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USA Today Talks to Ray LaHood

By Matthew Yglesias  

"USA Today Talks to Ray LaHood"

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Ray LaHood (official photo)

Ray LaHood (official photo)

Plenty of good stuff in this interview:

You’ve spoken about drawing on the Portland, Ore., model of transportation as a “livable community” that emphasizes public transit and walking and biking paths. But is it exportable to all kinds of cities, even the largest?

I think it can be replicated in some cities. I also think you can replicate parts of it in neighborhoods in cities. Chicago is so spread out and so big, but you could connect neighborhoods, perhaps with light rail. And they’ve been connected by “rails to trails.”

So much of why we haven’t done these things yet seems to stem from a culture of driving in America. Is that really changeable?

We’ve spent three decades building an interstate system. We’ve put almost all of our resources into the interstate system. This is a transformational president, and the department is following the president’s lead. People haven’t really been thinking about these things. They have been thinking about how to build roads, how to build interstates, how to build bridges. People now are thinking differently about where they want to live, how they want to live, and how they want to be able to get around their communities.

I would only add that the idea that “the largest” cities can’t support walkable urbanism would seem to quickly founder on the fact that New York City is (by far) the nation’s largest. And it’s not a coincidence that both NYC and the Greater New York metropolitan area are unusually transit-oriented (again, not just in terms of the city, but also LIRR, NJ Transit, MetroNorth, etc.) and unusually large. It’s precisely the density-facilitating properties of transit that have allowed the region to support so many people.

The point of bringing up Portland is more to show that different models of land use and planning can work even in relatively small cities. Portland’s not close to being the largest or densest city in America, but with sound planning it still encourages a lot of different transportation modes.

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