Monday Roundup: Carfree and covid, Dutch drivers, and more

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Welcome to the week.

The Monday Roundup is made possible by Showers Pass, makers of quality waterproof rainwear and gear that’s proudly designed and tested right here in Portland!

Here are the most notable stories our writers and readers came across in the past seven days…

Good drivers: It’s not just quality infrastructure that makes Dutch roads safer for cycling, it’s the fact that drivers are highly skilled due to the rigorous test all of them must pass before getting behind the wheel. (Streetsblog)

To free, or not to free: To stoke the ongoing debate about free transit, here’s an excellent article that argues eliminating fares would rob transit systems of the ability to fund themselves at the level required to make them functional and thus appeal to more people. (The Atlantic)

Kill stroads, blame engineers: A 10-year old book on walkability is out with new text that includes a scathing indictment of multilane “stroads” and the people who design them. (Bloomberg)

Covid’s carfree count: Only a few of the roads made carfree during covid will stay that way, but overall we made small strides to being a less car-centric country. (NPR)

E-car research: Electric car boosters might want to track this new research that says the emissions reductions gains some people dream about might be constrained by lack of availability of batteries. (Science Direct)

Winter riding: A snowy and cold city in Finland manages to keep 10% of its residents riding through winter in large part because bikeways get priority from snow plows. (We Love Cycling)

Festive without fear: Manhattan visitors are reveling in a carfree space on Fifth Avenue near the iconic Rockefeller Center tree — which makes me think we should do something similar around Pioneer Square. (Streetsblog)

It’s official! Ian Mackay (who we profiled in 2016) now owns the Official World Record for “greatest distance in 24 hours by mouth controlled motorised wheelchair,” after traveling over 180 miles on the roads of nearby Sauvie Island this past summer. (Guinness World Records)


Thanks to everyone who shared links this week.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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soren
soren
1 year ago

here’s an excellent article that argues eliminating fares would rob transit systems

The wealthiest nation in the world can easily afford free transit in urban centers AND significant improvements in transit efficiency and coverage.

The claim that there is a limited pool of funding for basic services and that this “limit” means we can’t possibly help poor and working class people is a fundamentally neoliberal viewpoint. This article by a leading urbanist pundit is a great example example of how when push comes to shove urbanists are not terribly different from “libertarians” in their disdain for lower-income people.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

What we can or cannot afford is irrelevant if the decision-makers are not willing to make those decisions – they want quick fixes in easy-to-understand language that reflects their disdain for lower-income people. The decision-makers are as likely to be mid-level engineers. planners, and administrators as they are to be politicians and their representatives, all of whom drive huge SUVs between meetings.

Shanika Gomez
Shanika Gomez
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Nah this is Portland. They drive Priuses and Teslas between meetings. LOL.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

A million times this. Conservative and neoliberal outlets like the Atlantic love to make false dichotomies. Like you can either maintain the status quo (which usually sucks) or you can make just this one change that will make things worse. And there is no other option.

Like, yeah we know they get some of their money from fare right now, just taking that away would obviously make things worse. Everyone knows that. It’s not even remotely brought into consideration that we would just… put more funding towards Trimet to make up the difference (and some!).

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  John

In the case of Trimet, fares only make up 7-9% of their revenues and adopting free fares would reduce costs associated with fare collection, fare inspection, electronic fare systems, and having multiple types of fares and fare structures.

https://trimet.org/budget/pdf/2023-adopted-budget.pdf

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Passenger revenues are budgeted as $62M, so not nothing.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Like, yeah we know they get some of their money from fare right now, just taking that away would obviously make things worse. Everyone knows that. It’s not even remotely brought into consideration that we would just… put more funding towards Trimet to make up the difference (and some!).

Every dollar we spend making fares free is a dollar we’re not spending making service better. Your argument “do both” is based on an assumption that there is more money is available. Regardless of whether there is or not, making fares free still results in less improvement of service.

Prioritizing free over better is a defensible view; assuming infinite resources (especially when you’re not paying) isn’t.

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

assuming infinite resources

Or we could tax the upper classes (~70% of white people in Portland).

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Yes, we could, but we probably won’t (just ask Metro). Spending tends to be much more popular when it’s other people’s money*.

*Or for libraries. Which makes me think that maybe people are willing to spend their money for services they think actually work.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

No, this is just more false dichotomy nonsense. The money is there, the resources are there. We have more potential money than we could ever know what to do with when it comes to public transit, but we choose not to use it. “We” being our alleged democracy.

Free and better.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

The money is there… We have more potential money than we could ever know what to do with 

Where is this near-infinite pool of money, exactly?

Todd/Boulanger
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I was a bit surprised at the Atlantic article by reporter J. Demsas given their past body of work. Perhaps it is as simple as not wanting more people sharing their transit ride to work and play – just a vague guess. Compared to CTRAN and TRIMET, WMATA does better at bus farebox collection at >20% but no where near the rail rates (>55%). [See my shared web link for some very interesting post COVID transit revenue planning WMATA 2024 fare plan report. And the 2021 report had some interesting time + cost trip planning…bike won in town, yay.]

2021 Research - DC WMATA - Transit Fare Policy - Bike v Bus cost time.png
blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago

In a time where there still seems to be no lack of money for highway expansion projects (or “operational efficiency” as state DOTs like to frame it), the proportion of money lost at the farebox could easily be made up from other sources.

