Portland

job: part time entry level transit analyst at our firm

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Our firm is growing in Portland and we'll soon be adding another entry level person with good geographic and spatial analysis skills, and strong GIS experience.

This job starts as a subcontractor as we find out if we're a good fit for each other, but then could quickly turn into employment.  For that reason, it's probably for someone who's already in Portland, though I certainly won't tell you not to move here.  

Download the details here:   Download JWA Jr. Associate GIS Analyst

Please spread the word!

portland: the citizens’ priorities for transportation

If you respect Portland as a leader when it comes to transit and sustainable urbanism, you should be interested in what its citizens think, not just what its spokespeople and marketers say.  It's the citizens who've demanded most of Portland's most dramatic transformations, and they who have to signal when it's time to take the next step.  

So here's what citizens of Portland think about how the city should prioritize its transportation investments, from a statistically valid phone survey (cellphones included) with a margin of error just under 5%.  

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 2.00.18 PM

Possible investments were ranked on a 1-7 scale where 7 (counter-intuitively) means the highest priority and 1 the lowest.  Dark green on this chart means users chose 7, the highest priority, while light green means 6, blue means 5 etc.   The brown is 4, which means netural, and the red and gray colors  at the right are low priorities.  Click to enlarge and sharpen.  Original report is here and PowerPoint here.

Frequent bus service (slashed in 2009 with major ridership losses resulting) is the top transit service priority, closely followed by more (probably more frequent*) light rail service.   Streetcars, in this supposed national leader of streetcar-revival movement?  Not so much.

Responses to frequent bus and MAX service may be lower than actual because some respondents could have presumed that the survey was solely about things that the City of Portland controls, and transit supply isn't one of them.

On the other hand, there's not much patience for parochialism on the part of Portland's city government.  

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 2.00.08 PM

People are increasingly seeing the services of regional agencies as something that the City of Portland may need to act on.  Given the list of improvements discussed above, and their relative importance, this response is probably heavily about Portland's relationship to TriMet, the regional agency that controls transit service. (It may also be about the relationship to Oregon's DOT, which still controls some major arterials.)

So for example, it's plausible that transit advocates who are in the 20% that oppose city involvement in "things it doesn't own" would not mention bus and light rail service as City of Portland priorities, even though they support them as investment priorities in general.  Support for these things may thus be even higher than indicated.

So to sum up (and some of this will be more surprising to Portland-admirers than to Portlanders):  

  • Less than 40% of Portlanders would assign any priority to expanding the streetcar system further, and only 9% call it a top priority.  
  • By contrast, two thirds (67%) assign a priority to frequent bus service, and 23% call it a top priority.
  • In a separate question, over 70% of respondents said they'd be "more likely" to support a "funding package that improved bus service in areas with substandard service, particularly if the areas are low income." 
  • Most important: more than 3/4 would say that just because the city doesn't control the transit agency doesn't mean that it shouldn't invest in the service that's needed, or lead in funding that investment.

This is actually a very practical view, the only one that ultimately works with transit's underlying math.  Core cities have higher per capita transit demands than their suburbs [see Chapter 10 of my book Human Transit] so they always tend to be underserved — relative to demand — by regional transit agencies that aim for some concept of "regional equity."  In many cases, the only solution is for core city voters to step up and vote, for themselves, the additional service that only they know that they need.  This doesn't have to mean breaking up the regional agency, but it does mean giving up on the idea that any service distribution formula that a suburb-dominated region would agree on will meet the core city's expectations for transit, based on the core city's economy and values.  

Am I concerned about the low ranking of bus lanes?  Not really surprised.  We would have to get our frequency back (many major Portland bus lines run less frequently than they did in 1982) and put ridership growth back on track.  Then that question would naturally arise in its own time.

There are other interesting nuggets in this survey.  Portlanders' overwhelming obession with pedestrian safety is heartening, especially since this is a crucial transit improvement.  (This may also signal a shared concern for East Portland, the disadvantaged "inner ring suburbia" within city limits that has poor pedestrian infrastructure, inadequate transit frequency, and most of the city's pedestrian fatalities.)  Portland cycling advocates, and their national admirers, may be disappointed in the ranking of "safe bike routes."  Sadly, cycling is polarizing here as it is everywhere.  Although 55% give some priority to "safer bike routes" and cycling is the only mode whose share of work trips is clearly growing, opposition and disinterest are also higher on cycling than for the main transit service investments.   

But when it comes to transit, there are some clear signals here, not just for Portland but for any city that hopes to replicate its achievements.

