It’s a huge day for Portland transportation reformers who want Oregon to more quickly adapt to a future where freeway expansions don’t happen and we finally break off our dysfunctional relationship with cars.
Activists who’ve spent years fighting against the negative impacts of our region’s car overuse problem woke up to a major story in the New York Times that gave their positions and opinions a national platform. To make it even better for them, the venerable news source framed their story around a question, “Can Portland Be a Climate Leader Without Reducing Driving?” that isn’t much different than the main tagline of local nonprofit No More Freeways: “Climate leaders don’t widen freeways.”
Also this morning was a meeting of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program where project leaders outlined the Locally Preferred Alternative to elected officials from around the region. One of them, Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty picked apart their presentation and assumptions and offered some of her sharpest opposition yet to the project (full story in a few minutes). And that was Hardesty’s second meeting of the day. She was up early for Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation where she expressed discomfort about ODOT’s plan to toll I-205 and use the money to invest in more freeways.
And as I type this, President Joe Biden is making his way to the Portland Yacht Club on Northeast Marine Drive where he’ll talk up infrastructure projects against the backdrop of the Interstate Bridge. There’s widespread expectation he’ll make an announcement about the project that will expand five miles of I-5 between Portland and Vancouver.
And right as President Biden wraps up his speech, youth activists organized by No More Freeways and Sunrise PDX will gather for another rally at Harriet Tubman Middle School, a school so impacted by the nearby presence of I-5 they had to install an expensive air filtration system and are not permitted to play outside on some days due to toxins in the air spewed from the mufflers of passing cars and trucks.
This inspiring Youth vs ODOT rally has gained considerable strength since we first met them back in June of last year (see the video above). Seeing one of their leaders’ photographs in the New York Times will only serve to build their movement.
Just like the persistent problem they are fighting against, this anti-freeway movement will not go away until something changes. The sooner the powers-that-be realize that, and the sooner they understand that the answer to the NY Times’ question is a resounding “No!”, the better off we will all be.