Case Report: Parallel Session on Transportation/Land Use



On behalf of the City of Portland, I wish to thank our hosts for the kind invitation to be here today and to have this opportunity to address such a distinguished group. I am very pleased to be here to talk about something that is very important to the community in which I work and live. How our City will continue to grow and prosper in such a way that our high quality of life and environmental quality is protected and enhanced is probably the singly most important question facing Portland today.

In the relatively short amount of time I have available here to address you, there are several things I would like to accomplish.

First, I will attempt to lay out the history and background that has shaped the transportation system that Portland enjoys today.

Second, I will describe in some detail the different modal components of our transportation system and talk about where our current initiatives are focused. I will also try to describe how our initiatives directly focus on how we can transition to a more sustainable transportation system.

Third, and lastly, I will discuss what the future appears to look like with some focus on the more difficult challenges Portland faces.

Portland, Oregon is the major metropolitan area in the state, with a metropolitan population of approximately 1.5 million. The rest of the State, with some 2 million people, is much less densely populated with especially the eastern two thirds of the state having very low population densities. The Portland metropolitan area is expected to grow significantly in the next 20 years with some estimates predicting an additional 500,000 people in the next fifteen to twenty years.

The geography of the area has historically had a large impact in how the transportation system has developed over time. Portland is located at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers and originally prospered as the major maritime port north of San Francisco on the American West Coast. To this day, freight and shipping related activities remain important sectors of the Portland economy. The economyŐs former dependence on the extraction of natural resources such as logging, however, has drastically changed, with the largest part of the regional and state economy now being high technology development and manufacturing.

Portland developed along the banks of the Willamette River in the 1840s and grew like most American cities. At the start of the century, we had trolley lines that were built to spur new residential and commercial development. The presence of the trolley created commercial districts around each terminus. People lived where they could easily shop and walk between the trolley stop and their homes. Fifty years later trolleys were out of favor as Americans fell in love with the automobile. Portland took out the trolley tracks and developed large arterial streets and freeways as did other cities throughout the United States. With the increased traffic came air pollution and congestion. Gradually people realized that something needed to be done.

A strong belief in the importance of preserving our natural environment is characteristic of Portlanders and Oregonians. This attribute has shaped and continues to strongly influence our land use and development practices and how we choose to make our investment in transportation infrastructure. In no small part, I believe OregoniansŐ reaction to the pattern of growth of California cities has motivated us to better manage the development of our urban areas and, at least attempt, to create communities where alternative modes of transportation are available and convenient and where urban sprawl is not the norm. In the 1970s a new generation of political leadership realized that cities could do a better job.

In the early 1970s a major freeway expansion that would have required the removal of hundreds of homes through several of PortlandŐs neighborhoods was vehemently opposed by citizens and some of our elected leaders. The freeway project was canceled and the funds were used to help start the first light rail project in Portland. About that same time, a major arterial street that ran along the Willamette River through downtown was closed and the land was turned into an attractive and well-used park.

Also in the early 1970s, concerned about the deterioration of downtown and the emergence of suburban commercial centers, the City created the Downtown Plan to guide public investments in the Downtown and to preserve its role as the commercial and cultural center of the region. A goal of increasing transitŐs share of trips to downtown to 75 % was established. A north-south transit mall was planned and developed; the transit system transferred from private to public ownership and new funding sources for transit were created. Regulations to restrain the supply of new parking developments were approved intended to encourage transit readership and address chronic carbon monoxide pollution problems. Improving the retail and pedestrian environment in the downtown areas became a priority. This was accomplished through public investment and land use requirements that mandated design review, ground floor retail and public art.

One of the most significant actions taken at the state level also occurred in this time period. The state legislature passed a piece of landmark legislation which established state wide land use planning goals, together with the requirement to set an urban growth boundary around urban areas in the state. This urban growth boundary, which largely prevents unplanned growth from occurring, remains the Portland regionsŐs most important tool to ensure that land use and transportation development decisions are coordinated and integrated.

These initiatives have all served Portland well and have contributed substantially to the quality of life and the success our downtown currently enjoys. Portland and the region have continued to build on our international reputation for good planning and innovation. I would now like to summarize current activities and give a brief description of the different transportation system components.

