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Tonight: PBS doc offers a new 'Blueprint' for American transportation

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 20th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

A shot of NW Lovejoy from the film.

Tonight at 8:00, on PBS stations across the country, a new one-hour documentary film will give Americans a history lesson and, hopefully, an inspiration to learn from it.

In the film, correspondent Miles O'Brien (formerly of CNN) travels to three American cities that have taken very different paths to dealing with transportation infrastructure and policies. From the outset he makes the focus clear: With shots of stressed out commuters in bumper-to-bumper traffic, O'Brien says, "As a nation we've arrived at a station called gridlock... We can't pave our way out of his mess. We've got too many people, too many cars... too much pollution."

Story continues below

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Sprawl has plagued the Denver area
with air pollution and gridlock.

On that note, he sets out to suburban Colorado where we meet a couple that is living their version of the American Dream (and they're "OK" with the sprawl and the nasty commute, because they like their house). We learn that the sprawl plaguing Colorado is mostly due to a massive freeway loop that surrounds Denver. The film also introduces us to those who have fought the freeway and others who are pushing for its completion.

"It's hard to find a place more different than the typical American sprawl town, and still be in America. In fact, if you're interesting in fleeing our car culture, you come here."
-- Miles O'Brien on Portland

After Colorado, it's off to Portland. Our segment is titled, "The Road Less Traveled" and it focuses on how our policies and decisions have led to a place that's much different than suburban Denver. In O'Brien's words, it's "Hard to find a place more different than the typical American sprawl town, and still be in America. In fact, if you're interesting in fleeing our car culture, you come here."

The Portland segment features interviews with U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Mayor Sam Adams, and Metro President David Bragdon. It also focuses around my family and I. You'll see me and my girls on our bikes at the park and the store, and I share a few of my perspectives.

NYC's Sadik-Kahn and O'Brien
where traffic once roared.

From Portland, the film goes to New York City where you'll take a tour of some of the exciting new pedestrian plazas in Manhattan with that city's DOT chief Jeanette Sadik-Kahn. You'll also come face-to-face with a South Bronx neighborhood that is choked on all sides by freeways -- including one that they're trying to de-commission.

The fitting finale takes us to Washington D.C. where O'Brien has a sit-down chat with Obama's Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Throughout the film, producers put a focus on archival footage and the people and politics that set the groundwork for transportation decisions. You'll learn more about iconic highway builder Robert Moses, the fight to kill the Mt. Hood Freeway, the controversy around Oregon's land-use laws, and much more.

The timing of the film is no accident. It's meant to add fuel to the fire around the transportation debate in this country right when Congress is writing a new bill that really could set a new "Road to the future". It's a great education and it's also an engaging piece of filmmaking (and I'm not just saying that because I'm in it!).

    Blueprint America: Road to the Future
    Tonight on PBS at 8:00pm
    (Hopefully it will be online after it airs. Check this site for details.)

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Comments
  • Diogo May 20, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    "and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it!"

    Oh, c'mon Johnatan, admit it!

    just kidding!

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  • Hart May 20, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Ug, Denver.

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  • Joe May 20, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    must watch this with wife and kids tonight :)

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  • Brent May 20, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    It seems to be online now...I just watched it. Good show! You gave an articulate and compelling interview. I wish L.A. would come around to what Portland and NYC are doing!

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  • revphil May 20, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    next thing you will be sitting down with Bill Moyer, who finally got around to pimping one of my fav things of all time "the story of stuff"
    http://www.storyofstuff.com/

    watch it! share it!

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  • Schrauf May 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    7pm on some PBS stations...

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  • Jim Lee May 20, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    The REAL MILES O'BRIEN simply would beam us all around on a STAR TREK TRANSPORTER!

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  • Matt Salo May 20, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    I'm watching the program right now (and visited the site because of it). I live in a car-centric Canadian city and weep at how badly my city has been planned. You all have a kindred soul a few thousand kilometers away riding his bike through vicious rush hour traffic and people of all stripes telling him to get off the street and ride his bike *shudder* on the sidewalk.

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  • Hart May 20, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Okay, seriously, after watching that I think I'm literally sickened by the city of Denver and the attitudes of its citizens.

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  • Aaron May 20, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you for showing me this video. I think it shows the frustration of many people in America, especially the suburbs. The baby boomers seem to love cars and respond with: "it is what it is, ya can't do anything about it."

    We need to start de-paving roads.

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  • dahoos May 20, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Just finished watching the Portland part of the documentary. Nice work. The coverage was great and following the Denver sprawl, Portland looks amazing.

