“A transit system that takes four times as long to get to someplace is not a viable or equitable answer.”
— Jeffrey Dalin, mayor of Cornelius
As we reported yesterday, Metro is lining up transportation projects they hope will catch the eye of federal grant programs that have vastly increased in size thanks to President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
When an agency like Metro reveals a prioritized list like that, the choices are not random. They lean on a predetermined set of values and desired outcomes that have been vetted and adopted in our Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), the federally required list of projects and policy directions that sets a 25-year vision for our system. Metro is currently working on an RTP update and staff brought a draft of the Values and Outcomes section to a meeting of their Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) meeting Thursday morning.
Surprising absolutely no one, Racial Equity and Climate Leadership were on top of a list of five focus areas.
As the meeting turned to discussion from JPACT members, the voice of Cornelius Mayor Jeffrey Dalin stuck with me. Cornelius is a very small city (population 13,000) in Washington County that clings onto Tualatin-Valley Highway between Hillsboro and Forest Grove.
Mayor Dalin spoke up to remind others in the (Zoom) room that “equity” and “climate leadership” looks different beyond the big urban centers. Dalin wanted them to know what equity means from the perspective of his constituents.
As you read his comment below, keep in mind who was hearing it. Dalin spoke right after PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, and TriMet General Manager Sam Desue was also in attendance:
“… I have a 53 to 55% Latino community. We have a longer than average commute and we have a lower than average income. Most households are multi-family or multi-generational. Most of those households who continue to be embattled by ‘climate-smart’, ‘climate-friendly’ [policies] are actually putting in third parking spaces at their house because they have three, four, five or six cars because we do not have another way to get around and do the things we need to do.
… A transit system that takes four times as long to get to someplace is not a viable or equitable answer. If my 4,600 workers that have to leave the city every day, to go somewhere else to work, have to take two to three hours to get to Tualatin, Tigard, Sherwood, and over an hour to get to Portland, maybe more, that’s not equitable… that’s why these folks drive is because there’s no other way. They have multiple jobs. They have to get from one job to another quickly, multiple times.
And I also question the point where we’re so significantly dividing our communities that the only acceptable answer for people of economic challenge is on a bus or on the train. Yet if you have affluence and the ability, you get to have a car and you get to have choices about where you go. That really, really concerns me that we think that’s the only answer. So I think we need to ask those questions and take an equity lens and really look at the answers were proposing. And make sure that we’re not just further driving the divide between our people by the dollar.
Our community doesn’t have the same opportunities that you do in inner-city. When I go to my buddy’s house in Portland, it is a few blocks to a bus. We have one. And it comes every 15 minutes. And a lot of times that bus is already full with people leaving Forest Grove, so they can’t even get on the bus. You can get comments from my councillors about waiting, two and three buses to get on. And lord forbid you’re using a bike to complete your commute. The two spots on the front of the bus are already full for two, three or four buses. So now your making that person wait an hour in the rain in the winter, to bike commute their last mile.
So those are some of the concerns. I think we need to be open and honest about this. I’ve been so upset several times in these meetings by us not talking about the real issues; but I do really want to echo Commissioner Hardesty’s point: BIPOC is not the same everywhere. We do not have the same brush. We’re all in the same boat? No, we’re not even in the same boat, even though we’re all in the same giant storm.
We need to take them into consideration and understand how these RTP [Regional Transportation Plan] plans will affect them. I don’t see anybody from Fairview or Troutdale on here talking, but they’re not dissimilar in their issues. Right? The the outer edges of our [region] are suffering from this very differently.
The one last point I would make… I think we would be remiss not to get out of Portland and have listening sessions with the entire [Metro Council] and commission out in the areas like we’ve done in the past where we went to the Clackamas County Center and listened to the comments from the folks in their community at the point of activity, not just online or sampling a few people here and there. I think we need to get out of downtown and see all the other parts and listen to those comments.
