By Dave Lister,
As seen in Brainstorm Magazine
In 1980 Christopher Reeve, best known for his multiple movie potrayals of Superman, starred in a romantic tragedy entitled, “Somewhere In Time.” In the film, Reeve’s character encounters the true love of his life, who was unfortunately born nearly a century before him. When his love interest exhorts him to “come back to me,” Reeve turns to time travel in order to locate his love in her youth.
Through research, Reeve discovers an aged scientist who insists he has achieved time travel through a hypnotic state. Reeve dons period clothing, holes up in a turn of the century hotel, and proceeds to slip into a self-hypnotic state. When he awakes, he finds himself back in 1900 and, of course, is reunited with his love object, a youthful beauty played by Jane Seymour. After a night of blissful ecstasy while the two are sipping their morning coffee Reeve pulls a shiny, new penny out of his pocket. When his eyes focus on the penny’s current year date, the hypnotic spell is broken and Reeve careens back into his own time while his beautiful lover screams.
Portland Commissioner Sam Adams’ recent vision for the city’s future transportation system is reminiscent of Reeve’s character’s attempt to use self-hypnosis in order to turn back the clock. In an address before the Portland City Club, Adams stated that our future transportation system “would look a lot like Portland circa 1920, a time when the main means of motion were your feet, streetcars and bikes.”
Adams’ vision also includes strict enforcement of the current urban growth boundary and continued transit-oriented development.
Although Adams said that he was concerned by “the slow pace” of development on Portland’s latest light rail line, he insisted that “every transit station in the city should be a vibrant micro-community.” In these transit-oriented developments (TODs), walking, bicycling and transit would provide the best transportation option.
Adams’ claim is that his vision is the correct one within the context of global warming and peak oil. Adams does not, of course, qualify the basis of his vision by noting that peak oil predictions have occurred repeatedly over the last several decades and never held true. And why would anyone think that automobiles will always run on gasoline?
As far as the global warming premise goes, if you even buy it, what’s the payoff when the power company is destroying dams to build fossil fuel burning plants to provide the power for those streetcars? There is no payoff, of course, except in political terms: For example, if the majority of the people who turn out and vote in city elections happen to agree with his vision.
Adams, who at this juncture has not said whether he will seek the mayor’s office, is at the least going to be engaged in a campaign to keep his current seat. Enunciating a vision in lock step with Portland’s “progressives” is perfectly timed and politically astute.
To his credit, Adams has placed a high priority on freight mobility. What he doesn’t get is that the human freight so vital to our local economy also needs mobility. Everyone “” from executives scurrying off for their next meetings to photo-copier service technicians “” needs to get where they’re going in the fastest way practical. A light rail and streetcar system that averages well under 20 mph just isn’t going to cut the mustard. But Adams and his constituents are convinced that it will.
Portland liberals like to think of themselves as “progressives.” I guess perhaps that’s because the inference is that conservatives are “regressive.” Regressive, of course, means to go backward. As in back in time. Wouldn’t you think it’s actually regressive to go back to a 1920s style transportation system? Of course it is. But I think there’s more to it than that.
There is no more hated an icon than the automobile by those who embrace this vision. Adams has stated that we must do everything possible to get drivers out of their cars. The same has been said by countless other politicians, including State Sen. Ginny Burdick when she was engaged in a city council race with yours truly. Government planning on both the local and regional level presumes less and less automobile use and actually advocates for congestion. SUV drivers are portrayed as greedy, earth-insensitive villains, gluttonously gobbling gasoline and spewing huge clouds of greenhouse gases all over the landscape. Accommodations for bicycles are placed on the busiest of boulevards, inevitably leading to altercations and accidents.
In 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev accepted an invitation from President Dwight Eisenhower to visit the United States. During the visit Eisenhower arranged for Khrushchev to be transported by helicopter from the White House to Camp David during the busy, afternoon rush hour. Eisenhower believed this aerial view of bustling mobility and vast tracts of home ownership would impress his Soviet counterpart and help prove the superiority of the capitalist system.
Far from being impressed, the Premier ridiculed what he viewed as a tremendous waste of fuel, land and resources.
“In the Soviet Union,” Khrushchev explained, “the workers live in apartment buildings near the factories so they can walk to work. If they have to leave their districts, they take the train or the subway.”
I’ve spent some time thinking about why the automobile is so hated, and I think I’ve finally figured it out. Like Khruschev, collectivists want us all to be the same. A personal automobile is arguably the most obvious indicator of a person’s socio-economic status. If we all drove the same khaki-colored Yugo, there would probably be room for the automobile in our transportation planning. But brand new Audis and BMWs co-existing with battered and aging minivans is not compatible with the collectivist vision. Like Khruschev, our planners want us to live in density developments on streetcar lines, sacrificing our mobility and making us all the same. They want us to stay in our TODs and walk to our factory jobs.
We can only hope that at some point Adams will pull a shiny new penny from his pocket, snap out of his hypnotic vision and realize that we need a transportation policy based on the needs of the 21st century, rather than the technologies of the 19th.
But what the heck do I know? I’m just an Eastside Guy.
To follow Dave Lister every month, plus dozens of other superb writers you can subscribe to Brainstorm Magazine