Five smart things our regional planning agency is doing to fight climate change

Five smart things our regional planning agency is doing to fight climate change

A parking lot in downtown Portland. Metro’s ‘Climate Smart’ plan
connects parking and climate policy.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Because its role in shaping transportation happens mostly behind the scenes, it’s sometimes easy to think that Metro is dedicated entirely to the distribution of nostrums.

But the truth is that Metro, the only directly elected regional government in the country, is a major force behind Portland’s success as a city. In much of the United States, the metropolitan planning organization — Metro’s peer — is the belly of the beast. These are the bodies that generate the obviously ridiculous traffic projections that are used to justify freeway construction and spend their federal Clean Air Act allowances on new turn lanes that supposedly reduce congestion but actually accelerate sprawl.

As the climate change news has gotten scarier this summer and the prospects for federal action are remote as ever, it’s worth taking a look at a few things Metro is actually proposing to do on this front as part of the “Climate Smart Communities” plan it’s now considering.

1) It’s officially considering a Vision Zero plan.

We’re told that the City of Portland is moving toward the goal of making street safety a higher priority than travel speed. By proposing to include Vision Zero in its toolkit of climate-smart actions, Metro is paving the way for a regional endorsement of the concept and putting the issue before other cities in the area.

2) It’s enshrining bicycling alongside walking and mass transit as a core transportation goal.

Current text of Metro’s “Regional Framework Plan”:

It is the policy of the Metro Council to support the identity and functioning of communities in the region through ensuring that incentives and regulations guiding the development and redevelopment of the urban area promote a settlement pattern that is pedestrian “friendly,” encourages transit use and reduces auto dependence.

Proposed new text:

It is the policy of the Metro Council to support the identity and functioning of communities in the region through ensuring that incentives and regulations guiding the development and redevelopment of the urban area promote a settlement pattern that makes biking and walking safe and convenient, encourages transit use and reduces auto dependence and related greenhouse gas emissions.

Current text:

It is the policy of the Metro Council to encourage pedestrian- and transit-supportive building patterns in order to minimize the need for auto trips and to create a development pattern conducive to face-to-face community interaction.

New text:

It is the policy of the Metro Council to encourage pedestrian-, bicycle- and transit-supportive building patterns in order to minimize the need for auto trips, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to create a development pattern conducive to face-to-face community interaction.

Can’t hurt.

3) It’s identifying parking policy as a climate issue.

Government-issued free parking, and the government-mandated parking minimums on private property that make it possible, might be the country’s single largest subsidy for driving. By explicitly setting a goal to “manage parking to make efficient use of land and parking spaces” and urging its constituent cities to “prepare community inventory of public parking spaces and usage” and “adopt shared and unbundled parking policies,” Metro is refusing to pretend that free parking is a public good.

4) It’s setting a target for pay-as-you-drive insurance.

Speaking of subsidies for driving, here’s one lots of Portlanders can relate to: why does car insurance cost more or less the same no matter how much you drive? We’ve written about private insurance startup Metromile’s effort to solve this problem with a new pay-per-mile insurance product. Metro’s climate plan is proposing for the first time to set a target of increasing the number of households that use this type of insurance from a little over 1 percent today to a whopping 40 percent by 2035.

5) It’s proposing a statewide “Safe Routes to Transit” program.

Another Metro target for 2035 is to nearly double public transit service hours in the region from 4,900 per day to 9,400. But with the Portland area’s middling densities, all that new service won’t be viable unless a lot more people are walking and biking to bus and rail stops.

Fortunately, making it easier to get to transit stops is wildly popular politically, at least in Portland. California, New York and New Jersey have already used Safe Routes to Transit programs, modeled on Safe Routes to Schools, to improve biking and walking to connect to transit. Metro’s toolbox includes the creation of programs like this at the state and local levels as a way to make Portland’s transit network more productive.

These five items are just a few of the transportation-related measures proposed by Metro in this report. You can learn more about the other ones, and add your voice or ideas to the public comment period that runs through Oct. 30, on Metro’s Climate Smart Communities website.

The post Five smart things our regional planning agency is doing to fight climate change appeared first on BikePortland.org.

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