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Review: 'Blueprint America: Road to the Future' on PBS

May 20, 2009 | 12:38 am

Streamlining the country's transportation infrastructure presents a daunting challenge, but one that must be met, says this one-hour documentary.

Blueprint America: Road to the Future,” airing tonight on PBS, is a half-inspirational, half-frustrating report that addresses the question of infrastructure through the prism of transportation in three American cities. It's a dull word, "infrastructure," but one that becomes suddenly sharper if you apply it, say, to that traffic you're sitting in. We don't just live on the land; we live on the things that separate us from the land, and move us across it.

Host Miles O’Brien, late of CNN, locates the source of our metropolitan gridlock in a 20th century historical predilection for highways over rails and cars over streetcars -- and to the sprawl it allowed, to the delight of real estate interests and postwar homesteaders alike.

Denver is put forth as the downside of this desire, a spreading sea of houses that has eaten up smaller towns and ever wider circles of open land. New York is noted as a fundamentally green city (building goes up and not out, people walk and ride the subway), but with room for improvement. And Portland, Ore., is, if not quite heaven, as near to transit nirvana (streetcar-rich, bike-friendly) as you can find between the shining seas.

Not everyone agrees on what constitutes quality of life, which makes progress slow. ("I don't like planners planning my life," says one Oregonian of state laws that limit development.) But the hour's overwhelming assertion is that something must be done.

-- Robert Lloyd