Opinion: Oregon transportation leaders are driving us into oblivion

Posted by on September 29th, 2021 at 2:49 pm

I-5 through the Rose Quarter.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

— Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

— Transportation has killed 415 people in Oregon so far this year, up over 20% from 2020.

— Oregonians spend more of their income on transportation each year than food, and more than any other expense besides housing.

— How we move around has dramatic impacts on our communities and our social and emotional health.

For all these reasons (and more) we must have responsible leadership from transportation agency leaders and policymakers. Unfortunately we currently have neither.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is full of great people who do important work. But the leadership is literally driving us into oblivion because they refuse to embrace and implement new tools for managing growth and transportation demand. In 2021, they continue to believe adding more driving capacity to our system is the best answer to our problems. Their allegiance to the status quo and to special interests from the construction trades, freight industry, and automobile lobby who profit from it — is very bad for Oregon.

And don’t tell me how they’re working on a tolling program or how they have a Climate Office or how they allocated a record amount of funding to bicycling and pedestrian programs. None of that matters as long as they continue to spend billions to widen freeways.

And ODOT’s bosses at the Oregon Transportation Commission are not coming to save us. They’ve become so enamored with the agency they’re supposed to oversee they’ve become unable — and/or unwilling — to provide leadership.

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The two most powerful transportation leaders in Oregon, OTC Chair Bob Van Brocklin and Vice-Chair Alando Simpson, were given a platform to speak on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud show earlier this week. Host Dave Miller asked them why the I-5 Rose Quarter project cost estimate ballooned from $450 million in 2017 (when ODOT was trying to convince lawmakers to fund it), to $800 million in 2020.

Van Brocklin responded by shirking responsibility, saying that the 2017 estimate happened, “Before I was on the commission.” He acknowledged “a few failures” in that initial estimate and then he said ODOT’s mistake was that they didn’t include the cost of inflation.

“How can you not include inflation in something like this? It just seems like a flabbergasting mistake!” host Miller reacted.

“Well it’s a good question,” Van Brocklin answered. “But I wasn’t on the commission, I wasn’t involved… I don’t think the commission was really engaged at all in that.”

ODOT and the OTC (formerly called the Highway Commission) were definitely engaged in the construction of I-5 in the 1960s when the project tore the heart out of Portland’s Black community in lower Albina. But OTC members want to shy away from responsibility for that as well.

At their September 9th meeting OTC commissioners learned the I-5 highway covers that all parties have agreed on will boost the budget to about $1.2 billion.

While ODOT and the commissioners celebrated the adoption of the “Hybrid 3” cover designs as a major step forward for the project (because momentum is like air for megaprojects – they die without it), they don’t want to pay for it. When ODOT staff presented the cover design at a meeting in mid-August, they singled it out as a “premium” added to the project.

ODOT wants it both ways: They want to trumpet the progress of a cover agreement to give the beleaguered project much-needed inertia; but distance themselves from it at the same time.

A slide (below) of the new cost estimate from project manager Megan Channell was listed as “Hybrid 3,” as if the cover itself was to blame for the expense of the project, and not the freeway lanes or myriad other elements.

Executive Steering Committee member and Oregon Trucking Association President Jana Jarvis heard the dog whistles and made it clear truckers and car drivers shouldn’t to pay for the covers.

So did OTC Commissioner Sharon Smith, who said at their September 9th meeting, “This [building I-5 through a Black neighborhood] was a decision made not solely by ODOT, but by the entire community. City of Portland, the neighborhoods, the whole community. And so when we look at a finance plan to embark on restorative justice, it seems to me that ODOT shouldn’t be the only person, the only agency at the table, helping to right that wrong.”

Also at that meeting, Chair Van Brocklin referred to the new cost estimate as “the Hybrid 3 price”.

That type of language was heard loud and clear by Eric Fruits, vice president of research at right-wing think tank Cascade Policy Institute, who wrote in an op-ed in the Portland Tribune September 23rd, “With the caps demanded by the Albina groups, the project’s cost will rise from its initial price tag.”

To be clear, despite these folks’ attempts to marginalize the covers, there is no project without them. It’s not just “Albina groups” that demand them, it’s every notable elected official in the Portland region, Governor Kate Brown, and two members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation.

This narrative to blame the cost of this project on the highway covers is a blatant attempt to divert attention from the (rightly) controversial freeway widening — an element of the project that somehow manages to avoid the same scrutiny and skepticism from ODOT and OTC commissioners.

Now that several OTC members have gone on the offensive to question whether $400 million on highway covers is the best way to get restorative justice for lower Albina residents, it creates a very revealing contrast to their silence on whether $400 million for more freeway lanes is the best way to fix transportation through the Rose Quarter.

