The press-lead rush to widen a freeway into Portland fails to make incentive for more scalable and sustainable transportation and lifestyle choices. In fact, it subsidizes the opposite. More single occupant cars honking into the city, slurping oil (ah, the expensive teat of Iraq).
On two recent mornings, I've woken up to read articles posted on the Oregonian online which tell us of the urgency in widening the Interstate 5 freeway in North Portland.
There is a choke-point here, we are told. Commuters' nerves are at stake! What will happen to the economy if trucks can't get through!? (Maybe they'll travel at night when the commuters have gone to bed in Vancouver?)
I moved to North Portland after living in the traffic gridlock hell that is Seattle. In Seattle, the people who live in the suburbs sing the same song; we must widen the freeways at any cost so we can get in and out of the city faster. These expensive roads shall be paid for by all, through the tax system, and those who live close to the jobs in the city will suffer our passing.
The funniest part of all this highway building, is that even with all those lanes, you still get traffic jams at almost anytime of day or night.
Insert picture of Seattle traffic here.
One of my memories of Seattle is I-5 being a parking lot, even late on a Sunday night. When people in a large city have no choice but to drive everywhere (e.g. for a loaf of bread), its amazing how poorly it scales.
The Folly of Excessive Freeway Building: Subsidized Sprawl
There are a couple of problems with the logic of endless freeway building. First, it has been shown that building more freeways encourages more driving. "Build it and they will come", is the slogan. Second, as soon as the cars get past one bottleneck, they will hit another, until finally, the blocks of downtown are an unlivable hell of honking, pollution, and gridlock (see: Downtown Seattle) for much of the day.
Enter Portland, Oregon, a famously-progressive city with modern transportation alternatives such as light rail and a streetcar system. Portland does city design right!
Wait a second, if Portland is so wise when it comes to the limitations of car-based transit (see: Los Angeles), then why is it considering spending 4-5 billion on widening the I-5 bridge at the Oregon/Washington border, when there are other, more pressing needs?
Is there a dedicated bus lane over the existing, six-lane bridge? No. Is there a carpool lane over the bridge? No. Does the light rail that runs through North Portland enter Vancouver? No, but it comes very close.
Everybody is a Critic, So What is My Solution
My solution to the North Portland I-5 traffic problem is to make a point not to fix it. Let the single-occupant commuters rot in it. Create an incentive for other, more scalable transportation options and lifestyle choices. Finally, make another option available. There is negative incentive to take the bus; not only does it, too, sit in traffic, but it only comes when it wants to, and it makes a lot of stops. Instead, the light rail should be extended to provide service to Vancouver (where most of this I-5 traffic originates), and the bridge should not be modified until it actually needs it.
The path of building roads until people stop complaining is never ending, and makes for a very unlivable core city, encouraging people to live in the suburbs (Got to have some quiet from all that traffic!). In short, widening I-5 at this point goes against what Portland supposedly stands for.
Vancouver, BC Validates My Position
If you doubt my approach of not building huge freeways in the city center, just compare downtown Seattle with Vancouver, B.C. Vancouver is much more livable, and they've made a point of not running any major freeways through the center. Many more people live in Vancouver, so you feel safe walking around at 2am. Much of downtown Seattle is a shady ghost town at night. All the suburbanites have fled the office buildings. The few homeless people are much more noticable.
Pick the Cheapest, Greenest Option
As Jill Fuglister of CLF puts it, lawmakers considering what to do with the Columbia River crossing should choose the cheapest, greenest option.
You've obviously never taken the Banfield Freeway, or I-5 Northbound in the Capitol Highway area, during evening rush hour. The reason those freeways are frequently STOP AND GO are because people thought MAX would solve all traffic problems. Hence, they didn't build the Mt. Hood Freeway and built MAX instead. Light Rail never solved ANY freeway problems.
