A ‘living streets’ plan for downtown Portland

Cover of the plan. (PSU TREC)

“Walking on the downtown streets, it appears the car is the predominant user and all else is relegated to the sidewalks.”

– From the plan

Turn on any local TV news channel and you’ll hear a litany of fear-mongering terms to describe post-2020 downtown Portland: “dead,” “lawless,” and “war zone” are a few popular ones. But a new report from Portland State University graduate students posits that downtown’s real problem is something you won’t hear Fox News pundits talking about — it’s overrun with cars.

With their “Portland Downtown Living Streets Plan,” PSU Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) students are proposing solutions in the form of streets that prioritize people over the large steel boxes many of them use to transport themselves. Four students — Cameron Bennett, Owen Christofferson, Emily D’Antonio and Aidan Simpson — created the plan, with longtime urban planner Cathy Tuttle (who has a downtown Portland plan of her own) serving as an advisor.

“The streets of the Portland Downtown Core are currently dominated by single occupancy vehicles. Walking on the downtown streets, it appears the car is the predominant user and all else is relegated to the sidewalks,” the plan states. “The Portland Downtown Living Streets Plan is an effort to envision a network of pedestrian-oriented streets within the Downtown Core.”

The term “living streets” comes from (who else?) the Dutch, who used the concept to guide their cities away from cars during the 1970s (their term for it is woonerf). The PSU plan states that living streets “allow people and businesses to use the streetscape for purposes [other than driving cars]…it is a framework for all to feel welcome in the streets whether they live, work, study, shop, worship, or socialize downtown.”

“World-class cities are intuitively navigable – on foot – on vibrant, living streets. This inviting urban streetscape is missing in much of Portland’s downtown. Residents, visitors, and businesses could all benefit from a change,” the plan states.

The plan identifies several areas downtown that could use some rehabilitating to turn them into places where people would actually want to go. In these locations, car access would be limited and the streets would be activated with public art, street furniture, food trucks and more. It recognizes the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s recent efforts to open up streets for people across the city with their Healthy Business program, but suggests an expanded approach specifically focused on reducing car traffic downtown.

If you think this idea is just some newfangled urbanist fantasy, look at the City of Portland’s 1972 Downtown Plan, which calls for traffic-free areas downtown to get rid of the noise, smell and threat of automobiles. In that 51 year-old-document, planners propose 13 carfree sites across downtown Portland where people could “talk, play, look, think and enjoy.” The 1972 plan lays out concerns with downtown Portland’s reputation, and states people would perceive it more favorably if there was less car traffic.

Bell Street in Seattle, an example of the type of “flexible street” typology in the plan.

The new “living streets” plan proposes four “opportunity areas” across downtown: Old Town, the Burnside Wedge, Extended Halprin and the Transit Mall. These sites were chosen based on factors including size, nearby bike and public transit infrastructure and proximity to commercial and tourist areas.

Let’s look at what the plan proposes for Old Town. Once known for nightlife and donuts, this part of downtown Portland has amassed a pretty seedy reputation over the last few years. The living streets plan acknowledges that the prevalence of social services in Old Town have made it an attractive place for people to set up encampments and says that “balancing the needs and engagement of community members, businesses, and visitors will be very challenging.”

But what if this challenge could be an opportunity to do something new? The students propose two designs for an Old Town with “living streets”: a temporary pedestrianized area for nights and weekends and a permanent configuration. The temporary design builds on the existing Old Town carfree zone and proposes expanding this program and making it less police-oriented and more welcoming, relying on physically retractable bollards to divert cart traffic instead of police barricades.

The permanent design might involve a road diet for busy streets in Old Town like SW 2nd, 3rd and 4th aves, which would enable activating the space for gathering. The plan also suggests a “promenade” configuration on NW Couch and Davis streets, which could involve adding cobblestones and people-oriented amenities, like interactive public art or landscaping, to the streets.

Before implementing these projects, the students recommend planners enact pop-up demonstrations in the spaces so people can get used to the idea of the streetscape changes. They also propose potential funding mechanisms for the plans, such as through PBOT’s Plazas and Healthy Business programs, neighborhood associations and federal and state transportation department grants.

At this time, there doesn’t appear to be a concrete plan to get these projects up and running: the plan is intended to “provide a framework for policymakers and activists to advance the implementation of “Living Streets” within the Portland Downtown Core…and provide a baseline for future efforts to implementation.”

At any rate, it’s a robust document that lays out a vivid picture of what downtown Portland currently looks like and where its potential lies. Check out the full plan at the TREC website.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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Cathy Tuttle
1 year ago

I love living in Utrecht for a few months!

What I’m focused on is looking at how cars are controlled here. Yes, Utrecht may have the best bicycle and transit infrastructure in the Netherlands. It also has some of the most thoughtful car control.The two are completely interlinked.

