What was expected to be a boring council agenda item about Yet Another Plan (YAP, I’ll explain later) from the transportation bureau on Wednesday turned into a revealing exchange between Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty about how to approach the city’s efforts to reduce driving in the central city.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation completed their “Way to Go” plan late last year and this week it was up for official adoption by city council. The 78-page plan is part of PBOT’s TDM, or transportation demand management, strategy. When it comes to TDM at PBOT, it’s really just a nicer way of saying “We need to reduce driving.” The “demand” they’re trying to “manage” is the tendency of way too many Portlanders to hop in their cars when they make a short trip.
PBOT is one of the best agencies in America at doing TDM and the Way to Go plan is the first time they’ve put their extensive insights about how to reduce driving into one document. It also comes on the heels of the landmark Pricing Options for Equitable Mobility initiative and with considerable bureaucratic momentum to finally create more sustainable revenue sources.
Long story short: Making it more expensive to drive and cheaper to take transit and other modes isn’t a matter of if in Portland these days, it’s a matter of when. So when Mayor Ted Wheeler openly questioned the key takeaway of PBOT’s report, there were a lot of raised eyebrows and I think I heard even a few jeers from council chambers (meetings are now in person as well as online).
Here’s how it went down…
“It sounds a little bit tone deaf compared to the other efforts we’re currently working on to see our city recover economically.”
— Ted Wheeler, mayor
“We will be forced to make hard choices… We cannot let [economic] recovery be at the expense of climate mitigation.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, commissioner
The head of the city’s Active Transportation and Safety Division, Catherine Ciarlo (a former executive director at The Street Trust), opened up the presentation with a refreshingly candid remark. “A recent NY Times story asked us, ‘Can Portland be a climate leader without reducing driving?’ and unfortunately, the data says we can’t… We are not on track to do that and carbon emissions from transportation are increasing, not decreasing,” Ciarlo said.
PBOT’s presentation then made it clear their top recommendation for how to manage demand is to price car trips — by doing things like charging to enter a “congestion zone” or raise parking fees — and then use that revenue to subsidize other forms of travel and build biking and walking infrastructure.
But while it’s an exciting plan full of solid policies, the elephant in the room is that PBOT has lots of exciting plans full of solid policies
“I’m going to call it a YAP, yet another plan,” said Portland Parking Reform leader Tony Jordan during his testimony, where he also said PBOT has too many “YIPs”, or not Yet Implemented Plans. “We’re like a kid trapped on a diving board trying to get psyched up to jump off producing yet another plan after yet another plan.” Jordan made made a plea for city leaders to act with more urgency and implement some of the transformational policies instead of just talking about them. “It’s time to stop YIP-ing and YAP-ing and start acting on these plans,” he said.
Not even five minutes after Jordan’s comments, Mayor Wheeler wanted to make sure the plan wouldn’t actually take any actions. “I want to be clear for the record that if I vote for this resolution, I’m assuming every component of this program comes back to the city council prior to being funded. Is that accurate?” he asked PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. And she clarified that, “We’re not asking you to fund our plan. We’re actually asking you to accept the vision about where we think we’re going.”
That was a fair question for Wheeler to ask, but he didn’t stop there. He asked another question that revealed his opinions about transit and concerns for PBOT’s assumptions around changing driver behaviors.
“There are significant assumptions around personal behavior. And since this plan is rooted in equity — and since we know that lower income Portlanders are being displaced to the farthest reaches of our city and even into Gresham — a decision that one would make individually to not drive into the city would in large measure be dependent upon there being a good alternative. And as of today, there is not a good alternative. I hope I’m not offending anybody when I say that about a regional public transit system that would not support wide-scale mobility migration to public transit, as it currently stands.
Are we working with TriMet? Are we somehow coordinating this strategy of, quote, ‘disincentivizing personal vehicle use’ and at the same time, creating a viable, reliable alternative? Because right now that reliable alternative doesn’t exist. So I think it’s asking a lot for people to abandon their vehicles if the only way they can get to work or get their kids to school is with a vehicle.”
Wheeler has been in office for six years. He should know that his city works closely with TriMet on a number of programs and projects (Division Transit Project, Rose Lane Project just to name a few). It’s also jaw-dropping that he’s insinuating PBOT hasn’t been doing enough to build up non-driving infrastructure or that he would speak ill of transit in order to advocate for people to continue to drive at the same rates they do today.
The mayor’s tone (which was borderline annoyed and angry) and questioning sounded very familiar to me as someone who’s observed people for years who get very uncomfortable at the idea of changing driving habits. He sounded much more concerned that PBOT (which is overseen by Hardesty, a fact not lost on anyone who understands politics in Portland) was trying to take away his car, then he did about making sure alternatives to driving exist.
To be clear, there’s no policy on the table that is asking people to “abandon their vehicles”. The idea is merely to consider ways to make driving more expensive for people who choose to go to certain parts of the city at certain times and to glean more revenue from driving in general — both of which are very reasonable, necessary, and effective policies.
After Commissioner Hardesty responded to Wheeler by outlining ways her bureau is making alternatives better (like expanding Biketown, investing in transit and rebuilding 82nd Avenue), the mayor dug in even deeper. He insinuated that PBOT’s efforts to reduce driving in the central city would have a negative impact on economic recovery.
Here’s his comment:
“This is one area where I think it is critical that we communicate with all of our bureaus in our community partners around the economic recovery of the city. Our city is not recovered. And we are spending a considerable amount of time through our economic development efforts to get people to come back to the central city, in encouraging people to shop, to enjoy our public spaces, and recover from both the social and the economic impacts of the pandemic. And I want to make sure that as we talk about increasing the cost of being able to come to the central city, we’re not working against our own interests in terms of helping small businesses in particular recover from the pandemic.
As I hear this presentation, while it’s a good strategy to combine incentives with a regulatory approach to achieve our long term climate goals, it sounds a little bit tone deaf compared to the other efforts we’re currently working on to see our city recover economically.”
It’s important to watch the video. From my eyes and ears, Wheeler is doing more than making a comment. He sounds mad. Hardesty must have felt it because she equaled his emotion in her response:
“I really appreciate your statement and let me just say climate change is real. And what we’re rebuilding coming back must address the fact that the climate is dying. And if we don’t act radically, we will not actually have an impact on that in our lifetime. And it’s not mutually-exclusive to coming back economically…
This is not about a punitive behavior. This is about acknowledging that we’re in a climate crisis and we must change behavior if we’re ever going to get out of it.
… let me leave you with no doubt: We will be forced to make hard choices because we can’t continue to do what we’ve always done and somehow expect different outcomes. Or we can actually set a vision about where we’re headed. I’m all about setting the vision for where we’re headed, not actually reinforcing things that are killing our planet. So I am very happy to vote aye on this… We cannot let [economic] recovery be at the expense of climate mitigation.”
It was a very important exchange on the policy substance, and downright fascinating from a political standpoint.
Sounds like Mayor Wheeler injected an unwelcome dose of reality into the discussion.
yeah and that might have been all well and good if he wasn’t mayor of the city. It’s one thing for a reply-guy to say this type of thing, another when you’re the most powerful local elected official.
I’d much rather have an elected official who didn’t promise the impossible.
And the impossible is?
The most powerful elected official. Outside of the title of mayor, the only additional power the mayor has in Portland is reassigning bureaus among commissioners.
The insinuation here being that climate action is unrealistic?
The unwelcome reality is very much in line with Jo Ann’s replies. The mayor is a climate coward, not a climate mayor.
Not at all.
Precisely. Driving reduction is performative, self-flagellative cover for megacorps, right out of the Judeo-Christian historical paradigm of sin and redemption. There is no redemption, and our parents sins *have* wrought hell on Earth for us.
Continuing to fixate on preventing catastrophic climate change is going to hamstring scenario planning to live under the vastly more likely outcome of…catastrophic climate change.
Actually yes, climate action is unrealistic…at least as far as Portland is concerned. With a population of (roughly) 750,000 Portland represents about .000001% of the world population sooo…our focus really should be on economic recovery.
That and we’ve already killed the planet anyway. No matter what happens in the U.S. China and India won’t be “going green” anytime soon.
Huh? “Reality” means doing nothing to restrict driving or save the planet? Is that what you’re saying? Why?
Bryan, I agree with you.
I thought Wheeler was even-toned and reasonable. Portland faces a problem and it’s not going to be easy to solve. We don’t have the density to support the depth and coverage of public transportation we need to get people out of cars. Yet it’s hard to become adequately dense without increased public transportation moving in lock step with increased density. Conversation tends to turn quickly to East Portland as the go-to neighborhood stand-in for people needing cars, but in reality it’s hard to get around Portland via bus in many areas.
