Don’t Forget the Zoning

» Streetcar projects promise new development along their rights-of-way. But cities must allow new transit-oriented buildings to be built nearby. A look at St. Louis and Portland.

In the United States, streetcars have assumed a dramatic new prominence, in part because of increasing federal support. In dozens of cities, new lines are under construction, funded, or in planning thanks to local political leadership that recognizes the benefits of such investments in relatively cheap new rail lines. While streetcars are typically not the most efficient mobility providers — compared to light rail lines and often even buses, they are slower and more likely to be caught in traffic — they are promoted as development tools. Streetcars, it is said, will bring new construction and the densification of districts that are served by the new rail lines.

But streetcars alone aren’t enough to spur construction of residential and commercial buildings in neighborhoods with transit service. Just as important are the municipal regulations guiding new development. If zoning prevents large buildings around streetcar corridors, how exactly will streetcars lead to new construction?

A comparison of two streetcar projects — one soon to enter construction in St. Louis and the other about to open for service in Portland — shows that there are very different rules guiding what can be built in the two cities. The result may be that one city sees significant new growth along its corridor and the other sees very little, despite both projects being new streetcar lines. Other cities looking to extract value from their transportation investments should consider how their land use regulations may affect new construction.

St. Louis

Unlike most cities building new streetcar lines, St. Louis’ federally funded project will be constructed outside of downtown, in the Loop District four miles from the city center. The Loop Trolley will extend two miles from the Missouri History Museum at Forest Park, along DeBaliviere Avenue, and west along Delmar Boulevard into the independent municipality of University City. The route, which will be partially double tracked, will serve ten stops and is expected to attract about 800 riders per weekday (and 2,000 per weekend day) in the opening year, rising eventually to 2,600 riders a day by 2025.

The project suffers from many of the flaws of other streetcar lines throughout the country — it will have limited frequencies, a non-exclusive right-of-way, and a route that doesn’t directly serve the biggest destination in the area: Washington University.

More important, however, is the fact that zoning in both St. Louis and University City is not adequate to produce “urban infill and transit-oriented development along the route,” as project proponents claim the Trolley will encourage.

In the City of St. Louis, the blocks directly facing the streetcar route are mostly zoned for neighborhood commercial, commercial district, and multiple family dwelling areas. In these districts, buildings cannot exceed three stories or 45 to 50 feet. Non-residential buildings are limited to a floor area ratio (FAR) of just 1.5*. Meanwhile, non-pedestrian-oriented uses, such as drive-through restaurants, are allowed to be constructed. For residential buildings, developers are required to provide parking for one car per unit, and commercial structures over a size limit must provide parking as well.

In University City on the western section of the route, zoning is similarly restrictive. Half a block off the Delmar Loop, where the line runs, “core commercial” zoning is used. In these areas, residential units, bars, hotels, and more are allowed, but they require a conditional use permit from city hall to be installed — a needless complication for uses that are more than appropriate for this kind of area. Buildings are limited to just 35 feet in height, with the exception of certain buildings with large setbacks. But in a walkable area like this, it is more than appropriate to build taller structures right up to the sidewalk line. North of the streetcar corridor, high density residential zoning is in effect, but there no mixing of uses is allowed at all, and FAR is limited to 1 unless buildings are built on one acre or larger lots.

Just a block or two south of the route, in both St. Louis and University City, surrounding land is mostly zoned for single-family homes in “neighborhood preservation areas” that make a mix of land uses and increased building sizes almost impossible to construct.

In sum, even if developers are intrigued by the idea of building along the streetcar corridor, St. Louis’ project is likely to attract little actual construction because of city regulations that limit new construction. Developers wanting to build large structures will be limited by low height limits and requirements to get special permits to provide a mix of land uses. That should put a big question mark over how valuable the project will be from a land use perspective.

