In response to a general lament about poor transportation planning, reader Edward Parish said:
You need not have to be in Europe for such a bike gig, I’ll be off to Portland, OR, in September and will have TRIMET to get to and fro from the airport and many other venues. Also, San Francisco has many of the same options; life without a car.
During the 1960s, Portland was a city with serious economic and environmental problems.
Today, Portland is an economic and environmental success story. It is so successful that the Wall Street Journal, which is not usually known for its environmental advocacy, has called Portland an “urban mecca” that city planners from all over the country visit to learn how they can control sprawl, reduce automobile dependency, and build lively and attractive pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods.
When Portland decided to tear down the Harbor Drive freeway, the city made one of the key decisions that transformed it into a national model for effective city planning.
Between 1970 and 1980, Portland made a number of decisions that transformed the city by moving from automobile-oriented development to pedestrian and transit oriented development. The most important were:
* Pioneer Square: In January, 1970 the Portland City Planning Commission voted to deny a permit to build a 12 story parking structure on Pioneer Courthouse Square. The site had been occupied by a two-story parking structure, and it is now an attractive, pedestrian oriented plaza.
* Harbor Drive: In May, 1974, the state of Oregon closed Harbor Drive so it could use the land to build Tom McCall Waterfront Park, which would open up the waterfront to pedestrians, creating an important amenity for downtown.
* Mount Hood Freeway: In summer, 1974, the Portland City Council killed the Mount Hood Freeway and instead used the freeway’s federal funding to build the downtown transit mall, eastside light rail, and other transit projects. This freeway was part of a plan to criss-cross Portland with freeways, drawn up by Robert Moses, and killing it also killed all the freeways that were to follow.
* Comprehensive Land Use Plan: On October 16, 1980, the City Council adopted the Portland Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which established an urban growth boundary to stop sprawl and concentrated new development around public transportation stops.
The comprehensive plan is the best known of these decisions. But tearing down Harbor Drive and replacing it with Tom McCall Waterfront Park was also a key step in transforming Portland from a freeway-oriented city to a pedestrian oriented city.
The region has been building a lot of roads lately. The number of new lane miles in the Louisville urbanized area increased by 20.1 percent between 1990 and 2000, resulting in a 15.8 percent increase in roadway miles per capita. The region’s per capita road construction far outpaced that of key peer regions.
Consequently, the number of miles being driven in the Louisville urbanized area far out-paced population growth in the 1990s. Population grew by 3.7 percent in the urbanized area between 1990 and 2000. However, the total vehicle miles driven(VMT) in the region increased 34.4 percent over the same period. This contributed to a 29.6 percent change in miles driven per capita in the Louisville urbanized area. Most of this increase took place early in the decade as VMT rose only 6.4 percent from 1995 to 2000.
The increase in VMTs translates to greater traffic congestion. The percentage of congested lane miles in the region remains moderate in absolute terms, but it increased from 36 to 55 percent between 1990 and 2000. During that same period, the number of “rush hours”(the time during the day when the roads are congested) nearly doubled, increasing from 3.8 hours per day to 7.0. As a result,the total costs due to congestion increased by 509 percent from 1990 to 2000 to over $335 million per year, which is among the highest total costs for any medium-sized metro area in the nation.
Lesson from Louisville: Building more roads leads to more driving and more congestion, not less.
Lesson from Portland: Stop building more roads.