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A response to the pro-car perspective

Posted by on November 26th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

“Cars — in whatever their future form may be — are here to stay. But so are bikes, transit and walking.”
— Op-ed in The Oregonian

A strange thing happened after Metro released a major new household travel survey last month. Despite the survey showing big increases in the rate of bicycle and transit use for central city residents since the last time the survey was done in 1994, The Oregonian seemed to frame it as proof that cars are still king in our region. The O’s Commuting reporter Joseph Rose also accused Metro of trying to spin the story to further their, “smart-growth battle against the unhealthy, polluting, life-sucking automobile.”

And then, right on cue, The Oregonian Editorial Board weighed in with this headline, People like their cars, a fact that Portland planners must take into account.

To counter that framing of the issue, local transportation expert Chris Smith and real estate developer Randy Miller penned an op-ed of their own. It’s now several weeks later, but it was finally published in the opinion section of Sunday’s paper.

Smith and Miller wrote that Portland’s approach to transportation not only takes cars into account already (by spending billions on car-friendly projects since 1995), but that the approach is working. They outlined four reasons why our planners must stay the course and even expand their efforts — not just in the central city but in the entire region. Here’s an excerpt:

“First, this is an issue of equity… Cars are expensive to own, insure, maintain and drive. Not all Portlanders can afford to own, much less drive, a car.

Second, our multimodal strategy provides economic benefits… declining VMT results in a “green dividend” for the city and the region; money that would otherwise be sent out of state and overseas to oil companies stays in the local economy…

Third, it’s more cost-effective. Portland’s bicycle transportation investments have allowed the key bridges into the city’s downtown to operate as well for automobiles today as they did 20 years ago, despite an increase in population and economic activity…

Fourth, the future vibrancy of our central city depends on it… We cannot afford to expand our freeways, streets and parking garages to accommodate future growth in the heart of Portland.”

Read the entire op-ed here. They make some very good points that we should all keep in mind for future discussions.

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Chris Smith
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I should point out that there were two other response op-eds: one by Metro President Tom Hughes that the Oregonian published (http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/11/metro_transportation_figuring.html) and another by 1000 Friends of Oregon and BTA that did not get published but is on the BTA blog (http://btaoregon.org/2012/11/planning-and-transportation/).

Duncan Idaho-Stop
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Duncan Idaho-Stop

I second Chris’ recommendation of Tom Hughes’ article, which was excellent. Also, last week Steve Duin wrote a very sensible rebuttal of the idiotic white paper on the Sellwood Bridge project put out by the so-called Cascade Policy Institute. He starts off by decrying the “staged antagonism between cars and bicycles”, which we all know is something the Oregonian stokes with all its dwindling might.

Nice to see a few glimmers of logic and arithmetic in the local paper for a change.

Art Fuldodger
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Art Fuldodger

good op-ed, Randy & Chris. It seemed that once upon a time the Big O had a clue on transport/land use issues [sigh].

The decline in Portland VMT is even more stunning in the national context, where it’s gone UP +30% since 1992.

Craig Harlow
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Craig Harlow
Hart Noecker
Guest

Predictably, the vast majority of the comments on the O’s article are from people completely ignorant of the financial and ecological cost of auto-only roads, and attack a multi-modal approach to mobility that they can’t understand. Likely many of these comments are from people from outside the city, but this is alarming.

As Mark Gorton has often said, we can’t change things unless we educate people as to why the change is needed. It isn’t enough to fix the problems that high volume roads in Portland have caused, we have to fix them everywhere, and that includes the suburbs.

How to educate the entire public on these issues I have no idea.

Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

Thank you to those who took the time to write this article. You made some great points.

Someone on the comments board on O-Live made a rare and very valid argument. I will cut and paste the response here:

“my grandfather spent most of his life working in the logging industry. Then he retired along the coast near the fishing holes he loved so much. Then his eyesight worsened. He was no longer able to drive himself, and there was no transit and few walkable destinations, so he had to be driven by others. It hurt his pride and his sense of freedom, which was painful to witness such a resourceful, independent man experience. I think there is a way to both support car-based needs today and build choice-rich places where people can age in place.”

