Friday, June 14, 2013

OpEd | National | High Speed Rail: How Much More Convincing Do We Need?

Many of my classmates have already talked about the need for investment in a national High Speed Rail (HSR) system. It is a much-discussed topic in urban planning and transportation classrooms. HSR even has a cheerleader at the very top level, in US Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood. "This is what the American people want. If you build it, they will come," LaHood declared (Chapman, 2011)." So what will it take to convince our legislators that the time to invest in HSR projects is long overdue?   

Opponents say that no amount of ridership will cover the initial cost of creating the infrastructure, nor the continued cost of operations and maintenance. “No mass transit system in the country charges riders enough to offset the expenses of running trains—much less the cost of capital. Amtrak loses hundreds of millions a year,” says author Steve Chapman (Chapman, 2011). It’s true, trains are expensive business. They fail to acknowledge, however, the fact that every other mode of transportation in this country enjoys subsidies of one kind or another. Though President Obama did pledge to spend $13 billion in federal stimulus funds over five years to seed America’s first HSR projects, the federal government hasn’t spent that little on highways in one year since 1958 (Selcraig, 2010). Auto subsidies are simply a prevailing fact of our culture, with federally-funded road maintenance as well as mandated parking spaces taking up precious urban real estate. And we all remember when the entire national auto industry had to be bailed out on the public’s dime. Locally, much-need improvements in bike infrastructure was able to be funded by pairing the work with storm water management projects. Meanwhile, the government has provided $4.64 billion in taxpayer funds to the airline industry for cash grants and $1.65 billion in loan guarantees (Surjaputra, 2008). Yet none of these modes of transport can equal the benefits that HSR can bring.

Cynicism is for the birds

I had a great term with everyone and look forward to this blog possibly continuing its intellectual momentum. This Human Transit blog came to me in my email today and I thought that it was worth sharing.  It is about the uselessness of cynicism and how it is more of a barrier to progress than anything.  On reflection, I don't remember reading or hearing any real cynicism during our class discussions and blog posts, which is refreshing to say the least.

Have a great break!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

(Bill 2452) Distance based user charge on EV in Oregon

Several states proposed a new road tax scheme including Washington, Virginia, New Jersey, Arizona, Texas, Oregon, San Francisco, Michigan. It seems distance based user charge would be alternative of the current gas tax in the long run. Because there is no tax on electric vehicles, the new road tax scheme will be tested on electric vehicles first. Here is House Bill 2452 which states distance based user charge on electric vehicles in Oregon.

According to House Bill 2452, the driver of high-mileage vehicle will pay distance based user charge or flat annual road usage charge in Oregon. High-mileage motor includes electric vehicles and vehicles that get 55 mpg or better. This bill would be applied for vehicles produced in 2015 or after.

The distance based user fee will be around 1.56 cents per mile, and for 15,000 miles electric vehicle drivers would pay $234. This rate is same with what a regular vehicle drivers pay in gas taxes. Also, there will be a penalty up to $2,000 for person who reports a false vehicle miles traveled.

There are three options of how to collect a new road tax. The first option is to use on-board GPS system or cell phone. The downside of this option is that it is disabled for some situations where a driver is not a owner of a vehicle for on-board GPS system, or registered drivers take a public transportation service for cell phone. The second option is an on-board mileage tracker. It would not record the location of vehicle but vehicle miles traveled. It can avoid privacy issue, but the records can be flawed by inability of recognizing between public roads, private land or out of state. The last alternative is a flat annual fee.

1. Antony Ingram, Oregon, Too, Wants To Tax Electric Cars(And 55-MPG-Plus Cars Too)
2. House Bill 2453

After Transportation

I had never paid much attention to abandoned railroads till the time I first heard of the High Line Park in New York City; I often thought of Transportation Planning as planning for a new system to move people efficiently from one place to another. This popular urban design project introduced to me the dilemma of what to do with a transportation project once it has served its original purpose.

The High Line, New York City

Monday, June 10, 2013

Op Ed: Parking Policy in India

It has been four years since I moved to the US, but I am still amazed by the amount of parking spaces available everywhere. This is a far cry from the parking situation in India, where every trip made by car has to account for an additional hour or two spent in traffic jams and looking for a parking spot. Indian cities are experiencing an exponential increase in traffic demand and the increased spending power is adding to more cars on the road. Currently, India is the eleventh largest passenger car market having recorded domestic sales of over 1.9 million cars in the country in the year 2009-2010(1)! Parking policies in India are struggling to keep up with the growing demand. This op-ed will examine the problems and focus on some possible solutions to India’s parking problems from around the world.

Op-Ed: Active People, Active Transportation

Portland Metro refers to the phrase “active transportation” as sustainable, multimodal transportation solutions that connect people to where they need to go (ODOT). At a local level, infrastructure is incorporated in city design in order to allow people to access what they need easily. Pedestrian focused design encourages people to get out of their cars and be active by walking, biking, and taking public transportation. It increases physical activity, decreases air pollution and gets people moving in and around their communities.

Op-Ed: Intelligent Transportation Systems Across the U.S.

