Framing Livability: A Strategic Communications Approach to Improving Public Transportation in Oregon

Deborah Morrison, University of Oregon



Oregon is recognized as a national leader in improving transportation options and limiting urban sprawl. In the 42 years since Senate Bill 100 launched Oregon's land use planning program, these efforts have gone by different names: "reducing reliance on the automobile," "reducing vehicles miles traveled," "reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation," "compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented development," "smart growth," "sustainability," and "livability," to name a few. Despite these varying approaches to simply communicating the benefits of public transportation, there remain vast misperceptions of these efforts. We must better understand public perceptions in order to shift attitudes toward public transportation and, ultimately, change public behavior. 

The success of public transportation depends, we believe, upon public understanding of, and support for, livability. Recently in response to state requirements to significantly reduce GHG emissions from light-duty vehicles, Portland Metro surveyed public opinions and concluded that the best way to sell efforts to combat climate change was to talk not about climate change but rather about livability: about the benefits to people's pocketbooks, choices, health, and community. While this shift in approach has been marginally applied in Portland, a large gap In communicating and connecting with residents’ concerns persists. 

The heart of this effort will be through a partnership with the City of Portland to do extensive pilot research and message testing in conjunction with the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project in Portland. This corridor consists largely of wide streets and strip malls – in other words, an area that is not particularly pedestrian or bike friendly, and one very much like many other metro areas around the state and the country. Taking a focused approach to strategic communications should yield meaningful insights and promising outcomes for the Powell-Division project, and the lessons learned can be carried forward as a model for livability focused transportation projects in other metropolitan areas throughout the country.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
June 30,2017
UTC Grant Cycle:
Natl Round 2
UTC Funding: