Portland’s Transit Halcyon Days?

For more than a quarter century, the leaders in the Oregon portion of the Portland metropolitan area have sought to transfer demand for urban travel from automobiles to transit. Six rail lines have been built, five of which are light rail and bus service has been expanded. If their vision were legitimate, transit’s market share should have risen substantially and automobile travel should have declined. Neither happened.

The results have been modest, to say the least. Since 1980, before the first rail line was opened, transit’s share of work trip travel in the metropolitan area has declined by one-quarter, from 8.4 percent to 6.3 percent. Overall, the share of travel by car remains about the same as before the first light rail line opened (based upon data from the Texas Transportation Institute and the Federal Transit Administration).

Transit access to destinations outside downtown Portland remains scant. Despite the huge expenditures on transit, only 8 percent of the jobs in the metropolitan area can be reached by the average employee in 45 minutes, despite the fact that nearly 85 percent of workers are within walking distance of the transit stops or stations. Portland’s transit access is better than the national major metropolitan average of six percent. But Portland trails a number of other metropolitan areas and is well behind the best, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has a transit access figure of only 14 percent. This makes a mockery of the “transit access” measure used by many planning agencies. Being close to a transit stop or station is of little help if service to the desired destination is not available or takes too much time.

According to the latest American Community Survey data, the average work trip by people driving alone in Portland is 23.6 minutes, while the average transit commute trip is 43.8 minutes.

Further, Portland transit users could face draconian service reductions. Tri-Met, which operates light rail and most Oregon services, has warned that it may be required eventually to cut 70 percent of its service. This results from the failure to control labor costs, particularly pension costs, which is detailed in an Oregonian article. John Charles, president of the Cascade Policy Institute found that $1.63 all the benefits were being paid out for every dollar of wages, a claim confirmed by PolitiFact. The concern extends to the state capital, where the legislature has overwhelmingly approved a bill requiring an audit of Tri-Met by the Secretary of State.

Tri-Met continues to expand light rail, but with some “pushback.” An under-construction line to Milwaukie evoked such controversy in Clackamas County, that voters elected an anti-light rail majority to the county commission. Voters have banned light rail expenditures without a public vote in the suburban municipalities of Tigard and King City. Clark County (Washington), voters rejected funding for a light rail connection to the Portland system. This opposition was at the heart of defunding a replacement Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. The project recently closed after spending $175 million (see Project Closing Notice).

With the investment and expansions, these should have been the halcyon days of transit in Portland. The future could be even more challenging.

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Americans like the freedom and convenience of individual transportation, we will sacrifice spending in other areas of the economy to maintain our freedom and independence. The more government, and their bevy of retarded planners, try to make everything more expensive to tamp down evil consumerism the more we simply shift how we spend. The results: 90 million Americans out of work because all our paychecks are going to pay for the artificial 'NECESSARILY SKYROCKETING' increases imposed on any energy usage. Who is left holding the diminished dream bag, why... the very poor who 'progressives' pretend to be the champions of while at the same time destroying any hopes of prosperity for these lowest wage earners.

Portland Light Rail

If you look at the design of the Portland Light Rail system and its history, you can come to two conclusions: 1) For a city of this size, they have been consistently building more miles of light rail per capita over time than any other American metropolitan area; and 2) The majority of the system is concentrated along highways and is clearly designed to serve commuters from areas far outside the city center.

In other words, just because they built a bunch of light rail doesn't mean they put it in the right place. The areas where transit will always be most effective are the densest neighborhoods closest to the city center. Very few stations in the MAX system could be described as serving those types of neighborhoods. Instead of using the decline of public transit usage in the Portland area as an example of why cities should not build rail, a better lesson to be learned is design of the system counts as much as how much is being built. For example, Dallas and Denver followed the same pattern as Portland and have low performing systems. Houston built its line(s) in the right places and has the highest ridership per mile of any modern LRT system.

You can build mass transit, but you can't make people use it...

I have had some exposure to urban planning classes and thinking. This is where Portland was held up, repeatedly, as the transit model for cities.

IMHO - strictly a gut feeling: you can build the best transit system money can buy, but as long as trips in a car are shorter/faster/cheaper, that will be the dominant mode of transport. The US is a culture of "striving" - of packing as much ambition into one day as possible. How can one work 8-9 hrs a day, take classes in the evenings, pick up the kids from daycare, run kids around to various activities - without a car? How can one pack as much living into each day without a personal mode of transportation? Public transportation slows down the "ambitious striving person" way too much.

