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Metro's "Drive Less" campaign fuels up on new ideas

Nearly a decade ago, Tom Brian and his fellow Washington County Commissioners thought up the “Drive Less, Save More,” campaign.

They hated spending money on expensive road projects to accommodate increased traffic, and thought if people just cut down on road trips, maybe they could spend less.

The state has since joined the “Drive Less” bandwagon with a vengeance — and with a different underlying goal: to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, which are believed to contribute to climate change.

The contractor in charge of making that happen is Metro, the regional government that sets land-use and transportation policies for urban areas from Gresham to Hillsboro and Forest Grove.

Metro is required to present its plan to the 2015 Legislature.

As part of the planning process, Metro is considering many ideas to encourage area residents to reduce their driving, including 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.

“We need to be good stewards of the planet and leave our children a healthy place to live. And we can do that by creating quality communities,” said Metro District 4 Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who represents northern Washington County, including the cities of Cornelius, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Aloha and northwest Beaverton.

Metro is calling its new project “Climate Smart Communities.” A local example is the Hillsboro Intermodal Transit Facility, a joint project of the city, Tuality Healthcare and Pacific University at 775 S.E. Baseline. A sustainably designed building along the westside MAX line, it houses 794 parking spaces on five floors, 13 state-of-the-art electric vehicle charging stations, and the region’s first bicycle commuter station, Bike Park Hillsboro. The building also includes ground-floor retail space and is home to Portland Community College’s Hillsboro Education Center. It has won a number of awards for design and sustainability.

Metro is planning to publicly discuss the current Climate Smart Communities research in May. The discussions will take place in 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 Metro Council, whose elected members will decide where to focus the research.

Metro wants to hear from the public before that decision is made. The agency will be conducting an on-line survey on the issues and ideas under discussion in the first week of April. The results will be presented at the advisory committees and council. Metro has used Opt-In surveys in the past to measure public opinion on issues ranging from neighborhood satisfaction to maintaining parks and natural lands.

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

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 1990 levels 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 is already 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.

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

But the elected Metro Council also decided that those living in the region need to have options to improve the quality of their lives. Adding to the challenge, the population within the urban growth boundary is projected to increase by more than 625,000 residents between 2010 and 2035.

Three 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 six potential techniques for reducing driving. The techniques 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 at two percent; maintaining projections for transit use; keeping the 48 cent-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 raise the bike mode share to 12.5 percent; increase projected transit use by 2.5 times; raise the gas tax by 18 cents a gallon; increase the workers participating in employer-based commuting programs from the current 20 to 40 percent; and imposing a three cents per mile road use fee.

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 by four times; changing the mix of autos to light trucks/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.

The Opt-In survey will help Metro decide which scenario to present to the 2015 Legislature. Options include creating a new scenario based in part on the survey results.

Portland creep

The Climate Smart Communities project is also unfolding during a growing public backlash over 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 away from a proposed Portland Streetcar extension that would have been part of a new development. 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 gotten very far in recent years. The public-private Regional Investment Initiative has explored encouraging private investments in public projects, but has not endorsed a new, regional revenue source. Although Gov. John Kitzhaber and Hales have talked about the need for tax reform, it is unclear at this time whether the 2013 Legislature will tackle the issue.

The region has invested millions in transit and bike improvements in recent decades, including light rail lines in all three counties. But the percent of trips taken by automobiles in the region has barely declined, according to the 2011 Travel Activity Survey, which was released last fall. The greatest decreases were in the Portland core, with little change documented in outlying areas.

Perhaps that is why the Hillsboro City Council thinks congestion in western Washington County is actually getting worse, despite the years of planning and investments. Late last year, it called for a study of transportation needs and solutions to meet the growing demands of the residents, workers and businesses.




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