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.

 

Walkability

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.

Economic Prosperity

One key to economic growth is ensuring that workers with a broad range of skill sets have stable access to regional employment opportunities. Expansive, integrated transit networks and transit-supportive development provide more diverse economic opportunities than individual transit lines, and can therefore support upward mobility and help the region better weather economic fluctuations. Recent trends indicate that workers increasingly prefer to live near where they work and enjoy a higher quality of life that is free from the strains of traffic and congestion, making jobs and housing near transit an increasingly popular choice. Moreover, connecting dense job clusters by transit has been shown to have a greater impact on boosting transit ridership than increasing residential density.5

Figure 6: Percent of regional employment within 1/2-mile of fixed-guideway rail and bus stations in selected transit systems

Region

Transit
Network
Size

% Employment within 1/2 mile of Fixed-Guideway Transit

Phoenix, AZ

Small

11.2

Atlanta, GA

Medium

13.7

Minneapolis - St. Paul, MN

Medium

19.6

Los Angeles County, CA

Large

22.5

Philadelphia, PA

Extensive

29.8

Portland, OR

Large

33.8

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau Longitudinal Employer Dynamics, 2006; Center for TOD

Portland already outperforms many regions when it comes to linking regional job destinations into its transit network. Over a third of the region’s jobs are within a half mile of a rail station, exceeding even Philadelphia which has a much larger existing transit system (Figure 6). When frequent bus corridors are added in, 45 percent of regional jobs are readily accessible by quality transit.6

Comparing Portland’s job distribution to other regions illustrates the extent to which the region enjoys a relatively monocentric employment pattern. Figure 8 shows the distribution of jobs in each census block relative to the region’s light rail system and Metro’s designated centers. Figure 7 shows the job distribution within other regions, such as Atlanta, which have experienced more employment growth at the urban edge thus making it nearly impossible to connect a large share of regional jobs to transit.

Figure 7: Comparative distribution of jobs in other regions
Figure 7: Comparative distribution of jobs in other regions
Click to enlarge

Figure 8: Distribution of jobs relative to transit communities and designated centers Figure 8: Distribution of jobs relative to transit communities and designated centers
Click to enlarge

Though Portland does outperform most regions due to a continued heavy concentration of center city employment, over half of the region’s jobs remain beyond walking distance of a station or frequent bus line. Many of the major suburban job centers are outside walking distance of light rail stations and often lack quality “last mile” transit, biking, and walking connections. Enhanced pedestrian/bicycle connections and future new transit alignments can help connect some of the region’s outlying job centers, but the reality is that there will always be some less connected job centers, leaving some commuters with limited options beyond driving.

Safe, Reliable Transportation

Residents in communities with reduced auto-dependence own fewer cars and use them less. This yields multiple benefits, including:

  1. More stable transportation costs, even when gas prices increase;
  2. Higher household disposable incomes, more likely to be circulated within the local economy;
  3. A reduced need to expand freeways or other road infrastructure to accommodate new growth;
  4. Healthier residents as a result of more physical activity, which reduces both individual health care costs as well as public health expenditures; and
  5. A more stable and sustainable source of transit ridership, which leads to additional fare box recovery and revenue for transit agencies.7

Portland is a national model for providing diverse transportation options to local citizens. Its existing bike ridership and annual transit trips per capita are among the highest in the country. However, the most robust transit service and pedestrian/bicycle networks naturally tend to be concentrated primarily in the region’s historic downtowns and former streetcar neighborhoods. Other parts of the region are left behind in terms of enjoying the transportation connections, urban design, and land use patterns that foster independence from single occupancy vehicles.

Figure 10: Block characteristics (i.e. walkability) and transit function of station areas
Figure 10: Block characteristics (i.e. walkability) and transit function of station areas
Click to enlarge

Moreover, not all of the region’s station areas offer significant travel time savings to commuters going to the downtown. Figure 10 shows the ratio of transit time to drive time to downtown by station, a common measure of transit competitiveness, and overlays this information with block size as a proxy for walkability. Even when accounting for average vehicular congestion delay, the transit travel times for a majority of the station areas is 50 percent greater than driving times. A large number of these station areas also have lower block densities, thereby further diminishing transit competitiveness by limiting accessibility.

Notably some of Portland’s most walkable neighborhoods have less competitive transit times, which may deter commuters from getting out of their cars even as they walk or bike to shopping and services within their neighborhoods. This helps explains why over the last decade transit mode share has been relatively constant in the Portland Region while bicycle mode share has increased, particularly in Portland and communities east of the Willamette River. This trend is likely attributable to the investment in cycling infrastructure, making riders more comfortable riding on street, and the travel time and cost competitiveness of cycling for trips under three to four miles. For a commuter traveling from an inner east side Portland neighborhood, a cycling trip may take 30 to 50 percent less time than a transit trip. Indeed, transit accessibility and the cycling network are mutually supportive and should both be jointly considered in planning and evaluating investments.

Equity

Achieving the 2040 Growth Concept will require a significant amount of the region’s growth to occur in transit-rich centers, corridors and station communities. As of 2000, only 12 percent of the region’s households lived within ½-mile of rail station areas. A key challenge for the region will be to direct more of its growth to the region’s highly accessible transit communities, including station areas, suburban centers and quality bus corridors. Moreover, developers will need to build near the region’s high quality bus corridors in order to maximize transit rich housing opportunities. This new development near transit will need to serve the full range of household types living in the region, including both family and nonfamily households, households of all income levels, and people with mobility impairments or special transportation needs.