On that last point, at least one OTC commissioner is beginning to have doubts. At that same September 9th meeting where she tried to distance ODOT from the ills of I-5, Commissioner Smith spoke with rare candor:

“Since 2017, a lot of things have changed in our country and our state, and in our communities. We have climate change impacts increasing, we have highway safety getting worse, we have the need for resiliency in our system, we have racial equity concerns, and more emphasis and understanding on restorative justice. And I just wonder if we were to ask the question of the legislature or the state or the citizens: Do you want to spend $1.5 billion on a Rose Quarter project? Is that the best use of our funds right now? And I don’t know if the answer would be yes.

… I just put that out there because at some level, I’m starting to question the viability.

So are we Commissioner Smith! Please step up and lead us down a different path. The fix for the Rose Quarter should not include more money for the problem (too many cars). We can use congestion pricing and investment in bicycling, walking and transit to reduce demand and free up capacity on the freeway for truck drivers and other essential trips. We can pay for the cover and other elements without widening the freeway.

As David Zipper wrote in a viral Bloomberg City Lab article yesterday (just one sentence after referring to the Rose Quarter project), “If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then these transportation agencies seem certifiably nuts.”

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

Sorry, but the blame does not fall primarily on the “leaders” who you identify. As Pogo explained, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

For years, we have demanded the right to travel unimpeded or at least with as little inconvenience as we can manage. We demand everything we buy be provided at minimum cost (even free) and quickly. We expect those things and we have become accustomed to them. Besides that, we are so pressured by the events of life (work, family obligations, etc) that we seek to minimize the time spent during travel. This results in many of us using personal autos by ourselves for our trips (faster, more convenient, and entirely flexible timing). Furthermore, to reduce travel time, we use tools like Waze regardless of how that impacts others like residents of streets subject to cut-through traffic.

I know I’m in the minority on this site, but I support the Rose Quarter project because without it we will have more diversion from I-5 to arterial streets such as MLK, which in turn will force diversion to Interstate and Vancouver, which pushes traffic to local streets including designated greenways.

For five years I commuted regularly by bike to downtown Vancouver. I could tell when there was a crash on I-5 because traffic diverted to streets where I was riding on bike lanes, like Interstate. And driver behavior was awful as they sought to make up for their lost time by speeding and using bike lanes to jump the queues and turn onto residential streets.

There are some aspects of the Rose Quarter project that I don’t particularly care for, but on the whole I think it will provide more positive benefits than the negatives. The caps will provide some options for development; there will be less diversion to streets not intended for through traffic; there will be some improvements to connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists. Let the flames begin….

BTW, my solution for reducing travel, energy consumption, and carbon emissions starts with increasing the gas tax or a carbon tax.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Nail on head.

Half the country is in shambles because they have to put a piece of cloth over their face to stop the spread of a deadly disease. The pandemic laid bare that humans just simply aren’t smart enough or collaborative enough to avoid something like climate change or traffic violence. We are just too self-centered and focused on our immediate gratification.

I also support the Rose Quarter. I don’t think it was actually improve through traffic, congestion, or cut through drivers but I do think buildable caps are a plus and we have to face the reality that ODOT is hell bent on using them money on freeway expansion. I would rather they spend it on a high-cost, low-utility project like the Rose Quarter than expanding suburban and rural highways outside of Portland.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

What are your feelings on the CRC project?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I agree.

“If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then these transportation agencies seem certifiably nuts.”

Substitute “voters” for “transportation agencies.”

I might say “Oregon voters”, but the reality is that we are all of us nationwide guilty of voting for the same local and state clowns every election.

squareman
Subscriber

These are not my clowns that I voted for. This is unfortunately the circus I was born into.

 
Guest
 

I support the RQ project too. I don’t think you’re as in the minority as you might think from the crowd here. It’s not perfect by any means (I wish it fully tunneled the freeway instead of just capping it), but it will certainly be better than the status quo.

Everything you said in your comment above is spot on, and you articulated it much better than I could. Diversion to local streets is something that the “induced demand” crowd always fails to consider. And I’d like the more livable MLK, Vancouver, Chavez, 33rd, etc, which this project will give due to traffic staying on the freeway.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Diversion to local streets is something that the “induced demand” crowd always fails to consider

Diversion to local streets is just a policy choice that cities make. If you have surface streets that can double for interstates during rush hour, you’ve designed your surface streets wrong.

The solution to the problem is making it so local surface streets aren’t attractive to cut through traffic. It’s not even a problem just for interstates. There is a perfectly good motorized route in my neighborhood in St. Johns for folks traveling from 30 west to I-5 or other parts of NoPo. We still get cut through traffic on local streets because motorists want to be going 40+ mph, not the 20 -25 mph you’d get on St. Louis or Lombard even though those streets don’t back-up in any meaningful way.