I don’t have an alternative to driving anymore now that our bus route has experienced over a decade of cuts. And if I’m going to get in a car, I might as well drive to Hillsdale or Beaverton.
I’ve got an open mind regarding congestion pricing, but it’s still not clear to me what its specific purpose is. A revenue stream? A way of increasing how many cars a freeway can carry over a 24 hr period by flattening their distribution over time? That doesn’t help with climate change.
It’s OK to ask tough questions.
I will acknowledge that my shock at Wheeler’s statements might have led me to hearing something in his tone that wasn’t there, but he sure did seem to be speaking from a more emotional place that his words let on… that’s what was so revealing to me.
And you are right about the problems we face, but in my opinion, the things Wheeler said and the framing in his head about them shows a dangerous way of actually making them better (especially for a mayor who hasn’t engaged at all on transportation in his tenure, despite ruling over one of the most innovative transportation cities in America).
I also believe on the main reasons our transit system sucks is because there are too many cars on the road. This not only increases transit times due to traffic, but it also reminds me of the problem we have with PPS schools. The schools that aren’t in wealthy areas struggle for enrollment because too many people choose to go out of the n’hood, so the school gets less funding and the spiral continues.
People like Mayor Wheeler are a very importation position and in this moment have a responsibility to do everything they can to improve transit and discourage driving… in a way that’s backed up by sound policy and a good plan (both of which PBOT has in place). The last thing he should be doing is standing up for drivers and using a tone that creates a false sense of zero-sum politics where any gain transit/bike, etc… is a loss for “portlanders”.
No objective person who heard his rant at council would think his heart was in a place of wanting to make transit better. No. It was clear to me he was there to defend drivers against Hardesty’s plans to take something away from them.
The reason our transit sucks is that it runs on its schedule not yours, goes where it wants to not you, and (at times) doesn’t feel particularly safe to ride.
Lisa is right — it’s hard to build high quality, affordable transit in a city the size of Portland.
I agree. “It’s hard”. Doesn’t mean we should stop trying. We need all hands on deck, we need to do more for the bike network, we need to make driving less competitive, an we can do a lot to make transit better.
If we end up building a system that emits twice as much carbon per passenger as an auto-based system, then I’m not sure it would be a win. Actually, that may describe the system we currently have, and if we can somehow find the drivers and money to up the frequency and density of routes to make the system more usable, that problem is going to get much worse.
I keep going around and around on this issue in my head, and I just can’t convince myself that TriMet is the answer.
Trimet does not emit twice as much carbon as auto based systems. Pre-2020 occupancy rates were in the 80% range (including off peak hours). At that time, the system produced fewer emissions per passenger mile than cars. Ridership is down over the last two years. Trimet buses are probably emitting more carbon per passenger mile than cars, on average under current conditions. But twice as much? That’s doubtful.
Trimet has taken baby steps towards electrifying the bus fleet. Even though they aren’t moving rapidly toward electric, if they decided to put more resources into that effort (assuming they had the financial resources to do it), they could switch over the fleet much more quickly than the private vehicle fleet is likely to switch over.
I don’t think there’s a universe in which a city can have a sustainable transportation system that doesn’t include a large component of high capacity transit. Trimet may have a flawed model, but fixing and improving their system is the shortest path to sustainability. Trying to create an alternative system that relies entirely on automated micro mobility options, as you have previously advocated, doesn’t sound to me to be a realistic option, if sustainability and safety is your goal.
Pre covid, TriMet came out ahead, but not hugely (though the data I saw was not unimpeachable), and was pure-electrification. Now, with ridership halved, emissions per passenger have doubled. Adding more/better service will likely make things worse, as all the “good” routes are being served already.
If riders return, and everyone electrifies, the small TriMet advantage will become smaller still. But will riders return? Maybe, eventually if TriMet figures out how to make the experience better, or maybe not if the “go downtown every day” pattern does not return (which I think it won’t).
Frankly, I think the robotaxi model is coming even without government incentives (just as Lyft and Uber arrived and seem to be staying). It will just be so much more compelling than anything currently on offer. TriMet won’t be able to compete.
We’ll see if Uber and Lyft survive this economic downturn. Up until now, they’ve operated like a Ponzi scheme, subsidizing rides with investor seed capital. Both companies have occasionally turned quarterly profits, but that has been due as much to the performance of investments they’ve made in other companies, not the success of their core business model. Of course, public transit is heavily subsidized as well. But I don’t think the case has been made that private for hire services are an efficient or equitable way to move people around. I’d love to be proved wrong, but the evidence is not in their favor thus far.
Lyft reports first-ever full-year adjusted profit
I remember being the only person in BikeLoudPDX meetings challenging the support for TNCs by “car-free/light” people who viewed them as a way of making it easier to be “car free”.
Still burning money.
And now things have only gone backwards with bad behavior on transit (not totally transit’s fault) and increasing operator shortages.
BTW, many of those “security issue” delays that TriMet puts out alerts for are trains needing to be aired out for 15 minutes after someone smokes drugs on board, due to some operators getting sick.
Good questions Lisa, here’s a couple thoughts in response.
Regarding density and transit having to work in lock step, why? We already have excessive infrastructure to serve people in cars. Adding density may inconvenience some people, but it will, more importantly, create the conditions possible to improve the transit. It doesn’t have to be a fiat accompli.
The critical thing is to stop wasting our precious time, money, and space on more car infrastructure. And this is where congestion pricing, and other strategies come into place. Congestion pricing and parking pricing are great because they are win-win-win solutions.
Some people will change their modes! That’s a win because they choose safer and less polluting (and often cheaper) options. This also creates some additional capacity for transit and for people who are still dependent on cars.
Some people will shift their trips. As you point out, this doesn’t remove trips, it’s not “green” per se, but it does make the system more efficient, which means it is a win because we don’t have to build more parking or road miles.
Both those wins, by making more efficient use of roads and parking, allow us to repurpose those spaces for other uses. (another win!)
And finally, pricing raises revenue! This isn’t the purpose of the strategy, if it accomplished the previous three goals, dayenu, it would be enough. What we do with the revenue is important, of course. First we should use it to mitigate impacts to low-income residents by GIVING THEM CASH MONEY. They can use that money for parking or tolls or the bus or shoes or a ham sandwich, whatever gets them moving. The rest of the money can improve access, safety, comfort, and reliability of other modes.
This isn’t pie in the sky, these strategies actually MAKE money and they will SAVE people money and allow them better opportunities and access. We just need the will to do it.
Hi Tony and Jonathan,
How did I find find myself in the ring with both of you at the same time? 😮
I’m coming at this very pragmatically, based on what I’ve seen the last few years in SW Portland:
1) Our bus service has been slashed, and with the exception of BHH and Barbur lines, most lines don’t run weekends, nights or mid-day.
2) We get increased density, and plans for increased density (West Portland Town Center) but ped/bike infrastructure always seems to be something promised for some uncertain future.
3) SW Corridor light rail didn’t really serve SW Portland, to paraphrase Don Baack, it was a “choo choo train passing through the region without really serving it.”
I’m all for no increases to car infrastructure, no new freeway lanes, get rid of the parking lots downtown. Go for it. You could build 15-story subsidized housing on the Strohecker’s site–that’s all fine with me if it would get me some bus service.
Tony, regarding “excessive infrastructure” for people in cars, yes, but. The problem is that we don’t have infrastructure for the people who are not in the cars. For me, congestion pricing and high parking prices should be about getting people out of cars. But too many of us don’t have an alternative.
Portland style congestion pricing is a re-branding of 1970s era tolling that will almost certainly be used to fund more highways. Proponents can wave their hands and engage in wishful thinking but, as ODOT’s recent survey illustrates, the bulk of any revenue would go to road “maintenance” with, perhaps, a few crumbs thrown to “equity” (maybe).
Some like to assert that equity issues could be addressed by “GIVING THEM CASH MONEY” which could be used for “shoes or a ham sandwich”. This seems to be even more fanciful than the belief that our “centrist” freeway-loving legislature could change their stripes. Free cash for poor people is not being seriously considered by the BAU politicians and power brokers who will ultimately decide how these tolls will be structured. To be cynical, I suspect that FREE “CASH MONEY” is mostly a tactic to deflect criticism. Based on their history of support for tolling without equity provisions, I suspect that many vocal proponents would not complain much if there were no FREE “CASH MONEY” (except for ODOT, of course).
I see people say that, but I don’t see a lot of evidence for it. If you look at early pictures of the NY Subway or the Chicago L, they go through highly suburban, even rural, areas. The Metra Electric, which at its construction connected Homewood (pop density ~267 people/sq mi) to Chicago, had two regular tracks, two express tracks, and two freight tracks.
