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Metro's drive-less campaign fuels up

Public's help sought on survey to reduce vehicles on the road


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.Oregon wants you to drive less, and Metro has to make that happen.

The state’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are believed to contribute to climate change. Metro, the regional government that includes Portland is required to present its plan to the 2015 Legislature. The cities and counties within Metro are 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.

“We can reduce our carbon footprint without punishing ourselves. It can be a win-win,” says Metro District 6 Councilor Bob Stacey, who represents portions of Northeast, Southeast and Southwest Portland.

Metro District 5 Councilor Sam Chase, who also represents parts of Portland, agrees.

“I want to live in a region that’s doing everything it can to reduce global warming and make communities healthier and better places to live, and that’s what the Climate Smart Communities project is all about,” says Chase, whose district includes Northwest and North Portland, portions of Southwest and Northeast Portland, plus the city of Maywood Park and part of Washington County.

Examples abound in Portland, which has embraced Smart Growth high-density planning concepts for years. They include the Portland Streetcar that connects Northwest Portland and the Pearl District to downtown, Portland State University and South Waterfront. It eliminates the need for automobiles for many trips and has encouraged new mixed-use developments. The streetcar also will connect with the TriMet’s new MAX line in South Waterfont and near OMSI in the future.

Metro is planning to publicly discuss the current Climate Smart Communities research in May. The discussions will take place at two standing advisory committee meetings 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.

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 results will be presented at the advisory committee meetings and and to the council. Metro has used such Opt In surveys in the past to measure public opinion on issues ranging from neighborhood satisfaction to maintaining its parks and natural lands.

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

Your personal information will not be sold or shared with other governments or private companies. For more information on the surveys, visit 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 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 eventually was 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 around 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 also is the purpose of a Metro project called Making the Greatest Place. It is intended to help all communities set and acheive 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.

Scenario C

by: FILE PHOTO - Rush-hour gridlock at Highway 217 and Interstate 5 in Tigard is one of the things Metro hopes to ease with its goal of reducing vehicle use. The agency is tasked with reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars by 2035.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. They 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 2 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 raising 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 workers participating in employer-based commuting programs from the current 20 percent to 40 percent, and imposing a 3 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 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 a new one based in part on the survey results.

‘Portland Creep’

The Climate Smart Communities project also is unfolding during a growing public backlash to some of Metro’s policies. Last November, Clackamas County voters elected two new commissions who ran against “Portland Creep,” their term for transit-oriented development. Last fall, Lake Oswego’s 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. Former Portland Mayor Sam Adams proposed and then backed away from a new street maintenance fee when he was a city commissioner. The public-private Regional Investment Initiative has explored encouraging private investments in public projects, but has not endorsed a new, regional revenue source. Although both 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.

At the same time, voters occasionally have 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.

At the same time, there is no guarantee that such projects can solve every problem, however. The region has invested millions in transit and bike improvement in recent decades. They include light-rail lines in all three counties. But the percentage 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 the 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.