Comment of the Week: The cost of mobility

Our post on the passage of Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan inspired many fine comments, most of them centered on the quote we highlighted from Metro president Lynn Peterson, “When 67% of the people in Clackamas County get up in the morning and have to go to three other counties to work — commutes that are not not easily done by bike or pedestrian or bus or transit or even by auto at this point — then we have some real equity needs within our region.”

Peterson was justifying the need for road expansions. But BikePortland commenters got to the essence of the region’s challenges with a discussion about proximity and travel distance.

Once again, a comment by Todd/Boulanger caught my attention. He makes the point that Metro solutions to the “work, housing, school” destination conundrum seem to emphasize road expansion, over creating better integrated communities.

Here’s what Todd/Boulanger wrote:

I love Lynn’s past work at Lake Oswego and WSDoT, but reading her highlighted quote, I have to wonder if she has now been fully captured by the vehicular status-quo at Metro.

The focus on mobility – to work sites – above all else as a solution to the work, housing, school locations imbalance — I thought that is why we set up MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) and other planning coordination agencies in the 1960s-1990s. But it seems only the road network is fully coordinated among jurisdictions.

For the long term we need to get back to the future of the EcoCity Standards set out by Richard Register in the 1980s (EcoCity Berkeley) where the metric is planning and designing for ‘Proximity over Mobility,’ not mobility at the cost to proximity.

Is it truly an “equity solution” if our working class families need to devote 1 adult FTE in the household to pay off the monthly car budget (1 car = $894 / 2 cars = $1788 / 3 cars = $2682 per AAA OR 2022), all paid for after taxes, to reach their jobs from cheaper housing? And these car costs rival house rental costs.

I always learn something from your comments, Todd/Boulanger, this time it was EcoCities and the specifics on the cost of a car.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this thread!

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

Mahalo Lisa Caballero for your kind comments.

I always try to add a nugget of new learning / direction for an alternative path toward solution(s) for the BP readership to seek even when its a critical comment or plain bad news. I can thank some long lost used bookstore in the early 1990s for my discovery of the 1980s EcoCity Berkely book..as I stepped off the boat to the west coast. It and the book “A Pattern Language” 1977 by Christopher Alexander et al became the framing for my views on how to plan pedestrian (and bicyclist) successful streets and buildings not for a 2 term administration or 10 years of depreciation cost recovery or 20 years paving life but 100 to 1000 years…when I took up my training to become a professional technical planner.

Read this book the first time for its guidance on dimensionality favourable for successful pedestrian (and other human powered transport modes) spaces and then reread it for the higher order ethos on seeing organic patterns and how to utilize them in planning and design and policy.

There is one timeless way of building. It is thousands of years old, and the same today as it has always been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way.” – C. Alexander

Borrow at your local library or buy at:
https://www.patternlanguage.com/bookstore/pattern-language.html

9watts
9watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

I’m curious what you think of Ivan Illich’s work?

blumdrew
blumdrew
2 months ago

The northern portion of urbanized Clackamas County is basically the wealthiest part of the metro region. Lake Oswego (120k) and West Linn (124k) of course come to mind, but Happy Valley has a median household income of 131k – almost double Portland. Damascus is at 101k. Only Milwaukie (73k), Oak Grove (68k), and Jennings Lodge (61k) have lower median incomes than Portland (78k).

And if we want to consider racial equity – the only census place in north Clackamas County that is less white than Portland is Happy Valley – which is almost 20% Asian. Without going too far down the “census categories are often misleading ways to consider race” rabbit hole, Asian is a particularly broad and somewhat useless census race category.

If Lynn Peterson is concerned about equity, bringing up that two-thirds of Clackamas County residents drive to a different county for work is an exceedingly dishonest thing to do.

Joseph E
Joseph E
2 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Milwaukie has the Orange/Yellow line to Sellwood and Downtown Portland and two frequent buses to (75 and 33) heading south, east and north.
Oak Grove is just past the end of the Orange/Yellow line, but only has the 33 bus. Jennings lodge is just to the south of Oak Grove. Both would be served by an Orange Line extension along McLoughlin (Hwy 99), but that hasn’t been prioritized due to ideological opposition from other parts of Clackamas county and concerns of some auto-oriented business owners along McLoughlin.

blumdrew
blumdrew
2 months ago

If we consider equity in the way that planners usually do – that some communities and geographical regions have been systematically dis-invested in and that’s bad then wealthy, white Clackamas County residents hardly fit that bill.

Northern Clackamas County has seen significant investment, and not just from the MAX Orange line. ODOT spent $130 million on the Sunrise Expressway in the mid 2010s too.

