By Jeff Monson and Katy Bryce
Central Oregon is truly an amazing place to live and work. Our cities are changing rapidly and we have big opportunities for economic growth and diversity—something we haven’t always had in our past. As we continue to grow, it will be critical to include transportation options into all parts of our community. We will need to look strategically ahead to ensure that we offer a full range of options for residents and visitors to efficiently get around.
Affordability is more than affordable housing
Over the last few years, there has been much dialogue around affordable housing. We agree. Rent and mortgage costs should span the affordability spectrum so that all members of our community—from service employees to retirees—can afford to live and work comfortably in central Oregon.
While the rising cost of housing is alarming, here at Commute Options, we propose that we think even more broadly: affordable cost of living, rather than just affordable housing. The cost of living includes all the things, such as housing, utilities, and food, which we spend money on to live and thrive. And one of the key components of affordable living is transportation.
Cars are expensive. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) estimates that the average cost of owning an average sized sedan is $8698 per year. These costs include the purchase, maintenance, insurance, registration and depreciation of an automobile, for a total of $725 a month. Imagine what $725 a month in the pocketbook can do for a household!
When we invest in a full spectrum of transportation infrastructure and complete streets that include connected bike lanes, sidewalks, paths, and public transportation, we provide more choices for residents to opt out of driving. A family who can drive less, or even get by with one fewer vehicle, can then spend their dollars elsewhere such as back into our local economy.
Buses help our workforce and our economy
Our economic development community must recognize that affordable transportation is critical for strengthening our workforce, particularly for manufacturing and service jobs. Public transportation is a viable and reliable means of commuting for working class families and riding the bus is inexpensive and allows workers to get to work safely.
We need to get past the stigma that riding the bus is only for a select population. Public transportation can and should be for everyone—students, professionals, service workers, seniors, and families.
A person who lives in La Pine and works in Bend could very well spend as much money on transportation than they do on housing. The drive from La Pine to Bend is about 70 miles round trip. At the federal mileage reimbursement rate of 53.5 cents per mile, that is $37.45 per day, totaling over $750 per month! Not to mention the time that is spent driving rather than time spent with family, friends or doing more enjoyable things instead of driving.
A monthly pass to ride the Cascades East Transit bus from La Pine to Bend and back costs $100 a month. An efficient, and convenient public transportation system provides a reliable, safe, and less expensive means for workers to get to work and back.
Smartly planned cities thrive
Renowned German urban planner Harmut Topp once said, “The prosperity of a city does not depend on private car traffic, but on accessibility in general, on the amenity of its streets and open spaces and – to put it more succinctly – on its genius.”
Bend reached a “genius” milestone last December when the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) expansion was approved by the state. The decision allows for adequate growth without unnecessary sprawl but also provides enough land for housing and business needs. Commute Options commends the City of Bend and all participating organizations for the UGB expansion plan which will facilitate transportation options in Bend with thoughtful redevelopment and infill development.
Denser, mixed use development with affordable housing that is near Bend’s center will allow residents the ability to walk or ride a bike to key business centers, rather than drive. Perhaps we can allocate fewer funds towards parking lots and garages, and instead invest more in medical facilities, libraries, parks, or retail centers. Remember that parking lots and garages don’t make money, but actually cost money to build and maintain. Maybe we will even reach a point where the parking requirements are reduced because we have tons of transportation options!
Be a part of our transportation future
We are excited for the future of transportation options in central Oregon. We, along with our city government partners, private businesses, non-profit organizations, and local families and individuals have made great strides in promoting choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. We ask our community to reach high and think big. Together we can have a wonderful 2017 and beyond!
Commute Options promotes choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. Jeff Monson is Commute Options Executive Director and can be reached at 541-330-2647 or at www.commuteoptions.org. Katy Bryce is a freelance writer at www.katybryce.com