Portland, Oregon – in the northwest corner of the USA – is a relatively similar sized city to Auckland. The ‘actual city’ (probably their equivalent of “Auckland City”) has a population of around 575,000 while the whole metropolitan area has a population of around 2 million. This compares to Auckland’s population of 1.4 million. Portland is also a city that is somewhat similar to Auckland in other respects – that for decades it grew through auto-dependent sprawl. However, from 1973 onwards Portland changed tack – becoming more focused on growing through intensification rather than greenfields development. A key part of this shift was the imposition of an urban growth boundary in 1979. In Auckland, we also grew significantly throughout the mid 20th century by expanding rapidly, but over the past 10 years in particular our land-use policies have changed dramatically to encourage intensification rather than further sprawl. In a nut-shell, I would say that we’re following in Portland’s footsteps, but are perhaps a decade or two behind. So Portland’s a useful guide as to where Auckland might be heading in the future, which makes it particularly interesting to look at their transport plans, starting with that of the smaller City of Portland.
You can see how far Portland is ahead of us immediately, in the introduction to their transport plan.
Portland is a vibrant and healthy city. As Portland and the region grow, however, there is a continuing challenge to maintain the natural environment, economic prosperity, and overall quality of life.
Transportation planning is essential to preserving the City’s ‘user-friendly’ character. Constructing significant amounts of new automobile capacity to accommodate growth is not the answer because of the enormous costs and impacts. Adding more streets and parking lots divides neighborhoods, uses valuable land, encourages urban sprawl, and has negative environmental impacts. Alternative approaches must be used to ensure integrated, comprehensive solutions. Portland has spent the last several years working with Metro and other agencies, citizens, and community and business groups to develop the City’s first Transportation System Plan (TSP). The TSP is a comprehensive 20-year plan for transportation improvements in Portland. Its goal is to provide transportation choices for residents, employees, visitors, and firms doing business in Portland.
The TSP helps implement the region’s 2040 Growth Concept by supporting a transportation system that makes it more convenient for people to walk, bicycle, use transit, and drive less to meet their daily needs. The TSP also recognizes that the transportation system must sustain the City’s economic health by accommodating the needs of businesses and supporting Portland’s role in the international economy. The TSP meets State and regional planning requirements and addresses local transportation needs for cost-effective road, transit, freight, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements.
Most of Auckland’s transport plans hint at this kind of focus, yet in reality end up strongly promoting spending the vast majority of transport funds on building more state highways and other roads. In three simple paragraphs, it is obvious that Portland understands the critical link between land-use patterns and transport policy, that it understands the way in which different types of transportation can affect the quality of life of the city, and that it understands the need to offer a variety of options when it comes to transportation. The influence of land-use patterns on transportation is highlighted in the following table – clearly showing that in parts of the city with good transit access and mixed use development people own fewer cars, use their cars less and travel shorter distances:
Chapter three of the Portland Transport Plan looks at improvements that will be implemented there over the next 20 years. Unlike our plans, which are utterly dominated by state highway projects, Portland sets out a wide range of “needs”, before shifting on to looking at actual projects to address those needs. Firstly, here are the general needs:
While each Transportation District demonstrates a unique mix of characteristics and needs, an overall picture of the City’s local transportation needs emerges:
• Reduce traffic impacts, including speeding and traffic volumes, on neighborhoods.
• Manage auto congestion.
• Provide good transportation choices.
• Improve transit service levels and access to routes.
• Expand opportunities to walk and bike safely.
• Increase local street connectivity.
• Improve safety and livability on local streets.
• Protect the natural environment.
• Provide better access to jobs.
• Ensure safe and efficient movement of goods.
While Auckland’s transport plans aren’t altogether different, it is notable to see how things like improving the safety an livability of local streets, and reducing the impact of traffic on neighbourhoods ranks highly in terms of what Portland wants its transport system to achieve. I get the feeling that perhaps our transport planning in Auckland is too dominated by engineers who focus on the best way of getting people and goods from A to B without paying enough regard to the effects on A and B of doing this. I have talked a lot about the inter-connections between land-use and transportation in this blog before, but perhaps the third aspects of livability really needs to be put in there as well. Portland seems highly concerned about the effects on livability of its transportation policies, whereas I am yet to see much evidence of this in Auckland.