I feel this is an argument that really needs to be made more often. My Grandfather experienced this very thing. He lived in a small community and when he was finally unable to drive be became EXTREMELY depressed. I’d say it shaved a lot of years from the end of his life. It wasn’t the lack of a car that brought him down, but rather the loss of freedom. Essentially he was stuck at home if nobody was willing are able to drive him. If there was a bus, or a train, or even decent side walks so he could just go to the store or to the movies I don’t think it would have hit him nearly as hard. He hated asking his kids and grand kids to give him rides. In his mind it was better to just spring for a taxi because then at least he was being resourceful on his own.

As the baby boomers age this is going to become a bigger and bigger issue. I’m wondering how many people who bitch about the money we spend on transit are going to complain there aren’t enough options when their ability to drive gets taken away. We are going to be looking at a massive increase in the number of people on the older end of the spectrum in the coming decades and I really don’t think we are prepared.

9watts
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9watts

$433M per year(!) [($4.1B+$2.3B)/15 yrs] on transportation projects for the region over that 15 year period? Wow. Isn’t that >$200 for every man, woman, and child, every year?

Maybe we really should retire the car? That’s a crazy amount of money. What did we get for all those taxes? And what was the percentage of those funds that went toward bikes (defensive expenditures to keep the overwhelming car-presence from endangering people biking quite as much)?

Zach
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Zach

Anti-bike op-eds and anti-bike people are stupid, but one can be pro-bike without being anti-car. The automobile _is_ here to stay, even if its share of the pie declines.

Al from PA
Guest
Al from PA

“People like their cars” as long as hidden costs (gasoline, infrastructure, parking) stay well hidden…

Make them pay their fair share and the automobile disappears pronto…

Svetlana
Guest
Svetlana

The historical memory of folks who think cars are here to stay is very short. Towns managed to conduct their affairs without cars not very long ago. It would be a wiser use of their energy and creativity to use the prospect of THE BIG ONE to envision a way of life without a one (or two) car for every household. I don’t want my tax dollars to go to rebuilding all the roadways that will be destroyed by the earthquake! There are many kinds of human powered vehicles now for personal use, business use, trikes, etc. There is now almost a human powered vehicle for anyone who has the physical and mental abilities to drive. For those who cannot power a bike or trike, there are also human-powered vehicles that can support a rider. Blah blah. Some people need to get a vision!

Skid
Guest

The car IS here to stay. In a place where it rains half the year people are not going to give up their rolling climate controlled living rooms. If gas ran out they would burn an alternative fuel or be electric. So why not concentrate on encouraging people to drive less and use walking, cycling, and public transit more?

Svetlana
Guest
Svetlana

Skid, are you one of those “people” who would not give up your car? Or, do you see yourself being able to transition from a car to a bike for the majority of your transportation? After 2 years of contemplation, I gave up my car in 2003 and made that transition. Yes, it changed my lifestyle, but I have enjoyed the changes much more than I would have guessed. I actually feel freer now. Anyway, if you can imagine your life without your car, so can others.

Steve Brown
Guest

It was great to see the op-Ed piece on Sunday. One more chance to reinforce the concept that we need to build Portland and the Metro area as a place to live, not a place to optimize driving cars. Cars are convenient but expensive for the owner and the community. As a community we need to develop efficient ways to get around, not spend time on the car v bike thing. Unfortunately, the centric people, by a large majority, see the issue is car as a win losss issue and seem to ignore the bigger issue of transportation and quality of life. For me, as much as I like my expensive hunk of high performance Geman steel and plastic, my life is bettere when I can ride or walk.

Svetlana
Guest
Svetlana

Skid, I appreciate your reasoned response to the conversation and I agree with Steve that industrial pollution, from what I understand, is a huge problem. As far as getting from here to there goes, I like the trend toward localization. If we pushed toward having communities within which folks could get and do everything within a 20 minute walk from home, that would take care of it all. With the recent news about methane being released in the arctic due to permafrost melting and the environmental feedback loop it’s creating, I believe it is in our interest to get to the 20 minute neighborhood fast.