Oct 24, 2007, 7:51 PM
TriMet offers rebuttal of O'Toole's debunking Portland
I am pressed for time and don't have ability right now to switch this PDF into a word file, if anyone else does, please post it!
Oct 24, 2007, 8:18 PM
Hmm interesting article. Tho you're never going to convince O'Toole that his assertions are way off. Besides the fact that i don't agree with much of what o'toole spews out, i think it ridiculous that he can sit back and criticize a city he doesn't even live in! Anyways, i'm not really in love with trimet either: Old buses; the max is slow and the honor system on rail needs to go; too many stops on max and for buses.
Oct 24, 2007, 9:12 PM
TriMet Review of
“Debunking Portland: The Public Transit Myth”
In his recent paper, Debunking Portland: The Public Transit Myth” dated August 28, 2007,
posted on the Cato Institute web site, and cited in the media, Mr. O’Toole of the Cato Institute
insists that the acclaim Portland continues to receive internationally for its common sense
linkage between transportation and land use is based upon a myth. What he does not see is the
exuberance and envy international visitors display when they see the scale of development in
downtown Portland, the full MAX trains in the middle of the day or the scale and quality of
development happening around MAX stations in places like Gresham and Hillsboro. They talk to
representatives from the business community, they interview MAX riders and they experience
first-hand the energy and enthusiasm for what is happening here. From Milwaukee, Wisconsin to
Seoul, South Korea, other places look to Portland as a model for creating more livable
Portland’s integration of transportation and land use planning gives the region a head start in
addressing the symptoms of global warming, limited energy resources, population growth and
shifting demographics. Transit may not be the panacea for growth and mobility challenges, but it
is a cornerstone strategy for creating a balanced transportation system that supports lifestyle
choices. The objective is not to cram more people onto buses and trains, but to provide
alternatives to the automobile, which has already filled roadways, polluted the air and consumed
precious land for parking lots. Lifestyle choices are increasingly based on trips that can be made
locally – by walking, cycling or using local public transportation. The region has planned and
built an integrated system of bus, light rail and streetcar, with each mode optimized for local or
regional travel. Among transit investment choices, decision makers found light rail to best fit the
land use and development needs of major corridors in the region. The goal was to develop a
balanced transportation system that provides attractive travel options and has a positive influence
on the quality of life in the region.
A Well Considered Decision that Started 55 Years Ago
Mr. O’Toole asserts that the Portland region is spending too much on public transit, diverting
funds from other community needs. Thirty years ago a freeway cutting through Portland’s
southeast neighborhoods would have had a major detrimental impact on neighborhoods. Officials
replaced that project with a new Regional Transportation Plan, calling for no new freeway
construction in the region and reconstruction of a deteriorated transit system.
For the past quarter century Portland area communities have been implementing this plan. The
Portland region’s urban growth boundary, formed in 1979, grew only 1.2 percent, or 3,000 acres
for 23 years up to November 2002, when an additional 18,000 acres were added. Light rail helps
to support a compact urban area characterized by comparatively short trips and active
community centers. Portland remains surrounded by pristine rural and forested areas.
Municipalities have enacted comprehensive plans establishing urban centers along existing and
planned fixed guideway transit routes and installed the infrastructure needed to support this land
use pattern. Road investments have been sized to complement these transit investments. The
region is increasing attention to bike and pedestrian facilities that provide for local travel, safe
routes to schools and access to transit. To ensure that the desired compact urban form was
achieved, an urban growth boundary was established that preserved neighborhoods and promotes
urban densities within regional and town centers. This has kept sprawl in check and protected
valuable farm and forestland.
Community Response to Light Rail Transit
Mr. O’Toole reaches back 10 years to a complex series of ballot measures to conclude that
Portlanders dislike light rail. Portland residents vote every day for light rail at the “farebox”.
Seventy percent of TriMet transit riders either have a car available that they left at home or don’t
have a car available because they prefer to use TriMet.
Contrary to Mr. O’Toole’s assertion, the ridership growth has been sustained in spite of fare
increases that were necessary to keep pace with rising fuel costs. TriMet’s weekly ridership has
increased for 18 consecutive years. Fiscal year 2007 annual ridership finished at 96.9 million
trips. TriMet has added three new light rail lines over the last 10 years without any sacrifice of
overall productivity. Light rail ridership is at an all time high of 110,300 weekday boarding rides
or 34% of the total. Portlanders are not just using transit to avoid peak-hour congestion and
parking charges. Saturday MAX ridership of 85,400 is 77% of the weekday total. The strength of
light rail ridership has not been at the expense of persons riding the bus. Bus boarding riders per
vehicle hour increased from 32 to 34 over the past 10 years.
