New Jobs, Light Rail and Transit-Oriented Development

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The P-I editorial board recently announced its endorsement of the Sound Transit expansion package (Proposition 1). Their chief argument: In addition to expanding our region's public transportation options with investments in light rail, bus service and more, the ST2 plan will be a booster shot to the local economy, creating tens of thousands of new jobs (66,000 is a lowball estimate) and stimulating business throughout the region.

I was particularly interested in the board's concluding thought:

Rail, unlike bus systems, opens up all sorts of additional development opportunities (that's another way of saying, "Yes, even more jobs"). Portland's experience is that $6 billion in development occurred within walking distance of MAX light rail stations since 1980. There are similar findings in Dallas and San Diego, where property values around the light rail stations jumped by double-digits.

It certainly is cool to think of new transit-oriented development that could happen around Seattle, not only for the jobs it will create but also because (in my own very un-scientific analysis) it seems that the cycle of development fuels itself once it's set in motion.

For example, here's a statement from a 1998 overview of the Portland MAX and surrounding development:

During the MAX system’s first decade of operation from 1986 to 1996, more than $1.3 billion was invested along the Eastside light rail corridor. Though the new Westside light rail line is not scheduled to begin service until September 1998, more than half a billion dollars worth of new residential, office, retail, industrial, and commercial development has already taken place along the future rail line. Almost 7000 housing units are under construction along the Westside corridor, and about one-third of these will be ready for residents when the Westside line opens in September.

Now more than a decade later, development continues to flourish with the construction of a new light rail corridor following in the footsteps of new business and mixed-use development connecting Union Station and Portland State University.

The new rail shows how well light rail has caught on in Portland, and how much the system is stimulating pedestrian, shopper, student and other traffic. Portland invests in light rail, development follows, voters demand more transit … and the city continues to grow more connected, less car-centric, and more livable.

We hope that the LINK light rail will have a similar positive arc.

Photo of Portland MAX light rail. Credit: flickr/LWY, Creative Commons license.

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