Portland

Portland’s streetcar, which has been in operation since 2001, has been the national model for such projects; combined with the city’s large MAX light rail network, it has offered this region a transit-friendly image. Thanks to an infusion of $75 million in federal funds, the city has built a $148 million, 3.3-mile extension that will open for service on September 22. The project is expected to roughly double existing ridership (now about 12,000 on a weekday) and attract 2.4 million square feet of development by serving the Lloyd District and Central Eastside neighborhoods, which are across the Willamette river from downtown. In these areas, there is currently a paucity of urban development and plenty of space for new construction. The project connects to the north end of the existing streetcar, runs across the river, runs south on Grand Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard to the Oregon Museum of Science and Indutry, and will eventually form a loop around the city center when it is connected with the south end of the existing streetcar in 2015.

Portland Streetcar Loop map, from Portland Streetcar

Like St. Louis’ line, Portland’s also has some transportation deficiencies. Rather than offering direct access into downtown, the route requires riders to take a circuitous journey to get there. Trains will run in a right-of-way shared with automobiles. Based on the schedule, trains will run through the area at just 7 mph, an absurdly slow pace even for a streetcar. Compounding the problem is that the service will only be provided into the Eastside at headways of 18 minutes (which is far worse than the 12-minute headways promised in 2008 for the project). If you miss a train, there is little point in waiting for the next one at those frequencies.

Nevertheless, Portland’s project offers far more opportunity for new development around the line than the St. Louis program. As shown in the images below, very high densities — up to an FAR of 12 in the Lloyd District but at least 5 everywhere — are allowed in the blocks directly surrounding the new streetcar extension, and very little has been built there so far, so there are many opportunities for growth. The top image should make us question whether some areas along the existing streetcar loop, such as the Pearl District, deserve to see a serious up-zoning to allow for increasing new development.

Above: The degree to which blocks surrounding Portland Streetcar and extension have been developed. Below: Allowed floor-area ratios by block. Source: City of Portland

With the densities allowed in Portland, significant new construction in the Eastside areas will be possible. Based on previous trends in the city, such development seems likely. In downtown Census tracts (on the west side of the river), the total population has increased massively since 1980, going from 8,671 then to 17,789 in 2010; about half of that increase was between 2000 and 2010 alone. That kind of growth would have been impossible without the increase in transportation options made possible through the construction of the city’s streetcar and light rail systems.

Meanwhile, though the percentage of people living in those areas using private cars to get to work has increased since 1980, when just 26% did (following the national trend), it has declined from 38.3% in 1990 to 36.9% in 2010, indicating that the new development is attracting people who want to live without cars on a daily basis. That’s a success that seems likely to be continued with the streetcar extension.

———

Transportation engineers are loath to support new streetcar lines because they cannot understand why it makes sense to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a rail line when a far cheaper bus service would provide similar, or even more, mobility benefits. From the pure perspective of moving people from one place to another, streetcars are irrational investments.

Some Portland residents have expressed concerns that the streetcar has been excessively subsidized even as bus routes have faced service cuts and increasing fares because of declining revenue. If transportation spending were simply about helping people move around, these would be entirely legitimate claims.

But we can overlook the technical deficiencies of these two streetcar projects by emphasizing their development impacts. The point of the St. Louis and Portland projects is not necessarily to attract many users (though the latter line likely will), but rather to develop a culture of transit use in dense neighborhoods where dependence upon the automobile is not a necessity. Portland has demonstrated that a fixed-route streetcar can encourage development around stops quite effectively, and thus if it is the goal of a city to increase the density of its core areas, streetcars can be a useful tool.

Without appropriate zoning, however, the value of a streetcar project declines tremendously. In places where regulations make building large, mixed-use buildings difficult, transportation projects that will not do much to improve mobility will be incapable of encouraging much construction either.

* A FAR of 2, for example, means if you have a lot of 10,000 square feet, you can build 20,000 square feet of building on site. In an urban district, a building with a FAR of 2 might have 3 to 4 stories, depending on setbacks and surrounding yard areas.

