Portland is a livable city

Streetcar_people_alphabet National Geographic recently described Portland as the City that “…gets almost everything right; it’s friendly, sustainable, accessible, and maybe a model for America’s future” (Cover story, Dec. 2009). Portland has a shared vision of a livable city, articulated in many different ways. It is seen in neighborhood self-help projects, big municipal investments, enlightened developers that build infill projects consistent with city plans, and the highest recycling participation rate in the country.  Taken together Portland is a city that is environmentally responsible, and conscious of both street level and of global impact of doing things right.


Early History

Arguably, Portland’s first act of ‘building green’ was in 1892, when it built a reservoir network to protect and preserve the sole source of its drinking water, the pristine . Today, this 102-square mile conservation zone provides ample fresh water to a region of half million people

Fast forward almost 100 years and the same ethic motivated Portlanders to reject a Robert Moses-style highway plan in 1972, (the Mount Hood freeway), in favor of protecting neighborhoods and a strong downtown.  Then-Mayor Neil Goldschmidt joined forces with Multnomah County Commissioners Don Clark and Mel Gordon to divert the funds, and build a light-rail line to the city of Gresham instead. That same year, the City Council adopted its first Downtown Plan.  The City used the plan to reinvent the central city with new auto-free zones, public spaces, and a connection to the river.

Efforts at the state level matched Portland’s local efforts.  Then-Oregon Governor Tom McCall overcame Oregon’s long-reigning urban/rural divide by ushering in Senate Bill 100 in 1973. It is the most comprehensive state land regulation ever adopted in the United States.  Representative Earl Blumenauer, a young freshman state legislator at the time gathered enough momentum to pass the landmark Bike Bill, requiring bicycle and pedestrian improvements on all transportation projects that received funding from the state. Twenty years later, the federal government followed Blumenauer’s lead with the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.

New Picture Bicycle-Friendly City

With over 200 miles of bikeways (bike lanes, boulevards, and multi-use trails) and a 6% mode share, Portland is one of the best cities in the US to bike. In February 2010, Portland’s City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 in addition to a $20 million kick start. The implementation of the plan is critical to: attracting new riders, strengthening bicycle policies, form a denser bikeway network, increase bike parking, expand programs to support bicycling, and increase funding for bicycling facilities

Bicycling contributes to healthy communities and vibrant neighborhoods, and an excellent example of this is Sunday Parkways. With a generous grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Portland piloted Sunday Parkways in North Portland in conjunction with the International Car-free Conference in June 2008. Six miles – six hours of streets open to bicycling, walking, strolling, skating, and scootering crowded local North Portland streets. These thousands who participated and the community at large wanted more.

In 2009, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) worked with partners in the Police, Parks, Revenue, Environmental Services, and Planning and Sustainability Bureaus and with key sponsors Kaiser Permanente, Metro, and ORbike to organize three Sunday Parkways in North, Northeast, and Southeast Portland. Creating a uniquely Portland happening and inspired by the dozen Latin American cities that close streets to car traffic on Sundays, Sunday Parkways has become an institution in just two short years. With the leadership from Mayor Sam Adams, Portland is planning to bring Sunday Parkways to Portland residents five times all across the city in 2010.

Carbon Reduction Strategy

Concurrent with its efforts on streetcar, Portland adopted a carbon reduction strategy in 1993, the first US city to do so.  Relying heavily on public transit to meet its goals, this action was part of a broader effort to integrate sustainability into building design, energy conservation and recycling.   Portland and Multnomah County have jointly adopted an updated Climate Action Plan this year.

Planning for Livability

Currently Portland is engaged in major planning efforts to continue creating a livable region of neighborhoods. It is planning for the growth and development of our centers and transit systems, making bikes a more important part of our transportation networks and thinking about complete neighborhoods and learning. The City of Portland's citywide planning effort is branded as the Portland Plan. Metro, the regional MPO also has an ongoing planning for growth effort.

Transit – Streetcar & Light Rail

Like many cities in the late 1980’s, Portland felt threatened by suburban housing developments and business parks on the outskirts of the city center. In early 1990, the City initiated a Streetcar Feasibility Study to bring vitality into the inner city core. Within five years, construction was underway for the first 3 miles of streetcar line.  It was the first line to be built in the United States in over 50 years.  It was marked by more than $3 billion in new development along the route from Portland State University (PSU) through the celebrated Pearl District to the 23rd Avenue NW Neighborhood. The line now extends another four miles to Oregon Health and Science University and the aerial tram.  Another 3.3 mile extension to the City’s Central eastside is slated for completion in Spring 2012.

Transit_nhood_downtownThe Green Line, an 8.3 mile light rail extension, opened up in September 2009 bringing the total system length to 52.4 miles. Work has begun on 7.3 miles of light rail (target 2015 competition) connecting PSU, inner SE Portland, and the cities of Milwaukee and Oak Grove. Download the Portland Livability Flyer.

Contributors: Dan Bower(Portland Bureau of Transportation), Steve Dotterrer (Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability), Randy Gragg (Portland Monthly), Nancy Hales (First Stop Portland), and Hau Hagedorn (OTREC)

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