The No More Freeway Expansions Questionnaire for Portland City Council

Happy Primary Election, Portlanders! You should have received your ballot by now. (and if you haven’t, you should call the Multnomah County Election office).

Incumbent Commissioner Nick Fish is running for reelection against Mr Philip J Wolfe and Ms. Julia DeGraw for Position 2 on Portland’s City Council. Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, David Douglas School Board Member Andrea Valderrama, Former State Representative JoAnn Hardesty, Mr. Stuart Emmons and Ms. Felicia Williams are running for Position 3, which Commissioner Dan Saltzman is vacating this year.  We sent the following eight questions to all of the candidates running for Positions 2 and 3 on Portland’s City Council in the upcoming May Primary. We’ve posted all of the responses we’ve received.

Note: We sent repeated emails to the campaigns of Philip Wolfe, Felicia Williams, Commissioner Loretta Smith, and Commissioner Nick Fish and received no response. Philip J Wolfe and Felicia Williams have spoke in opposition to the freeway in previous forums and on social media, including at this month’s Active Transportation Forum (covered extensively at BikePortland.org).  Commissioner Loretta Smith has been the loudest, most vocal proponent of the project; her website states that she “states that she “supports moving forward with the Rose Quarter project.” As a current City Council Member, Commissioner Nick Fish has expressed tentative support for the project and has been unwilling to move forward with the requests and policy proposals suggested by the No More Freeway Expansions Coalition to remove this project from the Transportation System Plan Update of the Central City Comprehensive Plan Update. 

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The Oregon Department of Transportation is currently proposing spending $450 million on the Rose Quarter Freeway Expansion; that’s seven times the 2016 gas tax and nearly twice the 2016 affordable housing bond, and ODOT’s own consultants say that it won’t reduce recurring traffic congestion. Do you believe that this freeway expansion is an appropriate expenditure of public funds?

Degraw: No.

Emmons: No, I am opposed to this freeway expansion project and I don’t believe it is an appropriate expenditure of public funds.

Hardesty: I am also strongly opposed to expanding I-5. There is a disconnect between our vision for 2050 climate justice resolution and freeway expansion, and expanding I-5 should be an absolute last resort to addressing crashes and congestions.  I think the funds allocated to I-5 expansion would be better spent towards expanding transit and improving infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Valderrama: I believe that we should implement road pricing before spending nearly half a billion dollars to expand a freeway. Economist Joe Cortright has pointed out that in Louisville, Kentucky, officials both expanded bridge capacity and implemented tolling, and the effect of tolling on congestion was so dramatic that it is evident that bridge expansion was wasteful and unnecessary. I would like to convince the Legislature to redirect that $450 million based on a careful analysis of which transportation investments will be most effective and cost-effective in reducing traffic congestion, environmental pollution, and social inequality in the city as a whole.

One of the reasons I want to see tolling or congestion pricing tried before we spend $450
million on the Rose Quarter project is I would like to convince the Legislature to invest that money in transit and bike-ped infrastructure that benefits vulnerable communities.

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40% of Portland’s carbon emissions are from transportation. Do you believe the carbon reduction goals of the state, Metro, and city should be a determining factor in transportation investments? What transportation investments and policies will you support to meet our carbon reduction goals – and which will you oppose? 

Degraw: I’ve been an environmental and social justice advocate and organizer my whole career, and actively worked against factory farms and proposed LNG export terminals, both of which are significant contributors to climate change. I strongly support Portland’s goal to transition to renewable energy by 2050 and will advocate for policies to get us here. All of Portland’s policies should be viewed through the dual lenses of equity and reaching our renewable goals.

This is one of the reasons I oppose the freeway expansion. I believe that we must halt the expansion of all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Highway expansions are built with fossil fuel machinery, contain fossil fuels in their materials, and serve fossil fuel powered vehicles. We also know from study after study – and from Southern California – that expanding freeways doesn’t reduce congestion, it just induces demand. I will oppose highway expansion. Right now we have a transportation system focused on moving cars. We should shift that focus to moving people. That means prioritizing and incentivizing public transportation, active transportation and creating 20-Minute Neighborhoods. If we can organize the political will, we have many tools at our disposal, including dedicated bus lanes, queue jumps, and signal priority, which allow buses to go before cars. We also need to increase transit connectivity, which means services for people where they live. Living east of 82nd Ave, I know from first-hand experience that getting north or south in East Portland on the bus system is nearly impossible. We need to increase bus service in general in East Portland, especially for north/south routes. We have to make transit more convenient for more people, so more people will use it. As we update and repair roads, we need to prioritize transit and active transportation, not just cars. The vast majority of our roads are used for cars. If  we want to get people out of their cars, then why are we making 90% of our road space for cars? Transportation packages must include enforceable anti-displacement policies and affordable housing protections and funds, as well. Whenever a MAX line is built, most of the nearby affordable housing disappears and people are displaced. That’s not okay. Community land trusts/community or publicly owned housing and stronger tenant protections, like rent stabilization and just cause evictions, should also be implemented. I will take the fight for local control of tenant protections to Salem. Land use planning is an important tool in reducing emissions from transportation. Maintaining the urban growth boundary, incentivizing smart density, and promoting alternative transportation will reduce per capita emissions. While many of these policies remain the domain of other jurisdictions like Metro, I will be a voice in their defense on City Council.