Those statistics reflect public attitudes. A 2006 survey of 1,000 regional residents found that
85% of the public approves the MAX system (66% strongly approve, 19% somewhat approve)
and only 8% disapprove. The bus system received similar statistics, with 51% strongly approving
and 31% somewhat approving.
Between 1995 and 2005 overall ridership increased 53% with only a 20% increase in service.
While transit remains a minority mode for travel, it is outpacing the 25% growth in vehicles
miles of travel and the 16% growth in population over that same period of time. In almost every
category, Portland’s integrated transit system appears healthy and well used.
The Cost of Light Rail
Light rail transit does require a significant up-front investment of $22 to $60 million per mile,
but it costs less to operate per passenger carried. Over time this cost-efficiency is critical. A light
rail train carries 266 riders on average during the peak hours, with loads of up to 332 for some
trains. A bus carries 51 riders comfortably or 64 under peak conditions. This five-fold capacity
advantage means light rail costs less per passenger. For fiscal year 2007 average operating cost
per boarding ride for all bus routes was $2.66 or $2.14 for the most productive 16 Frequent
Service bus routes. This cost for MAX was $1.48.
Portland’s credibility in delivering well-used projects on time and on budget has leveraged an
average of $65 million annually in Federal transportation dollars over each of the past 15 years.
Private funds have also been leveraged in the construction of Airport MAX and the Central City
Streetcar. Investments in communities around light rail and streetcar far exceed the cost of those
projects. Every project, Eastside, Westside, Airport and Interstate, was completed on or ahead of
schedule and within budget.
Light rail program cost summary
Light Rail Project Cost Year Opened Federal share
Eastside $ 214 million 1986 83%
Westside $ 963 million 1998 73%
Airport $ 125 million 2001 0%
Interstate $ 350 million 2004 74%
Total $ 1.652 billion
Rarely do funds for the construction and operation of light rail compete with core community
needs. Federal transportation dollars cannot be spent on schools and designated transit dollars are
not available for road projects. These funds would be spent in other cities if the Portland region
did not compete for them. It is true that TriMet has stretched its resources and implemented
aggressive management, maintenance and operating productivity measures to meet growing
demands on transit. The community has benefited from that resourcefulness. TriMet has cut back
on less productive bus routes and reallocated those resources for frequent bus routes that serve
Public transit is a safety net for thousands of residents and workers who cannot drive due to
disabilities, age or income. It contributes to a healthy economy and quality of life for all
residents. It increases the independence of mobility challenged population groups, which will
only grow as the median age increases in the years ahead.
Transit investments complement the regional land use plan with its focus on corridors and
centers – providing transportation options and reducing reliance on the automobile. Three
quarters of area residents are within a 1/4-mile walking range of transit. A new life style has
emerged in active, mixed-use communities allowing residents to reach more destinations by
walking, cycling, or taking the streetcar or bus.
Light Rail and Streetcar Speeds
Mr. O’Toole suggests that light rail and streetcars are slow. Light rail’s average speed of 19.3
miles per hour includes station stops, but light rail does not have to contend with delays due to
accidents and congestion, signal cycles and the search for a parking space. For many trips, light
rail is a faster, more reliable travel option. Light rail is an attractive travel option as it offers:
• Reliable operation, free delays due to traffic congestion and accidents,
• Permanence and predictability for the occasional rider,
• Relatively quiet operation and zero emissions,
• Wide doors, spacious interiors and the ability to read or relax,
• Smooth ride quality.
Portland’s streetcar on the other hand is serving short trips, making speed of minor importance.
The streetcar like light rail eliminates the time spent parking and retrieving an automobile. It
offers convenience and comfort for local travel that even the automobile cannot provide.
Development and Transit
Light rail does not by itself promise redevelopment and prosperity – but it does provide access
and access is a valuable commodity. That value translates into more density, less parking and
new mixes of commercial and residential development. With access that is clean, quiet and less
auto dependent, the character of the surrounding development can be more pedestrian oriented.
The prosperity of the Central City and Pearl District is the product of a regional land use and
transportation policy that makes reinvestment attractive. There is a synergy between urban
renewal investments, streetcar construction and new development and redevelopment. Parking
revenue and self-imposed local improvement taxes helped to support the streetcar program.
Studies for the Portland Development Commission show that Portland’s livability has attracted a
creative generation of workers. New talent and an environment that supports emerging business
and industry contributes to the local and international economy, provides cultural benefits to the
community and brings national and international visibility. These advantages allow Portland
compete with regions like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New
York. Regardless of profession or life-style preferences, everyone benefits from a well-
developed and integrated transit system.