You’re right that it’s hard to get around by bus, and frankly I don’t think an extensive bus network is the answer for the land area that Trimet covers. widespread automated-light metro running short trainsets at high frequencies is what we should be aiming for. Yes, the up front capital costs are much higher than busses, but the long run savings in operating costs (and protection against operator shortages) is worth it. We underfund Trimet considering both the geographic area and population size that they aim to serve. Lyon Metropole’s versement mobilitie – their transit payroll tax – is 2%. Lyon has a population of 520k and the Metropole population is 1.4 million, covering a land area of 230 sq miles. The population of Portland is 650k and within the UGB is 1.4 million covering a land area of 400 sq miles. But our payroll tax is 0.78%.
To your last question: the purpose of congestion pricing is two-fold: 1) to raise revenue, almost assuredly; 2) to manage demand and pull price sensitive drivers off the road and into other forms of transportation. And they are effective at doing that.
The frustration with Wheeler, at least for me, is that the technical challenges building high-quality transit, pedestrian, and bike infrastructure are largely solved and readily planned for. The policies needed to get drivers out of their cars and onto transit or a bike lane are well known and well studied. What is entirely lacking is the political will to implement those changes quickly and effectively.
“The policies needed to get drivers out of their cars and onto transit or a bike lane are well known and well studied. What is entirely lacking is the political will to implement those changes quickly and effectively.”
I agree that the political will is lacking, but the basic principles aren’t always as well understood as they could be, even though they are so simple. Here is an example:
Public transit has never been a good alternative, a substitute for, the private auto. As someone said above – it doesn’t run on your schedule – and more importantly it can’t. No amount of money or political will is going to change that. Rodney Tolley’s excellent book The Greening of Urban Transit, a copy of which I gave Jonathan ten(?) years ago, is so perceptive about this. Walking and cycling (and roller blading and scootering) are excellent alternatives to the car because with each of those YOU are in charge of the schedule and the route. Political will, energy, focus, money spent on these will pay dividends. Money spent on public transit less so.
When will our transportation folks wake up to this fact?
Thank you for the reply, Will. My understanding is that trains were used as a lead for real estate speculation. A lot of Portland’s main corridors used to be private street car lines, neighborhoods built up around them. The line I know best is the old Council Crest trolley line, built in 1906 (or around then). The property just downhill of the Greenway leg of the trolley was platted at the same time as the owner sold what later became Greenway Ave to the trolley company. Most of the houses were built 20 years later, in the late 1920s. That’s how you get train lines into rural-looking areas. (Portland Heights had a running trolley until around 1960.)
Local government is very siloed, within bureaus and between bureaus. So Wheeler was right to ask if the plan was coordinated with TriMet. Regarding your second to the last paragraph, the “other forms of transportation” aren’t there for many people, and I’d like to see some coordination with TriMet regarding how that raised revenue is going to be spent.
I’m someone who would much rather not be in a car, but I don’t have another option (and I’m close enough to downtown that I could hear the flash-bangs from bed).
Hi Lisa: I’m a bit shocked to see you arguing in favor of more driving on BP. Also I take issue with your assertion:
I live in SW Portland as you do and I ride my bike EVERYWHERE. It’s fun and pleasant, for the most part. I know which streets are okay for bikes and which are not. Yes, it’s hilly here but my legs have gotten in better shape. Something tells me you live way up the hill near the old Strohecker’s, which is a tough place to bike to and from. Basically you live in a place that requires a car, unless someone brings back the old tram.
Fred, come on, show me where I argued for more cars, on BP or anywhere. I do live near Strohs; what I would like is a bus that doesn’t have a five-hour service gap in the middle of the day. And it would great if it could get me to Hillsdale.
Sorry, Lisa, but you opted for car dependency when you moved up the hill. Time to move down to Hillsdale – or get an e-bike with a powerful battery. 🙂
Fred, that’s absolutely not true. We considered bus service, commute to work, schools and nearness to a grocery store when we moved here.
The bus ran six days a week, until 8:45 PM weekdays, every hour. The grocery store was a ten minute walk. My husband owned the first e-bike on the hill, motor retrofitted onto his regular bike by a shop in N. Portland. He still commutes to work by bike.
What changed? The grocery store closed and TriMet repeatedly cut the bus service.
Hillsdale sure is looking good though.
Great answer. I find the suggestion that personal effort to overcome large systemic changes is just so reductive and so patronizing. As if someone could understand and plan your life better than you.
“Time to move down to Hillsdale”… The problem with this answer is that what happens after Lisa moves? Someone else buys her house, and they can’t take the bus so they drive. So Lisa rides, but the total amount of driving does not change. Progress is not made.
Either we ask TriMet to service inefficient routes, or we buy Lisa’s house and knock it down, or we find a way to make driving work environmentally, while reducing it where we can with online shopping and work from home.
My money is on the third option.
Great point. Ignoring the net effect in favor of patronizing moralizing will never get us to carbon neutral.
“I’m someone who would much rather not be in a car, but I don’t have another option”
Ivan Illich would ask about your (our) feet. I hear what sounds to me like dependency thinking a lot. Someone else, some institution, some company should give me alternatives. What about the autonomy, freedom of feet and bikes and roller blades? Especially around town.
Now if we’re talking long distances, then yeah, getting the transit agencies to talk to each other and coordinate their schedules, knocking some heads – I’m all for that.
9watts, never ask a question you don’t know the answer to, LOL.
I used to be the Queen of the Forced March. I didn’t want my kid turning soft on me after his early childhood in NYC, so I would make him walk with me down the hill to Civic Stadium to catch a ball game–at a tender young age. My idea of fun was throwing on some tennis shoes and running the five miles to Johns Landing.
I might be able to still do the walk to the stadium, I was walking all over Paris. But what Paris had that SW Vista doesn’t is benches. I need places to rest, for 10 to 20 minutes, pretty regularly.
So yeah, I am dependent on some things.
It doesn’t help that we choose to do it in Hard Mode. TriMet’s unhealthy love affair with fixed-rail commuter trolleys has hamstrung our entire transit system by burdening us with a few light rail lines that could easily be BRT or honestly just buses.
“Reality is whatever I agree with. I am very smart.”
Ted Wheeler is wrong on so many levels here.
Firstly, the idea that there is some kind of trade-off here. There is no reason to expect a significant negative impact from reducing driving in Portland, at least in the long term. Long term, less driving = more resources for people (less money spent on owning and maintaining an expensive asset). All of the assumptions about less driving = less economic activity = small businesses failing totally misses the point. People won’t just stop shopping and enjoying public spaces if it’s harder to drive there.
Secondly, talking about equity and cars – the idea that because poorer, more diverse Portlanders are being driven out to the fringes of the city so we need to invest in car infrastructure and parking downtown to serve them is just flat wrong. The best way to serve less affluent communities who pretty much always have less reliable access to a personal vehicle is through high-quality transit.
I also just want to add that the best way to make a city more vibrant and livable is to ensure the public spaces are welcoming and feel like a place you want to be in. Downtown Portland struggles in feeling like a handful of nice walkable fun areas separated by chasms of parking, busy wide streets and encampments of homeless folks. All of those aspects need to fixed in order for the area to be a truly nice place to be. Have you ever tried walking the mile between SW Washington and 10th and NW 23rd? It is truly miserable. Maybe making that attractive would make more people want to exist in downtown.
If Ted Wheeler actually cared about making the West Side of Portland an attractive place to be, he would be doing things like making NW 13th car-free, or encouraging bus lanes on Burnside, or promoting infill development of under used surface parking lots, or championing building housing for homeless people. But instead he just mindlessly spouts Portland Business Alliance talking points about how badly we need to support small businesses.. by killing the walk-ability in the areas they are and functionally excluding anyone who can’t travel by car.
I share your frustration with how the Mayor is invoking equity and poverty, as if poor folks who live in Gresham can afford the high cost of a car and to drive to downtown Portland and pay to park now when a reliable bus with a transit pass costs a whole lot less. Many folks, regardless of where they live, don’t have cars at all. And if parking was more expensive, it would be easier to find and less frustrating for the Mayor’s rich friends who do want to drive.
Most low-income people in the Portland metro area don’t live in twee and exclusionary inner Portland and most own SUVs/trucks/(cars).
Because in this fundamentally anti-poor society, SUV/truck/(car) ownership is a primary predictor of being able to get and keep jobs.
Urban Institute: Driving to Opportunity:
Understanding the Links among Transportation Access,
Residential Outcomes, and Economic Opportunity for
Housing Voucher Recipients
From the conclusion:
PS: A society that uses access to “jobs” as the primary mechanism for providing basic welfare is profoundly broken. (I hate it here.)
PPS: I personally would support providing publicly-owned SUVs/Trucks/(car)-share services over subsidizing automobile purchases but both are astronomically unlikely in this failed system.