Technology is continuously changing and improving making life easier each day. Cars are becoming more fuel efficient, mileage is increasing and they are getting smaller and even quieter. Vehicle cosmetics have been a technological focus but now the next step is for vehicles to get smarter; intelligent transportation should be adopted nationwide. Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are a form of technology that works to monitor and manage traffic flow, especially in urban areas (USDOT 2007). It would create many benefits from reduction in traffic accidents, time delay and congestion, safer construction zones, and provide accurate and reliable information. ITS can be helpful when there is limited resources to pay for people to do the same work.

State Op-Ed: HOT lanes

What’s the problem?
In the transportation industry we are dealing we pretty much every issue possible: congestion, air pollution, transportation financing, safety, etc. We need to be creative in our solutions and there is no "correct" and perfect answer that will satisfy every person. The state level policy I propose is a simple one that is not perfect but has the potential to improve many transportation issues when used in the appropriate manner.

Possible Solution
We all know about High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, especially the solo I-5 NB HOV lane that some hate and some love. My proposal is to implement policy to consider High Occupancy Toll lanes (HOT) as a means to reduce congestion. I don't propose this as a policy to be considered just in Oregon but in any state. Congestion is a pressing transportation issue which I describe in another op-ed blog post.

HOT lanes are HOV lanes that allow single-occupant vehicles to use it if they pay a fee. Busses and carpoolers can still ride in it for free but if you’re alone then you pay a fee. HOV lanes are discouraged because they don't use all of the capacity that they why not sell that extra capacity  HOT lanes have the ability to improve transportation in many ways. They can reduce congestion, increase transit ridership, lessen travel times and promote carpooling which can reduce air pollution. When peak hour pricing is implemented it can also decrease the amount of drivers during peak hours. Agencies can also promote electric vehicle usage by allowing them to travel in the lanes for free.

Congress has made it possible to implement this new(er) strategy to reduce congestion. MAP-21 gives states flexibility, when it comes to tolling, but exempts them from converting an existing lane into a HOT lane. States will need to build new lanes or convert HOV lanes in order to create HOT lanes.

In San Diego, a HOV lane was converted to a HOT lane in 1996 and has proved to be successful, especially financially. The implementation cost was $1.85 million and the lane creates about $1 million in revenues each year. The toll rates for this lane range from $0.50 to $4.00 based on how much traffic is on the road. For awhile, San Diego also offered a monthly pass instead of per trip costs.

The United States Government Accountability Office did a study on price-managed lanes and found that these lanes generally reduce congestion even though they found some potential issues of concern, such as equity.  Below is a map of the lanes that they studied:

How can this be implemented?
Even though the federal government has given the states to go-ahead, some states may need to implement new legislation in order for HOT lanes to be possible. They may need to pass legislation allowing for the conversion of an HOV lane to a HOT lane, to allow charging fees on state highway or to permit enforcement by technology or electronic toll collection (ETC).

Political issues may be the hardest obstacles to overcome. It is difficult for officials to persuade drivers to pay for something that they already get for free. Value pricing can help mitigate this issue by basing the price on maintaining a certain level of service.  

Potential issues
One critique of HOT lanes is that they are not equitable for low income drivers. A possible mitigation for this critique is exemplified in California’s option of FAIR lanes. Essentially, drivers that use the normal lanes get credits and once they get enough credits they can use the HOT lane for free. Drivers can also choose to carpool or take transit. Also, ideally, if the HOT lane is reducing congestion then the normal lanes should be going faster anyway so there is still some time travel savings.

HOT lanes are not the answer to everything but they can be the answer in some instances. Transportation officials need to be wise and do the proper research and studies to determine if a HOT lane would be effective in a certain location. There is a lot of flexibility with HOT lanes when it comes to pricing and means to operate the lanes. HOT lanes have proved to be effective so when used appropriately, they can be a great tool in the transportation toolbox. 

Employer incentives for transit

Reflection: Even American Drivers like Mass Transit More than They Should
I was surprised when I read the article “Even American Drivers like Mass Transit More than they Should”. The article reports the findings of a study published in the journal Transportation Policy. The

Local op-ed :No Turning Back

On May 29, 2013 the City Club of Portland released the “No Turning Back” report, a comprehensive examination of biking in Portland. Among other claims, the report insists that “biking is essential to continued growth in Portland’s local economy and overall quality of life”. With the findings the com

State Op-ed: Oregon self-service ban

How many Oregon residents have never had the pleasure of pumping their own gas? Oregon’s ban on self service gas stations intrigue me. Where I come from, most people learn to pump gas before they can legally drive a car. Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states in the US that ban self service throughout the entire state. In Oregon, violators of the ban could receive $500 ticket for filling up their own tank(ORS480.315-320). Strange for a state that mandates that you must administer your own lethal injection.

Portland should embrace new bike share technology

Bike sharing systems have skyrocketed in popularity over the last 10 years in the United States. Minneapolis, Washington DC, Denver, Philadelphia, Boston and now New York have extensive networks of bike sharing docks placed on street corners, plazas and parks throughout the city. The docking station was the key innovation that addressed issues of security, payment, and circulation that plagued past attempts to implement a bike sharing scheme. But new technology is integrating the functions of the docking station into the bikes themselves, offering promising benefits to both users and operators that may catalyze another wave of expansion of bike sharing in the future. Portland, the top bike city in the country, should lead the way in deploying this technology when they roll out bike sharing next year.

