Tag Archives: Portland

A Study on Regional Governments

I’m finally finished with the regional governments project that I’ve been working on for something like six weeks and that has kept me from writing in that time.  In the future I may want to use more accurate measures and publish this, so I’m going to practice by presenting this as scientific research.  So here goes.


I wanted to study the possibility of creating regional governments in the United States for three reasons.  First, because I agree with The Charter of the New Urbanism when it states that “The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality.” Also, I feel that the lines that divide government designations in America are arbitrary at best and, in many cases, don’t reflect reality on the ground.

It is interesting to compare government designations in Europe and America.  If you look at a map of Europe, you will notice that none of the boundaries are straight lines.  This is because the boundaries do a much better job of reflecting things like topography and real cultural divides.

The US, on the other hand, was drawn up for ease of division by immigrants who considered it to be essentially uninhabited.  Many counties, particularly in the Midwest, are just boxes laid out along the survey lines created by Jefferson, regardless of the topography on the ground.  There is only one state in the US that doesn’t have a straight line for a boundary, and that is Hawaii.  I don’t believe that this is advantageous.  Take my hometown of Pittsburgh, for example.  Pittsburgh is within the state of Pennsylvania, which it shares with Philadelphia.  This is about all the two cities share.  Their economies, populations, ethnic groups, and cultures are very divergent.  When the two cities are thrown into competition, often for State funds, Pittsburgh, with its lower population and generally higher standard of living, often does not get as much as Philadelphia.  According to Pittsburgh Quarterly, “It is often lamented that the Pennsylvania legislature tilts to the east, favoring Philadelphia over Pittsburgh.”  It would be advantageous to Pittsburgh to not be as closely linked to Philadelphia, which it in reality has little relation to.  At the same time, there are areas in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland that are closer to Pittsburgh than to any major city in their respective states, and would do well to be involved with the politics of that city.  At a lower level, there are people who live just outside of Alleghany County, where Pittsburgh is, so that they don’t have to pay the higher taxes in that county, yet they still use Alleghany County roads and services without paying their fair share.  I believe that, along with state borders, county borders should be amended to reflect the reality on the ground of how central city services are used.

This brings me to my third point: I don’t think, in many parts of the country, that county governments serve a needful purpose in the way that they did in the past.  When the country was made up of many small, independent towns, counties worked to unite them in common purpose.  Now, in our metropolitan world, counties are often used as tax havens or otherwise don’t serve their original purpose.  Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts have done away with their county governments, streamlining political processes and ironically creating “small government” in some of the most liberal states in the Union.

But how does one define a region?  For an answer, I turned to Christopher Alexander, as I often do, who, in A Pattern Language, encourages us to, “Wherever possible, work toward the evolution of independent regions in the world; each with a population between 2 and 10 million; each with its own natural and geographic boundaries; each with its own economy; each one autonomous and self-governing; each with a seat in a world government, without the intervening power of larger states or countries.”  With that in mind, I began my research.


I relied heavily on Wikipedia and Google for this research, which is why it isn’t publishable in its current state.  To begin, I set benchmarks for regions.  I wanted to make three maps to visualize regions of different sizes, so I decided that, so as to be in line with Alexander’s requirements, I would have one map with a minimum population of 2 million per region, another map with a minimum of 5 million per region, and a third with a minimum of 8 million.  Then I got a list of cities in the US with a population of over 100,000.

I went through every county in the country and measured the distance from the county seat to the nearest city of over 100,000, marking them on a map with a different color to designate different cities.  I used Google Maps’ walking distance feature because I felt that it would do a better job of reflecting topography than simple as-the-crow-flies measurement, while at the same time being more accurate than the car distances since cars are expected to travel on highways over large distances, which may be faster but not as direct.  Also, I wanted to measure it as if some sort of catastrophe happened and people were unable to use cars, thus being forced to walk.

After finding out which counties were closest to what cities, I counted up the population of the counties that were marked for a given city based on the most recent data on Wikipedia.  Some of this information was as recent as 2009 estimates, while some was as old as the 2000 census.  Hopefully when the new census comes out I can redo this project with better results.  If the population of the area was below the population benchmark that I had set, then the city was removed from the list and the counties were remeasured and marked for the next closest city.  I then mapped them out on large national maps.