I’m quoting Cathy Tuttle quoting the 2015-2019 American Community Survey: “the median income of Portland households that don’t own a car is $23,438.” Yes, many poor people have to own cars. Are they really getting jobs downtown where they are paying for parking? Wouldn’t it be better if they had other options?
I’m not challenging Cathy Tuttle’s statistic in the least. My point was that just because low-income people are more likely to be “low-automobile” does not mean that poor people aren’t disproportionately targeted by parking fees.
I work in the Lloyd area and have multiple lower-income co-workers who are paying to park after long automobile commutes. Now that parking enforcement has ramped up again, fees and fines have become a significant financial/time stress.
I’m kind of surprised a person of your principles and options would choose to work at a place that didn’t pay their co-workers enough to get to work safely.
Just about every interaction I have with a YIMBY-bro ends with a personal attack.
Please tell me more about my options when I was unemployed and looking for work in 2020, Tony.
Employee parking lots are full of vehicles driven by salaried employees many of whom live in Portland and have access to other transportation options. Congestion pricing* could target these drivers while sparing low-income people but instead “progressive” urbanists are championing yet another regressive fee.
*Not 1970s era freeway tolling
Just to clarify:
I support area cordon pricing that exempts low income people — the form of carbon/congestion pricing that actually led to the coining of the term “congestion pricing”. Because are cordons can target entire areas of high-economic value they are by default far more equitable than a point toll on a single freeway. When combined with progressive exemptions for low income drivers they can provide powerful motivation to reduce the driving of the demographic that tends to drive the most per capita: middle and upper-income people. In urban areas, middle and upper-income people also tend to be “choice” drivers so are the low hanging fruit when it comes to demand managment/decarbonization.
I question your assertion that upper income folks are the “low hanging fruit” of demand management. Maybe some are willing to electrify their vehicles, but beyond that, they’re not generally price sensitive and many don’t live along major transit corridors.
Do you imagine lots of folks from Ladd’s Addition are commuting by car to jobs downtown?
I think many did. These days most are still working from home and driving about as much as they did prior to the pandemic (!).
Congestion pricing should not be limited to our small city’s miniscule downtown. IMO, we should congestion price inner SE, NE, NW, and SE so that every single trip Ladd’s Addition residents make to nearby bakeries/boutiques/beer-halls is priced.
None of this is novel or especially difficult – it just takes a bit of political will and genuine concern about the worsening climate crisis:
I’m not opposed to the concept, but I do question whether such a scheme would really target the folks you suggest it would.
And the proposed congestion zone expansion:
I’m pretty sure I know of at least one Lloyd District garage which isn’t back to being full.
This is a great example of drawing exactly the wrong conclusions from data. The response to poor people needing a car to hold a job isn’t subsidizing car ownership, it’s providing reliable alternatives, and decreasing housing costs close to job centers.
Saying that “oh well car ownership correlates to being able to get and hold a job, therefore car ownership is a good societal outcome” is self evident in a society so thoroughly dependent on the car for everything.
Parking fees and tickets being disproportionate should be addressed by scaling fees based on income, not elimination
A statistic I saw published in these august pages within the last couple of weeks claimed that 93% of Portlanders have access to a vehicle. It might be more accurate to say that a small (tiny?) minority of folks don’t have cars.
As recently as the 2010 census the percentage of carfree households was considerably higher. From memory about 15% average for Multnomah County, and in some census tracts the figure was many times higher still, 40%-60% as I recall. Someone savvy could mine the 2020 census (or the most recent ACS) for more up to date figures,
Understanding who those people are, and how they get around would be a far more useful way to spend our public servants’ time and money than giving tax breaks to folks buying EVs or building more transit.
Way back 10 years ago, one of the big reasons I moved to Portland, was BECAUSE of the non-car infrastructure. And to this day I contribute more to the local economy when I’m out on my bike than I do in a car (more stops, more snacks, more hanging out, more groceries). To equate greater car usage with economic recovery is tone deaf or missing a huge economic opportunity.
Your lifestyle barely exists east of 82nd. And if you live east of 82nd, you are one of the few. I lived your lifestyle in my 20s. I lived in NE Portland. I didn’t have children yet, I wasn’t married, and all my friends lived and died by the bike as well. I aged out of that life style. I got a a car, a better paying job, got married, had children, and bought a house. I loved my lifestyle back then, but it’s very difficult to recreate that life now on a daily basis.
Portland has some 100,000 households plus. I image it’s in the low 1000s that live the car free, live and die by the bike lifestyle.
Unless safety significantly increases on the Max, I’ll never use it to commute to work on a daily basis again.
I think you are misinterpreting their comment. They alluded to the fact that they own a car, but prefer to utilize non car based transportation modes.
Granted, those modes are pretty poor in east Portland relative to inner neighborhoods. But I don’t think it is necessary to view car ownership and use of other transportation options as being mutually exclusive.
Matt S., I don’t understand why your comment “I got a a car, a better paying job, got married, had children, and bought a house” isn’t followed by “and I still bike everywhere b/c it’s fun.”
Maybe ’cause it’s not that fun? Aggressive drivers mixed with some good bike infrastructure but a lot of bad or absent infrastructure. That’s my experience as a daily bike commuter to downtown. But, yeah, the Banks-Vernonia is fun.
You are flat wrong in your assumptions here.
Looking at the data from the census in Multnomah County, roughly 6% (27,045/432,863) of workers have no vehicle. In tracts East of 82nd, but in the city of Portland it’s still about 5% (3,644/71,332).
Generally speaking, the 6% of workers in Multnomah County without a car are drastically underserved by their local transportation agencies in terms of spending relative to the 94% that own a car. Consider what proportion of road space is dedicated solely for private vehicles (street parking and general purpose travel lanes) compared with non-private vehicle space (bus lanes, guideways, bike lanes, bike paths, etc.). Road space is public, yet it’s almost entirely given up to private vehicles.
The MAX, and TriMet in generally certainly has some safety issues although anecdotally I have probably had one bad experience in the past year out of 50 odd trips. There is a lot of work to be done in the Metro Area in terms of transit – the acute operator shortage really hurts. Safety (or perceived safety) has some work, but I find that it’s vastly overstated.
Your assumptions about my age, life stage, and income level are incredibly off base. And it reinforces my entire point — economic recovery can leverage alternate transportation, if we moved the needle on our infrastructure design choices and what behaviors we want to encourage. Only Hardesty seems to be thinking that way on City Council right now.
I stopped using the MAX. Too scary for me. I just drive now. Sorry but that’s the reality.
There are plenty of places I don’t bother going because they’re too far for what I consider a reasonable bike ride, and also are difficult to get to by car.
I’ve been to my office twice in the past year because it’s either 90 minutes round trip on TriMet (assuming I get to the stop right as the bus is leaving), almost an hour round trip on a bike (assuming the weather’s good, if it’s not needing to get pack clothes and get changed when I get to work adds to the time) or fifteen minutes in my car plus $14 in parking.
Since I can work remotely, I just don’t go to downtown much. I stay in my neighborhood or the ones I can easily get to around it, or if I drive somewhere I go to places that I can more easily get to and park.
I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but I think he’s being pragmatic about dealing with a post-pandemic world where people aren’t forced to go downtown anymore to sit in an office. If I don’t have a reason to go downtown in the first place for work, why am I going to go there to support local downtown businesses if I have to pay an admission fee in either riding transit and giving up a lot of time, or spending even more to go downtown than it already costs to drive?
Is the 15 minutes one way or both ways? I struggle to think of a place in Portland that would be a half hour bike but 7.5 minutes by car to downtown. I also think you are understating the negative sides of car travel, and overstating the negative sides of bike travel. Travel by bike is typically much more consistent in timing than driving, since there are very few things that will meaningfully affect how long it takes. While driving is extremely sensitive to traffic conditions, as well as parking conditions.
Supporting “local small businesses” in my view should be more about patronizing places within a short walk from where you live. And this requires having a pleasant, comfortable walk from where you live to said businesses. In my opinion, it is more important on a business side of things to capture the local audience before the regional one.
I live (I think) closer to downtown than you do (Buckman) without a car but really only go Downtown for specific events (Concerts mostly) and there is very little that would change that. I like to go to places closer to where I live because it’s just more convenient. Realistically, why would you go support downtown businesses even if parking were free if the options nearer to you are just about as good? The lack of workers downtown patronizing lunch spots, bars, etc. will probably hurt businesses and cannot realistically be avoided in the short term – in the longer term, if Ted Wheeler wants downtown to be vibrant, it will require more people actually living there. Maybe undoing some of the bad policies of the mid 20th century that replaced housing with parking lots and government buildings is a good place to start
Thanks for this important story. People need to get real about climate pollution. In Europe people drive less because biking and transit are simply easier, quicker and cheaper. Yapping about global warming while continuing to massively subsidize and privilege driving until driving is by far the easiest, quickest and cheapest option will get us nowhere on climate. Trying to encourage greener transportation while continuing to lavish drivers with support is like bidding against yourself at an auction—very counterproductive.