Of course, motorist hate that so the DOTS wont do it.. You can never satiate motorists.

drs
Guest
drs

Yes, cut through traffic is out of control in St Johns and many East Portland neighborhoods. Widening I-5 will not address this systemic problem that can better fixed by physical diverters than it can by capacity enhancement of parallel routes. Oh, and enforcement of traffic laws would also help, but that’s not a popular solution for many.

 
Guest
 

I agree. We need to calm the local streets and prevent cut-through traffic like you mention, but at the same time as also doing projects like the RQ project. I’d love to see streets like 7th and even Vancouver turned into carfree corridors with heavy diversion, but to do this we need to make sure the freeway is the route that they’ll take to do this rather than other surface streets like MLK or Interstate.

SD
Guest
SD

The overall impact of induced demand for cars anywhere in the system is the expansion of single occupancy vehicle users. The increased pool of SOVs will spill over to surface streets and will be much worse than pre-Rose Quarter expansion.

maxD
Guest
maxD

thank you! Don’t want traffic diversion on side streets? Then do not support freeway widening! For one it will take years to build, in that time many drivers will become habituated to surface street routes. For two, more freeway lanes=more drivers=more diversion. If you don’t want diversion, help stop the rose quarter expansion and the massive CRC bridge and widening project. Help convince leaders to limit work to seismic upgrades. Support congestion pricing, tolling, SOV lanes, improved transit, an actual safe and connected bike network (instead of the scattered collection of bike segments we currently have)

JaredO
Guest
JaredO

“My solution [carbon tax]” is something people have talked about for 50 years but the politics kill every time. Tell us how you would get it passed when professional environmentalists and the economics profession have all backed it forever. The increased gas tax has happened only marginally (a bit in Oregon, but not federally since 1993, meaning it’s shrunk due to inflation.)

So if you have a policy “solution” but no way to get it adopted, you don’t have a solution. You have a theoretical talking point.

Thinking in term of economics, the right question is not if the Rose Quarter has net benefits – but whether it’s the best thing to do with the money (i.e. what’s the project with the highest net benefits).

Is dumping $1.2 BILLION (or more) into that project that has the highest net benefits? Make that case.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Single payer health care is just a talking point?

soren
Guest
soren

Just as increasing road capacity reduces the cost of travel and thus increases demand, the reverse is also observed – decreasing road capacity increases the cost of travel, so demand is reduced. This observation, for which there is much empirical evidence, has been called disappearing traffic,[7] also traffic evaporation or traffic suppression, or, more generally, dissuaded demand. So the closure of a road or reduction in its capacity (e.g. reducing the number of available lanes) will result in the adjustment of traveler behavior to compensate – for example, people might stop making particular trips, condense multiple trips into one, re-time their trips to a less congested time, or switch to public transport, carpooling, walking, bicycling or smaller motor vehicles less affected by road diets, such as motorcycles, depending upon the values of those trips or of the schedule delay they experience.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand#Reduced_demand_(the_inverse_effect)

Depave I5 and designate I205 as I5.

maxD
Guest
maxD

love this! How do we get Kate Brown, Tina Kotek, Metro and Portland City Council to read this?

Watts
Guest
Watts

This narrative to blame the cost of this project on the highway covers is a blatant attempt to divert attention from the (rightly) controversial freeway widening — an element of the project that somehow manages to avoid the same scrutiny and skepticism from ODOT and OTC commissioners.

Of course the widening “avoids skepticism” from ODOT and OTC — it’s the fundamental purpose of the project, and is the task they were given by the legislature who set aside money for this purpose. Without the widening there would be no project at all.

The caps, which have proven to be a surprisingly effective distraction tactic, are just a cost added to the project that do nothing to further its purpose. If the project moves forward (which it probably will because of the purchased “community” support from groups like Albina Vision that is providing political cover to local politicians), the caps will be value-engineered out or into something puny and unrecognizable and totally lame (if they aren’t lame already). Don’t get distracted by the caps; they’re going to be cheap and awful. They’re not going to repair the city. They’re going to suck and be a total waste of resources.

The key to stopping this project is to get Albina Vision to oppose it, which will be hard because money.

Alex
Guest
Alex

I hate to say “read the bill” but you have it exactly backwards from the text of HB2017. The bill specifically requests the OTC to report back on “design, cost analysis and construction option packages for the Interstate 5 Rose Quarter Project.” At no point does HB2017 define the project or any purpose for the project. The lids had long been a part of the project by that point — ODOT’s 2012 I-5 Broadway Weidler Interchange Improvements Report recommends lids as part of the “aim of the overall project… to integrate land use, urban design, and transportation strategies, policies and plans… that balance, complement, enhance, protect, respect, revitalize, support, and sustain economic, environmental, and social interests.”

