The following is from the Light Rail Now http://www.lightrailnow.org/index.htm folks in the USA and gives an interesting insight on how Portland’s LRT stopped highway expansion in the city, giving some valuable lessons for those advocating the return of the interurban.
Portland, Oregon is certainly a model of the benefits a good light rail transit (LRT) system can bestow – but that attribute also lifts Portland high in the target sights of dedicated rail critics, who relentlessly try to portray soaring success as abject failure.
Because of the MAX interurban LRT system, installed in 1986, and the Portland Streetcar, installed in 2001, central-city Portland is today an exceptionally livable urban environment, with clusters of retailers, restaurants, inner-city housing, small shops, sidewalk cafés, and other amenities.
So it’s relevant to consider what Portland would have been like if it had followed the typical American city’s freeway-focused path of development, rather than the rail transit-focused path it took – in other words, the kind of development pattern favored by anti-transit, pro-sprawl advocates such as Randal O’Toole, Wendell Cox, and Portland anti-rail activist John Charles and his Cascade Policy Institute.
Such a vision of Portland as a “might have been” freeway city was resuscitated in a Feb. 16th article by Elly Blue on the BikePortland.org website, titled The Portland that might have been.
Elly refers to the map shown further below – which she says she rediscovered recently – describing it as “the map that might have sealed our fate, developed by Portland city planners in 1966 in response to freeway guru Robert Moses’ vision for the city.”
Robert Moses (in case you don’t know, or need reminding) is the planning consultant and official who basically devastated swaths of New York City with his freeway-development plans – forcing the destruction of the city’s once-extensive urban electric light rail (street railway) system in the process.
As a Wikipedia article (20 May 2009) describes him,
Moses was arguably the most powerful person in New York state government from the 1930s to the 1950s. He changed shorelines, built roadways in the sky, and transformed neighborhoods forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation.
The article further notes that “his works remain extremely controversial.”
His critics claim that he preferred automobiles to people, that he displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in New York City, uprooted traditional neighborhoods by building expressways through them, contributed to the ruin of the South Bronx and the amusement parks of Coney Island, caused the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants Major League baseball teams, and precipitated the decline of public transport through disinvestment and neglect.
His career is summed up by his sayings “cities are for traffic” and “if the ends don’t justify the means, what does?”
Robert Moses is perhaps best remembered for what he did to “motorize” New York City, but his efforts on behalf of private automobile-based, sprawl-oriented urban development touched other cities as well — including Portland.
The green lines are planned freeways, and the Mount Hood Freeway was the first of these that would have been built. It was stopped by a strong grassroots effort, with the support of local political leaders. After that, none of the other projects got rolling, and much of the money that was appropriated for the freeway instead went into other transportation projects like the first MAX light rail line.