You cannot have great bike, transit, and walk zones without putting control on how people use cars in a city: Freight zones and times, where you can ride scooters and mopeds, what cars are licensed to drive where, and most importantly, where and when private cars can be parked.

What many people might not see in European “car-free” zones is that there are still plenty of cars — for business deliveries, emergency access, disabled people, and local residents. In the US, we’ve turned our most valuable, dense, business-rich areas into car free-for-alls. It’s not healthy for cities, for local businesses, and certainly not for people.

Utrecht is a thriving city. People are housed, happy, and productive. Thousands of businesses are flourishing, and abundant, healthy businesses mean that, among other things, roads and public spaces are in good repair and transit is clean, safe, and frequent.

This is all preamble to say that the TREC/PSU report on Living Streets is on the right path, and is a very good blueprint for local Portland business and political leaders to use, as soon as they have the courage to do so.

The four student authors, Cameron Bennett, Owen Christofferson, Emily D’Antonio, and Aidan Simpson have provided solid, data-based guidance. I hope they all end up in positions in Portland or other cities where these transformations are needed soon.

Reading their 79-page report may be daunting for some. I want to point out just a few pages to focus on. The authors did a deep dive into what “Living Streets” are in a dense downtown context. Here’s their plan.

Living Streets are the “Living Rooms” of cities. More detailed descriptions of what a Living Street is (these descriptions could be used by City planners working respectfully on public outreach) are on page 44. The student report has valuable lists of possible design elements (p. 29) and cost estimates (p.67). These are all good public engagement tools.

Because Portland leaders are not ready to draw a ring around the whole downtown as a living streets area (they should!), this report highlights Opportunity Areas (p.21) that are basically smaller places that can be adapted to a car-lite approach because they have zero or few driveways. The Opportunity Areas also lead to dense residential and business destinations that people want to go to.

I am convinced, if areas downtown adopt a Living Streets approach, they will draw in more people, who will support more businesses, who will help more of Portland’s downtown thrive. Uncontrolled car driving and more cheap car parking does not make Downtown Portland more inviting.

The Downtown Portland Living Streets Plan narrows its focus to just four destination areas and goes into detail about how they could be designed and what it would cost to do demonstrations and permanent designs for each of them. These four areas: Old Town, Burnside Wedge, Extended Halprin, Transit Mall, were chosen with a robust data-focused process that’s worth a look (See page 64: Weighted Decision Matrix Criteria).

I believe any of these demonstration areas — all of them and more in fact! — will improve the quality of life for people who live in Portland, increase the city business tax base, and draw new visitors to a city where the dream is once again alive.

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
1 year ago

Read today where the U.S. has over 2 billion parking spots in its cities. Seven spots for every car out there.

El
El
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

And yet I still can’t find parking anywhere near Powell’s Books!

Cathy Tuttle
1 year ago
Reply to  El

Portland parking rates place the same low value on all parking spots. “Portland has a wide variety of parking options available. The city is full of metered parking areas. Rates start as low as $1 per hour in Lloyd District and go up to $2 per hour downtown. During sporting events, the rate is $3.50 per hour next to Providence Park.”

All parking rates should be higher. Destinations that draw tons of users like the Burnside corridor should be much, much higher. Then you’d get parking when you need it next to Powell’s Books. Supply and demand baby.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Cathy Tuttle

Then you’d get parking when you need it next to Powell’s Books. Supply and demand baby.

I guess having services readily available for the GHG-gas-spewing rich (but not at all available for the GHG-sipping poor) is the overarching goal of market urbanism.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  pierre delecto

Pierre, I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time, and your comment is giving me an opportunity, so here it goes. There is gross financial inequality in this country, and it’s been decades in the making. It needs to be solved at the federal level.

Trying to solve it locally by establishing a graduated price for everything is really inefficient. Yes, subsidize public transit passes by income, otherwise if gas, tolls, parking get expensive—pass it on to the customer. Folks can pay a lot more than they currently do for their lawn service.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago

It needs to be solved at the federal level.

The federal government does not own Portland’s public space — it’s a locally-controlled “commons”. When upper income Portlanders seek to effect some social change they almost always advocate for policy that creates a new public good (exclusionary luxury parking zones) for well off people:

Then you’d get parking when you need it next to Powell’s Books. Supply and demand baby.

Lower-income people, on the other hand, often see some level of financial harm from these social policies (e.g. being priced out of the ability to park in downtown Portland even during periods when parking is available). A more egalitarian approach — and one that is the default policy in the Netherlands — is to eliminate parking in the urban center so that both wealthy and lower-income people have access to abundant and inexpensive parking close to major transit lines.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  pierre delecto

Lovin’ the discussion, Pierre. The fed gov doesn’t control Portland public space, but federal housing, tax, corporate governance, monopoly, and financial regulation are all controlled by fed gov, and those policies for the past 50 years have led to a very few people having waaay too much money, and a large number of people not capturing their fare share of US growth.