Figure 9: Housing and transportation costs in Portland region
 

Portland
Region

Station
Areas

Housing only

29%

22%

Transportation only

21%

18%

Combined Housing and Transportation

50%

40%

Source: Housing + Transportation Affordability Index®, CTOD

Financially constrained households must weigh the costs of living in different neighborhoods—costs that that cannot be accurately estimated unless one combines the local cost of housing with the local cost of transportation. Transit-rich areas offer lower transportation costs than auto-oriented locations by providing increased access to regional job centers and other important destinations in walkable neighborhoods such as grocery stores. The American Public Transportation Association reports that riding public transit saves Portland residents an average of over $9,500 a year in transportation costs.8 And households living near transit are five times more likely to use transit than other households. Households living within ½-mile of rail transit in the Portland region already spend about 10 percent less of their household budgets on the combined cost of housing and transportation than the average household in the region, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 11: Station Area and Regional Income Distribution, 2000

2000 Household Income

Station Areas

Region

< $20,000

29%

18%

$20,000 - $34,999

23%

19%

$35,000 - $49,999

17%

17%

$50,000 - $74,999

17%

22%

$75,000 +

15%

24%

Source: U.S. Census 2000, CTOD


Figure 12: Station Area and Regional Household Type Distribution, 2000

Household Type

Station Areas

Region

Single & Non-Family

58%

40%

Married Couple Family

34%

52%

Other Family

7%

8%

Source: U.S. Census 2000, Center for TOD

Figure 11 compares the income distribution in the region’s station areas to the regional income distribution in 2000. The region’s station areas accommodated a significantly larger share of low-income households compared with the region, with nearly 30 percent of households living near transit earning less than $20,000, and over half of households near transit earning less than $35,000. Households near transit were also more likely to be living alone or in non-family household types (Figure 12), but the difference in household size alone does not explain why households near transit were more likely to earn less. Nearly 40 percent of single and non-family households near transit earned less than $20,000, compared with 30 percent of the same household types region-wide.

While Portland has been more successful than other regions at building a large supply of transit-rich, compact housing units over the last decade, the new market-rate units built at the height of the housing boom are still priced out of reach of most working families in the Portland region. In mid-2007, at the peak of the market in Portland, the median home resale price was approximately $305,000, out of reach for households making less than $55,000 per year. Meanwhile, a household renting a newer unit in the region would have to earn over $35,000 to afford the $1,044 median rent.9 Affordability of homes and apartments in transit rich areas, however, can be enhanced by reduced transportation costs.

Therefore one of the key challenges that future TOD implementation will need to address is fostering new transit oriented housing that is affordable to the workforce. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of the forecasted TOD demand in the Portland region will be among households earning below $50,000.10

Mixed income housing is a key strategy for offering households of all incomes the opportunity to live near, and benefit from, transit. Economically diverse neighborhoods tend to be more stable than those with concentrated low-income populations and support and foster greater opportunities for upward economic mobility.11

Research also shows residents in TOD communities spend a lower percentage of household income on transportation and housing, and ride transit more. See Figure 13.

Figure 13: Income levels and mode share for the region and station areas

Geography And Income Level

Share of Region

Total
Commuters

Total
Transit

Total Bike/Walk

All Incomes

Portland Region

100%

951,430

6%

4%

Station Areas

10%

96,237

12%

10%

Under $25K income

Portland Region

44%

422,097

8%

6%

Station Areas

5%

49,691

15%

13%

$25K - $50K Income

Portland Region

35%

333,982

5%

2%

Station Areas

3%

32,272

10%

7%

$50K - $75K Income

Portland Region

13%

119,743

4%

2%

Station Areas

1%

8,981

6%

6%

Over $75K Income

Portland Region

8%

75,646

3%

2%

Station Areas

1%

5,235

6%

7%

 

Source: U.S. Census 2000, Center for TOD

Environmental Leadership, and Clean Air and Water

Figure 14:
Daily VMT per capita
Click to enlarge

Reducing auto dependence is clearly a key strategy to help achieve several of Metro’s values. Indeed, even with Portland’s history and reputation as a leader in compact development and open space preservation, the transportation sector in Oregon still accounts for 34 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Reducing vehicle miles traveled in the state’s most concentrated population centers is key to ensuring that residents continue to enjoy a healthy environment even while accommodating much needed economic growth. Transit-oriented development is a proven mechanism for reducing per household vehicle miles traveled, and thus carbon emissions, and an economic development strategy to create vibrant communities. Figure 14 shows that there is a direct relationship between Portland’s transit communities and places where residents have lower per capita VMT. There are many factors beyond transit richness that influence the ability of households to drive shorter distances, and live without a car. Some of the factors that have a proven relationship to vehicle miles traveled performance include:

  • Transit connectivity (local and regional)
  • Walkability (block size)
  • Mix of land uses / Proximity to shopping and services
  • Proximity to employment
  • Residential density
  • Household size
  • Cars owned per household12

Transit-oriented development offers tremendous opportunity to influence many of these key factors and potentially reduce vehicle miles traveled. For example, households in Portland’s station areas own an average of 1.32 cars/household, and 62 percent of households have 0 or 1 car available, compared with 1.77 cars/household and 41 percent of households with 0 or 1 car available in the region.13

This discussion of existing conditions in transit and TOD in the Portland region has implications for the design and delivery of the Metro TOD Program into the future. The next chapter addresses the opportunities for thinking about TOD at each station and the region, and making decisions about investments by the Metro TOD Program and other partners.