Big Look and Transportation: Part 2

Taking a “Big Look” at Transportation and Land Use Planning in Oregon – Call To Action

Previously, I explained that there are two transportation and land use programs at work in Oregon: the regulatory program many worry about and the follow-the-money program that matters more.

As Alex Marshall puts it in How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken, “It’s a simple rule: How we get around determines how we live. But it’s a rule we still haven’t grasped. Transportation determines the form of our places.”

What makes sense and what can we do?

To begin with, is important to recognize that the Metro area is integrating transportation and land use planning and investments as well as anywhere in the country. The New Look at regional choices and the Regional Transportation Plan update are both promising efforts.

But the Portland area isn’t an island cut off from the rest of the state. The Portland area will likely need to absorb roughly 1 million of the 2 million additional Oregonians expected in the next 35 years. Moreover, the Portland metro area must compete with other parts of the state for scarce transportation investments, for example, directed to the Damascus area. The fortunes of Portland are tied to the rest of the state.

We simply can’t afford to have the left hand planning one thing while the right hand is investing in something else. We must view planning and investing together, just as we must view transportation and land use together.

Here are four simple things to do:

  1. Contact the “Big Look” Task Force: Tell them they should look at the effects of transportation and other public investments, as much as land use planning regulations, on how Oregon develops.
  1. Contact the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC): Tell them what Alex Marshall said: “It’s a simple rule: How we get around determines how we live. But it’s a rule we still haven’t grasped. Transportation determines the form of our places.” Tell them to push ODOT to invest in ways that better support the Statewide Planning Goals.
  1. Contact the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC): They are accepting comments on the draft Oregon Transportation Plan (OTP) through August 14, 2006. Tell them the $3 billion they invest every biennium affects how the state develops and that they have a responsibility for land use every bit as much as LCDC does. Remind them that in August 1995 former Governor John Kitzhaber directed ODOT to transform itself into a “growth management agency.”
  1. Contact Governor Ted Kulongoski, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Karen Minnis: Tell them to call on the “Big Look” Task Force they appointed to take a big look at our future, one that looks not only at how the state regulates but as importantly how the state invests.

For example, what if the State eliminated all planning requirements but provided funding for planning and awarded public investments only to communities who planned well? Such an idea would turn the land use program from one viewed by some jurisdictions as a state unfunded mandate into one viewed as an opportunity to obtain state investments. This isn’t necessarily a serious idea, but does provide food for thought about what is possible.

Unfortunately, the truth is that probably little is possible if we wait for the current elected leaders to lead. The Governor and Legislature established the “Big Look” Task Force, in part, because they themselves have been unable to agree on how to reform the land use planning program or to implement Measure 37 in a sensible manner. As for the Task Force, in May they adopted a 3-year work plan that appears to be more of a “little look” at what have been the “rubs” in the land use planning program than a “Big Look” at what kind of future Oregonians want and how to best get there. Recently, the Task Force selected six key issues they intend to focus on. Issue #5 is on target: “How should Oregon’s system of infrastructure, finance, and governance influence land use?”

But the Task Force might have a hard time answering the question, “How can the State of Oregon best work with local governments, the private sector and the public to achieve that kind of future Oregonians want?”, if it doesn’t take the time to first ask, “Why do Oregonians enjoy living and working in Oregon?” and “What kind of future do Oregonians want to have for themselves and future generations?”

If we want positive change, we need to come together to figure that out and eventually our elected leaders will follow. The best thing you can do right now is:

  1. Participate in Envision Oregon: Oregonians are already starting to come together to envision the kind of Oregon we want to have and how to best get there. Join me and 300 other citizens who have already pre-registered for the next town hall forum to discuss the future of Oregon on Thursday, August 3, 2006 in Portland from 5:30 pm to 8:45 pm. The event is free and a light supper will be served to those who come early.

Citizens coming together to envision the future won’t make Oregon a better place overnight. But as Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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