Image at top: Portland Streetcar and MAX light rail line cross path, from Portland Streetcar

42 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Tom West

    “From the pure perspective of moving people from one place to another, streetcars are irrational investments.”
    …except that steel-on-steel vehicles can potentially carry far more people than rubber-on-asphalt vehicles. If you have the volumes but the the right-of-way width for exclusivity, then streetcars can make sense.

    • Bruce Nourish

      And all that capacity is GREAT if you need it. If not, you would have been better off spending the money on capital improvements to bus service, of which you can buy a LOT for the cost of a mile of streetcar.

      Seattle’s SLU streetcar is a good example of short-line low-speed high-capacity rail service working really well, as part of a huge public/private effort to redevelop an area just outside easy walking distance from Seattle’s real transit spine. (Oh, and it runs at 10-15 minute headways at all times).

      Portland’s Central Eastside? It’s no South Lake Union, I’ll tell you that, and I’m not aware of any developer-city partnership like the Vulcan-Nickels/Drago partnership which could make it so.

  • Beta Magellan

    The point of the St. Louis and Portland projects is not necessarily to attract many users (though the latter line likely will), but rather to develop a culture of transit use in dense neighborhoods where dependence upon the automobile is not a necessity.

    At 18 minute (or even 12 minute) frequencies that’s unlikely to happen. If residents of new developments end up less dependent on the private automobile (as I suspect will be the case in Portland), it will be because they cycle, walk or take a frequent bus to work.

    • Bruce Nourish

      You beat me to it. I love you Yonah, but I LOLed at that line. Mixed-traffic-running transit at 18 minute daytime headways develops a culture of “if I need to get somewhere in a timely fashion I need a car”.

      This post is still rather rose-tinted about the Portland streetcar experience. Yes, the Pearl District is lovely, but there are plenty of other areas on the line that have experienced no renaissance in development. Some already were quite nice, some weren’t and still aren’t. In my many visits to Portland I’ve never set foot on the thing: it’s been Max and buses for everything. It’s been painful to watch TriMet gutting the frequency on the grid while building streetcars to nowhere.

    • Nathanael

      Apparently the frequency is supposed to double (to 9 minute frequencies?) at some time in the future (after they finish the bridge on the south end, and perhaps after they get more streetcars?) This seemed vague, but once the frequency doubles it has a chance.

      It’s worth noting that TriMet funds the streetcar only to the same extent as an equivalent bus line. The difference is made up by the City of Portland, which clearly feels that the streetcar is worth it as a development tool. *shrug*

    • ThomasD

      The Portland Streetcar is also a valuable tool making Portland more tourist-friendly. I witnessed it firsthand, by not wondering where i would park. Just hopped on went places and spent money.

  • What you’re missing is that zoning doesn’t mean much of anything in St. Louis. Exemptions are the norm and taller buildings than allowed by zoning would certainly be allowed along the Loop Trolley route. What is true, though, is that the zoning allows drive-through restaurants, banks, etc. – all very harmful to TOD and dense development. And it’s true that along a large portion of the route, it’s very unlikely we’ll see dense development no matter the zoning. The Loop Trolley is nearly the antithesis of the Portland Streetcar. Of course that didn’t stop the Loop Trolley Company from having John Carroll extol its virtues. Anyway, while existing zoning may appear problematic, what’s actually in the works is something different: http://nextstl.com/stl-county/parkview-gardens-leads-optimistic-plan-for-university-city

  • Guesty McGuesterson

    That’s not the only problem with the Loop Trolley project. The farebox revenue projections are outlandish and exceed those of every other comparable system; the retail study that was done to project the performance necessary for the TDD to adequately fund operations was based on a fully built-out Phase 2 of the project, which alignment hasn’t even been projected yet (so how great could those numbers be) and also projects a completely unrealistic retail performance, if you consider the region’s slow economic growth and existing retail glut; the project serves no transportation purpose, thanks to its hours, lack of frequency, and its duplication of the existing light rail; and the system will not integrate with the existing transit system, so fares on one won’t get you on the other. 