 

*This question should have been more specific.  The response says "MAX light rail service" which could mean either geographic expansion or more frequency.  The frequencies on MAX have been cut substantially in the last five years, so at least some of this response is probably about frequency.

quote of the week: the decline of local journalism

From a midwestern newspaper journalist's anonymous email to Andrew Sullivan:

When you see the metrics every day, and it’s clear that quick-hit crime stories or freak-show stories generate as many clicks as an investigative piece that took weeks to report, what rationale can there possibly be for doing the investigative work, the longer-form stories that actually help explain the workings of a community to the people who live there?

If you care about the quality of journalism, consider a policy of refusing to click on crime and freak-show news, no matter how much the headline arouses your curiosity.  One advantage of online journalism is that when I refuse to click on those stories, that disinterest is recorded.   Obviously I'm in the minority, but the conscious behavior of consumers is the only thing that moves corporations.  

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales recently said that one of his biggest problems as mayor is the lack of credible local journalism, which has made it impossible to have a public conversation about issues that matter to the city and region.   Would the great achievements of consensus in the past have been possible without our newspaper of record, the Oregonian, as a universally recognized forum for discsussing the issues of the day? 

It's not just that the Oregonian has ceased to publish on paper, it's also that its website looks trashy and conveys the company's low self-esteem.  Big O, before your name is utterly forgotten, wake up and realize that your marketing advisors are killing you.  Fire whoever suggested that your website be called "Oregon Live" instead of "The Oregonian," and that it should look like the website of a cheap fly-by-night aggregator instead of like that of a newspaper.  The credibility that comes from a long and respected history is the only thing legacy newspapers have as a competitive advantage, and the Oregonian is throwing that away.  

When you really start thinking about this, it's hard to face how scary it could be.  Sure, there are other ways of getting news, usually news pre-digested for those who share your political views.   But there's no other way for the whole city to have a conversation.  How can we do planning without that?

a glimpse into the road lobby’s echo chamber, and how to respond

Canada's leading newspaper has published an anti-transit rant, by Brian Lee Crowley of the "non-partisan" MacDonald-Laurier Institute.  It's based on the work of the Texas Transportation Institute, a leading source of studies that view cities from behind the wheel of a single-occupant car.  It's filtered via Wendell Cox, who's made a career of car-centered advocacy.

I analyzed TTI's work more patiently here, so I'll cut to the chase now.  TTI believes that traffic congestion is a valid measure of people's ability to access the resources of their city.  They do not measure actual travel times for all people, or the liberty and economic opportunity that a good urban transporation system offers.  They apply these things as factors to a degree, but their bottom line is road congestion.  

Specifically, their metric is the difference in travel times, by car, between travel time on congested roads and the same roads in a free-flow condition.   In other words, their baseline utopian condition is abundant free-flowing roads at all times of day.  (That condition is actually an economic impossibility in a city above a certain size with a healthy economy and no road pricing.)  

Once you insist on measuring congestion, and against that fantasy baseline, you can get absolutely everything backwards.  

Portland, Ore., has pursued road-skeptical policies similar to many major Canadian cities. The result is markedly worsened commuting times. According to the TTI, over the past 30 years Portland has gone from having the 47th worst congestion in the U.S. to the sixth worst.

"Markedly worse commuting times" is false.  If you count everybody's commuting time, Portland is ahead of most US metros.   As the next sentence reveals, it is only congestion that is worse.  Yes, like all dense cities, Portland has exactly as much congestion as it makes room for, but it has low overall commute times, mostly because its carefully mixed density allows many people to commute very short distances.   Remember, if you are measuring car congestion, Portland's transit riders and cyclists and the many people who can walk to work simply do not exist.  Crowley disses "congested" Vancouver for the same reason, even though Vancouver is the only Canadian metro where the long-term trend is toward shorter commute times, due to continued consolidation of housing and business around transit.  

So how should an activist respond to this kind of talk from the asphalt-and-petroleum echo chamber?

Everyone should know how to respond to articles like this, because we'll keep seeing them.  The comments on the article ("Wendell Cox is an idiot") are not encouraging.  Wendell Cox is not an idiot.  He is part of a reactionary process that accompanies every revolution, one that we'll hear more from.  He's a smart man who knows exactly what he's doing.

Take time to understand the point of view.  Many people's brains are so fused with their cars that to them, congestion really is the same thing as urban mobility or urban liberty.  To them, the TTI is right.  

