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Smart growth not smart in Portland

From: Pat Marriott <"Pat>
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2018 19:14:30 -0800

Council Members:

There's a lot of talk about "smart" growth, but I hope we can learn from
places who have tried it and discovered it's not all it's made out to be.

                Pat Marriott

Smart Growth Not Smart in Portland
<http://bettercupertino.blogspot.com/2017/07/smart-growth-not-smart-in-portl
and.html>

Portland has been on the forefront of Smart Growth movement. It has invested
greatly in bicycle infrastructures and light rail lines. It has concentrated
density in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). The following two articles
from Cascade Policy Institute did a reality check on whether Smart Growth
succeeded or not.

* Portlands' Regional Transit Strategy is Not Working, December 6,
2016,
<http://cascadepolicy.org/blog/2016/12/06/portlands-regional-transit-strateg
y-is-not-working/> By John A. Charles, Jr.
* What Can Be Learned from Portland Smart Growth Experience?, February
10, 2016,
<http://cascadepolicy.org/blog/2016/02/10/what-can-be-learned-from-portlands
-smart-growth-experience/> By John A. Charles, Jr.

Surprisingly, the two articles by John A. Charles, Jr. point out that after
20 years of Smart Growth, Smart Growth is not so smart in Portland:

* "The share of all commute trips taken by public transit fell 17%
during the past year. The transit share of all Portland commute trips peaked
in 2008 at 15%. Since then it has hovered near 12%, and now rests at 10%."
(This is after adding four new light rail lines, commuter rail and streetcar
and an investment of $6.3 billion dollars)
* There is only about 10% drop in SOV (single-occupancy vehicle) and
about 5% and 4% increase in those who bike or walk respectively.
* "On the land-use front, planners have succeeded in their goal of
densifying the region; but there was collateral damage. Due to density
regulations, buildable land is now scarce, driving up the cost of housing.
This is incentivizing many property owners to tear down nice homes and
replace them with out-of-scale apartment buildings - many with no off-street
parking. Some Portland Progressives who supported this planning agenda now
wonder why their formerly pleasant neighborhoods are flooded with
automobiles."
* "In the suburbs, most new projects simply have no backyards." There
is no room for kids. "Most dwellings will be attached units on tiny lots.
The larger parcels - averaging only 7,000 square feet - are being marketed
as lots for "executive housing.""Nice backyards that were once common are
now only available to the rich, due to the artificial scarcity of land that
Smart Growth calls for.

Another article "The Evolving Urban Form: Portland
<http://www.newgeography.com/content/003856-the-evolving-urban-form-portland
?page=5> ", August 3, 2013, By Wendell Cox pointed out the following:

* "Portland has developed an extensive rail system, intended to
attract drivers from their cars. Yet the share of commuters using transit
has fallen by a quarter since 1980, the last data available before the first
light rail line opened. In short, rail has not changed the calculus of
travel in Portland."
* Clinging to the fantasy transit can materially reduce automobile
travel, Oregon officials have blocked substantial roadway expansions.
Residents have been rewarded with much intensified traffic congestion.

The Texas A&M Texas Transportation Institute
<http://www.newgeography.com/content/'http:/mobility.tamu.edu/ums/> Annual
Mobility Report (Note 4) reveals Portland to have the 6th worst traffic
congestion in the nation among major metropolitan areas. This compares to a
before-rail ranking of 39th in 1982. (Portland is less dense than all major
urban areas in the 13 western states, with the exception of Seattle.)