You can mitigate some of that locally, but you can’t solve or even put a dent in grotesque inequality with parking fees. What public transportation can do is provide a reliable way for everyone to get where they need to go. Subsidize that. The US has a lot of social problems, transportation is not the best tool for solving each and every one of them.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago

The US has a lot of social problems, transportation is not the best tool for solving each and every one of them.

A systemic approach is needed and transportation costs are one of the largest contributors to social inequity. Just because the Federal government is run by free-marketeers, does not mean that Portland should avoid doing what it can do to address existing inequity.

You can mitigate some of that locally, but you can’t solve or even put a dent in grotesque inequality with parking fees.

At the very least. one could create policy that does not worsen inequity. Exclusionary parking zones for the rich are just another example of an emerging trend in transportation politics: the creation of economic class-based transportation facilities(e.g. HOT lanes for the rich in CA, TSA precheck for the rich, charters/high-income air travel for the rich etc.)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  pierre delecto

I agree with a bunch of what you are saying, especially your last list of examples. It’s one of the (many) reasons I hate helicopters. I remember Gordon Price saying to my PBOT/PSU Transportation class, “congestion *is* the pricing.” He’s got a point.

But I also think that Portland needs to get more people into buses. And have more coverage.

(But then there is “el” up top, he really wants that parking. Wealthy people usually can pay for what they want, taxis, private driver. So the cheap parking is really for the middle/upper middle class.)

I guess parking cost isn’t the sword I want to die on, I just want to be in a city where only a fool would drive. If the fool wants to pay through the nose, fine by me.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago

So the cheap parking is really for the middle/upper middle class.

The upper “middle” class and its constellation of economic subsidies is a primary driver of inequality in the USA.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

A more egalitarian approach … is to eliminate parking

Why is the answer always to promote “egalitarianism” by making things worse for everyone?

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Does a dramatic reduction in SOVs in the urban center really make things worse for everyone?

*as opposed to simply shifting the VMT towards wealthier people

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Does a dramatic reduction in SOVs in the urban center really make things worse for everyone?

Without any unintended consequences, it would be great.

Cathy Tuttle
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Parking is allowed in downtown Netherlands cities. It’s just expensive. A city center parking spot in Utrecht is over $5000 a year for your first car, $10,000 for the second.

I live an 8-minute walk from a station that is just south of the city center. Street parking here is $500 a year or $8 an hour. Abundant and free car parking near any transit hub in The Netherlands is not a common practice. Bike parking is free and abundant though, as is frequent, reliable transit.

There’s space for parking adaptive bikes and cargo bikes for people who have special needs, and adaptive transit for people who need help getting around the city at all train stations.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Cathy Tuttle

A city center parking spot in Utrecht is over $5000 a year for your first car, $10,000 for the second.

This is an apples to oranges comparison. Dutch cities have efficient and pervasive mass transit systems as well as world-class active transportation infrastructure that give lower-income people better options. Portland does not have either of these options to any meaningful degree.

Moreover, the laser focus on parking “free”-markets by so many cycling enthusiasts ignores the fact that parking elimination has been at the core of Dutch transportation policy. There are infamous images of Amsterdam city squares that were dedicated to parking prior to policies that intentionally sought to push cars out of the center city. And more recently, the default Dutch policy of parking elimination in city centers has only accelerated:

Cycling city Amsterdam will start eliminating inner city parking spaces to give the space back to cyclists, pedestrians and public transit users. The Dutch city will count 11,200 parking spots fewer by the end of 2025.

Amsterdam announced that it will systematically strip its inner city of parking spaces. Starting this summer, the city aims to reduce the number of parking permits in the city centre by 1,500 per year. In addition, the cost for the permits will rise. Today, they can already amount to close to €500 a year for the inner city streets.

Both measures must result in less parking space occupied and less demand for parking spaces in the city centre. This will allow the city to remove up to 11,200 parking spaces from its streets by the end of 2025.

https://www.fleeteurope.com/en/last-mile/netherlands/news/amsterdam-removing-almost-12000-parking-spots

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I guess having services readily available for the GHG-gas-spewing rich 

Maybe we should allocate parking in short time increments using a first-come-first-served model, with a nominal fee of a couple of bucks per hour to ensure equal access to all.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I think shorter-time increments could help somewhat but PBOT also has a successful transportation wallet program that could be used to provide transportation and parking “credits” to larger cross-section of lower-income people (e.g. based on benefit program enrollment, UE status, DOR income etc.)

