PBS Documentary: Road to the Future

I don’t know if any of you had a chance to catch this series on your local PBS station …. I did, and it was interesting and informative.  Of course some will quibble over the minutia, but I thought it did a even-handed job of describing … well, let me just let the series explain itself:

Over the next 40 years, America’s population will grow by more than an estimated 130 million people – most will settle in or near the country’s major population centers. At the same time, an unprecedented multi-billion dollar public works investment has just been made by the federal government to rebuild both the weakened economy and stressed national infrastructure. And, Congress is about to consider a transportation bill that will determine the course of the nation’s highways and transit for years to come.

On May 20th, Blueprint America: Road to the Future, an original documentary part of a PBS multi-platform series on the country’s aging and changing infrastructure, examines the choices we can make as the country invests in its infrastructure, and how they can affect the way we live.

Miles O’Brien on a streetcar in Portland

Host and veteran correspondent Miles O’Brien goes to three very different American cities – Denver, New York and Portland, and their surrounding suburbs – to look at each as a microcosm of the challenges and possibilities the country faces as citizens, local and federal officials, and planners struggle to manage a growing America with innovative transportation and sustainable land use policies.

With roads clogged and congested, gas prices uncertain, smog and pollution creating health problems like asthma, cities that once built infrastructure to serve only automobiles and trucks are now looking to innovative new forms of transportation systems – like trolleys, light rail, pedestrian walkways and bike paths.

Whether it is talking to residents pushing sustainable development in the Bronx, smart growth in Denver, or a journalist in Portland whose beat is bicycling, Blueprint America finds a common theme: America’s love affair with the car may be a thing of the past.

Obviously when they go to talk about Portland, they talk about cycling, but there was lots more of interest, especially the parts about land use and laws, and what changes seem to be in the air ………..

You can view the full documentary series via your PC at the following link:


Take a listen, and tell me what you think ….

4 replies
  1. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Yes, generally a good overview of the land use/transportation relationship/conundrum.
    My only problem with it was O’Brien repeating variations on, “But isn’t riding transit unAmerican?”

  2. Keri
    Keri says:

    I watched my country turn
    into a coast-to-coast strip mall
    and I cried out in a song:
    if we could do all that in thirty years,
    then please tell me you all –
    why does good change take so long?

    —Greg Brown | The Poet Game

  3. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    A fascinating video series. Thank you for posting the link.

    As per usual, “follow the money” is advice that explains a lot. When the US federal government pays 90 cents on the dollar for urban expressways but NOT public transit, that subsidy distorts the whole transportation system.

    It is interesting to compare that with public policy here in Ontario. Canada’s constitution assigns authority over roads to the provinces, an authority that is jealously guarded. The Dominion government pays almost zero for road construction and maintenance. In Ontario, the provincial government pays for most rural and suburban highways, but downloaded most of Toronto’s highway costs onto the City government.

    After a huge fight, a US-style expressway system was never built in Toronto. And the City is planning to tear down some of the bits that were built. Particularly an elevated expressway whose maintenance costs are in the tens of millions of dollars. Money that the local property taxpayers are no longer inclined to pay.

    Many of the car lanes on urban roads are being taken away from cars and reserved as exclusive streetcar lanes or exclusive bicycle lanes.

    Where I live, in the Riding of Toronto Centre, the commuting transportation mode share breaks down as:

    Public transit – 38%
    Cycling and walking – 34%
    Motorists (drivers and passengers) – 26%

    The numbers are from the 2006 census; the 26% is probably a lot lower today.

    Its about money and infrastructure. Car infrastructure simply wasn’t built in Toronto. For example, there is zero car parking where I live and there is zero car parking where I work. So driving a car to work isn’t happening.

    Money and infrastructure. These are the things that drive (pun intended!) how we live.

  4. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    One other point about the video series.

    I was struck by the street demonstration asking for a New York expressway to be taken down. On Monday, I took part in a similar demonstration in Toronto. Except we were not in the street. We were packing the public gallery of Toronto City Council Chambers while the City Council voted 28 to 16 in favour of taking a car lane on a major road and turning it into two bicycle lanes.

    Cyclists filled all the public seating and packed the standing room area as we watched the vote. That’s my kind of demonstration. Details on the Toronto Cyclists’ Union website at:


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