Not rocket science

And consider this: public subsidies to roads, end up costing about 1 cent per person mile traveled on them, while public subsidies to the MOST COST EFFECTIVE mass transit systems cost around 10 cents per person mile, and on Portland's light rail system, the cost is around $1.50

So it is not rocket science to work out which expenditure of public money will be bringing the greatest return in terms of economic activity enabled.


Planning and unintended consequences - Hayek laughs last again

A potential contributing factor here:

The graph of Portland's "Spatial Distribution of Density" on page 12 in this paper by Alain Bertaud, should have "planners" asking what result they really want? Increased density at the fringe but NOT nearer the CBD?

http://alain- bertaud.com/ images/AB_ The%20Costs% 20of%20Utopia_ BJM4b.pdf

This is because lower income households have been forced by higher land values, to accept smaller homes further away from the CBD; as Bertaud says:

".......instead of being able to make a trade-off between distance and land consumption. ......."

"........the practical outcome of a positive density gradient is longer trips for more people....."

"...... As predicted, land prices are going up because of the supply constraint imposed by the UGB, developers respond by developing higher density housing in the vacant areas between the limits of the current built-up area and the UGB. This of course has a tendency to reverse the slope of the gradient.... .....In the long run, the higher density which will built-up on the vacant land along the UGB will increase the accessibility of suburban shopping malls at the expense of the relative accessibility of the CBD. This is not the outcome that the planners intended......"

It is also worth noting that the inflation of the price of land slows down redevelopment and intensification in existing areas, including where the transit routes are. It is ironic that public subsidies are required to bring about the planners desired redevelopments near transit routes, when the provision of the transit routes was intended to provoke the redevelopment in the first place. However, "the invisible hand" of the market does funny things to thwart planners intentions - such as the owners of the land that the planners have favoured, "holding out" for the largest possible gains - simply because it makes commercial sense, same as holding onto gold in a rising market.

Anthony Downs; "A Growth Strategy for the Greater Vancouver Region", 2007:

"......The cost of land poses a key dilemma for urban planners everywhere who want to concentrate jobs together so they can be best served by public transit. Such concentration raises the costs of land near centers; in fact, it would confer a monopoly advantage on landowners who owned such land and could exploit firms trying to locate there. Now firms want to locate elsewhere to cut their
land costs.

Planned concentration of jobs in a few centers is not consistent with private ownership and control of land. Some type of collective control over that land would be necessary to prevent monopolistic exploitation of land values. In theory, this could be done with high land taxes in such areas and special zoning rules. But adopting those devices is politically difficult in a free enterprise economy.......

"......A similar but less intensive dilemma concerns land near transit stops, where it would be most efficient to concentrate high-density housing and jobs. That also creates ownership monopolies over such land unless it is specially controlled or taxed. Yet focusing development near transit stops is a key to using more transit....."


Anthony Downs; "Can Transit Tame Sprawl?" Jan 2002:

".....In "The Costs of Sprawl 2000", a recent study conducted by Rutgers University, the Brookings Institution and several other organizations, part of the research examined how housing prices vary with distance from the regional downtown of each metropolitan area. Although only a few areas were analyzed, the study showed consistently that prices of similar homes tended to decline about 1.2 to 1.5 percent per additional mile from the regional downtown, except where
proximity to the ocean had more influence on prices—as in Southern California. Meanwhile, longer-distance commutes added to fuel and travel-time costs by about the same amount per mile in every region. The study also found that per-mile housing-cost savings from added commuting distance were much larger in regions with absolutely very high housing costs than in those with absolutely low housing costs. Therefore, it was more likely to be economically worthwhile for
households to move further out to gain cheaper housing in high-housing-cost regions such as the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, than in low-housing-cost areas......."

Possibly planners should learn that their objectives would be better served if they did not inflate land prices with UGB's etc; and that if they can't use "eminent domain" to achieve their "TOD" objectives, they are wasting their time.

Expanding rails and transit

Expanding rails and transit could help commuters to travel to urban areas fast, easy and within a cheap cost so this plan could bring a good future for the public commuters. Just hope that the budget for this expansion wouldn't get corrupted so this project will happen for sure. Mercedes-Benz repair Marina del Rey