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/index.cfm?&c=78475

The idea that a less regressive alternative is impossibly difficult is simply not the case.

Ted
1 year ago

I have bad knees and a prosthetic hip. Walking more than 400 steps is out of the question. Same for public transportation unarmed.

J1mb0
J1mb0
1 year ago
Reply to  Ted

What is going to happen if you are on public transportation unarmed? Did something happen to you?

I ask as I ride public transit every day unarmed and I have never had a situation where I needed to be armed. Not even the first responders on Max are armed. I don’t know what I am missing? Are you concerned that you would see someone you would need to harm or kill, and without a weapon you would miss your opportunity?

Also, you can still drive to places even with their proposed changes. None of this removes car access. It just doesn’t make it so that the space isn’t dominated by cars and people don’t feel like they need one to get around.

Michael Williford
Michael Williford
1 year ago
Reply to  J1mb0

I literally have seen people get stabbed and assaulted on our public transit.. stop glorifying trash. Cars are the safest way around the city and will be for a long time.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

i hear your perspective michael. And yes it’s bad and yes we shouldn’t ignore it.

But my response to comments like yours is this: A future with everyone in their cars is much worse, so we must fight to make transit better. We can’t give up when it gets hard.

J1mb0
J1mb0
1 year ago

I am sorry you had such a horrible experience. Seeing that kind of stuff can be really traumatic.

I have seen some someone get hit by a car, which is also pretty traumatizing. At least once a month there is a car accident at the intersection near my house. A common statistic is that a person has a 1 out of 366 chance you will get in a car accident for every 1000 miles you drive. 77% of Americans have been in a car accident. Even with all of the craziness on MAX right now, I still think you would be safer riding it than driving a car. Certainly, it will never get better unless we drive less.

mh
1 year ago
Reply to  J1mb0

Crash, not “accident.”

J1mb0
J1mb0
1 year ago
Reply to  mh

Thanks!

El
El
1 year ago
Reply to  J1mb0

Conservatives always drive cars ’cause you can’t pick up streetwalkets ridin’ the bus!

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
1 year ago
Reply to  Ted

OK?

Priscilla B
Priscilla B
1 year ago

Calling accurate descriptions of downtown Portland “fear-mongering” is just the denial of reality which has led to the cratering of livability in Portland. I drove over the Morrison Bridge recently. The post apocalyptic scene at 4th and Washington was truly terrifying and profoundly disturbing. Never seen this even in 3rd world countries I’ve been to.

https://www.wweek.com/news/2023/03/30/readers-respond-to-a-fentanyl-den-in-a-prominent-downtown-property/

idlebytes
idlebytes
1 year ago
Reply to  Priscilla B

The post apocalyptic scene at 4th and Washington was truly terrifying and profoundly disturbing. Never seen this even in 3rd world countries I’ve been to.

You think that’s an “accurate description”? The apocalypse. 4th and Washington, to you, looks like the end of the world or some catastrophic event occurred? You’ve never seen an abandoned building in these third world countries you’ve been to? This comment is the epitome of fear mongering.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Priscilla B

The building at 4th and Washington is a sad, dilapidated mess. But it’s not a “post apocalyptic scene”, it’s a clear example of divestment from an absentee landlord and neglect from the city. And you know, places like that are fairly common in cities, suburbs, and small towns the world over. Ever been to Crescent City or Eureka on the north coast of California? You will see things that make you question if Portland really has it that bad. Portland is still a commercial and industrial hub, even if half the downtown office buildings are vacant. If you want to see truly post apocalyptic scenes, visit places that really have had their economic rug pulled from under them – not just ones with poor city leadership. Take a walk in Butte, Montana and ask yourself if the problems facing that city are as disturbing as a few vacant buildings and shitty leadership in Portland (hint: it’s far more disturbing).

Things can be bad here without the hyperbole of “3rd world” or “post apocalyptic”. If you want to see the quintessential 3rd world (of colonial style extraction), go to Appalachia. Go to places where resource extraction conglomerates destroyed the earth, paid starvation wages, and then left as soon as they couldn’t make a quick buck anymore. Go to Gary or Youngstown, where massive steel companies ruthlessly cut work, or moved overseas while their workers were left to pick up the scraps of their lives. Comparing Portland to those places because you saw an abandoned block is pure fear mongering.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Very true! I visited Detroit a few time in the late 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s. I think Portland is bad, but is mostly shocking because of where it was just 3 years ago. I agree that there is a lot of hyperbole, and I think it reflects widespread shock and helplessness by people who care about the City.

Jeffrey Placencia
Jeffrey Placencia
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Well said!

El
El
1 year ago
Reply to  Priscilla B

Why didn’t you just stay in those third world countries then?

