Metro Fail

In an effort to lead the region in becoming more sustainable, Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, invested resources in entirely the wrong areas and so failed to significantly reduce its own energy consumption and pollution. But don’t believe me; just read this report by Metro’s own auditor.

The audit found that 91 percent of Metro’s carbon emissions resulted from power consumption and gas flaring at Metro’s landfills. Metro spent 3 percent of its sustainability resources trying to reduce these outputs. Meanwhile, commuting by Metro employees accounted for just 6 percent of Metro’s carbon emissions. So naturally, Metro invested 59 percent of its sustainability resources trying to get its people to drive less.

The report doesn’t say whether Metro actually was able to persuade some of its employees to drive less, and Metro probably has no idea. This is completely typical of Metro planning: focus on the wrong problem, don’t measure the outcomes, declare victory, and go home. Only in this case, Metro has an internal auditor keeping it honest.

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24 thoughts on “Metro Fail

  1. D4P

    The Antiplanner omitted the following:

    Funding for ENACT was also a barrier to eff ective sustainability management and limited Metro’s ability to strategically use funds. ENACT’s funding came from solid waste revenue which by Oregon Statute can only be used for projects and programs “…related to solid waste and related planning, administrative and overhead costs of the district.” As a result, the grants ENACT made each year for sustainability projects were limited to projects that reduced or prevented solid waste from Metro operations.

    We found that this funding structure was one of the reasons why the agency focused its eff orts on waste reduction and recycling. Moreover, it has limited ENACT’s ability to fund projects that would have the greatest environmental impact.

  2. bennett

    This question will open a can of worms, but here goes anyway…

    If metro is focusing on the WRONG problem, what is the RIGHT problem to focus on (according to Portland antiplanners)?

  3. John Thacker

    D4P:

    So you’re saying that Randall left off a quote demonstrating that regulations and planning made the efforts to reduce carbon more inefficient?

    Your quoted text is just another demonstration of why command-and-control regulation is much less effective than things like carbon taxes when it comes to reducing carbon. (Of course, if government exempts itself from the tax…)

  4. bennett

    “So you’re saying that Randall left off a quote demonstrating that regulations and planning made the efforts to reduce carbon more inefficient?”

    I think that this is the case. But what D4P points out is that the antiplanner is focusing on the wrong problem. Metro was doing what they could with in the confines of ENACT funding opportunities. The antiplanner probably was in a hurry and stopped short of completing his argument.

  5. D4P

    The Antiplanner gave the impression that Metro had complete freedom to choose how it allocated its resources, and thus that any misallocation thereof would be 100% Metro’s fault.

    The quote I excerpted gives a different impression.

  6. ws

    I haven’t read the entire report, but sustainability means more than just carbon emissions, to which Metro and ROT are wrong.

    In the US specifically, transportation accounts for 30% of all GHG emissions in 2006: http://www.epa.gov/OMS/climate/

    Transportation is also the fastest growing source of GHG emissions, at 47%.

    I could care less about how Metro employees and its facilities are operating, and more on the whole output of the region.

  7. Scott

    Technology will soon be here for many affordable zero (or very low) emission cars.
    Currently there are even car options that have much less emissions than transit.
    Yes there is still a problem of space (parking).
    Pushed high density create that problem.
    The US does not a shortage of space.
    Shortage of common sense, & recognition of reality. yes.

    Not building enough lanes just leads to more congestion.

    Imagine in about 2 decades:
    “Cars average almost zero pollution & are much better than transit.
    Why did we emphasize transit & ignore roads?”

    Re: a previous topic, here’s an article titled “March to Socialism – socialist bikes”
    http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/21576/
    (I still haven’t found how to format links italics & such.)

  8. ws

    Scott: “Technology will soon be here for many affordable zero (or very low) emission cars.”

    ws: Correction. You mean more government regulation (the antithesis of free-market development) will be in places to force companies to comply with stricter emissions standards – to which many of the big auto makers do not want to comply with in the first place.

    Scott:“Pushed high density create that problem.”

    ws: You mean forced automobile dependency and parking standards create the problem, not high density.

  9. D4P

    General Motors and Chrysler presented updated turnaround plans to the federal government today and said they could need an additional $21.6 billion in federal loans between them because of worsening demands for their cars and trucks.

    And yet, no criticism from the Antiplanner.

  10. Owen McShane

    Transport and cars are not the same.
    TRansport can account for 30% of GHG emissions in the whole of the US while cars can account for only 10% of GHGs in Portland.

    These statistics are not mutually exclusive. Both can be right and both can be wrong.

    The most useful stat for a household trying to do their bit is the contribution made by the different elements of that household. After all the household cannot do much about NASA or the Electricity generators.
    In NZ and Australia the private car accounts for about 8% of the household carbon footprint on average.

