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May 20th, 2009
The Next American System
[VIDEO] Road to the Future

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Blueprint America 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, and that may be the road to economic recovery.

  • Sascha

    I love the NYC moment at 1:46 in the first segment!

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  • bill emory

    I’d like to get a dvd to share with our local highway advocates. Is that possible?

  • Hart

    Yay, Portland!!! Booo, Denver!!!

  • Dave

    Great program. A suggestion and a question.

    Suggestion: You refer in passing to what Europe has done on creating a culture that accepts mass transit and bicycles. Show us more detail.

    Question: You are suggesting that the Federal Government help create a culture that relies less on the car, but, we just loaned the car companies a whole bunch of money that we would like paid back??? Is that like providing tax subsidies to tobacco farmers while funding anti-smoking campaigns?

  • Karen Oxman

    This was an excellent piece of work on the transportation gridlock that we face in America. I am proud that Mayor Smith, of Golden, is working very hard to make our community an example of smart growth and smart transportation.

  • Mike Cherry

    The Denver portion of this documentary was ridiculous and WRONG. Anyone that knows what Denver has been doing, knows that we currently have 39 miles of light rail and will have 120 miles of light rail and commuter rail by 2017 – stretching to all directions of the metro area (including a stop near Highlands Ranch). This will be the largest light rail system in the country when it’s complete. Denver and it’s suburbs have worked well together to develop an effective and well-managed urban growth boundary and is currently developing many mixed-use transit oriented developments at the dozens and dozens of light rail stops. There is also hundreds of miles of bike paths throughout the metro area. Denver has been used as a model for inter-governmental cooperation for light rail planning and commuter planning.

    WHAT BAD REPORTING! They should have used a Texas city – NOT DENVER!

  • David Warnock

    Robert Moses Designed the Mount Hood Freeway.

  • Kevin Kearney

    Excellent! I bike to work in FL 10 mi each way, and I teach.

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  • Casey

    this should be required viewing high students

  • Ron Youngblood

    I write the editorials for The Maui News, the island’s only daily newspaper. The publisher and I believe the island should be developing a light-rail system in order to maintain tourist appeal. For the first time, land planning is including urban boundaries to prevent sprawl and, of course, developers are trying to find a way to weasel around, delay or stop anything that would prevent the covering the island with asphalt and housing.
    “Blueprint America” has re-inspired The Maui News’ on-going commitment to mass transit and development without sprawl.
    Mahalo nui loa.

  • Joe Dunst

    Planning should include the need of farming for our food supplies…the population is expected to grow, what are we doing about this? Are we going to be dependent on imported foods? At the present time there
    really is no safeguards with “imported food inspections!”

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  • Will Toor

    This gives an interesting perspective on the Denver beltway battle. There is actually another fascinating piece to this story. Originally, the beltway proponents planned to push the last segments of the beltway much further north, near Boulder. The proponents went to a public vote to fund this in the late 1980s, and the beltway lost overwhelmingly. The proponents then changed state law to create funding mechanisms that do not require a public vote. Since then Boulder and Boulder County have bought vast tracks of land as open space, removing all of the development opportunity along the original northern route. Because of this, the proponents have moved the route to the south.The other story that is happening in Denver is around public transit. The region has devloped a good transit system in Denver itself, and one of the best small town bus systems in the country in Boulder, and has voted to build a comprehensive network of rail and bus rapid transit lines – so the picture is not quite as bleak as this documentary suggests.

  • David Byam

    Just saw ‘Road to the Future’. I thought I was the only one to want out of my car! Glad to have company. I realized 30 years ago that highways were not feasable, and when the time came to buy another house, bought one in a villiage where I can walk to the store.
    I would also like a DVD. One of my U.S. Senators is a believer; I would like to get him one, too.

  • Ryan Billings

    The Denver segment was a little unfair. The steps that region is taking as a whole in growth management is fairly progressive. As others have eluded to, the transit system current and future will be the envy of many.