If we have equity concerns about driving from far-flung regions of the metro area to employment centers, we should focus far more or eastern Multnomah County and western Washington County. Places like Cornelius, eastern Forest Grove, far east Portland, parts of Gresham, and central Hillsboro are all areas with median incomes closer to 35k and are less white than the rest of the Metro. If Lynn Peterson is worried about equity, she should be starting there.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago

Society owes nothing to “areas”. People are the unit that matters here.

blumdrew
blumdrew
2 months ago

A walk down MLK will show vacant lots and disused storefronts more than 50 years after the summer of 1967. Its impossible to disentangle the decisions that allowed a major commercial corridor to decay and decline in the 1970s through the 2000s with who lived in the area (Black Portlanders). The geographical areas have not received investment because of who has lived there – its a part of discrimination. Housing stock in Albina declined and was abandoned because tenants did not have access to lending that was available in other parts of the city (as long as you weren’t Black). Not providing government backed mortgages was a discriminatory practice – one that continued in Portland well after the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Granted, it’s easiest to talk about Albina since there is generally the most historical research and background relating to systematic neglect. I don’t have a wealth of historical background on Cornelius, and Gresham has changed dramatically since the 1970s in terms of how relatively affluent its residents are compared to the rest of the Metro. Not all of that is related to explicit or even implicit racism, maybe none of it is.

But it doesn’t really change the initial point – the people who need more investment from an institutional level are not residents of northern Clackamas county. Even if we completely discount racial factors in the history of the area (which would be a mistake), the high income alone is enough to show us as a region that there are other places that need investment more. People living in Happy Valley tend to have far more choices when it comes to where they live, so if they choose to live in a place that requires a ten mile drive to work and a five mile drive to school why should that choice lead to increased state and regional investment in roads to support them?

More succinctly – why should Metro encourage the further creation of exclusive enclave cities in northern Clackamas county, while there are so many more pressing needs within our area?

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago

Lisa C, From Hillsboro, the fastest transit route to OHSU is via the MAX Blue line with a transfer to a #8 bus on the transit mall. There are quite a few direct bus lines to OHSU that serve well, but from distant cities, MAX beats all bus services for comfortable ride. Transfers from MAX to bus or between bus lines should not be ignored. The key is to make the transfer convenient.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
2 months ago

Thanks for the reply, Lisa. I celebrated voter rejection of the SW Corridor MAX extension to Tigard in Nov 2020. Its engineering (widening Hsy 99W from 5- to 8-lanes) was dreadfully high impact, worsened existing traffic hazards and in terms of only marginal gains in transit patronage.

This is not the first time a MAX extension was engineered to derail the national light rail movement. In 1998 voters rejected the N/S MAX for the same reasons. The absolutely worst segment of the N/S MAX was in ODOT jurisdiction – along the I-5 embankment through North Portland. I urged Metro & City Council to go back to the drawing board and within 6 months! had the Interstate Yellow line ready to show the public which earned support.

Also I do NOT support MAX on the I-5 Columbia River bridge project, principally for public safety reasons. The years 2004-2008 were “single-deck” bridge designs, truly the more sensible option of “double-deck” (2009-2013) which located the MAX on its lower level. Single-deck locates the transit/ped corridor on the same level to form an emergency access corridor that would save lives in a major accidents. I’d extend MAX to a Hayden Island junction with the Vancouver BRT line. In an accident, the MAX trains would stop, but buses could steer around stopped emergency vehicles.

Last week my 3-min testimony at Metro ended with “I demand your resignation, Ms Peterson!” Her record in transportation planning is despicable. By my count she could face 4 criminal charges – 2 misdemeanors – misdirection of studies and concealment of safety concerns, 2 felonies – reckless endangerment and Negligent Homicide.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 months ago

But vague terms allow for vague success measures instead of accountability to clear goals – something no politician is going to stake their reputation on.

J_R
J_R
2 months ago

A better mix of housing and employment that encourages use of non-auto modes and minimizes trip distances is great and is something we should strive for. Achieving those benefits is, however, really difficult.

Thirty years ago when I moved to Portland, I bought a house with good transit and good bike access to my workplace. Fifteen years later, my work situation changed. My last 15 years featured four employment sites with commute distances of 12, 4, 15 and 13 miles. Non-auto options sucked.

Lots of readers would suggest “move closer to work,” but that ignores the impact on my spouse’s commute and my children’s school.

Let’s not be too hard on Peterson’s approach to regional transportation solutions.

SD
SD
2 months ago
Reply to  J_R

If metro had a budget that aligned with climate goals and better transportation options for people who don’t have to drive, you would still be allowed to drive a car.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  SD

What do you mean? Everyone is *always* allowed to drive a car – it’s practically a requirement for American citizenship.

cc_rider
cc_rider
2 months ago

There is no city that has built its way out of congestion. Not a single one. Lynn Peterson knows that.

I don’t think there is any real mystery as to why Lynn is repeating the vehicle lobbies talking points. She’s running for the 5th congressional district which includes most of Clackamas County and northern Marion County. She’s going to say and do whatever appeals to the wealthy folks in Happy Valley rather than worry about her actual job.

David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

There is no city that has built its way out of congestion. Not a single one.