    Food accounts for about 30% on average.

  11. the highwayman

    ws Says:
    Scott: “Technology will soon be here for many affordable zero (or very low) emission cars.”

    ws: Correction. You mean more government regulation (the antithesis of free-market development) will be in places to force companies to comply with stricter emissions standards – to which many of the big auto makers do not want to comply with in the first place.

    Scott:“Pushed high density create that problem.”

    ws: You mean forced automobile dependency and parking standards create the problem, not high density.

    THWM: Thus is the paradox of main stream “libertarians” in America.

  12. ws

    Owen McShane:“Transport and cars are not the same. TRansport can account for 30% of GHG emissions in the whole of the US while cars can account for only 10% of GHGs in Portland.

    These statistics are not mutually exclusive. Both can be right and both can be wrong.”

    ws: I don’t know where you are getting your numbers for Portland, but 81% (of the 30% GHG transportation pie in the US) comes from “on road vehicles”. 62% (of the 81%) came from “light duty vehicles” (SUVs, minivans,pickup trucks) and passenger cars. 19% came from heavy duty vehicles that include trucks and buses.

    From the numbers I am working with, cars are a substantial part of the total 30% transportation GHG output.

    http://www.epa.gov/OMS/climate/420r06003.pdf

  13. Scott

    Earlier (@10) I said: Technology will soon be here for many affordable zero emission (or very low) cars.

    ws said: “Correction. You mean more government regulation (the antithesis of free-market development) will be in places to force companies to comply with stricter emissions standards.”

    That is not a correction. I did not state why better engine technology will be developed. A correction would be disputing the time of “soon” or if they will ever be developed.
    Also there are many variations on laissez-faire, with regulations, standards & such. Car pollution has been reduced by 95%, much to comply with government mandate. The government requiring certain things is not the issue, and not always bad, but often stifling & making other things worse.
    Businesses try to make better products that people will buy. People want cars with lower emissions. Get it? The profit motive compels businesses to satisfy wants. Technology & cost–price are big issues.

    So, regardless of how or why, the POINT is that soon, auto emissions will not matter, and be much better than transit. So this continuing effort to ignore roads will end up with much more congestion.
    (There are personal vehicles available now with lower emissions than transit. Hello)

    Please try to pay attention.

    You also didn’t catch what I referred to as “that problem”, which is more expensive parking resulting from higher density due to multi-level parking & supply not matching demand.

    About your perceived problems of low density:
    Auto dependence is not forced. People have voluntarily transitioned from that since 1910. People can still live near transit hubs. Without minimum parking requirements, conditions for cars would be worse; that’s the opposite direction of your contention. People rarely think, “the parking is $hitty, I’ll use transit.” People won’t visit/shop where there is not enough parking or just move elsewhere.

    Highways & parking are great in Kansas City & OK City, which are very low in density.
    Sufficient car infrastructure could surely have been built in more desirable areas (ie CA), especially considering there’s more money. Bad planning [for roads], high density & too much reliance on transit (w/few riders) are some of the reasons that the roads are poor.

    highman, There is no paradox, please learn more before passing judgment.

    You guys (& many others) should really stay away from topics (transportation,urban planning, economics & business) that you don’t have much knowledge on.
    When I go to get my car repaired, I don’t tell the mechanic how to fix the car, because I don’t know how engines operate.
    See the comparison? Probably not.
    If you don’t know how certain things operate, plus many auxiliary, tangential components, and histories & patterns…

    Many people have blinders on & look at narrowly focused items.
    Think of a rock thrown into a pond. All the water moves.

    Dudes, I’m getting tired of trying to educate you with all this typing to answer a few sentences of misperceptions & misconceptions.
    I doubt this is even long enough to comprehend.
    It’s like explaining algebra to persons who barely know their ABCs.

    Don’t forget about freedom.
    A person’s choice to live near transit (better w/higher density) or drive.
    Both can be done (ie TOD), but the parking space will most likely cost more.
    You could go to a park & ride, but of course there aren’t that many commuter rails (people don’t drive to bus stops). And the far less amount of choices w/transit.
    So many aspects of society & living have change since b4 WWII. People can live in old urbanism, by choice. It should not be force upon all. How many houses & cars & how much yard acreage does Duany & his wife own?

    And please stop trying to go the extreme of anarchy.
    I don’t cry communism or authoritarianism for the want of bigger government.
    But now that it’s brought up, hmmm?
    What are your agendas? Nanny state, egalitarianism & gov controlling all our behaviors & decisions. Sounds so wonderful. (:-o)>

  14. craig

    I’d rather be dependent on a auto and the freedom to go, when I need to go and when I need to be there. Carrying the people or things or tools I need, when I get there.

