Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pseudo-Science vs. Real Science at the MPO: Greenhouse Gas Workshop

If we haven't killed ourselves off in some slow-developing or sudden extinction event, historians from the future looking back on our era will write about our enthusiasm for cars and the way we embraced the pseudo-science and social engineering in hydraulic autoism. They will be impressed with the pseudo-scientific metrics of volume/capacity ratios and levels of service, as well as our tolerance for long and sedentary commutes, and equally amazed with our repudiation of actual science in rising greenhouse gas emissions, their effects, and our careless response.

The Policy Committee for our Metropolitan Planning Organization meets on Tuesday the 29th, and there are several meaty matters on the agenda. At the top of the list is a two hour work session after the meeting proper to discuss greenhouse gases and what the State and MPOs should do.

From the agenda:
The Advisory Committee on Metropolitan Transportation Planning and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets has held five meetings between May and November 2016. Commissioner Brentano and Mike Jaffe have represented SKATS on the committee and provided updates to the SKATS Policy Committee. The Advisory Committee has consensus on several of the initial target issues and is having its final meeting in December....

Because of the complexity of this GHG target setting issue, the Policy Committee requested a 2-hour workshop to review the work and consensus recommendations of the Advisory Committee. SKATS staff will provide a presentation about the target setting process assisted by staff from the Department of Land Conservation and Development. After the Policy Committee has asked questions and discussed the issue, they are requested to provide Commissioner Brentano and staff with any direction they believe is appropriate for the final meeting of the Advisory Committee in December and/or LCLD’s meeting in January 26-27 to adopt targets.

Setting up the context, from last month's minutes:
Commissioner Sam Brentano expressed concern regarding what he considers to be unrealistic GHG reduction targets. He noted that while it appears that the amount of reduction achieved by the removal of each vehicle can be quantified, he is mystified as to what is the end game/result anticipated. He wants to know when DLCD achieved control over transportation and ODOT. He reiterated his position that he is convinced that the targets are unrealistic; and as it is possible to quantify emissions reduction by vehicle removed from the transportation system, what is the end game?....

Mike Jaffe suggested that the Policy Committee schedule a special workshop in November to review GHG issues and targets including the calculations used to produce targets. Chair Cathy Clark advised that a Strategic Assessment (which has been used in the Corvallis and Rogue Valley MPOs) might be useful to provide a basis for infrastructure funding requests.

Reluctance to pursue a strategic assessment could hinder the SKATS area from receiving funding for projects based on need. Whether people agree that greenhouse gases impact global warming or not, reduction measures are likely to be mandatory at some point with, or without, input from MPOs....

Committee discussion focused on having a short Policy Committee meeting on November 29 and having a longer meeting following it with DLCD staff to discuss GHG issues. It was suggested that a reminder should be sent to encourage Policy Committee members to bring their lunches to this meeting. The meeting should last no later than 3:30 p.m.

Councilor Lewis suggested that if the target rule is meant to act as a means for controlling MPO action, MPOs should object to it. If it is meant to act as guidance, then it should be accepted. [italics added]
(Don't tell me what to do!!!)

We have volume/capacity targets we routinely invoke to justify road and intersection widening. Local jurisdictions do this, ODOT does this, the FHWA does it.

But if we were to have greenhouse gas emission targets we wanted to invoke in order to justify safety improvement projects; or enhanced walking, biking, or busing projects; or better land use with more frequent and denser "20 minute neighborhoods" - nope!

Salemites Using Phrenology, the Election of 1896
August 24th, 1896
Somehow, the pseudo-science and social engineering of hydraulic autoism is "common sense" and scientific, but the actual science in greenhouse gases is "political" and "uncertain" or "heavy-handed."

This is exactly backwards and we are in a world of hurt.

More Money for the SRC
When the SKATS FY 2010-2015 TIP was adopted, it included $500,000 in STP-U funds to be used either to complete the Salem River Crossing EIS or to contribute to a first phase of project development. These funds have slipped into subsequent TIPs and are currently programmed in FY 2017 (which is the current fiscal year).

ODOT recently informed SKATS staff that the $500,000 is needed to complete the Final EIS. ODOT will provide the local matching funds. Dan Fricke will be available to provide information. After the Final EIS is complete, a Record of Decision (ROD) would be requested from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Resolving the Squabble over CMAQ Funds

I don't know that the details are all that important, but somehow for several years we have been eligible for a pot of Federal funding meant to reduce air pollution. By some combination of error - innocent or nefarious is not necessarily clear - we haven't been getting it. So after some rounds of negotiation, we have a proposed settlement. From ODOT's letter:
It is agreed by all parties that the eligibility timeframe will be restricted to the 2016-2018 time period, notwithstanding the 2009 or 2013 events that triggered the eligibility of these two areas.