    It’s hard to imagine who is going to ride the darned thing more than once, for the novelty of it. People who work in the Loop won’t be able to use it to get to work because the hours are so limited. People who live in the Loop are unlikely to ride it to get around within that district because the frequency is so limited. The backers tout nearby Wash U as providing a natural ridership base, except that (1) the trolley doesn’t connect to the campus, unlike the local rail system; (2) Wash U students get subsidized transit passes so they can take the light rail for “free” to the Loop, where they will not likely pay to ride the trolley three blocks to their favorite venue.

    There are real and dire transportation needs in St. Louis. This project doesn’t meet any of them.

    • Nathanael

      The Loop Trolley will get you from the light rail to a certain collection of museums.

      It may be useful primarily for tourists.

      • Jenniferwhatnot

        Actually, it will get you to the Missouri History Museum only, which is about a block from the current light rail station. The rest of the Forest Park attractions are further into the park and won’t be reached by the new trolley.

        • Tim E

          What is lacking in the post about St. Louis Loop Trolley is that this is be driven literally by one person who is developing not for museums, not for transit but for himself, Joe Edwards, to push development on Delmar. Taking a right turn, connecting with another metrolink station and making an end point at the History Museum, which happens to be a short walk to the FP visitor is a matter of convenience. However, it is one more failure to the plan in my opinion

          I would hope they find a way to extend the trolley to Zoo and Science Museum as it would add destinations that attract more then a million visitors a year with patrons who spend money. If you build a toursit trolley why not include one of the biggest destinations locations in the region, St. Louis Zoo!!

          The question that should be discussed, will the Loop Trolley be more successful than Ybor City/Tampa downtown trolley or a underutilized piece of misguided expenditure in the name of development, walkable communities and transit? Unlie trolley that serves Ybor, the loop trolley is going straight down the main drag

  • EngineerScotty

    A few other notes about the Eastside Streetcar:

    * The streets the N/S extension runs on (MLK Jr. Boulevard and Grand Avenue) are a state highway, one which gets lots of commuter and freight traffic. How this will affect the Streetcar (and vice versa) will remain to be seen.

    * The area is crisscrossed with numerous frequent bus lines. One unfortunate issue is that the two of those bus lines (the 15-Belmont and 14-Hawthorne) cross over MLK Jr. (and the southbound Streetcar) on viaducts, making connections problematic. But that said, the area is already transit-friendly.

    * Right now, the southern terminus of the line (the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or OMSI) is not a particularly strong anchor. That will change when the Milwaukie MAX LRT line opens, and provides a MAX-to-Streetcar connection, as well as a new transit/ped bridge several bus lines will use to cross the Willamette instead of the frequently-congested Ross Island Bridge to the south.

  • Rico

    The missing question is this. If Portland had just upped the zoning for the Pearl district and maintained the same developer incentives would it have gotten the same result without a streetcar? There are some pretty dense walkable neighborhoods in Vancouver with nothing but frequent bus.

    • Beta Magellan

      There are dense, walkable neighborhoods in Milwaukee with just frequent (or frequent-ish) bus. Although some of that density came in the streetcar days, much has also happened in the last couple of decades and has been accompanied by improvements in the pedestrian experience (e. g. curb bum-outs other various hardscape improvements to make walking more pleasant). You don’t need a streetcar to build density or improve the pedestrian experience—you need a neighborhood people want to live in, a tolerance of multifamily housing, and sidewalk improvements. The tram should only come along when you need the capacity and have enough political capital to get it a dedicated lane.

  • FG

    Like GMG I think the St. Louis/U City trolley is, frankly, silly, when there are expansion plans for Metrolink that could be built. It seems like it’s just a cutesy tourist trolley for one of the little downtowns in polycentric St. Louis.