Perspective is so vital in these conversations. I’m glad Mayor Dalin shared this one.
So well conveyed. Jonathan, do you have a link to the recording to the meeting and know when in the meeting Mayor Dalin made this remark?
You’ll find the recording in the line with materials for the 2/17/22 JPACT meeting.
I’m really glad to see someone in a leadership position sharing this perspective. It is certainly one I am glad to hear.
But this issue is basically the same one we face inside the city. Why would I take a 50 min bus trip when it takes 15 min by car? Bc I’m a transit nerd and masochist, but I don’t expect the average person to make the same decision, and I _certainly_ don’t expect someone who is less fortunate than I am to make the same decision.
It reminds me of a great piece by Jarrett Walker about viewing transit as a way to unlock opportunities for community members:
He’s not wrong about a lot of that. For instance, I don’t often plan a bus segment into a trip with my bike (never with the trike for obvious reasons) unless I’m comfortable simply riding that section if the bus comes by with the spots full.
On the other hand, a part of me really wants those folks to have the opportunity my GF and I had of living without the car in order not to have it drag them down (financially).
When we got together in 1989 I was making $4.17/hr at Fred Meyer as a courtesy clerk and she was making $4.00/hr at Montgomery Wards. I don’t believe either of us had full time. If we had needed a car, there’s no way we could have managed.
Over the years our financial situation improved and we stayed car free – as a result of which we actually have a shot at a decent retirement because all the money that would have had to go into cars has gone into our 401(k)’s (boosted by being pre-tax).
A huge part of our early investment in our retirement was because we had the huge good fortune of not having to have a car.
Back then rent in downtown was affordable (under $1/sq foot when we moved into Goose Hollow for a 650sq ft 1 bedroom). When it became too much (hitting $2/sq foot about 9 years ago for a worn, older, small apt) we moved to Beaverton and our commutes jumped. Then my employer moved out to Clackamas and my commute jumped again. Only my commitment to being car free and desire to retire as soon as possible (out of the US) has made it bearable for the last 27months. Sometimes it’s not.
If I had to work multiple jobs like so many under-employed/under-paid folks out there, I couldn’t do it and would have to get a motor vehicle of some description.
Mayor Dalin makes a great argument for EVs funded by large and progressive tax increases on wealthier people (e.g. many who live in twee, 15 minute, “sidewalk-ballet” PDX neighborhoods):
1. Free or very deeply subsidized EV car-share.
2. Free or very deeply-subsidized EVs for lower-income households.
3. Free or very deeply-subsidized neighborhood charging stations for lower-income people who rent.
4. Free or very deeply-subsidized decentralized renewable generation for lower-income households/communities.
5. Free or very deeply-subsidized EV chargers for lower-income households.
6. Free or very deeply-subsidized park and ride spaces* for car share and lower-income EVs near light-rail/BRT hubs (surrounding the inner metro area).
7. Mandatory installation of EV chargers in all 5+ unit multifamily housing and a legal “right to install chargers” for all tenants living in 1-4 unit rental housing.
That sounds like a really good way to bring walking, biking, and transit trip modal share down to zero. Oh, and it will give ODOT justification for additional highway widening projects, too.
EVs make sense in rural/exurban communities that are unlikely to ever see major investment in rapid and frequent mass transit and have barriers to active transportation (distance and density). Some communities will never be twee 15 minute neighborhoods with “sidewalk ballets” and in those communities EVs are the likeliest path towards eventual decarbonization of transportation.
So your EV benefits would only go to poor people in rural/exurban communities? Poor people living in the city of Portland wouldn’t get them, even though the tax source is primarily wealthy people living in the city? That seems unfair, and would be a massive transfer of wealth from cities.
If someone were to spend 15 minutes reading the IPCC AR5 summary statement (LOL, right.) they would understand that a far larger wealth transfer from the USA to low-income nations is essential to rapid decarbonization.
