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  1. #1
    littlecircles bmike's Avatar
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    Portlanders - is this true?

    Found this today while doing some background reading on the now infamous (in BikeForum world anyways) ADC.

    Though many people consider Portland, Oregon, a model of 21st–century urban planning, the region's integrated land–use and transportation plans have greatly reduced the area's livability. To halt urban sprawl and reduce people's dependence on the automobile, Portland's plans use an urban–growth boundary to greatly increase the area's population density, spend most of the region's transportation funds on various rail transit projects, and promote construction of scores of high–density, mixed–use developments.

    When judged by the results rather than the intentions, the costs of Portland's planning far outweigh the benefits. Planners made housing unaffordable to force more people to live in multifamily housing or in homes on tiny lots. They allowed congestion to increase to near–gridlock levels to force more people to ride the region's expensive rail transit lines. They diverted billions of dollars of taxes from schools, fire, public health, and other essential services to subsidize the construction of transit and high–density housing projects.

    Those high costs have not produced the utopia planners promised. Far from curbing sprawl, high housing prices led tens of thousands of families to move to Vancouver, Washington, and other cities outside the region's authority. Far from reducing driving, rail transit has actually reduced the share of travel using transit from what it was in 1980. And developers have found that so–called transit–oriented developments only work when they include plenty of parking.

    Portland–area residents have expressed their opposition to these plans by voting against light rail and density and voting for a property–rights measure that allows landowners to claim either compensation or waivers for land–use rules passed since they purchased their property. Opposition turned to anger when a 2004 scandal revealed that an insider network known as the "light–rail mafia" had manipulated the planning process to direct rail construction contracts and urban–renewal subsidies to themselves.

    These problems are all the predictable result of a process that gives a few people enormous power over an entire urban area. Portland should dismantle its planning programs, and other cities that want to maintain their livability would do well to study Portland as an example of how not to plan.
    Here's the PDF, and the HTML of the full paper. If I find the time and the stomach, I'm going to try and give it a read tonight... (my quick scan shows its fairly biased)



    What is the feedback from on the ground? I love Portland, from visiting about 7 years ago... and even tried to relocate there as I really admired many of the bold steps the city was taking to handle 'growing up'. I miss it, and hope to get back soon.

    What are your thoughts?

  2. #2
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    It's a crock. Nothing more than pro-sprawl, pro-automobile propaganda from a pro-sprawl, pro automobile "astroturf" group. It's a supreme moment of irony that the author's name is "tool."

  3. #3
    littlecircles bmike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Order View Post
    It's a crock. Nothing more than pro-sprawl, pro-automobile propaganda from a pro-sprawl, pro automobile "astroturf" group. It's a supreme moment of irony that the author's name is "tool."
    love the astroturf reference. i'll have to remember that...

  4. #4
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    Housing is getting more expensive here. And the roads are getting more congested here. But it's not because planners are trying to make housing more expensive and roads more congested. It's because more people are moving here.

    If anything, Portland is famous for trying to make the roads less congested by making them more bike-friendly, and by expanding public transit-- something that's happening as I type this...
    Last edited by Blue Order; 08-12-07 at 04:26 PM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    I also think it's a crock. Housing costs in Portland have certainly risen in the last 20 years, as they have everywhere on the west coast, but housing in Portland is still more affordable that in either San Francisco to the south or Seattle to the north. Furthermore, light rail works; back in the 70's now ex-mayor and ex-governor Neil Goldschmidt led the fight to kill the Mount Hood freeway, which would have destroyed the wonderful neighborhood I now live in, and the city used the money to build the first light rail line instead. The light rail has been a tremendous success, expanding from one to three (soon to be four) lines, all with very strong ridership numbers. Traffic congestion is certainly on the rise, but again, not as bad as either San Francisco or Seattle.

    It sounds to me like Randal O'toole has a sour grapes attitude, he's fled the city for the vastly less populated south coast. He made his reputation fighting Old Growth logging, which IMO was a good thing, but he's lost it with his support of the ADC.

    The central city in Portland is a preautomobile city that grew up along streetcar lines with wonderful little neighborhoods and small local commercial districts. These older parts of town are fully built out, are eminently bikable and transit friendly, with no more room to add new roads or widen existing ones. Even with the urban growth boundary, it is the outlying suburban development that fuels local traffic congestion.

