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Metro's drive-less campaign fuels up

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - TriMet's Green Line MAX trains cross Johnson Creek Boulevard while carrying passengers between Gateway and Clackamas Town Center as a way to reduce traffic congestion on Interstate 205.The state wants you to drive less, and Metro has to make that happen.

The state’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Metro, the regional government that includes Oregon City, Milwaukie, Clackamas, Gladstone and Happy Valley, is required to present its plan to the 2015 Legislature. The cities and counties within Metro are then expected to adopt it.

As part of the planning process, Metro is considering many ideas to encourage you to reduce your driving. They include increasing the cost of driving, making transit more convenient, building more bike and walking paths, and encouraging you to live closer to where you work and shop.

“It’s still really hard to explain to people,” Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette told the West Linn City Council during its March 11 meeting about the program. Collette represents District 2, which includes Gladstone, Johnson City, Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Rivergrove, West Linn, a portion of Southwest Portland and unincorporated parts of Clackamas County.

Metro is calling its new project Climate Smart Communities. Some of the proposals reflect Metro’s existing policies.

One local example of attempts to improve transportation and reduce emissions is Clackamas County’s Clackamas Town Center redevelopment project. Created in 1980, the 819-acre town center area plan called for road improvements along Southeast 82nd Avenue and included TriMet’s Green Line light-rail route in its transportation links.

The town center’s connection to Interstate 205 and Sunnyside Road has made it one of the region’s fastest growing areas in the past three decades.

The project has been altered to reflect growth in Milwaukie and Happy Valley, the two cities surrounding the area, but it has maintained efforts to add local housing and improve traffic flow.

Metro plans to publicly discuss the Climate Smart Communities research in May. The discussions will take place at two standing advisory committees that include elected officials from throughout the region, the Metro Policy Advisory Committee and the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation. They will make recommendations to the seven-member elected Metro Council, which will decide where to focus the research.

“We need to step up our planning and actually implement some of these changes,” Collette said.

Metro wants to hear from you before that decision is made. It will be conducting an online survey on the issues and ideas under discussion in the first week of April.

“The No. 1 reason to do this is it’s good for business. It’s good for our way of life in this region. And, oh by the way, it cuts down greenhouse gas emissions,” Collette said.

You can register and take the survey at www.climatesmartsurvey.com

Your personal information will not be sold or shared with other governments or private companies. For more information on the surveys, visit optinpanel.org. 

Growing population

State government has been fighting climate change for years. The 2007 Legislature approved the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 75 percent of the 1990 level by 2050. The 2009 Legislature directed Metro to help achieve that goal by reducing emissions from cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles. The target was eventually set at 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2035.

Metro already is in charge of transportation in the urban areas of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. Among other things, it has adopted a 2040 Concept Plan that encourages mixed-use development in centers along existing transportation corridors. It also sets the Portland area’s urban growth boundary that determines where development can occur.

When Metro computed the numbers, it concluded the state’s target was realistic. Area residents already drive about 20 percent less than those in similar metropolitan regions. That is largely because of land-use policies and the regional transit system operated by TriMet.

But the elected Metro Council also decided that reducing driving — in and of itself — wasn’t good enough. The council wants those living in the region to have options that improve the qualities of their lives. That is also the purpose of a Metro project called Making the Greatest Place. It is intended to help all communities set and achieve their livability goals.

Adding to the challenge, between 2010 and 2035, the population within the urban growth boundary is projected to increase by more than 625,000 residents.

Development scenarios

Metro completed the first phase of the project in January 2012 and published a report titled “Understanding Our Land Use and Transportation Choices.” It included the results of tests of six potential techniques for reducing driving. The incentives are: community design, fleet mix, marketing and incentives, pricing, roads and technology.

In the report, Metro staff looked at how three different levels of each technique could produce three different scenarios, which were labeled A, B and C.

Scenario A reflects current plans and policies. Among other things, they include increasing the area within the urban growth boundary from 257,569 to 257,680 acres, keeping the bike mode share — the proportion of relatively short trips made by bike rather than car or other means — at 2 percent, maintaining projections for transit use, keeping the 48 cents-per-gallon gas tax the same and not imposing a road use fee.

Scenario B reflects more ambitious policy changes. They include the same urban growth boundary increase but would raise the bike mode share to 12.5 percent, increasing projected transit use 2.5 times, raising the gas tax by 18 cents a gallon, increasing the proportion of workers participating in employer-based commuting programs from the current 20 to 40 percent, and imposing a road use fee of 3 cents per mile.

Scenario C reflects policy changes Metro admits are even more ambitious. They include no expansion of the urban growth boundary, increasing the bike share mode to 30 percent, increasing projected transit use four times, changing the mix of autos to light trucks or SUVs from the 57-43 percent split to 71-29, more than doubling fuel economy from current levels, and imposing a $50 per-ton carbon emissions fee.

Portland Creep

The Climate Smart Communities project is also unfolding during a growing public backlash to some of Metro’s policies. Last November, Clackamas County voters elected two new commissioners who ran against “Portland Creep,” their term for transit-oriented development. Last fall, the Lake Oswego City Council backed off a proposed Portland Streetcar extension that would have been part of a new development near Highway 43.

New Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is prioritizing street maintenance over new transit projects. And Clark County officials are trying to block the new light-rail line planned as part of the Columbia River Crossing project.

Previous discussions about finding new revenue sources have not gone very far in recent years. Former Portland Mayor Sam Adams proposed, then backed away from a new street maintenance fee when he was a commissioner. The public-private Regional Investment Initiative has explored encouraging private investment in public projects but has not endorsed a new, regional revenue source. Although Hales and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have talked about the need for tax reform, it is unclear whether the 2013 Legislature will tackle the issue.

At the same time, voters have occasionally been willing to increase their taxes, especially in Multnomah County. Last November, Portland voters approved a $35 income tax for the arts, Portland Public Schools voters approved a record-breaking $482 million construction bond measure and county voters created a new library district.

Clackamas County has a library district, and Lake Oswego voters agreed last fall to help finance improvements on Boones Ferry Road.

Reporters Lori Hall and Kevin Harden contributed to this news story.



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