    Zoning though, can always be changed and variances aren’t really that hard to get (an attorney can help the developer and architects jump through the hoops easily enough).

  • Sam

    One other thing that isn’t mentioned here is that St. Louis is rapidly losing population while Portland is rapidly gaining it. This is one of my main problems with the streetcar fad in most of the country. When cities are shrinking because of all kinds of issues (many of which are related to bad transit service to the rest of their regions)how is a streetcar that doesn’t improve mobility going to help?

    • Progressive Capitalist

      Take Cincy as an example. The overall metro may be declining, but the OTR area (in which streetcar is being built) has grown much faster lately than even Sunbelt cities.

      Still, streetcars should be funded by development, not transit, since the benefits are in shaping the built environment, instead of traversing in it.

      And even then, enhanced bus will remain a much more cost-effective strategy for addressing capacity (articulated vehicles), ease of use (branding, frequency, technology), and even permanence for development (amenitized stops, priority lanes).

      • Nathanael

        Except that none of the claims you make for buses are actually true.

        The problems are:
        (1) people prefer rail vehicles to buses (see #3)
        (2) developers prefer rail service to bus service (see #4)
        (3) rail vehicles provide better handicapped access, better branding, and a more comfortable ride, period.
        (4) politicians will redirect or cut bus service much more easily than they will streetcar service (yes, even considering the experience of the 30s and 50s);

        The result is that none of the claims you make for buses are true. Attempts at “bus oriented development” have been made; they have *universally* failed.

        “Pedestrian oriented development” or even “bike oriented development” work better than “bus oriented development”. I couldn’t tell you why, but the record is consistent.

        • Beta Magellan

          Rail vs. bus really doesn’t make much in the case of redevelopment-oriented streetcars. They aren’t supplementing buses nor do they compete with cars—in terms of speed, their main competitors are cyclists, pedestrians and street furniture.

        • Bruce Nourish

          Rail bias is real, but you can almost always get more new riders for your capital money by spending your streetcar money on something that actually improves mobility more broadly such as extensions to rapid transit lines or capital improvements to local buses to make them more like streetcars.

          Nobody with any brains ever sold their car because a local streetcar to somewhere happens to roll by their apartment building, regardless of the headways (although streetcars at nine minute headways do no harm even if they do little good, while 18 minute headways are counterproductive).

          Some people will sell their cars because their apartment is within walking distance of real rapid transit that gets them to major destinations more conveniently than a car, and is also served by a network of local transit which can get them to less-important destinations throughout the city, if not as fast as a car, at least conveniently and reliably.

          Local-service streetcars, except in certain very specific cases like the SLU example mentioned above, are a solution in search of a problem. If they were paid for mostly or entirely by LIDs or developers, I wouldn’t care. I do care about it when it takes away from transit dollars which could actually have been spent building or maintaining stuff that actually matters.

          Your dings on “bus-oriented development” are rather odd in the light of Seattle’s experience. While nobody has actually used that phrase, the vast majority of urban village growth that we’ve experienced in the last few years have been in areas that are NOT served by rail, nor will most of those areas be served in the near future. TOD around Central Link has been close to nonexistent by comparison.

          This is partly because the alignment choice for Central Link was poor (it missed most of the existing population centers in the RV where anybody would actually want to live) and because the upzones around Link stations weren’t great; but it does suggest that other factors are more important in developer’s minds than the presence or absence of a train. This is quite similar to Portland, where some areas served by the streetcar have blossomed, and some haven’t.

          There’s a consistent record here, and I fear you may be one who is not seeing it.

          There are no silver bullets to vacuum everybody out of their cars. It takes consistent, long-term, intelligent effort to raise the quality of transit throughout the dense urban area, which means spending money in ways that move the most people as fast and reliably as possible, proportional to the ridership demand, and dependent on the characteristics of the corridor. Sometimes that way is a subway, sometimes MAX-style LRT, very often it’s a bus, and only very occasionally is it a streetcar.

