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Making the Link Between Transportation and Sprawl

Oregon expert visits Northwest Michigan

September 1, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Keith Bartholomew, staff attorney at 1000 Friends of Oregon and one of the nation's foremost authorities on alternative transportation and land use strategies, spent a busy day in northwest Michigan last October. As residents involved in the debate over Traverse City's costly proposed highway bypass soaked up every word, he described how Portland is strengthening the economy of its urban center and reining in suburban sprawl by purposely not building new highways.

Mr. Bartholomew's day included an hour-long interview on the popular Ron Jolly morning radio program, an afternoon technical session for nearly 40 land use professionals, and an evening lecture and slide show attend- ed by more than 170 people at Northwestern Michigan College. Organized by the Institute, Mr. Bartholomew's visit was funded by New Designs For Growth, and co-sponsored by the Leelanau Conservancy, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, and the Coalition for Sensible Growth.

Throughout the day, Mr. Bartholomew's message -- that new highways accelerate sprawl and damage both the economy and the environment -- was firmly based on his experiences in Portland.

Until the late 1980s the planning for new freeways in Oregon, just like in most other states, was a "top down" process. Engineers with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) identified where the corridor would run. The department chiefs lobbied the Governor, Legislature, and Congress for money. Meanwhile, the DOT gradually purchased the rights-of-way along the route. "By the time ordinary people were actually allowed to make comments, it pretty much was a done deal," said Mr. Bartholomew, a Chicago native who attended northwest Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy in the late 1970s.

Mr. Bartholomew is the director of the Land Use, Transportation, and Air Quality project (LUTRAQ), an innovative program to improve the quality of life throughout the Portland metropolitan area. (See "Oregon Leads the Way" in the Summer 1997 Great Lakes Bulletin).

Mr. Bartholomew said his first task when 1000 Friends launched the project was to help defeat a $1 billion highway bypass west of Portland. He and his staff then worked with public officials to shape a new transportation plan that provided residents with more choices than just the car for how to get around.

The Portland region now has:

• Enlarged a highly-successful light-rail network.

• Enacted new zoning provisions that encourage homes to be built on smaller lots in pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods within walking distance of rail and bus stations.

• Invested in new parks, bus and light rail stations, recreation and arts centers, new sidewalks and recon structed streets that have turned downtown Portland into a magnet for entertainment, businesses, and jobs.

Throughout his day in Traverse City, Mr. Bartholomew emphasized that bringing modern transportation choices to a community requires activists to:

• Build alliances among non-traditional allies.

• Undertake complex research that leads to a coherent land use and transportation vision.

• Market the vision successfully to local governments.

• Establish advisory committees composed of local and state agency officials to guide the project, and provide political support.

• Ready legal action to stop bad ideas and give the workable alternatives a chance to take hold. During his speech at NMC, Mr. Bartholomew encouraged his audience to stay focused on their goal. "I joined 1000 Friends in 1988. In June 1997, our regional government made the final decision not to pursue the bypass. Probably the most valuable lesson I learned was that it takes 10 years to kill a freeway."

CONTACT: Keith Bartholomew, 1000 Friends of Oregon, 534 SW Third Ave., Suite 300, Portland, Oregon 97204-2597. Tel. 503-497-1000, fax 503-223-0073, kab@friends.org.

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