Nearly 200 orgs nationwide tell lawmakers they want ‘communities over highways’

A fledgling nonprofit with an outlandish name that launched in Portland six years ago, now sees itself alongside 17 other organizations statewide who have come to the same conclusion: “Highway expansions are pulling our country into an environmental, budgetary, and public health crisis and it’s time to end this destructive, unsustainable practice and set a responsible course toward a cleaner and more equitable future.”

No More Freeways formed to fight the I-5 Rose Quarter project in 2017 and has been stalwart in its mission ever since. Today they are one of 195 organizations who signed onto a letter that pressures elected officials to put a moratorium on highway expansions. That line above is just the opening salvo in a call-to-action that not only demands no more freeways, but also offers a prescription to repair our ailing transportation infrastructure machine.

The organizations, led by national nonprofit America Walks, are marshaling their respective troops to contact lawmakers and urge them to pause all existing highway projects until climate, equity, and maintenance goals are met. This demand is similar to what Portland-based activists have been asking the Oregon Department of Transportation to do on the I-5 Rose Quarter project for years now: Complete a full and transparent environmental impact statement before investing more money and time into the wrong kind of project.

In today’s statement, the signees call for “community-first infrastructure” which they define as, “increasing frequent, reliable, and accessible public transportation; policies that build homes close to jobs and amenities; and making neighborhoods healthier, quieter, and safer.”

Instead of continuing to spend billions to make driving on freeways even easier and more convenient, here’s what this new coalition wants DOTs to spend money on:

1. Fix It First: maintain existing roads and bridges before building new, larger ones.
2. Safety Over Speed: retrofit dangerous roads and streets to make them safer for people walking, biking, and driving.
3. Make Transit Work: provide capital and operations funding for reliable, affordable public transportation that connects people to jobs, services, amenities, health care, and each other.
4. Reconnect Communities: dismantle targeted highways and invest in the communities around them to increase opportunity and redress the harms these projects have inflicted.

Here are the 17 Oregon-based groups who’ve sign onto this campaign:

  • 1000 Friends of Oregon
  • 350PDX
  • AORTA-Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates
  • Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation (BEST)
  • BikeLoud PDX
  • Bike Walk Roseburg
  • Breach Collective
  • City Observatory
  • Douglas County Global Warming Coalition
  • Neighbors for Clean Air
  • No More Freeways
  • OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon
  • Oregon Environmental Council
  • Oregon Walks
  • Portland: Neighbors Welcome
  • Strong Towns PDX
  • Verde

See the official call-to-action here.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

36 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Lois Leveen
Lois Leveen
17 days ago

Of all the addictions undermining America’s physical, emotional, and financial well-being, our nation’s addiction to cars/SUVs/minvans/trucks is the most endemic, insidious, and deadly. So endemic and insidious, alas, that most policy makers and members of the public refuse to see how deadly it is.

Watts
Watts
16 days ago
Reply to  Lois Leveen

I think policy makers and the public know full well how dangerous driving is, both to drivers and others on the street. The cost is high, but so are the benefits, and most people aren’t willing to give those up.

Until there is a practical, attractive, affordable alternative available, people will continue driving. I rarely drive myself, and I would love for us to have a system of public transport that would allow me to get rid of my car altogether, but I think it’s important to understand why people prefer driving to other ways of getting around (or, for many destinations where driving is the only option, not going at all).

People don’t have cars because they are “addicted”, they have cars because they are the best transportation option for many people much of the time. Activists like to lament our “addiction”, and in doing so misunderstand the fundamental nature of the issue. For most people, car ownership is an expensive but rational choice.

maxD
maxD
16 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Until there is a practical, attractive, affordable alternative available, people will continue driving.

I agree that our transit network, pedestrian facilities, and bike network are not practical or attractive alternatives, but they could be with commitment from PBOT/ODOT. In addition to providing safe, direct and interconnected bike routes, we SHOULD have a driving network that is more safe. I do not see any evidence that policy makers know or care that driving is dangerous. If they did, they could reduce speed limits and enforce them, ban right-on-red, close dangerous highway exits (Broadway off I5 nb, for one example), raise licensing fee on a scale that increases exponentially by vehicle weight and power, right-size more stroads, and probably a dozen more well-tested tools available to make our transportation system safer. People may love driving AND driving may be the best option right now, but the transportation system we have DOES NOT need to support and even encourage dangerous vehicles and dangerous behaviors. Your comment lets policy makers and transportation bureaus off the hook, implying they are just giving the people what they want, but what people want and what they need is not the exact same thing.

Watts
Watts
16 days ago
Reply to  maxD

the transportation system we have DOES NOT need to support and even encourage dangerous vehicles and dangerous behaviors.