          • Nathanael

            “such as extensions to rapid transit lines ”
            I won’t argue against that. Mixed-traffic streetcars are about as bad as you can do with rail.

      • Nathanael

        “Take Cincy as an example. The overall metro may be declining, but the OTR area (in which streetcar is being built) has grown much faster lately than even Sunbelt cities.”

        The same will probably happen in St Louis; the Trolley is likely to redirect development towards the area of the Trolley, even while other parts of the metro area continue to empty out.

        Perhaps this is a good strategy if the area with the Trolley is easier to serve with water / sewer / electric /etc. *shrug*

  • Joe

    A few people have already made some misguided and uninformed commentary about the St. Louis region, so I feel the need to address them.

    1) St. Louis and Portland are demographically, historically, and developmentally apples and oranges. Most comparisons are semi-relevant at best.
    2) The City of St. Louis has been declining for decades, but the bleeding has slowed in recent years. Many areas in the urban core are actually growing rapidly and densely populated.
    3) The City of St. Louis is shrinking. The St. Louis Metropolitan area is slowly growing.
    4) Metro St. Louis is actually larger with many more traditional urban neighborhoods than Portland. Portland just has better planning, more progressive politics, and the demographics to enact them (white, young, wealthy, educated).
    5) St. Louis is actually doing a lot of progressive urban planning as we speak. The Parkview Gardens plan is a good example.
    6) St. Louis has had light rail for 20 years and nearly 50 miles of track have been built in three counties and two states. One of the more successful systems in the country.

  • Nathanael

    OK, who the hell thought that restricting FAR was a good idea?

    That’s basically a “sprawl mandate”.

    • Rico

      While I support density it is important that it goes in the right places…that means you need to restrict it in some manner and plan for where you want high FAR…hopefully areas with access to good transit and a range of services including adequate green space and public spaces. I think a lack of controls on FAR would be as bad as the current status quo in most cities where increases in FAR are resisted by politicians and NIMBYS. I also think increases in density are less important to the success of neighborhoods than walkable access to services and amenities (although there is obviously some minimum density required to support different levels of these services).
      In case you are wondering that means super dense residential development in the sticks = bad. Low to medium density walkable mixed use development with good transit probably good but may be better with more density.

      • Nathanael

        I stand by my statement: restricting floor area ratio is pretty much a sprawl mandate.

        If you’re trying to prevent “undesirable” development, there’s an argument for height limits and viewsheds, an argument for “square footage per household” requirements, an argument for households-per-mile-of-road, an argument for households-per-square-acre, an argument for restrictions on impervious surface, even arguments for setbacks, but NO good argument for “floor area ratio”.

        Of all the ways I can think of to restrict development, restricting “floor area ratio” is the worst.

        • Nathanael

          Remember, a FAR restriction allows for nearly unlimited flat big-box construction, while basically preventing anything with elevators.

          It’s an appalling, terrible, stupid way to restrict development — one which encourages the most environmentally damaging construction while preventing the “lightest on the land” construction.

          • Ocean Railroader

            These types of outdated sprawl zoning are very strong in Virginia in that in a lot of the counties in my area you are not allowed to go over two or three stores and they do get very upset if you do not have enough parking spaces to one parking for a building. It’s really a pain in that a lot of buildings and the area suffer from what I call wasted space. Such as you have this one story tall strip malls that have dozens of little stores in them but their only one floor tall and need lots and lots of space and parking space. It might be interesting if they where allowed to put in one or two levels of condos or apartments over top of them in that you would be getting double the space and use out of the same piece of land. Also a lot of these places are in happening areas so it might work out.