Active Transportation and The War On Obesity

Fatness – being overweight/obese is in most cases a symptom, not a negative health outcome in itself. It is defined by the ratio of your height to your weight and doesn’t take into account body composition, i.e. whether this height and weight ratio comes from a body builder, someone with excess fat, a pregnant woman, or someone with excess fat who had a leg amputated and consequently has the “right” height to weight ratio. It’s too blunt of an instrument to take into account whether someone’s bone structure and musculature resembles a refrigerator or a giraffe. It doesn’t consider how much exercise someone is getting, whether their calories are coming from produce or deep-fried Mars bars, genetics, stress, exposure to environmental contaminants… essentially, it is just about the bluntest means of talking about health that the field of health has. We only hear about it so prevalently for two reasons: 1) it gets used frequently in studies because it is quick, easy, painless, and cheap to measure someone’s height and weight. Especially compared to drawing blood or performing a cardiovascular stress test.  2) it’s in the news all the time, not because it is terribly relevant, but because a three-letter abbreviation (BMI) is more accessible to the general population than medical terminology like “adipose tissue” and “lipid profile”, and articles about fat get clicked on. That’s why you see ads like


Because it works. People click on that stuff like crazy. And what’s on the cover of supermarket tabloids?

Forget scientific accuracy, this stuff sells!


But cardiovascular disease isn’t caused soley by a few extra inches on your waist. It’s a subtle distinction between correlation and causation: for most of us, poor diet and exercise habits (A)  cause fat cells to grow (B) and a long list of health problems (C). But this is a case of A causes B, and A causes C. B did not cause C, except in the case of mechanical issues (sleep apnea) and hormone-mediated diseases like diabetes and some cancers. People who won the genetic lottery and can eat junk food and watch tv all day without gaining weight are still increasing their risk of dying, and someone who is overweight but eats well and exercises might live to see 97. The greatest increase in health from exercise is reaped by people who are just transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to an active lifestyle – before any weight loss is likely to have occurred [1].

But is there anything wrong with vilifying fat, since it can be an indicator that one's intake of food and exercise is imbalanced?

Reminding girls that they are girls decreases their test scores (the official terminology from psychology is “stereotype threat”)[5], and the appearance of girls and women is heavily policed and held to a mostly unobtainable standard [6], so it doesn’t seem to be a stretch that constantly talking about fatness could make people who aren’t thin feel like there isn’t a place for them in “bicycle culture” or other forms of active transportation. I wondered if I might be the only person to worry about this, but Google quickly turned up Ms. Kinzel’s experience:


“I’m using the elliptical trainer at the gym. A man walks by and gives me an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “GOOD FOR YOU!” he says loudly, pointedly, a little patronizingly. 

His intentions may well be positive, but in reality he has drawn attention to the perceived discrepancy between my apparent interest in exercise and the size of my body. He has pointed out that seeing people who look like me exercising in public is a strange and unfamiliar occurance, an idea rooted in the assumption that fat people are uniformly lazy and unhealthy, and I, as an exception, therefore deserve to be recognized and lauded. I feel singled out and othered, and very uncomfortable.” [4]

But if we can get overweight and obese people to exercise, won’t they lose weight and no longer suffer from stereotype threat or discouragement?

 Unfortunatly, exercising more isn’t a silver bullet for weight loss. Nothing is [3]. Even people who don’t experience stereotype threat could experience run-of-the-mill discouragement at not making much progress towards the goal of being skinny, if we promote walking and biking for the purpose of weight loss. Most of the weight gain Americans have been experiencing for the past couple of decades can be attributed to eating more, not exercising less [2]. People who walk and bike more might engage in less of other forms of exercise, such as sports or a gym membership. Or they might work up more of an appetite and eat more in compensation for increased activity. Real, permanent weight loss is very rare.

 What we as Planners need to do is stop linking active transportation to weight loss. We run the risk of discouraging people from improving their health and the environment when the pounds don’t melt away, or they lose some weight but not enough to stop viewing themselves as “fat”. Whether or not weight loss happens, exercising more improve blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer risk, hormone balance, sleep quality, bone density, inflammation, immune response, and mental health. And the planet. We need to hear much more exhortation to quit looking at the scale and just go ride a bike, and it should be coming from the national level such as the CDC. This is an issue where medical credentials matter, and the local City Council is not the appropriate level of government. Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign carefully avoids fat-shaming, but still puts a large emphasis on measuring the success of healthy eating and exercise by largeness. To improve utilization of active transportation for health improvement, and not unecessarily discourage people, takes a better understanding of psychology.


1. Running Doc: Biggest health benefits from exercise come when sedentary people start a program. (n.d.). NY Daily News. Retrieved June 10, 2013, from


2. Dreifus, C. (2012, May 14). A Mathematical Challenge to Obesity. The New York Times. Retrieved from


3. Parker-pope, T. (2011, December 28). The Fat Trap. The New York Times. Retrieved from


4. What’s Wrong With Fat-Shaming? (n.d.). Retrieved June 10, 2013, from


5. Matthew S. McGlone, Joshua Aronson, Stereotype threat, identity salience, and spatial reasoning, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Volume 27, Issue 5, September–October 2006, Pages 486-493, ISSN 0193-3973, 10.1016/j.appdev.2006.06.003.