Emmons: The math leads to the answer to this question.
About 135,000 new households in Portland by 2035.
An Urban Growth boundary.
We have fixed roadway right of ways.
We have air quality that needs improvement.
We have terrible traffic congestion already.

 So, with these 4 realities, I will support these transportation investments and policies:

  1. Public transit that is faster, more widespread, and that achieves almost everyone in Portland being able to get to a destination in a reasonable amount of time. Workplaces like Nike, Columbia, should also be well served by public transit.
  2. Better bike infrastructure
  3. Dedicated Bus lanes
  4. Safer pedestrian options
  5. Keeping an eye on new technologies and impacts to transportation and parking.

I will oppose these transportation investments and policies:
Freeway expansions

Hardesty:  The bottom line is that we have gone backwards.  Our planning should be done to ensure that communities with the least resources benefit from the planning.  We traditionally leave equity until the end and are surprised when results disproportionately affect people of color and low income communities.

The City needs to fully implement the marijuana tax provision that would create a fund for small businesses from these communities to phase in clean air equipment so that we can tackle dirty diesel in Portland, especially if we intend to implement clean air standards for future city contracts.  I would also work directly with these communities in determining the feasibility of establishing set shipping times and routes that could divert pollution away from directly impacting people.

I would also fight to expand our transit options and build more pedestrian and bicycle friendly infrastructure.

Valderrama: The carbon reduction goals considered by state, Metro, and city can’t be taken seriously if they don’t play a role in determining transportation investments. I would seek transportation policies and investments that align both environmental and economic justice, such as providing low-income discounts for transit riders (or simply no fares overall), and improvement of transit in low-income areas. I support the Portland
Just Energy Initiative, and would seek to strengthen this citizen-backed effort to accomplish its goal of a fossil-fuel free by expanding multi-model options that prioritize pedestrians, bicycles, and transit.

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Do you believe that TriMet and ODOT as governing agencies are currently accountable to the Portland region’s constituents and their transportation needs? Would you be supportive of initiatives aiming to reform TriMet’s governing structures?

Degraw: No, and Absolutely. Just as I am supportive of governance reform at City Hall, I think we need to look at who sits on our transit boards. Are the appointees representative of the riding public? If they’re not, we need to change how they end up on the board. I am in favor of pushing for directly elected transit agency boards; in the case of Portland, we already have an elected regional government and I could see Metro being a natural home for TriMet. I understand Metro might not want to inherit all the issues at TriMet, but currently we don’t have directly accountable transit boards and our system doesn’t work as well as it should because of this fact. Existing board members should feel public pressure to involve the community in decisions, so they are accountable to the public and dutifully transparent. There are many logistical and political difficulties in reforming TriMet’s governing structures, but I absolutely believe it is worth the energy and effort. Making sure that TriMet is accountable to Portlanders & Metro residents is critically important considering their role in regional transportation planning. ODOT also needs reform.

Emmons:  Yes and yes.

Hardesty: Absolutely not. TriMet is a staple for many in our community, a valued service that has increasingly fallen short of meeting our needs.  While we need to ensure that all Portland residents participate in using our resources, we also need to ensure all are helping to develop those resources and build them.  The people that are most dependent on public transit are never invited to the decision making table, and as city commissioner, I would ensure that TriMet and ODOT accountable and responsive to the community, just as I have been the only critical voice of TriMe’s  accountability in the wake of their attempts to outsource private security to retired Portland police officers without due diligence and input from the public. If the City is unable to perform certain services itself, then it is still the responsibility of our elected officials to ensure a transparent bidding process, community input, and accountability.

Valderrama: I believe that strong local leadership is necessary to hold TriMet and ODOT accountable for Portland’s regional transportation needs.

In regards to TriMet, as a “municipal corporation” TriMet has ability to create policy, along with tax-and-spend authority. I am concerned that despite funding provided through a district-wide payroll tax, taxpayers are not adequately allowed the opportunity to determine TriMet leadership (which are instead appointed by the Governor.) Oregon residents throughout the State can run for Governor—this does not
indicate they would have better understanding of TriMet’s needs than voters who rely on TriMet on a daily basis. I do support reforming TriMet’s governing structure so that the Governor’s appointed executive director to be approved by our elected representatives at Metro.

