One response to Sarah Mirk’s history of dead freeways article in the Portland Mercury included a link to a video created by Streetfilms, documenting the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) in New York. That freeway was the child of planning legend Robert Moses. Streetfilms uses Portland as an example of what might have happened if the BQE had never been built. But, as I pointed out in my post about Mirk’s piece, any review of our region’s history with road projects shows that we haven’t learned from the past; big road projects are still being proposed even though things turn out better with out them.
Two big capital-intensive megaprojects slated for the region, the deep bore tunnel in Seattle and the Columbia River Crossing in Portland [link] are still being touted as necessary for the economy and transportation needs. Both are huge investments in roads at a time when most politicians in both cities are talking about doing everything they can to reduce climate change. These are projects for the past 100 years, not the next 100 years as Washington’s Governor Gregoire described the tunnel project. We hope she knows better. Of course climate wasn’t an issue in 1955 when the Mount Hood Freeway was being proposed.
In the end Portland resisted the Mount Hood Freeway while the BQE was built and the rest, as they say, is history. As I watched the film two things struck me, the characterization of the Mount Hood Freeway as “a done deal” and all the cool things that happened once the freeway idea was finally scrapped.
The death of this freeway project, in the words of the film, allowed Portland trade the savings from the dead freeway for light rail, parks, Pioneer Square in downtown, bus malls and, ultimately, led the region to a philosophy of mode equality where buses, rail, biking and walking were always equally considered alongside roads for transportation projects.
It makes me think regional leaders might benefit from reflecting on an inversion of the oft quoted George Santayana comment about the past. Maybe those who refuse to repeat the past are condemned to remember it, with regret.