Survey: New Urbanist Community Results in More Walking, Interaction

Teresa Burney brings us this story on new research on the New Urbanist development of Orenco Station outside of Portland, OR.  Professor Bruce Podobnik of Lewis and Clark College surveyed residents about their neighborhood and travel habits and found that “their community is friendlier and offers more of a sense of community than other places they have lived, that they walk more often to the store, and occasionally use public transportation.”  Unfortunately, he also found that, though residents do walk more for shopping and social reasons, they still mostly drive to work.  Although they are less car dependent than another conventional suburb that was also part of the study, 64% of residents interviewed said that they drive to work alone, although 65% of residents say that they use mas transit more than they did before moving to Orenco.

There are a number of things to think about with these numbers, the biggest being, why do so many people still drive?  I have a few opinions myself.  First of all, let’s look at Orenco Station from Google Earth:


From this image, you can see that it is mostly suburban-type houses (although much superior to even the neighboring subdivisions).  The only real employment within Orenco Station is the four buildings along the main road to the Southwest, so they don’t have enough employment opportunities within the area itself to supply all the labor needs of the residents, thus they have to leave.  Most of these people probably work in or near Portland, the nearest major metropolitan area.  There is a MAX light rail station south of the development, but it is a quarter mile to almost a whole mile to get there, and even New Urbanist studies show that people will rarely walk more than a quarter of a mile before they decide to drive.  The orange lines on the image above indicate bus lines, which I’m sure entice a few people out of their cars, but when it comes to a choice between light rail, cars and buses, they are usually selected in that order.  There are certainly other nearby employment opportunities, considering the massive industrial/office park immediately north of the development, but look at the roads once you leave Orenco Station (image again from Google Earth):


Along one side of the road, the sidewalk comes to an abrupt stop.  The other side does have a trail, however.  Let’s take a look at that:


This trail is deathly boring, especially considering the interest and variety back in the neighborhood.  Also, puts August highs regularly in the 90’s on sunny days in this area, and this trail’s distinct lack of shade would allow someone to get very sweaty if they walked to work.  Also, the shortest distance from a house in Orenco Station to a business in this park is half a mile, and even considering the small chances of this optimal arrangement, the likelihood of walking is low.

If Orenco Station was to truly cut back on driving in a more significant manner, it would need more jobs internally, or better development externally.  Considering how well the neighborhood functions, I wouldn’t recommend significant redevelopment within.  However, the surrounding neighborhoods need a lot of work, and though there is some good development going up around, there’s a lot, both new and existing, that needs significant work.

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