Transportation: Growing bikes, trains and electric vehicles
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Oregon, and Portland in particular, have earned a national reputation for promoting innovative approaches to cycling, transit and other low-emission transportation — even in urban landscapes that, like the rest of America, are still dominated by cars.
In 2011 bicycling represented an average of 2.8% of all trips across the Portland metro area, with that figure ranging as high as 9.8% in parts of Portland proper. Bike commuting (trips taken solely for work purposes) more than quadrupled to 4.6% — some 50,000 rides daily — since the survey was last conducted in 1994. Those figures remain meager compared to the city’s goal to make bikes account for a quarter of all trips by 2030, yet Portland is in a leading national position when it comes to bicycles’ share of traffic.
Regional investment in bike infrastructure appears to be paying off. A study released in May by Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism agency, found that bicycle tourism injects $400 million annually into the Oregon economy.
Despite a rash of service cuts and fare increases in the past few years, the state’s predominant transit agency tells a similar story of growth. The agency’s 2011 per-capita ridership was seventh in the nation, despite Portland being the 24th largest metro area in the country. Fourth-quarter 2012 data from the American Public Transportation Association confirms TriMet’s average weekday ridership is comfortably above that of similarly sized cities like Sacramento and San Antonio, and even above much larger metros like San Diego and Houston.
Oregon governments have committed significant resources to expanding transit rail systems, pitching in roughly half the cost of the $148 million extension of the Portland Streetcar and a $745 million investment in the $1.5 billion Portland-Milwaukie light-rail extension. These efforts, however, faced significant opposition from many residents and public officials disputing the projects’ usefulness.
In other low-carbon transportation, Oregon has assembled significant funding for electric vehicles, including $700,000 in federal stimulus funding and $2 million from a federal TIGER II grant to build an extensive network of fast chargers. More than 2,000 electric vehicles are registered here — up from 400 in 2010 — and only Hawaii has more charging stations per capita. A Northwest Economic Research Center study released in January estimated the state’s electric vehicle industry generates $267 million in gross economic activity and employs more than 400 people.
In Oregon the transportation of people and goods accounts for the largest share of greenhouse-gas emissions — about 38%. But that number is flattening, and not just because the recession caused a reduction in vehicle miles driven, says Angus Duncan, chair of Oregon’s Global Warming Commission. “We’re seeing people drive less and drive more efficient cars.” Duncan notes the state has set a 2050 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 75% below 1990 levels. “We think we have a fighting chance of getting there,” he says. “That’s in part because we expect zero-emission and electric vehicles to be a dominant form of transportation.”