One example he shares is of the community, Bend, Ore. Located in the high desert of central Oregon, the Deschutes River flows through the middle of the city. “They end up having a lot of people float the river in the hot summer months,” Hansen says.
“The transit system put together a Ride the River raft operation so they would have a trailer behind the bus to be able to pick up rafts and go backupstream.” He continues, “It was something that was very important in the community. It connected that service with what people wanted.”
He stresses, “Each community has got to be able to find those things.”
Over the next 25 years, the area expects a million more people moving in. Having transit as a community asset and preserving the livability of the region is key.
Hansen says that when he first came to the area, many places around the region would say no to light rail. The statewide land-use laws were originally created to protect farmland and forests that were being eaten up by sprawl.
“Now it really is about making compact urban areas really work,” says Hansen. And others see the importance. He says that when looking through the real estate sections, “Whether or not to rent this apartment or buy this house is usually how close it is to us.”
When talking about rail now, he says that he can’t go to a community that doesn’t now ask, “When do we get ours?” As he says, “That ability to put together partnerships, the ability to get the developers, the marketers and the others to be able to understand that and to see it in their own terms is key.
“The real challenge is, how do we grow in a multifaceted way that really protects communities, protects neighborhoods and really allows people to be able to get around in what we call the 20-minute neighborhood; to be able to get to all your essential services, or most of them, in 20 minutes: biking, walking or riding us,” says Hansen. “You’ve got to find ways to do that.”
Transit and Sustainability
As former chair of APTA Sustainability Task Force, I asked Hansen how he views where the industry is at. “I think that the industry as a whole is becoming more aware of the environmental, sustainability issue.” He adds, “I don’t think they’ve moved very far yet on the idea of a community, they see themselves principally as a utility and I still think they’ve got a long ways to go on the sustainability.”
He’s not sure the industry has evolved while he’s been in it, but feels it’s starting to. APTA’s sustainability effort has helped to get things started.
“We had to have aggressive goals, that even to become a signator, you had to do real things, real aggressive,” he explains. “If you were going to get into any of the higher levels, it was really going to be a stretch and ultimately, on the final step before the platinum level, for any property to sign up for it today, it wasn’t tough enough.
“I really wanted it to be able to be stretch goals and over time, these are going to have to become even more aggressive as we continue.”
He says he’s found that communities across the nation, communities of all sizes, think these issues are important and want transit to be greener. “They want them to be more sustainable; they need to be able to find ways to do that. There’s been a thirst for the tools to be able to do this. I think we can in fact pull the industry along.”
He adds that if we’re not the leaders in sustainability, we would not have a place at the table to be discussing federal legislation regarding climate change. “We had to be able to step up to the bar and be aggressive if we were going to be credible.
“My work in environmental protection, I always thought one of the most important issues has always been what our urban areas are just from a straight pollution standpoint and how they operate. And public transit is connected to all of that,” he says. While at the EPA, he and Mary Nichols put together for the first time, recognition in the EPA world that smart growth, land use, could be counted as a partner strategy to be able to address meeting the national air quality standards for ozone.