Paul Jacob

What does Beijing have in common with Portland, Oregon? Urban congestion. It's much worse in Beijing, but Portland's traffic congestion isn't getting any better. Further, both cities' traffic is worsened by bad government. In Beijing, the problem is corruption, with bureaucrats skimming millions from funds meant for roads. In Portland, the problem is ideology.

Nearly every former bicyclist in Beijing knows that one important solution to traffic congestion is more roads. In Portland, on the other hand, lots of influential people think roads are the wrong way to go. Oregon politicians want, instead, to go back to what Beijing once was, a centralized city with buses and bikes and pedestrians. They see cars and more roads and decentralized sprawl as the enemy.

Fortunately, several Oregon groups are fighting the nonsense that's making Oregon less and less livable and more and more expensive. Quoting a recently released study, Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr., sets the record straight: "Urban planners have long claimed that you 'can't build your way out of congestion,' but the data clearly show that new roads make a difference."

The new study, Charles explains, "divided cities into three categories: those with low, medium and high levels of road-building relative to increases in daily miles traveled. Only the cities that aggressively built roads during the past 20 years were able to keep congestion levels down." Portland wasn't one of those cities.

The study? The Texas Transportation Institute's 2005 Urban Mobility Study. The report's scope is national, but it singles out Portland. Figured in terms of the additional time traveled during peak hours, traffic in "Portland grew faster from 1982 to 2003 than it has for the majority of the other areas" in the city's size category. Traffic congestion in Portland has put the city in the Big Leagues.

Charles, who works in Portland, would like to see the city's traffic problem cut down to size. He emphasizes the study's conclusion that "Roads are part of the solution" ? and not the living embodiment of evil. The report reminds the reader that "More than 90 percent of urban peak-period person travel is on roads, and a significant amount of freight moves on roads." Charles adds a relevant local fact: "Portland public officials have proudly limited new highway supply ever since I-205 opened 25 years ago." So, in this bureaucratic environment, of course Portland's congestion has increased.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.