            Another thing is the counties in Virginia don’t care about them putting in multi family homes on a 10 acre green forest lot of land some of these suburban lots which ends up looking like a group of houses with giant parking lots around them. Or they will have dozens of houses all over devouring up the green space. It might save more green space to instead have a eight or ten story large building on the same lot of land as the crowded muti family houses and have the small eight story high rise building sit on the same lot of 10 acres but instead have eight acres of forested park like green space instead.

  • Progressive Capitalist

    As for the chicken-or-egg debate about the Pearl District and Portland, maybe compare Charlotte. There, the South End area was zoned for TOD prior to light rail (granted, some minor development occurred with the prior trolley), then unbelievably took off in recent years. Meanwhile, the Elizabeth area was zoned for TOD (different but similar zoning district outside stations) but hasn’t yet taken off, but also hasn’t yet seen the completion of streetcar.

    In both cases, zoning was proactive and in place prior to major rail investments. Yet comparatively, the light-rail corridor (South End) already built has boomed, while the streetcar corridor (Elizabeth) soon-to-be-built has lagged.

    Now, is this contrast because it takes rail first for developer confidence? Or could it be that the development return on mixed-traffic streetcar is less than rapid-transit light-rail? Or could it even be market timing, where South End had enough critical mass before the recession to quickly recover and keep building even more afterwards, while Elizabeth is just getting started post-recession?

  • Adam

    I don’t understand why the height restriction is necessarily a deal-breaker. St. Louis has always been a short city, relatively, yet maintained an extensive rail-based streetcar system from the mid 1800s until the late 1960s, during which time the population grew from ~100K to ~860K at its peak in 1950 (density ~13K/sq mi) and has now declined to ~320K. Clearly, an average building height of ~3-4 stories outside of DT did not preclude the necessary density for a successful streetcar system. So given todays population density and the glut of now-vacant land in various places along the new streetcar route, I don’t see THAT particular restriction as a problem. The bigger problem is the limited route and hours of operation and the frequency.

    • A couple differences:

      1. Car ownership is higher today. Until the 1950s, St. Louis had a very large population of people for whom the alternative to the streetcar was walking. It no longer does.

      2. Development patterns have been getting spikier. This means a couple of towers around a train station, rather than a continuous mid-rise strip along a line. Vancouver, which is not a bigger metro area than St. Louis, has a lot of high-rise residential buildings downtown; the West End, which is walking distance to downtown, is at 20,000/km^2, and the TOD around SkyTrain and the denser areas not on the network are about 10,000. The census tracts around the newer Millennium Line are 2,500-5,000/km^2, and that line underperforms.

      3. Travel patterns have been getting less downtown-centric, especially in cities with large declines in urban population. In 1950, the new car-owning middle class drove to the CBD. Today, they drive to a suburban office park. This means a lot of urban residents need to commute to the suburbs, too, or to outer-urban neighborhoods of the city.

      • Adam

        good point about car ownership then vs. now. but i don’t think building height along this route is going to effect car ownership patterns in St. Louis. bus ridership has been increasing in STL city, but those who don’t/won’t ride the bus still need a car to get anywhere outside the central spine. i think the egg in this case is going to have to be a small, calculated system (and i’m not saying that the loop trolley has been well-calculated) that allows people to live without a car (i.e. at least serves a dense neighborhood or two, an employment center, and a shopping district with a grocer) and proves the systems viability. the loop trolley current only meets one of those criteria (the loop, aside from retail, is not a job center and although Washington University is very close the trolley won’t be stopping there), but will also likely attract a grocery store to the loop. my hope for the trolley is just that it performs well-enough to spur interest in expansion.

      • FG

        Alon –

        I think your point #2 is only valid in Canada – every Canadian city similar in size to Portland or St. Louis has a much larger number of high-rises and they are more spread through the metropolitan areas (If if recall, Edmonton, Ab had the most people living above the like 5th floor of any city in North American at one point, about ten years ago when I was last there). In Chicago, for instance, a much larger city, there are the high-rises along the like, downtown Oak Park and Evanston and a few other clusters elsewhere in the suburbs, but otherwise few residential buildings over 3 floors.

