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CNU Study Rebuts Anti-Rail/Anti-Planning Hokum
In their recently revved-up insurgency against public transportation, critics of light rail transit (LRT) seem to be making a particular point of selecting for attack some of the most successful LRT operations in the USA. In practice, this means attacking also the urban policies, economic performance, and other characteristics of the cities these rail systems serve.
Of these, Portland, Oregon – which serves as a national model of excellence and success in both urban planning and public transportation (see Portland Light Rail and Public Transport Developments) – has become a primary target of the ongoing jihad against Smart Growth, urban transit, and especially the "dreaded" rail transit.
The latest effort to nuke Portland's reputation as a paradigm of effective planning and superb urban transit comes from national anti-transit, anti-planning, pro-sprawl activist Randal O'Toole in a tract sponsored by the extremist rightwing Cato institute propaganda mill.
"Portland, Oregon, long touted as the paradigm of modern urban planning, is awash in corruption, government waste and public discontent" claims a Cato news release (PRNewswire-USNewswire, 9 July 2007), summarizing the central theme of O'Toole's diatribe, a 20-plus-page "policy analysis" titled "Debunking Portland: The City That Doesn't Work". "O'Toole catalogues Portland's failures in city planning and offers suggestions to other cities on how not to repeat its mistakes" continues the Cato release, which cites O'Toole – who happens to be based in Oregon – as a "Cato institute senior fellow".
O'Toole's paper has been recycled in several shorter summaries, mostly in the form of newspaper columns with his byline. In addition, various other propaganda mills ("think tanks") are circulating his claims, and the "Debunking Portland" paper has been providing material for anti-rail columnists in several mainstream newspapers around the country.
"Debunking Portland" is is chock full of the chicanery and carefully cherry-picked, calculated misinformation that have become familiar hallmarks of O'Toole's forays into Big Lie propaganda projects. For example, O'Toole attempts, through verbal trickery, to convey the impression that Portland's transit ridership has been plunging with the introduction of light rail transit (LRT) in 1986 – whereas, in reality, Portland's transit ridership has soared since the addition and expansion of LRT.
According to federal data reports, in 1979 (seven years before the launch of light rail), Portland's transit system carried a total of 40.0 million passenger-trips and reported 145.1 million passenger-miles. By 2005, in contrast, the system's ridership had expanded by more that 2.5 times to 104.5 million trips, and 432.6 million passenger-miles. (UMTA/FTA National Transit Database figures)
O'Toole plays games with the transit-oriented development (TOD) issue and tax-increment financing (TIF) – portraying these as direct subsidies to developers – when in reality TIF involves tax collections that are merely ploughed back into improvements in specific, targeted areas that need revitalization (i.e., the same areas from which the taxes were collected).
Portland's MAX LRT system is widely acclaimed for its role in boosting transit ridership and attracting transit-oriented development.
But O'Toole's fabrications about Portland are not going unanswered. By far, one of the more extensive in-depth critical rejoinders to "Debunking Portland" has been sponsored by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), which commissioned a critique by Michael Lewyn, an assistant professor at Florida Coastal School of Law (and a "veteran urbanist", according to CNU) to "check O'Toole's facts and analysis."
The result is Lewyn's own study, "Debunking Cato: Why Portland Works Better Than the Analysis of its Chief Neo-Libertarian Critic", available on the internet at the following URL:
According to a CNU summary of this report (dated 200709/20),
The CNU summarizes some of Lewyn's most trenchant findings in "Debunking Cato":
All in all, Michael Lewyn/CNU's "Debunking Cato" rebuttal of O'Toole's "Debunking Portland" tract provides an arsenal of valuable material for advocates of public transport and more progressive urban planning, who might be interested in countering the latest Road Warrior volley in North America's relentless Transit War.
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