It’s disingenuous to suggest that lids and mitigation of the impact of the highway haven’t been a part of this project since it began to be widely discussed, and Jonathan is right to question the lack of attention to highway-widening elements of the project (e.g. the ever-expanding shoulders).

Watts
Guest
Watts

It’s disingenuous to suggest that lids and mitigation of the impact of the highway haven’t been a part of this project since it began to be widely discussed

I didn’t claim that; the lids are going to be built as part of the construction process, and the original proposal (as I understand it) was to leave them in place. What I did (and do) claim is that from ODOT’s perspective, the lids are an extra; the project works just as well without them. The project will not work, however, without the widening.

For project opponents, the covers create a vulnerability, building support by promising to improve conditions at street level. I contend that promise will prove to be hollow, and the benefits will be much less that folks imagine.

Stephan
Guest
Stephan

Wonderful post, Jonathan! How can we make pressure on OTC? If there is an email contact, I think it would be great to add it to the article, so that people can write them and tell them how displeased they are with the project.

Aaron - No More Freeways
Guest

you can always email the Oregon Transportation Commissioners here: OTCAdmin@odot.state.or.us

Let's Active
Guest
Let's Active

Couple of things (not opinion-related) that could be corrected in the story: 1. I-5 was built in the 1960s not the 1970s (the Marquam Bridge was the last section to open in 1966) and 2. you have Project Director Megan Channell’s name spelled wrong (both her first and last name).

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Portland has not built a new highway since 1982. It has poured billions into streetcars and bike lanes to no avail. Mr Maus has got it all backwards, this widening project is doing something different. It is giving up on a failed 40 year strategy to make driving so miserable that people will get out of their cars.

drs
Guest
drs

Portland has never seriously made an attempt to invest in a proper rapid transit system or the scale of transit oriented development and density that would be needed to allow the region to move away from car dependency. The max system, in its current state of development simply doesn’t have the capacity, speed or frequency to do the job that the freeways accomplish. But that doesn’t mean that we should pour money into a system (freeways) that will completely undermine regional planning, climate goals and mode share goals. It means we need to do a better job building a proper transit system.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Portland has never seriously made an attempt to invest in a proper rapid transit system or the scale of transit oriented development and density that would be needed to allow the region to move away from car dependency.

I’m a huge opponent of the ‘take something over nothing’ approach to bike and ped infrastructure partly because lay people look at gutter lanes and PBOTs “experimental” layouts and think that’s what cyclist actually want and PBOT is catering to us over motorists. We spend our social capital but get nothing useful in return

Same with metro. Metro builds slow commuter rail that no one uses outside of a couple hours on weekdays and car lobbyist point to it and say it’s evidence people wont take transit.

drs
Guest
drs

Good points. I’ve often argued the converse, that something is better than nothing. But I suppose that comes from my own selfish point of view, as I’ll bike anywhere and in any street, regardless of whether there’s a bike lane. But I prefer to at least have a shoulder or a gutter lane to squeeze by traffic stopped at intersections. But those lanes are only appealing to people like me.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

How many lanes could you add to Portland’s freeways for the cost of a “proper” transit system?

And in this age of electric cars, using climate change as an excuse to not improve highways is a red herring.

drs
Guest
drs

Portland’s electrical generation mix varies in terms of source depending on the time of year, but at best, you’re looking at sixty percent renewable, and it goes down from there. If you electrify the whole vehicle fleet, you are going to need to more than double generation capacity. That means a lot more fossil fuel plants (because there’s only so much wind energy you can get out of the gorge, solar isn’t viable in this region on a base load replacement scaler, and we don’t have the next generation transmission infrastructure we’d need to get energy from Arizona or New Mexico, even if the surplus generation capacity existed in those states to power four million single occupancy vehicles). All those electric cars don’t solve the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels in a way that gets Portland anywhere close to carbon neutral. Better than internal combustion engines? Sure. But it doesn’t solve anything. Plus those extra vehicle lanes are made of concrete or asphalt. Those materials are responsible for tons of carbon emissions.

Rapid transit, whether it’s brt or rail, produces a fraction of the carbon emissions per vmt. And clustering high density housing near transit reduces the need to build other roads that feed into the freeway system.

Electric cars are a red herring.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

Comment of the week!