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4) Do you believe the transportation engineering concept of Induced Demand is real? How does this influence your understanding of regional transportation management?

Degraw: I oppose the freeways expansion because it will induce demand for cars. We should be inducing demand for public transportation and alternative transportation through targeted infrastructure investments.

Emmons: Yes. The more roads we build, the more cars will be on the roads. Look to LA and the recent I-405 expansion, and Houston, and most other US cities. Induced Demand influences my understanding of regional transportation management considerably.

Hardesty: My basic understanding of “induced demand” is that “if you build it, they will come” or in this case, more traffic will come.  I do believe that induced demand is a reality for transportation, as we’ve seen it occur in places like Texas. Expanded highways do NOT guarantee decongestion, and I believe that as City Commissioner, I will be able to work with Metro.

Valderrama: Yes, I believe the concept of Induced Demand is real in regards to transportation. In short: if we build more roads, they will be filled with more cars. As a result, the negative externalities caused by traffic–congestion and carbon emission–are the same, if not worse.

The inverse option of Reduced Demand also applies. Having fewer cars on the roads is an extremely important step towards the goals of reducing emissions and a fossil fuel-free Portland. This was impetus behind Portland’s “20 Minute Neighborhood” concept—in which, after nearly a decade, far too many neighborhoods on the city’s margins have failed to recognize. Increased density will ensure 20 Minute Neighborhoods throughout the City, particularly for marginalized communities. I support compact development. Compact development makes transit, biking, and walking more viable.

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Do you believe Portland’s currently making adequate progress towards our Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic fatalities by 2025? What changes, policies, or investments would you support or advocate for to ensure Portland meets its target?

DeGraw: No. The City must do more to reduce traffic deaths. I do approve of the 20 is plenty rule, but it definitely doesn’t get us to where we need to be. I also want to make sure that it is not enforced in a way that unfairly targets communities of color or low-income communities

Emmons: No. But, I like the new video and campaign – it’s long overdue. Narrative; Changes, policies, or investments are aligned with many of my planning projects which included safer streets. Consistently, it was a battle with PBOT engineers and other city bureaus to build the vision of safer streets. Commissioners were many times ‘hands off’ when my plans advocated for innovative ways to reduce the length of street crossings, build more and better bike lanes, and build more streets that were more about bikes and pedestrians.

Woodlawn Triangle: http://emmonsdesign.com/woodlawn-triangle.html
Division Street: http://emmonsdesign.com/division-street.html
South Waterfront: http://emmonsdesign.com/south-waterfront.html
Whitaker School (safe walk to school): http://emmonsdesign.com/whitaker-school-site.html

  1. Set the vision, and get all Bureaus to align with it, in all projects, from large down to small scale projects.
  2. Provide funding for Vision Zero, and look to alternate funding sources and things that don’t cost much money (like lowering speed limits)
  3. Other Changes, policies, or investments that are recommended through public engagement.
  4. Listen to the Community

Hardesty: I think that we have made some progress towards our Vision Zero goal, although I am worried that traffic stops disproportionately impact communities of color. We need to stop criminalizing people for being poor.  It is absolutely absurd that fare jumping on the MAX is 10 times more than a parking ticket. Our infrastructure and accountability structure are set up to cater towards private vehicle drivers when we should be building infrastructure that is inclusive of pedestrians and bicyclists as well.  I would like to see more neighborhood engagement and input into the decisions that are made around transportation. I would also advocate for more awareness education.

Valderrama: I’d like to begin by stating that the elimination of traffic fatalities on City streets is a necessary goal that should be pursued by leadership. Adopted only a few years ago, I’m cautiously optimistic of the impact such policies as decreased speed limits on arterials and PBOTs outreach campaign will have to reduce traffic fatalities. Any number of traffic fatalities is too high, and would take any necessary steps to
eliminate traffic fatalities by 2025.

As a mother and East Portland resident, it has been very distressing to see traffic fatalities increase – as they have all over the country – even after we adopted Vision Zero. It is important to note that most of the infrastructure investments we are planning to make to reach Vision Zero have not been completed. For example, turning Foster Road from 52d to 90th into a three-lane road road (with a turn lane) rather than a 4-lane road will make that road safer; construction on that project, as well as other safety projects, should begin this year.

I believe increased investment in transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure will lead to reduced cars on the road will, hopefully, reduce traffic fatalities as well. As City Commissioner, I would explore all options that reduce the negative environmental and economic externalities of car ownership while also eliminating traffic fatalities.

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Decongestion pricing has been proven as the only public policy tool that successfully alleviates traffic gridlock. Do you support it, and if so, what mechanisms would you suggest to ensure that it is implemented equitably and fairly?

