Can Portland Have its Climate Goals and Expand its Highways Too?

Portland wants it both ways, but so do most places. But if Portland can't quit the car habit, which cities can?

May 12, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Portland Interchange

Bob Pool / Shutterstock

Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer in April wrote a feature-length, graphics- and image-laden article for the New York Times about Portland’s transportation planning agenda, posing a dilemma that could be repeated all over the country, but with special significance in Portland, a city known for innovative and climate-friendly approaches to land use and transportation planning.

Now the city faces a fresh challenge: To deal with traffic jams, state officials want to expand several major highways around Portland. Critics say that will only increase pollution from cars and trucks at a time when emissions need to fall, and fast.

This comes despite decades of efforts to get residents out of their cars, according to the article.

Over the past few decades, Oregon’s largest city has built an extensive light rail system, added hundreds of miles of bike lanes and adopted far-reaching zoning rules to encourage compact, walkable neighborhoods. Of the 40 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, Portland saw its residents drive the third-fewest miles per day in 2019, on average, behind only New York and Philadelphia.

The three highway projects identified in the article are the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project, an interstate bridge replacement project sometimes referred to as the Columbia River Crossing, and a plan to add lanes and make other changes on I-205.

The political debate over the future of Oregon transportation planning centers on the conflicting goals of emissions reductions and congestion relief—in a city where transportation accounts for the vast majority of carbon dioxide emissions. The source article, linked below, includes discussions of induced demand, electric vehicles, transportation demand management, urban growth boundaries, and automobile dependency, and freeway removal, among other big planning concepts.

Thursday, April 21, 2022 in The New York Times

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