November 2012 Open Thread

Halloween is over, and Turkey Day is coming up. Time for another Open Thread.

57 responses to “November 2012 Open Thread”

  1. I’m getting tired of hearing people complain about the apartments with no parking. They keep saying it’s being imposed by the city, but my understanding is that the city simply allowed the decision to add parking or not to be made by the developer whereas the city required it before by regulation. I also get irritated when people refer to these buildings are “soviet-style” or “soulless” or similar things. It’s an apartment building, nothing more, nothing less. They don’t live there in the building. Perhaps the tenants have different feelings about it, but no one is asking them what they think.

    What seems to be emerging to me is that Portland is really three cities. I’m new here, so this maybe be obvious to long-timers. One side of Portland is the vanguard, made up of older home owners used to the way things were. The second is mostly made up of young new-comers who have different ideas of what Portland is and could be. They also have different needs that tend to clash with the first group. Thirdly but not least we have the large poor segment that is being pushed out further and further because of a lack of new, affordable housing in the inner areas. It’s a phenomenon that is also affecting more and more of group two.

    Groups two and three are more likely to not having cars, and if apartments built without parking are cheaper, that could be valuable. If you don’t have a car, why do you care if there’s parking? As for guests, they don’t come that often, they may not have a car, and in any case, you’re not renting for their benefit.

    Portland is changing regardless of the way anyone feels about it, and it seems to be transitioning from a car-based city to more of one not based on that mode of transportation. It is getting consequently denser, too. I think that transition is rather like growing one’s hair long. For those who don’t know what the process is like, there is an intermediate phase in which the hair is too short to tie back properly but too long to look neat without using moose or some kind of gel to keep it in place. It’s ungainly and not terribly attractive. In fact, it is kind of sloppy, but if you want long hair, you have to go through that phase. Before long, though, it’s over, and your hair is luxuriously long and gorgeous. I think something similar is happening here in Portland. How long it takes a city to grow its hair out, though, is something I don’t know. I think all this is likely to get worse before it gets better. Luckily things aren’t really that bad here. There are those who would disagree, but relative to many places, Portland’s got nothing to complain about. That doesn’t soothe a lot of feelings, but maybe it helps to keep them in perspective.

    I hope that whatever happens, it eventually brings down housing costs here. They have no business being so high. This isn’t Seattle or San Francisco, and while it may be inching in that direction, it has a very long way to go. I wouldn’t worry yet about becoming them. On that note, though, I would also be weary about defining ourselves in contrast to something we dislike lest we preclude inclusion of their good qualities and simultaneously deny our own faults.

    Sorry for the long, convoluted comment.

  2. I agree with Andrew. These homeowners in inner SE and NE don’t seem to understand that my generation has very little interest in owning cars. We want walkable, dense neighborhoods with good bike routes, transit lines, and some carsharing opportunities. A few of us own cars, but we just let them sit around most of the time and use them on weekends. Probably one in four of my friends have cars, and that’s all we need to take trip to the coast or whatnot. They also don’t understand that there is a desperate need for affordable, small-scale housing in the inner neighborhoods. It is really hard right now for a single person or couple who are young and/or low-income to find an affordable place. They are forced to either have a bunch of roommates in a run-down house, or else they have to live far out in East Portland or SW or the suburbs. There is huge demand for cheap apartments in the inner SE and NE, and that is what is being built. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

  3. Zef – What is your definition of cheap? Is $800-$1000 for a 400-550 sq ft studio cheap? That is what is being built. I agree with all of your other premises, but the notion that this is bringing on a wave of cheap apartments is one that developers have been trying to sell to the public and I don’t think a lot of people understand what these apartments are being rented for.

    My problem with these buildings is not the absence of auto parking, but rather the lack of concern for the look and feel. 45 foot high apartment building directly next to single family Craftsman homes is poor planning. There needs to be improvements to the setbacks, step downs, and transitions between main streets and single family streets.

  4. Zef,

    I’m hearing this idea that these apartments are helping with the affordability of the inner city pretty frequently now. I disagree. They’re creating apartments that rent at the current going market rate – for the current average size in the area which is usually a 1 or 2 bedroom.

    First of all, the current average market rate in the area is already too expensive for people making modest incomes.

