II. Existing Conditions for TOD in Portland Region

To help set priorities for the TOD program, it is first important to understand how Portland’s transit communities1 are currently performing relative to these values, and how transit-oriented development can help improve their performance. This chapter evaluates current regional performance, and existing transit community and regional conditions while Chapter 3 provides a more comprehensive view of how some of these factors can be integrated into the TOD Program’s decisions about future activities. Chapter 4 then provides recommendations that will enhance the future effectiveness of the Metro TOD Program.

The 2040 Growth Concept and TOD

Metro’s 2040 Growth Concept identifies regional centers, town centers, station areas and corridors as priority locations for growth over the next 30 years. While some of the centers that the concept identifies currently accommodate concentrated jobs, housing units, or retail destinations, not all of these centers share the infrastructure, urban design, or land use patterns needed to support sustainable growth with reduced auto dependence. Some identified centers, such as Gateway, are key transit nodes and therefore offer some infrastructure to support future sustainable growth, but lack the pedestrian access and land uses that would support this growth. Moreover, not all of the centers have experienced any past investment to support this transformation either from the public or the private sector.

Given that the centers, corridors, and station areas have been designated as priority investment areas for Metro’s programs, an issue facing the TOD Program is determining how and when centers with less market momentum, and limited pedestrian infrastructure, fit into its objectives and priorities.

The Metro 2040 Growth Concept outlines long-range regional goals associated with improving livability, preserving open space, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the Portland Region. The fundamental values espoused in the 2040 Growth Concept include:

  • Vibrant Communities
  • Economic Prosperity
  • Equity
  • Safe and Reliable Transportation
  • Environmental Leadership
  • Clean Air and Water

Implementation of these values will require the ongoing integration of transportation planning and land use planning to preserve undeveloped land outside the urban growth boundary, while concentrating growth within designated centers and transit rich areas. Transit-oriented development is one key approach to implementation of the 2040 Growth Concept. The current conditions of the region—and an evaluation of how the Metro TOD Program can most effectively help implement the 2040 Growth Concept—are best assessed through an evaluation of each of these values, with the understanding that many elements are interconnected and touch on multiple values.

Vibrant Communities

High quality transit-oriented neighborhoods are a subset of vibrant, sustainable communities. Residents of TOD are able to reduce their auto dependence by accessing jobs, shopping and services on foot, bicycle or transit, thus enjoying a range of benefits such as reduced transportation costs, improved public health, and more stable property values.

There are three key components to vibrant communities:

  • Development intensity and mix of land uses: vibrant communities include compact development and access to housing, employment, shopping, and civic uses in close proximity.
  • Walkability: vibrant communities are places where residents and visitors have travel options and can meet daily needs without using a car if they choose.
  • Meeting future demand: in order to maintain the existing quality of life of the region, discussion of vibrant communities needs to include future demand as well as current conditions.

Development Intensity and Mix of Land Uses

There is no “One Size Fits All” way to achieve vibrant communities. Station areas (the ½-mile surrounding fixed-guideway stations) in the Portland region have a wide range of intensities, and mix of land uses. Many station areas are primarily residential in nature and fairly low intensity, while others are more jobs oriented and high intensity. Therefore the types of TOD investments needed in these different station areas will be very different based on local station area context.


Figure 2: Comparison of Portland and Los Angeles station areas based on intensity and land use mix
Comparison of Portland and Los Angeles station areas based on intensity and land use mix
Click to enlarge

Figure 2 shows how station areas in the Portland region compare with station areas in Los Angeles on two scales: development intensity (number of residents and employees living and working in a station area), and mix of land uses (here defined as the ratio of workers to residents). While Los Angeles is a very different region historically, economically, ethnically, politically, and geographically, its transit system is comparable in size to Portland’s and has been built in a relatively similar time frame. While these measures of intensity and land use mix only provide a rough snapshot of station area performance, they offer some particular insights about Portland’s station areas.


While Portland’s downtown station areas are very high intensity, non-downtown station areas in the region are low intensity. Notably, there seems to be a clear delineation between the intensity of Portland’s core station areas (in blue – which includes the Portland Streetcar), and the region’s non-core station areas (in green, clustered in the lower left corner of the chart). While areas at the core of the region are very high intensity, the intensity of station areas quickly drops outside of the core. This reinforces the need for strategies that can help more outlying station areas to become more intensive – a clear direction for the TOD Program.