If approved by the OTC, three revenue sources will be used to reconcile this issue:
  • $1.1 Million from the increase of CMAQ funding identified in the federal Fast Act 2016-2018
  • $1.1 Million in unallocated funds from the OTC created Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) infrastructure program
  • $12.131 Million from annual redistribution of federal funding that may come to the state of Oregon, regardless of how many years that may take.
The total of $14.331 Million will be divided based on air quality populations of both areas: $7.542 Million for Salem/Keizer and $6.789 Million for Eugene/Springfield. This was based on $2.514M for Salem/Keizer and $2.263M for Eugene/Springfield each year for the three years of 2016-2018.
This almost looks more like creative book-keeping, though. It's mostly a redistribution of future funding, and therefore re-slicing a future pie of unknown size, rather than making a larger pie.

The funding looks like it will get entirely sucked up by Cherriots for new or replacement buses (though Cherriots also includes some bike safety education and expansion of Rideshare/Trip Choice programming) and by local governments in a set of  "signal interconnect projects."
For projects that result in congestion relief when traffic signals are synchronized, FHWA has a tool that estimates the reduced delay at intersections and the amount of reduced emissions.
So here we have the tension between programming that makes it easy not to drive - more buses! - and programming that makes it easy to drive - more traffic flow!

We really need to get to a point where our preferred approach to congestion and air pollution is to make it easy not to drive.

That's what we should be using CMAQ funding for.

Vetting 2018-2023 Federal Funding and Project List

Things are getting closer! Out of the Technical Advisory Committee is a preliminary priority list (with project totals, not the pro-rated Federal portion). In outline it's been stable for a couple of months now, and so it looks reasonable believe there won't be any great changes to it:
  1. River Road N. Traffic Signal Interconnect – Keizer Keizer/Salem $1,600,000
  2. Union Street NE Family Friendly Bikeway - Salem $3,650,000
  3. Silverton @ Hollywood Traffic Signal & Turn Lane now combined with  Hollywood Dr: Silverton Rd to Salem CL Urban Upgrade - Marion County $3,150,000
  4. Hilfiker Ln SE at Commercial St SE Intersection and Signal Upgrade - Salem $2,150,000
  5. Fixed Route Transit Bus Replacements - Cherriots $3,000,000
  6. Verda Lane Bike/Ped improvements - Keizer $3,200,000
  7. Keizer Growth Transportation Impacts Study - Keizer $190,000
  8. Kuebler/Cordon Corridor Study and Management Plan - Marion County $205,000
  9. Oregon Household Travel and Activity Survey for the SKATS area - SKATS $425,000
  10. McGilchrist Street SE - partial ROW only, 23rd to 25th - Salem $720,000
  11. Cherriots Passenger Counter Replacement - $360,000
Remaining Projects to be slotted in as any additional funding becomes available:
  1. Lancaster Dr: Auburn to Center Urban Reconstruction - Marion County
  2. McGilchrist Street SE remaining ROW - Salem
  3. Transit ITS Replacement and Upgrade/bus replacement - Cherriots
Given that we are not yet in a place that prioritizes making it easy not to drive over making it easy to drive, it's hard to quibble with the list.

Union St Bikeway: From Commercial to 12th
The Union Street bikeway is a very important project and it will be great to see the whole length of it - even if the current designs still contain compromise elements and are not yet as forward-thinking as they could be. The proposed design is mostly "good" as opposed to "world-class." It's also a ways out: Kids now at Parrish and North will be into adulthood before it is complete.

Two-way separated path in the Union/12th Elbow at Marion
The Verda Lane project will be very useful, as it connects the Parkway path, two schools, and Clagget Park - though hopefully there will not be too much widening involved. Crucially, there are no big and terrible projects on the list. All things considered, it's pretty reasonable.