This work generated three maps with corresponding lists of cities and the populations of the regions based on these cities.

This first map is based on regions with a minimum population of 2 million, with the following cities anchoring the regions and their given regional populations, from highest to lowest population of the central city:

  1. New York City, NY (10,861,700)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (11.624,092)
  3. Chicago, IL (7,312,584)
  4. Houston, TX (5,807,864)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (6,662,822)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (7,398,857)
  7. San Antonio, TX (3,836,400)
  8. San Diego, CA (3,322,432)
  9. Dallas, TX (3,742,720)
  10. San Jose, CA (3,329,396)
  11. Detroit, MI (2,384,057)
  12. San Francisco, CA (4,318,813)
  13. Jacksonville, FL (3,040,268)
  14. Indianapolis, IN (3,652,091)
  15. Austin, TX (2,079,499)
  16. Columbus, OH (3,736,506)
  17. Fort Worth, TX (3,586,057)
  18. Charlotte, NC (3,878,660)
  19. Memphis, TN (2,502,573)
  20. Boston, MA (6,831,829)
  21. Baltimore, MD (4,243,534)
  22. El Paso, TX (2,874,140)
  23. Seattle, WA (7,070,662) (This includes both Alaska and Hawaii, as will be explained below)
  24. Denver, CO (5,896,137)
  25. Nashville, TN (2,909,035)
  26. Milwaukee, WI (3,184,691)
  27. Washington, DC (3,031,043)
  28. Louisville, KY (2,949,715)
  29. Portland, OR (4,607,152)
  30. Oklahoma City, OK (2,542,568)
  31. Atlanta, GA (6,151,488)
  32. Kansas City, MO (3,814,650)
  33. Fresno, CA (3,032,183)
  34. Sacramento, CA (5,691,903)
  35. Omaha, NE (2,506,874)
  36. Miami, FL (2,785,746)
  37. Cleveland, OH (2,249,989)
  38. Raleigh, NC (2,252,861)
  39. Tulsa, OK (2,843,868)
  40. Minneapolis, MN (4,490,267)
  41. St. Louis, MO (5,069,109)
  42. Tampa, FL (5,049,680)
  43. Santa Ana (Orange County), CA (3,121,251)
  44. New Orleans, LA (2,534,949)
  45. Cincinnati, OH (3,472,024)
  46. Pittsburgh, PA (4,470,907)
  47. Riverside, CA (2,088,322)
  48. Toledo, OH (2,019,458)
  49. St. Paul, MN (2,573,057)
  50. Buffalo, NY (2,782,734)
  51. Greensboro, NC (2,678,241)
  52. Madison, WI (2,070,908)
  53. Orlando, FL (3,625,795)
  54. Birmingham, AL (2,896,134)
  55. Baton Rouge, LA (2,841,516)
  56. Arlington, VA (2,615,764)
  57. Akron, OH (2,307,186)
  58. Montgomery, AL (3,057,149)
  59. Richmond, VA (3,725,124)
  60. Shreveport, LA (2,146,547)
  61. Des Moines, IA (2,092,903)
  62. Augusta, GA (3,286,871)
  63. Grand Rapids, MI (2,311,561)
  64. Little Rock, AR (2,377,037)
  65. Knoxville, TN (3,215,185)
  66. Fort Lauderdale, FL (3,511,282)
  67. Salt Lake City, UT (4,773,812)
  68. San Bernardino, CA (3,454,754)
  69. Fayetteville, NC (2,047,029)
  70. Aurora, IL (3,986,086)
  71. Springfield, MA (3,183,813)
  72. Paterson, NJ (2,285,085)
  73. Syracuse, NY (2,641,398)
  74. Bridgeport, CT (3,876,777)
  75. Warren, MI (2,393,541)
  76. Elizabeth, NJ (4,235,727)
  77. Lansing, MI (2,543,980)
  78. Manchester, NH (3,289,238)
  79. Allentown, PA (2,559,796)

This second map shows regions with a minimum population of 5 million.  They are listed below in the same manner that they were previously.

