Other Cities Are Making Bold Investments in Transportation. Is Portland Next?

In 2017, we’re inviting our member businesses to author calls-to-action that align with our focus areas. This month’s post is by William Henderson, CEO of Ride Report and founding member of BBPDX. William talks about why bold investments in transportation — and more — are critical to Portland’s success, and what we can learn from other cities leading innovation.

Like most Portlanders, local businesses are concerned about the growing strain on our transportation system. Thanks to a strong economy and historically low unemployment, we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of miles driven on our roads. All of this activity has reversed Oregon’s progress at lowering our emissions, while choking our roads with traffic. Truck drivers cannot deliver goods on time, and workers lose hours stuck in traffic whether they drive or take the bus. Meanwhile, our housing crisis is displacing people, forcing them into ever longer commutes and auto-dependence. For the health of Portland’s citizens and our economy alike, we cannot afford to keep doing business this way.

Portland’s business community has a rich history of making visionary changes to our transportation system. The 1972 Downtown Plan, which eventually saw construction of the transit mall and replaced a freeway with Waterfront Park, began with local business leaders like Bill Naito. Later, Michael Powell convinced a group of local business owners to voluntarily tax themselves to create the first modern streetcar line in the Pearl. These are among the features that make Portland different, that led many of us to found our businesses here and that continue to allow us to hire the best talent and attract customers from around the world.

However, today’s challenges are not the same as the last century’s, and solving them will require new strategies and bold investments. We must be bold on funding transportation alternatives, bold on fixing congestion, and bold on fighting climate change. Finally, we must make equally bold investments in affordable housing alongside major transportation projects.

Across the country, other cities have realized that with the challenges they face, they cannot afford to keep doing what they are doing. They are stepping up in a big way. Los Angeles recently passed a $120B plan with over 70% support to completely overhaul their transportation system. Seattle’s $54B measure will add over 60 miles of new light rail, larger than our entire MAX system. Atlanta invested over $4 billion in transit and greenways, which also included 5,600 affordable housing units.

Next month, we invite you to join Business for a Better Portland for an event hosted by the Oregon Environmental Council. Tony Pickett, who led Atlanta’s Beltline project as Executive Director of the Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative, will share lessons we can apply as we make our own investments in affordable housing alongside transportation. Tony is now the Vice-President for Master Site Development for the Urban Land Conservancy in Denver where he has helped that region plan, finance and construct multiple equitable transit oriented development initiatives.

Click here to learn more about the event and register.

Want to get even more involved in the conversation?

Business for a Better Portland is now accepting applications for our new Associate Board program. Join this group of business leaders who are helping to shape the future of our economy by supporting progressive solutions to the challenge Portland faces. Read this letter from Anna Hutson, CEO of Avenue Agency and BBPDX member, to learn more about why you should consider applying.