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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
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(Data edited by Dr. Rˇbinson Rojas)

4. Urban Transportation

Box 4.2 Setting Limits Pays Off in Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon, is often considered one of the most livable and best-planned cities in the United States (1). During the 1960s and 1970s, however, Portland faced problems similar to those of many other urban areas in the United States. Urban sprawl was leading to extensive suburban development, while the downtown area was plagued with decaying buildings, vacant lots, and social problems. Heavy car use was increasing levels of congestion, noise, and air pollution (2). Yet, Portland has largely managed to reverse these trends through integrated land use and transportation planning.

A key component of Portland's success was a statewide land use law establishing urban growth boundaries around metropolitan areas. With only a finite supply of land available for urban expansion, Portland was forced to find ways to encourage development within the urban boundary limits (3).

To encourage revitalization of the downtown area, a segment of downtown roadway was replaced with an urban park, a limit was placed on the allowable number of downtown parking spaces, and road construction projects were scrapped in favor of new transit lines. Then, zoning regulations were established to encourage high residential densities along transit corridors (4) (5). At the same time, the city improved the existing bus system and is planning to offer bus service within walking distance of all neighborhoods (6).

Partly as a result of these measures, the number of jobs in downtown Portland has increased by 30,000 since the 1970s, with only a scant increase in traffic; in addition, 40 percent of commuters to the downtown area use public transportation (7). The number of days per year on which carbon monoxide levels violated federal health standards has dropped from 100 to zero (8).

The metropolitan population is continuing to expand at 3.6 percent per year, and future growth threatens to undermine these advances (9). To guard against that possibility, both city residents and the government are exploring alternative urban development options. In response to public opposition to a planned bypass freeway, One Thousand Friends of Oregon initiated a program known as Making the Land Use■Transportation■Air Quality Connection, which advocates clustering mixed use communities around regional rail stations to reduce reliance on automobiles (10). Portland's regional government has developed the Region 2040 project to study how future metropolitan growth can be accommodated without further extending the urban boundaries (11).

Despite these efforts, travel in the Portland region will still be mainly by car, with its associated impacts (12). Nevertheless, by encouraging high- density development along transit routes and by limiting urban sprawl, Portland is showing that at least some reductions in car use are possible.

References and Notes

1. Kevin Kasowski, "Portland's Urban Growth Boundary," The Urban Ecologist, Spring 1994 (Urban Ecology, Oakland, California, 1994), p. 1.

2. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)and the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT), Urban Travel and Sustainable Development (OECD and ECMT, Paris, 1995), p. 217.

3. Op. cit. 1.

4. Judith Corbett, "Portland's Livable Downtown: From Auto-Dependence to Pedestrian Independence," in Surface Transportation Policy Project Resource Guide (Surface Transportation Policy Project, Washington, D.C., 1992), p. 2.

5. Op. cit. 2.

6. Op. cit. 4, p. 1.

7. Op. cit. 2.

8. Keith A. Bartholomew, A Tale of Two Cities (One Thousand Friends of Oregon, Portland, 1993), p. 4.

9. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1993, 113th edition (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1993), p. 39.

10. Op. cit. 2.

11. Metro Council, Metro 2040 Growth Concept (Metro Council, Portland, Oregon, December 1994).

12. Op. cit. 2, p. 218.


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