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Thread: L.A. vs Portland: Where to study transportation planning

  1. #1
    Mar 2010
    Los Angeles (for now...)

    L.A. vs Portland: Where to study transportation planning

    Don't worry, this isn't another one of the countless School X vs School Y discussions on Cyburbia....

    As a prospective transportation-focused MURP student choosing between schools in Portland and Los Angeles, I am interested in learning which city would make the better laboratory in which to study mass transit. To get things started, I'll try my best to articulate my thoughts on each metro area below:

    Portland: This city is an absolute mecca for transportation and sustainable development. For someone studying transportation in a MURP program, it is one of the best examples of successful mass transit systems in the United States and a great laboratory in which to study a well-planned city's infrastructure. In short, they've got their sh**t together, transportation-wise. Portland also has PSU, by all accounts a great program with an very good transportation planning focus, but as a whole, sort of a 2nd rate school. Lots of internship opportunities for PSU students as the program is very well-connected within the Portland metro area, but a much smaller city than Los Angeles with presumably less to choose from in terms of post-graduate employment.

    Los Angeles: LA is a whole different story. Public transit is only now becoming a popular ballot issue, still with seemingly insurmountable budgetary shortfalls and lobbying interests standing in its way. A case study for sprawl and the social ills it creates (pollution, poverty, gridlock, etc), calling Los Angeles' public transit system a work in progress would be an understatement. Despite this, LA seems to be at a critical point in the development of its transit system. Light rail is gaining popularity over dedicated bus lines and major construction on new transit projects is always ongoing (expo light rail line, subway to the sea, etc). It also has two top tier universities in UCLA and USC, both with very good transportation planning programs.

    So my questions are these: Is it better to study transportation planning in a city where a model is already in place, or where public transit is still up-and-coming? Also, will your chances of post graduate employment suffer in a smaller metro area or is it possible to study in one city, then apply what you've learned to another (thinking specifically portland to los angeles, but could be the other way around, I guess)?

    Thanks for the help you guys!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
    Mar 2004
    Where the weak are killed and eaten.
    If you want to stay in LA, go to school in LA. This way you will be networking while going to school.

    Personally I think you are overthinking it and maybe want to get out of dodge.

  3. #3
    Mar 2009
    Salt Lake City, UT
    My question is why Portland. While it does have a mass transit system it is in no way the size and magnitude of the LA metro system with a very diverse and integrated bus, light rail and heavy rail system that covers an almost unknown number of cities and neighborhoods. The other problem with Portland is that with "environmental ethic" that the people in the metro have, mass transit is going to do much better there than most other areas. In my opinion, Portland is too green to be a representable lab for whether mass transit will work in a typical western metro area.

    Other metro areas that have more extensive mass transit systems and are more mainstream than Portland would include Salt Lake City and Dallas.

    If your just looking for a reason to move to Portland feel free. However, if you are looking for a mass transit lab, I wouldn't consider it a good place to learn.

  4. #4
    Mar 2010
    Tampa, FL

    I say Los Angeles

    Portland is great and widely proclaimed as a planning success story, etc. whereas L.A. is commonly considered the opposite, especially in the field of transportation.

    So why do I say L.A.?

    Because it's more representative of the trajectory that many if not most of the fast growing cities in the country are on, L.A. is just a few decades ahead of them. For example, look at many of the sunbelt cities that are sprawling and deal with their transportation problems by just building more and wider roads. . . just like LA did decades ago. That's why studying transportation in an already sprawled area is more applicable to most cities in the country.

    It's great that Portland has so much progressive planning but the fact is that many many of their initiatives from transit to land use haven't and could never be enacted in many of the fast growing cities since most of these cities are in areas with people that are nowhere near as receptive to progressive planning as the residents of Portland have been. In other words, the proactive growth management planning Portland has practiced for decades is NOT (unfortunately) the norm for the rest of the country.

    In the field of transportation planning especially, the L.A. model of "cleaning up the mess", not the Portland model of "preventing the mess", is more similar to what most cities will be doing in the coming decades to deal with transportation issues.

    p.s. I put my money where my mouth is since I will be at either UCLA or UC-Irvine in the fall.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
    Mar 2005
    Clayobyrne, CB
    LA is a no brainer for two reasons:

    1. Where you study will likely influence where you work. It will be easier to get a job in either city if you have a network established through school when your job hunt begins. That being said, it would be much more fun to work as a transportation planner in LA, and there is undoubtedly more opportunity. I would rather work somewhere where I can make a difference and be part of new and exciting things than a place where there are 1000s of people who think exactly as I do. In LA, there is tremendous opportunity to be a part of the city's ultimate conversion to a less automobile-oriented metropolis. I am a transportation planner who moved from Boston to NC for this exact reason.

    2. LA is much, much larger and the educational and employment opportunities far outshadow a third-rung city like Portland. Plus, you will have experience with the laws, regulations and political culture of the largest state in the US when you graduate. You will have the opportunity to apply for jobs in SF, SD and any of the other metro areas throughout the state. In OR, your choices would be pretty limited.

    Just my two cents.

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