    A much better resource than Randal O'Toole would be Gordon Price, an urban planner and five term former Vancouver BC city councilor who speaks eloquently on the inability to ever build new roads fast enough to keep pace with the growth in the number of private motor vehicles added to the system each year. One of the wonderful things about Vancouver is that they successfully kept the interstate highways out of the central city, and it certainly hasn't prevented Vancouver from becoming probably the most vibrant, livable and economically important city on the entire west coast.
    Last edited by randya; 08-12-07 at 05:59 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by randya View Post
    It sounds to me like Randal O'toole has a sour grapes attitude, he's fled the city for the vastly less populated south coast. He made his reputation fighting Old Growth logging, which IMO was a good thing, but he's lost it with his support of the ADC.
    I'm almost embarassed now to have his forestry book on my shelf. And oddly, he's a cyclist, even though he's now devoting his energies to a pro-automobile, pro-sprawl agenda.

    Quote Originally Posted by randya View Post
    The light rail has been a tremendous success, expanding from one to three (soon to be four) lines, all with very strong ridership numbers.
    Not to mention the streetcars our probable next mayor proposes to lace the city with.

    One battle cyclists may be facing here in portland will be to keep our access to light rail. There's some reason to believe that Trimet may be cutting bike access during rush hour, rather than expanding service. If they are considering that, it will be up to us to make sure that doesn't happen, and it will be up to us to make sure that cyclists instead have expanded access to light rail, whether it's by adding more cars to existing trains during rush hour (even if that means delaying auto traffic when a train is at the platform), or adding trains during rush hour. My personal preference would be one car per train with expanded space for bicycles.

  7. #7
    tired donnamb's Avatar
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    Another Portlander who thinks it's a crock... If what he was saying about housing prices were true, then housing in greater Seattle and the Bay Area should be less expensive than Portland. After all, they place no barriers on sprawl. It's not. Hey, I'm not happy about the cost of real estate. I live in the same neighborhood as randya, and I will honestly tell you that I could not afford to own a house here. Thing is, housing costs seem to be high in all areas whose economy isn't in the toilet. Randall O'Toole lives in Bandon? That's one of the most economically depressed areas of the state. People move from Coos County and head north because there's no work to be had. In nearby Josephine County, they've shut the library system down, and are discussing closing the Sherriff's Department (the only law enforcement in the county!) and county jail because of lack of funds. He ought to be sweeping his own front porch before he attempts to sweep others'.

    As for public transit here, it's not a perfect system. Please show me anything created by human beings that is "perfect". It's certainly better that most places in North America.

    I also agree with randya - Gordon Price is the man!
    "Real wars of words are harder to win. They require thought, insight, precision, articulation, knowledge, and experience. They require the humility to admit when you are wrong. They recognize that the dialectic is not about making us look at you, but about us all looking together for the truth."

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    I don't live in Portland, but I've spent several days in the past couple weeks traversing it by public transit, personal car, and bicycle. From what I've experienced, that is totally off base, while I don't know the ins and outs of the funding allocations and the politics involved with supposedly taking funds from other programs and stuff; from street level, what they are doing/trying to do works. The public transit is easy to navigate, clean and from what I saw on time. Housing in Portland, expensive? well, maybe if you live in Midwest there would be some sticker shock. Portland is easily one of the cheapest major cities that I know of.

    Quote Originally Posted by donnamb View Post
    Hey, I'm not happy about the cost of real estate. I live in the same neighborhood as randya, and I will honestly tell you that I could not afford to own a house here.
    When you really think about it, who can afford to own a home? anywhere?
    Horse-free.

  9. #9
    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    It's also more than ironic that Randal O'Toole helped kill the old growth forestry economy in the part of the state in which he now resides, and now he spends his time ragging on Portland*, the current economic engine of Oregon. Follow the money, Portlanders pay the taxes that keep the rest of the state afloat.

    *or perhaps more specifically, on METRO, the tri-county regional government that is responsible for managing long-range planning within the urban growth boundary in the Portland metropolitan area

  10. #10
    littlecircles bmike's Avatar
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    thanks all. what i thought. i spent an extended stay there in the late 90's and loved every minute of it. worked really hard to move out there, and some days really wish i had, especially with all the bike stuff going on... but, i ended up in a great place - similar spirit here in burlington, without the size... but we have alot of work to do.

    i expected as much. aside from my personal feelings, the paper itself turned out to be very disappointing - even from a journalistic / research point of view. it certainly is clever, in the way it weaves many unrelated issues into the debate - but sad that it left me feeling sick to my stomach. (i sensed some foresterisms in the paper... must be a common tactic for defeating other's ideas) i fully realized its 'hit job' status when i read the passage about 'every american's dream of owning a home'... sure, people want safe places to live - but come on already - break out the apple pie, the veterans, kiss some babies, strike up the national anthem, and the line up the amputee dogs for the parade!

    donnamb - we happen to own a town house here - but real estate here and in other places i've lived has always been pricey. we sort of wish we had waited a year. the market really deflated in the last 3 months - our neighbors keep dropping their price on a townhouse very similar to ours. we'll have to wait for a good rebound to get our money out now. i do think housing was in a bubble though. i am just finishing transitioning from working in the business (design / specialty construction of mid to high end 'green' homes - but i've had enough!) and i've been amazed these last 3 years as to what people were paying for!