Soren, you need to start a blog called EV Portland. 😉
If it were up to me both ICE and EV cages would be banned in central metro areas for all who can use other options.
I’ll leave a, hopefully, explanatory anecdote for some of my EV devil’s advocacy:
A local person who I follow online, in part, because they tend to post/repost about the dangers of lithium mining and “renewable energy extractivism”** also posted about being stranded when someone stole the catalytic converter of their RAV4 SUV.
**Renewable energy extractivism is a real concern but the ongoing extractivism of Fordist capitalism is far worse (I’m thinking of Goya’s disasters of war as I write this).
Fortunately it’s not up to you, Commissar Soren.
I very much agree.
The USAnian system is a crypto-authoritarian oligarchy so individuals have no real voice in government. In fact, I deregistered my vote several years ago because I’m no longer interested in supporting “electoral theater”.
Very telling that a small town mayor in Washington County understands the real issues that seem to elude most urban politicians. Then again, Portland city government and Metro seem to mostly care only for wealthy people that can afford high rise condos and even higher priced close-in established neighborhoods.
Lazy, Portland Heights is a close-in, wealthy neighborhood which has lousy bus service. As far as I can tell, we only get the little service we have because TriMet is required to get the high school students to school. Most of SW has abysmal service.
Point taken, Lisa. I agree with you that SW is a mess where transit is concerned. I also suspect that most Portland Heights residents prefer not to mingle with the masses on transit and the majority shuttle their children to school in their Tesla or their Audi. I have never really heard those million dollar homeowners beseeching the city for better bus service.
My view is that most councilors and the mayor only concern themselves with certain neighborhoods where the donor class lives. Local planners fantasize about transit centric neighborhoods and then build expensive housing that is affordable only to buyers that also see vehicles as status symbols on par with their address. Good luck to those in Lents, NoPo, and the like! Hardesty seems to genuinely care about working class people that actually need transit to get around. South Waterfront, The Pearl, and Laurelhurst have easy access to transit – if they desire to use it. I suspect that most drive or use Uber to get places because they can afford to.
Lazy, you’re right about transit being easier to access in those neighborhoods, but access to transit isn’t really enough in and of itself. You also need to be able to access locations through transit. I don’t take a bus simply for the luxury of being on the bus 🙂
When you look at the locations that can be reached in a reasonable time (say, 30min) by walking+transit.
So in the neighborhoods you listed you can access transit fairly easily, but where will you take it? There are a couple corridors, basically through downtown, but what about besides that? NoPo, St Johns, Sellwood all have attractions that are attractive for people from affluent areas might want to access but have poor connections to those areas (which aren’t downtown).
Hi Lazy, beware the sentence which begins with « I suspect. » 😉
I did an article last September on bus service to Lincoln H S, most students take the MAX or very crowded city buses. Much walking to the elementary school.
There is a small grain of truth to what you are saying, but let me reframe it. If you gradually kill bus service over a couple of decades (which is what has happened in PH) you shift the characteristics of who moves into the neighborhood. Someone for whom public transportation is important isn’t going to move into this neighborhood anymore, so lack of transit support becomes self-fulfilling.
Also, I think it is bad idea for a lot of reasons to create a two-tiered transportation system, wealthy in cars, lower-income on the bus/MAX. I love taking the bus, I don’t do it much anymore because of the big service gaps during the day. I spent a few years feeling guilty about driving for my errands, but now I’m sort of at peace with that too. I don’t have another option. Biking you say? It’s complicated … If I were moving to Portland today, I wouldn’t choose this neighborhood. 20 years ago PH had a bus which ran six days a week and into the evening.
Would extending the Max to Forest Grove help?
It’d be a relatively inexpensive project, since the state already owns the Rail alignment between Hillsboro and Forest Grove.
At several $100 million/mile for the last Max project it is highly doubtful any Max project will be “relatively inexpensive”. There’s a lot more in the costs than just a rail alignment.