If building freeways only spurs on new growth, then why aren't towns like La Grande and Pendleton huge sprawling cities? THEY have freeways going right through them! No, freeways don't CAUSE traffic. That argument is without merit. Freeways HANDLE traffic. One of the major purposes of government is to accommodate and support the economy and movement of goods and people. That means roads. That means freeways. To assert that people will abandon their cars and jump on light rail is to have your head buried in the sand. It isn't going to work. Taxpayers are demanding a solution to the Interstate Bridge problem. I'm glad you're not the one coming up with the solution; we have had enough of that kind of thinking already. Hasn't worked.
Thanks for your comments! The personal attacks are distracting, but let me try to address your points:
1. Max causes traffic between Vancouver and Portland because people won't use light rail.
The max doesn't go to Vancouver, so how can it help I-5 north? The Max is packed at rush hour. Imagine each person in their own car. The train is much more space and energy efficient, and people use it.
2. The purpose of government is support movement of goods and people.
I agree, and a single train is more efficient than 100 cars. Leave the roads for weekend trips, and trucks, which actually need the space.
Cars are plenty subsidised, whether I like it or not. Parking, sewers, pavement, bridges, traffic lights.. all subsidised. Why should I pay for a $5,000,000,000 (!!) bridge so more people can live cheap in Vancouver and drive their car alone each day? Give me a break.
I'm a taxpayer and I'm sick of traffic. It is a myth that adding more lanes relieves traffic. In fact, the inverse is true. Just search for "worst traffic cities". Then, pick the cities with the most freeways per capita and match them up. Or, read this:
I agree with the author. I'm not aware of any city (not town) in the history of mankind that relieved it's traffic congestion thru the widening (and possily even addition) of roads.
My understanding is that Houston has a lot of big freeways yet people who live there have among the longest commutes in America. LA also has extensive, wide freeways and they are cursed with long commutes, as well.
It may seem counterintuitive, but widening the road will not solve the problem.
#1, a new I-5 bridge w/ whatever number of additional lanes won't cost 5 billion. There will all sorts of cost over runs. Final cost more in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 billion.
#2, we need to put this money toward much more serious, rapidly approaching, nightmarish problems. The impact of global warming is going to hit all of us like a 2x4 to the head, much sooner than most of us expect. And yes, it will be life threatening.
Nothing like a little traffic problem to tie up our attention.........
I don't recall attacking you personally. If you interpreted my comments as such, I apologize.
I DO recall saying that I'm glad you are not in charge of coming up with a solution, because your ideas have been tried and have been left wanting. Allow me to address each of your points:
1. I didn't say that the traffic between Portland and Vancouver have been affected by MAX, I said that the Banfield (I-84) and I-5 North south of the city have been affected. The Banfield is SO BAD that it backs up onto I-5 North) onto the Marquam Bridge, and even south of the Terwilliger curves every night! Those people are trying to get to East County, but the only way to get there is I-84 (because MAX was built instead of the Mt. Hood Freeway, thanks to Gov. Bob Straub). Consequently, the backup extends from the Banfield, to another freeway (I-5) completely. This has nothing to do with Vancouver (other than possibly, that the Banfield commuters are trying to avoid the Interstate Bridge by using the Glenn Jackson Bridge (I-205)).
The reason MAX is packed at rush hour is that Tri-Met eliminated many bus routes when MAX was built, in favor of feeding commuters onto MAX; hence the overloaded trains, and the high count of MAX commuters: Commuters don't have too many other options. The train may be more space-efficient, as you state, but it's been clearly shown that people won't accept it (unless they can't afford another option). We need a solution that people will embrace, not one that only satisfies the environmentalists.
2. Cars subsidized? Well, if you consider the construction of roads a subsidy, then yes. My perspective is that roads are a necessary part of 21st century life. Parking: Unless it's a private lot, the municipality charges for street parking. What do sewers have to do with this conversation? Pavement, bridges, traffic lights... Yeah. That's all part of roads. Like I said, it's been shown that people WANT to drive their cars alone. Live cheap in Vancouver? Give ME a break. Like I already said, the commute to Vancouver already affects Oregonians too! Eliminating the traffic mess on the Interstate Bridge will help Oregonians too.