Jason
Jason
1 year ago

Funny, we worked with PBOT on a very similar, pre-pandemic version of this in 2019: “Living Streets: A Pathway Toward Inclusive, Equitable, and Accessible Pedestrian Streets” (pdx.edu)

Glad to see PSU is still giving students opportunities to explore the car-free streets concept. Now we just need to give it legs beyond academia and BP…

Will
Will
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason

Better Block is how we got the Naito bike lane, so at least there’s precedent for these projects to become reality.

John
John
1 year ago

It’s an interesting idea. I was just saying in another thread how there has to be some reason for people to be in town if people aren’t working there as much. I don’t know how big an impact working from home had on downtown, but I for one don’t really have much reason to go in anymore. And Amazon ruins the shopping reason.

But something like this at least makes an area where it could feel comfortable to be outside of a car. Walking, biking around, I guess restaurants and stuff.

I wonder if city centers are just going to have to transform. The real solution to me seems like people need to live there. I don’t know how many people do live in downtown but I get the feeling it isn’t really that many. Lots of offices. To me, the areas of medium density like Williams feel much more alive and welcoming. Not because they’re less dense (imo), but because they’re close to where people live.

Douglas K.
Douglas K.
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I agree. If work-from-home permanently shrinks the office market, a number of downtown office buildings could be converted to mixed-income housing. That would address several problems at once.

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas K.

Does anyone want to live downtown?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Chris I

I’d love to live downtown! I often fantasize about living in one of the high-rises and walking everywhere and always having people to hang out with.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

always having people to hang out with

It’s a nice vision, but one at odds with the reality of living in a big apartment building (at least as I’ve experienced it, in several different settings).

J1mb0
J1mb0
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

I also would like to live downtown. I could even buy one, but no way I could afford those HOA fees + property taxes. Still blows my mind that under our current tax system a single family house in the suburbs pays the same tax if not less than a similarly valued apartment in the city. Isn’t the infrastructure burden of the apartment way less than the single family house? Shouldn’t the single family house be paying more in taxes since the low density means more sprawling and hard to maintain infrastructure?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  J1mb0

Yes to all of that. Suburbs are a huge drain on city/state budgets. They’re heavily subsidized by the rest of the city.

I don’t know if that means the HOA fees + taxes for something downtown should be cheaper or suburbs should be more expensive. Or both. But generally it should be more affordable to live in downtown because it’s a benefit for the whole city if people do.

dwk
dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  John

 “Suburbs are a huge drain on city/state budgets.”

Care to elaborate? The biggest taxpayers in the state are in Washington county….

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  dwk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI

Sure, they may pay some taxes but not enough to support the massive infrastructure drain they represent. Suburbs just aren’t sustainable for a lot of reasons that I would think are obvious at this point, but that video already did the explanation if you’re curious.

dwk
dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  John

There are 650,000 people living in Portland and 2.5 million in the metro area.
It’s hard to argue with people who just cannot look at simple facts and math…..

dwk
dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Portland population density – 4.692 sm.
Beaverton population density – 4.795 sm.

But sure, the city is more sustainable isn’t it?

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  dwk

City limits are a very poor way to understand residential density in the Portland area. For starters, large portions of the commercial areas “in” Beaverton are actually in unincorporated Washington County, while Portland has very little (if any) border shenanigans. Portland also hosts a very significant portion of its city acreage as parks – Forest Park alone is over 5% of Portland’s land area.

Additionally, consider that Portland contains almost all of the supply chain infrastructure in the region. Between Swan Island, the North Portland industrial area, and the Airport area that is about 21.5 square miles of land – 16% of the city. This infrastructure supports basically all the commerce in the entire region in one way or another.

Beaverton is almost entirely residential – especially compared to Portland. I’d say ~5% of the land in Beaverton is non-residential looking (it’s a ballpark guess). Factoring this in, Portland’s residential areas are about 15% denser than Beavertons (5939 sm vs. 5047 sm.) But even this doesn’t tell the whole story.

If you want to talk density, it’s better to consider a more granular approach. The densest census tract in Beaverton is 312.02, at just over 10,000 people/sq mile. The densest census tract in Portland is 51.01, at 36,000 people/sq mile. The west side of Portland is almost all in the 15,000 to 25,000 range, (with the downtown proper tract being the exception, since it’s all office buildings). It also is worth noting that typical tracts further out in Portland (like 5.02 in and around Lents) have densities in the 8,000 to 9,000 range, while typical tracts in Beaverton (like 310.07) are more like 5,000 to 6,000.

These denser parts of the city of Portland provide much more property tax/acre than their Beaverton equivalents, and allow the further flungs parts of the city (with lower densities, like Laurelhurst or Alameda) to have a relatively higher level of amenities than a typical suburban home would.