So first you have to object by shining light on that premise.  TTI, and by extension Canada's leading newspaper, believes that certain people do not exist or do not matter — namely everyone who already travels by transit, bike, or foot,  and everyone who can imagine choosing not to drive in the face of real and attractive choices.  

But then, avoid the trap of casting these excluded people as an underclass.  Too many activists fall into that Marxist reading, and issue a call to arms on  behalf of "ordinary people."  They get through to people who already agree with them, but to the dominant business culture they look like an easily-dismissed-or-manipulated rabble.  Instead, read Edward Glaeser or Bruce Katz and understand that people who are investing in low-car "congested" cities are the leaders of the new information economy.  

A good retort to road-lobby claims that life is really better in Houston than in Vancouver is to check the cost of comparable housing.  If it were has hard to get around in Vancouver as TTI suggests, people wouldn't pay a fortune to live there.  Transit-rich cities are expensive, in part, because many people there can get around without being stuck in congestion.  High costs of living, in turn, are the market telling us to create more places just like that.  This is the free-market argument.  It is the only one that will break through to the business mind and start conveying that maybe there's something to all this transit-oriented investment.  

The TTI will last at least as long as the Tobacco Institute, and it will sound just as scientific in praise of its product-centered world view — in this case, a world in which only motorists count.  So you have to question the world view.  If an argument is based on a false remise, don't engage the argument, because in doing so you're accepting the premise.  Attack the premise.

holiday map immersion

If you're hiding with your laptop in the laundry closet because an ancient family argument has broken out over holiday dinner, it's a great time to geek out on how fast mapping is changing.  Go over to Atlantic Cities and explore Emily Badger's great overview of 10 ways that mapping has evolved over the past year.

My favorite: I usually try to be race-blind in my thinking about transit and cities, but I have to admit I was absorbed by Duncan Cable's Dot Map of Everyone in the US, which is color coded by ethnicity.  Not really everyone: You can't zoom in to find your personal dot, but it's still a magnificent rendering of how dot-crowding conveys density on a map more naturally than shaded zones.  Chicago, for example, displays pie-slices of single-ethnicity neighborhoods (blue is white, red is Asian, green is African-American, orange is Latino/Hispanic), but you can also see where the borders are soft, where they're hard, and where highly mixed areas exist or are emerging:

Chicago racial dot map

Houston, where I'm working now, is also made of pie slices, but the colors are more muted, indicating more mixture almost everywhere.  Near the center of this image, the greater Montrose and Heights districts are rainbow pointillism.  The Asian node in the south is student areas near Texas Medical Center.  

Houston racial dot map

And my home town, Portland, with downtown on the far left (as it is), showing the new concentric-circle pattern, as lower income minorities (because of income, rather than race) are forced to settle on the fringes of the old city (top edge and far right) or what we'd now call "inner ring suburbs."   The bike-and-transit-friendly city you've seen pictures of is mostly white with small dashes of color. The exception is downtown, which still has a mix of housing types tending to both income extremes, and the continuing black presence in the neighborhoods straight north of downtown even as these gentrify.  (As a small child in 1970 I remember seeing a cover of the local free weekly that showed a hand drawn line around this district with the title "Red-lining the Ghetto," about the impossibility of getting loans to buy or improve homes in that area.  Now, it's on fire with higher-end redevelopment.)

Portland racial dot map

Of course these are also fascinating simply as density maps.  Did you know that Oregon cities have had Urban Growth Boundaries since 1972?  The hard edges show around many Oregon cities … Here's the north edge of Portland's western suburbs (the "Silicon Forest"):

Wash co racial dots

For contrast, here's a same-scale image of the north edge of Clark County suburbs, just over the river in Washington:

Clark co racial dots

Washington loses farmland to development much more rapidly than Oregon does.  It makes a difference.  

In the end, what I love most about these maps is that they're beautiful.  As in art, patches of a bright color are beautiful, but so are intense mixtures of color.  So I look at these maps and feel good about both single-ethnic communities and mixed-ethnic communities, and my eye enjoys the patterns of density, hard edges here, soft there, even more.  These maps take an emotive kind of diversity and render it as serene.  The perfect geek-out for serene holidays. 

should we cut fares or increase service? an advocacy parable

A dispute in Portland is bringing to light the age old question of whether fare cuts or service increases are the best way to "improve" transit.  Both options improve ridership.  

The high-level answer is pretty simple.

