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Public transit advocate questions proposal being considered for potential SW MAX line

PMG PHOTO - The Barbur Transit Center would be reconfigured if a light rail line is ever built in Southwest Portland and Tigard.Current preliminary plans for park-and-ride facilities along the proposed route of a light rail line in Southwest Portland show three parking lots being part of the plan. One at the intersection of Southwest 53rd Avenue and Barbur Boulevard, currently the site of an abandoned strip joint; one in Tigard at Southwest 68th Avenue and Pacific Highway; and one not far from Tigard City Hall on Hall Boulevard.

A park-and-ride structure has been proposed for Bridgeport Village. The steering committee for the project will consider the questions of how many park-and-ride facilities to build, and where, at its October meeting.

Madeline Kovacs of Sightline Institute gave the following testimony questioning park-and-ride plans at a meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Southwest Corridor Project.

At $52,000 per stall, free park-and-ride garages are among the least effective ways taxpayers can spend money on public transit.

TriMet records show that 38% of MAX park-and-ride stalls sit empty on a typical weekday. But even if we generously assume a vacancy rate of just 20% for Southwest Corridor garages and a 45-year lifespan, then taxpayers are spending about $7 for every weekday a space will be used. The region's taxpayers would be essentially buying more than the equivalent of a free transit pass for anyone who shows up at a garage, on one condition: that they show up in a car.

If we want to maximize transit ridership, park-and-rides are far less effective than other options. A 2016 King County Metro analysis found that capital investments to improve bus speed and reliability created more than three times as many riders per dollar as free park-and-rides. TriMet's own analysis projected that even if several new garages are built for the Southwest Corridor, 85% of future trips will come from foot, bike or transfer traffic, not park-and-rides.

If we want to minimize congestion and pollution, the meaningful answer is not to convince 200, 300 or 500 cars — out of the 300,000 who drive to jobs in Portland each day — to pull off I-5 a few miles farther south. The answer is to make transit an efficient and attractive option without requiring auto use in the first place.

This can mean improvements to bus, walk and bike connections to rail. It is likely that $100 million would be enough to install networks of low-stress protected bike lanes for miles in every direction around all 13 Southwest Corridor stops. It can also mean creating mixed-use, mixed-income developments within walking distance of rail stops — something that becomes much harder if you already dedicated the prime land near your rail stop to parking lots and garages. And $100 million would be enough to create or preserve 600 more affordable homes along the corridor.

If we want to improve mobility for lower-income people, the solution is not to offer free parking to several hundred car-owning downtown workers in the hope that some of them might be poor. The solution is to spend the money on things we know disproportionately benefit low-income residents: better bus transit and affordable housing near transit. Both of these also boost overall transit use, creating a self-reinforcing cycle that helps improve the system for everyone.

Finally, even if we don't care about any of the above goals — if the only issue that motivates us is to prevent parking spillover onto nearby streets — there is again a way to do this that costs taxpayers much, much less than free parking garages. Local permit districts are a simple way to eliminate "hide and ride" behavior. If a jurisdiction wishes to give exclusive permits to residents for free, that's still far cheaper than a free garage. Or if a jurisdiction prefers to raise money for whatever it wants, it can offer parking permits to commuters for a price.

The huge cost of new rail lines can sometimes make park-and-ride garages seem cheap by comparison. They are not. The cost of building something great, like a new public rail line used by tens of thousands of Oregonians, shouldn't be allowed to conceal the boondoggle of free garages. Our region desperately needs to spend this money on things that will matter more.

For more information: www.sightline.org


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