    The second issue is size/number of bedrooms. While I personally think we’re a little too focused on private bedrooms for individuals, I can agree that you need a certain amount of sleeping space per person, and that larger families are generally “sized out” of being able to rent apartments in most inner Portland neighborhoods.

    And, outside of the affordability/appropriate size issue, there’s the systems cost for where developers are choosing to build these apartments. They’re basing their site selection on being near already vibrant neighborhoods (this also correlates to the rents they can get). But, the choice of where to allow no minimum parking standards is too loose – any old transit corridor is not sufficient to support the intensity of development that we’re seeing – particularly on Division, and I’d argue Hawthorne too. It’s allowing demand for high-capacity transit or extremely frequent bus service to be generated in these corridors that are already at capacity and have physical constraints to adding more service.

    We should have started with removing parking minimums in areas where high-capacity transit coupled with frequent bus service exists or is planned in the near term (ie station areas with an adjoining frequent service bus line).

    I think we should be putting a moratorium on the development of apartments without parking in areas west of 60th, with apartments that are family sized and/or permanently affordable being exempt. In East Portland, we should be rezoning to focus high-density development along the existing rail lines at station areas with an adjoining frequent service bus line, and adding frequent service in N-S corridors like 122nd.

  5. I’d agree with Bob that new apartments coming online aren’t cheap. New construction never is unless its subsidized in some form. With Portland’s current 3-4% apartment vacancy rate, the new construction is filling a void. Most of the apartment that I’m aware of are being built on commercial corridors(Division, Williams/Vancouver, Morrison) while I’m usually pretty sympathetic to concerns of neighbors, in most of the areas with the new apt construction are and have been zoned medium to high residential for over a decade. The problem with add’l regs like mandated parking even if the project is close to frequent service transit line is that it makes the apartments even more expensive to build and by extension to rent out.

    I think the context of where the new buildings are built also matters. On Williams and Division in particular, the new apartments are mostly going up on empty lots on busy streets. Both of those street have been energized by the new development. The transformation of Division in the last 2-3 years is pretty dramatic. To my knowledge the developers do not have problems renting out the apartment to folks who know parking will be tight.

    I think where you might want to have mandated parking is in very large projects, say 50 units or more that overwhelm local street parking.

  6. Speaking of apartments, does anyone know how the ugly apartments of the 70s came about? Those guys are all over the place, from inner neighborhoods to 82nd and beyond.

    It seems like the only apartments build today are in inner-hoods.

  7. To avoid any possible confusion, the “Bob” commenting above is not me, I comment as “Bob R.”

    In fact, I tend to favor allowing apartments to be built without parking mandates, including in “vibrant” neighborhoods where, presumably, more people would actually like to live.

  8. Near N Williams, a number of projects are going in with parking ratios between 0 and .5 spaces / unit.

    This seems fine to me. Developers are trying to get 1.60-1.80$ /sq ft. I keep hearing that families are being driven out by the small units, but it seems to me that what might start to happen is that families would start renting more of the houses that have been chopped up into 4- and 5-bedroom apartments and rent them out. We have a gigantic supply of homes that would be great for families to rent but many of them are being rented to singles. So what if we’re building more apartments for singles, that is what the market is lacking. Yes, new construction tends to be more expensive than old, driving the market up, however if we can get a glut of this stuff to come in it should have a stabilizing force on rents. To truly have a downward force on rents I think will be very challenging. The market has a lot of people betting on rents (and property values) being the same or higher so it is quite a challenge to get rents to go down

  9. Allan , you just watch those rents come down when these all get built. No one will sit on an empty new building when they have a giant construction note to pay off each month. Sure they were trying to get max rents , who would not? But the cold water of an empty building will wake them up soon enough. They opened a big new apt building near me and no one is moving in , and it is
    3mo. now!

  10. Cora,

    The only way to bring down prices is to build more housing where people want it. People want to live close to the city, not in Rockwood. If you don’t build close in, you won’t bring down prices.

    And yes, the new buildings are not cheap. Nothing new is ever cheap. But what these new apartments do is increase the supply in the local market, which will help to suppress the inflation of rents for existing apartments. Street parking should not be a primary concern. If there is not enough parking in a given neighborhood, that just means the parking is under-priced. Start charging for street parking based on market demand, and you will always be able to find somewhere to park.