Europe is very, very dense.
Europe is a sub-continent, it is not reasonable to talk about it as a single thing. Parts of Europe with low car usage are quite low density overall, for example Sweden and Finland. Spain and France are also not particularly dense, outside of Paris and Madrid. Most European cities have plenty of sprawling suburbs just like we do. The difference is higher gas prices, stricter car ownership requirements, and better transit, bike and walking alternatives, and many cities have larger, moderately-high density core and near-in suburb areas compared to Oregon.
Out in the less urban parts of Germany, for example, everyone drives and transit is lousy.
But more people of all ages bike too.
Not where I lived. My family was the only one who rode a bike anywhere. One German family even drove the 200m from their house to the school bus stop.
Perhaps atypical, but I’ve noticed similar behavior in Spain and other European countries where I’ve spent time.
The difference is that Spain and France are democracies with the high levels of redistribution that allow for modern active and mass transportation systems. The idea that the tiny amounts of revenue from deeply regressive parking fees would be sufficient to pay for these transportation systems would be laughed at in Europe.
Oslo is significantly less dense than Portland but >60% of trips to their city center and 40% if trips overall are made via transit.
Oslo buses are A LOT more pleasant than they are in Portland at the moment. I never felt unsafe there, and the buses were clean.
I appreciate you articulating the real sentiment here: the (poor) people who ride buses are gross and I don’t want to live in community with them.
I have no problem with “poor people”. I do have a problem with people who are dangerous or disruptive, whether or not they have money.
Behavior, not status.
Climate change Ted. What a leader.
Thank you for this detailed story. It’s great to see Commissioner Hardesty offering clarity and truth around this issue. Wheeler’s comments let us know who he thinks his real constituents are and it’s not lower income Portlanders living outside of the central city. Except to the extent that they’ll come downtown to assist in the economic recovery of his wealthy friends.
The video links to the whole session. Do you recall about when the exchange between Wheeler & Hardesty happens?
sorry bout that. It starts around 1:50:00. The “Tone deaf” part is 1:55:00 or so here.
“There are significant assumptions around personal behavior. And since this plan is rooted in equity — and since we know that lower income Portlanders are being displaced to the farthest reaches of our city and even into Gresham — a decision that one would make individually to not drive into the city would in large measure be dependent upon there being a good alternative. And as of today, there is not a good alternative. I hope I’m not offending anybody when I say that about a regional public transit system that would not support wide-scale mobility migration to public transit, as it currently stands.”
I agree with Wheeler on this. I don’t think the current Trimet system is sufficient for folks who live far from downtown – think east Portland for example.
We should be making more investment in public transit and encouraging folks to take transit, rather than increasing parking fees for example. Think positive reinforcement rather than sticks.
to be clear, I don’t have an issue with his point… I have issue that he is concern trolling and he seems more motivated by political dislike of hardesty then of actually making things better.
I mean, anyone with a brain cell understands that our transit system doesn’t compete with driving. It’s insulting for Wheeler to think he’s actually sharing something new by saying that.. And that’s one reason why I think he’s not saying that to educate folks, he’s saying this to divert attention away from the plan (Which is yet another win for Hardesty this week), and he’s worried about the pace of change away from the precious car-driving status quo.
It’s also totally messed up in my opinion to be the mayor of Portland for six years and then ask hollow questions like “are we working with TriMet? Are we working on alternatives?” Dude come on. Obviously we are. And we are on the cusp of making great progress in the stick part of the equation that will allow TriMet to flourish and you choose this moment to throw shade and express your car-driving grievances? It’s just so revealing.
Wheeler’s Marie Antoinette-esque “Let them drive cars” is not the comeback he pitifully thinks it is.
Right now, TriMet is going backwards with bad behavior on transit (not totally transit’s fault) and increasing operator shortages. Something that Wheeler could actually do (if he wasn’t Mayor Do Nothing) would be to push for having the TriMet board be controlled locally, such as appointed by Metro, a government which already has roughly the same boundaries and deals with transportation and related land use issues. If you watch their board meetings, and listen to what goes on on a daily basis, it seems pretty clear that the board and agency doesn’t know what it’s doing.
“We should be making more investment in public transit and encouraging folks to take transit, rather than increasing parking fees for example. Think positive reinforcement rather than sticks.”
Exactly. All the stick is going to get us is eventually a bunch of Republicans in office.
What a sensible point! And how come we have to depend on a millionaire timber baron heir to be such a staunch advocate for the poor and working class?! And who’d a thunk it that he’d have to defend them against unscrupulous enviromeddling by a Black civil rights activist from a poor family?!
Kudos to Commissioner Hardesty for making this very important point. It’s the peak of absurdity to think continuing to allow cars and their drivers to rule the streets – our sacred public spaces – will somehow be different in the future.
We must invest in public transportation, walking/rolling spaces and bike infra…TODAY! Disincentivize driving while concurrently investing *substantially* in viable non-car transportation options. Prioritize people over the car and oil companies…That’s the way, Mayor Wheeler.
This is what makes me most…nervous, let’s say, about the techno-optimism (I’m going to re-coin this as techno-panacea-ism) with self-driving and electric cars (particularly from some frequent posters here). Because yes – electric cars are absolutely better from a polluting standpoint than their ICE counterparts. And yes, I absolutely believe that there will come a day – probably not too terribly far off – when self-driving cars will be better than people in most conditions (not because they’ll be good, but because people are just crap at driving). But at the end of the day, these are really excuses to “do what we’ve always done and somehow expect different outcomes”.
There is no realistic techno-panacea that allows the least efficient form of transportation to remain dominant without drastic negative effects. None.
Thank you for acknowledging something that so many here quixotically dispute.
Not globally. But is it possible that that Portlanders will be whizzing around in their climate-controlled Wall-E-mobiles while large swathes of our planet remain inhospitable and poor? Everyone assumes that sustainability requires greater equity. I’m not so certain.
Electric cars are emerging en masse not because they are environmentally friendly, but because they are badass. The new electric humvee has 1000 hp equivalent with crab crawl. A Tesla model has can do zero to 60 in under three second. The F150 can run power tools on a job site. The Rivian is being billed as the ultimate camping machine.
Shoot, even ebikes are being billed as more fun than the original.
Leave it to the US to make the muscle cars of the EVs.
The marketing is certainly emphasizing their dangerous acceleration and increasing bulk. This could be addressed by strict safety regulation and/or incentives.
I have increasingly negative feelings about EV subsidies (due to the majority of funding going to well off people) but it would also be easy to target subsidies towards vehicles that have very low curb-weight and very high mpge. This would de-subsidize the hulking e-SUVs that the majority of middle/upper-class drivers are purchasing.
PS: People who incessantly and vociferously complain about the negative externalities of EVs and drive an ICE SUV/light-truck/(car) without some public self-flaggelation are concern trolling.
I can’t speak for others, but I get the reflex to counter something being perceived as an excuse for something worse, even if that initial thing is good. Electric cars are definitely better than ICEs. I mean, cycling around Portland, I am so much more comfortable riding behind an electric car. No exhaust (I get that I’m still sucking up brake/tire particulates that will inevitably contribute to death by cancer in a few decades, but I can’t smell that at least). I’d much rather EVs than ICEs. I’d just prefer even more still having less SOVs around period, and the end goal of these technologies is not that.
Depends on your timeline, I suppose. The scenario you describe would inevitably collapse, but I suppose if it can last at least as long as one generation of decision makers who won’t be around to see it collapse and can lie to themselves about the fate of their children (so, you know, exactly what we have today), I do not doubt the likelihood of such a scenario.
Without data, I no longer accept that TriMet is significantly more energy efficient than driving is, and I believe that running the system uses a fair bit more energy than a fleet of small electric cars would.
All of the data I have seen suggest that you are mistaken. I could be convinced that you’re right, but I would require a solid analysis of TriMet’s overall energy consumption and how many riders they serve. It would be a bonus if it considered how much additional energy would be required to provide bus service to the more challenging routes that don’t pencil out at the moment, but would be required to expand the range of the system.
I highly doubt you’ve seen data that contradicts my statement:
You’re simply taking the position that right now Trimet is that least efficient form of transportation. Here’s the thing – based on current ridership, I wouldn’t dispute that (as you say, based on numbers we don’t have right in front of us). But here’s the key difference: The more people we get onto Trimet (transit generally), the more efficient it becomes. The inverse happens the more people we get into SOVs. So the incentive to move one from the other always exists regardless of the current balance.
