Getting people out of their cars is the greatest traffic challenge facing the Portland region, transportation officials agreed during a panel discussion last week.
TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey said doing that will require big thinking, including changing the mission of the regional transit agency he oversees.
"TriMet is changing from a transit agency to a transportation option agency," said Kelsey, noting TriMet's new partnership with bike, scooter and ride-sharing businesses to offer customers door-to-door travel services.
For Metro, it may mean arguing against its own public polling on a regional transportation funding measure planned for the November 2020 general election ballot.
Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who is co-chairing the task force developing the measure, admitted that multiple polls show most voters want new transportation funds spent on road projects. The polls include one conducted for Metro that was released in January.
But Vega Pederson said she and other leaders need to convince voters otherwise.
"The polls say, build more roads, make them bigger. It's incumbent on us as leaders to push the values that says that's not the best investment," Vega Pederson said.
The discussion took place during a Design Week Portland forum hosted by Business for a Better Portland on Tuesday, April 9.
The other panelists were Street Trust Executive Director Jillian Detweiler, Metro Councilor Juan Carlos Gonzalez, and Portland Bureau of Transportation Interim Director Chris Warner.
Like Kelsey and Vega Pederson, they all agreed that the public's current dependence on single-occupancy vehicles for most trips has resulted in congested, dangerous and environmentally harmful streets and freeways.
Asked by moderator Adam Davis, executive director of Oregon Humanities, to design a better system, Detweiler called for shrinking all current five-lane roads in the region to fewer lanes for motor vehicles and more for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Gonzalez said communities of color have been pushed out of their historic homes by redevelopment projects, and must be helped with the longer commutes they are now forced to endure.
Warner said the City Council is committed to investing more transportation funds in safety and other projects in historically underserved East Portland.
Kelsey warned that reducing the percentage of single-occupancy vehicle trips is an enormous challenge, however. He noted that only 4.2 percent of trips in the region currently are being made by transit, biking and walking — far fewer than in many other major cities around the world. And Kelsey said changes must be made in the entire Portland-Vancouver region.
"We need to have a regional conversation, not a municipal conversation, and that includes Clark County. The original hub-and-spoke system of people commuting in and out of Portland isn't working anymore. We need to figure out how to get people from suburb to suburb," Kelsey said.
Because the discussion was meant to be aspirational, no one proposed a list of projects intended to address the region's transportation needs. Such a list currently is being developed by the task force that Vega Pederson chairs. It reportedly could add up to tens of billions of dollars.
The regional funding measure was first proposed to help finance the Southwest Corridor MAX line that is in the final design stages. It is currently estimated to cost $2.4 billion. Although the federal government is expected to pay half the cost, that still leaves $1.2 billion that must be raised from state, regional and local sources.
No decisions on the other projects to be funded by the measure have been made yet. They must be spread throughout Metro's boundaries to give voters outside the corridor between Portland and Tualatin a reason to vote for it, however.
In a video shown at the end of the discussion, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson said the other projects will be concentrated in corridors where most economic activity takes place.
Business for a Better Portland was founded a little more than two years ago, originally as the Portland Independent Chamber of Commerce. Executive Director Ashley Henry said it was started by business owners who felt their values were not reflected in other business organizations.
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the transportation funding issue at http://www.tinyurl.com/y38vgn3t.