6. Pretty much all media.

State Op-Ed - Autonomous Vehicles on Oregon’s Roads


Well, perhaps that’s a little bit overblown. But the promise of self-driving vehicle technology - given a recent boost by Google’s self-driving car - has attracted the attention of technologists, lawmakers, and even members of this very blog. Speculation abounds as to what level of autonomy future cars will have, when they’ll be on the roads, and how they’ll change the transportation landscape. What is certain is that vehicles will increasingly do more of the driving themselves, and this has the potential to radically alter the physical, social, and legal environment of driving in America.

Oregon needs to move quickly to pass legislation that will allow for a safe and controlled introduction of autonomous vehicles. We cannot wait idle for more federal guidance while other states seize the opportunity to shape the future of American transportation.

What is an autonomous vehicle, exactly?

The phrase “autonomous vehicle” hides two important distinctions that are critical to describing the technology coming to cars of the future.

Transit Oriented Development Without The Transit

A recent article in The Atlantic Cities discusses something we recently talked about in class: TODs that are successful despite their limited connection to transit. In our discussion, we talked about several TODs in Portland that had compact, walkable environments that were not serviced extremely well by public transit. According to Eric Jaffe, the writer of the Atlantic Cities article, that might be okay.

Current conception of a "good" transit oriented development. Source:

Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication Systems Should be Mandated in All New Cars

In the US in 2011, 32,367 people died in motor vehicle crashes and over 2 million people were injured. This means, on average, an American dies in a car crash every 12 minutes. Furthermore, car crashes are the leading cause of death among 5 to 34-year-olds. The cost of car crashes in the US are estimated to be over $165 million each year. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems provide an effective way to massively reduce vehicle collisions and make roads safer for all users. Additionally, the same technology can be used to alleviate congestion. Federal regulations should be put in place mandating that vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems come standard on all new vehicles.

In Search of a Solution to Make Cool Cars

Cool cars are cars coated in reflective materials. These materials reflect solar radiation at much higher levels than traditional cars. As a result, less heat is absorbed into the car, requiring lower levels of air conditioning. Studies indicate that cool cars could reduce energy use in cars by 20%

OpEd | State | TriMet angers many, requires oversight

Photo credit:

Did you know that TriMet fares are now among the highest in the nation (Gianola, 2013)? That’s right, a monthly adult TriMet pass is $100, while in Philadelphia, its $83, $72 in Los Angeles and just $70 in Boston (Gianola, 2013). Yet all three cities have operation far more extensive than Portland’s. So why does public transit cost so much in Portland? TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane wants you to blame the recession and the high cost of TriMet’s union health benefits (Gianola, 2013). He hoped you wouldn’t find out about the $910,000 in pay raises he approved for the highest echelon of TriMet management in 2012, even as he publicly stated that he had frozen their pay (Rose, 2013). “How could this happen right under our noses?” you may ask. This was able to happen because no one was watching. While TriMet management increased fairs, cut service, and gave themselves raises, no one was paying attention. To ensure this can’t happen again, Oregon lawmakers have called on Secretary of State Kate Brown to conduct an unprecedented audit of operations and finances at the state's largest public transit agency (Rose J. , 2013).

Vice-chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development, Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) is the chief sponsor of the proposal, an amendment to his House Bill 3316. HB3316 was intended to regulate TriMet’s governance, transferring operational and finical oversight from TriMet’s board of directors to Metro (Staff, 2013). However, Gorsek simultaneously realized he didn’t have wide support for restructuring and became aware of major management issues at TriMet. He took the opportunity to push for a large scale audit instead (Rose J. , 2013). While the audit will possibly take longer than the original plan - Brown's office plans to have the audit finished before the 2014 legislative session (Thompson, 2013) – it ensures a much more thorough understanding  of exactly what is going on inside the transit agency and why. This is an extremely prudent step, prior to taking any major action which could have unforeseen repercussions. While it’s obvious that things need to change inside TriMet, I believe it’s worth taking the time to do it right.

Why Every City Needs a Bikeshare Program

Bike share is all the rage in the United States. In the last month, both Chicago and New York City have launched bike share programs. As bike share programs reach more and more people, many are questioning whether these programs are an effective use of money. I believe they are.

Regional Fare Systems

One issue facing regions is the lack of interoperability between public transit systems. Between a city and its suburbs, a single region could have a dozen different transit agencies with a dozen different fare systems. Although one regional transit agency that meets the transit needs of everyone in the region might be ideal, this is often difficult to implement because of the diverse needs of people within a region, as well as the number of municipalities in a region. One stepping stone to getting to regional transit--or at the very least, one way to make traveling around a region easier--is for regions to adopt regional fare systems.

Obama’s down with PPP… and so are we?

Tunnel Boring Machine at PortMiami
As we all know, federal funding for transportation infrastructure projects is a thing of the past. The recession of 2008 still lingers in the federal budget cuts and the resistance to raise user-base fees. The primary funding source for transportation projects, the highway trust fund, has seen rapid decline in recent years due to lower vehicle miles traveled and stagnant gas tax rates. While there seems to be no money for transportation, there has never been a time when transportation is so in demand. State and local governments are struggling to keep their current systems in good condition, while also trying to fund new and innovative transit technologies. This disconnect is reason enough for the federal government to start taking action. This action has taken the form of public-private partnerships (PPPs).