There's still a few more steps before it's all final. From back in May (and it looks like we are still on the track of this timeline):
In November/December (specific date tbd), the Policy Committee (elected officials from the jurisdictions of SKATS) will review the TAC recommendations, make any changes they feel is needed, and ask MPO staff to release the draft 2018-2023 TIP for public review and comment. MPO staff will be preparing a public outreach plan for the draft TIP, following the guidelines in the SKATS Public Participation Plan. In February or March, MPO staff will summarize all the public comments for the TAC and Policy Committee to review, and will also schedule a public hearing. Following the public review process and public hearing, the Policy Committee will make their final decision on the projects to include in the FY2018-2023 TIP.
Transportation at the 2017 Legislature
At the October Policy Committee meeting, staff reviewed a new draft paper that was discussed at the October 7th OMPOC [Oregon Metropolitan Planning Organization Consortium] meeting in Bend: “Potential Points of Common Ground for OMPOC Support in 2017 Transportation Package.”

The paper lists items that should be considered by the Oregon Legislature in crafting a transportation package in 2017. The paper includes recommendations for the amount of revenue increases needed as well as descriptions of how increased funds might be used for safety, transit, freight rail, passenger rail, bicycle and pedestrian projects, seismic preparedness, more authority to local communities, etc. The Policy Committee agreed to review the paper at the November meeting and provide direction for the SKATS representatives as they discuss the paper at the OMPOC meeting in Salem on December 9th.
In their introductory letter, OMPOC says
OMPOC feels that not only is the need obviously great, but that the time is right to raise additional sustainable revenue to support all modes of transportation in Oregon. Consideration needs to be given to a full spectrum of measures, not just traditional highway or gas tax approaches. Revenue sources that support transit capital and operations, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, special needs transportation, passenger rail improvements, and more - as well as highway and road improvements, operations, and maintenance - must all be part of the mix.
Especially relative to Portland's METRO and Lane County's MPO, our MPO may have reservations about raising the gas tax or other measures for new revenue, as well as reservations about how important are walking, biking, busing, and passenger trains in the total mix.

Again, do we pursue safety and congestion by making it easy for people not to drive? Or do we try to accommodate safety and congestion by trying to make driving easier, more convenient, and somehow also safer?

In their Legislative Priorities, the City of Salem did not dive into these details, saying only that the Legislature should "Seek passage of a comprehensive funding package with a top priority of maintaining and preserving existing transportation infrastructure."

Locally, then, there may not be a very great reservoir of support for greater transportation choices and safety, and a commensurate de-emphasis on support for drive-alone trips.

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
SKATS Policy Committee meets Tuesday the 29th at noon. SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Andaluz Kitchen and Table Five 08.

The greehouse gas workshop immediately follows, probably around 1:30 or 2pm. The agenda says:
Due to the inclusion of the 2-hour GHG workshop, this meeting is anticipated to last until late afternoon. Policy Committee members and interested parties are encouraged to bring their lunch with them to the meeting.

Finally, the length of this post shows there are, and will remain, meaningful actions at the local level. Even if, or as, things melt-down nationally, it may be possible, and will be important to continue to try, to work on things at the State and local levels. That is why we won't take a sudden swerve here to focus solely on national-level things in 2017.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I know that this blog is about cycling and reducing dependence on cars, but when you mentioned green house gases, I thought it ironic that Commissioner Brentano is on SKATS. He and his other county commissioners are talking about limiting emissions from cars (or at least listening to presentation on the topic) while at the same time they support and are promoting the creation of more GHG with the incinerator at Brooks.

This was stated in an article in the Salem Weekly about why Physicians for Social Responsibility warn against the incinerator and their proposed expansion of the burner and the importation of waste from Metro.

"Among other points, OPSR cited data that waste-to-energy incinerators produce more pollution and global warming emissions per unit of electricity that coal fired power plants. It provided statistics from the Energy Justice Network that “to make the same amount of energy as a coal-powered plant, trash incinerators release 28 times as much dioxin than coal, 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide, twice as much carbon monoxide, three times as much nitrogen oxides, 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead and 70% more sulfur dioxides.”

I worry that all the efforts to reduce pollution by cars is lost when we incinerate waste...especially medical waste. At least cars do not make dioxin like the burner does.

I think we have to hold our elected officials to a standard that says they must think holistically about issues and not just things in isolation. After all the world is an ecosystem, not just a set of individual objects occupying their own space.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if anybody's aware but coming home Sunday afternoon we saw a man got hit by a car on mission at the Roberson / Costco intersection. He was hit hard and police was immediately there as there was heavy traffic. Can't find anything in the news about it at all even though there were dozens of witnesses. Just another pedestrian victim on Mission street....