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By Edward J. Sullivan and Carrie A. Richter

Oregon has a reputation for planning.  However, when it comes to transportation planning, efforts often appear to be moving in different directions and at speeds slower than melting glaciers.

In October 2013, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as a proxy for the premier of British Columbia, signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy.  Among other things, the pact promises provincial or state-level action in furthering the usual panoply of clean transportation modes including adoption of low carbon fuel emission standards, expansion of the use of zero-emission vehicles, and support of high-speed rail.

In 2012, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) launched its Oregon Passenger Rail Project to study the creation of a high-speed rail line from Eugene to Portland.  The study, as opposed to the construction of the line, is due to be complete sometime in 2016.  ODOT has also begun work on updating its Oregon State Rail Plan, initially adopted in 1997.  This study follows ODOT’s update of its Highway Plan and its creation of Design Guidelines for its Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan in 2011.

As Oregon moves sluggishly toward planning a regional alternative transportation system, other counties such as Germany has not only built them, they are now integrating them.  In the article “A Mobility Wunderkind: Transportation Lessons for Germany,” by Nicholas Oyler, Planning, the Magazine of the American Planning Association, December 2013,  Oyler explains that the German government has made providing “safe and affordable mobility to people” a priority.  The focus for the German system is “full mobility” or Gesamtmobilität, combining bike-sharing, car-sharing, and transitional public transit into one coordinated system.

For example, a bicycle or the commuter rail may make sense for getting a rider to the office but getting to a lunch meeting during a rainstorm or running a quick errand may be more efficiently accomplished by checking out a car.  Some regions, particularly the Ruhr Valley that includes many rural areas, have created an office whose sole function is the coordination of transportation services.  In Dusseldorf, for about $100 per month, customers receive a ticket card that includes a monthly pass for local transit, 90 minutes of Car2Go usage and four hours’ daily usage with Nextbike.

Bike ShareAnother example taken from the Oyler article tells the tale of a rural resident who drives his mini van from his rural village to a parking lot of a commuter rail station, where he loads his bicycle onto a commuter train into Frankfurt, where he cycles along greenways, under highway and railroad overpasses to his office building.  Coordinating the various modes of transportation seems obvious from those who are commuting but what are we doing on the planning end to connect and coordinate these multi-modal approaches?  Adopting separate state, county and city highway, pedestrian and bicycle and rail plans, with an entirely separate state-sponsored Passenger Rail Project – Eugene to Portland -- does not seem to integrate any of these systems on the front end.

Further, the Portland metro area served by Tri-Met, as the single public transportation provider, is distinguishable from the German system that includes a greater number of public and private transportation options including bus, trolley bus, streetcar, light rail, heavy rail and intercity rail.  Tri-Met’s recent adoption of a flat fare system along with providing electronic tickets may make it simpler for riders to get around, it does not go nearly far enough to suggest any partnering with bike-sharing and car-sharing companies, when car-sharing appears to be gaining in popularity.

As an autonomous public entity, Tri-Met enjoys some degree of freedom from transportation planning obligations imposed by the statewide land use system regarding reliable service.  It is not required to guarantee service and cut-backs have left developments, already allegedly underserved by adequate off-street parking, without the 15-minute bus service they had expected.  It is conceivable that this could lead to other entities jumping into the public transportation game; imagine the DR Horton Express transporting its residents from new developments in Happy Valley or Oregon City to stops on Tri-Met’s Milwaukee Express Line.  After all, Portland’s development history is filed with developer-built and run ferries and trolley lines transporting people to and from new developments.

The upside is that decisions about how and where to enhance the public transportation system have yet to be made, in many respects, and can be accomplished using a more integrated approach that includes both public and private options.  However ODOT’s myopic-focus on separately planning for rail, passenger rail, highway, bicycle and pedestrians coupled with no certainty that Tri-Met will provide adequate service over the long-term as required by the statewide planning goals, suggests that such glacial speed planning efforts will likely continue to be anything but integrated.

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