For Your Weekend Viewing Pleasure: Portland!

Portland: Celebrating America’s Most Livable City
A StreetFilm by Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Running time: 30:00

StreetFilms videographer Clarence Eckerson Jr. offers the director’s cut of his trip to Portland. Clarence made the visit to Oregon last fall, enjoying the hospitality of the Portland Office of Transportation.

You may have seen previously posted clips from this vid on StreetFilms. Here it is in its 30-minute entirety, including 12 minutes of additional footage from "one of America’s most livable places to reside."

  • Wow. This film was bewildering. Afterwards, I didn’t know whether to send a link to to my wife (so we could plan a vacation), my kids (so I could convince them we should move there) some friends (to plan a reunion), a pal who lives in Portland (to express envy) or to office colleagues (so we can get our butts in gear).

    Fabulous work, although I missed any mention of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which has certainly helped propel the agenda there over the years.

  • I was interested to hear that per capita VMT in Portland has declined from 23 to 19. Do we have more information on that: is that vmt per day? what time frame has that decline happened in? Is there a reference that can be included in a footnote?

    This statistic refutes the claim of Randal O’Toole and others that Portland’s planning has not reduced auto use, so it would be great to have a good reference for it.

    Of course, it is easier to get people to walk and bicycle in Portland than in most places, because you don’t have to worry about getting a sunburn in Portland.

  • Greg Raisman

    That statistic was given by Rex Burkholder. He is an elected offical who leads Metro, our regional government. Rex is the chair of the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation which leads regional transportation policy.

    Metro, as an agency, is also responsible for tracking VMT in the region. So, Rex reporting the number is a cite within itself because he is the agency head that tracks VMT. If you want more detail, you can find it on their web page at There is also a link there to email Rex if you need more info.

    I am not involved in the VMT modeling and can not give more detail.

    Greg Raisman
    Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership
    Portland Office of Transportation
    (503) 823-1052

  • Daniel

    I’ve read that Portland is the whitest city in America and now I believe it. What is the median income in Portland? No wonder the transit system is so excellent- they draw a large sum of taxes off of a small population. Portland looks like a bike utopia, but how much of the Portland model can other cities realistically use when Portland’s population is so homogenous? Just something to think about…..

  • jessica

    Maybe you can elaborate on how homogeneity makes a place better to bike in? Doesn’t make much sense to me.

    The model they have used is effective. You should use it to – take the parts that work for your city and use them. For those that don’t and the left over problems, create solutions and work them through so that they are specific to each location. Wait, thats exactly what they do!

    How can you hate on the senior citizens and children who were riding their bikes?

  • I really enjoyed watching the entire piece.
    You have come along so far, even since the past two times I have been out there to visit. And I was really impressed even then in the nineties.
    It is great to see that you are proving that is what is right for the citizens is not only good policy for transportation but also good safety policy and ecological policy.
    I think of two Apple ® phrases when watching this piece; “user friendly”, and “think different”.
    Let’s face it, a good idea is a good idea!
    And you have LOTs of good ideas for other states to model!

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Is fantistico.

  • jmc

    I used to live int the NW and I do like Portland, but we must remember that the city is very small by NY standards (~1/15th the city population in a region 1/10th the size) not that good ideas shouldn’t be copied, and many new ideas have started there!

    Outside the downtown neighborhoods there are sprawl suburbs, though not as many as Seattle for example. Also, Portland is a good city for bicycles but it’s not as walkable as NY.

    You could probably have filmed this same video in New York, if you chose certain places. Portland has nowhere near the pedestrians as many northeastern cities. The MAX system is good because it is new but it doesn’t have the same frequency, utilization, and hours of the NYCT.

    Still, their streetscape improvements should definitely be copied!

  • rex

    Don’t think Portland does not have issues too.

  • momos

    Clarence – Excellent film! So well done. Many New Yorkers should watch it and use it for inspiration.

    Like comment #4, I noticed how white the population is (78% white according to the 2000 census). Why is this an important factor to point out?

    When a white middle-class community demands something, government in America responds differently than it does to low-income minority communities.

    For another thing, political consensus emerges more easily in homogeneous environments. This is because varied groups make varied demands of the same resource, and controversy ensues.

    Lastly, there is the issue of who feels comfortable doing what. WNYC recently interviewed a social anthropologist who studies New York’s public spaces and who found that as neighborhoods gentrify, parks become cleaner and better maintained while at the same time certain activities become restricted. It so happens that those activities (barbecuing, playing loud music, etc.) are the very activities that lower-income residents enjoy in public spaces and that newcomers find distasteful. Another example is the police citing an older neighborhood resident drinking beers with his buddies at a picnic table in the park, while across the street a group of “young professionals” drink wine unperturbed at a restaurant’s outdoor patio. Both groups are drinking alcohol in public, but one group is criminalized while the other is not.

    Portland, with it’s homogeneous population and political culture, manages to avoid all of these complex issues in its community planning.

    This is not to say that social diversity is a hindrance. Rather, it is a tremendous asset that makes New York a vastly more interesting and vibrant place. (I’d still rather live here and defy livery cabs on my bike than live in Portland.) Along with its benefits, however, it also brings challenges.

  • Checking on the Metro web site, VMT doesn’t look that good. Below are the figures for per capita daily vmt from 1990 to 2005 from We can say that Portland VMT remained roughly stable while the nation as a whole increased, but not that Portland declined.

    1990 18.8
    1991 19.2
    1992 19.8
    1993 20.9
    1994 20.1
    1995 20.9
    1996 21.7
    1997 20.8
    1998 21.0
    1999 20.5
    2000 20.0
    2001 19.8
    2002 19.5
    2003 19.5
    2004 20.7
    2005 20.9


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