More negative consequences from Portland's not-so-smart Smart Growth
policies in "Why Denver should avoid Portland
<http://completecolorado.com/pagetwo/2013/12/28/why-denver-should-avoid-port
lands-not-so-smart-growth-policies/> 's not-so-smart growth policies",
December 28, 2013, by Baruch Feigenbaum:

* "The city has engaged in too much traffic calming by deliberately
slowing almost every route. This has made it challenging to travel anywhere
during rush hour. ... A two-minute delay for an ambulance can be a matter of
life and death."
* "For another city to adopt a successful urban growth boundary, it
needs to have characteristics similar to Portland for the growth boundary
model to work. These include a small close-knit leadership group, a
homogenous population and little interest in growth. But even if a region
were to have these features, would a region want a model that spends
billions of dollars on transit, yet fails to noticeably increase transit
ridership? Would a region want a model that makes its affordability worse
than San Francisco or New York City?"
* "Portland's urban growth boundary has not led to increased transit
usage. Driving, either alone or as part of a carpool, is by far the dominant
mode. Despite the urban growth boundaries and all the money poured into
construction of light-rail and streetcars, public transport still accounts
for less than 7.0% of all travel in the urbanized area."
* "Despite the hype, Portland's share of bicycling and walking are not
that impressive. Even with all the bike paths and the extra wide roads in
the region, biking only accounts for 2.5% of all travel in the urbanized
area."
* "growth boundaries have major negatives. They may protect land but
they also increase housing prices for the poorest residents.In fact,
considering all factors such as income, college education, demand, etc.
Portland was 37th of 37, or worst in housing affordability in the country.
Growth boundaries have increased gentrification in some areas of downtown
Portland, where wealthy individuals are displacing poor families."


Have the planners learned from the failures and adjust their plans? Mr. John
Charles Jr. states

"Perhaps the most disappointing fact about regional planning in Portland is
that very little effort is being made to learn from the experience. Since
2008, at least four audit reports by the Metro Auditor have criticized
agency planners for this failure."

Has the planners in Santa Clara County learned anything from the failure of
Smart Growth in Portland? With very little investment in transit
infrastructure in Santa Clara County, could building high-density mixed-use
"urban centers" in every scattered commercial site ever bring us anywhere
closer to the utopia of Smart Growth?
Here in San Jose, the ridership of VTA drops even more than Portland:

Despite a Santa Clara Valley population and jobs boom, ridership on buses
and light-rail trains has dropped a staggering 23 percent since 2001,
forcing the Valley Transportation Authority to consider its biggest shake-up
ever in transit service.
(http://www.mercurynews.com/2016/04/17/staggering-drop-in-vta-bus-ridership-
may-signal-dramatic-changes/)

 

<><><<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

Portlands' Regional Transit Strategy is Not Working, December 6, 2016, By
John A. Charles, Jr.
http://cascadepolicy.org/blog/2016/12/06/portlands-regional-transit-strategy
-is-not-working/

The Portland Auditor released the 2016 Annual Community Survey on November
30. The responses show that the share of all commute trips taken by public
transit fell 17% during the past year.

This was part of a longer-term decline in transit use. The transit share of
all Portland commute trips peaked in 2008 at 15%. Since then it has hovered
near 12%, and now rests at 10%.

Taxpayers should be especially concerned about the negative correlation
between passenger rail construction and market share. In 1997, when the
region had only one light rail line-the Blue line to Gresham-transit market
share was 12%.

After extending the Blue line to Hillsboro and adding four new lines plus
the WES commuter rail and the Portland Streetcar, transit market share is
only 10%.

 

Travel Mode Share for Weekday Commuting

Portland citywide, 1997-2016


Mode

1997

2000

2004

2008

2010

2012

2014

2015

2016

        


SOV

71%

69%

72%

65%

62%

61%

63%

60%

61%


Carpool

9%

9%

8%

8%

7%

6%

6%

5%

6%


Transit

12%

14%

13%

15%

12%

12%

11%

12%

10%


Bike

3%

3%

4%

8%

7%

7%

8%

7%

8%


Walk

5%

5%

3%

4%

6%

7%

8%

9%

9%


Other

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

7%

6%

6%

7%

7%

      Source: Portland Auditor, Annual Community Survey

The numbers cited above are for citywide travel patterns. When broken out by
sector, the Auditor found that just 5% of all commuters in Southwest
Portland took transit to work in 2016. Despite this lack of interest by
commuters, TriMet and Metro are working to gain approval for another light
rail line extension from Portland State University through SW Portland to
Bridgeport Village. The likely construction cost will be around $2.4
billion.