I wholeheartedly agree. I am seeing a number of projects around Portland aimed at making streets safer. I don’t think PBOT has the capacity or funding to do everything everywhere all at once, so this is necessarily a multi-decade project, but it is underway. I would also support rules that make dangerous or inefficient vehicles more expensive or restrict them altogether.

I’m not letting anyone “off the hook” by suggesting that we acknowledge the actual reasons people make the choices the do.

Telling other people that you know better what they need comes off as arrogant, and treating drivers as “addicts” leads to different solutions than understanding why transit (and walking and biking) do not (and probably cannot) serve much of the public well in the real world. We need to find ways to address the (major) downsides to our reliance on cars and trucks that we can actually implement.

We’re entering a period of rapid transition, and that offers a lot of possibility for change. I hope that we make the most of new opportunities rather than doubling down on what hasn’t worked in the past.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

We’re entering a period of rapid transition

We’ve been in a period of rapid transformation for about 200 years! 😉

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor

… maybe 500

Watts
Watts
16 days ago

maybe 500

Indeed; but the rate of change has been accelerating since then, and is likely to continue moving forward. The past (even factoring in its capacity for change) is unlikely to be a reliable guide to the future.

Buckle (your helmet) up!

qqq
qqq
16 days ago

It’d be great if Jonathan could interview Keith Richards.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  qqq

Because of addiction? because of “what a drag it is getting old?” You finally got me qqq, I’m lost.

qqq
qqq
16 days ago

He would have seen firsthand what’s been happening over the past 500 years.

Watts
Watts
16 days ago
Reply to  qqq

It’d be great if Jonathan could interview Keith Richards.

But definitely not Kate Moss.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

Hell, I’d listen to him interview a ham sandwich.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
17 days ago

… and how will these 17 organizations and their members vote next election? Yup, they’ll vote for the same people and somehow expect different results…

Fun to read all the logos, including my friends at Sustain Charlotte, they all do good work.

J1mb0
J1mb0
17 days ago

Wait, where’s Street Trust? This seems like a no brainer for them…

Fred
Fred
17 days ago
Reply to  J1mb0

They can’t offend ODOT, which sustains them.

Keith
Keith
17 days ago

In addition to highway/freeway expansion, there’s an equally insideous problem. New communities in urban growth expansion areas in the Portland area and elsewhere are planned first and foremost to be good for driving. Community livability is certainly an element that’s seriously acknowledged, but it’s clearly in 2nd place. Traffic engineers typically have unchallenged authority to determine the character of the street network including speed limits, intersection spacing, opportunities for pedestrian crossings, number of travel lanes, bicycle accommodation, car-friendly intersection design, etc. More time is spent fretting about the motorist experience than neighborhood livability. This has and will continue to create new urban areas that are car-friendly and hostile to folks who simply want to walk, ride, or take transit. We have a schizophrenic mentality that idealizes active transportation, but then creates new auto-centric communities.

John
John
16 days ago
Reply to  Keith

I saw an Oregonian article a couple days ago about a proposal (proposed or just supported) by Tina Kotek, which would give “some” cities the ability to expand their urban growth boundary one time and give funding to help build out the infrastructure. All in the name of increasing housing supply for the housing emergency.

It entirely boggles the mind. It is THE stupidest thing that can be done. I swear, there is no good political option. Republicans would do something equally dumb or dumber. The ridiculous idea of adding sprawling new crappy suburban houses, all with the needed roads, sewer, electrical, and extra pressure on the arterials / highways they’ll add, it just makes NO sense. No city in Oregon is so built up that you can’t just put in an apartment building or just multi-unit house close into the city center which if you account for the infrastructure they DON’T require and instead spend that money directly on the building, is a far better use of money. It is absolutely bonkers we have people like Kotek pushing this failed, 1950s ass plan in the year 2024. She has got to go (just supporting this drivel makes me wish there was a recall campaign to canvas for), but who would replace her?

Edit: The drivel: https://www.opb.org/article/2024/01/17/tina-kotek-housing-bill/

What’s frustrating too is how badly they frame the opposition. Like, it’s not so much that they’re replacing farm land. It’s that too. It’s how bad this stupid idea is for regular urban planning. Which is, in turn, an environmental problem but it’s so much more.

maxD
maxD
16 days ago
Reply to  John

Oregon has been squandering the great planning that brought us public beaches, Greenways, and UGBs. Planning has been is seriously sharp decline for the past 15 years or so. I share your disgust and frustration.

aquaticko
aquaticko
16 days ago
Reply to  John

I still tend to think that it’s a toxic combination of baseless NIMBYism and understandable though misguided opposition to private development. I’m not pro-private development, but without a much-needed public housing authority, we don’t have anyone else to build high-density housing. Ergo, we have flawed-but-still worthy, generational changes like the MAX system going underutilized for decades because too many stations are still surrounded by single-family homes or worse. This weakens support for good urbanism, investments in non-car infrastructure, etc.

