Welcome to the week.
This week’s Monday Roundup is made possible by Showers Pass, makers of quality waterproof rainwear and gear that’s proudly designed and tested right here in Portland!
Here are the most notable stories our writers and readers came across in the past seven days…
Feedback on feedback: Transit expert Jarrett Walker opines on what’s wrong with public engagement and how agencies can do a better job gathering it. (Human Transit)
Poor location: A new report shows how people with lower-incomes tend to live near highways where they face greater negative impacts from auto pollution than the rest of the population. (Urban Institute)
Awash with neglect: People are so tired of waiting for a new crosswalk in a Seattle neighborhood they painted one themselves — only to have it washed away by DOT staff a short time later. (Capitol Hill Seattle)
Bitchin’: That’s all I have to say about this beefy, cool tall-bike based on a Bombtrack frame. (Bike Rumor)
Carfree crazies: Brussels’ government is about to establish carfree zones in its central city that will be enforced by plate-reading cameras — but some folks are so mad they’ve decided to protest and dismantle official signs. (Bloomberg)
Hot e-bikes: E-bike battery fires are no joke, but the answer is to improve safety through programs and regulations, not to make riding the bikes even harder. (Curbed)
The real toll: The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone is not having the argument from legislative leaders in Salem who want to boost the case for using highway tolls to build more freeways. (The Oregonian Opinion)
Look up: Let a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist sweep you away on this important narrative piece on what is going on with the climate crisis right now. (The New Yorker)
Truck tragedy: A little girl was killed by the driver of a jacked-up truck that was pulling a float in a Christmas Parade in Raleigh, North Carolina. (CBS)
Scary scooters: In light of recent fatality, and steep increases in deadly scooter crashes in the last year, even very progressive Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is said to be considering a ban on the popular micromobility vehicles. (The Guardian)
Thanks to everyone who shared links this week.
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“A new report shows how people with lower-incomes tend to live near highways” and freeway exits and onramps, I might add.
Or maybe highway builders find that ramming a highway through a poor neighborhood is easier than going through a rich one? Maybe we need to distinguish between cause and effect, rather than correlation versus coincidence?
I love academic studies that show the inherently obvious in a peer-reviewed sort of way – a bunch of academic morons demonstrating what the rest of us already knew.
It’s the particulates.
This is new? Is there anyone who didn’t know this 30 years ago?
Haven’t read the story yet, but I assumed it was noteworthy for its redundancy in telling us mostly what we already knew.
Berlin and Brussels are not the same city….
Hey. Mistakes happen. Fixed.
Low income people tend to live near highways because racist/classist policy restricts multifamily housing to these corridors. A great example of this is Portland’s “Centers and Corridors” development model — a racist/classist policy much beloved by urbanists/YIMBYs.
PS: A cousin of this corridor-centric development model is the transit-oriented devlopment model which also encourages the siting of multifamily housing near highways.
Transit oriented development doesn’t have to site multifamily near highways. Look at Vancouver bc. They have massive scale TOD located in a variety of suburbs that is nowhere near freeways. The only reason that TOD ends up near freeways in the USA is that we have freeways all over the place and transit often just follows the path of least resistance, I.e. freeway corridors.
Vancouver, BC has basically no freeways so a bit of a moot point. It’s also one of the least affordable cities in the world, with single family, detached homes the norm once you’re like 2 miles out of downtown. No amount of TOD in Surrey will make up for anachronistic land use practices in Hastings-Sunrise.
Multi family housing being centered on arterials and near highways is an intentional practice that is basically the norm in every city in the US. It’s not good policy, and it’s worth considering what “TOD” even means. Does it mean on top of the station? Within a quarter mile? A mile? Because every time I look, I see new apartments being exclusively built on busy roads – not on smaller ones even though they are usually barely further away from transit corridors.
