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Tonight: PBS doc offers a new ‘Blueprint’ for American transportation


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.”

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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!).

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