Hundreds of new apartments springing up on Southwest 4th Avenue mean thousands of new pedestrians. Will the developers build crossover walkways for them so traffic can get through, or will they just get run over by drivers frustrated by the long wait? —Wannabe Urban Planner
I hate to be the guy to kill your Tinker Bell, Wannabe, but hoping to get an urban planning job in Portland by slagging on pedestrians is like trying to get a job as a cop by bragging about how much heroin you shot up on the way to the interview.
Unfortunately, your letter demonstrates an attitude that planning wonks would love to eliminate: the tacit assumption that "traffic" means, exclusively, people in cars.
Don't feel too bad; this concept is so thoroughly baked into our culture that you don't even notice it, like the water in a Spongebob cartoon. Pedestrians can't be traffic—they're the enemy of traffic! They mill about in the crosswalk, like cattle, and make us late for stuff. Besides, if they were going anywhere important, they'd be in a car.
This belief—that pedestrians are just a thing that gets in the way of cars—isn't going to be purged from our collective unconscious overnight. Still, you might want to start getting past it, because starting last month, the official policy of the city of Portland is that cars are just a thing that gets in the way of pedestrians.
On June 12, the City Council officially adopted PedPDX, a comprehensive plan for a walkable Portland that will "put pedestrians at the forefront of city policy, investments, and design."
There are scads of good-government reasons to encourage walking over driving, from equity (walking is the most democratic mode of travel), to civil engineering (sidewalks move people more efficiently than roads), to sociology (cars reduce our conversations to one finger). The environmental and health benefits go without saying. Walking: It's the kale of transportation!
Driving a private automobile, meanwhile, is more like bacon—bad for us, worse for the planet (not to mention the pig), but hard to say no to all the same. Still, maybe someday not having a car will be a Portland status symbol—you gotta be somebody if you can afford to live in a walkable neighborhood.
Save the date! On Saturday, Sept. 7, Dr. Know celebrates 10 years with "That's Edutainment!" a multimedia extravaganza at the Alberta Rose Theatre. Tickets at http://doctorknow.live/tickets.