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Actually, because of all the empty seats, buses and trains produce more carbon emissions per passenger mile.

drs
Guest
drs

Only if they are empty

drs
Guest
drs

“… U.S. bus transit, which has about a quarter
(28%) of its seats occupied on average, emits an estimated 33% lower greenhouse gas emissions per
passenger mile than the average U.S. single occupancy vehicle…”

https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/docs/PublicTransportationsRoleInRespondingToClimateChange2010.pdf

Buses perform better than SOVs with only a tiny percentage of the seats occupied. Increase ridership beyond that, and buses are much, much better.

Light rail performs better than buses on an emissions per passenger mile measure.

Now if you are comparing diesel buses to electric cars, you need to get to very high levels of ridership to produce fewer emissions per mile. But an electric bus or an electric train vs an electric car, it’ll be the same or better than the diesel bus vs. the ICE car.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

If you are expanding transit service, then total seat occupancy is going to go down because of cannibalization of existing service.

drs
Guest
drs

I guess you are assuming that there is only a fixed number of people that are willing to take transit and that demand is infinitely elastic. I’d argue that if you improve transit service, more people would use it because it would compete better with SOVs as a transportation option.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Expanding transit service by a given amount is almost certainly going to lead to ridership expand by a lesser amount or even decline, as happened in Los Angeles.

soren
Guest
soren

There are ~1.6 passengers per cage trip in the USA so according to your argument the average cage has lower per-capita emissions than a transit bus.

drs
Guest
drs

Yes, that’s the average passenger car occupancy rate for all trips nationwide. And the average bus occupancy rate for all trips on the TriMet system is 25%. However, I believe that at rush hour, the average car occupancy rate is closer to 1 and the average bus occupancy rate is closer to 100%. So if your goal is to increase passenger throughput at times of peak demand, you’d get way more bang for your buck and have a much lower carbon impact of you invest in transit instead of increasing SOV capacity.

If the freeway widening project is about something other than addressing peak capacity, it’s hard to justify the expenditure, as there is more than adequate capacity on I-5 at all but the busiest times.

The real low hanging fruit for TriMet and the region is investing in hybrids. The mpg efficiency of the fleet could be boosted by 25-50% if they would just purchase the same technology that most large American transit agencies are already operating.

soren
Guest
soren

IMO, anything other than electrification as fast as possible is just more bargaining with our horrific ecocidal reality.

PS: Trolley buses are proven technology so we don’t have to rely only on BEVs (or hybrids)

drs
Guest
drs

I think that makes sense. Electrify the vehicle fleet as quickly as possible. But we need to grow grid and renewable generation capacity at the same time and use that energy as efficiently as possible.

I’m not anti EV in any way. I’m just against making regional planning decisions that lock us into sprawl and encourage more wasteful practices.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Rapid transit, whether it’s brt or rail, produces a fraction of the carbon emissions per vmt

Citation needed. It’s a few years old at this point, but I read a study that showed the energy efficiency of TriMet was roughly equivalent to all their passengers driving compact single occupancy vehicles. (This is a net win, but less than is generally supposed.)

I don’t doubt that, theoretically, transit could be more efficient, if all the vehicles were full, but there are a lot of large buses driving around empty in the off-peak periods. But expanding the system would mean new routes with even lower ridership (because the good routes have already been built), so efficiency will fall further. Widespread adoption of electric cars will make TriMet look even worse by comparison (though electric buses might help a bit).

TriMet’s current model of a network of large, fixed-route, fixed-schedule vehicles is outdated and inefficient, and, I believe, will not remain viable for much longer (if it even is today).

drs
Guest
drs

Well here you go:
https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/docs/PublicTransportationsRoleInRespondingToClimateChange2010.pdf
As of eleven years ago, a quarter full diesel bus produced 33% fewer carbon emissions per passenger mile compared to the average SOV. And rail had lower emissions per passenger mile than low occupancy buses.

Watts
Guest
Watts

The figure you cited and the one I cited are different things, and could both be right. Average SOV vs. compact SOV; 33% full vs. whatever TriMet’s actual “fill-rate” is (it’s got to be far less than 33% on average); average system energy consumption vs. TriMet’s actual energy consumption.

But even if we accept that TriMet saves 33% on our urban transportation emissions for those who use it, at what cost? How much are we spending to save a ton of CO2 emitted? It’s an interesting question I might take a stab at answering; most of the numbers should be available.

To be clear, I’m quite pro-transit, and TriMet serves me well for the trips I make (though I’ve only used it once since the beginning of covid because… ick. I far prefer biking.)

I just don’t think the current model has a future, and I strongly suspect (but don’t know) that it’s not a very cost-efficient way to reduce emissions. I also don’t think loud smelly buses add much to the livability of the city (unless you’re riding on one), but that will probably improve as soon as TriMet abandons diesel.