    Than to be a slave to a transit schedule and a system that takes 2 to 3 times longer to get there. If you can get there at all. And you are unable to carry anything except what you can carry in your arms.

    Why do transit agencies oppose transit competition and out law it? Are they oppose to choice?

  15. Kevyn Miller

    Scott there are three good reasons for bringing parking into the equation.

    The first is that minimum parking regulations take away the property owners freedom to choose how much parking they will provide.

    The second is that minimum parking regulations prevent market pricing from optimally rationing parking availability.

    The third is the cost of providing parking spaces is rarely charged directly to the users, except in CBDs. The concept of “free” parking is an economic fallacy. Somebody has to pay for it. When a business provides “free” parking the cost is added to every item sold irrespective of whether the customer is weekly shopper buying 100 items each time they occupy a parking spot or more frequent shoppers who only buy 20 items each time they occupy a parking spot.

    A similar situation exists for peak capacity because building additional peak capacity is more expensive than maintaining existing off-peak capacity yet the gas tax is set to recover the average cost. The only way to improve that system is to replace the gas tax with a GPS tolling system. That could also be used to charge for parking and to charge registration and insurance fees on a usage basis instead of annually or monthly. There are ways of doing this that amitigate the Big Brother aspect.

    Theoreticly there is a point at which building more lanes will definitely solve congestion. That point occurs when the amount of land used to add the extra lanes reduces the amount of land used for homes, businesses and car park. In practice though, what actually happens is that the remaining land becomes so expensive that the costs of building higher densities can be recovered from higher rents. These higher land values also increase the cost of adding lanes and that has been the real basic reason capacity hasn’t kept up with traffic growth. The solution to that quandary was and still is to increase the gas tax to pay for those higher costs. In fact the gas tax hasn’t even kept up with general inflation let alone urban land price inflation. Not forgetting that interstates were mostly built on cheap rural land so costs were always going to increase when the emphasis shifted to urban interstates.

    It’s probably worth contemplating the effect of exponential traffic growth.
    In 1900 traffic was accommodated on dirt main roads. By 1920 traffic had doubled so it became cheaper to seal themm than to keep maintaining the dirt service. This resulted in painted centerlines, in essence turning wide one-lane roads into two lane roads.
    By 1940 traffic had doubled again so main roads were widened to four lanes.
    By 1960 traffic had doubled again so the main roads were supplemented with four lane freeways.
    By 1980 traffic had doubled again so the four lane freeways became eight lane freeways.
    By 2000 traffic had doubled again so the eight lane freeways became sixteen lane freeways.
    By 2020 traffic had doubled again so the sixteen lane freeways need to become sthirty-two lane freeways.
    Although the doubling in traffic has happened the doubling in freeway capacity hasn’t happened, and catch-up and further expansion isn’t likely to happen either. Of course this is an oversimplification becasue the traffic growth isn’t occurring in the same original urban area so it’s really a mixture of longer and wider to get the extra lane miles. However, the part of the traffic growth that is occurring in the original urban areas can’t be cost effectively provided because the capacity is often needed to be located half way between existing freeways rather added to the existing freeways but the land needed for that is already occupied. So while it’s easy to say that the answer to congestion is more lanes, once the economics are worked out it is generally cheaper not to add extra capacity within existing urban areas and instead to let businesses migrate to places that don’t have congestion and build the extra freeway capacity in those places.
    That’s one reason Houston is booming. Houston set aside the land for future freeways when it looked unlikely that the city would ever grow big enough to need them. Now it can actually build those freeways quickly and cheaply to stay ahead of congestion, attracting businesses that are very congestion sensitive away from other cities in the region that didn’t plan ahead.
    But even Houston is eventually going to hit the limits of it’s freeway corridors. Then some other city or cities will take over from Houston and Houston will be just another slow grower like LA, NY, Chicago, etc.

  16. ws

    Scott: “Businesses try to make better products that people will buy. People want cars with lower emissions. Get it? The profit motive compels businesses to satisfy wants. Technology & cost–price are big issues. So, regardless of how or why, the POINT is that soon, auto emissions will not matter, and be much better than transit. So this continuing effort to ignore roads will end up with much more congestion.(There are personal vehicles available now with lower emissions than transit. Hello)

    Please try to pay attention.”

    ws: My point was that ROT (and the antiplanner followers) always champions and applaud the reduced emissions that has occurred in the car industry over the years (as a reason we should support autos more than mass transit). I am merely pointing out that these emission standards and MPG standards that have occurred were from government regulation (MPG standards, catalytic converters), not free-market economics.

    How can someone who believes heavily in free-market economics give credit to the industry who has been fighting MPG and emission standards every step of the way? Sounds very contradictory to the hard-line ideological beliefs or Libertarians.

