I recently traveled to the Oregon Active Transportation Summit in Salem, Oregon. I was so inspired by the keynote presentation Beyond the Automobile by Mark Gorton (which I happened to videotape) that I wrote a commentary piece for The Oregonian in hopes that I could help spread Gorton’s liveable streets message beyond the choir and also to connect it to the local transportation policy debates around the Columbia River Crossing and free parking in Portland.
On transportation policy, looking for a new Tom McCall: Guest opinion
“Some highway engineers have a mentality … that would run an eight-lane freeway through the Taj Mahal. That is our problem.” — Tom McCall
“We have both explicitly promoted driving in this country as an inherent good and also accommodated it as a necessity. Well, neither of those is true. We need to explicitly be choosing policies that lead to less driving.” — Mark Gorton
By Dan Kaufman
Lawmakers, newspapers, businesses, unions, and even community activists tell us we have no choice but to spend billions on boondoggle freeway expansion projects like the Columbia River Crossing. We need the jobs, they say. They tell us that we must make more spaces for cars to park, but that we could never afford to make streets safe enough for people to walk on (cars are good for business, but apparently people aren’t). I may not be old enough to remember it any other way, but I am old enough to remember Tom McCall. I think the conventional wisdom is wrong.
So listening to Mark Gorton’s “Rethinking the Automobile” speech at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit in Salem last month was heartening. He unapologetically tore apart the conventional wisdom, reminded Oregonians of our past successes in smart planning to accommodate walking, biking and transit, and logically laid out why car-centric policies don’t make sense in the urban environment.
You may not know who Gorton is, and it would be convenient to write him off as some sort of Portland radical, but you can’t. Gorton has more credentials than a room full of CRC proponents. By credentials I don’t just mean Yale, Stanford and Harvard degrees — though he has all of those — Gorton has the experience of running a lucrative business, as well as a successful nonprofit. He was an influential force in overhauling Times Square in New York City, which has significantly benefited New Yorkers, tourists and the business around Times Square.
Gorton reminded his audience that Oregon no longer leads the way when it comes to active transportation, especially in light of state support of the poorly planned CRC freeway project, new rules in Portland that require more car parking spaces, and other backward, automobile-inducing steps. The crowd applauded Gorton for pointing out the folly.
Sadly, Oregonians who share this sentiment no longer have a seat at the decision-making table. It is ironic that our best hope of defeating the Columbia River Crossing comes from out-of-state fiscal conservatives, not green/progressive Oregonians or the organizations who represent them. But at least we have a strong advocates and big thinking back East.
Could Mark Gorton become the Tom McCall of New York? Time will tell. Out here the Tom McCall of Oregon is long dead. It is time we found at least one replacement.
Dan Kaufman is raising a fourth generation of Oregonians with his wife, Kirsten. They own of PDXK Productions.