Municipal finances are evidently much more complicated than this – but tax $/acre is a useful metric, since city expenditures are roughly dependent on city size (at least for physical infrastructure).

dwk
dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Beaverton has a higher household income than Portland and a higher average income so pays more per person in personal taxes than Portland does.
Intel is by far the largest tax payer in the state.
It also employs 22,000 people (by far the largest employer) most of whom live in Washington county.
If you all want to pretend like you live in a “big” city, go ahead.
Just like the social justice glass breakers who think they live in a diverse city….

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  dwk

Intel is in Hillsboro not Beaverton, and employs about 1,000 more people than the next largest employer (Providence). Hardly “by far”.

Right, Beaverton may have higher tax revenue per person, but infrastructure cost scales both with area and population so that isn’t necessarily enough to say it’s “better off” from a balanced budget perspective.

Portland is the third largest city in the Cascade region, and the largest city in the state. It’s not like it’s New York, but it’s a significant city in its own right. It has an international airport. It has a historic train station. It has tall buildings. Is it more like Milwaukee than Chicago? Sure. But Milwaukee is cool as hell.

“Big” is an extremely subjective term, but what are you even trying to argue? That you get more of a “big city” experience in Beaverton because it’s nominally more dense (in a calculation that is somewhat misleading)? I moved to Portland because it was a larger city than where I was coming from, and I wanted that. It was (and remains) a good size for me.

Dwk
Dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I was just pointing out how ridiculous the statement that the suburbs are a drain on Portland which is absolutely false.
Portland is not the driving economic engine of the region by any means you want to look at.
Washington county is the suburbs where Intel is located.
Vantucky Washington has more progressive development plans than Portland.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Dwk

Portland is the largest economic driver of the area though. It has 20 of the 30 largest employers, a sea port, an airport, and major rail operations for two Class I railroads. No other city in the region comes close (Vancouver is the only one that even sniffs Portland on any of this). It’s the center of culture as well, especially for music and sports. The only thing Portland doesn’t have is a couple big-name employers. Big whoop. Talk to me when Hillsboro Airport starts getting more traffic than PDX.

“Drain on finances” is a relative term. I think the Portland suburbs we are discussing are somewhat poor examples, because they are have a fairly mature economic base in their own right (especially Vancouver and Beaverton). But they do have sprawly development patterns, which cost more money to maintain in the long term. When ODOT spends money widening OR-217 for suburban commuters and travelers, instead of on making Powell a safe place to exist it’s indicative of the drain people are talking about. Or when they try to widen I-5, it’s all the same. Huge sums of money that both directly harm Portland (more cars, more noise, etc) but also direct financial investment further out into the hinterland.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Dwk

The problem with relying on Intel, Nike or any other major private employer as a boon for municipal finances is that a dip in their economic fortunes could close that facility, and poof! There goes your tax base. Just look at Detroit after the automakers left. Any city with a more diverse range of economic activity is way more sustainable financially. And dense, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods are the most productive of all. This is laid out in the NJB video John linked.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Dwk

Also, Intel may be the largest employer in the state, but it wouldn’t be located where it is without all the public infrastructure to support it (roads, utilities, etc.), most of which is not paid for by Intel, but by everyone else in the state. Plus the fact that most of its employees live in car-dependent suburbs whose low-density, segregated patterns of land use put even more strain on public finances, not to mention the social and environmental costs of sprawl.

Dwk
Dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Your boosterism of Ted Wheelers Portland is noted.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Dwk

I like Portland man, it’s a good place to live. Ted Wheeler is bad at his job and has made the city a worse place to live, but I’ll still take it over any suburb by a long shot.

J1mb0
J1mb0
1 year ago
Reply to  dwk

Thanks John, that NJB video is a favorite of mine. I recommend the whole Strong Towns series that NJBs did.

dwk, I guess we should rephrase that – car dependent suburbs are not sustainable. Beaverton population density may be misleading – the actual city of Beaverton is surrounded on 3 sides by unincorporated Washington county.

Our region is interesting. Portland itself is fairly low density as a city. It has several suburbs that are still expanding and have not hit the other size of the growth ponzi scheme yet. Tigard, where I live, is an example of this. We are able to still sprawl outwards and are doing so with denser housing types. Look at the housing density at River Terrace in Tigard, which when I ride through it seems way denser than the “old” 1960s era neighborhood of Tigard where I live. Lots of McMansions, but also lots of apartments and townhomes. I see similar new developments out in Happy Valley and Hillsboro. A lot of the new development even in places like North Plains approaches more middle density then low density. I think the hope is that old neighborhoods like mine that are financially unsustainable are being offset by newer denser housing types.

