Archive for November, 2010

State agency directors out, but not at ODOT

Posted in News on November 29th, 2010 by Andrew – 2 Comments

Willamette Week has a post up online about Governor-elect John Kitzhaber’s intention to fire every state agency head in an effort to reorganize, transform and streamline Oregon’s state government.

A shakeup at the top of any state agency is sure to provide an opportunity to do things differently and hopefully better. However, WW notes that there are a couple of exceptions to this move:

At the time, Kitzhaber said he expected that request to affect “20 to 30″ individuals. Some agency heads, including the directors of key agencies such as the Oregon Departments of Transportation and Environmental Quality report to commissions, rather than the governor.

It seems to me that ODOT is one of the state agencies in greatest need of new direction and a more well-rounded sense of mission. I’m very curious to hear the thoughts of others on ODOT’s performance and the fact that management will not be changing there.

Do Transit Improvements Displace Poor and Working Class Portlanders?

Posted in News on November 23rd, 2010 by Steve – 4 Comments

A recent study highlighted by Next American City gives some compelling evidence that this might be the case:

A new study from Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center by Stephanie Pollack and Barry Bluestone, indicate[s] that there is a significant correlation between the construction of new transit lines and demographic change in neighborhoods. Is that to the detriment of the public transportation system, a sort of “cycle of unintended consequences,” as the report puts it?

By evaluating changes in 42 neighborhoods around new transit stations in 12 metropolitan areas, the researchers found that:

  • 64% of new transit neighborhoods saw higher population growth than the region as a whole
  • 62% saw a larger increase in owner-occupied housing
  • 62% saw a larger increase in median household income
  • 74% saw a larger increase in rent
  • 71% saw a larger increase in automobile ownership

As transit advocates who care about equity, we should carefully consider this question and examine all future transit improvements through a lens of economic and environmental justice.

The study points out that every city has a different experience with transit improvements and potential displacement of poor and working class residents.  This suggests that there are ways to properly plan new rail lines and bus routes that can minimize or eliminate displacement.

In order to prevent similar situations from occurring in other cities where new transit systems are installed, the Dukakis Center has produced a toolkit designed to suggest was to orient a transit station around the existing neighborhood. This may involve planning cooperatively, engaging the community, and developing community benefits agreements.

Ultimately, the effects of transit investments on communities vary significantly depending on the place. Some cities have seen significant gentrification in their new station neighborhoods, others have not; some areas feature high-income residents who use transit, others do not. But when planning expansions of transportation networks, it is essential to plan for these externalities. You don’t want to build a transit system that’s so appealing that no one rides it.

A new line of thinking that gained some momentum at this year’s Railvolution conference, sees new transit projects coupled with new affordable housing developments.  This could open up new funding opportunities for transit improvements, while providing much needed affordable and market rate housing in areas that would enjoy these improvements.

Taking transit is generally much more affordable than driving, it should be a no-brainer to build new transit centers alongside affordable housing.  But as we can see in the South Waterfront development, just because a city (and in this case, OHSU) commits to building affordable housing, doesn’t mean they’ll deliver it.

Congress Considers Reduction to Transit Tax Deduction

Posted in News on November 19th, 2010 by Steve – 3 Comments

If you take transit to get to work each day, come January you could be paying more out of your own pocket when the tax deduction for transit is cut in half.

But drivers will keep enjoying the same great parking benefit – nearly double what transit commuters will be eligible to receive. We don’t think that’s fair, and Congress needs to hear about it.

Sign this petition from our friends at Commuter Nation urging Congress to restore the transit benefit and make it equal to the parking benefit. They’ll deliver all the signatures December 1 – so pass it on quickly!

Come January, if you spend more than $120 a month on your commute in a vanpool, train or bus, the federal government will be sending a message loud and clear: they’d like you to start driving to work, where you can get $230 for parking deducted from your paycheck tax free.

A provision in the stimulus bill increased the transit benefit from $120 to $230, finally putting it on equal footing with the $230 parking benefit and extending this great benefit to everyone, whether they drive or take transit each day. But that provision is about to expire unless Congress votes to extend it during their December session.

Transportation is the second largest household expense for many households. The millions of Americans who depend on transit to get to work each day shouldn’t have to pay more to do something that also saves us energy, reduces congestion and emissions, and uses less oil.

Americans need low-cost transportation options. Tell Congress to keep things fair by extending the transit benefit and keeping it equal with the parking benefit.

The federal government talks a good game about encouraging Americans to carpool or take public transportation to save energy and cut emissions, but they need to put their money where their mouth is.

via Transportation for America

Update: I think the petition collection is over, as Joe points out the link is dead.

Our Wild Ride with the Bicitaxis of Zacatepec, Mexico

Posted in News on November 1st, 2010 by Ryan – Comments Off on Our Wild Ride with the Bicitaxis of Zacatepec, Mexico

Zacatepec Bicitaxi School Bus! ©Ryan H.

Pedicabs are gaining popularity throughout Mexico. Once only seen in the central city of District Federal, pedicabs are spreading from the large metropolis to more rural towns. Pedicabs trailers, known in Mexico as “Bicitaxis,” are now being deployed in small towns to serve as taxis and to haul cargo.

