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Getting to 2100

September, 2012 Archive

My AMPO acceptance speech

(In September, 2012, I was acclaimed 2012’s Most Effective Elected Official in Transportation by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations. I gave this acceptance speech on the subject of regional planning (so needed in our megapolitan regions!) and basing transportation investments on our shared human values.)

Thank you very much for this incredible honor. And thanks to my colleagues at Metro who nominated me, and did a very good job of keeping this a secret!

I see this as an award for asking awkward questions, and for knowing when to clear the way, and for knowing when to get out of the way.

My habit of asking awkward questions (why, daddy, but, why?) led to study and work in the sciences, then to neighborhood and civic activism and on into a political career. Somewhere along the way I learned the important lesson of leadership—its not enough just to question but one must create a vision, learn to communicate this vision clearly and compellingly and to ask others for help.

My agency, Metro in Portland, Oregon, has a reputation for innovation, leadership and controversy. Yet, despite spearheading regional land use planning, comprehensive recycling and light rail, until I got elected we pretty much planned and put together our RTPs and MTIPs like everyone else—collect a list, collate and print it then divvy up the dough. And heaven help anyone who got between a mayor and his pet project! Not everyone was happy but it was a comfortable groove.

Enter this asker of awkward questions. Being a community activist and not a professional planner or administrator I didn’t know that it was enough to have a world-class model (designed by rocket scientists at Los Alamos, no less!). So I asked why. Why do we spend our money the way we do when we are getting results we don’t like? Like growing traffic congestion, sprawl and collapsing rates of kids walking and biking to school.?

So, I asked why. And, because I was now able to open some doors (and some budget amendments) we went to the public and asked them directly: We collectively spend over $700 Million of your money every year on transportation: are you getting what you want?

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A bike-friendly place?

Portland has always been a bike friendly place, right? There was the “Bike Bill,” passed way back in 1971 during the frenzy of good stuff pushed by Republicans like land use planning, clean air and bottle deposits! The real story is actually one of constant struggle and advocacy that really didn’t take off until the Bicycle Transportation Alliance was founded in late 1990, almost 20 years after the Bike Bill became law. The intervening years had little to show for them (bike trails along freeways, mostly) in the Portland region. No bike lanes on major streets, no safe bridge crossings on the Willamette, no bikes on buses or light rail. And no power at Portland City Council, Metro or any of the three counties. Bicyclists, and there weren’t many, were left to their own devices which sometimes meant your fists, cause the cops would never take the cyclists’ side in confrontations with motorists. I remember being ordered off of NE Broadway by a police captain as he idled beside me even though he couldn’t cite a reason!

But this is not a bitch about the past but a story of hope, of how committed citizens can bring about change…

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About Gettingto2100

Why Getting to 2100? The next century will be a test: can humans use their intelligence and foresight to successfully transition from our consumption-fueled economy to one that balances the needs of humans with the Earth’s available resources. Getting to 2100 aims to be a forum for sharing of good ideas and good works. Got a good example or a new idea? Share it with the world!

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