Want jobs? (Don't) think roads.

Carla Axtman

Since the entire meme of political discourse at the moment is centered around "jobs", this seems especially relevant:

Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects create more jobs per dollar spent than other road construction projects, according to America Bikesā€˜ press release and the new study, Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: A National Study of Employment Impacts, conducted and released this month by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The report builds on an earlier PERI case study of Baltimore, Md. and is the first national study to compare job creation of bicycling and walking infrastructure with other roadway construction projects. Using actual bid price and cost data, the study compares 58 projects in 11 cities and finds that bike projects create 46 percent more jobs than road projects without bike or pedestrian components.

You can find the full study here.

This appears to mirror an earlier study from Baltimore, which showed that "..pedestrian and bike infrastructure projects create 11 to 14 jobs per $1 million of spending while road infrastructure initiatives create just seven jobs per $1 million of spending."

While so many are hot to build the Columbia River Crossing (a dubious project, in my opinion), it would seem that if job creation is high on proponents' list they'd be better off building infrastructure that encourages fewer cars on the road, not more.

And for the elected folks at Metro and the various county commissions (this means you, Washington County Commission), if you're really serious about job creation, road building and expansion clearly isn't the path to getting it done.

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    My question would be, what kind of jobs?

    Certain infrastructure projects may create more short-term jobs during actual construction, but provide smaller long-term employment. What's the delineation there?

    Also, infrastructure is a capital good which often leads to increased production of consumer goods and services once put into place. I'd be curious to know how bike/walk projects compare to projects that create infrastructure or capital that often benefit manufacturing and other traded-sector jobs that provide most family-wage jobs.

    The quality of life is certainly an aspect, as economic development shouldn't be just about jobs or increased tax revenue at the expense of quality of life. I think there's a balance because quality of life can't exist without full-time employment, and vice versa.

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      Well, the "what kind of jobs?" question should be asked about all of the jobs packages that are floated around. I suspect its not.

      Your point about the need for a list of metrics to determine "quality of life" is an important one. Much the way that we should employ a myriad of metrics to "business-friendly" when it comes to whether Oregon is..or not.

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      the actual "building roads" jobs are much the same. not really any functional difference for those building roads. bikeways i think would take some more detailed work, which would balance out the amount of car/truck roadway.

      roads for cars are made to get people from Point A to Point B, with the two points being a long ways apart. the whole point is to skip everything in between, or perhaps build suburbs. when you build bikeways, you're working within urban areas (for the most part) and you're likely working in areas where car use has peaked or has been redirected away from; in any case, more bikes & pedestrians are expected. that means people will start opening businesses to serve those people. lots of businesses. just cruise up N Williams & check it out. or SE Division. the Pearl. these are not necessarily family wage jobs, but the quality of life & sense of neighborhood eventually pulls in businesses that do have those kinds of jobs.

      build a roadway for cars, and it connects the 'burbs with the parking lots. ie, dead-end streets.

      (almost nothing scientific here. just observations of what seems to have happened with both kinds of roadways i've observed.)

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      I wonder...

      I know that there have been studies done that seem to indicate that smaller shops and restaurants are better served by foot traffic, whereas Big Box stores and malls are better served by car traffic. (You are more likely to stop by a store with a window display when walking, whereas if you are going to Wal-Mart, you just drive there and then drive home, was the conclusion, IIRC)

      I wonder where bikes fit in that metric. I think they'd be more like foot traffic then car.

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    T.A. and Carla,

    Thanks for your observations.

    I don't think building roads just for cars is a good idea. I do, however, think of transportation more in a broad sense when it comes to transporting goods. But I'm proud of the work Prineville has done in receiving three state "Connect Oregon" grants to build infrastructure on its short-line rail in the form of a freight depot. We now have facilities in place for companies to utilize rail for transport and storage, and forgo long-range trucking. Not only can this save customers money and provide for the movement of more goods at once, it also minimizes truck traffic on Oregon highways (well, not yet, but that's one of the impacts).

