May 1, 2004 - Celebrate Interstate, the MAX-line is
running! Click here...
(OR), Seattle (WA) and Vancouver (BC) are the three big cities
in the Northwest of America. The smaller, number 4 city of
Tacoma (WA) however has the newest transit system, opened
in August 2003.
Case Study considers the regional public transport system
of Portland (OR). Urban development can be guided with the
help of high-quality public transport rail-infrastructure.
Portland's Light Rail MAX is a success. This superb
system supports regional and urban planning, while both Portland
Streetcar and MAX serve as tools of urban renewal.
Read more on this Portland Case Study...
cherishes its global position, strategically situated in the
Pacific Northwest, close to Asia, but also close to centres
in Canada and the U.S. Cascadia represents one of the largest
regional economies worldwide.
Read more on
Cascadia and its transit...
Update May 1, 2004 - Celebrate Interstate
Yellow Line is running. The $350 million project marks another
big step for Portland's region. The 5.8-mile line running
through North Portland between the Rose Quarter and the Portland
Expo Center uses an alignment along North Interstate Avenue,
a former state highway. 'Interstate' as the line is also named,
is able to carry 13,900 passengers a day. According to local
spokesmen "the new line aims to bolster economic development
and housing opportunities in the downtrodden corridor."
(C) Light Rail Atlas/OTAK
Portland-Hillsboro, summer 1998
In the Portland region, in the American state Oregon, a new
regional public transport system has been taken into development
in the early eighties. This system is regarded as the foundation
of urban planning within the region. Since the Americans virtually
have had to reconstruct something out of nothing, the Portland
region represents an excellent case study to find out how
urban development can be guided with the help of high-quality
public transport rail-infrastructure.
city of Portland constitutes the core of the region. This
central conurbation of 380.000 inhabitants though is accompanied
by three cities. To the East, at a distance of about 30 kilometres
is Gresham, and about equally far to the west is Hillsboro.
At a relative short distance (15 kilometres) to the north
is the city of Vancouver in the state Washington which is
separated from Oregon by the Columbia river. South of Portland
one finds cities such as Wilsonville, Lake Oswego and Oregon
City. Together with smaller towns in the central part of the
region the Portland conurbation form a cross-shaped urban
area with a span of more than 60 kilometres, and 1.9 million
New park along the river in Portland
Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl, May 2, 2001
the seventies it became apparent that an uncontrollable increase
of motor traffic causes great problems. The course was changed.
Symbolic was the decision to demolish a motorway off the centre
of Portland along the river Willamette, in order to connect
that centre to the river through a new park. Plans to construct
a transit-system also date from that time: Metropolitan Area
The first line of this system was opened in 1986. This Light
Rail-line runs through the centre via an S-shaped loop and
then branches off in eastern direction. Over the famous Steel
Bridge this line shares the lane with the motor traffic. It
runs, on reserved track, to Gresham over Lloyd Center and
The famous 'Steel Bridge'
Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl, Portland, May
introduction of this line is combined with a restructuring
of the centre. This public space is thoroughly renovated and
revalued. Street profiles for motor traffic are narrowed and
the number of shopping facilities and offices is extended.
Yet at the same time the number of parking places in the centre
is reduced. Along the line the new sites are developed, which
will serve as urban and regional nodes. In addition to the
centre also within these regional nodes new facilities are
being created. The authorities are taking the lead in this
matter for instance by locating a new town hall or police
station near the main Light Rail stop within a node.
A great number of stops will carry out the function of 'transit
centre'. These are nodes where people can transfer to bus
lines. Furthermore there are P&R-facilities at these and
other stops, mostly in the form of parking places for about
200 to 300 cars.
Additionally a 'growth boundary' is established around the
region, within which the urbanization must remain henceforth.
The idea of such a boundary doesn't arise from intentions
of a compact city for that matter. Especially the farmers
on the edge of the region have thought it necessary to protect
the countryside against further urbanization. The institution
of the 'un-American' border is nevertheless a huge advantage
to the development of the new rail infrastructure. It constrains
the urbanization within the region, and with that also within
the reach of the Light Rail stations.
Some flexibility has been let into the enforcement of the
boundary. At the boundary reserve areas have been assigned
which under certain conditions can still be developed. To
start such a development an extensive investigation however
is necessary, with which all sorts of prescribed matters have
to be proved. In practice this doesn't appear to be so easy.
Photo: ( C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl
Portland/Hillsboro, August 10, 2000
August 1998 the Western line to Hillsboro was opened. The
line is developed through with the Eastern line and has been
constructed according to the same principle. Some of the P&R-facilities
are bigger though (600 places, with an option of 1200). And
even more explicitly, it has been tried to link centres of
eminities and housing areas to stations of the railway line.
As early as the year 2000, merely two years after the opening,
success is evident, not only regarding the by now proven transport
value, but also concerning the effect upon the urban planning.
