What City Observatory Did This Week

A costly cargo cult in Portland:  A proposal to spend $30 million per year subsidizing the revival of container shipping operations at the Port of Portland is misguided effort based on outdated economic thinking.

  • Portland was never more than a very minor player in containerized shipping, handling less than 2% of West Coast traffic even at its peak.
  • Oregon’s economy thrived with record growth, exports, and prosperity during the multi-year period from 2015-2019 when Portland had virtually no container service, demonstrating it is no longer dependent on this waterborne commerce.

  • Modern metro economies like Portland’s are driven by factors like talent, innovation, and entrepreneurship rather than physical goods movement.
  • The container shipping industry is rapidly consolidating to use mega-ships that only call at a few major deep water ports like LA/Long Beach, leaving little opportunity for smaller players like Portland.
  • The nostalgic imagery of containers may have symbolized trade in the past, but today it represents an outdated “cargo cult” mentality mistaking symbols for real economic drivers.


Must Read

Doublespeak, double-standard for highway impacts.  CalTrans is moving ahead with its controversial I-80 widening project between Davis and Sacramento.  As Carter Rubin of NRDC points out, CalTrans claims that the project will both have no impact on truck traffic and will add more than 800 trucks a day.  It asserts the former claim (to pretend the project has no impact on air quality) and the latter to qualify for “economic development” funding.

Caltrans then purported to a key regional air quality advisory committee in April that the project would not significantly increase truck traffic and attendant lung-damaging pollution. Caltrans’s goal was to avoid the highway widening being flagged as a “Project of Air Quality Concern” under the Clean Air Act, which brings additional scrutiny and obligations. At the same time, Caltrans touted to the CTC in its TCEP application materials that “the project increases freight throughput by more than 800 trucks on a daily basis.”

The entire Caltrans approach begs the question of why the agency isn’t looking into shifting this freight to rail, and electrifying freight rail service: two measures that would reduce road traffic and air pollution.

Professional Engineers protecting the dominant paradigm:  Parking subsidies.  The association of city traffic engineers in Minnesota is lobbying the state Legislature to oppose a bill eliminating parking requirements for new construction.  Strong Towns Chuck Marohn explains why their arguments in favor of parking mandates are wrong, and more tellingly, shows how this lobbying effort reveals the long skein of car-dependent thinking that pervades so many of our policies and institutions.  Marohn challenges the engineers argument that limiting off-street parking requirements will constrict street capacity, forcing traffic into narrower travel lanes.

Engineers do struggle with and often push back on the idea of 9- and 10-foot lanes. Such lanes do pose an extreme difficulty for drivers when they are driving fast. That is why, when we use 9- and 10-foot lanes, drivers slow down. On local streets, slowing traffic is exactly what is needed for safety reasons. This claim by city engineers is all about traffic speed. If your city engineer is choosing wide lanes through your neighborhoods, they are asserting a value system that prioritizes automobile speed over public safety. That is a value judgment they shouldn’t be allowed to make.

Long term decline in population and its implications for home ownership.  https://www.home-economics.us/p/tldr-the-future-of-homeownership?r=249y2n

New Knowledge

In the News

Joe Cortright is quoted in Bike Portland’s summary of the legal challenge to the I-5 Rose Quarter Freeway project, for failure to comply with city and regional transportation, land use and climate plans.