My understanding is that most people will not use transit if they have to walk more than a half mile from origin or destination to reach a station, and that the optimal distance is really more like a quarter mile or less. If distances are longer, people will either forgo the trip or choose another transportation mode. People living in poverty may not have a choice, though they shouldn’t be expected to walk long distances to reach transit, either. Building more than a couple blocks away from a high capacity transit line is the difference between car dependency or transit utilization.
Vancouver and Portland have historically suffered from the same planning mismanagement: vast areas of exclusively single dwelling zoning outside of streetcar suburb hubs. Both Portland and Vancouver would greatly benefit from higher density infill development in historically single dwelling zones. But that doesn’t obviate the need to intensify development near transit stops and commercial centers if we hope to ever achieve a sustainable development pattern.
I agree and will note that so-called YIMBYs in Portland have been laser-focused on upzoning that allows a dribble of very low-density housing (e.g. duplexes and ADUs). Given that this very low-density housing is almost entirely “owned” housing it does f*** all to address our chronic low-income housing crisis.
When YIMBYs openly campaign for 10+ story apartment buildings in their beloved ultra-low-density RIP2 zones, I promise to be less critical.
Reducing everything down to what “people” will or won’t do is not very useful. Who is “people”? I’ll gladly walk a mile to a high capacity transit stop. Maybe the average person would only walk a quarter mile to a MAX stop in Portland rather than get in their car and drive, but is that how policy should be made? To only cater to the average person. Why not build density a little further away (at a lower price point – being further away from the high capacity transit after all) too? Some people would gladly take that still.
Look it’s not that “transit oriented development” is bad, it’s just a bit of a reduction that allows for the perpetuation of the bad zoning and land use that is so endemic to the US. If people feel they can force all the development they “don’t want” into a little box, just within a quarter mile of a high capacity transit stop (that just so happens to be on a freight rail corridor, or a freeway, or in the center of a wide arterial) they will. And by people here, I mean the sort of average homeowner who clutches pearls about property values and “neighborhood character”.
And for what it’s worth, Portland hardly has a system that sniffs “high capacity transit” – two car trains running every 15 minutes is just not high capacity. Seattle has at least a handful of bus lines that are higher capacity than that! MAX-oriented development will always be handicapped by a system that is incredibly mediocre.
I agree that frequent service is entirely notional in Portland. Headways are awful here.
I think I would support allowing higher density development in any residential area. But I think there would need to be caps on parking utilization by residents of high density development. Like, if a developer thinks they can make a highrise work a mile away from the nearest transit stop, go for it. See if it works. But not if it’s going to dump hundreds of new cars onto narrow residential streets that already have maxed out street parking. To remove all limits on density and FAR, you would also need to have strictly enforced parking permitting in all residential areas. If you let the market decide where new high density development is going to go, you don’t have to draw strict lines on the map. But mitigate for the expected externalities!
I still suspect you’d find dense development concentrated in limited walk sheds around transit stops, but maybe you’d see something greater than 1/2 mile.
Caps for renters who tend to be lower-income and disproportionately POC but, of course, no caps for homeloaners/owners who tend to be disproportionately white and upper class.
The idea that the burden of change should always fall mostly on renters, who are disproportionately lower income and POC, is a perfect example of the embedded classism/racism of market urbanism (and its Schoupian sub-sect).
It’s also utterly absurd to see market urbanist climate warriors (/s) upset about increased parking scarcity. Greater parking scarcity drives the adoption of transportation alternatives. The more cage parking scarcity, the better!
I’m talking about a parking permit system that would apply to everyone. You want to store your car in the public right of way, you pay for it. Subsidized fees for those with a demonstrated need, but end the parking free lunch. I see no reason to exempt existing residents.
This is not the first time that an urbanist has proposed a permit system that singles out renters. The president of the parking reform network proposed parking permit systems where only tenants would have to pay for residential parking.
Again, let me make this abundantly clear, I think that all development in inner neighborhoods needs to be higher density. I make no distinction between renter and owner occupancy of homes and buildings. There needs to be room for both renters and homeowners, and many areas that were historically occupied by single family homes need to be replaced with higher density housing. Density needs to go up for all, and all need to become less reliant on single occupancy motor vehicles. Therefore,I think a paid permit system that applies to renters, owners, and businesses would be an efficient and equitable way to manage parking in the right of way.