    In regards to our current situation with American car companies, their push towards more fuel economic cars only came after high gasoline prices. Now they are in hot water (if the government had not bailed them out) because of the abysmal summer they had and current economic conditions. Consumers have been “wanting” lower emission cars and better MPG since at least 2006 – to which most American car companies did not offer to the consumers.

    Scott:“Auto dependence is not forced. People have voluntarily transitioned from that since 1910. People can still live near transit hubs. Without minimum parking requirements, conditions for cars would be worse; that’s the opposite direction of your contention. People rarely think, “the parking is $hitty, I’ll use transit.” People won’t visit/shop where there is not enough parking or just move elsewhere.”

    There’s nothing wrong with autos, but the development/form of typical suburban sprawl is induced from parking regulations, engineering codes, euclidean zoning, cheap and hidden costs of operating an automobile, among other things. The point is the viability of alternative modes of transportation (walk, bike, mass transit) is completely ruined through these regulations, and makes the auto take precedent, creating auto-dependency.

    Automobiles were used in many suburbs of the the 1920s, however, other options (regarding mobility) were available to residents. Let us not confuse suburbs of 1910s with suburbs of 1960s.

    Scott: You guys (& many others) should really stay away from topics (transportation,urban planning, economics & business) that you don’t have much knowledge on. When I go to get my car repaired, I don’t tell the mechanic how to fix the car, because I don’t know how engines operate. See the comparison? Probably not. If you don’t know how certain things operate, plus many auxiliary, tangential components, and histories & patterns…

    ws: Pray tell, what is your experience in regards to urban planning, urban design, etc.? I wouldn’t tell a mechanic how to do his job either, but I find that comment silly because this whole site is dedicated on how to tell urban planners how to do their jobs (there is much to criticize).

    Scott:“Don’t forget about freedom.”

    ws: Well, don’t forget about the blood-shed needed to prop up people’s fossil-fuel lifestyles. See how far these arguments go?

    Scott:“A person’s choice to live near transit (better w/higher density) or drive. Both can be done (ie TOD), but the parking space will most likely cost more.You could go to a park & ride, but of course there aren’t that many commuter rails (people don’t drive to bus stops). And the far less amount of choices w/transit”.

    ws:Nobody is telling you to live near a TOD. Who said everyone must live near a TOD development?

    Scott:“So many aspects of society & living have change since b4 WWII. People can live in old urbanism, by choice. It should not be force upon all. How many houses & cars & how much yard acreage does Duany & his wife own?”

    ws:Duany does not want to force anyone to live in a certain “lifestyle”. While he disagrees with typical suburban sprawl, he believes in giving developers and municipalities a choice (in addition to current sprawl patterns) in what they build – not the de facto form created by stringent and outdated codes.

    Duany does not want to rid the earth of the automobile or the single family house (which is the predominant form of housing in many NU developments). However, what has become a tool for personal freedom has turned into something that is dictating if the average citizen is mobile or not. That is something to question.

    I’d prefer if the true and transparent costs of transportation were present to individual, so the consumer could make the choice. These costs will trickle down to the built environment.

    You should be recognizing the right for people to build TODs, NU dwellings, and developments that do not meet high parking standards in suburban areas.

  17. Owen McShane

    ws
    Your figures for Portland are no doubt correct and only confirm my basic argument.
    You say that private cars are a significant percentage of the transport 30%.

    Well, in Australia and NZ it is about 8 – 10% of the total household carbon footprint which I suppose is a significant percentage.

    Your stat for private vehicles includes a host of vehicles probably used for commercial trips and the family car is not separated out. Given the larger cars in the US and the longer trips my guess would be that the private family car accounts for say 15%.
    But the point is that getting people out of cars and onto public transport does not have an effect on the total 30%. It has no impact on all those light commercial vehicles which deliver courier packs and parcels and which are used by plumbers and so on.
    I am simply getting tired of presentations in which someone says transport accounts for 30% (or whatever) of our GHG and therefore we must get people out of their cars as though public transport will impact on the whole 30% – it cannot and will not and the implication is intended to deceive.

  18. ws

    Owen McShane: But the point is that getting people out of cars and onto public transport does not have an effect on the total 30%. It has no impact on all those light commercial vehicles which deliver courier packs and parcels and which are used by plumbers and so on. I am simply getting tired of presentations in which someone says transport accounts for 30% (or whatever) of our GHG and therefore we must get people out of their cars as though public transport will impact on the whole 30% – it cannot and will not and the implication is intended to deceive.

    ws:I’d say 15% is a huge number (even though I think it’s a bit higher). You also mentioned agriculture, which I believe is also something that we need to question.

    In regards to emissions by delivery, I’d argue fairer pricing of truck freight vs. railway would increase the viability of railroad freight and give them a better share of the market.

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