The management of growth, the control of sprawl and concerns about traffic congestion and environmental degradation are very serious concerns for Oregonians. The understanding of the relationship of land use development to transportation choices and auto travel demand are becoming better understood. In the Portland regionŐs long-range planning efforts, transportation infrastructure will drive development patterns and densities. Development will be concentrated along major transit corridors-both rail and bus. Housing, employment and retail land uses will be integrated to reduce the demand for auto travel and to provide a better market for public transit and alternative modes of transportation.

Light rail is the backbone of our regional transportation, land use and growth management plans and strategies. PortlandŐs commitment to light rail was solidified in 1986 when the regionŐs first light rail line opened and was enthusiastically received by the public. Voters of the metro area have continued their support for light rail: a second line will open in 1998 and a third line is in the planning stages. A streetcar system is also being developed. Currently transit, light rail and busses, carry 40 % of all work trips to downtown.

From a policy perspective, the State of Oregon and the City of Portland are committed to the creation of multi-modal transportation systems and compact patterns of urban growth. In addition to transit, we are planning for and investing in improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities throughout the metropolitan area.

The City has made a concerted effort to provide for a true bicycle network which allows residents to safely use a bike to accomplish shorter trips. Although far from adequate in terms of funding, the bicycle network has increased by 60 miles or 100 % in just the last ten years. Equal attention has been paid to the necessary terminal facilities such as safe and protected bicycle parking. The stated goal is to move from a current mode split for bicycles in the 2-4 % range to 10 % in the next ten years. By American standards, this is a very ambitious goal. In recognition of PortlandŐs achievements to date, the City was named ŇThe Best Bicycle City in the USÓ by Bicycle Magazine last year.

An equal effort is being made to provide for safe walking facilities along major streets. A pedestrian master plan has been created to complement the new bicycle master plan and street construction standards have changed to ensure that pedestrians are accommodated as part of new street infrastructure.

The Portland region has for some time been working with the private development community to encourage, and sometimes require, that travel demand reduction measures be undertaken. As of last year, employers with more than 50 employees must complete and implement travel demand reduction plans. These plans depend on providing incentives for employees to use alternative modes of transportation, or other measures such as flextime, variable working hours, and telecommuting to reduce travel demand.

The last transportation mode I need to discuss is the one that despite the problems it brings, remains the most important one. Some would argue that it is the single most influential phenomenon in the twentieth century-the private automobile and truck based freight transport. Even if Portland is successful in its ambitious plans for alternative modes of transportation, the car will remain the most common travel choice and the truck vital in the movement of goods. Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technologies such as Advanced Public Transit Systems, Incident Management Systems, and Advanced Traffic Management Systems are going to have to be utilized to ensure that we get the most return on our investment in the street infrastructure which has been built to date.

No discussion of PortlandŐs transportation situation is complete without describing several of the key policies the City has adopted over the last several years. The Central City Transportation Management Plan is the vehicle for how the different central city areas will develop to their full potential without causing massive congestion and air quality problems. The City Energy Policy and Carbon Dioxide Reduction Strategy are both vitally important plans for how the City will move to a more energy efficient and sustainable future. As such, they also provide compelling policy support for achieving a multi modal transportation system which give our residents true travel choices.

Let me now conclude by briefly talking about the primary challenges to the vision for a more sustainable transportation future which Portland has articulated. These are the key questions whose answers will determine if Portland can truly become a new model for urban development in the 21st Century. I suspect that many of you also face these same issues.

Will land use/transportation linkages work? Will future development focus in the high density transit corridors and station areas?

Will local zoning codes be changed to accommodate these higher densities?

Will our regional growth boundary be maintained to force development to occur at higher densities?

Will the necessary investments for transit infrastructure and transit operations be supported by the voters?

Will the citizens of the region be willing to modify life styles and live in communities that are more dense and oriented to the transit system and not the automobile?

Portland started as a transportation center 150 years ago and continues to be shaped by transportation issues today. We have been able to correct some of the mistakes of our past and to build a present that has avoided some of the transportation problems that plague other cities. Portland has done well during the last fifteen years in meeting the challenge of making the right land use and transportation investment decisions, and has justifiably earned a national reputation in doing so. If there is one thing I am sure of, it is that the future will be at least as challenging - if not more so.

Thank you for your kind attention!


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