Freeways or Neighborhoods? We can't have it both ways.
ODOT, in partnership with PBOT & BPS are proposing freeway widening and bridge demolition in the Rose Quarter under the auspices of the “Central N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plans” project. The current proposals start on page 27 of this PDF from the open house boards: http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?a=355067&c=53634
Be prepared, they are all pretty awful. Their ‘choices’ are unacceptable. All of them.
This was a “freeway improvement” project from the start. The public process was a sham. Their 13 freeway choices were determined before the process even began. It doesn’t matter how much input the public provides if they are just going to filter it down to the choices they want most.
The overview says:
The Central N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plans are collaborative efforts.. to integrate land use and urban design planning with freeway planning
What will the products be?
The N/NE Quadrant and I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plans will result in:
- A long-range plan for the N/NE Quadrant of the Central City, including a land use/urban design concept, policies and implementation strategies that direct and inform development within the quadrant over the next 25 years.
- An I-5 facility plan that identifies a preferred concept for freeway and related local transportation improvements near the Broadway/Weidler interchange to occur within the next 5 – 10 years.
This project appears to be spearheaded by freeway engineers, not urban planners. Consider the following question:
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES ON THE FREEWAY THAT
SHOULD BE ADDRESSED IN PLANNING FOR IMPROVEMENTS TO I‐5 IN
THE N/NE QUADRANT? (choose 2)
Freight / Freeway Congestion / Travel Time
Safety / Reliability / Access
First of all, can they stop claiming that converting cash to pavement really counts as an “improvement”? Next, can they ask for input on what our values actually are, instead of the six canned responses that are really just six ways of saying, Yes, more freeway, please! Robert Moses would be so proud.
Next, 12 out of their 13 concepts include adding more lanes to I-5. Do we not live in a Portland, a city known for great urban planning, reduced auto-dependence, and our successful efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? And are we not living in the year 2011, and aren’t freeways, like, sooo last century? And finally, can someone please tell me why on earth we built I-205 if we are just going to continue adding “auxiliary lanes” to I-5, indefinitely?
Lets ask some questions that get at what people really care about. Like, Do you want to see “auxiliary lanes” added to a freeway in your neighborhood? No? OK, here’s another quick one that should be added to their survey: Do you still want a freeway in your neighborhood, dumping diesel dust down your kids’ throats? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Or perhaps to save on ink they could simply ask: How do you like asthma?
Albert Einstein once had this keen insight: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”. I’ve always thought that Portland was a town filled with insightful people, so isn’t it about time for creative plans and 21st century solutions? Years ago, one could claim that our city was forward thinking and insightful. We set the bar high when we removed Harbor Drive and built the Waterfront Park in its place. We demonstrated the power of grassroots political power and innovative thinking when we killed the Mt. Hood Freeway and reallocated the money to construct the eastside MAX. But since then we’ve fallen behind the times. Cities near and far have not simply followed in our footsteps; they’ve surpassed us in the battleground of livability vs. motorism. Consider the following few cases.
Where a Freeway Once Stood. San Francisco Embarcadero. Photo: Dewet/Wikipedia
San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway is now the famous Embarcadero Boulevard, and they replaced a portion of their Central Freeway with what is now Octavia Boulevard (using some money from selling excess right of way to pay for the project).
In Seoul, South Korea, a man who advocated removing the Cheonggye Freeway (which, incidentally, carried nearly the same traffic as the I-5 bridge over the Columbia) was given a mandate to do so when the city elected him Mayor. Within five years he had, in one swift stroke, removed the freeway, restored the river it previously marred, created a Bus Rapid Transit system to accommodate the shifting transportation needs, and opened a linear waterfront park which spurred the area’s economic revival. The traffic snarls that some predicted never appeared. Was it politically popular? Well yeah: that man was Lee Myung-bak, who was elected President just two years after the freeway was felled.
Even the south is more forward thinking than we are. For example: New Orleans, Louisiana. There, just as in Portland, an interstate was built which displaced inner city residents and businesses. Down in the Big Easy, construction of the Claiborne Expressway resulted in the removal of 500 Oak trees along what was once a beautiful boulevard, and lead to the decimation of a thriving black business district (where once were 120 businesses, now fewer than thirty remain). In Portland the construction of I-5 leveled huge swathes of neighborhoods, as shown in the photo linked to above. New Orleans is certainly different than Portland. They have the heat, hurricanes, and wet t-shirt contests. And when it comes to roads, their thinking is as different as the weather: when it was time to think about expensive maintenance on their interstate, they instead decided to consider removing it completely.
Eastbank Freeway's Marquam Bridge. Photo: Steve Vance
Any Portland planner worth their weight in beans should know a few things:
1) The Eastside freeway is an eyesore. As is the Marquam bridge. The comment from former Mayor Katz applies equally to both: “It’s like having the Berlin Wall dividing east and west, with all the subtle charm of the Daytona 500 smack dab in the middle of our city.”
2) Even if a freeway were a masterpiece of art, it’d still be the culprit responsible for evils such as asthma, obesity, global warming, and of course freeway congestion (and as everyone knows, the only way to get rid of freeway congestion is to get rid of the freeway itself).
3) When it comes to planning, the planner who controls the options controls the outcomes.
But freeway expansions are not inevitable. Not a given. Not a certain conclusion to the transportation story of our city. The people of Portland need to return to our forward-thinking roots and demand better from the State. We need more options. We need to ask the right questions and demand better answers.
Lets make this happen. Lets not just support a ‘no build’ option. Lets do congestion pricing on the I-5 and I-205 bridges. Lets tear out the Eastbank I-5 and demolish the Marquam. Redesignate I-205 as I-5. And instead of building the CRC, we’ll use a small chunk of the cash to build the 30 year $600 million bike plan in only 10 years.
We can do anything. Just as long as we don’t start by building more freeways.