way.
      2. Extremely dangerous roads around our plant. High-speed, limited bike infrastructure, sharing with large commercial vehicles.
      3. Cold, windy winter weather in east Portland

      Outside of charging for surface parking on site (where parking is not difficult), I’m not sure what the company can do. We need the cities (Gresham/Portland) to provide higher quality bike infrastructure. If the options aren’t viable, people aren’t going to use them.

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        Chris I September 19, 2019 at 7:30 am

        Oh, and regarding the site location: If you can find us a plot of land close to downtown where we can build over a million square feet of manufacturing space, including a chemical processing plant, please let me know.

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          Fred September 19, 2019 at 1:37 pm

          No one said you should move your plant to downtown Portland, Chris – don’t be silly. You asked what else your company can do to encourage people to bike. I’m afraid that part of the answer is: Don’t make it so easy and comfy for people to drive.

          I’m right there with you! I too work at a site on the fringes of Portland. There a few incentives to bike there, but there are acres and acres of parking. Employees pay a small fee to park, and the employer deducts that fee from employees’ pre-tax income, so it’s like they never earned the money in the first place. What a sweet deal! We all make driving so comfy and convenient and cheap, it’s no wonder employees drive drive drive. I’m like a broken record b/c I ask every new employee I meet how they are getting to work and 99% say they are driving alone.

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        Middle of The Road Guy September 19, 2019 at 8:01 am

        People are going to make decisions that are most convenient for them. Your coworkers are acting rationally, given the circumstances.

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      Middle of The Road Guy September 19, 2019 at 7:59 am

      Different constraints = different behaviors.

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      bikeninja September 19, 2019 at 9:30 am

      I am by no means a Nike fan, as I have not purchased or worn any Nike gear since the 70’s, but I live out in Nike Land and they do support a very large network of small buses ( employee only) to get their employees back and forth to Max stations from the main campus, or any of the satellite offices. These seem to run all day long and I see lots of people get on and off them at the Max stops from Millikan to Quatama. This is in addition to the fleets of orange bikes that are provided to workers. On the bad side this will probably only last until they finish the buildout of the mothership and its huge new multi-level parking garages, so it is probably just a stopgap until they commence with happy motoring full tilt boogie.

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        Dan September 19, 2019 at 10:59 am

        I have definitely been taken aback to see the traffic jam of SOVs leaving Nike at the end of the work day – always a surprise that there is not more muscle-powered transportation at a company like Nike. Good to hear that they have MAX shuttles, at least for the time being.

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    meh September 19, 2019 at 7:12 am

    Here’s a different take on the report.

    https://pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/438841-351304-carbon-emissions-down-38-per-person-in-multnomah-county

    The actual report says “Population Jobs Up, Emissions Down”

    Are we reading the same report, or is someone cherry picking the data to push an agenda.

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      Chris I September 19, 2019 at 7:32 am

      Total emissions vs. emissions per capita. Emissions per capita is an important measure (and frankly, a more accurate one), but this issue is serious. We aren’t doing enough, fast enough. The transportation sector has been lagging other areas in reductions, which is very relevant to a bike blog.

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        Middle of The Road Guy September 19, 2019 at 8:03 am

        It’s always going to be a population issue and that is not a palatable subject to bring up.

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          Resopmok September 20, 2019 at 6:52 am

          Neither is personal responsibility. I hear the fatalistic “well, changing my lifestyle won’t make a significant contribution, so I won’t bother” any time it’s suggested that people do more individually to help fight climate change. The problem is, of course, without such discussions we are as doomed as the fatalists believe. Though uncomfortable, we absolutely should be discussing population, the use of resources, and our individual lifestyles and how it affects livability on this finite space rock.