The Los Angeles transit system has more high intensity, primarily residential station areas. A comparison with Los Angeles’s non-core station areas (shown in red) shows that Portland lacks the more intensive residential-focused station area type that is prevalent in Los Angeles outside of the CBD. Examples of these high intensity residential areas in Los Angeles include Koreatown, Hollywood and Vine, and Vermont and Beverly. While some of these dense neighborhoods developed for historic reasons, there have been new investments in many in the recent years. Notably, these examples achieve their more “high intensity” status with a range of building types, from residential high-rises to more moderate height, small-scale multifamily buildings. This type of neighborhood could potentially be achieved in Portland through the development of three- to five-story multifamily buildings.

Station areas in Portland show a much greater mix of uses than those in Los Angeles, which tend to be more exclusively residential- or employment-focused. Preserving and enhancing this blend will be an important component of enhancing vibrant communities throughout the region.

Figure 3: Transit supportive zoning in station areas
Figure 3: Transit supportive zoning in station areas
Click to enlarge

Fortunately most of the Portland region’s transit communities have transit supportive zoning in place (Figure 3), which at the very least ensures that the regulatory environment is supportive of intensifying land uses in outlying areas. However, there are clearly market, physical, political and/or other barriers to actually achieving these more intensive land uses. Many station areas may lack the pedestrian or bicycle connectivity, transit richness, or land opportunities needed to support new development. The following sections explore some of these other factors that influence the potential to create and enhance the region’s vibrant communities.



In considering walkability, the street pattern in the surrounding area determines not only whether residents and workers can access rail and bus transit, but also whether they can access the shopping, jobs, and services that might be located in their immediate neighborhood (if these uses are even present). Non-work trips continue to grow as a share of Americans’ travel patterns2, making local walkability a critically important component of building vibrant communities.

Figure 4: Block sizes in transit communities
Figure 4: Block sizes in transit communities
Click to enlarge

Block sizes are a good proxy for the walkability of a neighborhood, and small block sizes have a demonstrated correlation with reducing vehicle miles traveled. Figure 4 shows the block size patterns for the region’s station areas and corridors. While central Portland has the smaller block sizes associated with increased pedestrian connectivity, there are notable walkable areas throughout the region. However, block sizes are less consistent, and often not directly connected to light rail or bus transit in communities outside of central Portland, making it more challenging for nearby households to reduce their auto use.

A healthy mix of land uses that includes housing, shopping, services, and jobs, has also been correlated with reduced vehicle miles traveled.3 In addition to promoting walkability, a Metro TOD Program sponsored study found that key retail and services such as grocery stores, restaurants and shops, or urban living infrastructure (ULI), can increase residential rents and sales values, thereby enhancing the feasibility of TOD. Figure 7 demonstrates graphically this general relationship between ULI and higher property values.

Future Demand for TOD & Vibrant Communities

Figure 5: Land values and amenities in transit communities
Figure 5: Land values and amenities in transit communities
Click to enlarge

New development is a fundamental way to improve the vibrancy of station areas and corridors, but the potential to attract private investment is clearly predicated on both neighborhood market conditions and regional market demand for more compact housing types. The land value data shown in Figure 5, and historic real estate market transactions are both indicators used to understand local market strength, absent the ability to do a detailed market analysis for every transit community in the region. Additionally, with the current real estate downturn, it is important to gauge the long range potential demand for compact development, including multifamily ownership and rental housing, townhomes, and smaller single-family detached units.


During the last housing market boom, downtown and other neighborhoods at the region’s core, such as the Pearl District, absorbed a significant share of new regional growth, much of it in compact housing types including apartments and condominiums. Frequent bus corridors in Portland’s inner east side also saw significant infill housing development, including three- to five-story apartment and condominium buildings, many with limited or no on-site parking. Outlying suburban station areas and frequent bus corridors have thus far been less successful at attracting compact apartment and condominium development. Future market potential for new high-end multifamily housing will clearly be impacted by the current surplus of condominiums in the core of the region, but to what extent did the most recent strong market cycle absorb longer term demand for all multifamily development?

By looking at national data on the types of households who are most likely to want to live near transit, CTOD has forecasted that by 2030, 184,000 new households in the Portland region will want to live near transit, beyond those households who already live near transit. About 72,000 of these households will fall within the smaller, non-family household types likely to consider living in more compact apartment and condominium units.

An evaluation sponsored by Portland Streetcar, Inc.4 estimated that 10,212 new multifamily housing units were built within three blocks of the westside streetcar route between 1997 and 2008. The U.S. Census has estimated that permits for over 32,000 multifamily units were issued between 1999 and 2009 in the Portland-Vancouver region. Conservatively, assuming that all 32,000 permits resulted in built units, and that all of these units were built near transit, there would still be potential demand for approximately 40,000 units near transit over the next 20 years. Therefore, while the most recent housing boom may have resulted in a highly publicized short term surplus of high-end multifamily units on the market, over the next 20 years there will still be significant demand for construction of new transit oriented apartment and condominium units at a range of prices.