Packing 'Em In

Metro plan for urban area may not be what's wanted--or needed

by Randal O'Toole

Published in The Oregonian, November 17, 1996

What would you think of a plan for Portland that calls for:

You would probably say that such a plan is insane. Yet this plan has been written. It is called the Metro 2040 Plan, and the Metro Council is well on its way to imposing it on all residents of the Portland area.

Metro insists that its plan will increase Portland's livability. Yet buried in the plan's technical appendices and related documents are the following facts:

Supporters of the 2040 plan argue that land-use planning is needed to protect open space. But Oregon's planning laws have failed to do that. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, between 1982 and 1992, Oregon urban areas sprawled faster, relative to population growth, than those in California, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, or Texas--all states infamous for their urban sprawl and minimal land-use laws.[7] If we are to protect open space, we need a new approach, not just more regulation.

                   Developed      Population      Sprawl
                   Land Use         Growth        Ratio
Nevada                26%             67%           39%
California            19              25            77
Washington            18              20            91
Arizona               35              33           107
Florida               35              29           120
Texas                 21              15           137
Utah                  24              16           147
New Mexico            23              16           147
Oregon                17              11           151
Colorado              22              13           175
Idaho                 19               9           212
Montana                8               2           383

If the percentage growth of developed land is greater than that of population, then the sprawl ratio is greater than 100 percent and the state's urban areas are "sprawling." What is most striking is that Washington and California have sprawl ratios well under 100 percent, meaning they have accomplished without land-use planning what Oregon has failed to do: consume land at a slower rate than the population growth.

Oregon voters were right to turn down measure 32, which would have funded the south-north light rail. Metro wants to use light rail as a wedge to redevelop neighborhoods to high densities.

Contrary to the "light rail or Los Angeles" ads promoting measure 32, Metro knows that light rail would do nothing to reduce congestion. The 2040 plan admits that, even if Portland built nearly 100 miles of light-rail lines, 90 percent of Portlanders would continue to drive their cars.[8]

More important, Metro advertised measure 32 as a plebiscite for its 2040 plan. Now that the results are in, Portland-area residents have an opportunity to take another look at this nightmarish plan before it is finally adopted by the Metro Council in 1997.

If we scrap 2040, how do we manage growth? The answer is to treat the root problems of growth, not just the symptoms. This means making sure people pay the full costs of their activities, whether driving or building new homes. If we do this, we can protect open space and minimize congestion and other growth problems without raising taxes or forcing people to turn their neighborhoods into high-density developments.

Let's make sure Metro knows what we want. We want a plan that reduces, not increases, congestion and pollution. We want a plan that allows people to choose the kind of neighborhood they want to live in, not one that forces people to live in New York-area like densities. And we want a plan to protects farms and open space that are important to us, not just those that are on one side of an arbitrary urban growth boundary.

The final decision for the Metro 2040 plan will be made by your elected representatives on the Metro Council. Make sure they know what you want.

Randal O'Toole is an economist and director of the Thoreau Institute, a non-profit research firm in Oak Grove.


[1]. Metro, Region 2040 Recommended Alternative Technical Appendix, September 15, 1994, table 7. Return

[2]. Ibid, table titled "Total Region, Selected Performance Measures." Return

[3]. Metro, Regional Transportation Plan Update, March 22, 1996, page 1-20. Return

[4]. Metro, Metro Measured, May, 1994, page 7. Return

[5]. Metro, 2040 Plan Growth Concept, December 8, 1994, appendix C, page 19. Return

[6]. The Oregonian, "Farmer Stands Up to Metro," 3-16-95. Return

[7]. Natural Resources Conservation Service, Natural Resources Inventory, 1992, table one. Return

[8]. Metro, Region 2040 Recommended Alternative Technical Appendix, table titled "Total Region, Selected Performance Measures." Return

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