  •  If you want transit to be mainly for low-income people who have a low value of time, cut fares, as this is an improvement  targeted to benefit only the cost-sensitive.  By not improving service, this choice may also lead to an increased "stigma" around transit as it is perceived, with increasing accuracy, as a low-quality experience that is of no relevance to people who have choices.  
  • If you want transit to be useful to a broad spectrum of the population, increase service.  

Cutting fares is good for lower-income people, while increasing service is good for almost everyone, including many low-income people.  

But it's not as good for some low-income people, and that's the interesting nuance in this particular story.

OPAL, an environmental justice organization that claims to focus on the needs of low-income people, is demanding that Portland's transit agency, Tri-Met, institute a fare cut.  The cut is specifically in the form of extending the period for which a cash fare is valid from two to three hours, an interesting issue that the Oregonian's Joseph Rose explores in a good article today.  (The headline is offensive, but reporters don't write headlines.)

At the same time, Portland has a throughly inadequate level of midday service, by almost any standard.  In the context of cities of Portland's size and age, Tri-Met practically invented the high-frequency grid that enables easy anywhere to anywhere travel in the city, but in 2009 it  destroyed that convenience by cutting service to 17-20 minute frequencies.  At those frequencies, the connections on which the grid relies are simply too time-wasting.  Those cuts correlated with substantial ridership losses at the time.  

OPAL's demand for a fare cut costing $2.6 million (about 2% of the agency's revenue) is, mathematically, also a demand that Tri-Met should not restore frequent service.  This money (about 80 vehicle-hours of service per day) is more than enough to restore frequent all-day service on several major lines.  

The rich irony of this proposal is that OPAL uses those service cuts to justify its proposed fare reduction.  In Portland, the basic cash fare purchases a two-hour pass that enables the passenger to transfer one or two times.  Because of the frequency cuts, transfers are now taking longer, and a few are taking too long for the two-hour pass.  OPAL therefore wants the pass to be good for longer.  

So OPAL's position is that because service has been cut, Tri-Met must mitigate the impact on low-income people instead of just fixing the problem.  

In particular, OPAL wants a solution that benefits only people who are money-poor but time-rich, a category that tends to include the low-income retired, disabled, and underemployed.   You must be both money-poor and time-rich to benefit from a system that reduces fares but wastes more and more of your time due to low frequencies and bad connections.  

If, on the other hand, you are money-poor and time-poor — working two jobs and taking a class and rushing to daycare — you will benefit from a good network that saves you time as much as from one that saves you money.  But that means you don't have time to go to meetings or be heard. We transit professionals see these busy low-income people on our systems and care about their needs, but we also know that we're not going to hear their voice as much from advocacy organizations, because they just don't have time to get involved.  

The same is true, by the way, of the vast working middle class.  In the transit business, we get lots of comments the money-poor-but-time-rich, who have time to get involved, and from the wealthy, who can hire others to represent them.  We don't hear as much from the middle class or from the money-poor-and-time-poor, even though those groups dominate ridership.  But hey, we understand!  They're just too busy.  

 

portland: TriMet’s new mobile ticketing app reviewed (guest post)

By Evan Landman

Evan Landman is an associate at my firm, Jarrett Walker & Associates, and serves as a research assistant and ghostwriter on this blog.   He holds a BA in Human Geography from University of British Columbia and was formerly an intern for the Portland area regional government, Metro.  He tweets on transit and other Portland topics at @evanlandman

For as long as I can remember, every bus trip in Portland has started with the counting and recounting of small bills and change held in a sweaty palm, always with the low-level anxiety from the thought of dropping a quarter and being unable to board. Pay your fare at the farebox, recieve a flimsy newsprint ticket. Secret that ticket in a secure pocket, to prevent it from being carried away by a stray gust of wind. If you have to transfer, check your pocket every 30 seconds to make sure it's still there.

TriMet, the transit agency here in Portland, finally launched their long-awaited smartphone app on Wednesday. I've tried it out for most of my trips since, after a summer spent jealously reading tweets from people lucky enough to be invited to the beta test. My first impression: this application suddenly makes using Portland's bus system much more relevant to me, and I suspect to many others.

Photo 1

Trimet Tickets ticket window

TriMet's ticketing application was developed by a company called GlobeSherpa, which is in the business of building mobile ticketing software for clients like sports arenas, concert venues, transit agencies, and parking providers. TriMet didn't have to lay anything out financially in developing this tool; angel investors covered those costs. GlobeSherpa skims a percentage off the top of each transaction.