  11. #11
    Portland Fred banerjek's Avatar
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    As much as I like to dump on a lot of things about Portland, I think this would much more accurately be labeled a "polemic" than a "policy analysis".

    For a variety of reasons (including the congestion and high housing prices mentioned in the article), I would not want to live in Portland. However, I'd live there long before I would in just about many other areas. The policies the article cites as causing Portland's problems are why the city is as nice as it is.

  12. #12
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    yeah, if fate moved the American Dream Coalition's 'bicyclist' affiliates like randall o'toole and john forester to the greater PDX area, they would probably choose to live in Beaverton and endlessly complain about the bike lanes on the Beaverton/Hillsdale highway - while driving past them in their automobiles.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

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    Wait a minute, I didn't realize it was the Cato Institution. Libertarians, no wonder it seemed insane.
    Horse-free.

  14. #14
    Safety Zealot wyeast's Avatar
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    While I think most of it is a crock. I will say that while our housing prices are lower than Seattle and SFO, our incomes are also lower on average. So I think when comparing median housing prices to median incomes, Portland is somewhat expensive to live in. I'm still in shock with how much houses cost around here these days.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Placid Casual's Avatar
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    It is certainly a pro-automobile and pro-sprawl paper, but I would hardly call the Cato Institute an astroturfing organization. Astroturfing is a tactic where highly organized, well funded groups pretend to be grassroots activists; the Cato Institute doesn't pretend to be anything other than a libertarian Washington think tank.
    Simplistic Ideologies R Coffins

  16. #16
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    The only mention of bikes in the article is Ikea's policy of giving free delivery to people who ride their bikes to the store. Cool.

    On the article's subject, I support anti-sprawl policies, but the policies do have costs. Transportation planners ignore those costs at their peril. Making it difficult to get out of the city by car does increase housing prices in the city. Anti-spawl policies aren't the only factor, of course, but they are a factor.

  17. #17
    tired donnamb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daily Commute View Post
    Making it difficult to get out of the city by car does increase housing prices in the city. Anti-spawl policies aren't the only factor, of course, but they are a factor.
    Regionally speaking, I have found it far more difficult to get out of urban and suburban Seattle by car than Portland. Last summer I was in a wedding and needed to get to a department store 5 miles from my friend's house in Bellevue. We're talking suburban wide arterials and super huge freeways here. The entire 10 mile round trip took me 2 hours - 20 minutes of which was actually spent in the mall. I even went at a time my friend said would be lower traffic. It was truly the car trip from hell. During that trip, the Sunday paper highlighted the last 4 neighborhoods in the Seattle "metro" area that had housing affordable for families that earn the median income. They were all 45-50 miles away from the center of Seattle. I just couldn't get over how 50 miles away is still considered the "metro area".

    Every time I go up there, they're widening a road. Every time I go up there, the traffic is noticibly worse. Every time I go up there, I hear how owing a house is just about impossible. (I don't know a lot of wealthy people.) Sprawl sure has done a lot for them, it seems.

    All I know is that the next time I go up there, the bike is coming with me. I don't care how many steep hills I have to walk it up.
    "Real wars of words are harder to win. They require thought, insight, precision, articulation, knowledge, and experience. They require the humility to admit when you are wrong. They recognize that the dialectic is not about making us look at you, but about us all looking together for the truth."

  18. #18
    Portland Fred banerjek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wyeast View Post
    While I think most of it is a crock. I will say that while our housing prices are lower than Seattle and SFO, our incomes are also lower on average. So I think when comparing median housing prices to median incomes, Portland is somewhat expensive to live in. I'm still in shock with how much houses cost around here these days.
    This is one of the side effects of the urban growth boundary, and you can see a similar dynamic in other cities. That makes it hard to move in, which is a bad deal if you are not already there. That is one of the reasons I don't live there. However, unchecked and unplanned growth is far worse even if you are coming in from the outside.