The unfortunate part is that these new neighborhoods are still very car dependent and not mixed use. Living in a residential zone without any commercial hemmed in by 7 lane arterials with minimum pedestrian or bicycle crossings means most people are still going to drive. I don’t know what this will look like in 20 years when the maintenance for the infrastructure for these new developments are due and we are out of places to expand to. I expect that the arterials like 99W and Scholls Ferry Road are going to collapse due to all the traffic demand and those people living in these new developments are going to feel a little trapped. In any case, at some point we are going to hit a sprawl limit determined by car traffic capacities – and at that point, when we can’t expand any more, our suburban cities will either have grown up enough to bear the burden of their super low density neighborhoods or they will go the way of Flint, Michigan and start cutting services as they hemorrhage money.

With the new zoning laws, I can build 3 condo units on my property. I would only do this if I could sell 2 other ones and hire a maintenance company paid for with our HOA – because I have zero interest in being a landlord. If it is indeed possible, I will probably have done this by 20 years from now. If enough other people like me do this, and Tigard frees itself from car dependency like it wants to, we may have very sustainable and healthy suburbs in our region. Places like Tigard are also trying to think about how to facilitate more mixed use land use patterns – look at the Tigard Home project.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I have to say that your video has left me a bit confused. It talks about property taxes only, and disregards other taxes such as income tax, which, in Oregon, at least, is what pays for a lot of our streets and schools. Any talk of poor areas subsidizing rich areas that omits that is woefully incomplete.

J1mb0
J1mb0
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I am still learning about taxes, but from what I understand Income Tax is on a state level. Property taxes are on the local government level. The state can distribute Income Tax funds to local governments, but from what I can see this is a very complicated process where cities and counties apply for funding projects. I am sure some of it is used for maintenance, but ideally local governments should be able to maintain the infrastructure they are responsible for. At least, that is the expectation. Extreme low density car dependent suburbs cannot possibly pay for the typical amount of services they assume to get from their city/county. Police, fire, school, etc. I am sure they are out there, but I have not seen any real world examples of this. We do have plenty of examples that back the findings of Urban3.

Since ODOT’s budget only has a quarter of what it needs, I would say that the Income Taxes we collect are also insufficient to cover our transportation infrastructure that the state is responsible for.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  J1mb0

Most of Oregon road projects and maintenance are paid for from user fees such as gas tax. We do not fund much, if any, of it with property tax. ODOT gets a lot of its funding from the federal highway fund, which is in turn funded by gas tax. It’s relatively easy to find a high level budget breakdown on ODOT’s website.

So maybe suburban drivers do pay their fair share, at least here on Oregon.

Since you mentioned police: if you want to compare which Portland neighborhoods pay the most property tax vs which ones use the most police resources (which are paid for by property tax), I would expect there’s a fair bit of subsidy going on.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

That’s because you’re motivated to be confused and contrarian here. Do you think other taxes somehow scale differently from property taxes? The higher property taxes have more expensive homes and higher income earners (i.e., more income tax revenue).

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

The argument is that suburban areas don’t pay their share for infrastructure, and the evidence cited is an analysis to property tax, which doesn’t fund much infrastructure in Oregon.

Actually as I think more about it, income tax doesn’t really pay for much infrastructure either, so perhaps I was wrong. Including it might not make a bad analysis much better.

My bad.

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago
Reply to  J1mb0

land value tax!

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

I have wanted to live downtown in the past, but then I believed that Portland was a good faith Civic partner. I believe that that successful, healthy density requires a sort of civic contract: an individual gives up a yard, a garage, lots of storage, and all the trappings of a single family house in exchange for shared amenities: transit, clean and safe sidewalks, a variety of parks and places to be outside, convenient retail (restaurants, barbers, cafes, groceries). Portland was doing a pretty good job at providing those, but I always felt that they catered to commuters in their transportation and park planning. Besides the need to get basic safety and cleanliness restored, I think Portland needs to reconceive their parks and openspace to better support density. More places to picnic and hangout, better swimming and small boating support, and fewer waterfront festivals. This is probably a combination of re-working existing parks and adding new openspaces. I think transit also needs to be developed from the hub/spoke into more of a mesh with hours/schedules not tied to 9-5 work hours.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

I think this is very well articulated. Portland has done a pretty terrible job at providing the infrastructure needed to support the density planners say they want.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I lived in Vancouver, BC in a the early 2000’s in a few different downtown apartments. We would regularly have evening picnics in the park after work, go for long hikes, walks, cross country skiing or even rowing/sailing- all without leaving the city. The waterfront culture in Vancouver is so well developed with amazing access by bike, a myriad of places to gather and hang out (beaches, benches, tables, boulders, shady lawns, gardens, natural areas. Plus they have excellent places to swim in the bay and in pools overlooking the bay and an absolute treasure of a small boat center (Jericho). I didn’t miss having a yard when i lived there, but I have not been able to find equivalent places in Portland. I did find a neighborhood that I love, and now we grill out with neighbors and hang out in each others back yards or on porches. I love Portland, but it is very suburban/residential in its planning.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