I don’t know why you automatically assume that every time I write the phrase, high density, that I am referring to renters. I am not.
People who refuse to make a distinction between renter and owner occupancy are housing crisis deniers. The vast majority of people who struggle to afford housing are renters.
I should note that it’s my experience that market urbanists/YIMBYs typically favor owner occupancy. For example, when they talk about quadplex units they are always described as affordable $400,000 homes (that actually sell for $600,000) not rental units.
The president of the parking reform network proposed that tenants who lived in low-parking apartment buildings (e.g. on Hawthorne) would be required to pay for neighborhood parking permits while homeowners would not. I remember this vividly because as a tenant organizer I was outraged about this at the time. I have no idea whether they have retracted this position or not.
And for the record, I have never once publicly opposed the milquetoast upzoning or parking reforms favored by urbanists. My position is that these reforms are nothing burgers because they do almost nothing to deal with our low-income housing crisis and our crisis of transportation carbon emissions.
My political opposition to urbanism focuses on its abandonment of lower-income people when it comes to concrete policy change. A slow drip of cosmetic changes that mostly benefit those who are not in crisis is not progress.
For example, this is Jerusalem Demsas’ take on the housing crisis:
If you vividly remember this then it mist be a dream. I have never proposed a permit system where tenants would pay and homeowners would not pay.
I have advocated for broad access to parking permits. Generally parking permits are only available to people who live in a permit district. Residential permit districts, like those considered in recent years near Hawthorne, Division, and Mississippi would most likely be drawn to only contain R zones, not MU zones with new apartments. The city actually came up with this scheme in response to NIMBYs who didn’t want tenants from new apartments parking in their neighborhoods.
What I DID (and still probably would) propose, is that people living in the permit district be given the opportunity to buy permits at market rates, and that people living outside the district be offered excess permits at market rates.
Another popular variation, which I am OK with, is that incumbent residents (tenants and homeowners) in the district (or ideally nearby) are grandfathered into discounted rates and/or priority access to permits when the district is created.
Don Shoup did write a letter to the Oregonian (at my request) in 2012 opposing new parking mandates and he proposed grandfathering in existing residents with very cheap permits rather than requiring parking in new apartments. I have never personally advocated for that type of compromise, but it’s very likely better than having mandates if it comes down to it.
So, ultimately, this is nuanced but, Soren is misinformed Please stop talking about me, Soren.
“The president of the parking reform network proposed parking permit systems where only tenants would have to pay for residential parking.”
This has never been my position on permits, ever. I try not to engage with Soren. Please keep my name (or likeness) out of your comments.
This is called capitalism — the core economic ideology of YIMBYIsm.
I don’t really care what it’s called. I just disagree with the blanket assertion that transit oriented development is inherently a bad thing in concept. The execution may often be poor, but I don’t see how you can hope to achieve anything like sustainability without creating an abundance of dense areas that are well served by transit, services, and commercial storefronts. Maybe that means that entire metro areas need to be characterized by dispersed commercial mixed use development, or maybe it means you need to concentrate growth and development in focused locations, but one way or another, it has to happen. Otherwise you’re committing your community to car dependent sprawl.
There are plenty of areas that are well-served by transit, services, and storefronts and are not adjacent to toxic traffic sewers. The many low density “RIP2” neighborhoods in inner Portland, for example, could easily accommodate forests of tall sun-blocking apartment buildings.
Real estate speculators will never erode their profit margins by overbuilding. The belief that a speculative market can provide abundant housing is pure mythology.
Having well-off politicians and/or zoning geeks choose where poor people should be concentrated almost always becomes a form redlining.
