Having just returned from our four-day Leadership Study Mission and Transit Study Mission to Portland and Eugene, the lessons learned are still fresh on the minds of the 117 delegates who attended one or both of the visits.
The best practices that stand out the most include transit and sustainability. Other areas – like education – gave us strong reassurance that we’re on the right path, and some issues – including how our cities deal with growth – illuminated deep philosophical differences that help define the character of each of our cities.
We learned about Portland’s multi-modal transit system
that connects commuter rail, light rail, streetcar, bus and bicycle traffic. The interconnectedness of these systems helps residents and workers get around in a city where more than 40 percent of the population relies on public transit and about 6 percent bike to work each day – the highest percentage of any major city in the U.S. Additionally, Portland’s aerial tram
transports more than 5,600 people from South Waterfront to the Oregon Health & Science University each day.
In Eugene, we took an in-depth look at their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, EmX.
As Nashville works through the beginning phases of our East-West Connector
BRT project, we have a lot to learn from cities like Eugene that have already been through the process. We learned about what it takes to build community awareness and support, fund and build a first-rate BRT system.
Another strength that was evident in nearly everything we saw during the visit was Portland’s commitment to sustainability. From the number of LEED-certified buildings, to their citywide recycling efforts, and from their ECODistricts (green neighborhoods) to employers that encourage employees to bike to work by providing plentiful bike racks and shower facilities, Portland showed us time and time again why they are one of the most sustainable cities in the nation.
Some issues we studied – like education – actually served to highlight our own best practices. When hearing from several education leaders in Portland, we were told by one of the speakers who had recently visited Nashville’s McGavock High School that our Academies of Nashville
model was the best example of business-school partnerships he had ever seen.
Several speakers provided insights into Portland’s philosophy on growth, which struck us as being completely different than our own. One presenter shared that, when a large company wanted to expand a few years ago, the company had to promise not to add any long-term jobs. We learned that the city does not recruit companies as aggressively as Nashville. Metro Portland’s unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in March 2012, compared to 6.7 percent during the same time for the Nashville MSA. Still, many speakers were quick to point out that the city’s quality of life attracts new residents regardless of whether or not they can find jobs, and that is precisely why Portland is known as the city “where young people go to retire.”
Transit Study Mission delegates tour Eugene’s Bus Rapid Transit system, EmX. Doors on both sides of the hybrid vehicle provide access to median and curbside stations. Dedicated lanes and signal priority allow the vehicle to move past regular traffic.