Thursday, July 15, 2021

Oregon Transportation Commission Meeting Today, has Potemkin Climate Plan

The Oregon Transportation Commission is meeting today, and they have a substantial chunk of "climate" analysis and policy on the agenda.

Alas, it's shallow.

A slide with a summary of the draft Climate Action Plan shows some of the problem.

Slide on climate plan

Under "managing demand," they say "provide...options to reduce vehicle demand." But there is nothing about actually managing demand in measurable ways. It's an "option," and ODOT doesn't care if you actually use it. It exists primarily as signal and symbol, as empty form, not in any real measured, functional way.

You don't manage your child's bedtime by offering the option to go to bed earlier! 

Without further aligning the incentives, any option for the virtuous choice will be chosen but rarely. (Even with the terrible potential cost of contracting Covid, see the difficulties we have with mask mandates and free vaccination programs.)

The next bullet, "system efficiency," says "to reduce congestion." There's no awareness that reducing congestion is an inducement to new and longer driving trips and is in substantial tension with "provide options to reduce vehicle demand." System efficiency increases vehicle demand!

The framework is not internally consistent, organized around a coherent policy goal to reduce miles traveled and to reduce emissions. And there are no measurements or modeling to demonstrate real emissions reductions.

And, of course, more than anything it's organized around EV mania and utopianism.

The whole plan is organized around seeming to act on climate while conducting as much autoist business as usual as possible.

Evaluation plan

In the report on the STIP, it ignores the idea that we can reallocate money from the "enhancement" widening bucket to one or more climate bucket. Even with the same amount of money, we could change our priorities.

But no, climate funding has to be dedicated, extra funding.

Again, this misunderstands the goal of managing demand. We are called not to add climate action on top of our regular action. We are called to reduce or redirect our regular action to climate action. It's about substitution and change, not simply addition.

Climate money must be extra money

In response to the lack of strong action, a broad coalition of groups including Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and our 350 Salem Oregon chapter, as well as the usual suspects like 1000 Friends of Oregon, OLCV, and the Sierra Club sent a letter to the OTC. They included an unnumbered bulleted list of action ideas (the numbers are added here for reference):

  1. Implement the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan by 2035.
  2. Tie the provision of transportation funding for local governments to their achievement of land use and transportation policy benchmarks that reduce climate pollution, per ODOT’s Statewide Transportation Strategy.
  3. Prioritize investment in ODOT facilities in communities across the state (“orphan highways”) to improve safety for humans and make it easier to travel by biking and walking.
  4. Immediately pause adding new capacity for single occupancy vehicles, including “auxiliary lanes,” and establish a policy of instituting equitable congestion pricing for demand management before adding capacity in order to ensure efficient right-sizing of the system.
  5. Review all current and future projects for impacts on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions, and prioritize projects, plans and investments that reduce VMT and emissions the most.
  6. Incorporate effective land use planning into transportation planning decisions and transportation investments so that walking, biking, and public transit are prioritized over other modes of transportation.
  7. Align all funding tools and investments with the state’s climate and equity goals.
  8. Invest in infrastructure on ODOT facilities that gets buses out of congestion, and makes it safer and more comfortable to get to, wait for, and ride on transit.
  9. Provide financial, technical and coordination support for transit agencies across the state to plan for the substantial increases in coverage, service and electrification that will be required in order to meet the state’s climate goals.
  10. Plan and implement improvements and expansion to build a robust network of safe, convenient, reliable, frequent and affordable rail and/or bus connections between communities across the state.
  11. Connect and build relationships with community based organizations especially in underrepresented communities to co-create programs, plans and improvements that are in line with community needs.

Numbers 2, 4, and 5 are obvious things that ODOT is willfully ignoring. ODOT is structuring a Potemkin plan that looks like action but in fact is not very much.

The OTC and ODOT are sure to ignore all this.

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