House Bill 2195

Oregon House Bill 2195, which reads "Provides that physician or health care provider may at any time report to Department of Transportation that person's cognitive or functional impairment affects person's ability to safely operate motor vehicle, without regard to whether report is required by department." passed both the house and the senate in April, and was signed into law in mid May.  This bill, though somewhat indirectly linked to topics covered in this class, is still relevant to discussions around transportation policy and privacy.  
On the one hand, this bill provides an increase in road safety, something that's hard to argue against.  On the other, it removes an entire layer of doctor/patient confidentiality in a way that could seriously alter the way a person is required to live.  This alteration could lead to safer roads for everyone, but entirely violates the code of privacy that patients have previously relied on for protection.  
Increasing road safety is undeniable important, for other drives, bicyclists, pedestrians, and even the patient-drivers themselves, but privacy violation is a slippery slope, even for the Transportation Department.  This bill simply allows doctors to notify the Transportation Department and protects them from legal recourse, but this bill could also be used as a stepping stone in the future for laws that require the disclosure of confidential patient information.

Overall, it seems like a well-intentioned, but potentially harmful piece of legislation.  It puts lawmakers in a position that offers a great deal of power, in a nation with shrinking privacy rights.  Conversely, it puts drivers on safer roads.  Something of a conundrum...

Thanks to CJ Doxsee and Michael Armstrong for editing.


Op Ed: A new Penn Station for New American Culture

When Madison Square Garden was constructed in the early 1960’s, America was a very different place than it is today. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, America was working on a journey to the moon and Vietnam War was just getting started. Americans were driving Pontiac GTO’s, Dodge Chargers and Plymouth Station Wagons.  You could get several gallons of leaded gasoline for a buck. Commuting to work in anything other than your car was a thing of the past. Of course today, none of those things are true. We live now in a New America working its way through its own reinvention. Habits and policies, the built environments that are supported by them must change with the times. Right now, the states of New York and New Jersey have an opportunity to symbolically represent the changing culture of America. The lease is up on Madison Square Garden (MSG) and it is time for urban planning and transportation policy to reflect a new people with new priorities. For the last 50 years the famous arena has sat atop the busiest transit terminal in the hemisphere (Frasinelli, 2013).

Above, Right: Historic Penn Station
In this series of city blog, earlier we have shared various aspects of Singapore and its transportation system. Singapore has one of the best transportation infrastructure in the world. In this last blog we will discuss the future development that the Government of Singapore and Land Transport Authority (LTA) has planned for Singaporeans.

The driving boom is over!

The driving boom is over! Or so proclaims a recent report by Transportation for America and the OSPIRG Foundation (OSPERG, Spring 2013).

There a number of reasons for the trend of declining VMT, foremost amongst them is the travel patterns of late 20- to early 30- year olds, dubbed in the press as “The Millennials (Transit, 2013).” These Millennials have values that seem significantly different than the generations before them. Things like walkability scores and active transportation access are displacing car culture as the top priorities when it comes to travel choices. The statistics are hard to ignore. “Among people ages 16 to 34, VMT per capita declined some 23% between 2001 and 2009, while their transit passenger miles increased by an astounding 40%. Moreover, in 2011, fewer 16 to 24-year-olds even had a license to drive than any year since 1967 (Transit, 2013).”

But what does this shift mean for the world of (U.S.) transportation? For one, a sharp decline in revenue from national and state gas tax. This means fewer funds for road maintenance and new projects. But U.S. transportation policy has not caught up to the changing trends. Car-centric projects are still being green-lit at the cost of other areas. “Even though recent data suggests that per-capita increases in driving have ended, official forecasts of future vehicle travel assume the opposite. These forecasts are used to justify spending vast sums of money on new and expanded highways, while existing roads and bridges are neglected (Foley, 2013).” We can see this disconnect between funding and revenue close to home; the economic plan for local Columbia River Crossing project hinges on assumptions based on an ever-increasing amount of auto traffic (Maus, 2013).

Those who dismiss declining VMT trends as a mere passing “blip” or “fad,” insisting that behavior will eventually swing back, are starting to sound very much like the climate change deniers, holding on tightly to outdated beliefs. Change is hard, and for politicians and bureaucrats, striking out on a new path can feel too much like admitting defeat. I wish they could see it for what it could be: innovation. Of course, accepting an inevitable reality may seem like common sense to some. But to many of those at the table, deciding our policies, it can be a truly radical notion.

There are some who believe that this return to the dense, walkable urban core is simply generational and once “The Millennials” start having kids, they will all move back to the suburbs. One article asks “What will happen to today’s 20-year-olds as they enter their 30s, raise families, and consider moving to the suburbs?” “Will this group really push systemic change (as the baby boomers did) in how Americans live, work and relate to each other (sharing cars, for instance, as opposed to owning them)? Or is this moment – with its associated driving patterns – a hiccup in history? (Badger, 2013)?” What they fail to account for is the fact that we have seen a similar shift in national values and concepts of livability. The end of the 20th century saw the flight of critical numbers out of central cities to the suburbs. Aided by city, state and federal level programs, the 1970s – 1990s saw disinvestment from the urban core on a major scale and a definitive need for beefing up auto infrastructure. According to Robert Fishman we have been experiencing a reversal of this trend since the last decade, a wave of migration “…that will reurbanize precisely those inner-city districts that were previously depopulated (Fishman, 2005).”