Forcing transit agencies to rely on farebox revenue to provide higher service levels is bad for agencies and riders alike. There should be no reason we can’t fund transit at high levels without relying on fares! People want better transit service more than they want free transit service, but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive – we actively chose and allow them to be through our systemic divestment in transit (largely to serve private automobiles)

soren
soren
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

People want better transit service more than they want free transit service

I’ve seen this claim bandied about by urbanists based on a decidedly non-scientific survey from some random non-profit. When I looked at the details of this online “report” it turns out that 1) they never asked how people would rate “free transit service” and 2) the question asked about “improving bus service” — framing that is obviously biased towards concrete transit service changes (e.g. frequency and delays).

(There is a huge difference between the usual and expected small adjustments in fare and free fares.)

comment image

This kind of “truthiness” is a chronic issue with urbanist/YIMBY rhetoric, ATMO.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

lost at the farebox could easily be made up from other sources

Which sources? Not highway funds — our highways are paid for by vehicle fees/taxes, and the constitution says that money can’t be used on transit.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Use your imagination Watts, there are lots of ways the state generates revenue. Increased property tax, income tax, payroll tax, lottery funds, vehicle fees/taxes after we get rid of that stupid constitutional bit.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

Kill Stroads, Blame Engineers: Nice quote about Portland –

Rather than making low-speed design the norm, American engineers’ answer to speeding is to post a low speed limit. How’s that working out? Well, in Portland, Oregon, they made the bold choice in 2018 to enact a citywide 20 mph speed limit in residential areas, down from 25 mph previously. This change was promoted through a vast media campaign including 7,000 “20 IS PLENTY” yard signs distributed to residents. A study of 214,320 observations at 58 distinct locations found that speeds dropped … by a grand total of 1%. That’s a lot of effort to get people to drive one-quarter of a mile per hour slower.

Todd/Boulanger
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

The slogan “20 is Plenty” is a classic…though those of us in the know, know that “we” all got ‘short changed’ to put it politely…the best practice for “20 is Plenty” is tied to road design changes vs just signage. Plus long term effectiveness needs to address deeper cultural norms about speeding etc. community wide.

“Compared to normal signed but unenforced speed limits, these type of speed zone generally deliver the required traffic speeds because of their traffic calming aspects. A 2015 review of various studies [from the EU] found that 20 mph zones and limits are effective in reducing accidents and injuries, traffic speed and volume.[6] – Wikipedia

A key challenge in implementing traffic calming schemes to improve population health is to think about affecting cultural change in terms of public attitudes towards roads and speed as without changes in the mentality of both drivers and residents…” Cairns et al 2014.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago

Finland is on the list of potential places to move to in order to get away from the American indifference to human life.

Cold, but the right gear makes that manageable. Cost of living is the major drawback.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

Huh. Our friend who lived in Lappeenranta for a while as well as Amsterdam and Lisbon gave us the impression that it was spendier than that site gives.

Thanks for that.

squareman
squareman
1 year ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

I believe it’s because a higher percentage of your income goes toward taxes, but then you also see a greater return on services for those taxes. Also, Finland has no industrial-military boondoggle that saps the lion’s share of those general funds.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  squareman

Lol, right now between my 401(k) contributions, HSA, Medical, Taxes (State & Fed), SS & Medicare I take home around 50% of my gross.

I’ll have to research how much I’ll end up with out of my retirement income compared to CoL to get ta true notion of whether I can afford a place.

No sooner than 7 years from now though, so time to research all that.

squareman
squareman
1 year ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Neither a 401k nor an HSA are taxes, but the exact opposite. They’re tax deferment shelters. Great to have if you’ve got the income to put in them.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  soren

The same interesting website lists Portland as having 653,000 residents and living expenses of $2,363/month on average, presumably for a single individual. There is a lot of variation in both Finland and the USA. They also say that any salary that is quoted in Finland as being $1,000 is the equivalent of $1,485 in the USA, so I wonder, does this index use PPP (purchasing power parity) or nominal prices to compare costs?

EP
EP
1 year ago

We could solve/reduce a lot of traffic and pollution issues if we made it less of an “American right to drive” and made it harder to get a license. I’d be all for mandatory yearly driving tests and vehicle safety inspections.

I took a motorcycle class a few years back that culminated in the “test day” where regular moto riders who didn’t take the class, but were from out of state, expired, etc. could also take the test to get their endorsement. One older guy crashed in the braking part. Another lady showed up in a huge pickup and her husband unloaded the Harley. She could barely even ride it over to start the test. “Oh, I’ve been riding for years.” Yep, she failed too, and got REAL mad. Maybe we start everyone out on mopeds and motorcycles and then you can level up to a small car, with the huge pickup at the top of the non-commercial vehicle/licensing requirement pyramid?

Todd/Boulanger
1 year ago

And speaking of Dutch MV drivers…after finding that article, I decided to refresh my memory as to ‘what the local DMV requirements’ are for RETAINING a drivers licence minus time limits or age / disability here. I grew up as a driver in NJ, a state that had / has a pretty strict traffic points demerit and enforcement system …one that put concern in most drivers that cared to keep their privilege and the safety of others. (Though red light camera tickets do not generate points.) Oregon and Washington (and Hawaii) do not associate points with traffic tickets (convictions) so not more demerit points based on severity of the driver behaviour witnessed by police. These states report that they just “monitor” overall compliance AND then they clamp down on these drivers with prohibitions for night driving or no driving. I am not sure this system is working very well in any of these 3 states…other than ‘keeping drivers driving’. These states seems to rely on – a market based system – the parallel MV insurance points system (assuming they are insured) that just levies higher fees for coverage vs. enforcing good behaviour (if you have the money to renew).