Metro President Tom Hughes: Transportation Study Shows the Value of Options

Give people transportation options, and people will use them. This makes a whole region's transportation system more effective, writes Metro Council President Tom Hughes in an op-ed published by the Oregonian on November 6.

Hughes discusses the implications of a recent transportation study released by Metro, which is a comprehensive assessment of the ways people get around in the Portland region today. The study is also an opportunity to compare travel behaviors with 1994, the last time Metro completed so extensive a study.,

The top-of-the-line message, Hughes writes: thanks to providing options like efficient transit, we have seen a significant decline in people driving to work. 

Picture a line of parked cars stretching from Portland to Pendleton. That's how many cars aren't on our roads or competing for parking places because 9 percent of people who otherwise would have driven are choosing transit or another alternative to get to work.

We drove our cars 20 percent fewer miles each day in 2011 than in 1994. In fact, we drive 9 percent fewer miles each day than the national average.

These trends are particularly pronounced in the central business district, he writes:

Since 1994, transit use in our region has nearly doubled to 11 percent of all trips. And nearly half, or 45 percent, of commuters to Portland's central business district rode transit in 2011.

People also are biking more. While still representing a small share of trips in 2011 (4.6 percent), bikes share the road with cars, helping us make the most of the space on our existing roads.

One point Hughes doesn't make clear: bicycling in Portland’s central city and most of its eastside actually quadrupled between 1994-2011 , and many people in the inner parts of the city are also choosing to walk for many trips.

Furthermore, young people are making decisions to travel by transit at far higher rates than older residents. Transit’s mode share among people younger than age 44 doubled between the two studies.

This reflects an historic shift occurring in young Americans’ driving habits. They are getting driver’s licenses at remarkably low rates, and driving far less than the previous generation did at their age. Americans under age 34 drove 23% fewer miles in 2009 than in 2001, a shift that began well before the recession. The percentage of Americans under 34 without a driver’s license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent from 2000 to 2010. Thus, to prepare our transportation system for the future, we must ensure it reflects the habits of younger residents.

Similarly, as other Portlanders age, they increasingly desire walkable, transit-friendly communities. The nation is projected to add nearly 8,000 new seniors over age 65 every day to 2020. They are telling researchers that they don’t want to be as tied to their cars—particularly as aging makes it more difficult or even impossible for them to drive. Our transportation system must accommodate this fact.

Hughes argues that even in this time of scarce transportation dollars, the region is still "bullish" on cars--dedicating billions of dollars to highway and arterial expansions and rebuilding over the next two decades. So driving will remain an option for those who want to use it.

Given the population growth the region is forecast to experience over the next fifty years, however, we cannot expand our road capacity enough to fit everyone if everyone did want to drive alone. Fortunately, this study provides important evidence that more regional residents are choosing not to.

As Hughes points out, additional analysis must be done, but this study demonstrates an important fact. If we integrate land use and transportation— through better connected streets, mixed uses closer together, and a safer, more efficient non-auto transportation network—the residents of today and tomorrow will have more options. And if we give residents options, they will use them—to the benefit of everybody.

Read the whole op-ed by Metro President Tom Hughes here.

Download the full Metro study here. (pdf)