Redevelopment near light rail stations, however, as Mr. O’Toole suggests, is not automatic –
even with rezoning. It is not the intent of light rail to disrupt established communities and only
the market can dictate when property should redevelop. The City of Portland has used tax
incentives to help overcome redevelopment hurdles, but recently recognized that the transit-
oriented development incentive has served its purpose and recently eliminated that incentive.
While these incentives have an up front public cost, they bring development that would not have
otherwise occurred or would have occurred in places where the provision of public infrastructure
would be more costly. No one pretends that residents of transit-oriented development don’t
drive, but they may drive less and they may own one rather than two cars. These developments
generally require less parking – say 1.2 versus 2.0 spaces per unit. Light rail and streetcar
investment has been matched with more than $8 billion in adjacent new development. This new
development over the long run is a great benefit to the city – in taxes, wages and the
contributions of these residents.
The resulting compact region has saved billions of dollars in infrastructure costs, including costly
urban freeways, irreversible disruptions of neighborhoods and increased air pollution. The
“Westside” extension of light rail, opened in 1998, provides the capacity equivalent of another
freeway lane and a half on the westbound Sunset Highway.
Light rail is part of a balanced transportation system that also includes roads, freeways, bike
routes, sidewalks, and other modes of transit. Mr. O’Toole’s concern of travel speeds is less
relevant when one considers how long it takes to travel around a community. Portland area
commutes are subject to congestion, but are shorter – 20% shorter relative to the 33 most
populous cities - due to our growth management strategies and investment in transit. While
average daily per capita vehicle miles of travel continues to increase across the country, it peaked
in Portland in 1996. A white paper entitled “Portland’s Green Dividend” prepared for CEOs for
Cities by Joe Cortright in July 2007 translates this savings in fuel alone at $1.1 billion annually
or 1.5% of all personal income in the region in the year 2005. Those savings are made available
for other needs and pleasures, which further stimulates the local economy. Some of this is spent
on housing, leaving some for life’s pleasures like enjoying Portland’s many eateries and taverns.
The September 19, 2007 Oregonian newspaper reported on the latest Texas Transportation
Institute (TTI) survey, noting that: “...the Portland areas appears to be fighting the growth in
misery behind the wheel better than many other regions.” Without public transit the TTI survey
suggests that the current levels of road congestion in the Portland region would be 21% worse.
The article notes that while congestion has increased, it has increased more so across the nation
in communities large and small. The article summarizes TTI’s calculation of what auto
dependence costs the nation, amounting to $78.2 billion in the cost of fuel and commute time.
The TTI report credits buses, MAX and streetcars with saving the region 6.7 million hours of
rush hour delay. The average Portland-area commuter saves 8 hours of congestion delay annually
– even if they never use the transit system. TriMet’s review of the National Transit Database
places Portland 11th in the nation as a result of public transit use versus a ranking of 29th in
population. Joe Cortright’s paper identifies 100 million hours of travel saved annually in the
Portland region due to our transportation and land use planning. It values that time saving as $1.5
billion annually for the Portland region, assuming a $15 per hour value. Cortright cites a June
2007 study by Bob Moore, Kelly Middendorff and Jill Dehlin, “Transportation System Ratings”
which notes that 60 percent of Portland resident’s rated their transportation system as good or
excellent – compared to 35% for all Americans. Portland has achieved these positive results with
comparatively modest road expenditures and with less land consumed by freeway pavement.
It is important to the citizens of the Portland region that there be a balance in transportation
investments. For the many who cannot drive their own automobile, having a quality and
competitive alternative is critical to the region’s livability, and increasing numbers of Portlanders
are choosing not to drive or own a car. The citizens of the region deserve and demand a quality
of life afforded by a balanced transportation plan that supports a well-considered strategy for
how this region should grow. Visitors from the world over continue to tell us their regions want
the same things and they will continue to look to Portland as a model.
Oct 25, 2007, 12:00 AM
You're welcome...glad to do it..
Oct 25, 2007, 12:33 AM
PacificNW, excellent read... This would be a great article to post on "Urban Environment-Transportation Thread".
Oct 25, 2007, 12:37 AM
I will assume it's cool with Mark and do that...
Oct 25, 2007, 12:50 AM
I will assume it's cool with Mark and do that...
My bust....sorry Mark. Great find on your part.
Oct 25, 2007, 2:20 AM
Ack! Trimet's feeding (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll) the (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=feeding+the+troll) trolls! (http://www.trolls.com/)
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