Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 26th, 2009 at 9:43 am
(Photos © J. Maus)
[The following editorial was written by Ron Buel. Buel is a long time Portland transportation activist through his work with Riverfront for People. Back in November 2006, BikePortland covered his initiative to bury the I-5 freeway through Portland’s eastside.
In this editorial, Mr. Buel shares his concerns that, despite intentions, the City of Portland’s Climate Action Plan lacks the teeth it needs to really take a bite out of climate change.]
The City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) and the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) have put out a Climate Action Plan that, when it comes to transportation, is as phony as a three dollar bill. It’s the latest version of political greenwashing, led by Mayor Sam Adams, who, like our Governor, talks the talk of climate change, but doesn’t walk the talk.
“In the transportation arena, which produces 39% of local carbon, serious action by the City is not in the cards, so good writing, public relations, lovely pictures and meaningless action plans have to suffice.”
The City is taking this plan very seriously, as it should, and it has mailed out a four-color brochure to Portland residents telling them about Town Halls and asking for feedback. There will be five of them, in each geographic part of the city, from June 20 to July 7.
Unfortunately, I expect that the bureaucrats who have written this lovely plan and are now asking for citizen input, don’t really want to do anything or listen to anybody. They just want to produce a lovely plan and pretend they are listening.
It’s about public relations. It isn’t really about taking action on the serious climate change problem that we all face, a problem that the plan rightfully says threatens our entire planet. In the transportation arena, which produces 39% of local carbon, serious action by the City is not in the cards, so good writing, public relations, lovely pictures and meaningless action plans have to suffice.
The reason? When it comes to transportation in Portland, special interests are in control.
I’m talking about the oil-auto-highway-trucker-labor lobby. The City has this publicly-funded Freight Committee that the truckers use to get what they want out of PBOT policy. Adams and PBOT (which he oversees) have turned around 30 years of transportation planning, plans that have been in place since 1973 – plans that place density, transit, bicycling and pedestrians ahead of fossil fuel-vehicle travel.
But now, with the pavers in charge of City Hall, we are planning huge freeway capacity expansion projects such as the $4.2 billion, 12-lane Columbia River Crossing and the $1.5 billion above-ground expansion of the I-84/I-5 interchange near the Rose Quarter.
The Special Interest Pavers don’t just include the Oregon Freight Association. They include the aggregate companies like Ross Island Sand and Gravel, the Ironworkers and Steelworkers unions, the housing developers who want to continue building their homes out in the distant suburbs (where land is cheaper and people must drive to get anywhere), and the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council and the AFL-CIO (they just want the construction jobs – they don’t care if the projects supplying the jobs promote global warming).
The City’s effort to ignore global warming and to greenwash the City’s new draft transportation Climate Action Plan is part of a statewide effort by the same special interest lobby that pushed the Oregon Legislature to pass HB 2001. That bill includes $900 million in earmarked highway capacity expansion projects like the $192 million Newberg-Dundee bypass and the Sunrise Corridor in East Multnomah County and Clackamas County.
The City of Portland bought off on the deal, of course, because Mayor Adams got a little money for PBOT and some starter money for the Sellwood Bridge project. Governor Kulongoski and ODOT’s plan is all global warming, all of the time. Even a lot of our Democratic legislators got sucked in.
The Climate Action Plan also virtually ignores transit and rail (Obama has big plans for high speed rail in our region, but where is the planning effort from PBOT to support it?), and it makes no real effort to ensure that TriMet does not have to cut its bus service at a time when we need it most.
By contrast, Portland has done a lot for bicycles, and this is a real success for the City and its transportation policies. Riding a bicycle in place of getting in a fossil fuel vehicle, is an important way to combat climate change.
But, while we see dramatically increased bicycle use within the city, including particularly the shorter commutes, we do not see a lot of suburbanites getting on their bikes and making their commutes to or through the central city of Portland on bicycles.
Since commuting from the suburbs, or from one suburb to another, continues to be a large amount of the vehicle miles traveled in the region, there seems to be a potential ceiling on bicycle trips in the Portland region and also on the bicycle’s ability to combat global warming pollution, region-wide.
“For five years now, Sam Adams has talked on one hand about how important it is to deal with climate change, and with the other less visible hand, led the City and its Transportation and Planning departments and policies, in the other direction.”
This City Climate Action Plan wisely calls for increased density in the city and no expansion of the urban growth boundary in the region, which limits the length of trips. The problem is that the City government and politicians have very little power to enforce holding Metro and local suburban governments firm on urban growth boundaries.
For five years now, Sam Adams has talked on one hand about how important it is to deal with climate change, and with the other less visible hand, led the City and its Transportation and Planning departments and policies, in the other direction.
Those of us who dearly want to deal with climate change, and to make Portland a leader in that fight, have to become sophisticated enough to hold our politicians accountable. Now and at election time, let’s remind them that when it comes to fighting climate change, we want real action, not just another planning process.
— Learn more about the City of Portland and Multnomah County’s Climate Action Plan by attending one of the upcoming Town Hall events. More details here.