Don’t Forget the Zoning

Portland Streetcar

» 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

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Citing Competition for Funds, US DOT Limits Commitment to Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail

Milwaukie MAX

» Facing construction cost increases, project planners asked for a higher federal share than originally planned. But the FTA has now made clear it will only pay so much for the nation’s biggest transit projects.

In recent years, the federal government has failed to provide a logical explanation for the manner in which it determines the share of funds it contributes to each proposed New Start major transit capital project, leaving the rest to local and state sources. The agency hasn’t provided strong incentives for cities that provide the most “cost-effective” expansion programs, nor has it produced a formula that allows transit agencies to plan their finances for new projects from the get-go. It has also been markedly ambivalent about investments in very expensive transit projects, no matter their respective value per dollar.

Under this system, big cities with big projects serving a lot of transit riders are systematically denied

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Controversial Portland Columbia River Crossing Under Pressure to Move Forward, Despite Flaws

» Bridge connecting Oregon and Washington planned for construction start in 2012, with light rail link included. But its new road capacity isn’t needed.

In most cities, this debate would have ended years ago, and the results would have been far less pretty. The governors of both states involved are highly supportive of the freeway project, and they’ve unearthed enough financing to pay for it. With state departments of transportation pledging their involvement and money, there wouldn’t been much of margin for substantial change.

Yet the Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing has been plagued by delays primarily because Portland prides itself on being one of the most ecologically aware North American cities, and therefore one of the least inclined support increased freeway capacity. Something had to be done — the existing bridge is structurally unsound and congested at rush hours — but

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Portland’s New Light Rail Line is Welcome News, But It’s Not Routed as It Should Be

» The Green Line, providing service to Clackamas County, will open Saturday.

Portland’s light rail expansion program will complete its most recent phase tomorrow, as trains on the city’s fourth line will make their way from downtown to Clackamas County along a right-of-way paralleling I-205. The 8.3-mile Green Line is expected to serve more than 40,000 riders by 2025 and required $575 million to build over two and a half years. Yet, despite excitement over Portland’s continued investment in rail transit, the Green Line’s route is imperfect, stuck on the side of a freeway and poorly linked to the denser areas adjacent to its route. Its completion illustrates the constraints that funding and history put on local transit advocates and their resulting decision to align a major capital investment along a less-than-appropriate corridor.

In the 1970s, activists in the Portland area put a stop to the Mount Hood Freeway,

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Portland's Regional Planning Agency Highlights Two New Corridors for Light Rail

Second line to Gresham and new path to Sherwood would extend city’s high-capacity network.

Portland’s Metro regional planning authority has picked two corridors for future major transit investments, plotting the region’s path towards better public transportation. The new routes would extend east and southwest from downtown and will be developed consecutively after the completion of projects already in the engineering stage today. Metro also selected a number of other corridors for long-term consideration.

Along with the I-205 Green Line light rail scheduled for opening on September 12, the Portland region is currently planning a new light rail line south to Milwaukie, another north to Vancouver (WA), and a streetcar extension south to Lake Oswego. These projects, already being readied for the New Start funding process, will be the first completed.

Metro’s new plans confirm that new routes between downtown and Gresham along Powell Boulevard and

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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