JimK
Guest

Strangely even New York city buses are not a lot more efficient that Trimet – about 12% better. http://www.debunkingportland.com/Top10Bus.html
(note that data comes from TRANSPORTATION ENERGY DATA BOOK: EDITION 27–2008)

drs
Guest
drs

Your point? TriMet buses produce fewer emissions per passenger mile than SOVs do.

JimK
Guest

My point is that average new cars are more fuel efficient & thus have lower CO2 emissions than Trimet buses. That means from a public policy view point, the recommendation should be to use a car instead of using Trimet. That provides much faster commutes, much wider choice of jobs in a given commute time compared to Trimet. The actual data shows that transit commuters take about twice as long as cars and transit can only reach 7.85 percent of jobs in 45 minutes. http://www.debunkingportland.com/transit_and_jobs.html

drs
Guest
drs

Well, the fuel economy of passenger cars has increased by about 25% in the last decade, going from around 21 mpg to 25.5 mpg. But buses with average passenger loads still beat SOVs, because they were 33% better to start with. TriMet buses still outcompete the average SOV, even though the car fleet is getting more efficient. But you also have to realize that for whatever reason, TriMet has chosen not to modernize their bus fleet with hybrids. If the did that, it wouldn’t even be close. Buses would be much more efficient per passenger mile. And keep in mind that trains were already much better than cars and they probably still beat anything on the road other than a Prius with four passengers driving in uncongested conditions well below the speed limit.

Also, more and more Americans are choosing large trucks and SUVs, to the point that American car manufacturers are barely even building cars anymore. This is making the overall private vehicle fleet less fuel efficient, even as the numbers for cars are getting better.

And only about 10% of Americans carpool when commuting (https://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/articles/2017-09-18/what-new-census-data-reveal-about-american-commuting-patterns) which means that 90% of the cars on the road during peak congestion contain only one person.

JimK
Guest

Buses use MORE energy per passenger-mile than modern cars. Most residents of high density near transit still use their cars- that’s why you see parked cars all around those projects. Also, high density costs much more than single family houses.

The Transportation Energy Data Book shows cars use 3,144 BTU per- passenger-mile and “Transit Buses” use 4,071, 29% more. Data from http://cta.ornl . gov/data/tedb34/Edition34_Chapter02.pdf
Table 2.14. (Also see table 2.15)

drs
Guest
drs

Well, they are assuming a load factor of ~1.6 people per car and less than 10 people per bus. The only time that the Portland interstate highway system is congested enough that you could reasonably argue that it should be widened to increase capacity is at peak commuter hours. And during those times, buses typically are filled to the gills (or at least they were before 2020) and car occupancy rates are much closer to 1. Also, the US private vehicle fleet is shifting rapidly from sedans to large trucks and SUVs. If you compare fuel consumption of a nearly full bus to a large SUV or truck with a single passenger, the bus will come out way better per passenger mile.

High density housing costs more per unit, but low density housing consumes more space and requires longer commute distances, leading to more congestion, more vmt, and more emissions per person. The reason that Portland’s freeways are congested is that there are hundreds of thousands of people that live in low density housing in suburban and exurban communities that drive to and through Portland to get to places of employment.

Watts
Guest
Watts

It might be worth a moment to consider why people choose to live far enough out a they must drive to get into the city. One reason, of course, is housing cost. Another is probably the desire for a yard, a garden, or other things that are getting more difficult to find in the city. Ironically, our current housing policies are making those things harder to find in the city, which will drive at least some people to move further out. I could argue both sides of this issue, but I don’t believe that density without nuance will solve the problem.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

These people want to take away our freedom to live in houses with yards. They want to put us back into Victorian slums

soren
Guest
soren

Nah…I want to demolish all of your single occupancy homes (including so called duplexes) and replace them with the modern and sustainable housing type that is illegal everywhere in the USA.

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La liberté sans égalité est impossible!

Watts
Guest
Watts

I’m not sure what about the pictured buildings is “illegal everywhere in the US”. Chicago had a number of buildings like this for public housing, and tore them down and replaced them with low rises and because they became such cesspools.

maxD
Guest
maxD

excellent rebuttal! You can also add that large, heavy electric cars contribute a lot of pollution from tires and eventually E-waste and come with a giant carbon footprint. Also, there is not anywhere near enough room to widen our freeways to the extent that would require, nor to store all of those cars. Electric SOV’s cannot be the solution, they are 100% not sustainable- they are way too big and inefficient.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

“Also, there is not anywhere near enough room to widen our freeways to the extent that would require, nor to store all of those cars”

Yeah there is. Widening Portland’s highways to 8 lanes, even with the cost of eminent domain, would be less expensive than building a public transit system that could be considered remotely convenient.

soren
Guest
soren

This anti-electrification and anti-renewable energy rhetoric is contrary to the climate science consensus.

