Recently, the BBC featured my home town of Portland as an example of how good transportation planning can create a city "where the car is not king." The reporter (a vice chair of Britain's Conservative Party) was conned by Portland's planners.
In fact, Portlanders recently learned that their much-praised transportation plans were really nothing more than a scheme by what local reporters call the "light-rail mafia" to separate taxpayers from their money and enrich themselves. Far from relieving congestion or getting people to stop driving, Portlanders are so angry at the congestion and other problems resulting from the plans that they have repeatedly voted against light rail and other projects.
Worst of all, the high cost of these plans has led to a decline in urban services throughout the Portland area. This was illustrated with Dickensian irony in September when a leading member of the light-rail mafia calmly ate dinner at an outdoor restaurant a few feet away from police who were kicking a schizophrenic man to death. The budgets for police and mental health services that could have saved this man's life had been cut by the city council that continued to subsidize rail transit and high-density developments that enriched the light-rail mafia.
Now, cities such as Albuquerque and Madison are rushing to follow Portland's example of rebuilding downtown streetcar lines. Yet, despite claims of Portland's advocates, the streetcar did not get anyone out of their cars or stimulate economic development.