If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. Joseph Wood Krutch

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Forgive Me Frieda

I read with great interest a letter to the editor of the Portland Tribune by one Frieda Campbell in Milwaukie Oregon. The tag line was "Rail steals resources needed for highways". Her letter reads in part "The reason I am concerned over the irrational national fascination and rush to make this fascination a reality is that it diverts critically necessary resources away from the building and maintenance of the highways systems--upon which we rely to transport our commercial freight."

OK, I have to pause here for a moment and interject a few things. Frieda is commenting about Portland's move to light rail usage since there has been much ballyhoo lately about the cost. None of the arguments hold a lot of weight when you consider the amount of money spent each year laying oil-based asphalt to build or maintain roadways. A cost that rises each time oil ticks up a penny. A few years ago Vancouver, across the river from Portland, was making the same kind of noise about light rail. That's when fuel was still eighty-nine cents a gallon. Light rail lost. Vancouver regrets their decision now since each day they become more and more isolated by traffic jamming at the Columbia River bridge.

But back to Frieda. Frieda, I have no irrational fascination with light rail personally and riding has never made me downright giddy. I just sit down and read my book or talk to the person near me content that I don't have to grip the wheel and curse the traffic. Think about it, if more of us rode the light rail we wouldn't need to build new roadways for diesel belching trucks. Less cars, more room for trucks...right?

Frieda writes, "(How much freight --with the very possible exception of illegal drug freight---have you observed being transported on the Max system?)"

Wait, Frieda, the MAX light rail is a people mover not a freight train. The big choo-choos are for the freight, not the little electric choo-choo. That's why they call it LIGHT rail as compared to the big choo choos which are HEAVY rail. And guess what, according the the US Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration trucks use TEN TIMES more fuel to transport goods than rail anyhow.

Frieda continues,

"Think of it this way: without highways, massive reductions in freight.

Without freight, massive reductions in commerce.

Without commerce, massive reduction in economic activity and no economic growth.

Without economic growth, economic stagnation.

With economic stagnation, all the other economic-related social problems based on it.

Got it folks? Get it! And hopefully before it's too late."

Frieda, YES, yes, I got it. I got it. It sounds great! Less roads, less trucks. Less trucks, less stuff. Less stuff, less stress. Less stress, more community. More community, less crime. Less crime... Are these the social problems you refer to?

Frieda, I've been to those big boxes full of "freight" which you say drive our economy. And I've been to the landfills where all that "freight" ends up no longer wanted, having served a very short useful life, and having been hauled by yet another truck. We need not consume for consumption sake just to make sure our economy "grows". And how does Wal-Mart opening another store, thus "driving" economic "growth" and putting another hundred mobile warehouse trucks on the road really benefit me or my community? Cheaper toilet paper does not keep me warm at night or keep my kids fed.

In my lifetime I have seen huge "economic growth" in this country. Huge! But the park near my house is now full of homeless families sleeping in their car, abandoned by a system of "growth" that sent their jobs overseas or phased them out by mechanization. The streets of our cities are filled with mentally ill citizens turned away from care by a system that rewards only those who have enough money to be counted worthy of health care The average citizen can no longer afford to buy a place to live as we convert to an economy that serves only large corporate interests. I am quite certain Frieda that if you made eight dollars an hour for your labor, or even ten, you would find it difficult to appreciate our "economic growth". Frankly Frieda, I think a little economic stagnation might do us all a little good. Perhaps, by necessity, we would once again find a sense of community. I'll see you on the bus Frieda...I'll wave to you as I pass you in your Hummer.


Anonymous said...

Scott, thank you for your wonderful post on this topic! I am also a MAX rider, and I am stunned that anyone would lobby for MORE HIGHWAYS over public transportation. Being able to get almost anywhere by bus, streetcar or MAX was one of the reasons I moved to Portland in the first place.

I have to admit, I actually do become slightly 'giddy' when thinking about my light rail commute---along I-84, where I watch the hundreds of slow-moving cars (most with just ONE PERSON in each), while I sip my coffee, people-watch, or read.

p.s. judging by the links on your website, you might find this one of interest: http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/

My night job involves web research for Environmental Health Sciences, and I come across many interesting articles about how we are hurting (and can help) our planet. . . .

Scott said...

Anonymous...thanks for the link. You are right that is an excellent source and I will put that link permanently on my site.

I must confess to that, living in Beaverton, I quite often zip into the tunnel on the Max past the parking lot named Highway 26. I may not be giddy, but it does give me a huge smile that in just a few minutes I will be downtown and they won't.