The app is free to download, but once you've got it, you'll have to use a credit or debit card to buy electronic tickets at the usual price. To use a ticket on a trip, you simply press the "use" button, and an animated ticket screen appears. It's as easy as showing this screen to the driver upon boarding; no need to fumble for change or a flimsy paper transfer. This screen remains animated as long as the ticket is good, and shows the exact time at which it expires. It is even possible to use multiple tickets at once, a valuable feature for parents and caregivers. 

I'll admit that since relocating back to Portland in 2012, despite living without a car, I have rarely used TriMet's bus network. This is not because it doesn't go to the places I need to travel to, or because it is too infrequent; rather, I simply do not often find myself in possession of change or small bills, and generally choose modes that don't require those things. I pay for most everything using a debit or credit card, because it allows me to track my funds with more accuracy, and because the rounding error that is change adds up over time, but is difficult to spend, keep track of or incorporate back into my accounts. 

The agency is no doubt targeting young adults like me in developing this product. Numbers from Pulse, a research arm of Discover, find that members of the Millenial generation have the highest rate of ownership of debit cards (80%) and of contactless payment devices (12%); and the highest rate of online micro payments.

Lest I be accused of spreading propaganda for the agency, it is worth acknowledging that this is a tool useful only to people who have both a credit or debit card and a smartphone. As of May 2013, according to Pew, 56% of Americans had a smartphone, which means that 44% did not. Rates of ownership track with income and educational attainment, but are most strongly correlated with age. This sort of payment system largely excludes seniors, among whom only 18% report ownership of a device capable of running the software. As you might expect, many more Millenials (81%) own smartphones. 

Freedom of mobility is a frequent topic here at Human Transit. How well does the network design and operation enable a person to move around the city? How well do the transit agency's materials communicate the possibilities for personal mobility? How does the agency make transit a reasonable choice? In the age of Amazon, Paypal, and in-app purchases, giving riders the option to pay in this way is an important step towards creating a truly civilized transit experience.

guest post: solving the mystery of portland’s missing ‘faire’

Evan Landman is the new fulltime associate at my firm, Jarrett Walker & Associates.  He holds a BA in Human Geography from University of British Columbia and was formerly a planning intern for the Portland area regional government, Metro.  He tweets on transit and other Portland topics at @evanlandman

On a recent weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a transit scavenger hunt and race hosted by Portland Afoot, a low-car lifestyle citizen journalism outfit. Players traversed the city using TriMet to solve the mystery of "Who Whacked Ms. Faire LeSquare?", a pun on the free fare zone that until September 2012 covered Portland's downtown core and a portion of its inner eastside.  

Photo

The crowd prior to the start of the race.


The event kicked off at Velocult, a bike shop and bar in Portland's Hollywood neighborhoood, near to a transit center and light rail station. Around 60 teams of 3-5 players took part; by my estimate, something like 250 people came out to spend one of the nicest days of the year so far riding transit. At times, it felt like everyone in town who writes, blogs or tweets on transit or mobility had turned up to play. One group even had members who came down on the train from Seattle to participate!

In addition to solving the murder mystery, each team could score points by visiting distant transit centers, using different modes to travel, riding multiple transit lines, spotting public art, or meeting TriMet employees. Amusingly, there were also points available for anyone who was able to get a photo of themselves being grilled by a fare inspector. The entire game was smoothly run through the clever use of unique Twitter hashtags to track everyone's progress.

I found out about the game the day before, so I didn't have time to register a team, but some folks short a player were kind enough to let me tag along. We used light rail, a number of bus lines, the Portland Streetcar, our feet, and a dragonboat to visit destinations across the Metro area, from the eastern transit center at Parkrose to the far western suburb of Hillsboro. Portland Afoot stationed volunteer actors (including one member of the city council) at different points around town to continue the story, and to provide clues and directions.

At the end of the day, the entire contingent met back at Velocult, where it was revealed that LeSquare had skipped town to Calgary (which has retained its downtown free fare zone). The organizers lined up several generous prize packages for the top three finishers, with freebies from Car2Go, Zipcar, and a long list of local retailers and restaurants. Best of all, one lucky finisher won a free one-year TriMet pass! 

In the spirit of play, Portland Afoot brought hundreds of people onto Portland's transit system for trips very different than the home-work commute. This sort of event serves as a wonderful tool to get people to use transit in an unfamiliar way, and shows that riding the bus or light rail can be both functional and fun. If I can use transit to have fun on a sunny Saturday, maybe I can start to imagine other new ways I could be using the system? If nothing else, this serves as a reminder that people in Portland, including young, politically engaged people, can still get excited about TriMet despite its recent cutbacks and continual pillorying in the media. 