What the IPCC AR5 says about EVs and grid capacity:

The numbers of EVs in any country are unlikely to reach levels that significantly affect national electricity demand for at least one to two decades, during which time electricity systems could be at least partially decarbonized and modified to accommodate many EVs

https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter8.pdf

And a recent US-specific report from the DOE:

Although these issues vary geographically and are use-case specific, they do not undermine the overarching conclusion that EVs at Scale will not pose significantly greater challenges than past evolutions of the U.S. electric power system.

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/12/f69/GITT%20ISATT%20EVs%20at%20Scale%20Grid%20Summary%20Report%20FINAL%20Nov2019.pdf

drs
Guest
drs

The comment that I was responding to essentially was saying: ‘all the cars on the widened freeway will be electric, so who cares if freeway capacity is increased?’

I think that’s a good argument for expanding the freeway system in a couple of decades, when everyone is driving around in electrified cars that are running on renewables, if that is what in fact happens. It’s not a good argument for expanding I-5 in the near term.

Especially considering that the ipcc doesn’t think that the energy demand from evs will even be SIGNIFICANT for ten to twenty years. Let’s not put the cart before the horse. Transportation fuels account for 40% of local carbon emissions. We aren’t electrifying the fleet tomorrow or even five years from now.

soren
Guest
soren

‘all the cars on the widened freeway will be electric, so who cares if freeway capacity is increased?’

I agree this is a terrible argument against doing the things we should be doing now (e.g. cajole people out of their cages with a mix of disincentives and infra improvements). However, the above argument is inevitably going to be increasingly persuasive to the motoring majority (see Norway for example of our future). IMO, rhetoric that focuses on other negative externalities* is already equally, if not more, persuasive than the blanket EVs suck argument.

*Both ICE and EV cages maim/kill people, spew toxic particulate pollution, make our cities less livable, and are a fundamentally unequal transportation mode)

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

“make our cities less livable, and are a fundamentally unequal transportation mode)”

Cars make getting around cities much easier which makes them more livable and if you want to resolve unequal access to automobiles, you can stop subsidizing transit and instead give cars to those who can’t afford them.

PS
Guest
PS

The same Norway that has become what it is by sucking oil out of the north sea for decades? Norway is like the boomer country, we got ours, now we’re going to change the rules of the game.

soren
Guest
soren

It’s always darkly amusing to see USAnians point the finger at other regions when they live in, by far, the largest oil/gas producer/consumer in the world.

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That being said, my comment about Norway was obviously not meant to be an endorsement; rather it was a statement about the likely direction of USanian transportation over the next 20-40 years (e.g. lots of electric trucks and SUVS).

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

How many lanes could you add to Portland’s freeways for the cost of a “proper” transit system?

Where do you think you’re going to but these extra lanes? I5 is not expanding regardless of the money. I-205 probably isn’t either

And in this age of electric cars, using climate change as an excuse to not improve highways is a red herring.

And in this age of climate change, using electric cars as an excuse to continue to build carbon intensive infrastructure is a red herring.

Electric cars aren’t going to save us from climate change. Anyone who believes that is either naive, lying, or an electric car salesperson.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

“I5 is not expanding regardless of the money.”
According to the article above it is.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

According to the article above it is.

Whatever you need to tell yourself! Have fun sitting in gridlock!

Watts
Guest
Watts

Electric cars aren’t going to save us from climate change.

Electric cars are an essential part of the solution, but you are right — we’ll need to take many other measures as well.

soren
Guest
soren

And other than electric SUVs/Trucks and renewable energy just every one of those other major mitigation pathways are grossly unpopular in the USA.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Yes, to me the street cars and MAX have been a failure (I’ve ridden the MAX and buses for years). The buses aren’t much better but I think that’s where TriMet should be focusing their energy. Of course they won’t as most people see building overpriced choo choo trains are job producers, buying a bunch of buses and hiring drivers isn’t seen the same way.
The token bike lanes that have been built won’t get people out of their cars as long as they don’t feel safe. I being one of them.
If PDOT would actually build safe bike/walking areas on streets (not just a strip of paint) I wonder if people might be more inclined to bike. I might.
Yes, I’ve seen the city’s attempt for the past 40 years trying to get people out of their cars by “inconveinceing” them. That’s not going to work. You have to have viable alternatives and token bike lanes and an inadequate bus system isn’t going to do it for folks.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but what PDOT/TriMet have been doing isn’t enough and the statis-quo isn’t working. I know radical thought just isn’t in the current mindset of the political leadership in the metro area.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Of course they won’t as most people see building overpriced choo choo trains are job producers, buying a bunch of buses and hiring drivers isn’t seen the same way.