  1. New York City, NY (15,100,008)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (15,562,860)
  3. Chicago, IL (12,213,121)
  4. Houston, TX (6,568,198)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (8,490,543)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (10,845,050)
  7. San Antonio, TX (5,398,906)
  8. Dallas, TX (5,916,711)
  9. San Jose, CA (9,241,701)
  10. Detroit, MI (8,757,618)
  11. Indianapolis, IN (7,153,419)
  12. Columbus, OH (7,066,082)
  13. Fort Worth, TX (6,422,682)
  14. Charlotte, NC (9,064,119)
  15. Memphis, TN (5,335,220)
  16. Boston, MA (9,275,561)
  17. Seattle, WA (8,755,217)
  18. Denver, CO (10,039,895)
  19. Nashville, TN (5,631,919)
  20. Milwaukee, WI (6,167,922)
  21. Washington, DC (11,269,595)
  22. Portland, OR (5,263,530)
  23. Atlanta, GA (11,943,974)
  24. Kansas City (9,015,985)
  25. Sacramento, CA (6,370,171)
  26. Miami, FL (6,297,028)
  27. Cleveland, OH (6,605,216)
  28. Raleigh, NC (6,911,460)
  29. Minneapolis, MN (8,704,527)
  30. St. Louis, MO (5,438,438)
  31. Tampa, FL (11,235,143)
  32. New Orleans, LA (6,317,469)
  33. Pittsburgh, PA (5,274,967)
  34. Riverside, CA (9,002,191)
  35. Springfield, MA (5,943,610)
  36. Paterson, NJ (6,595,744)

This final map is for regions with a minimum population of 8 million, based on the following cities.

  1. New York City, NY (24,002,264)
  2. Los Angeles, CA (15,562,860)
  3. Chicago, IL (17,521,680)
  4. Houston, TX (14,995,203)
  5. Phoenix, AZ (8,493,518)
  6. Philadelphia, PA (11,376,896)
  7. Dallas, TX (12,594,912)
  8. San Jose, CA (15,669,851)
  9. Detroit, MI (10,047,016)
  10. Indianapolis, IN (14,442,659)
  11. Charlotte, NC (14,787,271)
  12. Memphis, TN (9,796,539)
  13. Boston, MA (12,318,503)
  14. Seattle, WA (13,493,324)
  15. Denver, CO (10,100,944)
  16. Washington, DC (13,875,208)
  17. Atlanta, GA (15,249,097)
  18. Kansas City, MO (10,585,310)
  19. Cleveland, OH (14,161,269)
  20. Minneapolis, MN (9,192,555)
  21. Tampa, FL (17,532,171)
  22. Riverside, CA (9,044,828)


There are a number of inferences that can be made from these findings.  The first that I would like to discuss is that, despite using county data, there are still a lot of straight line boundaries.  This is going to be the case as long as counties have boundaries as arbitrary as states.  A more thorough and accurate analysis would include a municipality-by-municipality, rather than county-by-county, analysis, but that would take more time than I am willing to put into this project at this juncture.  The arbitrary straight lines on the map can lead to some unusual results.  For instance, Grand Junction, CO, the county seat of Mesa County, is closer to Salt Lake City and to Denver on the first map, while most of the rest of the counties on the border follow the state line, leaving Mesa County jutting awkwardly into Denver’s region.

Another odd effect is what happens when water transportation is a factor.  Google’s walking directions take regular ferry service into account, so areas such as San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, Lake Michigan and Massachusetts Bay have many more connections than areas such as Chesapeake Bay.  While in all reality the residents of Northampton County, VA may be more willing to ride a boat to Virginia Beach than to walk to Philadelphia, this isn’t taken into consideration here.  Rivers with infrequent bridges, or at least bridges lacking in pedestrian walkways, also pose a problem.  There are many counties in Arkansas, for instance, that are much closer to Memphis, TN than to Little Rock; however, the lack of bridges and regular ferry service across the Mississippi River made it so that the Google analysis gave many more areas to Little Rock.  Also, Google’s directions from Honolulu to the Mainland included “Kayak across the Pacific Ocean,” and no matter where you wanted the final destination to be, it went through Seattle, thus making Hawaii, as far as this discussion goes, a part of Seattle.

