It seems traffic is on everyone's mind these days.
Whether you're in a car, on transit or moving freight, by all accounts getting from one place to another in our city has become more of a challenge. On the one hand, this can be viewed as a positive. Our city and state continue to benefit from the economic recovery. Oregon state economist Josh Lehner recently published the 2017 Economic Recovery Scorecard, which calculates improvement across 40 different economic measures. In Oregon, nearly all of the measures have seen significant progress. One of these measures includes population growth. And Portland's growth rate is the highest we've seen in nearly two decades.
However, this growth presents challenges as well. How do we keep our city livable, with quality neighborhoods and the other amenities that make Portland what it is? And how do we continue our economic growth, connecting exports with national and global markets and workers with jobs? A strong and balanced multimodal transportation network that promotes the efficient movement of goods and people is critical to both our quality of life and economic competitiveness.
Recently, the Oregon Department of Transportation released a report about traffic and congestion. It drew some significant conclusions, stating that "traffic congestion in the Portland region can now occur at any hour of the day, including holidays and weekends. It is no longer only a weekday peak hour problem." Rush hour traffic now lasts six or more hours on some key Portland-area highways.
In July, the Portland Business Alliance commissioned a scientific survey of Portland residents to better understand how they use the city's transportation system, their views on what works and what doesn't and priorities for improvements. The findings show it is clear that the newly released data about the growth in congestion does not come as a surprise to anyone.
When asked how Portlanders rate the overall transportation system throughout the City of Portland, residents give it positive marks, with almost 50 percent rating it as excellent or good — largely due to the availability of public transit.
However, there's universal agreement that traffic and congestion are a significant growing problem. Fully 97 percent said congestion is a problem, with more than half saying congestion is the biggest hurdle they face in getting from one place to another. As it relates to commuters, 62 percent say the length of time they're spending commuting has changed over the last three years, with 91 percent of those responding saying their commute is getting longer.
When asked about what actions could have a "major" impact addressing transportation problems, the top answer was "widen[ing] or improve[ing] existing roads and highways," followed by "people using their cars less often." Our neighbors in Outer East Portland hold comparable attitudes towards traffic and congestion, though they are more strongly committed to car use and are far less likely to see "using cars less often" as having an impact on relieving traffic congestion. As it relates to funding priorities, road improvements stand out as a priority, followed by public transit.
Portland has an array of transportation options, including transit, pedestrians, bikes and auto, each of which plays a critical role in our multimodal transportation system. As the city continues to grow, the congestion we are seeing now will only worsen if we do not invest wisely in our transportation system. That means understanding the way in which people commute and use the system now and accounting for future growth. People will use transit, bike, walk, ride the streetcar and yes, drive cars. This is why, when it comes to investing in our transportation system, a "D: all of the above" option is critical to meeting the needs of every Portlander.
With the recent passage of a state transportation package, we have an opportunity to make progress on addressing the congestion issues with which we are now all too familiar. In implementing these and future investments, focusing on solutions that facilitate the efficient movement of people, goods and services within and through Portland will require a balanced approach. It's imperative for city and state leaders to listen to everyone affected by increased traffic and congestion.