Costs are highly variable, depending on the corridor selected. The Orange line required a new bridge over the Willamette, dozens of major property acquisitions in SE Portland, and multiple long elevated sections south of the Brooklyn rail yard.
An extension at grade along the rail corridor to Cornelius and Pacific University in Forest Grove would be comparatively inexpensive, as it would require very few property acquisitions and would only add 3 or 4 stops. The issue, however, is that this entire area is very low density. The rail line diverges north and basically completely misses the business district of Cornelius. They would need to build park and rides, and even then, the ridership would be poor. Definitely not enough to justify the service levels of the current blue line.
I love this! Direct, honest and to the point. This reasoning applies to Portland, too. Ceding our paths, our parks and our riverfront to semi-permanent encampments and allowing our transit to become unsafe and unclean is an equity issue. The working poor and people of limited mobility suffer the most. The wealthier, more privileged simply drive to meet their needs. When people advocate against any kind of limitations on camping or policing, this is one of the key perspective I feel is most often overlooked. It is much easier to ease your conscience and say that people in a desperate situation should not be asked to leave a park/path or sidewalk if you can simply drive to work, drive to the grocery store, drive to a distant park. By not maintaining civic infrastructure, the City pits homeless people against the working poor and people with mobility issues.
If every “do-gooder” in Portland was to take at least one street camper home with them and help them out there wouldn’t be anyone left on the streets.
There wouldn’t be any “do-gooders” left after the first few hours either.
The implications being, campers are all bad people and “do-gooders” can’t handle themselves.
Do you actually know any?
You can never say “all” of any group is any one thing. But the vast majority of “campers” have dropped out of regular society because of their meth, opioid, and alcohol addictions. Their brains are so rewired by their addictions that pretty much all they can think about is getting more of what they’re addicted to and often can’t even recognize the physical danger they’re in from wandering around in traffic. Are there unicorns out there who are living in squalid camps because they’re suffering from mental illness not caused by drugs or because they’re terribly down on their luck? Sure, and they should be a priority for assistance but they’re very much in the minority. If “do gooders” really want to do good for the majority who are addicts, they’d demand that government institute a program of mandatory drug detox, treatment, and transitional housing and employment. From what I’ve read, it can take something like fourteen months of detox before the brain of someone addicted to P2P meth starts working enough for a program of rehab to be effectively attempted. As for knowing any addicts, yeah I have a family full of them and I’ve spent a lifetime dealing with the messes they make.
Extend MAX to Forest Grove already.
That would be good, it would help connect Forest Grove with the tech sectors in Hillsboro and Beaverton. But the problem is that it just enforces the transit corridor problem. If you need to get outside the corridor then too bad. I wonder how many of the folks in that community are doing work elsewhere in the suburbs (ie. retail, construction, agriculture) which is not in the transit corridor.
Ride Connection has been doing a pretty good job at filling in the gaps. Their GroveLink service (which is free btw) takes people around Forest Grove and connects to TriMet bus route 57. I can only imagine how much better it would be if there was a MAX terminus there. Which begs the question, should we do what the Puget Sound region does and leave feeder bus service up to the counties (e.g. King County Metro, etc.), while TriMet operates more like Sound Transit and focuses on connecting the region as a whole?
These numbers make me question why Cornelius should exist at all. The automobile has been an insidious trap many decades in the making – of course, places that exist only because of the automobile are going to have a tough time existing without it.
I suppose the hindsight here isn’t all that pragmatic, though – this isn’t a rebuttal to the mayor, I take his points quite well. Nor is this to point a finger at any individuals, either the mayor or the folks who live there. We all operate within the confines of our systems. It’s just unfortunate that our systems are leading us to ruin and we have little will to change course.
Cornelius was incorporated in 1893 as was Beaverton. Trolley lines connected many cities in the countryside back in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The Red Electric Trolley didn’t stop until 1929, but parts of that right-of-way helped to make a current bicycle route and a future one.