  • James Rogers

    I’m so tired of being forced to drive everywhere. There’s just no choice. My house is worth much less as people move closer to transit so I can’t move. But good luck finding a bus line or riding a bike among the speeding cars. We need choice in transportation so badly.

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  • ScottG

    I moved to Portland a few months ago, and this documentary captures a lot of the reasons why the city is so unique. The lifestyle change my wife and I were able to make coming from New Hampshire is remarkable – we are now a one-car household and drive about 1-2 times/week. We can walk, bike or take public transit to 99% of the places we need to go. It really improves your quality of life.

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  • tobi

    “Blueprint America: Road to the Future” covers very different examples and possiblities regarding how we are going to live with our growing population and limited resources. I wonder if this urban/suburban planning can be discussed in terms of our healthcare system–asma, cancer, obescity, heart disease, mental health, etc?

  • Texan living in Dublin

    Thought provoking documentary about the suburban American way of life. Would like to see more information about what other countries are doing to be less dependent on cars, we are not alone. The future is now, what change are you willing to make?

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  • Joe Sample

    Wow, they compare the city of Portland with Highlands Ranch Colorado and call it Denver? Come on. The city of Denver has 600,000 people now, all infill development. 119 miles of rail for the metro area. 400 miles of off road bike trails in metro area, not counting the extensive onstreet trail system, about 1500 miles worth. They also really glossed over the history of 470. And correction, a person can bike from highlands ranch, or a nearby park and ride and its within 2 miles to a train station. Next time do a little research.

  • Jack Maher

    This show is one of the most important recent stories about what needs to be done to create a vision of a futre country where living is for all not just the wealthy. If we do not attend to transportation and spraul, the rich will do fine, but all the rest will experience severe shortages and declline in quality of life. The suburbs are not people freindly without cars in most metropolitan areas. That forces more car use, segreagation based upon access to cars etc. My grandchildren will not be able to sustain htis.

  • Jorge Soto
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  • John M

    As someone who works in the transportation planning field and has studied both Denver’s and Portland’s Transit systems closely, I thought this was a very informative and enlightening documentary.

    Though Mike Cherry and Joe Simple make some good points. The documentary could have touched on Denver’s current mass transit plans that include over 120 miles of light rail to be completed in about 7-8 years. Though I still think that it is fair to compare Denver and Portland. While RTD and the FastTracks initiative put Denver in the vanguard of American cities creating a far-reaching mass transit system, they are relatively new measures enacted to combat the unsustainable land use practices that resulted from the highways that were built at all costs around the metro area. Whereas Denver and most of the surrounding communities did whatever they could to complete the 470 highway, Portland stopped the new highway construction through its community in its tracks and received permission from the fed. govt. to spend the highway money on alternative methods of transportation.

    It’s kind of ironic when today the fed. govt. is giving money that has to be used on certain kinds of transit projects just as they did in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s for highway construction. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the govt. financed a certain amount for highway construction and a certain amount for transit improvements and let the local govt. decide what exactly to spend it on: Highway, light rail, streetcars, commuter rail ect. Any thoughts?

  • Sheryl S.

    Very well done, and hits very close to the heart. As a Colorado native who lived 5 out of 35 of those years in Golden CO,(more power to Golden and Jacob Smith!) we now make our home in Bellingham WA. The CO part was difficult to watch. I love CO and it’s mountains dearly, but the sprawl breaks my heart. In Golden/Denver it was tough to stay out of my car. Here, I often don’t get in my car for days. My motivation is unchanged, the only difference is pedestrian/bike friendly planning. That’s not the only benefit- the community becomes very strong when people get out of their cars and walk and bike more. I’ve seen the difference firsthand. Pedestrian friendly communities, circumstancial or intentional, work!! I would bet that every town/city has examples of sprawl and walkability, this town included. What makes it work or not work, as this documentary makes clear, is the degree to which their has been consistent city AND statewide sprawl reduction and sustainability planning, not every man or city for him/herself. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Heather moran

    Is there any way to purchase this program?