I could be sold on the idea of a “small electric fleet” if we’re talking truly likely-cargo-of-1-human-sized-small per vehicle. That would mitigate two of the bigger issues with SOVs, at least. I also don’t dispute drastic changes with Trimet service could make things better.
I do, however, stand by my point that there’s no good solution that involves one human being needing a few tons of spacious steel to be moved, regardless of its source of power or who is driving.
There’s a lot of fhwa historic data that shows that trimet was more efficient than cars per passenger mile pre covid. That may not be the case now, but it is definitely still competitive with the existing range of private for hire ‘ride sharing’ services. Maybe there is some future micro mobility option that could be more efficient than trimet, but it doesn’t exist today.
I’ve talked to a few City employees, and they comment they are being forced back to their old physical offices because of the misguided Mayor and his failed policies during the past 2 years. Somehow, he expects them to save the city by buying a few lunches from downtown eateries. They comment on how they should be getting rid of office space instead to save the taxpayers money.
Of course, forcing them back means many of them are driving because of how far TriMet has fallen. More pollution. More gas consumption. More dangerous driving. More need of parking.
Yeah, our major is so out if. Too bad he’s finally waking up after being asleep for the past 2 years. Too bad this is the direction he’s going instead of doing what’s right for the climate.
This is the most relevant part of your comment:
“forcing them back means many of them are driving because of how far TriMet has fallen”
I don’t want to get sidetracked on city hybrid work policy, but if one of the arguments against returning is the above comment, then I do think there’s a lot to be said for eating your own dog food. Many people don’t have the option of pressuring their employer to allow remote work. What about them?
Compare that to Metro, which has switched from remote working being the exception to only a handful of employees having permanently assigned desks beyond department directors, Council and the attorneys.
City employees should be physically in the city when working in a public-facing space. The erosion of Portland civic life is partly due to city hall being shut to the public for over two years. This did not happen in any other city of our size or larger.
Poppycock, Elizabeth! The erosion of Portland civic life happened for many, very complex reasons – our dysfunctional commission-style gov’t chief among them (Portland is the *ONLY* city of comparable size in the US with this dysfunctional system). You can’t boil it down to bureaucrats not being at their physical desks at city hall.
If people want Portland to be like a European city with transit, you’ll need people going back to the office btw. European capitals have had 75%+ people back at work physically since 2021. We are an outlier even in the US with our very low return rate.
Thank you, Jonathan, for endorsing Hardesty’s reelection on Twitter today. I hope it will affect some BikePortland readers who might be undecided. Hardesty is the only choice for transportation, climate, and justice. Her opponents are even to the right of Wheeler.
This exchange helped me make up my mind to vote for commissioner hardesty.
Good luck. Hardesty- and Eudaly before her- mismanaged PBOT- never mind climate and justice. Traffic deaths are up, speeding and red light violations remain uncontrolled, scooters (the solution to “last mile’ transportation are a joke except when blocking ADA ramps and sidewalks).
Hardesty is the also the only candidate running who supports the failed, obsolete commissioner system in which elected council members- regardless of qualifications and experience- are put in charge of running bureaus and departments.
If you want things to change, vote for new council members- and a new city charter when that comes up later in the year.
RE: New charter. The grass is always greener on the other side of charter reform!
Except in this case it truly is greener.
Wheeler seems to have figured out he can be a “strong mayor” now, so we can get a bit of a preview. If, that is, the first months of his administration where he kept all the bureaus to himself wasn’t enough.
Downtown office buildings are half empty. Employers are downsizing office space and/or decamping to the suburbs. Downtown businesses are struggling and closing. Reasons are many. Covid, remote working, rising taxes, crime and vandalism, homelessness, high rents, etc.
A busy, fully populated, economically vibrant downtown is vitally important to Portland. The city has done too little to address the problem, but council seems to be feeling the pressure to ramp up the actions.
While the city is focused on trying to bring downtown back, raising obstacles to a major way that many people prefer to come downtown is not a timely thing to be doing.
Before assuming that Trimet will become the favored mode for those people, we probably need to see Trimet right its ship. Trimet ridership is barely 50% of 2019 levels. Again, multiple reasons. Covid, remote work, crime and conditions, labor shortage.
In the longer-term, after downtown has come back as much as it can, personal vehicle disincentivizing plans can be assessed and implemented.
Right now, I understand why Mayor Wheeler might have a pragmatic concern about any attempt to start implementing those plans now, or perhaps even to commit to doing so someday.
Businesses large and small are deciding right now whether to commit to downtown. Property owners are deciding whether to invest in buildings and projects. A lot of those decision makers might share the reaction BP is ascribing to Mayor Wheeler – indeed, many or most Portlanders might.
The mayor is right.
All we need to do is rake the forest some more. Wheeler is spot on. “Climate crisis” is just a Chinese hoax. We can have our cake and eat it, too! Even the IPCC raves about the wonders of “carbon sequestration”! Let’s all keep whistling past the graveyard of phony “climate apocalypse” and get that old economic recovery roaring again!
How about we tax the fudge out of the middle/upper classes who drive the most per capita and use the revenue to build infrastructure that addresses our unequal and ecocidal transportation system?
Oh wait a sec … no one is discussing this in this thread or at city hall.
What I find most remarkable and touching here is, in a debate over how to protect poor people from bearing undue burdens for the sake of climate, we have to rely on a millionaire timber baron heir to be our champion, against a Black civil rights activist from a low income background! My, my, Goddess certainly works in mysterious ways!
This is indicative of what’s wrong with Portland politics. PBOT rolls out Yet Another Plan that’s full of the term “equity” while at the same time being impractical from the standpoint of the communities equity is supposed to help (due to TriMet limitations, inability to bike long distances to work, inability to telework, high car dependence, and so forth). Hardesty assumes a cheerleader role and disregards any of the practical issues the PBOT report presents. It falls on Wheeler to talk practicalities.
Result: Hardesty is applauded and gets Maus’s endorsement, even though by any objective measure she has been a failure (PBOT’s Vision Zero isn’t working with most pedestrian deaths ever last year, Portland is not meeting climate goals while other cities are doing better, only 8% of Portlanders think our city is heading in the right direction, we’re breaking last year’s already record homicide rate, Hardesty’s Civic Life bureau can’t make a dent in the graffiti, PBOT properties are filled with trash from homeless encampments, homelessness up at least 50% from 3 years ago, people and business are moving out of Portland). Wheeler, who is trying to address much of the above through “emergency” orders because Hardesty is too busy cheerleading to actually demonstrate progress, is demonized for raising practical questions about the Yet Another Plan.
In the meantime nothing really gets done, City Council jumps from one emergency to another (7+ years of a housing emergency!), people can’t discuss practical solutions because that’s somehow bad, impractical solutions are somehow good, and the ones that suffer the most from this dysfunction are the marginalized communities that we’re supposedly trying to help (record homeless deaths and overdoses last year, and trending higher this year).
The ship is sinking, and BikePortland names Hardesty best captain ever!
IKR? Only the fabulously rich can save the benighted poors from themselves, I guess. And here it takes a timber baron heir to fend off the nefarious, self-serving schemes of a Black civil rights activist against them! Oh, the irony…
How are all these connected? How, say, does the epidemic of ugly graffiti interact with the ability of people to have travel options or address climate change? Everyone seems stymied by our collective inability to solve all these complex problems, but saying the Mayor is right sounds like “because he expresses my frustrations.”
To start with graffiti, it increases the perception of danger, particularly for out of town visitors. When that is combined with other problems like the homeless encampments and the trash make downtown feel unsafe.
Because of that perception of danger, my company closed it’s downtown office near the transportation hubs for Trimet and C-Tran. Any new location is guaranteed to be less convenient for public transportation and will require more driving to a “safer” office location for most people.
As an east Portlander, some of the bike initiatives aren’t very well thought out. For example updating Foster road, even with its wider bike lanes it’s still a more hazardous commute than taking the secondary roads during commuting times.
I would like to hear the Wheeler/ PBA’s ultimate vision for central city. Their rhetoric makes it sound like they want downtown Portland to be a combination of Clackamas town center plus large hotels, office buildings and parking garages that serve the suburbs. This is in conflict with the residential development that makes central city one of the fastest growing areas in Portland and hopes of drawing in people within a 5 mile radius of downtown. Downtown Portland hasn’t been vibrant for a long time, but the closest it came to vibrancy in recent time coincided with peak bicycle mode split.
One of the main things holding back central Portland from being a real city built for people is the high concentration of people with political and economic power living in the suburbs (including the west hills) whose visions are still shaped by the dynamics of white-flight.