Well someone is going to decide where new housing is going to go. Either planners, zoners, politicians, or developers. A lot of different factors will influence where that happens. I’d be interested to hear how you think investments in new housing should be prioritized. It could either target specific locations for specific reasons, or market forces can dictate. But some decision making will have to happen?
Legalize apartment buildings everywhere (not just adjacent to high-traffic roads).
I don’t care about “investments”. IMO, the only path to addressing our housing affordability crisis is to build abundant non-market housing.
Legalizing apartments everywhere is great. As I’ve said before, I’m on board with that.
Someone has to build the apartments. Construction of apartments is, by definition, a capital investment. If the investment is made by a private company, it will most likely be expected to accrue value for the investors. If the investment is made by a public entity or a non profit, it will not be expected to generate profit.
If apartments are legalized everywhere, there will be, as there is now, limited funds available to build new housing. Areas will be prioritized for development to maximize the efficiency of new capital outlays to build housing.
So I ask again, how should the limited resources for new housing be allocated? Where should the first priorities locations be for new, denser housing? I argue it should be in places with reasonable access to transit and services, and that locating housing away from these areas will lead to suboptimal outcomes. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think denser housing should be allowed further away from these amenities. But if you think that the only positive solution for the provision of housing is public financing of non market development, you need to think long and hard about where to target your limited financial resources.
Tax the rich and rescind subsidies of housing speculation and this self-imposed limit will dissipate. Eminent domain is another tool that was widely used in wealthy developed nations.
I don’t think we should limit social ownership to new housing. Let’s buy up established buildings and take them out of the market forever.
PS: In Portland non-market-rate “affordable” housing transitions to private for-profit housing in as little as 10 years. This is a @#$%ing disgrace.
TOD is pork, plain and simple. It’s there to make already wealthy land owners and construction companies even richer.
Where else can construction companies build “affordable” housing at 2-3x the going rate? Where else can a construction company buy a block of property for $1 then build expensive condos on it?
Yeah, TOD may be a neat concept, but Portland has taken to a whole different plane of greed and graft.
Okay, well, there’s not much affordable housing getting built in Portland, other than subsidized housing. TOD can be financed and marketed as subsidized affordable housing or as a mix of affordable and market rate housing. Or do you just not want to build housing at all out of fear that a builder might try to make a buck?
“the blanket assertion that transit oriented development is inherently a bad thing in concept”
It’s not inherently bad, it’s just that people don’t want it. If they did, developers would build it. In a democracy, people have choice.
You are suggesting that there isn’t a whole zoning system that makes it difficult or illegal to do proper transit oriented development. There is a big difference between no one wants it and its illegal to build. We are not building enough to meet demand because of stringent zoning laws.
“There is a big difference between no one wants it and its illegal to build.”
Indeed there is. With current zoning, Portland has places to build big dense development on major transit lines, and we’re largely not doing it. Developers aren’t stupid. If the public wanted it, it would get built.
When we start running short of buildable land, then we can start talking rezoning.
Zoning dictates a lot of what gets built and what doesn’t. Also, most Portland high capacity transit station areas are situated in terrible places for development of any kind. We have stops in the middle of freeway corridors, like the green line and the red line. We have the orange line stop near SE 12th Ave, which has a road on one side and a freight line on the other side. Other orange line stops on SE 17th have the Brooklyn rail yard and Trimet bus yard totally dominating one side of the street. Further down, the Orange line is running in ODOT right of way along McLoughlin. It’s not that people don’t want to live in transit oriented development, it’s that many Trimet MAX lines and MAX stations are in places where TOD isn’t feasible or desirable.
If you run your highest capacity transit in places that aren’t suitable for commercial mixed use development, you won’t see any of that type of development getting built in station areas. The blue line runs through some areas that would be suitable for high density development along Burnside in east Portland. But land values and the demand for new market rate housing in those areas are relatively low compared to more centrally located parts of the city. So you’re not seeing a lot of mixed use, market rate development out there (*yet*). There is some relatively new subsidized housing and some older, lower density apartments.