TriMet can’t even meet the need for service right now and they are wanting to use the biggest CapEx in their history to build a choo choo through low density suburbs to be commuter rail.

It really is awful that TriMet has no interest in BRT. I guess BRT isn’t how you get the next promotion.

SD
Guest
SD

Portland hasn’t been seriously building bike infrastructure or pursuing alternatives to car and truck driving for 40 years. Despite its reputation, compare to other successful cities world wide it has barely started. How much has Portland or Oregon really committed? Look at the budget splits.

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

Relative to its modal share, transit is massively overfunded.

SD
Guest
SD

I have never seen numbers that support that. In fact, it is the exact opposite when it comes to bike and pedestrian investment. When you include the obvious externalities of single occupancy car travel, it is much worse.

WR
Guest
WR

Kernals, you live in MA. Please confine your pro-freeway trolling to the places you already troll on Reddit. Thank you.

Alex
Guest
Alex

I5 really needs to GTFO of Portland

kernals12
Guest
kernals12

If you did that, you’d see much more traffic on surface streets, causing noise, pollution, and accidents.

SD
Guest
SD

Car related deaths remained relatively unchanged with reduced car traffic from the pandemic, which raises serious doubts that more car traffic = more deaths.
Noise and pollution from cars will continue to increase on all streets as long as we are building more car infrastructure.
The best case scenario for the immediate future is to build protected bike infrastructure, build dedicated bus lanes to shorten transit times and increase transit occupancy, and to decrease surface street car capacity to the extent that it is more appealing to bike, walk or bus than to take unnecessary car trips.
This is not radical. This has been successfully demonstrated in many cities, however, cities that are not dominated by cars are conceptually foreign to people in the US and it escapes our imagination.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

For the pass-through traffic (California to Washington), if drivers think there’s likely to be a lot of congestion on the way due to a local disaster such as a flood or earthquake, construction, traffic, crashes, or simply the lack of infrastructure, they’ll often try to find alternatives such as flying, train, or using alternative routes.

While all US communities are constitutionally obliged to allow inter-state commerce and travel, no community is obliged to have a massive Interstate roadway running through it.

damiene
Subscriber
damiene

If you did that, you’d see much more traffic on surface streets, causing noise, pollution, and accidents.

This, of course, is only true if we allow it to be. Alternatively, we could build out infrastructure such that cut-through traffic in neighborhood streets is so slow and inconvenient that only diehards would bother, preferably at 20 MPH tops. A point where Waze responds with “Your quickest route will not be in a car”.

Watts
Guest
Watts

The downside of this is, of course, that residents don’t want to live in a city like that (even if a small minority would). Making it harder for folks to get around for the sake of making it harder to get around is not a winning strategy.

damiene
Subscriber
damiene

Making it harder for folks to get around for the sake of making it harder to get around is not a winning strategy.

True. On the other hand, making it harder for one transportation mode for the sake of making all other modes easier, reducing road deaths, pollution, overall increasing “livability”, etc – that is a much stronger strategy.

Watts
Guest
Watts

making it harder for one transportation mode for the sake of making all other modes easier

This sounds great in the abstract, but I don’t think even a sizable minority would support the concrete changes you want to make on any sort of widespread basis. You can frame it how you like, but most people see driving as their best way to get around the city, and making their mobility harder and/or more expensive is unlikely to be persuasive on the basis of pollution and safety alone. (For the record, I have a car but hardly ever drive in the city; my personal perspective is strongly pro-bike-riding, and I would be happy if we could greatly reduce driving.)

I think on a practical level, the way to make progress on this issue is in small increments, each small enough that they don’t attract a ton of attention (for example, taking a traffic lane on Naito and giving it to riders and walkers).

damiene
Subscriber
damiene

This sounds great in the abstract, but I don’t think even a sizable minority would support the concrete changes you want to make on any sort of widespread basis. You can frame it how you like, but most people see driving as their best way to get around the city, and making their mobility harder and/or more expensive is unlikely to be persuasive on the basis of pollution and safety alone.

Absolutely true. The majority is entirely uninterested in making the changes necessary for a sustainable future. I go into these discussions with that as a baseline. Today’s comfort and convenience is front and center – tomorrow’s be damned.

I think on a practical level, the way to make progress on this issue is in small increments, each small enough that they don’t attract a ton of attention (for example, taking a traffic lane on Naito and giving it to riders and walkers).

This is probably also true, and why we’re hosed. Deck chairs on the Titanic, and all that.

soren
Guest
soren

Unlike the campaign against Governor Brown’s slip lanes, this would reduce existing emissions.