How Not to Revitalize Downtown


The city of Portland announced yesterday that it received a $2 million federal grant to get it to ban gasoline (and, presumably, Diesel) delivery vehicles in a sixteen-block area of downtown Portland. That means all supplies to offices in that area will have to be transferred from petroleum-powered vehicles to electric vehicles before they enter the zone, thus driving up costs.

The good news is that three of those 16 blocks are city parks and eight are government buildings, so only five blocks of private office buildings will be affected (not that anyone should cheer about a policy that makes government cost even more than it already does). In addition to offices, I count at least four restaurants and coffee shops plus a beauty salon that will be annoyed by the new rules. At least one other restaurant has already “permanently closed,” probably due to recent rioting, and this new rule may be all that is needed to push some of the others out as well. It’s also worth noting that there are plenty of parking garages in the area, so none of the bureaucrats who are making these rules will have to have their lives disturbed by them.

Update: Bojack points out that the city has given an exclusive, no-bid contract to make deliveries into the 16-block zone to a company called B-line that operates a fleet of electric tricycles. Restaurants and offices that need supplies will have to have them delivered to B-line’s warehouse, where they will be transferred to the tricycles and delivered to the customers. This might save a little congestion in the 16-block area (though historically lots of deliveries were done at night), but it isn’t going to save much greenhouse gases.

The no-bid aspect of this is disturbing. The city got a $2 million federal grant to effectively support a private company that seems to get by on its political connections. Is there any real evidence that this is helping the climate? Or is it all just another power play?

Meanwhile, the small town of Tucumcari, New Mexico, which I know mainly as the place where Southern Pacific and Rock Island railroads once handed off the Golden State to one another, is considering revitalizing its downtown by rezoning it to allow for residences. I don’t have any objections to that except that claims that there is a “pent-up demand” to live downtown are overblown, as cities such as Denver, Portland, and Seattle that have built a lot of downtown housing have subsidized most of it. Fortunately for downtown property owners but unfortunately for other Tucumcari taxpayers, the city has already declared its downtown a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area, which means it is ready to subsidize any new development it can get.

This piece first appeared at The Antiplanner.

Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Photo: The cheery view greeting coffee drinkers looking for the Starbucks in the downtown Portland area that will be ruled off limits to gasoline-powered delivery vehicles. Source: Google street view.

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Will they be bringing in the plate glass to replace broken windows?