Some of you need to adjust your historical lens. Portland never had white flight.
I’m guessing you were just going with your gut on this one. https://www.portland.gov/sites/default/files/2019-12/portlandracistplanninghistoryreport.pdf
I think Jonathan is on the payroll of Joanne Hardesty’s campaign. Are you Jonathan?
No. But if they wanted to buy some ads I would gladly take their money.
IKR? These nefarious big money civil rights agitators and enviromeddlers are getting their paws all over the media nowadays, aren’t they? Downright insidious!
I tried switching to TriMet once and the service was so unreliable that I had to give it up because the bus driver told me should would miss my transfer a couple times a week and that’s just the way it was.
My question is, what can Portland leaders do about it? I don’t understand the political and financial relationship between Portland, TriMet, and Metro. Does anyone have any good resources? Seems like one of those messy situations where you can’t truly hold people accountable because accountability is spread between different entities.
Argue for the TriMet board be controlled locally, such as appointed by Metro, a government which already has roughly the same boundaries and deals with transportation and related land use issues. Right now, its appointed by the governor/senate, and those people have a million other issues to worry about than watching over the agency.
Oh, interesting! I thought they were connected to Metro for some reason – maybe the “met” bit. Thanks!
Kind of like sweeps do with the property of homeless people?
Well why aren’t you out there offering folks storage options for their stuff? You could get a collection going to paying for a whole bunch of storage lockers all over the city. Don’t worry, I won’t take credit for the idea, I’ll let you.
Thanks for covering this city council session and posting the video. I watched the entire presentation and discussion afterward. In the presentation, traffic demand management was compared to energy demand management, but there are important differences. In energy demand management incentive programs make alternatives more attractive choices, but they don’t coerce those choices by penalizing ratepayers. Additionally, with energy demand management the alternatives are typically held to rigorous standards of cost effectiveness, along with regular evaluations to ensure the programs are achieving their goals. Unlike energy demand management, PDOT’s Way to Go vision ultimately relies on endlessly throwing money and effort on alternatives that continue to remain unattractive, underutilized and more expensive in terms of costs and benefits than the status quo. I’m glad to hear Ted Wheeler shedding realism and calling out a tone deaf plan.
The status quo may appear to be more realistic because it is familiar, but, in fact, it is a failing system that cannot adequately accommodate a growing city. PBOT is not proposing these changes because they are idealistic or hungry for power. They are proposing this because they know the cost and the limitations of a transportation system that is built around single occupancy vehicles. In terms of space utilization, infrastructure costs and personal costs, transit and last mile (or 5 mile) walking, biking or scooting wins out every time in a city, both in pubic expenditure and personal expense. It’s not even close. They win out even if CO2 emissions, resource utilization and the cost of climate destruction are not factored in. Successful transit and bike systems already exist in cities all over the world. I understand that if a system works for you it is scary to see that someone wants to change it. But we have to move in this direction, and the fact that a change-averse transportation bureau and its elected officials are (and have been) proposing things that are politically uncomfortable is a clear sign that we really have to adapt. I have lived in cities where car-free transportation is supported and it is easier and less scary than you may think.
I’m quite familiar with alternatives and embrace them. My wife and I were car free in Portland for 14 years. For over a decade I literally rode everyday I wasn’t sick or injured. I’ve often found taking the light rail to our airport convenient. I love living on a neighborhood greenway. I’ve traveled all over the world and experienced transit nirvanas of places like Paris, Amsterdam and I’ve cycled in congested and polluted apocalypses like Jakarta. I support tolling and especially the development of road and railways with a significant degree of privatization. I’m all in on mitigating climate risks through cost effective investments.
But what I personally believe, embrace and support can’t just be willed on others. If the alternatives to driving win hands down, why the need to increase the cost and constrain the capacity of driving? Why can’t others embrace them like I have? The answers at the ends are either a) I’m smart and others are stupid and can’t see the light because of brainwashing by automotive and fossil fuel interests, or b) others have agency, are well aware of alternatives, make rational choices to meet their individual needs, and for the majority, the alternatives aren’t compelling enough, even when the cost of driving increases.
I happen to believe the answer is b, and l’m appreciative of the good will and investments the majority make on behalf of my minority choices. I want that good will to continue and recognized it isn’t assured, especially in inflationary times, so tone is very important. That’s why I agree with Wheeler on this. Doubling down and pressing harder is inviting a backlash. I’d actually go further and not support the resolution until PDOT can produce a true analysis of why their grand visions haven’t been working and why this one is different. A single slide in the presentation for barriers, one of which is lack of a smart phone, isn’t the sober assessment of failings that advocacy circles need right now, and isn’t the foundation of a better vision going forward.
Well said, and very good points.
Thanks for explaining your perspective. If the choices came down to “a) I’m smart and others are stupid or b) others have agency, are well aware of alternatives, make rational choices,” I would definitely go with b. However, I think that regardless of people’s intelligence, including myself, decision making is more complicated than rational choice. In fact, much of behavioral science/ economics is focused on understanding the many non-rational factors that contribute to real world behavior. For example, it is well-documented that people often underestimate the stress and time associated with driving compared to other modes of travel. Other expectations, like abundant cheap or free street parking, are also calibrated off of past experiences rather than the present realities. Currently, the central city has too many cars circulating at peak times, but people endure the drudgery of traffic because alternatives seem worse, whether they are or not. It can take a lot of internal activation energy and external nudges to bring about any behavioral change. In many ways, PBOT has carefully gone with hopes and prayers that mode shift would occur spontaneously and has tried to ease Portlanders into much needed changes to avoid backlash.
For the central city, the crux of the matter isn’t bikes or transit vs. cars. It is cars vs. cars, and projections indicate that the number of people trying to cram their cars into downtown will continue to increase. PBOT needs to decrease cars, and if it could do that without car alternatives, that would probably be good enough for them. But, without decreasing the number of people traveling downtown, there have to be alternatives like transit and bikes that require much less space for travel and storage. This is important for businesses too. The more frustrating it is to travel downtown, the less people will want to patronize downtown businesses. The nightmare of driving through downtown during peak commute times is not great for restaurants and retail that are open at that time. Many small businesses are also aware that cars are bad for business because they compete with outside dining and popular pedestrian spaces.
Unfortunately, instead of cars vs cars, the conversation can easily be framed as cars vs. bikes or transit. Wheeler is aware of this and it is a cheap tactic for him to score points off of something that has been laid out for him, and mayors before him, by PBOT commissioners again and again. Currently, the transportation landscape in central city isn’t a neutral zone where people can simply choose their preferred mode. It is hostile to everyone outside of a car and it sucks for efficient transit. In order for more efficient modes to succeed, cars have to be reduced. Car infrastructure didn’t naturally sprout out of the Earth, it has been bolstered over decades, while killing off other modes. Transportation systems in an urban environment are always an active choice between modes and we have waited until the last minute to choose an efficient system that will work best for the most people. Charging people a fair price to store their large personal property in an area where space is premium is nothing exciting or unusual. It’s the least we can do to create a thriving downtown and support our local businesses.
Thanks for that, SD! You hit it out of the park.
Rather than tell local businesses what’s good for them, why not ask what they need? I suspect making it harder for drivers to reach their business would not be high on their list. Look what happened to businesses along the transit mall when it was closed to cars. No one wants their business to suffer the same fate.
On the one hand, I completely agree that making driving more expensive would help address the traffic issues Portland faces, and would support paying more myself. On the other, telling people you know better what’s good for them then they do is a guaranteed loser of a message.
And since you mentioned it, what is a “fair price” for parking, and how did you determine it?
Whatever decisions are made, someone is “being told what is good for them.”
Gridlock traffic makes it harder to visit a business than a couple extra dollars for street parking- especially when “over 375 businesses in Downtown Portland offer their customers discounted or free parking at SmartPark garages.”
Most of the congestion isn’t due to people patronizing businesses anyway, and there are ways, like parking validation, to mitigate costs to workers and their employees. PBOT has done a breakdown of central city drivers before and from what I remember the dominant user groups aren’t there to support local businesses.
Asher, that has not been my experience in the world of energy demand management in buildings. Energy retrofits almost always encounter barriers in the building that must be resolved and are likely to make the energy upgrade non-cost effective on its own. Over time Portland’s energy programs have evolved to address these barriers, especially for low-income households. For example, it makes no sense to upgrade attic insulation under a leaky roof, as water will degrade it, so some money has to be spent on repairs before insulating. The long-term energy saved may never pay the initial cost of addressing the building, in a cost analysis. If we had stayed with strictly cost effective energy demand management and evaluation, we would have stopped at replacing shower heads.