I’ve been looking for a place I can rent a small sailboat and putt around in Willamette for decades. We don’t really make good use of our aquatic resources.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

That’s a good point about parks that isn’t mentioned much. The Parks Bureau correctly understands that some parks serve just the surrounding neighborhoods, while others are regional draws. But my experience living near a regional one (Washington Park) is that Parks forgets that the regional parks are also the local parks for the neighborhood they’re in. People living near a park that draws people from outside the neighborhood deserve dog parks, basketball hoops, kids’ areas, etc. as much as anyone.

Downtown parks tend to be regional-draw ones (Waterfront Park, Park Blocks, Pioneer Square, etc.) and you’re right that more thought needs to go into having park spaces that work well for people who live near them, vs. people driving in for festivals, concerts, etc.

Douglas J Kelso
Douglas J Kelso
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

Judging by current real estate rental and sales prices downtown, a whole lot of people do.

mh
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

I’d love to live downtown if I could live in an old building like Trinity Place Apartments, I lived there many decades ago, and still miss it.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

Thousands of people already live in Downtown and Old Town, Chris.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas K.

Yes, there’s demand for housing and not for office space. There are some huge obstacles to conversion, though–particularly seismic upgrade requirements.

dw
dw
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Downtown also doesn’t have nearly enough stuff that directly interfaces with the street. Think places like Hawthorne, Division, Mississippi, or NW 23rd. In any of those places, if you want a drink, cup of coffee, or meal you can just kind of walk for a few minutes until you find a spot. Everything at street level Downtown is just imposing skyscraper facades, office windows, parking garages, and entrances to lobbies of building.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  dw

Yeah, this is something people don’t bring up enough when talking about downtown (and especially the transit mall). The lack of real commercial space at a human scale means there are fewer reasons for regular people to be there, which makes it less safe for everyone (less foot traffic, less commerce, etc.). The only parts of Downtown that I think are worth visiting are clustered around Broadway, and Yamhill/Morrison (though that gets a bit sketch around the MAX stop on 1st in my experience). Which are some of the only areas that weren’t really affected by either urban renewal or mega office buildings (Broadway has some of these, but they aren’t the only things there like 5th/6th tend towards). Any plan for downtown that doesn’t try to rectify this somehow is going to struggle with being effective.

maccoinnich
1 year ago
Reply to  dw

Everything at street level Downtown is just imposing skyscraper facades, office windows, parking garages, and entrances to lobbies of building

I think that describes some parts of downtown, especially those parts with a large number of buildings built in the 1950s-1970s. However, it’s not all of downtown, and areas like 10th/11th/12th south of Burnside especially are very active.

blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  maccoinnich

I’d say those aren’t “downtown” by the classical definition. That usually ends at 9th/Park (with the bounds being 9th, Burnside, the river, and Market). I guess it’s a bit subjective though, and the neighborhood profiles disagree with me (they put 405 as the boundary, and cut the little bits around Ankeny out and put them into Old Town).

maccoinnich
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

That area has been considered downtown at least as far back as 1972.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  dw

New construction is required to have street level retail but the available spaces are often on a scale that few small businesses can afford. National chains and flagship restaurants may not be interested. The best food cart block in SW Portland is now a 36 story hotel/condo tower. The question is, who is going to stay there?

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
1 year ago

Yes to this, a thousand times over:

“The streets of the Portland Downtown Core are currently dominated by single occupancy vehicles. Walking on the downtown streets, it appears the car is the predominant user and all else is relegated to the sidewalks,” the plan states. “The Portland Downtown Living Streets Plan is an effort to envision a network of pedestrian-oriented streets within the Downtown Core.”

dwk
dwk
1 year ago

Fat tire bike shop owner literally just on the local TV begging the city to do something about the lawlessness and crime problem. Costing him $40k to keep criminals from breaking in.
Bikeportland might want to start there when discussing downtown Portland.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  dwk

I’m sure business owners never have an incentive to exaggerate their security problems when they have a chance of getting the taxpayer to pick up the tab for more policing lol

El
El
1 year ago

The Dutch have bike paths everywhere, but what surprised me is they drive enclosed electric vehicles down the bike paths at high speed.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  El

Those are microcars designed specifically for people with disabilities. They have a top speed of 28 mph. I’ll take that over sharing the road with humongous pickups any day.

“This tiny Dutch vehicle for people with disabilities is taking off”: https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/12/26/1064764/diversity-linguistics-project-us/

“The Miniature Microcars of Amsterdam”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9ly7JjqEb0&ab_channel=NotJustBikes