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  • Hart May 20, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Anybody wanna wager the cities with the highest rate of sprawl also lead the nation with rates of religious affiliation?

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  • Dan May 20, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Just caught "Blueprint America" - EXCELLENT representation of Portland and Oregon! Thanks, Jonathan!

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  • Bikingviking May 20, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    PORTLAND ROCKS!!
    denver sucks!!

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  • Kathleen McDade May 20, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Just watched it, yay!

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  • Jeff May 20, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Hart, while I see your wager, I feel your comment (#12) complicates an issue that doesn't need any more hurdles.

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  • Patrick May 20, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    While this may highlight Denver's suburbs, that metro area is in the middle of the most aggressive expansion of transit in the country. FasTracks includes:

    - 122 miles of new light rail and commuter rail
    - 18 miles of bus rapid transit service
    - 57 new transit stations

    All planned for completion by 2016 (may slip some due to lower tax revenues during the recession). There's a lot of sprawl, but they're working to improve the transit network dramatically.

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  • encephalopath May 20, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Wow... Portland was pretty in those opening shots.

    I thought the outside the urban growth boundary subdividers were out of place at first. But not too much time was spent on them.

    I've never understood how they think that profit from land speculation is an American right guaranteed by god. And if your risky investment doesn't work out then everyone else should pay you anyway. I don't get that.

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  • encephalopath May 20, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    You bought farmland. You still have that farmland. Nothing has been taken from you.

    Except perhaps speculative profit which is an imaginary, in the future possession. I thought I would be fabulously rich and famous at this point in my life too. I had plans. Someone should pay me for that failure.

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  • Hart May 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    I thought those urban-growth boundary whiners were incredibly selfish. "What about my rights?" instead of "What about the rights of a thousand generations into the future?"

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  • Spencer Boomhower May 20, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Great job, Jonathan. Portland came off really well. What a perfect - and perfectly timed - counterpoint to George Will's rant.

    I have to ask though, did anyone else laugh at the use of the term, "iron curtain" to describe the UGB?

    #9 Hart:

    "Okay, seriously, after watching that I think I'm literally sickened by the city of Denver and the attitudes of its citizens."

    There was a wonderful documentary a while back called "Subdivide and Conquer," which showed a different side of that particular coin. It showed residents of a similar (if not the same) subdivision talking about how they bought their wonderful homes on the edge of wild country, only to see the subdivision continue to expand into that wild country soon after. This left them mired in a sea of houses, and as totally dependant on their cars as ever. They felt cheated and trapped, and they told an entirely different story than we saw in this show.

    Even so, I would guess the attitudes in this one were pretty representative of those of most Denver residents.

    #16 encephalopath

    "You bought farmland. You still have that farmland. Nothing has been taken from you.

    Except perhaps speculative profit which is an imaginary, in the future possession. I thought I would be fabulously rich and famous at this point in my life too. I had plans. Someone should pay me for that failure."

    Really well put.

    I've seen a few documentaries - including a recent PBS one that touched on King County - in which rural land owners say that they should be able to do whatever they want on their land. The response I never hear put to them is: who in this country can do whatever they want on their land? I mean, think of the money I could make if I sold nuclear waste disposal rights to my back yard. But these onerous laws say I can't. Can I sue for profits lost?.

    The more valid complaint might be that the laws changed under them, but still... laws do that. The previous owners of my place probably weren't happy about what I think is a relatively recent law that let me make them decommission an old oil tank, and basically have them replace all the dirt in the yard. But that's property ownership - the downside of it, at least. The upside is that you're still really likely to profit anyway.

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  • SharpBKR May 21, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Excellent show! I loved the juxtaposition of the Denver traffic reporter to Jonathan, I didn't get it at first but then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. What a contrast.

    JSK for president!

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  • thalasin May 21, 2009 at 6:50 am

    I live in Denver, and let me assure you that Highlands Ranch is NOT Denver. The city itself not at all like the Stepford community shown. And, most people I know don't share the attitudes of the traffic reporter. Still, the runaway growth along the Front Range is disheartening, and the documentary illustrated the Mountain West's mentality when it comes to growth, property rights and transportation.

    Now you'll have half of the Denver metro area wanting to move to Portland. Count me among them...

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  • Steve B May 21, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Saw that show last night too. Very informative, as Indianapolis is one of those cities that destroyed it's trolley/rail system before/during the interstate building.

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  • mmann May 21, 2009 at 8:47 am

    Excellent. And Jonathan, you and your family came off splendidly.

    This is kind of a sad contrast to the other bikeportland article today about the Oregon legislature's failure to increase the percentage of transportation funding dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian projects.

