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5 questions for Metro Council candidate Mary Peveto


Mary Peveto.
(Photo: Peveto for Metro)

It’s hard to know what the future holds, but we’re operating under the assumption that we’ll still have local elections on May 19th.

One of the hottest races in town is for a seat on Metro Council. District 5 is up for grabs because Councilor Sam Chase (who’s held the seat since 2013) is running for Portland City Council. In the past month or so we’ve shared posts from two other candidates in this race: Portland Planning Commissioner and transportation reform activist Chris Smith, and civic and nonprofit leader Cameron Whitten.

Today we’ll hear from Mary Peveto. She answered five of my questions.

First, some background. Peveto is known for her work in air quality activism. She founded and still leads Neighbors for Clean Air, a nonprofit that forced a big steel company in northwest Portland to install air cleaning equipment at their plant. Her group has also successfully lobbied the legislature to reduce diesel pollution. Peveto told me she has experience not only in going after big corporations, “But also ineffective and sometimes intransigent government agencies to hold them accountable for doing their jobs of protecting people.”

“I am a bike commuter. You are more likely to see me biking in heels and a skirt than spandex. It is my first choice in transportation options for working around the city”

Peveto also shared the key to her success has been building large, diverse coalitions. “This is critical to why I believe I am the strongest candidate in this race,” she said. “I have not just fought against things, I have fought for things.”

When it comes to endorsements, Peveto boasts an impressive list that includes: Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now The Street Trust) co-founder and former Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder; Dr. Vivek Shandas, Professor of Climate Adaptation, Portland State University; Oregon League of Conservation Voters; and others.

Here’s how she answered my questions:

What’s your relationship to cycling?

I am a bike commuter. You are more likely to see me biking in heels and a skirt than spandex. It is my first choice in transportation options for working around the city, though if it is raining hard, I prefer walking. After having had two street bikes stolen, I gave up ownership, and am now a very active Biketown user.

Many BikePortland readers are relatively familiar with Chris Smith given his years of activism on transportation issues. What can you share about your experience with transportation policy/projects and/or how your previous experience might inform your stance on it?

My work has intersected on transportation policy issues since 2014 when the organization I have led, Neighbors for Clean Air, became focused on reducing diesel particulate emissions. But my most significant understanding of regional transportation concerns and policy was through serving as Chair (2014-2018) of Multnomah County’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and Innovation (ACSI). Transportation in the region, heavily laden with freight movement and diesel particulate matter (pm) emissions, is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and the most deadly air contaminants. While NCA was directly advocating for stronger standards on diesel engines in Oregon, I was deeply engaged in making policy recommendations to the Multnomah County Board in regards to the Climate Action Plan. The 2017 Climate Action Plan Updates included significant details to address the fact that transportation of goods and people accounts for nearly 40 percent of Multnomah County carbon emissions. The only way to achieve the 2050 goal of reducing local carbon emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels, significant transportation-related reductions must be achieved through coordinated land use policies and the development of infrastructure for low-carbon transportation. This was a particularly useful lens to understand regional transportation needs, since county assessments could better see the inequities. The plan outlined 38 recommendations to create neighborhoods where 80 percent of Portland and Multnomah County residents can easily walk or bike to meet all basic daily, non-work needs and have safe pedestrian or bicycle access to transit, as well as to move freight more efficiently through the region.

What should be the top regional transportation priority and how would you create urgency around it?

“Metro should consider taking over Trimet. Having an unelected board of political appointees in charge of the most critical component of public infrastructure leads to a staff driven rather than user driven system.”

There are so many things that strong transportation policy intersects with, but my driving passion and priority is the climate and improved air quality. To achieve carbon-reduction goals, we need to reduce daily vehicle miles of travel per person in the region, which is going to require the percent of commute trips by walking, biking, and transit to likely need to more than double by 2030.

This means ensuring that Trimet is creating a world class regional transportation that offers commuters a real choice and alternative to driving. Safety, security, frequency, and convenience should be the driving factors of transit investments and the roads buses run on. Bus only lanes, safe crossings, well-lit bus stops, and ensuring all investments have significant returns on ridership increases, etc, would make transit the smart choice for all travelers.

Metro should taking over Trimet. Having an unelected board of political appointees in charge of the most critical component of public infrastructure leads to a staff driven rather than user driven system.

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Do you think Metro has found the right mix of projects in the 2020 transportation investment measure?

“The real problem is driving.”

Not on the climate and air quality. This is a crucial opportunity and a significant impetus for why I am running for Metro Council. Transportation is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in the region. Metro’s charter has consistently contained a clear mandate to protect air quality, the environment, and the livability of neighborhoods. Yet, decades of neglect of our transportation infrastructure, with the exception of continually expanding highway capacity, has entrapped most people in their cars and has resulted in increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) and air pollution.

Greenhouse gas emissions are growing in the Portland region and will get much worse. With the “emergency declarations” of Governor Kate Brown and Mayor Ted Wheeler, you would think there are actual plans to fight against climate change. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The real problem is driving. Transportation-related emissions are up 6% for 2019, and 14% over the last five years. Gasoline vehicles are the largest source of carbon emissions in the region. Driving increases overall carbon emissions every year here.

We need to anticipate population growth adding to driving. Over the next 20 years, the four-county region, including Clark County, is projected to gain 561,000 people. If transit stalls at its current share of 4.2% of trips and cycling at 0.7%, new car and truck trips in the region will total three million more daily trips by 2040, according to Metro’s formula.

This bond measure takes strong steps to increase safety and choice, but more must be done. The measure fails to reduce carbon emissions with its current mix of projects, and just like in previous iterations of, there is no way to measure its efficacy on reducing either carbon or other harmful emissions related to transportation activity. Fully funding the Youth Pass program, completing bicycle networks, reallocating street space to non-car uses like bike lanes, sidewalks and bus-only lanes, as well as policy changes, including a shift from expensive freeway expansion to full tolling of the regional freeways should be priorities of this measure. The measure should also include establishing a robust air monitoring network. By tracking greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution at a finer grain scale, we can enhance existing data and clearly enumerate the contribution of transportation and avoid disproportionate impacts and inequities.

Do you think the SW Corridor project deserves the investment it’s slated to receive? Or are there other things we should fund instead of that?

“I am really concerned about the cost of the SW Corridor project… it will bring only 7,000 new commuters a day (both ways) into the transit system.”

I am really concerned about the cost of the SW Corridor project, especially considering that two of the last big expansions in the last decade, the Orange line to Milwaukie and the Green line to Clackamas Town Center, did not increase system ridership, and I don’t believe we can afford any transit investments that don’t increase the use of public transportation options. Again, to meet our dual goals of congestion reduction and greenhouse gas reductions, we need to offer people strong choices to not use their cars. Thus, any Trimet investment should be held to a metric on how it will increase ridership. The current estimated cost of $2.8 billion for the SW Corridor project, with $950,000,000 coming from the Metro measure, is disproportionate to its contribution to congestion reduction and climate goals. This is easily seen by looking at the analysis: it will serve 37,000 daily trips, at least 23,000 of which are currently served by TriMet buses. This means that it will bring only 7,000 new commuters a day (both ways) into the transit system. The two main sources of transit traffic in that stretch are OHSU and Portland Community College, so I don’t understand why it isn’t being designed to directly serve commuters to and from these locations.

Learn more at PevetoforMetro.com. You can see all our 2020 election coverage here.

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