In Mexico City, the Bicitaxis serve tourists and locals around the historic Zocalo. They are very popular in this dense, urban historic district with shoppers from throughout Mexico, who will load these Bicitaxis with all their loads of shopping. Bicitaxis in rural areas are also being used in the historic centers and surrounding neighborhoods of these towns.

We had the opportunity to meet and interview the Bicitaxi drivers of Zacatepec, a small town in the state of Morelos, famous for it’s sugarcane processing plant. The Bicitaxis of Zacatepec started operation in 1998. The idea came from a Bicitaxi driver from Mexico City. The pedalers of Zacatepec work the central area the town, pedaling shoppers and residents to and from the market and central plaza. They also serve as a school bus for children and are capable of hauling up to 4 passengers safely. They are used by residents to carry large packages and goods home. The Bicitaxis operate downtown, which is not entirely flat. There are many dirt roads, cobblestone streets, and huge potholes on the paved roads.

Working the Zacatepec market ©Ryan H.

The drivers are all obviously professionals, wheeling deftly with great style around potholes and slowing just enough for the many speed bumps in town. The Bicitaxis receive smiles wherever they pedal. The police waved the Bicitaxis through intersections with a wide grin.

There are two different companies in town, renting to the drivers. Each of the drivers works a 12 hour day from 7am to 7pm. They rent the Bicitaxis from the companies for 53 pesos a day and are responsible for half of all repair expenses. There are 17 cabs in the town and the same number of pedalers. They all get along well, because “we all work together at this spot each day.” Each ride costs the passengers 10 pesos.

The Bicitaxis of Zapotepec have had legal struggles since they started in 1998. In the year 2000, the municipal president banned them from operating in the town, after pressure from the automobile taxis. The Bicitaxi drivers, now out of work, appealed to the Federal Government in Mexico City for protection. They claimed that their right to support themselves through an honest living was being attacked. One pedaler told us that, “Our rights were being violated.” The federal government agreed and by this time, 6 months after the ban was initiated, there was a new municipal president who let the Bicitaxis get back to work carting people and goods around Zacatepec. They currently work with no official regulations, but work with the traffic police every day as they navigate through town.

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Tom Hughes on the CRC: register bikes

Posted in News on November 1st, 2010 by Spencer – 1 Comment

Tom HughesI’m pulling for Bob Stacey for Metro President for what I think are good reasons. But I haven’t felt like I had hugely compelling reasons to be against Tom Hughes. I mean, he does seem like a threat to the UGB, but not an extremist threat. And he is a supporter of the CRC, but that’s apparently not all that far out of the mainstream. Basically, Hughes comes across as a amicable sort of guy, with a sense of humor, even.

But today on Portland Transport I stumbled upon a revealing video of Tom Hughes:

Thankfully not revealing in the WW-cover-photo way, but in the what-he- thinks-about-bikes way.

I had taken note of the fact that Hughes hadn’t bothered to respond to the BTA candidate questionnaire, but otherwise felt like I didn’t know his attitude toward bikes and active transportation. Until just today when I was looking at the Portland Transport video, in which he said:

“I think one of the frustrations that a lot of us have about the expansion of the bicycle system in the city of Portland and around the region is that it appears that the bicycle folks don’t contribute. So I would like to see, even if it’s just a token registration fee, or some mechanism to go to the bicycle community, and say OK, you need to pay a share of the cost of providing those facilities.”

So basically: we’re going to give you this wonderful CRC with its “world class” bike facilities, but in exchange we’re going to have to have you to go ahead and get some license plates for your bicycle. Fair deal, right?

That’s from minute 9:10 of the video.

Now, a lot of well-intentioned people have floated the bike registration idea, but to me this seems like more than that. For one thing, the question he was responding to didn’t even mention bikes; it was about tolling the CRC. So this sprang forth from Hughes pretty spontaneously. And the phrase, “the bicycle folks don’t contribute” was at the center of it.

(Glad he used the word “folks,” there BTW; otherwise I might have taken it as a derogatory remark.)

I just posted in a comment about this to the BikePortland “Vote” post.

“Hughes took it as an opportunity to perpetuate the myth that people who ride bikes don’t pay their share.

“A myth that, incidentally, has been debunked.

“But which continues to be used to scapegoat an easy target: Us. Readers of this site, and people who get around by bike, often in an attempt to free ourselves from total dependence on cars.”

…and then I go on to gripe about the several ways I – someone Hughes would apparently think of as a freeloader – will likely have to pay lots of money into the CRC, even without a bike registration fee in place.

Ugh. I’m starting to get that feeling I tend to get on election eves, that I haven’t done enough. (Which always bumps up against how much I hate phonebanking and door-knocking… Volunteer coordinators of the world: find something else for me to do! ANYTHING else! I’m good at drawing pictures; that’s useful, right? :))

Well, maybe tomorrow I’ll put my Bob Stacey signs on my bike and drag my reluctant butt in for some last-minute phonebanking.

-Spencer