Sunday, December 14, 2014

State Bike Advisory Committee gets Update on Least Cost Planning

The Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meets tomorrow, Monday the 15th, and on the agenda is an update to hear the latest on "Least Cost Planning."

Somebody has a sense of humor!
Willamette Queen in Least Cost Transportation Planning
You may recall that back in 2009 as part of the omnibus transportation package, Legislators asked ODOT to develop a new planning approach, "Least Cost Planning," to find out how to meet mobility needs in a more mode-neutral and cost-effective fashion:
Least cost planning was defined by the 2009 Oregon Legislature in the Jobs and Transportation Act (House Bill 2001):

"Least-cost planning means a process of comparing direct and indirect costs of demand and supply options to meet transportation goals, policies or both, where the intent of the process is to identify the most cost-effective mix of options."
At least theoretically, the idea is that if you can meet mobility needs with better transit, bike, walking facilities, why build a big new highway that's going to be a lot more expensive?

It always seemed like our own Third Bridge process was a terrific candidate for this "least cost planning" approach, since it didn't seem all that difficult to imagine a suite of transit, bike, walking, and land-use approaches for $50 or $100 million that would do a whole heck of a lot more than a giant bridge and highway for $500 million or more.

Least Cost Planning has now morphed into "MOSAIC", and it has its own website.

The planning tool is out in a beta release and you can downtown a highly scripted Excel file.

It looks like it requires a bunch of fancy inputs and isn't really something yet citizen advocates can use on their own. It looks like it requires, for example, access to a travel model - that's something SKATS, our MPO, has right now and it is not generally available to civilians. The tool looks like it's being set up for citizens possibly to use in the controlled environment with more constrained variables like you'd find in a "stakeholder advisory workshop" or similar event.

(Drilling into detail, there are also questions about the travel model's own adequacy, since it appears to rely mostly on 1950-1980s assumptions, and no matter how wonderful might MOSAIC be, if it is relying on faulty inputs from an antiquated travel model, we could have a Garbage-in-Garbage-out problem.)

Addtionally, the latest brochure suggests applying it to something like the Third Bridge is already too granular:
Mosaic is designed to inform transportation decision-making at the system level. Many impacts are estimated with a range of uncertainty best suited to high level analysis. It is not intended to evaluate direct and indirect impacts of specific projects with the detail necessary for project-level analysis. Mosaic is a gauge, but not a microscope....

Mosaic can be used at any large geographic scale—city, county, or region, as well as for special studies such as complex corridors. It is not intended for project-level analysis.
So it may actually be of more limited utility than some advocates might have hoped. Still, it would be interesting to see a new TSM/TDM analysis of the river crossing situation and see if ODOT themselves can identify more human capacity that doesn't require a giant bridge and highway.

OBPAC is not, of course, as interested in the Third Bridge as we are here, and they are going to get a general update on MOSAIC.

Transportation Options Plan Flyer
Speaking of TSM/TDM, also on the agenda is an update on the Oregon Transportation Options Plan.

From the Executive Summary:
The Oregon Transportation Options Plan provides policy guidance for state and local partners to enhance and expand transportation access for all Oregonians while ensuring that transportation investments are efficient and support broader community goals such as growing the economy and improving personal and environmental health. The Oregon Transportation Options Plan:
  • Identifies opportunities to expand transportation choices
  • Looks to increase funding opportunities for transportation options programs and investments
  • Provides information to better integrate transportation options into local, regional, and state transportation planning
Policies, strategies, and programs described in the Oregon Transportation Options Plan promote efficient use of existing transportation system investments, reducing reliance on the single-occupancy vehicle and facilitating use of walking, biking, transit, and rideshare. While transportation infrastructure and operations are critical to the success of a balanced transportation system, this Plan focuses on the programs, strategies, and investments that support the efficient use of transportation infrastructure.
What I worry, though, is that this is too much "policy guidance" and not enough binding policy.  We will know ODOT is serious about transportation options when they include in their proposed transportation bill at the 2015 Legislature bus passes for all State employees and push for more market-pricing on paid parking! In the mean time, this looks more like an "advisory" shelf study than something that informs and shapes actual decisions like, oh, the Third Bridge, for example.

ODOT is taking public comment on the draft Transportation Options Plan through January 30th (click through for details, the plan itself, and email link).

Current OBPAC members include two Salemites:
Kenji Sugahara and Wayne Baum
OBPAC meets Dec. 15 at 9 a.m. at the Oregon Department of Transportation's Mill Creek building, 555 13th St. NE in Salem, in the Mt. McLoughlin room.

Update, December 29th

Chapter 3 of the Draft Transportation Options Plan has all kinds of good-looking rhetoric...

Chapter 3 on Challenges and Trends
But again, the interesting and relevant question is not how nice is the prose here, but how the policy rhetoric gets translated into actual funding and design.

How is it possible for ODOT to continue with the Salem River Crossing while at the same time talking about "public health" and "doing more with less...requiring jurisdictions to think more broadly about moving people and goods efficiently," and about "changing transportation preferences":
Transportation preferences among younger generations are changing – young adults are driving less and many show a clear preference for options to bike, walk, and take transit.
When is ODOT going to put 2 + 2 together and get the right hand with the left hand?

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