        St. Louis always had a sort of polycentric spiky development pattern from what I remember – you’d come across these little knots of 8-12 story buildings in the outer parts of the city and inner suburbs.

        • Beta Magellan

          FG, the areas with the most residential growth in Chicago have been quite centered around downtown. Development doesn’t really happen along corridors anymore but rather in spots. Look at retail—it’s shifted from street-long corridors to malls or specific shopping districts. This is even true for gentrified retail corridors—Milwaukee in Wicker Park, for instance is strongest for a pretty short stretch between Ashland and Damen Avenues and the retail strip along Broadway, too, is strongest within a half-mile Belmont.

  • anon

    You don’t need massive height for a workable streetcar route – Toronto’s streetcars almost exclusively travel down two-to-three story streets and are phenomenally successful. There are dense low- and mid-rise patterns that can be used.

  • Patrick Richmond

    Streetcars were the best in St. Louis and in the early summer of 1940, St. Louis Public Service Company bought some streamlined streetcars also known as PCC cars. And during World War II, just about everybody rode streetcars. With the big oil companies playing stupid with our prices and even getting away with it thanks to the politicians in Washington, many people that are tired of the gas prices and cost of owning an automobile states that taking the streetcar lines out of service was a stupid thing to do. Streetcars run on electricity. That means a clean form of transportation. Just about as clean as riding a bicycle or walking.

    Someone was talking of elevators. Now days public buildings such as department stores and some restaurants are now required to either have elevators or chair lifts to serve the handicapped. And I have found that Otis has been making quality elevators from the start. And now other elevator builders are installing “talking” elevators for those who are blind.

    The thing that kills a line is when management of something like a restaurant chain forbids local restaurants to publish any transit oriented lingo. Which I think is pretty stupid. Portland’s streetcars look quite modern.

    Eventhough that they do show up in different colors which does make the line look pretty. The Delmar Streetcar project is using restored old Peter Witt streetcars that are similar to the ones that ran in St. Louis. The St. Louis streetcar service closed in 1966, but the Peter Witt cars ended service sometime in the 1950s leaving only the much newer PCCs still running.

    The last streetcar line closed in 1966 was the #15 Hodiamont. The #11 University was closed in 1964. Only part of old track on that line between Skinker and Big Bend was reopened in 2006 as a part of the MetroLink Blue line. And no matter what time of the day it is, the train seems to be packed.

  • Jason Graf

    Bruce N would be wise to get his Portland development facts right, or even fully read this article- Fortunately Portland’s Central Eastside is not like South Lake Union nor do we have to worry about developers like Vulcan who struggle to put together viable developments in their own city. A glut of SLU unleased groundfloor space and office space is evidence enough. Portland’s redevelopment of the Pearl district and South waterfront are enough of a testament to the success and quality of development that Seattle has yet to achieve for the majority of its redevelopment projects.

    • Uh, Portland does have to deal with Vulcan (aka Paul Allen)–he owns our NBA franchise, after all, and a big chunk of the Rose Quarter, along with the CL Streetcar passes.

      That said, Vulcan isn’t as important to the CL as it was to the SLU…. gotta avoid the temptation to type that T. :)

  • It’s not apparent to me that the Streetcar is necessary as a development tool. Developments every bit as walkable as the Pearl or the South Waterfront have gone up in Houston, well outside the walkshed of LRT.

    Rather, it seems like the Streetcar primarily provided the political will to do the zoning change. A decade ago, the Central Eastside was almost entirely IG1, which prohibits residences and some retail typologies. Now it’s EXd, which is the best and most inclusive zoning designation Portland has.

    The dirty little secret is that they probably could’ve just zoned it EXd, without the streetcar, and still seen the exact same development.

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