  • Scott Moore

    How does one purchase this program… or the whole series?

  • Will

    If Denver is unchecked sprawl, then bring on the sprawl. I happen to like Denver’s bikes lane, paths and ease of mass transit. But what do I know, I am just a Denver resident that bikes to work everyday. Though, I do know the light rail extends to Highland Ranch. Opps . . . I guess you missed that.

    Denver Rocks!!!!!

  • Robert Earl

    The City of Long Beach (CA) Public Works Department would definitely like a copy or two of “Road to the Future.” Please let me know if this is possible. Thanks!

  • Rob Jackson

    The aloof response from #35 is a bit typical from those who move to Colorado and the West in general, but do not realize the ramifications from unchecked urban sprawl. The primary issue of urban sprawl in the west and other areas of the country is water resources. New homes in the Denver subsurbs create undue stress on the water supply in an already dry climate. I would suggest the people of Highlands Ranch and other new Colorado Residents take a course in hydrology and natural resources before moving to the State and tauting urban sprawl. The other problem is stormwater management and pollution issues that occur as a result of installing pavement and concrete. It’s great that you are biking to work, but think a bit harder before saying “bring on the sprawl”.

  • Erv Klaas

    I have visited all three cities but I live in Iowa, a small state that includes 25 percent of the richest farmland in the world. Iowa has virtually no laws protecting this farmland and land speculators have become rich buying up farmland near our larger cities and then selling it to developers of urban sprawl for up to $40,000/acre. The state has done virtually nothing to protect farmland because it would be un-American to interfere with someone’s right to become an instant millionaire. Meanwhile, the tax payers get saddled with the costs of highways and infrastructure to make urban sprawl happen.

  • Mato Nanji

    I love Denver and Portland, Portland being my home town. Unfortunately Denver is a mess the transit system is not very reliable or easy to use relative to Portlands’ Tri-Met system. Its heartbreaking to see Denver get uglier and uglier everytime I go there…

  • Mitch Brown

    Love this doc – seen it twice. I live in Chicago and haven’t owned a car for over 10 years. Unfortunately, the rest of the Chicagoland region isn’t as luck as The City. Its amazing how long one has to DRIVE in order to get to the countryside. Its high time we STOP subsidizing OPEC and Detroit (and the German, Korean and Japanese automakers) and start building a BETTER country. The traffic guy and wife…I will never understand these sorts of people.

  • Linda Glass

    How can I purchase the Blueprint America: Motor City seen 02/08/10 on PBS?

  • James Gilbert

    Nice Job PBS & Blueprint America. I’d like to see more.There is much on the web-site that should be shown – or re-shown – on TV. Could be in short segments or full programs. There needs to be a shift in peoples imaginations. I believe we can build more compact cities and still have more workable, efficient and beautiful cities. Many presentations about the problems of sprawl and the use of energy mention the benefits of higher densities and more compact cities but they they often don’t elaborate and they don’t put out sufficiently grand images of what a compact city would be like. We need some architect-artists here. I would think that the potential efficiencies would be enormous. The energy, utility and communication distribution networks would be—- compact.
    Shorter distances between — everything. And, open spaces, landscaping – plenty of plants, trees, etc. Lots of glass. Terraces. Cities of the future.
    Books have been written – architects, landscape architects, artists have produced visions. We need to do much better than the real-estate section of the sunday paper. We need – as a start – beautiful images.

  • Google Instant

    The aloof response from #35 is a bit typical from those who move to Colorado and the West in general, but do not realize the ramifications from unchecked urban sprawl. The primary issue of urban sprawl in the west and other areas of the country is water resources. New homes in the Denver subsurbs create undue stress on the water supply in an already dry climate. I would suggest the people of Highlands Ranch and other new Colorado Residents take a course in hydrology and natural resources before moving to the State and tauting urban sprawl. The other problem is stormwater management and pollution issues that occur as a result of installing pavement and concrete. It’s great that you are biking to work, but think a bit harder before saying “bring on the sprawl”.

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