But we are seeing lots of mid-rise multi-dwelling development going in along Vancouver/Williams, Division St, and other areas that have bus lines that meet Portland’s definition of frequent service. Higher density development is also popping up all around the yellow line station areas. As far as I know, rental unit occupancy rates in those buildings are pretty high, and all of the condos in these areas are selling. I’d say that strongly suggests that many people are willing to live in transit oriented areas. A lot of these newer buildings are providing fewer than one parking space per unit (or no parking in some cases), and they are what I would define as transit oriented development, albeit a relatively low density version (Soren might have a different definition of TOD in mind, I don’t know). There clearly aren’t enough of these buildings, and the ones that have been built are not high enough density to meet the demand for housing. More units need to be built more quickly.
Are there still lots of people that want to live in detached, single dwelling houses on lots with yards? Of course there are. And single dwelling houses aren’t going away anytime soon. Even if the Portland zoning code allowed for higher density development anywhere and everywhere, there would still be large swaths of single dwelling homes available all around the city for the foreseeable future. But there just isn’t enough land in Portland or the metro region to build detached, single dwelling houses for all of the people that are moving to the region. We have a current deficit of around 100K units, and that deficit is growing. If you try to meet that housing demand with detached, single dwelling houses, there isn’t enough land in the metro region to do it. You’d have to blow up the UGB and commit the region to more sprawl and permanent SOV dependency. That’s the way Atlanta, Phoenix, and Houston are doing things. I don’t think that would be a positive outcome for the region.
It’s not Portland, but Orenco Station in Hillsboro is a dense, transit oriented and desirable place to live.
Let’s build one of those at Gateway!
High-end housing developments (e.g. targeted at technology workers) tend to be well-separated from major traffic sewers. To address our chronic housing crisis we should build affordable rental housing that is similarly separated from traffic sewers.
I’m obviously not opposed to concentrating rental housing near transit but I think we should open up more than just a narrow strip of land adjacent to a stroad/highway to this type of housing.
I don’t even know where you’re getting this idea that advocates for the liberalization of multi-family housing are pro transit oriented development because they don’t want multi-family-housing in their own neighborhood.
The YIMBYs that I pay attention to want apartments everywhere! They view TOD as a positive step, yes, but mainly because the ultimate positive step (ending SFH zoning *everywhere*) isn’t the law everywhere yet. They like TOD because it’s good; it’s clearly not sufficient.
Your characterization of YIMBYs is seriously misinformed or willfully wrong.
I pay no attention to what YIMBYs say. I pay attention to what they do.
Our housing crisis is a crisis of tenants who can’t afford market rates, not a crisis of college-educated upwardly-mobile people who are sad that they can’t purchase the “nice” home they dream about. Portland YIMBYs have been laser focused on benefiting upper income people that can afford $500,000-$1,000,000 “small” homes (and condo/lot-split ADUs or condo plexes) while our rental housing crisis rages on.
YIMBY activists have won progress on this very issue over the last five years, building a successful movement regarding an issue that has been static for decades. They’ve shepherded the passage of laws at the state and local levels across the nation, and especially here in Oregon. Mischaracterizing these activists, their goals, and their success is beneath your obvious level of intellect.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re generally not in favor of incrementalist steps to ameliorate the various crises of our times. And, following that, I believe you may be unwilling to credit YIMBY activists here and elsewhere with the obvious loosening of racist zoning restrictions that has undeniably occurred in the last several years.
Are you missing these changes because YIMBY activists don’t always use the language of social justice or liberation, especially when they are marketing their proposals to a broader, less liberal public?
Are you unwilling to credit truly pro-social reforms just because developers or home-buyers may benefit from such reforms alongside renters?
Are you missing the sweeping changes, because you’re laser-focused on policing ideological boundaries on the left?
Just because YIMBY activists have enabled the passage of more politically palatable measures doesn’t mean we’re done.
Feedback on Feedback: Do you see a better way?