There are however quite a few cities with pretty low congestion, both in the USA and overseas, and almost no city ever stops building auto-centric infrastructure. The community I live in now, Greensboro NC, just completed a $1 Billion bypass that took 20 years and a highly-regressive 2% sales tax on food, but we are apparently the least congested city in America (and #3 in the world, after 2 French cities) – our rush hour never lasts more than 20 minutes, and yes, you really can drive clear across town within 15 minutes. Oddly enough, I feel more comfortable and safer bicycling here than I did in Portland, but there are far fewer cyclists here.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Enjoy it while you can; in a bout 15 minutes, induced demand is going to turn your city into a traffic quagmire.

cc_rider
cc_rider
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

There are however quite a few cities with pretty low congestion, both in the USA and overseas, and almost no city ever stops building auto-centric infrastructure.

Sure, there are actually tons of small towns and cities with no congestion because they don’t have much population.

Did Greensboro have a congestion problem to start with? Eugene/Springfield have about the same population as Greensboro and they also don’t have much of a rush hour or much congestion.

I was talking about cities/metros that have congestion problems and trying to build bigger roads to deal with those problems.

David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Back in the 70s Greensboro had a congestion problem, so since they expecting to grow from 250,000 to a million by 2020 (what city didn’t have such expectations back in 1970?), they planned ahead and built the network they thought they needed, including a huge freeway bypass (I-840). Like Portland, Pittsburgh, St Louis, Detroit, and numerous other cities, all the old heavy industries moved overseas in the 1980s and 1990s and the local economy tanked. However, unlike Portland and Pittsburgh, both of which eventually recovered, Greensboro has essentially stagnated, growing from 250,000 to 300,000 in 50 years – basically the city has a roadway network designed for a city 3 times as large. Of course it could be worse: poor Detroit has shrunk so much it now has fewer people than Portland.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Are there any cities that have met their climate goals?

Racer X
2 months ago

Atlantis did.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Racer X

Funny/scary comment of the week.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

Oh man…I almost forgot to read BikePortland today (busy busy) and my 15 seconds of fame.

SD
SD
2 months ago

Living in the city is too expensive. I would like to buy a bigger cheaper house with more property; that is in a neighborhood of people with my same SES and “better” schools; that comes with a blank check from tax payers who live in the city to make my commute as fast as possible. I would like the nearby city to be destroyed by the roads that conveniently take me to my destination and more than 30% of the surface area of the city to be devoted toward parking my car as close as possible to my destination. Of course, carving out swaths of the livable area in a city for my “car freedom” limits the amount of housing and drives up prices in the areas that aren’t bleak asphalt hell scapes. But, not my problem when my rich neighbors and I buy elections for metro and city hall. People who can’t afford living in the city certainly can’t afford living in my neighborhood. They can go live in a suburb for the poors and car commute to their jobs that barely cover the cost of car ownership. Truth is, downtown Portland should be an outdoor mall with chain stores, anyway. Equity!!!

David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  SD

The basic urban development pattern out here in the Deep South was that the nice leafy white (segregated) neighborhoods were upwind of the smelly pre-1970 factories. The only people who actually sent their kids to the local public schools in that area were “poor white trash”; rich people sent their kids to private schools, and by and large they still do. The blacks, Latinos, and Asians who have since moved into the white areas tend to be even more conservative than their neighbors. Blacks, Latino, Asians, and poor white immigrants (Poles, Italians, Norwegians, East Europeans, etc) lived downwind of the smelly pre-1970 factories, they still do, but the factories are now closed and getting converted into expensive lofts for the new high-tech workers moving in from (far more expensive) California and Portland. The local public schools are still crowded, with a 25%-50% illiteracy rate for the high school graduates, particularly among native blacks. Most traditional downtowns are dead, especially after 5 pm, but even the malls are dying, killed by online retail and thriving Amazon warehouses. Our bi-racial super-conservative Democratic city councils are very pro-police and supportive of riot control units, armored cars, using bike police to control crowds, turning a blind eye on the weekly violent interactions between the police and psychotic black homeless men, and keeping property taxes low by continuously raising the sales tax and water rates. Naturally, they are in favor of equity.

jakeco969
jakeco969
2 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Finally someone starts to narrow down what equity actually might be rather than constantly using it as a magical buzzword.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago

I honestly think that Peterson’s comment is one of those half-baked thoughts that politicians come up with regularly. She was basically saying that Clack residents drive too much, but then she added a dollop of equity concern to make that bad behavior palatable to everyone.

As smart commenters like blumdrew have pointed out here, Clackamas is basically a bedroom community for the wealthy who work in Portland and Beaverton and Hillsboro and drive to and from work. These are the people with actual power who drive (pun intended) gov’t decisions around which roads are built so they can get where they are going quickly and easily and impactfully.

Lower-income people with actual mobility needs? They probably have to take whatever housing they can afford, wherever it is, and if it’s far from their work they will also drive there.

So Peterson’s comment is pretty meaningless overall.

David Hampsten
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Meaningless half-baked thoughts and 10-second soundbites are how most politicians get elected, as most voters don’t care and have really short attention spans – I’m amazed that people vote at all.

Robert Williams
Robert Williams
2 months ago

Since the discussion is around equity, I have a hard time understanding why the focus is on motor vehicles, which is by far the most expensive option.