Portland not alone on transportation's leading edge
For years now, states, cities, and communities across the country have watched Portland, Oregon, emerge as a leader in urban transportation. From streetcars to light rail to bike lanes, Portland has been touted by more than one Secretary of Transportation for its forward thinking.
But today, other communities are joining the ranks of transportation innovators. Places like Omaha and Richmond are building bus rapid transit. Indianapolis is building bicycle and pedestrian paths, and like Portland, they’re seeing safety improve and businesses grow in the process.
Still I did see some evidence in Portland on Wednesday that the Rose City is not giving up its innovation title without a fight.
Exhibit A? The Tilikum Crossing.
The Tilikum Crossing --also known as "the Bridge of the People"-- stretches over the Willamette River and accommodates light rail, streetcars, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians. But not cars or trucks. The crossing creates safe passage for bicyclists and pedestrians and a faster alignment for transit. And though private vehicles cannot use the bridge, by routing transit vehicles over the crossing, Portland is reducing traffic on other roadways.
Exhibit B is TriMet’s light rail project. This service will extend transit options, tying together Portland State University, inner Southeast Portland, Milwaukie, and north Clackamas County with downtown. TriMet expects that building the light rail line will create more than 14,000 jobs, with 100,000 more to come once service begins.
These are the latest examples of a long-term vision from a city that knows we can only add so many lanes to our roads –that, unless we provide more transportation choices like transit or safe bicycle lanes, our commutes will just get longer.
And when our population swells by 100 million more people in the next 35 years, they will get even longer.
And that's a problem. Because when our commutes and freight delivery routes slow down, our nation slows down. That's an outcome Portland can't afford, and it's an outcome you can't afford.
The innovative projects I saw in Portland? We'll need them elsewhere, too. But the short-term transportation extension Congress passed at the 11th hour jeopardizes our ability to invest in smart projects like these. That Band-Aid also expires in May, just as the transportation construction season begins to pick up, just as thousands of workers are planning to get to job sites.
We've got to get Congress to give us the resources to help communities all across America realize their vision and build safer, more reliable transportation capable of handling the increased load the future will impose.
That’s why DOT sent Congress a long-term, transportation funding proposal called the GROW AMERICA Act. This bill would boost funding for all modes of transportation; it would invest $302 billion over four years, giving states and metro areas the time they need to plan big projects. And, it's fully paid-for; it won't add to our deficit.
Now, I've been barnstorming the country in support of GROW AMERICA recently and writing Fast Lane blog posts like these. And sometimes people ask me, "Why are you banging your head against the wall of Congress for this bill?"
I'll tell you why. It's not about a bill; it's about people trying to live their lives and --maybe, just maybe-- get ahead a little bit, get a little closer to the American Dream.
It's about the future of communities like Portland. Like Omaha and Richmond. Like Indianapolis. Like yours.