A Light Rail PR Story

Portland is a PR machine for light rail & streetcar

Here are Some Facts About Portland Oregon          

Oregonian: Planners say the MAX line on its way to Clackamas County in 2007 will lay down track for more than just a light-rail train. It also will carry an economic engine for jobs and business stretching into the next decade.

Analysis: The East side light rail line didn't help Rockwood. Their Fred Meyer (major regional chain, similar to WalMart) closed their store next to a light rail station - reasons included crime, some of it facilitated by MAX. What would help the neighborhoods along the new line is some of that $1/2 Billion that the city is going to pour into the North Macadam Urban Renewal district.

Oregonian: By 2025, about 46,500 people are expected to board light rail every day between Clackamas Town Center and downtown Portland. About a third of those riders will travel within the section of the light-rail track that runs along I-205.

Analysis: Do the math: 46,500 people, is Trimet speak for 46,500 boardings which is 23,250 people making round trips (you do have to get back home). 1/3 of those will travel "within the section of the light-rail track that runs along I-205." 1/3 of 23,250 is 7,750 people that Trimet projects by 2025, according to this report. So our headline number of 46,500 is really 7,750. This is called "transit math".

Oregonian: In all, Portland-area light-rail lines have resulted in $6 billion of development within walking distance -- less than half a mile -- of MAX stations, said Mary Fetsch, a TriMet spokeswoman.

Analysis: MAX takes credit for ALL development in the area. They ignore that much of this development would have occurred anyway and that much of it is getting tax abatements, urban renewal money and other "incentives". MAX had little development before they started giving tax incentives: see HOUSING NEAR LIGHT RAIL GETS INCENTIVE (Oregonian, October 24, 1996):  The Portland City Council on Thursday approved a tax incentive plan that will give tax breaks to transit-oriented housing projects near MAX light-rail stations and two other Portland eastside locations.....Developers have been hesitant to build the type of housing Metro says the region needs to attract more transit riders. The tax break also aims to help Tri-Met make the most of the public's investment in the $214 million Banfield MAX line, which opened a decade ago. .....``We have an investment that hasn't been well capitalized on,'' he [Hales] said.

That Clackamas County, soon after final approval of the new light rail line funding, approved a $25 million Urban Renewal District spending plan to expand the Town Center is a good example.

Oregonian: ...a nearby Fred Meyer spent millions of dollars improving its retail building, and dozens of smaller shops appeared, Fetsch said.

Analysis: Fred Meyer upgraded all of their stores - that Interstate avenue store (along the Interstate light rail line) was just the last Fred Meyer to be upgraded - it would have happened without MAX.

Oregonian: Although MAX is expected to decrease traffic overall, it might increase traffic around the light-rail stations. That has some workers concerned.

Analysis: Be very concerned. Cars coming to MAX is just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is the housing that will be added. Metro's target is 5000 homes at each station. That will mean, just guessing, 5000 more cars at each station. For reference, one lane of freeway can transport about 1800 cars per hour, so each station's commuters will occupy a full lane of I205 for over two hours each AM & each PM. Conversely, if the planner's wildest dreams came true and everyone took MAX, each station's worth of people would take up 15 MAX (5000/322) trains every AM and every PM. MAX can only run 20 trains per hour through it most busy point. Conclusion: intolerable congestion.

Oregonian: As a result of the project, cars will drive 125,000 fewer miles a week along the I-205 corridor, according to a study evaluating the environmental affects of the project.

Analysis: Lets do the math again. 125,000 / 7 =17,857 miles per day. For 6.5 mile route, that is 2747 one way trips. That is equal to the capacity of one and one-half HOURS of ONE lane of freeway. Trimet just said that MAX will remove the equivalent of one and one-half hour's worth of traffic from one lane. But Trimet forget to mention that about 2/3 of those people would have been on the bus if MAX wasn't built, so the reality is that MAX is projected to remove 915 cars from the road - less than one-half of one lane for one hour. And at a cost of 1/2 billion. Had that money been spent on adding a lane pair, congestion would really be reduced. Adding a lane pair to 6.5 miles of freeway should cost no more that $65 million - a savings of 88% ($5 million per lane-mile since the right of way is mostly flat and ODOT owned with wide bridges).

Jobs expected in retail, services

Oregonian: economists with the Oregon Employment Department say that job growth within Clackamas County should continue and be up by 16.3 percent within a decade.

Analysis: Do the math - that is only 1,5% per year. Oregon average is now 3.6% and was 2.9 % last year. ( http://www.fdic.gov/bank/analytical/stateprofile/SanFrancisco/Or/OR.xml.html )

Oregonian: The most common new jobs will be for retail salespeople making about $26,600 a year, the Oregon Employment Department says.

Analysis: Portland area average job paid: $40,250 in 2005 per Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_38900.htm#b00-0000

Oregonian: Unemployment in Clackamas County peaked in 2003 at 7.5 percent. It has been falling since, according to state figures. Now it's at 5 percent, slightly below the state average.

Analysis: The national average is: 4.5% in Nov 2006 per http://www.bls.gov/

Housing, commercial sectors should rise

Oregonian: High-end Renaissance Homes, for example, sold 300 homes this year, and company president Randy Sebastian said he expects to hit 350 in 2007.

Analysis: And how many of us can afford "High-end" homes? That is all that will be built because Metro won't let us build on enough land to make building housing for average people financially viable. For one view, see http://americandreamcoalition.org/penalty.html

Analysis of a Light Rail Story

Here is a good example of how our transit agency spins the facts along with some comments (article title in red-click for original story):

Next stop: Prosperity, doors to my left