Last week, local policy leaders participated in a roundtable discussion about the future of transportation – its growth points, community engagement benchmarks, and climate impact.
The event was hosted by Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation (BEST) and AARP Oregon at the UO Ford Alumni Center, alongside community transportation partners like Lane County, Eugene-Springfield Safe Routes to School, Cascadia Mobility / PeaceHealth Rides, ODOT, LCOG, and LiveMove.
BEST executive director Rob Zako hosted the conversation with former Congressman Peter DeFazio, metro council president Lynn Peterson, and Lane Transit District general manager Jameson T. Auten. The panel discussed how to respond to transportation challenges and opportunities, like wrangling infrastructure funding, increasing accessibility, and planning for future needs.
DeFazio served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, playing a key role in the adoption of federal surface transportation reauthorization bills from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021. In 2020 as chair of the Committee, he introduced the Moving Forward Act, which would have set a new course for transportation. He highlighted the need to address transportation’s role in the global climate crisis.
“First and foremost, we have to reduce carbon pollution from transportation,” he said. “There’s nothing more important than that. Save the planet, then we can move on to other things. There are tools within the national policy … for active transit, for micromobility … We are in an incredible era of innovation, but we have a little problem with policy makers (claiming) ‘climate doesn’t belong in a transportation bill.’ And I said, ‘climate is the issue with transportation.’”
All speakers described their journeys to the transportation scene, and the lived experiences that shaped their backgrounds. The conversation then shifted to the top challenges and opportunities for improving transportation and what planners, engineers, elected officials, other community leaders, and people on the street should be doing to bring about better transportation.
Lynn Peterson is Council President for Metro, the regional government providing planning and coordination to manage growth, transportation, infrastructure, and development issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties. Previously she served as the chief of the Washington State Department of Transportation. She also worked as a strategic planner for the TriMet transit agency and as a transportation advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon.
Peterson touched on the importance of including the community in transportation problem-solving. “I think what’s happened is that there are a lot of myths around safety … The question is how do you involve the community at the front end, in the problem statement, so you get a better solution set that then can be backed up by federal legislation … We need to prioritize all modes and all people.”
Jameson T. Auten became the CEO and general manager of Lane Transit District in November 2022. Previously, he served as the Deputy CEO and COO with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. His past executive management experience includes strategic planning in the field of transportation demand management and development and implementation of strategic marketing campaigns designed to reduce single occupant commute modes – something he plans to bring to Lane County.
Auten discussed the need for transit systems to become outcome oriented, especially at the local level. “What are the outcomes that we’re solving for? Now, a few years ago, if you asked me what a successful transit system looked like, I’d start spouting off ridership numbers, and headways, and trips her hour, and all of those great operational statistics … But what are we really solving for and how are we solving with the community?”
One thing was clear: getting from place to place is essential to daily life. How we do so impacts health and safety, equity, the vitality of our economy, community livability, and the environment. The panel of leaders shared perspectives on transportation challenges and opportunities – and what planners, engineers, elected officials, and other community members should be doing to respond.
“Just be curious,” Peterson said. “Get on your transportation committee, be part of that conversation and constantly ask why. Talk to your neighbors and find out how they live, how other people down the street live, how the people further out have to live because they don’t have a choice. Affiliate with a group who is advocating for things that you care about to make changes in transportation.”
View the photo gallery here.