It seems that the trend isn’t going to swing back any time soon. “The Millennials” are making their choice clear, and policy makers should pay attention. “This group is already the largest generation in the United States, and therefore, their choices will guide the nation’s future transportation infrastructure needs (Foley, 2013).”
The growing numbers of those who have already made the move away from car dependency are becoming more outspoken and more critical of those who are slow to catch up. The comments section of is full of calls for the need of a counter-narrative to the car-is-king status quo. But how to reach the unbelievers? Many think that numbers and facts aren’t the way to do it. That appealing to people’s emotional side is the way to go.

*Thanks to Gabe R. for proof reading, thoughts. 


Badger, E. (2013). Millennials Lead the Trend to Less Driving, But What Happens As They Get Older? Retrieved from The Atlantic:
Fishman, R. (2005). Longer View: The Fifth Migration. Journal of the American Planning Association, Volume 71, Issue 4.
Foley, M. (2013). Here’s Why the American Driving Boom Ended. Retrieved from Wall Street Cheat Sheet:
Maus, J. (2013, May 14th, 2013 at 11:32 am). Report: End of driving boom requires a new direction. Retrieved from
OSPERG, F. (Spring 2013). A NEW DIRECTION: Our Changing Relationship with Driving. Frontier Group.
Transit, H. (2013, 05/ 17). the driving boom is over. Retrieved from Human Transit:

Op-Ed | Local | Idling Reduction: A Common Sense Plan

Old habits are hard to break. To most, idling a car may seem fairly harmless, but in fact, there are many adverse effects. Carbon emissions have a major impact on air quality, with implications for public health and the environment, as we all know. One way to lessen these emissions is to reduce needless pollution from idling. However, most drivers don’t think twice about running their engine while the car is not in motion. For this reason, the City of Portland and Multnomah County need to work together to create idling regulations for passenger vehicles.

The two municipalities have worked together briefly on this issue before, during the Idling Gets You Nowherepublic outreach campaign in the summer of 2011. As part of that effort, Mayor Adams’ office convened an idling reduction task force to look into various options for addressing the issue.  Multnomah County took the lead on outreach by creating an informational website, hanging “Idling Gets You Nowhere” banners across the Hawthorne Bridge and mobilizing volunteers to hand out postcards explaining the dangers of vehicular idling during bridge lifts and at community events.

The partnership makes sense in light of the two municipalities’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions. In 2009, the City of Portland joined forces with Multnomah County to adopt the ClimateAction Plan, a three-year plan to put us on a path to achieve a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. “The Climate Action Plan commits the City and Multnomah County to 93 actions over the next three years and establishes 18 objectives for 2030 (City of Portland, 2009).” However, in the whole 70 page document, idling is mentioned only twice.

Op-Ed: Integrated Corridor Management, transportation agencies can all be friends!

What’s the problem?
Didn’t get home in time to watch Jeopardy because you were stuck in traffic? Late to your bowling league because of a crash blocking two lanes? Missed your child being born due to unexpected lane closures?

Free Transit For All

The benefits of increased transit use are plentiful and well-documented, from increases in health to reductions in congestion to improvements in air quality. For these reasons we should strive to increase public transportation use in our cities. Yet we continue to highly subsidize driving, making it more attractive at the expense of other modes of transportation. It is time for a radical change in our transportation priorities; cities should make public transportation free for all users. In addition to reducing driving, free public transit will increase mobility and equity throughout our society. 

Equity for people with Disability

Did you know that people with disabilities in Oregon are 13 percent of Oregon's population, which is more than the U.S disabled population percentage of 12 percent (Benton County, 2011). It is so important for them to have a reliable, affordable and accessible transportation service to help them reach their work, school and community in their daily life. By 2030,elderly senior population will grew by 123% in Oregon and the current resources will need to be backed up to keep with this increase (Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TRIMET), 2012).

final post

There is an assertion made in the article Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the U.S. Transportation that “U.S. transportation system provides Americans with the greatest mobility of any society on earth”. Yes there are cars everywhere and the United States has been a leading player in the world of globalization but has transportation really improved the social mobility of working people? As the paper states, it is fundamental for the American economy but the disparity in income in the United States is an indicator that transportation policy has not helped everyone. Mobility is important but the conversation about the future of transportation policy ought to include a socio-economic agenda that aims to promote equity for disadvantage communities. Transportation is about scientific technology but not exclusive and should encompass modern concerns about employment and education. In order for innovative technology and policy to be successful, education and social issues must be taken into account. We cannot have only a small percentage of Americans driving smarter cars and having the necessary education with the rest of the country still struggling just to keep up.
In the section where the authors state that there are 4 fundamental ways to reducing GHG emissions. “Increasing vehicular energy efficiency, better substitutes for energy sources, increase transportation system efficiency and reducing transportation activity” are the suggested strategies, yet nothing about education or issues about inequity. If the goal is to reduce emissions on a scale that actually lowers the rate of pollution than policy will require the all commuters be engaged in the process. Transportation policy should be collaborative and inclusive as it engages more stakeholders beyond just economists and environmentalists.
As this course comes to its close and all the topics have been explored, it becomes evidently clear that the conversation of transportation policy ought to shift. Transportation is critical for all our livelihood, without it, we severely suffer socially and economically. Yes, we are a culture of cars but there are communities throughout the country that do not have this kind of accessibility, transportation is a real concern. While it is important to remember the environmental factors of transportation, policy making should take into account the issues and concerns of communities that are experiencing barriers in transportation. It isn’t realistic to envision a world with better cars and cleaner air, transportation systems need to be concerned with economic and social issues. Transportation isn’t just about the physical act of moving people and goods; it is about politics, the environment and people’s equity.  Thank you Colleen for reviewing my final submission.