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    Justin G. September 19, 2019 at 8:03 am

    I haven’t had a chance to read the report yet, and I don’t know if this is even covered, but, with three major freeways running through the city (I-5, 405 (to HWY 30) and 205), I’m curious of the percentage of total emissions generated by non-local transportation passing through our city each and everyday. I mean, unless it’s late at night or really early in the morning, our traffic situation doesn’t allow semis to quickly make it through the city anymore. And, how could you possibly regulate that form of transportation unless you had federal clean fuels standards?

    Plus, with a lot of truck-related port activity being shifted to the Sea-Tac area since the fallout of 2016, those changes have had a dramatic impact on not only our traffic situation, but I would think our emissions levels as well.

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    Dave September 19, 2019 at 8:06 am

    How much transportation traffic consists of heavy trucks whose load is, for one reason or another, not in a ship container or a railroad car? Freight takes carbon to move too, and more so if it’s in a truck. How many more trucks are on the Interstates because of the half-speed operation of the port of Portland?

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    Carrie September 19, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Justin G.
    I haven’t had a chance to read the report yet, and I don’t know if this is even covered, but, with three major freeways running through the city (I-5, 405 (to HWY 30) and 205), I’m curious of the percentage of total emissions generated by non-local transportation passing through our city each and everyday. I mean, unless it’s late at night or really early in the morning, our traffic situation doesn’t allow semis to quickly make it through the city anymore.

    One thing I was astonished to learn when reading ODOT’s EA of the I-5 Rose Quarter expansion was that 75% of the vehicles in the RQ during high congestion periods were ‘local’ traffic. People just going from one end of Portland to another (I get that that can mean 10-15 miles, but still it’s not interstate through traffic). The data validates your question and lends even more urgency and justification for monetary support of local non-car transportation options to get this local transportation need ‘out of the way’ of interstate freight and car travel (which is the point of an Interstate). A personal car should NOT be the easiest/default choice to commute from SE Portland to N Portland daily.

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    Drew September 19, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    I developed asthma at age 59 after living in SE Portland for about 5 years. Regular doses of QVAR and albuterol kept me breathing in Portland for several years following that. Then I moved to Hood River. After a few months of living in the gorge, I found I did not need inhalers any more. Presently, I have not use an inhaler for 6 months. The air in Portland is much worse than it seems.

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      soren September 21, 2019 at 3:45 pm

      The air in Portland is among the worst in the nation and have been fore many decades.

      The fact that the Portland community freaked out over Bullseye glass when the tailpipe emissions in this region are far more damaging (e.g. ozone, particulates, VO) to our collective health was pure irony.

      We are subtracting years from our children’s lives due to our collective IDGAF consumerism.

      For example: A new study suggests that our collective driving is the equivalent of forcing children to smoke packs of cigarettes each day. The study found that a 3 ppb increase in ground ozone is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years when it comes to risk of lung disease. The Portland area has ground ozone levels of ~72 ppb (well above EPA limits). Lung damage caused by exposure to ozone is typically not reversible.

      https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/08/13/750581235/air-pollution-may-be-as-harmful-to-your-lungs-as-smoking-cigarettes-study-finds

      Portland area ground ozone levels:
      https://oeconline.org/diesel-and-air-quality/

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        rachel b September 24, 2019 at 12:57 pm

        I have asthma that was exacerbated by the air in SE as well, but it was indeed the diesel soot that did it to me. It collected on our windowsills–black soot from exhaust from greatly increased truck traffic on SE 26th (UP trucks, food and beverage supply trucks regularly going to and from SE Division). Commuter, tourist and other traffic also increased greatly during the time we lived there.

        What with the proximity of Brooklyn yard trains, too, the diesel pollution is so profound, I didn’t even give a thought to the Bullseye issue. The air in Portland is bad. Diesel pollution in Portland is very, very bad.

        https://multco.us/multnomah-county/news/county-air-low-heavy-metals-high-toxic-diesel-pollution-research-finds

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    MARK SMITH September 24, 2019 at 11:04 am

    How many car centric projects are on the table right now with p b o t? versus how many bike and pedestrian and bus projects are on the table right now?

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