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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Investing in South Phoenix is Critical to the Economic Stability of Downtown

Victor Vidales

Last month I began the first of three articles discussing some of the effective planning and developments that I discovered on a recent trip to the city of Portland, Oregon. What Portland has accomplished over the past 20 years is extremely impressive. Last month I discussed “Stormwater Management” and this month I will be writing about “Development Oriented Transit” and finishing next month with the “Future of Brownfields.”

On July 20, 2001, the Portland Streetcar opened and became the first modern streetcar systemin North America. It is part of a unique public/private strategy to link investment in high qualitytransit service with major redevelopment.

Development oriented transit supports improved livability for high density environments that support public goals for urban containment, sustainable living and reduced dependence on an automobile.

We have seen firsthand in South Phoenix that higher density development does not necessarily translate into a more livable community. In the case of development near Streetcar; however, the Portland plan included a coordinated public and private effort to ensure that affordable housing, public open spaces, brownfield redevelopment, high quality urban design and public art occurred in harmony.

The Portland Streetcar is at the core of the New American City approach. It helps to shape cities that promotes investment at the City’s core, provides homes for people of diverse income levels and supports the urban amenities that make great cities great. This approach is exactly what we need to bring to South Phoenix!

The Portland Streetcar was initiated by the City of Portland to connect two major redevelopment areas; 70 acre of abandoned rail yards and a contaminated brownfield site just north of Downtown (the River District) with another 128 acres of largely underused or vacant industrial land requiring environmental remediation at the opposite end of their Downtown (the South Waterfront).

Over the 17-year evolution of the Portland Streetcar, the goals have remained consistent. Use a commitment to a high quality transit service as an incentive for high density mixed-use development within the Central City. Link neighborhoods with a convenient and attractive transportation alternative and attract new transit ridership. Connect major attractions in the Central City with high quality transit. Build and operate in mixed traffic and on existing right-of-way at lower cost than other fixed rail options. Fit the scale and traffic patterns of existing neighborhoods and Reduce short inner-city auto trips, parking demand, traffic congestion and air pollution.

Economical Construction and Operation was key to their success.The Streetcar technology is less expensive than other forms of fixed-rail transportation. The project is designed so that the system is economical to build and operate. There were four critical design principles: 1) use available rights-of-way; 2) limit the investment in facilities to essentials, 3) to the extent possible, use off-the-shelf equipment, 4) operate the system on a safe, no-frills basis, and 5) use construction methods that minimize costs. The project was also designed to avoid costly expenses associated with relocating utilities and the stations were developed similar to bus stops to reduce system costs.

Since 1997 when the original streetcar alignment was identified, properties along its length have experienced significant changes:

* $3.5 billion has been invested within two blocks of the streetcar

alignment.

* 10,212 new housing units and 5.4 million square feet of office,

institutional, retail and hotel construction have been constructed within

two blocks of the alignment.

* 55% of all CBD development since 1997 has occurred within 1-block of

the streetcar and properties located closest to the streetcar line more

closely approach the zoned density potential than properties situated

farther away.

* Developers are building new residential buildings with significantly lower

parking ratios than anywhere else in the region.

The River District/Pearl District in Portland is very similar to the Rio Salado Beyond the Banks Area Plan in South Phoenix.Where once there was a contaminated rail yard, a new urban neighborhood has emerged. New grocery stores, restaurants, galleries, shops and banks now line the streets. Portland Streetcar goes through the heart of this area, stopping every two or three blocks and providing high quality transit access for business and residents.

New Urban Neighborhoods have been created.The streetcar, limited parking and excellent pedestrian amenities have combined to create a new urban living option in Portland. It serves not only those living and working along the alignment; it brings new people into parts of the central city they may not have experienced before. It has served as an economic boost to businesses along the alignment while preserving much-needed auto access. It provides direct access to employment, educational facilities and health care for residents with a mix of incomes. The Streetcar has been seamlessly integrated into TriMet‘s regional transit system, further enhancing its effectiveness.

It took Portland the past 20 years to get where there at. With a model already in place in America we should have no problem shaving 5 to 10 years off a similar plan here in Phoenix. Investing in South Phoenix is critical to the economic stability of Downtown. Our leadership must be proactive and create solutions to promote economic development like the Streetcar while managing growth wisely as we recover from this economic downturn. If done right… Between the 7’s will be the most attractive parts of the city to live work and play.

vvidales@remax.net

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