In terms of evaluating which projects should be prioritised, Portland is quite ‘up-front’ about the criteria by which projects will be assessed against. I think this is a fantastic idea – taking the mystery away from the horribly complex manner by which projects come up with a final “cost benefit ratio” in Auckland, which generally decides whether they should go ahead or not. Apparently the NZTA manual for working conducting a cost-benefit analysis on a project is many hundreds of pages long, and costs hundreds of dollars to purchase. Hardly user friendly. By contrast, here’s what Portland does:
Together, the ten criteria are ‘cross-modal’; they evaluate various policy concerns and support a balance among modes. The evaluation criteria were applied to the TSP project list to provide a relative ranking of how well each project meets State, regional, and local transportation goals. The higher the total score, the more the project supports the overall transportation goals. The evaluation criteria are briefly described below:
• Support 2040 Areas
Supports a compact urban form by supporting development of high-priority 2040 Growth Concept areas.
•Reduce Vehicles Miles Traveled (VMT) per Capita
Helps reduce VMT per capita.
Addresses an existing deficiency or hazard by improving pedestrian, bicycle, and/or vehicular safety.
• Natural Environment
Minimizes or reduces impacts to the natural environment, and/or utilizes good resource management.
• Local Area Access
Provides or improves access to and within activity centers.
• Economic Development
Provides or increases access (for employees and freight) to existing or emerging employment areas.
• Community Support
Has a high level of community support within the district.
• Efficient Use of Resources
Increases both the efficiency and effectiveness of the system by wise application of available financial, capital, and human resources.
• Connectivity/Built Environment
Supports a high level of street connectivity for all modes and improvement of the built environment, especially in areas where deficiencies exist.
Addresses an area wide need with a multimodal approach.
To me this seems like a fantastically logical way to go about working out which projects should get funded. In particular, I am a big fan of the fact that “Community Support” is taken into great consideration when analysing the merits of a project. Too often I get the feeling that transport ‘experts’ simply write off communities as “NIMBYs”, seeing them simply as an obstacle to get past in order to achieve their grands plans. From my experience the community as a whole often has a great wealth of knowledge as to the appropriateness or otherwise of a transport project, and this should not be ignored. Furthermore, it is the communities who are worried about the effects on A and B of the transport project, while the experts focus on the movement between A and B.
Overall, it is obvious to see that Portland really cares about using transport to create a better city to live in, not just an easier city to get around. It clearly understands the complex relationship between transportation, land-use patterns and the quality of life for people living in the city. I really do think Auckland has a lot of catching up to do.
At a more Regional Level, the 2004 Regional Transportation Plan offers an insight into some of the bigger picture projects that go over and above what the City of Portland gets involved with. This is where we can really start making comparisons between transport expenditure in Auckland – by mode- and what’s happening in Portland. Firstly, from the 2009-2019 Auckland Transport Plan, the “plan” for Auckland: Then, if we look at what the Portland region is planning for their twenty year strategy (2000-2020), we see the following split in terms of spending on different modes:
State Highway Operations, Maintenance and Preservation: $199m-$270m per year
New and Improved State Highways: $2.29 billion (over the whole 20 year period, measured in 1998$)
Regional road operations, maintenance and preservation costs: $248-$365 million per year
New and Improved Regional Roads: $2.85 billion (over the whole 20 year period, measured in 1998$)
Transit Operations and Maintenance: $254 million per year in 2000 rising to $899 million per year by 2020 (rise is due to inflation and also due to the doubling of service provision during this time)
Transit Capital: $4.3 billion (over the whole 20 year period, measured in $1998)
As you can see, Portland has a far more even split between funding roads and funding transit than we see here in Auckland. Furthermore, there is some serious long-term thought going into what transit projects Portland will need over the lifespan of this transportation plan – whereas in Auckland we see spending on public transport infrastructure and rail infrastructure drop off a cliff after 2013 because there is so little certainty about when projects like the CBD Rail Tunnel might get started.
We have a lot to learn.