As annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decrease nationwide, Metro's focus on improving air quality and community health through the RTO Program can be examined as both a factor in this trend, or a resulting consequence. Over the 30 month period between January 2009 and June 2011, Metro and Nelson\Nygaard Consulting estimate that VMT were reduced by 83 million miles (2). As Metro continues this program, their impact on regional residents' commuting habits will be an important and interesting factor to track.
Metro's RTO grants program has shifted its policy away from dedicated funding towards a more open, competitive process that addresses equity in a meaningful way and increases access to funding to a broader swath of groups region-wide (3). As Metro moves forward within their third five-year strategic plan, their goals around equity and social justice show through the rhetoric of this year's funded projects. This strategic plan also includes specific program goals, listed below.
- "Align the RTO program with regional economic development, growth management, and livability objectives.
- Be a leader in developing local, regional, state, and national policies that promote walking, biking, transit, and high-occupancy vehicle travel.
- Support local partners to engage employers and commuters to increase the use of travel options for commute trips.
- Develop tools to support the use of travel options to reduce drive-alone trips"(4).
Metro's focus on employers and commuters influences their support of projects like the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's Bike Commute Challenge, which uses "friendly competition, educational workshops, business outreach and events to create new bike commuters and to increase the cycling frequency of current riders" (1). The BTA's program over 2013-2015 plans its growth and focus on East Portland, Gresham, and Washington County which speaks to accessibility and equity across the Portland Metro region.
Other funded projects fall under one of four groups: to ease or green your commute, to reduce transportation barriers in our community, to help you walk or bike, or to encourage economic growth (1). The BTA's project is an example of the first group, while Verde and the Community Cycling Center are two organizations that received funding for projects under the second group. The third group includes projects from Portland Community College, Portland State University, and both city- and county-wide initiatives. Only one project was funded under the umbrella of economic growth, however many projects still seem to have an economic component.
Given the focus on grant funding, Metro's commitment to funding over the span of three years allows these projects more time than other yearly grant cycles. This extra time hopefully enables these projects to become durable fixtures within the Portland Metro region. Creative ideas should last beyond the terms of Metro's RTO grant program, giving residents access to more healthy transportation options within our community.
(1) Metro News
(2) Travel Options Research Library
(3) 2013-2015 RTO
(4) 2013 RTO grant packet
Edited by: Jamin Kimmell