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My View: Portlanders want transportation alternatives

In his May 6 “My View” guest column (Portland’s anti-car history is backing up a lot of traffic), Dave Lister accused Portland Bureau of Transportation Director

Leah Treat of perpetuating a “war on the automobile” and called on me to rein her in on behalf of “the majority.”

In fact, neither Leah nor I are waging war on cars, but we do want to make it easier for people to bike, walk and take transit — as do an overwhelming majority of Portlanders.

Biking, walking and taking transit (which usually itself involves walking to and from transit stations) have lots of advantages. Physical activity makes us healthier, which reduces health care costs, which reduces health insurance costs. People spend a lot of money on their cars; biking, walking and transit are cheaper options.

Portlanders understand this. They’re especially gung-ho about transit. A poll last year showed that 74 percent favored greater investments in transit. So if the city can work with TriMet to improve transit access — for example, by improving the sidewalk network near transit lines — we’ll be doing the will of Portlanders.

The poll demonstrates that although it is true that car trips still make up a large percentage of trips in Portland, that does not mean that the majority rejects the idea of transit. As the transit network improves, more people will use it more

often.

Portland has a very good transit network for a city its size, but it is still far from being that of Washington, D.C., or New York. I lived in both those places myself, and had no need for a car. Since returning to Oregon, I have driven more than I would like — but that’s based on practicality, not ideology.

Less driving also means less greenhouse gas emissions, and Portlanders care about that, too. The same poll (by the respected Portland firm Davis Hibbitts & Midghall) showed an amazing 70 percent of Portlanders “strongly” felt, and another 18 percent “leaned towards” the view that “climate change requires us to change our way of life such as driving less or living more simply.” Mr. Lister seems to think that today’s cars are green as all get out, but even electric cars (still a small minority) use fossil fuels because much of our electricity comes from coal and natural gas.

I should add here that I wish climate disruption (the more accurate term for global warning) were not a fact; unfortunately, it is. And at some point, the federal government is likely to do something about it, such as putting a price on carbon. When that time comes, it will be much easier for people to adjust if they live in a city that gives them options other than driving.

So no, Mr. Lister, we are not at war with cars, nor are we defying the majority of Portlanders. Leah and I are committed to doing a better job of maintaining our roads, which we think drivers and bicyclists will both appreciate.

But we will also continue to work hard to give Portlanders what the majority want — safe, healthy, environmentally friendly alternatives to driving.

Steve Novick is a Portland city commissioner, whose oversight includes the city Bureau of Transportation.