Another issue is the methodology used in selecting which cities would anchor areas.  After having attempted this analysis before with a top-down approach and being unsuccessful, I tried a bottom-up approach, starting with the smallest cities on my list and moving up.  This creates some situations that are somewhat awkward; for instance, Newark, NJ is much more of a population center than either Elizabeth of Paterson, NJ, yet it didn’t make the cut.  Tampa, FL, is another example; it is more likely that Jacksonville and Miami would split the state, rather than Tampa eliminating both of them.  I may in the future consider another top-down approach to see how the results differ.

There is also the fact that this search was limited to cities in the US.  If we were to do a more complete analysis, we would include neighboring countries and, time permitting, the whole world.  There are certainly cities in Alaska, for instance, that are much closer to Vancouver and even Victoria than they are to Seattle.  However, for the purposes of this study, it made sense to limit the scope to the United States.

The last problem with the model is the fact that I set minimum benchmarks.  This worked very well for the first map, which only has two regions exceeding Alexander’s limit of 10 million people, and those not by much.  However, when we get to a minimum of 8 million, nearly all of the regions exceed the limit.  It may be better to next time set a maximum number and split regions in two as they exceed that limit.

These weaknesses being established, there are a few recommendations that I would like to make after doing this research.  First of all, all counties should have one county seat.  There are a number of existing counties that have two seats, and even a few counties that have no seat.  Counties with more than one seat should settle on one and move on, while counties with no seat should either establish one or be dissolved.  Second, if counties are to exist, then all cities should lie within one.  I feel that there is a little bit of leeway in here for state capitals, such as Carson City, NV, which are just following the example of our nation’s capital, but most of the 39 independent cities in Virginia, for example, shouldn’t be independent.  Many of these cities are even the seats of the counties that they are not a part of!  Unless a city has the same boundaries as its county, like Miami and Boston, they should not function independently.  Counties should also be contiguous.  There are a few counties in Louisiana and Kentucky where changing river course or other events have cut certain parts of a county off from the rest of it.  These areas should become part of another, adjacent county.

Also, I will again refer to Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: “Decentralize city governments in a way that gives local control to communities of 5,000 to 10,000 persons. As nearly as possible, use natural geographic and historical boundaries to mark these communities. Give each community the power to initiate, decide, and execute the affairs that concern it closely: land use, housing, maintenance, streets, parks, police, schooling, welfare, neighborhood services.”  While there is a lot in there, Alexander does seem to set 5,000 persons as a baseline for a functional community.  With that being understood, I propose that any counties under 5,000 in population be dissolved.  If this were done, the country would have 292 fewer administrative units to deal with.  The interesting thing is that most of these counties that would go away are not in the sparsely-populated regions of the Rocky Mountains, as I had supposed; they are in the Plains States, where counties were created arbitrarily after Jefferson’s survey and without any sort of requirements for a population to support them.  These counties have no reason to be there, and their citizens would be better off being a part of a real, larger community.

With these suggestions being made, there are still many things that we can learn from these maps.  I personally prefer the first map and think that it could be a good basis for establishing regional governments and possibly eliminating county governments, particularly in the East and in California, where the population is the most dense.  To properly follow the borders of these regions, state borders would also have to be amended.  In this process, States which don’t have significant population centers would be eliminated, including Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The second map, with the much fewer and larger regions, might not be as good for establishing regional governments, but may be more useful for realigning state boundaries to better reflect reality.  If this were the plan, then county governments would probably still be needed, but only if they conform to the requirements stated above.  The last map, with the fewest and very largest areas, might not function either as regions or states, but may be one example of how the country might be equitably divided if it were to break up into small countries.  It is interesting to compare this map to others of how the US could potentially break up, as seen here.

Finally, it should be remembered that mere numbers are not what links people to a city or a region.  Few people would ever say that San Jose is the heart of the Bay Area, despite it being considerably bigger than San Francisco.  The only way you would really be able to truly find a dividing line between New York and Boston would be to go door to door through Connecticut and ask people if they are Yankees or Redsox fans.  The only true way to establish a regional identity is through years of tradition and cultural association with an area.  In the words of Lewis Mumford from his epic The City in History, “Contrary to the convictions of census statisticians, it is art, culture, and political purpose, not numbers, that define a city.”

