Portland bashing

I note that George Will’s latest Newsweek column on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood manages to get in some fine Portland-bashing:

And then, predictably, comes the P word: Look, he says, at Portland, Ore.

Riding the aforementioned wave to Portland, which liberals hope is a harbinger of America’s future, has long been their aerobic activity of choice. But LaHood is a Republican, for Pete’s sake, the party (before it lost its bearings) of “No, we can’t” and “Actually, we shouldn’t” and “Not so fast” and “Let’s think this through.” Now he is in full “Yes we can!” mode. Et tu, Ray?

Where to start? Does LaHood really think Americans were not avid drivers before a government highway program “promoted” driving? Does he think 0.01 percent of Americans will ever regularly bike to work? Intercity high-speed rail probably always will be the wave of the future, for cities more than 300 miles apart. And as for Portland …

Its government has been, intermittently, as progressive as all get-out, trying to use zoning, light-rail projects and high-density housing to cool the planet by curbing automobile use.

Unsurprisingly, this has generated a bit of kerfuffle.  Local congressman Blumenauer has offered Will a free trip out to Portland to see for himself.  And Matt Yglesias challenges some of Will’s figures.

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  • Jim  On May 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Matthew Yglesias challenges some of Will’s figures while distorting Mr. Will’s column completely. I had to read both columns in detail, as Mr. Will is a very respected columnist by both left and right whom I read often and Mr. Yglesias is a blogger I followed daily for several years until he seemed to spin off to the left with Bush Hatred Syndrome.

    Mr. Yglesias’ disservice to the discussion starts with his second sentence:

    “But now he wants national policy to be driven by his hatred for Portland:…”

    I read Mr. Will and I felt no hatred for Portland, only a response to Mr. LaHoods mentioning the city as an example of a policy which Mr. Will dissagrees with. This is Hate? Only from Matthew Yglesias, and I might add very common from the mainstream left – and yes I do consider Mr. Yglesias “mainstream.”

    Mr. Yglesias’ sarcasm in his comment “A seven year old ought to be able to master this.” is not needed in a meaningful discussion.

    His second disservice to the discussion is his reaction to Mr. Wills paraphrase and partial quote of Mr. LaHood:

    “Government “promoted driving” by building the Interstate Highway System – “you talk about changing behavior.””

    Mr. Yglesias says: “LaHood didn’t say that Americans didn’t drive before we built the interstate system. He says that building the interstate system promoted driving. …”

    Exactly what Mr. Will said! Mr. LaHood is quoted as saying “you talk about changing behaviour.” Does not this imply what Mr. Will says: “Does LaHood really think Americans were not avid drivers before a government highway program “promoted” driving?”

    Mr. Yglesias distorts both these points and others only for affect.

    His point on Mr. Wills comment that 0.01 percent of Americans bicycle to work is in fact an incorrect number and Mr. Yglesias is correct. Count 1 for Mr. Yglesias, but both numbers are quite small so not critical to Mr. Wills comments and probably a “factchecker” mistake.

    I don’t even understand Mr. Yglesias’ point regarding cities closer than 300 miles. Mr. Will was simply making the point that when cities are spread out high speed rail is not always the best solution. Is this not true? The U.S. cities proximity are quite different most European countries, and Mr. Yglesias should understand this.

    I happen to believe that high speed rail will not be used between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and I think the State, which is about to collapse, and recently committed $9 billion dollars to the initial phase, is making a disastrous mistake, as I am sure Mr. Will does. We will see who is right.

    Away from the writer analysis and to the problem: I think Portland is a great experiment and should be studied by all cities – I would prefer the Federal Government stay out of it – and any successes should be borrowed by other cities. Your post on bicycle parking in downtown Portland was interesting. And I think George Will would agree. Matthew Yglesias will continue to waste his writing skills with hatred and inuendo.

    The world goes ’round!

  • Curt  On May 20, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Just a couple add-on comments.

    I agree that the SF-LA high-speed rail seems misguided. However I do think an improved line connecting Vancouver/Seattle/SeaTac/Portland/Salem/Eugene is more viable.

    I too see Portland as an experiment – working in some ways, not in all ways. And different cities should certainly try different things! There’s no one right answer. In terms of Federal money, I think that cities should use it as they see fit, not have it mandated at the federal level.

    I say Will has more of a ‘disdain’ for Portland… (although saying that Portland’s ways are ‘metastasizing’ is not such a pretty image).

  • Jim  On May 20, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I would not argue with “disdain”, although I do not think he has it for Portland – it may appear he does.

    “Metastasizing” is not a comment on Portland, but on the society and the Governments that use its efforts as justification for their own efforts.

    I think the left and Portland should not be so sensitive and go their own way to prove to us that their approach is appropriate.

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