Saturday, December 12, 2009

Regional and Statewide Plans Poised to Defer Real Change until 2014

Writing on December 9th in the Oregonian, on the eve of an important METRO vote regarding their Regional Transportation System Plan for 2010-13, Dylan Rivera says:
Even with an expanding network of light rail and bike routes, the Portland area's transportation system will generate about 50 percent more carbon emissions in the next 25 years, defeating state and city goals to reduce the gases linked to climate change.
With all we know about greenhouse gases, with all of Portland's "green" practices, the best they can do is a 50% increase!

The vote the next day confirmed that there is not yet the will to act on what is known.(Coverage of the vote in the Oregonian. In many ways the Portland Mercury has been the best source of incisive coverage and you can read the Merc's coverage here.) Chris Smith weighs in with a realistic assessment of the consequences on Portland Transport:
at this morning's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation meeting, the committee rejected an amendment from Mayor Adams to review the project list for climate impacts, while adopting a weaker amendment by Councilor Rex Burkholder.

The weaker language postpones any real impact by climate analysis on actual investments until the 2014 Regional Transportation Plan update.

METRO is the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Portland metro area. Salem's MPO, the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study, will be going through the same 2010-13 planning effort here shortly. And the prospects for Salem to exceed Portland here are slim-to-none. METRO has more staff, more sophisticated tools, more money. The Salem area is also more conservative and traditional. Planning for drive-alone trips prevails.

So if transportation planning is in a holding pattern until 2014, what can we do? If we can't see ways realistically to change the strategic goals and governing values instantiated in project lists, what recourse do advocates for rational transportation policy have? Are we condemned to continue to fight for the table scraps?

Last week was a Salem-area public hearing on the draft 2010-2013 STIP. What's a STIP, you ask?
The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, known as the STIP, is Oregon's four year transportation capital improvement program. It is the document that identifies the funding for, and scheduling of, transportation projects and programs. It includes projects on the federal, state, city, and county transportation systems, multimodal projects (highway, passenger rail, freight, public transit, bicycle and pedestrian), and projects in the National Parks, National Forests, and Indian tribal lands.
The STIP is complicated enough it has its own users guide. The document itself is quite large - hundreds of pages. The directly relevant projects in Marion and Polk county are few, as most of the projects are associated with highways outside of urban centers.

Still there are a few that might be worth comment.

The only non-ARRA (non-stimulus funds) bike project is improving the bikeways along Chemawa to Keizer Rapids Park. The Park is a gem, and getting to it will be much easier. This is an unambiguously good project!

A set of projects is the patchwork of funding for Cherriots Rideshare. Roxanne Rolls who runs the program said
The amount allocated is the entire budget for the Rideshare program. It does vary from year to year but it has been around $225,000 (total) each year which must cover all of the Rideshare program activities, salaries, benefits, marketing and outreach.
That's crazy! They work to promote and facilitate essentially all transportation options other than the drive-alone-trip. And that's all we give them.

Finally, in no small part because Wallace Road is also State Highway 221, there's a large project to significantly enlarge the intersection of Wallace and Glen Creek. This will insert two sets of dual-turn lanes, lengthen the crossing for bikes and peds, and generally make it much more difficult to reach the Union Street Railroad Bridge. It will make an already difficult crossing even more of a barrier.

Peter Alotta is the Statewide STIP Coordinator. You can email him here: Let him know that the Glen Creek project threatens connections to the Union St. RR Bridge, that Rideshare deserves more money, and that the Chemawa project is a good one.


Rex Burkholder said...

I strongly disagree with both the statement of facts--the Metro RTP includes several actions and work plan items to address GHG emissions over the next several years, beginning in 2010--and with the characterization that the amendments adopted were "weaker" than the City of Portland proposal. The unanimous vote on the Metro Council and 15-1 vote at the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation in favor of the Metro amendments is a demonstration of the greater likelihood of success pursuing a deliberate, science based approach rather than a political one.

MWVBTA said...

Councilor Burkholder, thanks for stopping by.

As you say, there is real disagreement. For a longer discussion of the RTP issues see the bikeportland article, "Burkholder responds to criticism of Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan".

As for the vote, the Oregonian characterized the winning approach as "cautious," and Portland Transport, the Mercury, Bikeportland agreed. Earlier the Coalition for a Livable Future had called it "worse than building nothing."

The science has been known for several years. So as Kyoto & Copenhagen suggest, we might invert your formulation of the problem: since the science is in hand, what we need now are political solutions.

Political solutions need not be perfect, and indeed here they can be iterative. According to the Oregonian, the failed (a 5-11 vote) alternative would have generated "a list of $20 billion in planned road, light rail and sidewalk projects into categories, labeling each project for low, moderate or high potential for boosting carbon emissions." It's hard to imagine this as just empty political posturing (though, of course, it might also include posturing, as these things always do).

A first order approximation of GHG impact will be replaced in, say, 4 years with a second order assessment, and then a few years later with a third order analysis. A project taken off the list can reappear if it is later deemed worthy - but a road once built is more tricky to unbuild, or if left fallow represents a huge waste of capital.

The question that I have for you is this: If we can't trust the model with a fairly simple ternary assessment of "low," "moderate," or "high" GHG impact, why should we trust the model's projections for a $4.2B bridge, a $500M bridge, and a host of other projects?

Maus quotes you as saying, “We don’t actually model biking or walking yet… Without actually being able to predict future walking and cycling rates, the models show higher car use than is likely, ergo, more carbon emitted.. this is also why the numbers for future cycling and walking are disappointing."

So why are we building road capacity for "higher car use than is likely"?

Either the model is good enough to project traffic and likely GHG emission, or the model fails at both. To say it fails at one and not the other is difficult to understand.

Thanks again for the visit. The conversation is an important one.

Rex Burkholder said...

Not being a modeler nor a transportation planner I must rely on my expert staff, recognized nationally as among the best modelers and planners. The proposal adopted 15-1 was crafted by Metro staff, based on the actual deliverability of data for deliberation by policy makers. It was they, not politicians, that said the analysis asked for by Mayor Adams was un-doable.

As to modeling: cyclists and walkers have been "invisible" to transportation models due to their motor vehicle bias. Metro, with help from Portland State University researchers, is creating the first bicycle model in the country. It has taken longer than I'd like but creating reliable tools is more complicated than I know and getting real data, from GPS studies of real cyclists, is giving us great information on how people react to different facilities.

As you know, the EPA is not releasing its CO2 emission model until next year. We are doing the best we can and have pledged, in the resolution adopted by the Council yesterday, to continue working on this problem.