Clean, affordable light rail also delivers economic lift

Greg Gormick brings us this story on the future of light rail in Toronto.  He says that the debate over Toronto’s Transit City light rail transit plan has been between critics who don’t know the benefits of light rail and supporters who have been unable to articulate those benefits.  He explains the differences between streetcars and light rail.  The later evolved from the former in European cities after WWII, when transit started losing ridership to cars.  Light rail became a mid-capacity system between high-capacity subways and low-capacity buses.  Light rail became larger, smoother, quieter, farther spaced, and faster, and had priority signaling and their own right-of-way.  At the same time, European cities embraced transit-oriented development, controlling sprawl and creating vibrant new neighborhoods.  They also embraced a concept known as lateral segregation, which gives transit users, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians their own part of the road adapted to their specific needs.

The effects have been economically and socially stimulating, and a number of cities that tore out streetcar systems have either replaced them with light rail or are in the process of doing so.  Edmonton was the first North American city to adopt light rail in 1978.  Since then, in places such as San Diego, Dallas and Portland, light rail has gotten people out of their cars, acted as an economic catalyst, and revived failing neighborhoods.  He argues that those who oppose the plan, who say that a new light rail line will have exactly the opposite effect, are fighting against historic precedent.  Light rail is also much cheaper than subways, an alternative supported by some, and can generally be built faster.  Building a new light rail system would make Toronto more competitive, more environmentally friendly, and more economically robust.

The End of the Automobile Era?

Is this wishful thinking on my part?  Probably, but at least it’s good to know other people are thinking the same thing.  Norman Garrick of Planetizen brings us this story on a possible turn of events away from cars and towards people.  On Thursday, the Portland, Oregon City Council voted 5-0 to approve a plan that has the goal of increasing bike ridership in the city from 6%, already the highest of any major city in the country, to 25%.  On the same day, the New York City Department of Transportation announced the permanent closing of sections of Broadway to vehicular traffic.  These two cities are and have always been on the leading edge of urban planning in America, and their support of alternative modes of transportation sends a strong message to other cities in the country.  Garrick makes a point that this trend has spread from blue states to cities like Oklahoma City and Little Rock, indicating that this is growing beyond a political issue to a more general planning one.

There are a number of signs indicating that the car culture is on the decline.  The number of vehicles per person has been declining since 2001, and vehicle miles traveled have been declining since 2004.  Garrick points out that both of these peaks are well before the most recent economic downturn, which has probably hastened the decline of these numbers.  Cities have also realized that it is cheaper for them to cater to pedestrians, bicycles and transit than to the car.  Garrick points out that Portland’s fifteen years of bike infrastructure building has cost the same as about a mile of freeway ($60 million).  It is also becoming cool to go car-lite or car-free, and areas that are more pedestrian-friendly are attracting tomorrow’s movers and shakers.

With oil floating at $80 a barrel with nowhere to go but up, chances are we are on the verge of a new era.  If car companies new what was good for them, they may start getting into the streetcar manufacturing business as cars continue to phase out.  Garrick finishes his story with this hopeful message:

The really good news in this story is that this could be a transition to a time when the carnage from motor vehicle crashes will no longer be considered an accepted part of modern life. A time when our urban places will once more be designed for people and not be trashed to accommodate cars. And when the profligate burning for mobility of the earth’s finite store of petroleum will be looked at as a quaint relic of the past. A past not unlike the one now regulated to the movies where people smoked in doctor’s offices and on airplanes. A past that causes us to say: what were they thinking?

The End of the Cul-de-Sac is Nigh

Lloyd Alter of Treehugger brings us this story on the final days of the cul-de-sac.  He starts by explaining how kids love playing in cul-de-sacs.  Even I will admit that the one time I lived on a cul-de-sac I would spend hours sometimes every day playing hockey in the asphalt circle with the other neighborhood kids.  However, we weren’t allowed to cross the arterial street that our cul-de-sac connected to, because the high speeds of the cars, lack of crosswalks and sidewalks made it very unsafe.  Alter mentions a study from Davis, California, showing that fatal crashes were twice as common in areas built after 1980 than in the old, gridded part of town.  In addition, 59% of trips in the old part of town were made by foot, bike and transit, whereas 14% were made by these modes in the newer parts of town.