The revival of the centre of Hillsboro is striking. And also
the until recently shabby western part of the centre of Portland
has been noticeably restored.
The success of the Light Rail-line has to do with the fact
that the customer is being offered a combination of a fast
transportation between the different regional nodes on the
one hand and a fine opening up of those nodes on the other
hand. Hillsboro is such a node where MAX runs through the
street as a tram and serves the node with no less than three
stops. This way, from Portland-Centre a fast connection without
transfers arises with the most important sites of Hillsboro
within the region.
September 2001 a line to the airport operates as a Northern
branch near Gateway. Another Northern line, in the direction
of Vancouver (WA), called 'Yellow Line' or 'Interstate Line'
has been opened in May 2004.
Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl, May 1, 2001
uses Light Rail Vehicles of a type that has been deducted
from German 'Stadtbahn' equipment (2.65 m. wide, with high
floors). A second series of LRV's, that has been taken on
at the opening of the Western line, largely has low floors
that allow an entrance at ground level.
the centre, square to the MAX line, a new independent city
tram line (Portland Streetcar) has been opened almost at the
same time as the airport line. The 3.8 kilometres long line
connects the university through an alignment on the Western
side of the city centre with a new housing estate Northwest
of the centre.
= Streetcar Yellow/Blue
= MAX White = Bus Grey = river
streetcar crosses the urban line of the regional MAX line,
just like the bus corridor on the Eastern side of the centre.
The line is operated using trams that are constructed by the
Skoda company in the Czech Republic.
The 'streetcar' line in the university district
and the centre
Photo: (C) Light Rail Atlas/Rob van der Bijl
Portland, May 3, 2001 / October 12, 2001
Streetcar is an entirely local business. Construction and
operation are financed by the city (using parking fees). Local
entrepreneurs along the tram line have contributed to the
costs of construction through a special tax. In preparation
is an extension of the line, from the university towards a
Southern part of the city, near the river.
= MAX Light Rail O = node
White = Motorway
Map: (C) Light Rail Atlas/RVDB, Amsterdam 2000-2002
aside further plans for the future the case study shows that
the current system, including the already established and
planned extensions, comprises a total of 15 urban nodes (nodes
beyond the range of MAX are left aside here). By and large
it involves intermodal nodes, that means places where a number
of modalities come together; in those places Light Rail crosses
bus and car traffic. A node includes one or more MAX-stations.
Although not all of the stops are located within a node, most
of them are. Here is a list of all served by MAX nodes:
Creek (3); transfer
Park (6); leisure
Center (8); public/economy
WA (15); public/economy/residential/transfer
Light Rail Network scenario of the 'Base Case'
Including the built East-West line (Gresham-Portland-Hillsboro)
node 4 (Beaverton) a 'commuter rail' has been planned. It
involves "diesel multiple units" (DMU's) running
over existing rails into the region, to Wilsonville (Node
16, not on the map).
MAX is a success, nevertheless the project also provides a
clear example of things that can go wrong. In other words,
transport oriented development and urban planning by means
of high-quality rail infrastructure is possible, yet also
bound by a number of restrictions.
For one thing it turns out that besides the desired nodes
along the MAX-line also elsewhere big sites are still being
developed. Generally these sites are relatively cheap and
easy to develop; for instance the costs of purchasing land
are lower, clearing land is easier and/or the spatial and
functional conditions are less complicated. This has to do
with two other factors that complicate transport oriented
development. The construction industry represents such a factor.
Especially when house-building sites are involved, in Oregon
this line of business is particularly interested in developing
large numbers of houses. For many property developers the
smaller sites (for example near MAX-stations) are commercially
and organizationally less interesting.
The role of the local authorities is a factor too. Also, in
Portland regional administration is chiefly a matter of co-operating.
The municipalities preserve their autonomy. When such a municipality
(Beaverton for example) still decides to develop a site elsewhere
in stead of along MAX this cannot be stopped at a regional
The municipality of Beaverton (as the only large municipality
for that matter) is still strongly holding on to the car/motor
infrastructure as a foundation for urban development. That
is why in spite of the existence of MAX a new service centre
is situated along an important motorway. Most likely this
has lead to the stagnation of the planned centre along the
MAX-line in the same municipality (Beaverton Central). Well
into the year 2001 this centre lay about useless only halfway
finished as a modern ruin.
Especially in the U.S. the power of individual land owners
cannot be overestimated enough. This can frustrate the development
of a node along the MAX-line considerably. For instance the
Intel company is making sure that a node at a potentially
important station in Hillsboro has as yet only been filled
up halfway. The other half happens to belong to Intel and
remains allocated for future company use. To a certain extent
all of the above mentioned issues have to do with probably
the main restraining factor in using infrastructure and transport
oriented development, that is the absence of a regional land
policy and the accompanying set of instruments. Certainly,
according to American standards the regional administration
and the regional area policy in Portland is fairly elaborated.