 

JW postscript: I recall playing a similar game in around 1978, with a team including David Bragdon — later the elected CEO of Portland's regional government.  Just imagine how much more fun Evan would have had without a phone, computer, or realtime information, on an infrequent, confusing transit network that only went downtown!

in the pacific northwest, the romantic drama is on the bus …

This really is too much fun.  From a scholarly study of the Craiglist "Missed Connections" section, where people express a romantic interest in someone that they saw out in the world.  You know, ads like this:

We were both on the max [light rail]–me heading to the Blazer's game and you on your bike. You overheard part of my conversation with my friend and were quite amused. I wanted to talk to you but then got pushed back by other riders. Email me if you remember that conversation and would like to grab a drink sometime.

So here, by state, is the location most often cited in "Missed Connections" ads (click to sharpen):

ZI-1175-2013-J-F00-IDSI-76-1
In rail-rich older urban areas, it's rail transit, of course, the subway or train or metro.  But in relatively rail-poor parts of the country, only Oregon and Washington find so much wistful romantic drama on public transit!  This is one of those slightly twisted points of "Portlandia"-style pride that makes me proud to be an Oregonian transit planner.  

portland: “opt-in” to comment on the future, despite biased questions!

If you live in the Portland metro region (Oregon side only), the regional government Metro wants you to be part of an online panel that comments on key issues facing the region.  It's called Opt-in, and you can read about it, and join it, here

When I tweeted about this yesterday, several people I respect commented that Opt-In sometimes asks wildly distorted and leading questions.  I can now verify that this is the case, based on a survey it asked me to take this morning which includes this appalling question (click to sharpen):

Optin screenshot
Two choices about transit and they're both about expanding rail.  Bus infrastructure and fleet are not mentioned even though buses are still the dominant mode in Portland and Bus Rapid Transit is a serious option in two rapid transit corridors now under study.   The designer of this question appears to be unfamiliar with Metro's own transit planning process, and is imposing their own biases on the survey.  That may be understandable in the early stages of a tool's develoment, when Metro's leadership may not be paying attention yet, but it should be unacceptable and if the tool thrives, it soon will be.

But is this a reason not to join?  No, it's the opposite.  Biased questions are a reason to use the little text feedback boxes to complain about biased questions, and to contact your Metro councilor if you feel strongly about them.  When Metro councilors will start getting letters about biased questions being asked in Metro's name, the problem will be righted quickly.  Just as boycotting elections is a bad way to get your views represented in government, boycotting survey tools is a bad way to get them to ask better questions!

Like all self-appointed panels, OptIn reaches a distorted sample of the population, but so does the massively inefficient and exhausting ritual that it could someday replace: the public meeting.  (The FAQs gently suggest this long-term prospect, though I'm sure we won't see the end of the public meeting soon.)  Public meetings still have value when they are organized as genuine conversations, such as interactive workshops that I'm often hired to run.  But if the purpose of a public meeting is for you to go and give a speech about why you're right and everyone else is wrong, well, we can all save carbon emissions and time out of our busy lives by doing that at home in our pyjamas. 

Need to smash the patriarchy or abolish the government?  I admit online surveys aren't very satisfying if you're massively angry and need something destroyed, and for that your options are still voting, peaceful demonstrations, and if necessary civil disobedience.  But online surveys are a great way to hear from a vast array of voters who are willing to communicate more thoughtfully and with less effort, and who tend to be shouted down or intimidated in public events.  Yes, there are issues about exclusion of low-resource groups and those with language and educational barriers, but Metro's surveys look pretty accessible to anyone with high-school literacy in English and they'd be easy enough to translate and supplement with spoken text.

Metro's currently asking its panel about its priorities for the future of transit in the region, and unlike the survey I mention above, it's a good and worthwhile survey that everyone should complete.  

Again, I wish the transit survey had the courage to ask about new funding sources.  The region's transit agency has cut over 15% of its service in the last decade, and is in ongong budget difficulty due to unfunded health and pension commitments made in wealthier times.  While it may gradually restore a basic functional network, it is nowhere close to offering the pace of service growth that would support the region's land use vision or its justify its green reputation.  But the questions the survey does ask, about your priorites for deploying what resources can be found, are mostly clear and reflect the realities of transit's geometry and costs.

If you don't enjoy public meetings, or have better things to do with your time, join Opt In, and if you're not in the Portland region, encourage your regional government to emulate it.  And if you find a biased question, comment about it!