Municipalities are beginning to realize the high costs of cul-de-sac development.  Alter quotes a Charlotte, North Carolina study on fire stations in parts of town with high v. low connectivity (i.e. cul-de-sacs):

The least-connected service areas served 5,700 to 7,300 households; the most-connected service areas served 20,800 to 25,900 households. That means there are dramatic differences in the fiscal efficiency of individual fire stations. The stations in least-connected areas cost $586 to $740 per capita annually; the stations in most-connected areas cost $159 to $206 per capita annually.

Virginia has passed a law in the last year that will make cul-de-sacs responsible for their own maintenance, and a number of cities, including Austin, Portland and Charlotte, have passed or are working on ordinances to discourage cul-de-sacs.  I agree with Alter and look forward to the return of the grid in American cities.

Health concerns to play larger role in Portland, other cities’ future planning

This article by Andy Dworkin was posted on OregonLive.com and has to do with how planning effects public health.  As America continues to get fatter, we can see that the advice to diet and exercise isn’t doing a whole lot of good.  So what some activists in Portland and other communities are doing is creating plans that will encourage people to be more active.  This includes building the necessary infrastructure, such as sidewalks and bike paths, and creating a mix of land uses so that everyday needs are within walking distance.  The idea is that this will help tackle health problems on a societal level rather than an individual level.  An area around Southeast 122nd in Portland is being used as a test case for the Portland Plan, which will shape the way the city develops over the next 25 years.

Planning in America started as a public health measure.  This started with infrastructure measures such as closed sewer systems, but lead into land use aspects such as not allowing factories in residential areas and stepping back skyscrapers to allow light to filer down to the ground.  Although this did have a great effect on public health and life expectancy, it is outdated.  Current environmental regulations take away many of the health burdens of living near industry.  Zoning areas for separate uses forces them to be further apart, encouraging people to drive and be sedentary, leading to a number of poor health problems such as obesity and heart disease.  A number of efforts to remedy this problem are being considered, with the CDC co-hosting this year’s Congress for the New Urbanism and focusing on walkable communities.  Some areas, such as Corvallis, OR, are working on community gardens and creating pedestrian links throughout town.  It is important to involve locals, partially because different neighborhoods have different needs and partially because people are more likely to participate if they feel that it was their idea.  Portland is already at the forefront of planning in America, and with efforts like these, they are likely to stay there.

Are banks a roadblock to walkable development?

Derek P. Jensen brings us this article on the only thing holding up transit-oriented and New Urbanist development in Salt Lake City: banks.  One of the biggest issues with banks is that their lending practices stress an abundance of parking, while one of the main purposes of these types of development is to reduce parking and encourage other modes of transportation.  Salt Lake City is having a hard time getting financing for the gateway district, which is expected to host a new TRAX light rail line and become a vibrant, walkable, 24-hour community, despite a number of local success stories in TOD.  Council Chairman Carlton Christensen explained that, even in the transit haven of Portland, early investors “had to have their hands held,” and the Council has the responsibility to educate investors.  Local builders agree; even after a tour of Portland and a conversion to the value of mixed-use development, they say they still have trouble finding financing.  Michael Morris of Zions Bank says that banks would be willing to be flexible if long-term investors were comfortable with less parking, but he doesn’t see that happening. “I don’t know if public transportation or fuel efficiency or the green movement is going to change that in the near term,” he says.  Apparently he’s never been to San Francisco, Portland or Washington, DC, or heard of Vauban, Germany or other communities making a lot of money off of green transportation and TOD.  Some people think that Salt Lake City is still a car culture city, but TRAX is already changing that, and as it expands, so will TOD.  Bruce Bingham, whose company is nearing completion of an office tower near the Gallivan Plaza TRAX station, deliberately scaled back the parking at his project because he knows that TRAX will  bring in workers without bringing in cars. “So far, it’s proven out that the TRAX stop is going to compensate for a lack of excess parking,” he says.  “The same conditions would exist for any transit-oriented development near a TRAX stop.”  He also says that developers shouldn’t worry about a lack of parking downtown. “The myth that there is a lack of parking in Salt Lake is just that: a myth.”  I hope that the continued success of TOD in Salt Lake City and elsewhere will soon convince lenders that these projects are worth their money.