Nevertheless this case shows that both local authorities and
private persons involved still want to develop the wrong sites.
The authorities though lack the possibilities (and the will)
to break the power of the private landowners. At the same
time those authorities occasionally choose easy, car-orientated
(C) Light Rail Atlas/OTAK
Hillsboro, terminus, summer 1998
MAX is obviously successful. Notably the increase in value
of real estate within the different nodes prove to be an effective
means of urban planning. A great deal of investigation (into)
the price-fixing of houses has been conducted. The tenor of
this investigation is clear: houses near MAX-stations increase
in value, in the order of 10%. A distance of 500 metres from
a station for instance can be worth an increase in value of
high density development of the districts around the stations
in Portland also has a value-increasing effect. In general
it turns out that the so-called "MAX factor", i.e.
the presence of Light Rail, plays a key role in decisions
about establishments and investments. In this respect issues
are mentioned such as:
new arena of the Portland Trailblazers (262 million dollars);
expansion of Lloyd Center Mall by order of Melvin Simons and
Associates (200 million dollars);
area of the Convention Center (85 million dollars).
Plan: Hoyt Street Yards
Streetcar (costs of infrastructure and equipment: 56.9 million
dollars) has first and foremost been constructed to support
the spatial and economical development of the city. The transport
value is of minor importance. Moreover a great part of the
line runs through the 'fare free zone', so that the revenues
from ticket sales obviously don't matter that much.
On the site of an old railway yard Northwest of the centre
a new housing estate is realized. The construction of Hoyt
Street Yards, the name of the housing district, is still well
under way (situation of early 2002), but the tram line has
already been opened. The redevelopment of this city district
is of big importance to the (future) local economy. The houses
attract a public with great purchasing power into the city;
a number of facilities can be created. Therefore good restaurants
can be found in this district of Portland.
It is still much too early to conduct empirical investigation
into economical and spatial effects. Yet this project is pre-eminently
a good opportunity to demonstrate effects upon real-estate
prices and employment in the near future (from the year 2003
Already it is evident that the tram will increase the value
of the new apartments in Hoyt Street Yards. 'Streetcar' is
a solid sales argument. By the end of 2001 for example a block
of so-called 'condominiums' has been sold under the name of
Hoyt Street Yards: 'Streetcar Lofts'
A comparison with the European situation reveals great contrasts
to the American situation.
As for the density and grain size Portland is only somewhat
smaller than the Amsterdam region for example, but much smaller
than the metropolitan area of Paris, Munich, or Madrid, not
to mention Tokyo. The distances are very well comparable.
The public transport systems on the other hand differ enormously.
Basically the new regional system of Portland has too many
tasks to carry out. Besides as a regional public transport
system it is used for travelling over longer distances (up
to about 60 kilometres), and, please note, also for the opening
up of the local area. It's like that because apart from the
'Streetcar' and a few local bus lines no other means of public
transport is offered.
The advantage compared to European slow-train-services nonetheless
is made very clear by this case study. Where in many German
situations an 'S-Bahn' would run from Hillsboro over Portland-centre
to Gresham, MAX offers a quick connecting service not only
between the three main cities, but also between all of the
other important centres. Anyway this shows that the network
of Portland is very well comparable to the regional Light
Rail system of Karlsruhe or Saarbrücken. Another strong
point of MAX is the offered opening up by means of local Light
Rail stops of the three main centres. In countries like the
Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain slow-train-services
hardly contribute to the opening up of such centres (concerning
the traffic situation and the urban development that is even
These two points distinguish the regional system of Portland
from those of somewhat larger regions in Europe. That's Portland's
strength, and exactly that makes it possible (to a certain
extent of course) to use the public transport rail-system
as a driving force behind transport oriented development which
is focused on urban nodes in the region.
dutch) "De steden op de as van deze Amerikaanse superregio,
Vancouver B.C., Seattle (WA) en Portland (OR), combineren
hun stedelijke vitaliteit met een magnifieke ligging tussen
Stille Oceaan en het Cascade-gebergte. De regio heeft een
www.todcommunities.org: "There is a substantial
amount of reference material available regarding transit-oriented
development. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to sift
through the literature and find resources that focus specifically
on transit-oriented development. This page contains references
to transit-oriented development related documents, articles,
case studies, web links, and contacts. Some of these resources
can be found in libraries or obtained through interlibrary
loan, ordered from the publisher or author, or are linked
to on-line articles."
presentation of West Line: http://www.co.washington.or.us/max/index.htm
Write to the author:
(Rob van der Bijl/RVDB/Light Rail Atlas)
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(C) Light Rail Atlas /
Rob van der Bijl, 1998-2004.