My View: Portland was progressive transportation capital, and can be again
As the Biden administration announces cabinet picks, it's clear that addressing climate change and systemic inequities will be at the forefront of the new administration's work.
The hope that these cabinet picks bring for our climate makes it all the more striking that, despite intense opposition, the Oregon Department of Transportation has continued to plan I-5 expansion through the Rose Quarter. ODOT stubbornly clings to a 20th century solution to traffic congestion — highway widening — that multiple studies show does not decrease traffic. Expanding the interstate also promises to further exacerbate air pollution in the Albina neighborhood and to increase emissions that accelerate global climate change.
Portland was long looked to as an innovator in transportation for similar-sized cities, but that is no longer the case. By reversing course on this expansion and reallocating dollars, we have the opportunity to once again become a national leader in sustainable transportation, and to do so while working to address generational systemic inequities. Rather than spend $800 million on highway expansion, the state should invest in projects in the Portland area that have been proven to reduce congestion, and in programs that educate a diverse group of future leaders and elevate climate-neutral innovations. On the transportation side, we should add Bus Rapid Transit lines, particularly into East Multnomah County, and make our public transportation more efficient by expanding the Rose Lane Project. In 2018, the city identified 450 miles of streets suitable for protected bike lanes, but only a few miles have been built. Additional funds would help build significant miles of lanes, connecting East Portland neighborhoods to the urban core. Smaller grants can be applied to innovative solutions such as the Willamette River Ferry and E-Bike credits for low-income residents.
We can help address inequities by investing in new programs at Portland, Mount Hood, and Clackamas community colleges. These programs would train students on techniques to make communities more climate resistant — home weatherization and energy efficiency; reforestation; sustainable transportation; renewable energy; and disaster preparedness. Upon completion of a certificate program, students would spend the next year in paid service with non-governmental organizations and local government organizations implementing what they learned. Upon completion of their service, these students will earn a stipend for additional education or to purchase a home in their community. These programs would serve as a model for other communities nationally, and build a core of climate and sustainability leaders who come from communities most likely to be impacted by the effects of climate change.
In its Vision Statement, the Albina Vision Trust imagines a future Albina neighborhood will be "seamlessly connected to the river and its surrounding neighborhoods." Additional funds will help Albina Vision Trust and other community organizations to make the best decisions about the sustainable futures of their own neighborhoods. Granted, these proposals would mean a dramatic reallocation of how we spend our dollars at a state level. But it's increasingly clear that we need dramatic action in order to fight the impacts of climate change and societal inequities.
Rather than invest in a project that accelerates a transportation mode that has put our planet on the brink, we could address the impacts of climate change, reduce inequality, and develop a new generation of leaders with the knowledge to lead Portland and communities beyond.
Glenn Fee is a Portland resident.
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