DeGraw: I would support trying this out, but only if we ensure that lower income Portlanders and those who can’t afford to pay are not paying for it. Period. I don’t think it should be implemented until that is 100% in place. There are several mechanisms we can use to determine ability to pay, including income levels or Oregon Health Plan membership, for instance. I’m very open to other ideas of achieving equity and fairness in decongestion pricing.

Emmons: I love this quote from London’s Mayor re: congestion pricing: “”The only real problem we had were the buses were all running so ahead of schedule they had to wait at the bus stop for a couple minutes.” In addition to London, we need to study how decongestion pricing is working in StockholmSingaporeMilan, and Gothenburg, as well as Durham, England; ZnojmoCzech Republic and Valletta, Malta and design our system with lessons learned from these pilot cities.

I do support decongestion pricing, but it must be done equitably and fairly, and in collaboration with vehicle users and businesses who rely on our freeway system.

Re: fairness: Right now, lower income Portlanders are being forced farther out from the core, into areas that have poor public transportation options, and many need to use cars to get to work during peak times. I favor a toll scaling scheme so lower-income people have less of a cost burden.

 At the same time – I am an affordable housing advocate – and to solve our transportation congestion challenges, we need to focus on minimizing displacement, and getting more affordable housing in Portland. I also favor workplaces, schools, and services within walking distance of housing, or within a short public transit ride.

Hardesty: Ultimately we may need to get to congestion pricing, but there are a lot of things we could do before that. We’re saying to low income communities and communities of color, ‘we’ve pushed you to the edges, now we’re going to charge you for the privilege of coming back into the city.’  I would insist on concurrent conversations on expanding public transportation opportunities in order to prevent vulnerable communities from being pushed outside of city limits further.  Transportation is the second biggest impact for any low income household budget. The people that are most dependent on public transit are never invited to the decision making table. We need to be inclusive in these conversations on equitable transportation, and we need to be intentional about investing in regions that are significantly dependent on public transportation such as East Portland.

Valderrama: I would certainly support decongestion pricing as a less-expensive, more-efficient option that has proven to dramatically reduce congestion. I would consider such options as providing waivers for drivers that are SNAP eligible to ensure that decongestion pricing is implemented equitably and fairly.

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Do you believe decongestion pricing should be implemented before spending billions on freeway expansion through the Rose Quarter and on other freeways inside Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary? If so, will you fight to ensure pricing is implemented before expansion?

DeGraw: I want to explore the option of decongestion pricing as a means to reduce congestion prior to investing $450 billion in freeway expansion. I would like the opportunity for City leadership to convince the state to invest a half-billion dollars in transit and bike-ped infrastructure with particular benefits for vulnerable populations. As City Commissioner, I will fight for decongestion pricing over freeway expansion

Emmons: Yes and Yes.  

Hardesty: As I stated before, I believe that expanding freeways should be the very last resort after we’ve tried every other option possible.

Valderrama: I want to explore the option of decongestion pricing as a means to reduce congestion prior to investing $450 billion in freeway expansion. I would like the opportunity for City leadership to convince the state to invest a half-billion dollars in transit and bike-ped infrastructure with particular benefits for vulnerable populations. As City Commissioner, I will fight for decongestion pricing over freeway expansion.

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Which transportation community advocates and perspectives are you most likely to consult for advice and prioritize when faced with difficult decisions?

DeGraw: Some of the transportation advocates I’ll consult are OPAL Environmental Justice/Bus Riders Unite, APANO, Bike Walk Vote, ATU 757, and Oregon Walks.

Emmons: No More Freeways PDX, Neighborhood Associations, Living Cully, Verde, AARP, Andando en Bicicletas en Cully, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Elders in Action, Hacienda, Oregon and Southwest Washington Families for Safe Streets, Oregon Walks, and others…

Hardesty: Street Trust, Portland for Everyone, Portlanders for Parking Reform, Rex Burkholder, OPAL, Community Cycling Center, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 to name a few. I would also be proactive in holding public meetings with community members throughout Portland to discuss what concerns face them in light of transportation policy.  I would also be intentional on including communities of color and low income communities, both who have often been left out of the conversation until the very end.

Valderrama: I have been involved with transportation policy for nearly the entire six years I’ve been working at City Hall. I am willing to consult and seek advice for every impacted party when considering solutions for difficult decisions. I certainly value the leadership and advocacy provided by such various groups as OPAL Environmental Justice’s Bus Riders Unite!, Oregon Walks, Community Cycling Center, the local chapter of Young Professionals in Transportation, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Oregon Environmental Council, and the East Portland Action Plan.

 

Ballots are due by 8:00pm on Tuesday, May 15.

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