Yeah, Jarret, I do – Talk with the bus drivers, get their feedback, since they talk directly with the users all day long and get their complaints, but also get their suggestions. The drivers I’ve talked with tend to have a lot to say, they are often very articulate, and they have a lot of good ideas to pass on or of their own, but are most often ignored by the transit planners. I’ve even met a transit planner who is a former bus driver – he’s really good!
Or better yet, talk to the people who actually ride transit. I listened to a podcast a while back about how a transit agency started an overhaul of their bus system by putting people at bus stops and on buses to talk to people about challenges they had riding transit and proposed changes to the system. I often wonder how many of TriMet’s board members and upper management regularly use the system. Probably close to zero.
It would be a rare and unusual transit system in the USA if a majority of the transit board/commission/committee members were users of the system – most are political appointments, warm bodies who drive their SUVs to every meeting, usually out in the suburbs at a location far from public transit. The rational is that by appointing influential driving-only people to transit boards is that they will learn all about transit during the meetings and in talking with staff, then influence the politicians who appointed them to spend more on transit. That’s the theory anyway.
If TriMet’s board and management team had to stand at a bus stop 15 minutes waiting for a bus in the rain and wind how long it would take for ALL bus stops to get some covers?
Makes you wonder why more people don’t just enjoy the elements on their way to work! How dare they prefer to drive in their dry warm vehicles! /s
FWIW, I had a nice conversation with Doug Kelsey a few years back as he was walking to his bus stop on the way home after a day’s work.
“Climate Change from A to Z”: What an eloquently written piece of drivel. Through the entire the thing, the author refuses to acknowledge the fact that even with institutional and political support for climate change mitigation, there need to be some pretty huge changes and sacrifices on an individual level. We are simply continuing to live unsustainable lifestyles. Liberals always seem to think they can say “electric cars” and magically get to keep all their treats. Nobody seems willing to point out the elephant in the room, which is the hedonic treadmill Americans are stuck on in blind pursuit of comfort and convenience at the expense of everything else.
I think the author does say that.. “…there are good reasons to wonder whether optimism lies at the heart of the problem. For the last thirty years—more if you go back to 1965—we have lived as if someone, or some technology, were going to rescue us from ourselves. We are still living that way now.”
“blind pursuit of comfort and convenience at the expense of everything else.”
I suppose there’s no other possible explanation for why people do what they do. Everyone else is just stupid and not nearly as enlightened as you are.
Is exactly this sort of elitist attitude that makes progress such an uphill struggle.
An alien visiting from another world who based it’s opinion of the collective intelligence of humanity on how we behave would conclude that we were somewhere between toe fungus and sea cucumbers on aggregate.
Or as Douglas Adams said, they would assume that cars themselves were the dominant species.
I can just imagine a future alien archeologist piecing through the detritus of our era, trying to puzzle out how steel and plastic based life forms supplanted the once dominant carbon based life in a period that is too short to be captured in the geologic record. Humans inexplicably went from dominance to extirpation in the blink of an eye. And immediately thereafter, the steel and plastic based life forms also disappeared.
“the collective intelligence of humanity….”
I highly doubt you’re right about that, but maybe we’d be better off with more Central Committees writing Five Year Plans. They may be effective at a collective level, but boy would living under one be awful!
Like the advent of agriculture… Great for humanity, terrible for humans.
If you remove predators from an ecosystem with bunnies it it, the bunnies breed until they overwhelm the carrying capacity of their environment and suffer famine.
Bunnies are dumb – but what excuse do humans have?
Malthus had the timing wrong, but the end result will be the same.
“Malthus had the timing wrong, but the end result will be the same.”
This seems obvious, but we have broken so many seemingly inherent limits that it’s reasonable to think we may be able to sustain our rapidly slowing growth rate without malthusian disaster.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting a fix.
I don’t think there *is* a fix (unlike my brother who is an inveterate technological optimist).
I honestly think a dark age is coming from which it will be impossible to regain the industrial/tech level we have now due to all the readily available resources that fueled the industrial revolution being depleted.