Op-ed: Our National Parks Need a Transportation Plan!

Our National Parks are being overrun, and the time has come to put together a comprehensive transportation plan for the National Park system. The problem today is that our National Park system is overused creating major traffic problems and crowds that make it seem like that place in Southern California. Today we need to start planning now for alternative transportation systems in our national parks that will move people in and out of the parks easier and with less ecological impacts. This is especially true in our more crowded and compact members of the park system.

What comes to mind when you think of the National Parks? Do you think of some remote spot in Yellowstone, the opportunity to awe at the Grand Canyon, the opportunity to see some unique arch formation at Arches, or is it the beauty that photography Ansel Adams captured in his many photos of Yosemite National Park?

 I will take the beauty of Yellowstone any day over a trip to the artificial wonderland in Southern California that just raised its prices again with its phony Main Street and long lines. I think about the time on Hurricane Ridge at Olympic National Park where we climbed a six foot tall snow bank in the middle of July, or watched a mountain goat eat in a prairie during a snow storm in early July in Glacier National Park.

Map of Major National Parks provide by

To make matters worse the National Parks service budget is extremely strained as it funding is looked at as an easy target for politicians trying to convince the voters in their home district that they are doing something on the budget deficit. Meanwhile while some parks already have plans in place, others are struggling under the weight of so many visitors.

Yosemite National Park is a perfect example. Situated ideally close to San Francisco and Sacramento, Yosemite is being loved to death. During the summer traffic in, around and out of the park can be a nightmare. Yosemite however does have an extensive shuttle system along with offering bus service that connects with Amtrak’s San Joaquin service, Greyhound in Merced. However, travel is not being restricted except to certain spots in the park (National Park Service).

A second example is Glacier National Park in Montana. Glacier benefits from having access to one of Amtrak’s most popular trains the Empire Builder at both ends of the park. In addition there is not only shuttle service provided by the park but there is also the famous red touring vehicles that run tours from many points into and out of the park. Despite all these options the main road through Glacier “Going to the Sun Road” is still often bumper to bumper with cars and finding parking spots can be difficult even early in the season.

On the other hand Zion National Park in Utah took the radical step several years ago to eliminate private automobiles form the park during peak periods and offers an extensive shuttle service to all the major points in the park. Despite the fears that this would cause people to avoid the park it has turned out that people have continued to come to park and in fact the park broke a attendance record in 2010 (Deseret News).

The Grand Canyon National Park had some of the most ambitious plans. In the late 1990’s the park was planning to build a light rail system that would transport passengers around the major sights in the park and allow the park to basically ban cars from traveling into and out of the park. The light rail trains would also connect with the Grand Canyon Railroad which provides a tourist train between Williams, Arizona and the rim of the Grand Canyon (Associated Press).  However, the conservative Goldwater Institute fought the plans and convinced the Arizona State Senators to fight the plan which eventually was abandoned (Foster).

For some parks, an alternative transportation plan is not going to be easy such as Yellowstone because of its size and distance from major cities. However, that does not mean that a alternative transportation plan cannot be developed and in fact should be developed. While the light rail plan may have been killed in the Grand Canyon, the traffic problems have not magically disappeared.

The transportation plan needs to take into account not only how people get around the parks but how people get to the parks. What alternatives exist for people to use instead of their alternatives? For some parks this question is wide open because they are accessible by train, bus, bicycle, etc. while others have limited alternative transportation access. While many parks offer shuttles or tour buses, we need a comprehensive plan for the park service as a whole and it should have been done years ago. The time for action to protect our treasured National Parks is now!

Associated Press (1997, November 25). Light Rail to Replace Most Cars in Grand Canyon. Sunday Courier. Retrieved June 8, 2013, from,3876971
Foster, D. (n.d.). Grand Canyon Transportation Planning: The Railroading of Visitors | Goldwater Institute   . Goldwater Institute. Where freedom wins.     . Retrieved June 10, 2013, from
National Park Attendance 2008-2012. (n.d.). National Park Service. Retrieved June 8, 2013, from
White, D. D. (2007). An Interpretive Study Of Yosemite National Park Visitors’ Perspectives Toward Alternative Transportation In Yosemite Valley. Environmental Management, 39(1), 50-62.
Yosemite National Park - Yosemite National Park. (n.d.). U.S. National Park Service - Experience Your America. Retrieved June 10, 2013, from
Zion National Park - Zion National Park. (n.d.). U.S. National Park Service - Experience Your America. Retrieved June 10, 2013, from

Zion National Park attendance breaks record. (2010, May 10). Deseret News. Retrieved June 9, 2013, from

The carrot and the stick(?) on Electric Vehicle Drivers

Electric vehicle users have been exempted from paying their use of road facilities. That's because they do not need to fuel their car with gas. The main source of transportation funding which is gas tax revenue is declining. With the growing market of electric vehicles, fuel efficiency of regular vehicles are improving so that the future of transportation funding is not likely bright with current scheme of road tax.