Unfortunately, there is no empirical basis for thinking that cannibalizing
current bus service with costly new trains would have any measurable effect
on transit use.

Transit advocates like to claim that we simply need to spend more money to
boost ridership, but we've already tried that. TriMet's annual operating
budget went up from $212.2 million in 1998 to $542.2 million in 2016. After
adjusting for inflation, that's an increase of 72%. Those increases were on
top of construction costs for rail, which cumulatively exceeded $3.6 billion
during that era.

It's time to stop the myth-making and start holding public officials
accountable for a plan that isn't working.

  _____


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute,
Oregon's free market public policy research organization.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

What Can Be Learned from Portland Smart Growth Experience?, February 10,
2016, By John A. Charles, Jr.
http://cascadepolicy.org/blog/2016/02/10/what-can-be-learned-from-portlands-
smart-growth-experience/

The annual "New Partners for Smart Growth" conference opens in Portland on
Thursday, February 11. "Smart Growth" refers to an amorphous planning theory
favoring (or requiring) high urban densities, mixed-use development, and
non-auto travel.

Given Portland's status as the Mecca for this philosophy, it's likely that
the conference will be a love fest of planners, activists, and consultants
celebrating the "Portland story." Unfortunately, the reality of Smart Growth
is a lot less glamorous than the PowerPoint slides.

For example, Portland has been a leader in light rail construction for over
30 years, but it hasn't changed how people travel. According to the Portland
City Auditor, in 1997 - when Portland had only one light rail line
terminating in Gresham - 12% of Portland commuters took transit.

In 2015, transit use was still only 12% of commuter travel, despite (or
because of) a multi-billion rail construction campaign that added a
streetcar loop, a new commuter rail line, and five new light rail lines.
During that era bus service was reduced by 14%, and buses still account for
two-thirds of daily riders.

On the land-use front, planners have succeeded in their goal of densifying
the region; but there was collateral damage. Due to density regulations,
buildable land is now scarce, driving up the cost of housing. This is
incentivizing many property owners to tear down nice homes and replace them
with out-of-scale apartment buildings - many with no off-street parking.
Some Portland Progressives who supported this planning agenda now wonder why
their formerly pleasant neighborhoods are flooded with automobiles.

In the suburbs, most new projects simply have no backyards. It's hard to
remember now, but in 1995, the average lot size for a new home in Washington
County was 15,000 square feet. This provided plenty of room for kids.

Those days are over. In the new "South Hillsboro" development, which will be
built out over the next decade, most dwellings will be attached units on
tiny lots. The larger parcels - averaging only 7,000 square feet - are being
marketed as lots for "executive housing."

Nice backyards that were once common are now only available to the rich, due
to the artificial scarcity of land that Smart Growth calls for.

The Portland conference will feature trips to "transit-oriented
developments" (TODs) like Orenco Station in Hillsboro. Orenco features a
housing project with passive solar design along with urban-scale density
near light rail, but both elements required large public subsidies. It would
be difficult to replicate those projects elsewhere.

Perhaps the most disappointing fact about regional planning in Portland is
that very little effort is being made to learn from the experience. Since
2008, at least four audit reports by the Metro Auditor have criticized
agency planners for this failure.

In the 2010 report, the Auditor found that "Metro's processes to plan
transportation projects in the region were linear when they should have been
circular. After a plan was adopted, the update process began anew with
little or no reflection about the effectiveness of the previous plan or the
results of the performance measures they contained."

It's clear that this was not an accident; it was by design. As the Auditor
noted, "systems to collect data and measure progress towards these outcomes
were not in place."

No measurement means no accountability. That's not a smart way to plan a
region.

  _____


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute,
Oregon's free market public policy research organization.

 
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Received on Sun Feb 18 2018 - 19:17:26 PST

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