    This article is not worth the network bandwidth and hard disk space it consumes. Supposedly about planning, much of the "analysis" seems to relate to sex scandals and political intrigue. The good news is that it alerts us to things people could have hardly guessed, e.g.

    For Goldschmidt, the big advantage of light rail was that it was expensive, easily costing enough to absorb most of the federal funds that had been allocated to the Mt. Hood Freeway

    With all the things a governor has to worry about, who would have guessed that the real purpose of a major project was to simply divert and waste funds? I'll bet even Goldschmidt didn't know himself. The paper is only 18 pages long, so thankfully the author chose to dedicate the rest of the space to similar insights rather than wasting time presenting boring evidence.

  19. #19
    littlecircles bmike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by banerjek View Post
    This is one of the side effects of the urban growth boundary, and you can see a similar dynamic in other cities. That makes it hard to move in, which is a bad deal if you are not already there. That is one of the reasons I don't live there. However, unchecked and unplanned growth is far worse even if you are coming in from the outside.

    This article is not worth the network bandwidth and hard disk space it consumes. Supposedly about planning, much of the "analysis" seems to relate to sex scandals and political intrigue. The good news is that it alerts us to things people could have hardly guessed, e.g.

    For Goldschmidt, the big advantage of light rail was that it was expensive, easily costing enough to absorb most of the federal funds that had been allocated to the Mt. Hood Freeway

    With all the things a governor has to worry about, who would have guessed that the real purpose of a major project was to simply divert and waste funds? I'll bet even Goldschmidt didn't know himself. The paper is only 18 pages long, so thankfully the author chose to dedicate the rest of the space to similar insights rather than wasting time presenting boring evidence.
    I love that quote about the Mt. Hood highway... so if all the funds were absorbed by road building it would have been OK?

    Look at some of the neighborhoods in NY that were destroyed by Robert Moses freeway building spree... I think Portland did the right thing, in the long term - which is still very much in front of us.

  20. #20
    Senior Member pmseattle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by donnamb View Post
    All I know is that the next time I go up there, the bike is coming with me. I don't care how many steep hills I have to walk it up.

    Then make sure you don't come up on Amtrak, at least before 2008. The Talgo trains are out of service and they won't let you bring a bike on the Superliner.

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    I would say, if he wants to see what happens when unchecked growth occurs *without* such planning, come on over to Northern Virginia. We have about the worst traffic in the country (I think next to LA), and I'd bet we'll overtake them at some point. Our house prices have also gone up because, without the planned increase in density, not enough affordable housing can be built. Additionally, all the growth has been pushed to marginal areas that were farmland 15 years ago, meaning that suburban areas with high populations are serviced by lots of twisting, labrynthine networks of small roads.

    He is right about one thing, anyway - if you build rail stations in suburban areas, you better build lots of parking, or people can't get to them. Our area is fighting with that as we attempt - ever so slowly - to get rail built.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daily Commute View Post
    The only mention of bikes in the article is Ikea's policy of giving free delivery to people who ride their bikes to the store.
    Man, if they did that here I could have saved a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

    Not to mention gas.

  23. #23
    Senior Member randya's Avatar
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    Houston is the largest unzoned, unplanned city in the country, and the ADC seems to be celebrating that fact.




  24. #24
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    Sounds like a crock to me. Here in the Buffalo NY there have been various articles written comparing Buffalo to Portland. There are a lot of size, age, and other similarities. We (Buffalo) is suffering from urban sprawl. There is an ever increasing ring of urban blight that spreads out from the city center. Honestly the city and its surrounding areas are clearly doing much better than they were back in the mid 1980's when they lost a large portion of its manufacturing job base. Due to the fact that our sub urbs could just keep on growing at the expense of the city. As a result we do have some of the most affordable housing on the East coast... but on the other hand for a better part of 15 years the housing prices stayed nearly static. During this same time Portland grew inward and revitalized much better than many other comparable cities. What Portland did seems to have worked a lot better than what most other cities have been doing.

    Happy riding,
    André

  25. #25
    Portland Fred banerjek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Underbridge View Post
    I would say, if he wants to see what happens when unchecked growth occurs *without* such planning, come on over to Northern Virginia. We have about the worst traffic in the country (I think next to LA), and I'd bet we'll overtake them at some point.
    My bro lives out there -- the traffic there is mind blowing. But look on the sunny side. If you work in a place like DC, you could probably live 50 miles away and still get in faster by bike than by car most days.

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