The Hardesty/PBOT “plan”: wealthy people of privilege who can afford to drive in the BMW’s, Mercedes’s, and Land Rovers at any time of day and who won’t mind paying “congestion tolls” will continue to drive our taxpayer-funded highways and roads (for which they don’t pay their fair share due to the federal and state tax codes)- while low income and middle class workers who can’t adjust their driving schedules in order to get to work, shop, pick up family members and kids, as well as senior citizens on fixed incomes are assessed what amounts to a regressive tax.
I agree with the above except for the fact that “middle class” in Portland is upper/upper-middle class on a national basis. For example, the average Portland household earned $100,369 in 2020 and this has almost certainly rocketed up in 2021. These income measures are also deeply flawed in that they omit the capital gains and imputed rent from investments (real estate, stocks, crypto, corp ownership, RSUs etc), which often greatly exceed wage “income”. (We should be taxing the living fudge out of imputed rent, in particular.)
Congestion or parking fees could be progressive but, IMO, there isn’t authentic interest for this at city council or among “organizers”. Some non-profit organizers talk a good game but would trip over themselves to accept a compromise that does not include any exemptions or reductions, according to my opinion.
Still waiting on Wheeler’s alternative plan to reduce carbon emissions… I’m sure I’ll be waiting for quite a while. Classic feign concern about an issue then work to undermine any viable solution to said issue.
My neighborhood shopping area – Hollywood near Trader Joes- has become a trash filled wasteland of meth users, dealers & their garbage and stolen cars. How about this gets cleaned up first before worrying about ‘carbon emissions.’ Otherwise more people will move to suburbs and. you will have more carbon emissions.
“Requires the existence of non-auto forms of transportation.” Building a network of protected bike lanes, the most cost-effective means for allowing people to choose this option, is not even considered. It is something that is now accepted as given by the majority of council members in NYC. None of the commissioners in Portland have any intention of solving this problem via giving a concrete proposal for building a network of separated bike lanes.
Yes, the problem must be solved through a comprehensive plan, a combination of congestion pricing, a reliable, safe and fast transit network and other means. But the cheapest and quickest decision is completely ignored in Portland.
So if the climate is dying, as Hardesty says, does that mean we won’t have a climate? So like a light drizzle 24/7/365? How awful, make it cost $20 to cross Cesar Chavez immediately. Watch how quickly no one ever goes there anymore.
Portlandia is dead, no one even wants to go to the central city, the readership of this blog doesn’t seem to realize that all the action is in the suburbs and people just want to be able go to their hikes easier. This is a suburban metro area, dyed in the wool American in that respect. That’s why people drive cars. Try getting to the nearest store from my moms house, it’s 1.2 miles each way and there ain’t no bus, and she’s a 15 minute drive from downtown Portland. This blog is stuck in a bubble. We (as in the metro area, not Portlandia, which is 650k pop. and 0 percent growth) are built like Austin, not Oslo, or Munich, which btw are very dense in the cores, unlike here.
Oh, I get it:
We need the poors to come back to clean our hotels and offices and serve me burgers.
The poors can no longer afford to live close in to take transit/bike/walk/non-car, so we have to do whatever it takes-plans or climate be damned- to get them to spend tons of money on a personal car to come work downtown again.
Jonathan, where is your interview with Rene Gonzalez? Your biases are becoming glaringly apparent.
Tax behavior you don’t want. Simple. Worked for cigarettes, works for driving. Mayor Wheeler’s comment about keeping driving because there are “not good alternatives” is short-sited. Too bad we didn’t have the political will to keep the transportation alternatives that we had in 1915. To wit: here’s a map of all the streetcar lines that were paved over to make room for cars at the beginning of the last century: https://transitmap.net/project-streetcars-portland-1915/
Way to go Ted Wheeler. The guy actually made some sense this time. Guess the left leaning council didn’t like hearing the truth eh? It dosent fit their narrative. What incentive is it to ride on the dangerous, filthy bike trails or sketchy bus and max lines after hours? I used to love riding into downtown and now I avoid it. It’s a shithole on the bike trails wake up. Hmm and oh yes that comment about people getting pushed farther and farther out is absolutely true. So then we will increase the code of living for people who cannot or choose not to live closer to a expensive falling apart city. It behooves the author of this article to think deeply into wheelers comments. They absolutely make sense. He was the voice of reality to the city council. Good for him for speaking the truth and standing up to the fluffy feel good ideas.
So what’s a private contractor such as myself supposed to do? Eat the increased cost? Pass it on to my clients? While I would absolutely love an electric van, they are cost prohibitive at the moment. And I can’t very well carry tools and materials on public transit.
What’s happening right now is *drivers are externalizing their costs onto others*. The costs of traffic injuries, of pollution, of roads, of land used for roads and taken out of the tax base, and of slowed transit. So everyone else is currently subsidizing you.
What companies are supposed to do is what you always do – include your operating costs as operating costs, add on a reasonable profit, and compete with others doing the same. And yes, your clients – who are currently subsidizing you in one way – would pay for the shifted costs, while perhaps subsidizing you less in other ways.
(For some contracting businesses, certainly there are several days – if not most – one could get to work with adequate tools via bike, cargo bike, or transit.)
Pass it on.
One of my jobs (I wear many hats) is to setup/review items we sell to retailers and make sure we’re pricing them correctly. We build the cost of freight into the landed cost of the item, then mark up. So, when freight costs have blown up over the last 2 years, so has the cost to retailers. Therefore, so has the cost to consumers.
There is no problem with this – it is the demand for goods produced 3000 miles away that causes many of our problems, and therefore it needs to be the people creating the demand who pay for the cost of shipping it.
I used to favor congestion tolls. I worked downtown and intentionally lived only the distance of a bike ride or max ride away, because I like exercise, love the environment, and don’t like the congested driving conditions of the downtown commute anyway.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Covid killed my entire industry. Laid off but lucky, I got work for a deck building company. My clients lived all over the metro area.
I obviously couldn’t haul concrete or roll joists over zoom, and moving house every few weeks, to live “near work,” was obviously impossible. Let’s not even mention the absurdity of trying to ride my bike, in my steel toed boots, from 42nd and Powell, over the west hills, to some mountainside luxury clear cut in Beaverton at 7am, to lift materials and sit on my knees all day, before riding my bike back home. Nah.
I had to drive through downtown to get to most clients’ houses and I thought about congestion tolling many, many times on those drives.
I remain grateful for the work, and grateful for the broader viewpoint the experience gave me. I remain a committed liberal, but I now believe that solutions to our most pressing problems will elude us if those solutions require people to put on a hair shirt or take vows of poverty or struggle.
That’s not to say incentive structures play no useful role in the greening of our way of life: but we must positively incentivize people to greener behaviors. Otherwise they’ll just vote us out. As long as driving takes less effort and time, we’re stuck with cars.
One last point: unless people have the reasonable expectation of working at a single workplace for most of their life, OR being able pick up and move house very, very easily, the long commute is here to stay. People switch jobs all the time these days. “Live near work” has an entirely different meaning nowadays.
Your specific set of circumstances is a pretty clear example (to me) of a reasonable need for commuting via car. Congestion pricing is a good way to generally reduce demand for personal vehicle travel on the network, and to pay for the costs that are caused by car travel (emissions, noise, wear and tear on the road network, etc.). All of this to say, is it likely would improve the reliability and speed of your own commute
Positive incentives won’t do anything to reduce the time/effort ease of driving. The current transportation system sucks if you don’t own a car, part of making it better for everyone requires driving being less easy and obvious – which is negatively incentivizing driving in the short term.
But it’s also worth noting that this doesn’t need to even be hugely negative. Something like removing street parking and replacing it with fully separated bike infrastructure on every main road within 5 miles of the city center would make biking much more attractive (straighter, safer, better routes), and driving slightly less attractive (less parking supply).
Live near work does have a different meaning now that it did a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. I realize that work is more fluid these days, but that hardly means we should just resign to a lifetime of car culture and infrastructure.
How do you build political support for making things worse for a wide majority of folks? Even if you say it’s not actually worse (because driving is a more terrible experience than the folks doing it realize), and/or that there’s a golden transit model on the other side of the hill, I don’t think people will buy it.
How will we convince everyone to go along, especially in a time and place where government promises aren’t kept and we see failure all around us?
The city council and regional governments should stop lying about this region’s climate crisis failures and communicate how continued failure would affect individual Portlanders in a direct, personal, and no BS manner.
I don’t think there will any chance of broad support (social cohesion) until local residents better understand the depth of the problem and gain some measure of trust in city/regional government.
I agree. Unfortunately, at a time when people perceive government failure on all levels, it’s going to take a while to rebuild trust. If we can’t figure out how to get 4000 people into some form of housing/shelter when we have money available and a burning public desire to get it done, how are we going to do something hard?