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, weather.com 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.

‘Incentivization,’ smart growth – Part 3: Growing up smart in Portland

Alan Kandel brings us this article on how Portland has redeveloped because of and become a national leader in transit.  After briefly defining smart growth, Kandel goes on to describe how Portland is working to reach the goals of smart growth using transit-oriented development.  He writes: “Portland Streetcar CEO Rick Gustafson, in ‘Street Smart’ was quoted as having said streetcars ‘”create the right decision-making environment,” for policy and investments that will support compact, walkable, high-density, sustainable development,’ wrote Poticha and Ohland.”  And so it has.  $2.3 billion has been invested within 2 blocks of the streetcar line, including 7248 housing units and 4.6 million square feet of office and commercial space.  And because this is all TOD, parking ratios have actually gone down.  Again, from Kandel:

From the section of “Urban Idyll” subtitled: “’Lessons Learned in Portland,”* listed are five topics of discussion and from the “Reduced parking” topic is this:

“As a result, developers are able to construct mixed-use projects with lower parking ratios than are found elsewhere in the city. Reducing the amount of parking that a developer must build makes a building more financially feasible. Now, with a full understanding of the role that the streetcar can play in affecting the urban environment and market confidence in urban living, developers have begun construction on larger, higher-risk projects in the South Waterfront.”

Reducing parking isn’t only good for developers, it’s also good for the city.  Free parking is maintained at the city’s expense, and it is a huge expense that is often not entirely covered by paid parking, if at all.  Imagine if cities provided free gas for everyone who visited the city, because they were under some mistaken impression that restricting gas use or charging for it would hurt the city economically.  And even with these restrictions, it is still very easy to find parking in Portland, from my experience.  I don’t think car users really have anything to complain about because of TOD in Portland.  It’s good for transit users because it allows them to live and travel without a car.  It’s good for drivers because it gets a lot of people off the road.  It’s good for the city because it lowers their maintenance costs.  It’s good for the environment because it lowers carbon emissions.  It’s good for everyone.

Sprawling from Grace

Although sprawl exists almost everywhere, there are three nations in the world where it is particularly ubiquitous: the United States, Canada, and Australia.  I’ve written a few things on the first two, but haven’t gotten many articles from the third, so I was particularly excited about this article from John Thistleton of the Canberra Times.  He lists multiple examples of how greenfield development on the fringe of the metropolitan area is sucking the vitality from the city of Canberra.  Although Canberra planners talk a lot about good planning, what actually gets built is more car-dependent sprawl.  From the article:

The trend defies an overwhelming consensus that cities must become more dense if we’re to address climate change. Instead of developing Canberra for walking, cycling and public transport, we’re creating an unsustainable city by building new suburbs every year on the city’s fringe, says the Australian Institute of Architects’ ACT chapter president, David Flannery. ”Looking at a map of the density of the city, you wouldn’t know where the centre is,” he says.

Researchers in the area have found that density could increase by 50% and not impact green space.  Consultants from Parsons Brinkerhoff in the States have advised the city to follow Portland‘s lead in creating a city friendly to transit, pedestrians and bicyclists.  Australia isn’t as deep in the sprawl mess as America is, so hopefully it will be easier for them to get out of it.

Mass Transit and Smart Growth Save Time, $ and the Environment

The Daily Kos brings us another good article on transit.  They bring forth arguments from Texas and Portland about how light rail in particular saves time by getting more people off the road and speeding up commutes, money by costing less in infrastructure than roads, and the environment by reducing carbon emissions.  In addition to transit, they also look at the effect of urban growth boundaries, which are generally politically rough to set up but have done a great job of preserving rural land in Oregon and forcing cities to grow up rather than out.  They also analyze some of the effects of TOD, which when focused around transit makes it so that people don’t need to own a car or use the one they do own as much for daily errands.  Despite what you may hear from the CATO Institute (why anyone would ever listen to them, especially anyone who reads this, I don’t know, but just making sure), transit is effective in reaching all of these goals.