  11. The prices aren’t going to come down on inner city apartments. As soon as the rents start to lower, they’ll stop building them.

    And people DO want to live in Rockwood. As an East Portland resident, I get really sick of this attitude that we only live in East Portland because we’re too (insert pejorative here) to live anywhere else.

    I live in Lents because I CHOOSE to live in Lents, 6 blocks from a light rail station, 1 block from a 38 acre park, on a bus line, where I can walk to diverse restaurants owned by folks that actually come from the countries who’s cuisine they are cooking up.

    I’d also like to have some new neighbors who can take advantage of the benefits this area offers and that will help support the small emerging businesses in the area. The added bonus is it will help fill all the vacant lots in our Town Center.

  12. I checked out SE Division Street where new apartments are underway or planned. Still lots of vacant and underused parcels. More housing along transit lines and close to good bikeways will bring even more life to those commercial streets, which is what cities are all about. Its about time! Same goes for Williams, Fremont, Broadway, Belmont. Adjacent neighborhoods have tons of parking on the public ROW. Homeowners should chill.

  13. I strongly dislike arguments that rely on adjectives or adverbs as critical terms:


    Means absolutely nothing without the social context of distribution of income and wealth.

    Two powerful ideologies have been driving the bifurcation of well-being in this country for the last 40 years. Everyone knows what one of them is, but dare mention the other and decapitation looms.

  14. You know what’s killing livability in this city is the out of control property taxes. My building in NW was one of the last affordable in the alphabet district. But the property taxes along with all the various ‘inspections’ that are requiring upgrades of different things are killing my building in terms of being affordable.

    They are determined to turn this city into a Seatlle of SF in terms of affordability.
    We have finally made the The Top 10 Most Expensive cities to live in list.

    23rd Ave is soon to be completely unlivable with all the huge box like apartments they are putting up here.

    As a landlord I credit it all the the city government.

  15. Is there a mechanism by which surrounding municipalities will have a say on Portland’s apartments? I think the impact of any effort to impede multi-family housing goes beyond city borders.

  16. Hmmm, residential property taxes are limited to 3% increase per year plus any voted bond measures, etc, regardless of a property’s market value. I guess rental property doesn’t have this limit, but as I recall commercial property in Portland has lagged far behind residential in property value increase in recent decades.
    Some thoughtful comments on the auto-free apartments at PortlandAfoot.
    What drives successful neighborhood retail districts are customers with money to spend. Those living nearby without the expense of an automobile and paying rent that does not include the cost of parking should be a boon to local retail. I am convinced that some of the money previous generations spent on cars, fuel and insurance is now being spent on good food, good beer and other necessities.
    We should be cheering on auto-free apartments on transit lines…that is what will get us to 10 minute service some day on FS buslines.

  17. Is there a mechanism by which surrounding municipalities will have a say on Portland’s apartments?

    Loosely. Metro does the regional forecasting on where growth in both households and jobs go, and this factors into things like urban growth boundary expansion. As a general rule Portland has planned for (and developers have built) more housing than Metro forecasts for the city.

  18. Meanwhile back in NYC:

    – Ride sharing looks like it is taking off: on Thursday, the first day of the new rules requiring all private cars entering Manhattan to have a minimum of three passengers, there were more than 300 advertisements posted in Craigslist New Yorks’s rideshares section – there were ten posted in the same section last Friday.

  19. And if you can get service (be it bus or streetcar) to 8 minute head-ways you will have a successful transit system that people will actually use

  20. one of the last affordable in the alphabet district.23rd Ave is soon to be completely unlivable with all the huge box like apartments they are putting up here.

    Constructing new units (increasing supply) increases affordability (decreases prices or int he case of very high demand areas slows the rate of price increases) in those areas.

    If your concern is rent affordability, “box-like” apartments (aesthetic design concerns notwithstanding), are a good thing.

    As a landlord I credit it all the the city government.

    Perhaps in this particular arena the city government is actually doing the right thing. After all, mandating parking or limiting the construction of new units actually equates to “various inspections” and “required upgrades” that kill “affordability”.

