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Forward to the past in Lake Oswego

In his book “Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail or Succeed,” author Jared Diamond wrote: “(T)he values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs.”Jorling

A case in point is on display with the majority of the Lake Oswego City Council. In the council’s public hearing deliberation draft for Lake Oswego’s transportation goals titled “Connected Community,” dated Dec. 3, 2013, the council’s proposed changes demonstrate a clear switch in public policy toward making driving the primary, if not the only, choice for transit in our community. Words like “automobile” and “drive” are inserted. “Mass transit” and “transit facilities” are removed.

In addition, several phrases currently part of the plan, such as “provides affordable and equitable access to travel choices,” “Develop the Transportation System Plan to strengthen resilience to changes in climate, increases in fossil fuel prices and economic fluctuations” and “Encourage transportation options and opportunities through land use measures to promote a local energy supply for transportation that is renewable, less carbon intensive and least toxic” are deleted. It is as though our council’s thinking on energy, the environment and fossil fuels has taken a trip back to the 1950s.

Does Lake Oswego, arguably one of the most intelligent of communities in Oregon, really have to relearn all of the environmental and energy lessons of the past several decades? Many communities learned those lessons (Lake Oswego was among them) and have moved toward a balanced and sustainable approach to transportation. But now Lake Oswego’s leadership wants to “cling most stubbornly” to the automobile even under what are clearly “inappropriate conditions.”

No one can argue that the automobile has provided an enormous boost to our economy and provided liberties and freedom of movement that no other civilization has been able to accomplish. Yet the automobile’s shortcomings are now amply demonstrated. It is the most expensive form of transportation and the council is diverting resources for other city needs to sustaining the automobile without raising the taxes that are needed to do so properly

The automobile has contributed to urban sprawl, has a negative impact on the price of food, the amount of air pollution, wasted time, money and fuel spent in traffic, our growing obesity problem and health care costs.

Clearly a balanced approach to transportation is needed. But our council majority, with its well-funded support, has succeeded in selling the voters a false narrative that we are an isolated little village that doesn’t share in the problems and the economy of the communities around us. They believe that supporting the automobile is the best way of preventing thousands of people from other communities from infecting ours. “Those people,” as I have heard some citizens say, already travel to Lake Oswego every day, ironically, by car.

As the world gets warmer, the environment dirtier, food more expensive, utility prices higher, the automobile, and the infrastructure required for its use, are becoming unsustainable. There are solutions to stemming that tide. Unfortunately, if this draft transportation plan is adopted, the Lake Oswego of the future will be embedded in the past.

David Jorling is a resident of Lake Oswego. While he is a member of the Lake Oswego Transportation Advisory Board, he notes the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of the board or its members.

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