    To be clear: 1% is neither enough nor fair. What do we have to do to get the car-centric decision makers to see there's a better way? I long for legislators with creativity and guts. As the film shows with the killing of the Mount Hood freeway, we once had lawmakers who were willing to think outside the box.

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  • Paul Tay May 21, 2009 at 8:56 am

    It wuz just a tad bit distracting to watch former CO Gov. Richard Lamm tooling around in a swanky Audi, while railing against the 470.

    Bike da ride, before ya talk da talk.

    J-Man fo' HONORARY PDX Mayor!

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  • encephalopath May 21, 2009 at 9:34 am

    I liked the bit where Jonathan and his family were in Peninsula Park. I've always been impressed by the fact that the people who made that park took 8 blocks of what would be prime, saleable, residential real estate at turned it into a public space.

    Where do we still do that? When I was living in Washington County I noticed that they meet the park making requirement by putting the parks in flood areas and under high voltage powerlines.

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  • alex May 21, 2009 at 10:25 am
  • Pete May 21, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Hey, some of us like our swanky Audis! (Mine's parked in the garage behind my three bikes ;).

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  • Paul Tay May 21, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Pete, whydon'tcha let dat swanky Audi out in da sun? It would probably make a really awesome PLANTER! :-P

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  • twistyaction May 21, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    This documentary really moved me. I feel luckier than ever to live here in Portland. People, if you love what we're doing here and want it to continue and grow, then get on your bike, wear something bike box green and show up at the community hearing tonight at 6 to show support for bike funding in our city's budget. I've never attended a civic hearing on funding, don't vote cause I'm from another country, but love the direction of the city where I thrive and pay taxes. We've gotta stand up and be heard or they'll drive over us!

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  • wsbob May 21, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    "Where do we still do that? When I was living in Washington County I noticed that they meet the park making requirement by putting the parks in flood areas and under high voltage powerlines." encephalopath #27

    encephalopath, did you 'notice' some official Washington County statement that the county "...meet(s) the park making requirement by putting the parks in flood areas and under high voltage powerlines. I doubt it.

    There are some parks Wash Co that are under power lines and in flood areas. I don't know for certain, but I don't think this was done to meet "..park making requirements..". I think parks were put in these places in part, due to opportunity and a commitment to using land not open to a lot of other uses in residential areas. That certainly would apply to the power line areas.

    The power line parkland provides a miles long narrow riding, walking park. Might not be as good as the Springwater, maybe some people don't like to be under the power lines, but it seems to work for lots of people just fine.

    The flood areas, or do you mean wetlands?... could have been fitted with culverts and filled, but some people have been smart enough to figure out that people actually like living in area where the opportunity to experience wildlife in a natural setting is nearby.

    Apparently you didn't notice much while you were living in Wash Co. . Tualitan Hills Park and Rec District (THPRD)has more than 200 parks in its inventory providing opportunity for a wide range of activities, including biking in lots of different settings.

    Peninsula Park is kind of extraordinary, for sure. I don't know that Washington County has a park quite like that...big, formal...planted with a large rose garden... anywhere. Maybe it should. It's not as big as Peninsula, but Beaverton seems to be using quite a lot of land for park near the Beaverton City Library, that other people might have had in mind for residential housing.

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  • webfoot flyer May 21, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Well done show OPBS. Jonathan and family represented us all well. Golden / Denver is actually a nice place with many strong attributes, it however has more course correcting to do than we do, so they are behind the curve while Portland is ahead. Don't harsh them though, encourage them and help to revise their future path. That is what real leadership is all about, not criticizing them and boasting about how good we have it. (and we do have it good) NYC also was well portrayed, yet a very different model than PDX.

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  • Hart May 21, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I grew up in the midwest, and I've talked with many families there that don't understand why sprawl happens, yet they have four or five children. It's maddening. You tell them facts like 60% of all the human being that have ever lived in the history of the planet earth are alive RIGHT NOW and they stare back at you, unable to comprehend what that even means.

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  • Rixtir May 22, 2009 at 1:16 am

    Spencer, #21:

    I have to ask though, did anyone else laugh at the use of the term, "iron curtain" to describe the UGB?

    Laugh? I winced. Just the kind of terminology, in tandem with all the malcontent property owners talking about their God-given property rights being trampled, to scare the daylights out of the electorate in places like Broomfield.

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  • Rixtir May 22, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Encephalopath, # 18 & 19:

    I've never understood how they think that profit from land speculation is an American right guaranteed by god. And if your risky investment doesn't work out then everyone else should pay you anyway. I don't get that.

    And thus:

    I thought I would be fabulously rich and famous at this point in my life

    :D

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