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Drive-less campaign fuels up on new ideas

Publics input sought with Opt In survey on ways to reduce vehicles on the road


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

DirksenThe state’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are believed to contribute to climate change. Metro, the regional government that includes Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, 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.

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

Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen — a former Tigard mayor who represents portions of Washington and Clackamas counities, including Durham, King City, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin, Bull Mountain, Wilsonville and parts of Beaverton — said that many projects already under way in Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood are good starts to helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Whether it’s improving downtowns, working on transportation projects, working with TriMet for additional transit to get more travel options, we are going in right direction to reduce the time and distance people have to travel everyday,” Dirksen said.

Dirksen added that even with all of those projects, more will need to be done. “We need to come up with other kinds of things, as well/”

But it’s an uphill battle, Dirksen said. Large scale transportation projects are difficult to fund these days with financial troubles at TriMet and federal money drying up.

“It’s just not there like it used to be,” he said. “They are all barriers to reaching our goal.”

Dirksen said the Southwest Corridor plan, a project that could see light rail or some other form of high capacity transit rolling through Tigard and Sherwood over the next several years, will likely be shaped by his work with Climate Smart Communities.

“The priorities in the corridor will reflect the desire (to reduce emissions) and we need to meet that goal,” he said.

Metro plans to 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.

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 committees and 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.

State government has been fighting climate change for years. The 2007 Legislature approved the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emission 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 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. 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 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.

Scenario C

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 for 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 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 raise the bike mode share to 12.5 percent, increasing projected transit use 2.5 times, raise the gas tax by 18 cents a gallon, increasing the workers participating in employer-based commuting programs from the current 20 to 40 percent, and impose 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 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, 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 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.



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