I did search for the "worst traffic cities" as you suggested. I'm intrigued. As I read the story that topped the list, I came across this quote:
"California has a decided edge in winning the award for the worst traffic, since five of its cities (or city regions) make the top 12 list. Several of the cities mentioned are well known as trucking, rail, air and sometimes sea hubs for logistics. The convergence of services taxes the infrastructure."
My response: How is mass transit going to solve "The convergence of services..."? Services need freeways for the trucks. You're not going to get your next purchase of lettuce to market via MAX.
"He suggests further that despite this escalating problem, the commuting public has not changed its driving habits all that much. People have done some chaining of chores and shared driving to malls and offices. But the driving has continued, and the delays continue to get worse."
So, should we continue to try and beat a dead horse and attempt to force the public onto trains? As I said in my original post, it isn't going to happen. More fuel efficient cars, cars that don't pollute, etc., are the answer. It's been shown that most people won't use mass transit (unless they can't afford a car). So, let's clean up the air by using more green methods of transportation. Yeah. I'm all for it. But thinking that people will abandon their individual means of transport in favor of mass transit-- that's wishful thinking. We need realistic solutions.
1. The max can handle 330 passengers in the space of a couple of cars. The track only carries one train every 10-15 minutes, meaning there is plenty more capacity on the tracks.. more trains can be added.
2. Many people will not get out of their cars, driving alone, unless they have a strong incentive to do so.
3. California cities were designed after the dawn of the automobile, and have the worst traffic. Compare New York, which has transit, and Los Angeles, which is 99% roads. What density does each city support? What is the average commute time?
Curious why you chose a picture of I-405 during a snowstorm to illustrate your point about traffic tie-ups. I think we can both agree such events are rare in the region. Yet your comment "you still get traffic jams almost any time of the day or night" leads the reader to believe this is a typical situation. It's not.
I didn't even notice that image was during a storm. I just found it on a google image search. I'll have to replace it.
The point is that traffic jams at night are very common in downtown Seattle, which is where Portland will be if we keep widening freeways through the city.
And the snow storm serves to illustrate the poor scalability of a wide freeway: It only takes one person who doesn't know how to drive in an inch of snow to bring a whole freeway, be it 2 lanes or 10, to a halt. As the lanes increase, the chance of an accident tends to as well--more cars.
I would argue that tolls are the only fair way to pay for a huge bridge such as this. The "free market" ideas of charging for actual use instead of pure subsidy create the best incentive for people to travel more efficiently, either by carpooling, or by reducing trips.
I would argue that a gasoline tax is also a fair way to pay for roads, including this proposed bridge. However, I won't get too dogmatic about this point. If it ends up being a toll bridge, I can still survive.
I think toll roads are a valid concept on the East Coast where states are smaller. A person can drive all the way through New Hampshire without ever having to buy gasoline. Thus, the state receives no revenue with which to maintain the roads that out-of-staters use. Therefore having a toll to use the road seems reasonable.
Here in the Northwest, however, I think it's much easier and more convenient to use a gas tax to fund roads (and bridges). Keep in mind that I am actually volunteering to contribute to a bridge that I will seldom, if ever, use. Whenever I go north, I use the Glenn Jackson Bridge (I-205), because of where I live. But as I said in an earlier comment that I posted, I believe that having a new Interstate Bridge will benefit many people (including myself) who will almost never use it, because traffic in surrounding areas will see improvement when Vancouverites can get out of the city faster.
Anyway, like I said, I won't be too dogmatic about this point. If it must be a toll, then so be it. I'll pay it when I need to. But I still think a gas tax is a more fair way to go. In reality, it IS a way of charging for actual use, as you suggest. The more you drive, the more gas you buy, and the more tax you pay.