Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Talking Around Climate Action at the MPO

Drought in summer, flood in winter
Seattle Times last week

The Policy Committee for our Metropolitan Planning Organization meets today the 23rd, and climate threads through several of the agenda items.

Carrots only as discourse of delay

The MPO continues to slow-walk the process for new administrative rules on climate from ODOT and DLCD. In the meeting packet is a letter from the League of Oregon Cities and Association of Oregon Counties arguing for carrots and delay. In context, the inclusion reads as approval for, rather than critique of, the approach.

Prefer carrots

In their own letter, SKATS references "balance" and "encouragement," but not the actual outcome of less driving and shorter trips. An ongoing problem is that this is a Potemkin show of symbol, and not actual shift from driving to other trips.

An empty kind of optimism

A Digression on Loss Aversion and Framing

As a digression, but related, four transportation researchers, including one at the University of Oregon, just published a preliminary study on loss aversion, finding a large effect in framing:

“shifting trips” garners 63% public support, while “reduce driving” earns just 34%.

Framing may matter

Here on the blog, the honesty and directness of "reducing" car trips has seemed important. There is and has been too much language about "increasing options" and "balance," and this is not reliably translated into things that actually reduce car trips and driving. It is squishy, about appearance and not reality. A crappy bike lane on a 40mph stroad meets the standard of "increasing options" and looks "balanced," especially as a blue line on a bike map, but does not induce much in the way of new bike trips. Mostly it serves confident and skilled people, or people who had few other transportation choices, people who were already disposed to bike. 

So insisting on the "reduction" in car trips seemed key.

But if the same measurement can be expressed by "shifting trips" then that would work and appears to avoid some of the problem of loss aversion. So that is good to know. But it has to be accompanied with measurement!

A Second Digression on Roundabouts and Batteries

On the front of the Sunday New York Times were a couple of articles related to transportation.

One, below the fold, was a feature modern traffic roundabouts, suggesting they are safer and reduce emissions.

NY Times front page Sunday

But the piece shows roundabouts that lack bike lanes and require people on foot to cross in multiple phases. The front photo hardly shows any sidewalk at all.

The piece omitted any discussion of land use. The roundabouts are surrounded by grassy margins or occasionally by parking lots. They were really suburban in car-dependent locations and patterns.

It's a world for cars and those who use them. The frame of the piece was still a world dominated by car travel and did not question the value or cost of the car travel in the first place.

Above the fold, above the piece on roundabouts, there was something about a structural problem with batteries.

Cobalt mine, also on the front page

We've read a little about problems with Lithium mining, and here was a piece on problems with Cobalt mining.

EV mania introduces a new set of environmental costs. 

Continuing to optimize for cars and car travel, even with a different power source, is a harmful trend.

There are so many reasons we need to work not just on "balance" but to unbalance our autoist system and actually shift trips so we drive less and have fewer cars on the road.

Back to the Agenda

The MPO continues to work on the plan for scoring project applications for funding in the 2024-2029 cycle as well as for funding coming to Oregon through the Biden Infrastructure bill.

On both of these there are opportunities to center climate action much more strongly, though the MPO seems disinclined to do so.

Today they will also formally adopt the Public Participation Plan.

(See recent notes on SKATS for more on all three topics.)

The committee meets at noon today, Tuesday the 23rd.

Meeting information

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