It seems that there are two distinct directions when it comes to a road tax on electric vehicles. As the carrot, there are tax incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles at a state level and a federal level[1]. Consumers who purchase a electric vehicle are eligible to apply for federal tax credits up to $7,500 depending on battery size.  Total 31 states offer various incentive programs for the electric vehicle drivers. As the stick, a new road tax scheme enables to impose tax on all vehicles including electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and all regular vehicles. The vehicle mileage fee emerged as one of the leading alternatives or supplements to fuel taxes in recent surface transportation financing policy debates[2].

Recently, several states propose a new road tax[3]. One of main issues is imposing tax on electric vehicle users. The state of Washington demands people driving electric vehicles to pay a $100 annual tax. Plug-in hybrids are excluded from the new bill which was passed last year. New Jersey   would impose all drivers 0.00839 cents per mile.  Average drivers who travels 12,000 miles per year would pay around $100 for driving any vehicles including electric vehicles. House Bill 2313 of Virginia charges larger annual registration fees and an additional $64 per year for environment friendly vehicles including electric vehicles, hybrids and alt-fuel vehicles. Oregon is considering a bill in which plug-in and highly fuel efficient vehicles are paying tax by mile driven[4]. The vehicle drivers need to pay a cent and a half per mile which would be $230  for 15,000 miles per year.

Some people questioned on this movement targeted on electric vehicle drivers[3]. They warned that the new tax on electric vehicles would prevent the change of vehicle from regular vehicles to electric vehicles. Further, higher tax on electric vehicles would be reverse discrimination. In New Jersey's bill, electric vehicle drivers would pay $100 for 12,000 miles, but gasoline vehicle drivers would pay $69.60 with a case that the average speed is 25 miles per gallon[4]

Does a road tax go to a right direction? Before judging it, it seems to be reasonable to find any researches to back-up or understand current policies around electric vehicles. First, regular drivers pay for road maintenance, construction, and other service fees including tolls, but not for full transportation cost[5]. Zhang and Lu(2012) attempted to calculate the marginal-cost vehicle mileage fee by incorporating the cost of externalities into a full transportation cost[2]. Four types of externalities were included such as pollutant gas emissions, GHG emissions, congestion, and external infrastructure cost.  The obtained marginal-cost vehicle mileage fee was from 7.7 to 9.1 cents/mi depending on vehicle size and type. Compared to 1.2 cents per mile for a current gas tax, it was quite high.  Secondly, there was a research calculating savings from the use of electric vehicles. Lidicker et al.(2010) presented that the savings by shifting from a conventional 23 mpg vehicle to a 300 Wh/mi electric vehicle range from $100 to 1,800 for 10,000 miles driven per year[6].  

These two research showed that current road tax was quite small theoretically, and proposed vehicle mileage fee seemed to be still far below than full transportation cost. However, for the case of New Jersey, the public acceptance of a new road tax on electric vehicles would be harsh. Nobody likes to increased service fee. Even it is more expensive than one for regular vehicles! Practical approaches should be mingled with theoretical one. What New Jersey missed is a promoting period. 

Customers of electric vehicles seems to be early adapters in a sense that electric vehicle is still quite a new technology and the price of it is more expensive than regular vehicles. One of characteristics of early adapters would be dealing with premium cost of a product. To promote a switch from a regular vehicle to a electric vehicle as a main trend, current incentives on the purchase of electric vehicles would be effective. Let's see how it works. The reduction of personal purchasing cost by monetary incentives would trigger the increase of demand. It would result in the increase in revenue of electric vehicle manufactures. More manufactures would be interested in launching more product lines to maximize profits. The more electric vehicle lines are linked with accommodating utility of customers so that it would positively affect on demand increase.  Eventually, monetary incentives on the purchasing electric vehicles help electric vehicles to be more popular than now.

Going back to New Jersey case, it gets more complicated for a road tax on electric vehicles to come up with compensating the loss of a current gas tax with a new distance based user charge. It make sense to share transportation cost with not only for regular vehicle drivers  but also electric vehicle drivers.  With considering a promoting period of electric vehicles for public, it might be better to impose a same or less  distance based user fee for electric vehicle compared to one for regular vehicles. However, eventually, the road tax needs to be increased.  Through gradual increase in a road tax, the deficit of transportation funds need to be recovered. The gradual increase would be mutually beneficial for reducing the deficit of transportation funds and suppressing vehicle mile travels.         

[1] Federal and State Tax Incentives on EV

[2] Zhang, L. and Lu Y. Marginal-Cost Vehicle Mileage Fee. In Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 2297, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2012, pp. 1-10.

[3] Damon Lavrinc. New Taxes Make Electric Vehicle Owners Pay Their Share

[4] Jon LeSage, New Jersey Considering Electric Vehicle Tax

[5] Black, Chapter 9: The Full Cost of Transportation.

[6] Lidicker, J.R., Lipman, T.E., Shaheen, S. A. Economic Assessment of Electric-Drive Vehicle Operation in California and Other U.S. Regions. In Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 2191, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2010, pp. 50-58.