    Some have asked if this negatively impacts trucking companies. Reality is it's becoming more expensive for long-haulers, so a multi-modal transportation hub that's being built in Prineville would actually increase local truck traffic for transport of goods from the rail to the business. Trucking companies can stay regional, rather than crossing state lines or doing cross-country trips.

    Unfortunately, the website isn't updated with information about the freight depot, but here's a link with pictures that show what's been built so far.


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      Thanks for this update, Jason! It's encouraging to see that communities like Prineville are taking advantage of rail in place for more than just tourism, and given Prineville's location and the road conditions, rail makes a lot of sense.

      Smart development. The only thing that keeps me from despairing about some of the messes around Portland is the memory of traveling elsewhere, especially in Europe, Japan and Montreal where the transit was really good. However, to get to that point required a lot of construction and ripping up of roads.

      Already I can see positives to the current light rail stuff. Now if someone would only solve the Sellwood Bridge situation. It impacts me as a Southeast Portland resident, since I won't use the damn bridge and haven't used it for ten years (used to live in Sellwood, know the mess firsthand).

      But that's another controversial kettle of fish. I figure Multnomah County should build the damned bridge, then charge tolls to every Clackamas County resident who uses it.

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    "The PERI reviewers attribute the difference to the simple fact that bicycle and pedestrian projects are often more labor intensive.

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    So, a highway project is a) very costly, before you add in labor, and b) creating jobs by direct spending.

    Thus, the number of jobs created is small.

    If you want to create lots of jobs, you have to use money to leverage private money.

    For example, you could provide the first 25% of a small business loan. That would leverage 75% private money.

    Or you might make 100% loans even. If you've got a business that has the sales to justify buying a new $50k piece of machinery, but the banks won't loan it (because that's what they're doing these days), then that sort of loan (or heck, grant) might generate lots of sales and thus more manufacturing jobs.

    Of course, the advantage of a roads project is that when it's over, you get the road, too. And eventually, you have to repave the roads, so you might as well do it in the midst of a downturn. (Of course, that probably requires short-term deficit spending, and that's apparently not in fashion these days.)

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    We are at the tail end in Silverton, regarding our "Streetscape Enhancement Project." Initially, of the five proposals, the most popular among those that gave a @#$% and showed up to the public meeting, was a 280 foot pedestrianization plaza, located in Silverton's original 1854 Town Square, which like most places in this country, got taken over by mechanical transport devices. After a very "spirited" pro-car opposition was mounted, using the usual anonymous hyperbole, fear tactics and name-calling, the project has been effectively killed. Of course, the concept itself, is economically sound, backed by data, (as pointed out by several comments above). Regardless, we still remain hopefull that we will be able to reclaim the streets for people. Plateas pro Populus!

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    Did I just hear Kari endorse Greg Walden and the globalists main theme? Pivatization. Tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and selling the assets to the millionaires and billionaires.

    And what is the Obama plan. Oh yes. That is his plan too. So then what is the distinction between a democrat and a republcan?

    Oh yes. Gay marriage. Gee, thanks.

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    There are many complexities to "creating jobs." If we look at jobs created directly by projects, infrastructure that is material intensive will create fewer jobs than projects that are labor intensive. Material intensive projects, like new roads and bridges, also consume more energy. Asphalt and concrete are particularly energy intensive.

    What we end up with is crucial. We can employ people to dig holes and then refill them. This does not create much value for society, compared to, for instance, building transportation infrastructure or providing daycare. Kari's point about leveraging private investment is valid. Tax credits for sustainable energy development is one kind of such leverage, though it is considered a waste of public resources by some.

    A big problem with new road building and projects like CRC is that they motivate inefficient use of energy and time in the form of long commutes in single occupancy vehicles. Increased inefficiency on the personal level translates into increased inefficiency at the macro level. It makes us poorer.

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