    Regarding the comment criticizing the use of the term “affordability” because it isn’t objective, I agree that objective standards are preferable. But my own subjective definition of “affordability” is: Can a person of modest means find a long-term housing situation in safe, sound construction in a desirable area which leaves enough income left over to meet other basic needs (food, transportation, raising a child).

    Put another way, if an area is so “desirable” that you can’t afford to live there, perhaps its because there are too many mandates preventing the construction of denser, smaller housing units to increase supply.

  21. All I can Tell you Bob is that my rents have to continually be RAISED as direct result of the CITY OF PORTLAND meddling in our affairs and the never ending increases in property taxes.

  22. Al,

    Oh please, everyone’s rents have been going up. That is because there is currently a shortage of apartments (current vacancy is running less that 2%) which makes it a land lords market.

    Of course I guess it is pretty easy to blame the city than look at the problems that go way beyond city government.

    Then again I also hear from developers that they are afraid that all the apartment building going on will lead to a glut and rents that cannot sustain the new construction.

  23. There is always that tension for developers – what will future rents be? That is the difference between a good and a bad investment for them. I’m excited for the current wave of development. It will be exciting to see more infill and how it changes Portland.

  24. It’s probably worth noting that the Hong Kong tram is, much like the Portland Streetcar, a local downtown circulator (and a slow one). It’s fare is cheap–HK$2, or about 30c US, but it only runs through the downtown area–it is a small part of the overall HK system.

    And given that it uses legacy equipment, it’s a cash-only operation; unlike the bus and subway systems which use the ubiquitous Octopus card.

  25. Funny that Portland didn’t make the cut for this article.

    Perhaps because plenty of people now know that the system exists, thus the title of the article.

  26. I was looking at this post from 2009 […] Portland Transport: Fare is Fair? A look (back) at TriMet ticket machine performance

    Funny you should mention that… Just last Wednesday I encountered a relatively new ticket machine on the Transit Mall which was stuck in a Windows XP reboot loop. I took a short cellphone video of it, haven’t uploaded it yet. I mainly took the video in case any passengers from that stop encountered a fare inspector — I already had a daypass.

  27. When it comes to public transit in the U.S., there are certain predictable all-stars: the Metro in Washington, D.C., is convenient, efficient, and clean. The anthropomorphically nicknamed El and BART in Chicago and San Francisco are legendary. And everyone knows it’s easier to navigate New York City without a car than with one.

  28. WTF happened there? I got some kind of crazy screen listing ‘nodes’ the it published only 1/2 the post. Here is the rest:

    Portland didn’t make the Legendary even though ‘they’ tell us that Portland is the leader in the transit world. Apparently GRIST does not agree, nor does Trimet make the alternate list BOB OLD BUDDY

    Cant wait to see your movie!

  29. Al, Grist listed only four very large cities in that paragraph. (And they didn’t even include the highest-ridership transit system in SF. Hint: BART is #2.)

    If you want to use the non-mention of Portland in that article as a critique of TriMet, that is of course your prerogative. I wouldn’t put much stock in it.

  30. A new report commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance indicates–to nobody’s real surprise–that transit commuting has declined during the Great Recession.

    Given the service cuts that transit agencies have endured–what was expected to happen?

    The good news is that in 2012, TriMet ridership is up again. The bad news, is that the service cuts are still here. (And of course, the usual anti-transit suspect are already pointing to this report as evidence that further disinvestment should be made).

    If anything, the reports suggests the opposite: Give commuters a quality product, and they will use it. Take it away, or make it too painful, and more will drive.

  31. A new report commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance indicates–to nobody’s real surprise–that transit commuting has declined during the Great Recession.

    Given the service cuts that transit agencies have endured–what was expected to happen?

    The good news is that in 2012, TriMet ridership is up again. The bad news, is that the service cuts are still here. (And of course, the usual anti-transit suspect are already pointing to this report as evidence that further disinvestment should be made).

    If anything, the reports suggests the opposite: Give commuters a quality product, and they will use it. Take it away, or make it too painful, and more will drive.