Two major changes that should be receiving greater public attention and support are a city center MAX tunnel, and doing whatever it takes to establish and fund a public housing authority. That latter, in particular, would be a great way to actually substantiate Portland’s reputation as a progressive region.

Watts
Watts
16 days ago
Reply to  aquaticko

Why do you think NIMBYism is “baseless”? I suspect most people you would dismiss as NIMBYs have a pretty good reason for what they believe, if only you would talk to them.

aquaticko
aquaticko
15 days ago
Reply to  Watts

I’m sure they feel they have pretty good reasons, but the root of the matter is simple: NIMBYism comes from fear of change of one kind or another. “Neighborhood character”, moderated housing equity values, whatever; there is no NIMBY issue that is neither remediable or valid, insofar as it deprives people of housing, or cities of sounder finances, or instigates environmental crises.

prioritarian
prioritarian
14 days ago
Reply to  aquaticko

YIMBYism comes from fear of change of one kind or another. The “free” and efficient market, The primacy of developer profits over equity, luxury “market-rate” housing solves the low-income housing crisis, whatever; there is no YIMBY issue that is neither remediable or valid, insofar as it deprives poor people of housing by ignoring the low-income housing crisis, or fails to recognize that the predatory and fraudulent real-estate industry is a primary cause of the low-income housing crisis, or that real estate investors care about profit, not people.

aquaticko
aquaticko
13 days ago
Reply to  prioritarian

I don’t know how you people can still be thinking this nonsense. Housing construction rates have been on the decline everywhere, for decades, with a further step-change down after ’08 from which we still haven’t recovered, and our population is still growing. There is no development happening in most of most U.S. cities, including Metro Portland.

And once again, you put the words “no public housing” in my mouth, when I deny that explicitly. I do not care who builds housing, but more housing must be built. We should work towards establishing a public housing authority; in the meanwhile, doing whatever we can do build housing through the private sector is what we have.

Watts
Watts
14 days ago
Reply to  aquaticko

neither remediable or valid

I’m glad there’s someone here who can set these people straight, to tell them the things they value are “invalid”.

aquaticko
aquaticko
13 days ago
Reply to  Watts

I’m sorry to say that sometimes, people are just wrong. I’m not immune to that charge, but I so no objective reason I am in this case.

Everyone must live somewhere, and there aren’t any intrinsic reasons that it cannot be somewhere there’s already been development, and contrarily, there are intrinsic reasons that it should be somewhere already developed.

Watts
Watts
13 days ago
Reply to  aquaticko

some people are just wrong

Sure… but usually it’s better to hear what they have to say before concluding that.

dw
dw
15 days ago
Reply to  aquaticko

Downtown tunnel should be on the long-term radar, but in the meantime I think it would make a world of difference to replace all the parking lots surrounding MAX right-of-way with housing.

Solar Eclipse
Solar Eclipse
15 days ago
Reply to  dw

So you don’t want a lot of people to ride the Max then as many do drive and park. I used to be one of them.
Maybe we should just get rid of the Max (it’s been a waste of money with little return from day 1) all together and just go with buses. We sure could have a much more flexible transit system. Just look now at the construction that has closed part of Max. Just think if instead of the toy trains we had buses, a construction project could just be driven around by buses. Trains, are stopped in their tracks (ha ha)!

aquaticko
aquaticko
15 days ago
Reply to  Solar Eclipse

….So we take an asset that has, at this point, had billions of dollars invested in it over its lifespan, and rely instead on a higher-cost-per-capacity system? To service our existing suburban sprawl? Rather than investing in higher-tax-revenue redevelopment around the MAX, and investing in the system further as ridership increases?

I’m not sure what some people here don’t get. Some urban development patterns do not work with transit; that includes anything which can get by on buses. If all you need is buses, then your city isn’t dense enough. And I don’t mean “for buses/rail”, I mean it probably is riding the suburban Ponzi scheme to failure that has killed or will kill a lot of American cities the moment that demand for white-picket-fence living has to actually be paid for.

Your city–our city/region–is not dense enough to sustain itself.

Watts
Watts
14 days ago
Reply to  aquaticko

To service our existing suburban sprawl? 

If we want to shift to transit as our primary mode of transport, we’re going to have to provide decent quality transit service to the existing suburban sprawl, unless you think we can abandon it altogether.

I’m not making a case for or against park and rides, or commenting on the landuse around Max stations, but I am urging folks to acknowledge the very real difficulties we’re going to face if we want to significantly reduce auto use.

Some urban development patterns do not work with transit

I agree with this, and there are a lot of people living in these areas. They’re going to need transit too. And I just read this morning that Kotek is urging the legislature to allow developers to build even more of them.

aquaticko
aquaticko
13 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Man, how do you still not get this….The point specifically is to densify our suburban sprawl so that it’s no longer sprawling, around the highest capacity transit nodes that we have–namely the MAX. You should be commenting on land use around MAX stations; that is one of the biggest problems with Metro Portland as I see it.

The changes the MAX needs to become as high-capacity as it could be without being fully metro-fied aren’t major. Platforms at most stations either are already or could cheaply be made to accommodate 4-car sets (i.e., doubling their capacity without any increase in frequency), and signaling upgrades (if necessary) to increase frequency are a major investment, but not half as much as building the MAX originally cost (inflation-adjusted, of course).

People seem to get confused when I mention big cities in context with Portland. Comparing it to NYC, Tokyo, Paris, Seoul, London, etc., seems misguided, but the point is to compare forms of urbanization, not scales. Once you have a large enough urban core to justify a rail system–or anticipate that you might with future economic growth–and the initial investment in a system has been made, land use change towards less car-centric, more transit-centric development patterns becomes the challenge…which this region has done a spectacular job not meeting.

Watts
Watts
12 days ago
Reply to  aquaticko

land use change towards less car-centric, more transit-centric development patterns becomes the challenge

You are absolutely right that if the Portland region had different landuse patterns, it would be easier to serve with transit. But we don’t, and converting our current urban configuration to a much different one would be an expensive, disruptive, and carbon-intensive long-term project that I think most residents have little appetite for, especially given how many people chose to live here instead of cities with a denser development pattern. How many Portlanders living in a single family house with a bit of yard really want to move to a high density apartment building? How many of those in a high density apartment building aspire to move to a single family house?

Just densifying the inner core of the city won’t be enough (transit already works here pretty well for many trips) — you need to make everywhere a lot denser if transit is going to have any hope of working.

Max train capacity is far from the limiting factor for transit in Portland; more significant is the ability (or lack thereof) for TriMet to provide attractive service to the places and times people want to travel, which has become much harder as people have stepped away from the traditional downtown commute.

As to the issue you wish I were talking about, I see the housing vs. park and ride question, like many, through the lens of emissions reduction. If replacing park and rides with housing would reduce emissions, I’d support it. There are a lot of tradeoffs involved with replacing park and rides with housing; perhaps that’s one reason TriMet has not taken this seemingly obvious step. On the other hand, TriMet seems to see no urgency in reducing its carbon emissions. Hopefully this year we’ll see a start of electrification of buses beyond their very limited pilot, but they’re not planning to finish the job until 2040, which just seems insane.

I no longer see TriMet as a force for good — they are a force for self preservation, and, like many bureaucracies, where they do good it’s mostly because it aligns with their primary mission, which is to keep on keepin’ on.

maxD
maxD
16 days ago
Reply to  Keith

Keith, this is great point! I am always surprised and frustrated when I have to drive on Cascade Parkway to visit IKEA or something. Portland planned and designed this from the ground up and it it truly horrible and miserable. It is 100% car focused, but it doesn’t even work well for cars- lanes are repeatedly disappearing and merging. There are hotels but walking is hostile at best. Transit is there, but just kind of in the way- very poorly integrated.

Watts
Watts
16 days ago
Reply to  maxD

It may be that it is simply hard to build a transit oriented development in an environment where transit doesn’t work that well. Because most people aren’t coming by transit, Cascade Mall/Hellscape needs to have tons of parking so non-transit-riding customers can get there, which forces things to spread out in a way that makes access without a car more difficult.

Adding to the challenge is that most people aren’t going to haul Ikea furniture home on the bus or train because it’s heavy and awkward, making even short walks difficult (and if it rains you end up with a box of mush). Even in Europe, Ikeas often have poor transit access. Originally, there was also a Costco in the mall, and not many people leave one of those with transit-friendly purchases either.

So yeah, it’s a crap-assed mall, built the way crap-assed malls are built, and financed the way crap-assed malls are financed, which is to say it’s a lot easier to get money for your crap-assed project if you design it in the same way every other crap-assed project is designed. And with ginormous anchors like Costco and Ikea, it was never going to be transit friendly.

Best to just stay away.

PS The city didn’t design the mall; mega-commercial developer of crap-assery Trammell Crow did, after buying the development rights from Bechtel which got them as partial payment for building the Red Line to the airport.

More than you ever wanted to know:
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ipd/project_profiles/or_airport_max.aspx
https://www.trammellcrow.com/projects/cascade-station

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
15 days ago
Reply to  Watts

The city did approve the mall design, even insisted on certain design changes. It was actually very progressive for its time, but yeah, like all else, it’s now massively out of date.

Watts
Watts
15 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Ironically, that mall was literally the price of Max to the airport.