THE BLOG
11/30/2015 07:48 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2016

Giving Thanks in Portland and Los Angeles

Without a doubt, we are the lucky ones. In general, the closest most of us will ever come to domestic and global terrorism is the splash page of the Los Angeles Times website.

Grateful for that and an inveterate traveler with TSA Precheck, last week I went out of town to give thanks for my family and friends and that I live in L.A. Always, but particularly now, it is good to remember that here on the Best Coast rather than in Colorado Springs, Paris and Aleppo, we are free to think, write and live as we like.

While it's true that I was on vacation, as tends to happen in the smartphone world we live in, I was still working. My destination, Portland, Oregon, is just that kind of place. Maybe it's the caffeine but more likely it's the countless small and large steps the city has taken to make life for city residents and guests that much better.

After arriving I had hardly walked a block and I was posting photos to Instagram and jotting down notes about the things I was seeing. While I never need an excuse to travel, my latest trip was unusually generative and encouraging about urban life in one of America's best cities for complete streets living.

Portland has taken to heart the challenge of making the city a better place to live car-free. Portlanders have embraced the challenge to be disruptive by questioning the status quo in the provision of city services, transit operations and what we mean when we say community. While I saw plenty of traffic on the 5 Freeway, and not just at rush hour, I also walked all over including the Pearl, the Alphabet District, Northwest and Northeast Portland and rode the new TriMet Orange Line from Pioneer Courthouse Square downtown to Southeast Portland.

On a clear day, Portland's fifth MAX (Metropolitan Area Express light rail) line, the Orange Line, offers stunning views as it crosses over the Willamette River, of Mt. Hood and the Cascades. According to TriMet, Tilikum Crossing is the only bridge of its kind in the U.S., designed to carry light rail trains, buses, streetcars, bicyclists and pedestrians. Forgive the fact that I am drooling as my transit envy gets the best of me.

What's not missing from the bridge? You guessed it, private cars.

Another thing I saw in Portland that I think could work well in L.A. are the semi-permanent food truck encampments that are sanctioned by the city on empty lots and parking lots downtown and elsewhere.

The clusters or "pods" of food trucks, typically face outward from the lot creating little food districts for locals and tourists alike. I saw this both downtown and in Northeast Portland along Alberta Street.

Of course Portland with its 1979 urban growth boundary (UGB) which limited urban development to 229,999 acres (later 254,000 acres) in the Portland metropolitan area, is hardly boundless Los Angeles. But why not cultivate, rather than battle L.A.'s food truck explosion by embracing them on downtown parking lots and empty lots as Portland has done?

While L.A. fights over the merits of a single downtown L.A. Streetcar, Portland has transformed its downtown as well as countless outlying neighborhoods into pedestrian havens with quiet, clean (and locally built) light rail lines that make car ownership obsolete. Close your eyes and you can pretend you are in Europe with often better, and cheaper, coffee, beer and wine.

My advice to all. Go away more often. Not just so there will be fewer commuters trying to get to work. But because there's so much to see and learn from other cities struggling, like L.A., to make themselves better places to live.

It's true that some Portlanders are putting 'No Californians' signs on their houses, but Angelenos are no strangers to that sort of us versus them thing. So to those holding the purse strings at City Hall and Los Angeles Metro making decisions about our transportation and urban future, get to Portland and see what they are doing before they shut the gate.

Yours in transit,
Joel