  32. NOTE: I’ve tried posting this on the new Westside Bypass thread but apparently it’s not accepting comments.

    Like those zombies/vampires/whatever from “Twilight”, this thing just won’t die (hopefully they mean it when they say the movie franchise itself is dead, but I digress…)

    Truth be told, if the funding were to ever become available, I could conceivably support some sort of Westside Bypass; the northernmost segment is very similar to something I proposed on this blog with the upgraded Columbia Corridor a couple of months ago. And this latest bypass proposal does thankfully seem to avoid cutting through Forest Park and Sauvie Island.

    That said, I’d only support this idea with the caveat that the bypass retain its purpose of reducing congestion and keeping freight/commuters/recreational travelers moving, and not become a catalyst for more development along its ROW. Indeed, I’m hard-pressed to come up with an example of a bypass/ring road that hasn’t become a magnet for more congestion; one possibility is the 101 bypass of Cannon Beach which is a fast “Super 2” with grade-separated interchanges and very little development. This seems to be the exception, however… I-205 has become as congested as I-5 (as is I-405 in Seattle), and I understand Belt Line Hwy in Eugene is having its own issues.

  33. A Proposal For A REALLY Cheap Bus Priority Installation In Vancouver

    I ride the express buses from 99th Street TC about three days out of five. Lately the freeway has been a mess most of those days. That’s good news! People are going to work. But it’s bad news because many of the C-Tran drivers don’t think ahead and take Main Street.

    Last week I had looked at Google Maps and the DOT Traffic Cams page just before going and suggested to the 105 driver that he be ready to use Main Street, because the black was back to the Main overpass.

    Well, the idiot — yes, truly, an idiot — did not go on Main and we were stopped cold for five minutes BETWEEN the off-ramp and the Main Street overpass. He could see that the cars were cold stopped before we passed the off-ramp. It took over fifteen minutes to get past 39th where he was able to get into the Fourth Plain exit ramp and then step over to the Mill Plain exit lane.

    Sometimes Main Street is slow up to 45th and again at 40th/39th, but once one gets past there it’s quite quick, except for the two blocks leading up to the Dairy Queen where the buses shift over to Broadway.

    There’s a little U-Turn cut-through just north of the DQ that I think could be made into a really nice bus-priority. It would require moving the striping along the east side curb just north of the cut-through on Main a few dozen feet farther north to allow a wider bulge to become a 24 hour bus-only left turn bay.

    The southwestern “leg” of the triangle would also be cut off so that the buses could make a smooth turn. New curbing would be required.

    Every 20 minutes all day long a 37 makes the turn at 27th and every 30 minutes a 32 does. So this bus-only priority would help the locals as well as the expresses.

    I would make this the standard route for the 105’s during the peak hours. They’re going to leave the freeway at Mill Plain and come over to Broadway anyway, so it’s not like they’re going out of their way, and it’s often enough faster from Main to Mill Plain that the better drivers on the 199’s and 136’s go that way too.

    I believe this road is no longer a State Route, but I may be wrong. It’s almost certainly a country primary road, so the city would have to get county buy-in. But I can’t imagine that re-doing the curbing in the triangle and the paint on the street, plus hanging a “Buses Only” sign over the road would cost more than $20K plus the engineering costs.

    It would make bus commuting southbound in the I-5 corridor more reliable and quicker for not much money.

  34. Too bad Clark county bailed on the HOV lane that originally ran south from 99th to almost the bridge.
    And C-Tran needs to run Limited service down I-5 to the MAX Yellow line as most commuters to OR are not going downtown, let alone to Wash Co.

  35. That might be old news. I didn’t realize that there was no connection from I-5 north of the loop to the new ‘water avenue’ without going through the Broadway/Weidler interchange

  36. Jarrett on a common mistake with BRT (using Seattle’s RapidRide as an example): Designing BRT lines with mixed-traffic operation through choke-points:

    A cheap solution he mentions that a) doesn’t slow down traffic much, b) is cheap, but c) probably is politically difficult: Put metering (similar to the meter signals on freeway onramps) ahead of a physical chokepoint (such as a bridge, tunnel, or viaduct that it would be expensive to widen), such that the chokepoint itself is kept clear of traffic. BRT (and possibly other privileged traffic, such as HOVs or freight) gets to bypass the meters, SOVs need to queue up.

  37. BRT without dedicated ROW is a sham; Barbur can be jammed up end to end, if something happens on I-5. I’ll be surprised if SW PDX accepts 2nd class transit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *