Can Local Buses “Stimulate” Development?

One of the troubling side-effects of the streetcar revival movement in North America is that streetcar advocates often need to argue that buses don’t stimulate development, whereas streetcars really do.  But now and then someone says something like this:

Now, in Seattle, I picked my current apartment in large part because it was right next to a trolleybus (the 44).

Belmont01 Frequent bus lines clearly do attract tenants and buyers to some locations over others.  The resulting market can cause more dense housing to be built on frequent bus lines than away from them.  The resulting developments may not be as dense or centrally organized as Portland’s streetcar-stimulated Pearl District, but they form, in aggregate, a huge amount of the recent growth in inner city urban fabric, all over North America.

These images, for example, are from the Belmont Dairy redevelopment, along Portland’s Belmont Street at 35th Avenue.  It includes a mix of apartments and townhouses, organised around a grocery store facing the street.  It’s on the higher end of such redevelopments, much praised in the smart growth literature.  I know people who bought homes there, and they definitely cared that the Frequent Line 15 bus stopped right in front.

(Line 15, by the way, is a motor bus, not a trolley bus.)

Belmont03 So why do these redevelopments along major bus lines not count as “buses stimulating development”?  “Stimulate,” remember, doesn’t mean “cause to occur all by itself.”  It just means “help to occur, in conjunction with a lot of other favorable factors.”  That’s the only sense in which the Portland Streetcar stimulated the Pearl District, though we think about that case differently because the Streetcar and the neighborhood were designed together.

Didn’t the Line 15 bus stimulate the Belmont Dairy project in the same sense of the word?  Doesn’t a bus line form part of the stimulus of any redevelopment built near its stops, except in cases where you’re sure most residents won’t care whether the bus is there?

It seems to me that to argue that “buses don’t stimulate development,” you’d have to argue that all those developments along frequent bus lines would have happened anyway, and sold for the same value to equally happy buyers, even if there were no frequent bus service — which is to say, no frequent transit of any kind.

Does the development industry really believe that?   Do streetcar advocates even believe that?  Or is there a subtler meaning of “to stimulate” that is true of what streetcars do but not what bus lines clearly also do, perhaps to a lesser degree but over a much wider area?

Just asking.  I’ve read plenty of times that buses don’t stimulate development, but I’ve never seen a data-based argument for that proposition.  If you have, please use the comments to point me to it.

Photos:  US EPA Smart Growth website

38 Responses to Can Local Buses “Stimulate” Development?

  1. Alex B. May 11, 2010 at 6:02 am #

    It’s interesting that you use a trolleybus example – a service that is (like a streetcar) similarly tied to a specific route and location.
    That’s the key, I think – transit investment attracts development – that investment is a signal of desire to provide quality service, etc.
    I do feel that rail is more attractive to development for the same reasons that rail has a higher ridership bias (and no, I don’t have any scientific data on that).

  2. Kyle May 11, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    An interesting case to look at would be Ottawa, where the government announced, contracted then canceled an LRT line. Most if not all of the line was already served by frequent bus or even transitway.
    Anecdotally, there were a number of private proposals for point towers near LRT transit nodes that evaporated when the LRT was canceled and only the BRT remained.
    Perhaps instead of normal time based calculations people make when choosing where to live (and value the location), rail based transit messes up people’s thoughts – I know I have seen this in both Calgary and Toronto where condos next to LRT or transit are valued roughly comparably to similar units much closer to the CBD.

  3. Tom West May 11, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    Trolley buses, streetcars and trains all share the feature that they have significant investment in infrastructure, and therefore they give a sense of permamence about the route. If you buy a house near one of those routes, you know that there will service for the next dacade at least.
    On the other hand bus routes can be changed in an instant, and the operator will have lost nothing. Buying a house next to an average bus risks it be re-routed the next day.
    I think the solution is for operators to show a sense of permance on those routes that are unlikely to change through investment in infstructure at stops. If there are nice bus shelters with expensive-looking realtime bus information displays, then people will know that the operator is commited to service on that route. Having just a sticker on a utilty pole implies the operator is being rather half-hearted.

  4. Jarrett at May 11, 2010 at 6:26 am #

    The parenthetical paragraph clarifying that Portland’s Line 15 is a motor bus was added in response to comments up to this point.

  5. anonymouse May 11, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    It’s interesting that you consider trolleybuses and buses to be the same. In some parts of the world they’re considered to be distinct modes from both buses and streetcars, but generally grouped with streetcars rather than buses for organizational purposes. And indeed they have the key feature of visible infrastructure that makes them different from buses, which may have the effects already mentioned: better route legibility, a sense of permanence, and perhaps also an illusion of frequency. Having wires does tend to reassure you that something will be coming along soon.

  6. Adam Parast May 11, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    There is a point to be made but to what extent I don’t know.
    Last year when I chose where to live in Seattle I didn’t want to live in the U-district (near school) so I knew that I had to be somewhere along a transit route that went there. I ended up living in Eastlake and had easy access to the 49,70,71,72, and 73. I didn’t chose to live there because it had good buses service I chose to live there because the transit service was very good.
    Currently I’m living in Stockholm. When I was looking for a place to live I didn’t consider anything more that a 5 or so minute walk from the Subway. Many of the buses in Stockholm have better service than the buses in Eastlake but living far from a subway line didn’t even cross my mind. This is the power that rail has, it encourages people to make choses that might not necessary be based on fact, but based more on feelings and perception. Rail lines act as physical “anchors” connecting the transit system to the city. Buses do not really do this.
    Also buses and BRT lines often seam to have a “quality creep” that you don’t see with rail lines. I know this is a broad statement but rail lines are less often affected by this mentality. Think about it this way, if I’m going to spend millions/billions building this rail line it better have good service. That mentality doesn’t apply to BRT. For example look at Community Transit. They just implemented one of the best BRT systems in the US yet because of budget problem they had to cut Sunday service. Now that might be an unfair example but I think it very well illustrates my point about “quality creep”.

  7. george May 11, 2010 at 8:03 am #

    all neighborhood amenities spur development to some extent- but with urban projects there is always a tipping point in net amenities that actually gets ground broken. a streetcar line is such a solid, long term investment, that it can be the factor that takes a neighborhood over that hump.
    as for the belmont dairy, that project was more in line of an infill/reuse project (actually built on footprint of an old dairy operation) in an existing functional neighborhood. the neighborhood itself was built out on a street car line, which the frequent service bus replaced. so, you could even argue that it was the streetcar that made the dairy project possible, even though it hasn’t operated on belmont in 40 years or so.

  8. Doug Allen May 11, 2010 at 8:24 am #

    Again, pure anecdote, but my neighbor tore down his garage, sold the land and remaining yard to a developer who upzoned it and built a pair of $500,000 row houses, which sold just before the bust. They are a half block from the Line 15 bus in Portland, a bit further out than the Belmont Dairy. My neighbor said that the developer paid a good premium for the land because of the good transit service.
    The 15 Line, and the nearby 14 Hawthorne bus aren’t going away, and people clearly choose to live close to those lines. They aren’t streetcars, but they aren’t chopped liver either.

  9. Alex B. May 11, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    I don’t think you can understate the value of making a splash, either. Real estate development loves to make a splash, to ride that wave of new investment. Surely, some of that can be via branding (publicizing frequent networks, etc), but I feel that physical, real estate investments will react to physical infrastructure investments – whether that’s bus line improvements or a trolleybus line – there is value in the tangible.

  10. Jonathan May 11, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    I agree with Jarrett that good bus service should be just as attractive as good streetcar service. However, in my own life, I see transit on a continuum. Here in New York, I perceive a definite hierarchy of subways. The IND lines (A,B,C,D,E,F) are faster and have bigger stations and wider cars; the IRT lines (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) have the most convenient routes (but the cars are narrower and the stops are closer together), and the BMT lines (N,Q,R,W,J,M,L) are slowest, least conveniently located, and suffer major service disruptions most often.
    So, given the choice, I would rather live near an express stop on the A train than an elevated stop on the J train, even though they are both heavy rail operations, and even if my prospective daily commute took the same amount of time. I suppose this means that I would favor the streetcar over the bus as well.

  11. Winston May 11, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    I don’t think transportation is as important to stimulating development as we often give it credit for being. In most urban areas that are dense enough for rail transit to be a consideration there are significant restrictions on development, especially in the densest parts of town. Simply rezoning for higher densities is often enough to stimulate development with or without rail. It is my suspicion that most of the development attributed to streetcars has actually been caused by zoning changes that went with their introduction. The simple fact is that a demand exists to restrict growth/densification and reduce its impacts long, long before the growth becomes self-limiting and that streetcars and the like mostly serve to provide cover to allow zoning changes that permit more densification and congestion rather than to spur development on their own.

  12. Greg Finley May 11, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    We have to remember the next-best things that people would do without the buses. Say that people taking the buses spend $10 million in these neighborhoods over a year. This isn’t $10 million out of thin air; without the buses, these people would be doing other things, including spending money elsewhere. So the total impact is something less than $10 million.
    Also remember that people also only have finite resources. Buses that bring economic activity to one area necessarily take it away from another.

  13. Brent Palmer May 11, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    @Jonathan: Generally streetcars are seen as better than buses. However, what if a particular city has bus routes with 10-minute frequency, and streetcars with a 15-minute frequency? (As unlikely as such a scenario is, it may have come about due to the streetcar lines travelling further, or a frequent bus route having a major trip-generator at its other end, or the transit agency only having enough money to buy buses in the short term.) Perhaps the buses are modern and air-conditioned, whilst the streetcars are much older?

  14. EngineerScotty May 11, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    There are several points of view to consider here, regarding the stimulating affect of infrastructure:
    * That of homeowners/tenants
    * That of landlords/managers
    * That of the builders/developers
    * That of financiers/bankers
    * That of politicians/planners/leaders.
    Obviously, all of these will benefit from the presence of additional infrastructure (assuming said infrastructure is not noxious, such as a freeway in the front yard)–but may have different perspectives on the matter.
    And some of the more influential players–i.e. not individual residents or even landlords/managers, but those able to exert significant pressure on the process–seem to profess a preference for the streetcar. I’m not defending this preference, or claimed that it is rational, but merely noting that many in the last category have claimed that it exists.
    For those who are not the ultimate owners or occupants of a property, the mobility/access improvements afforded by a streetcar or bus line are irrelevant. So, too, is the alleged permanence that rail signifies–which is ironic when you consider that development interests do not have a long term stake in the premises. Instead, what matters to the developer is how much they can sell the place for. Not everything which makes a property command a higher price on the market need not marginal functional utility–people will gladly pay a premium for that which is “sexy”, or signifies wealth, or they simply find enjoyable. Whether stated preferences for streetcars are simply an example of style over substance (and how much this should matter even if true), I do not know.
    Were I to hazard a guess: Quite a few in development circles, and quite a few who finance them, have a preference for building upper-class housing. There’s a lot more money to be made in building the next Pearl District, then there is in building the next Rockwood (a blighted neighborhood east of Portland). From the need (or desire) to cater to wealthier residents comes the push for rail–on the belief (not entirely false, but frequently overstated) that said preferred customers are unwilling to ride the bus, but willing to ride rail. This desire for rail is amplified back to decision-makers, or in some cases, made a prerequisite of development. Note that in this theory, it’s not actual customer preferences driving the decision–but the suspected preferences of a small (but desirable) subset of the residential market.
    Has anyone attempted to do a study analyzing the relationship between proximity of different types of infrastructure, and the market value of a property? Obviously, there are many other factors to control for–one thing to look for would be changes in value where infrastructure is added/removed but where other conditions are held constant–but the existence of such might shed some light on this question.

  15. ws May 11, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Speaking of the area personally, (more) development occurred there because it is an example of good urbanism at play. Good urbanism will generally *always* have quality transit access.

  16. Zef Wagner May 11, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    One thing to keep in mind is that streetcars generally have lower operating costs than buses. Everyone focuses on the higher capital costs, but streetcars require fewer drivers and use electricity. This makes it more likely that a streetcar line will be high-frequency than a bus line, and is less likely to have service cuts during bad times.
    Another factor that makes streetcars better at stimulating investment is the greater permanence. People may be more likely to rent near a bus line, but they are more likely to buy property along a rail line. Rail promotes a longer-term approach. This may be less of a factor in cities that have relatively “permanent” bus lines, or with trolleybuses that are less likely to change.
    I do agree that we shouldn’t discount the ability of high-frequency bus routes to stimulate development. BRT in particular probably captures a lot of the potential that rail does. We can’t forget, however, that buses will only ever capture a smaller segment of the transit market than rail. We have all met people who refuse to ever take a bus in their life–that pretty much never happens with rail.

  17. EngineerScotty May 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Zef writes:
    One thing to keep in mind is that streetcars generally have lower operating costs than buses. Everyone focuses on the higher capital costs, but streetcars require fewer drivers and use electricity. This makes it more likely that a streetcar line will be high-frequency than a bus line, and is less likely to have service cuts during bad times.
    If a streetcar uses fewer drivers, it’s because it runs at LOWER frequency. Both vehicles require the same number of drivers per vehicle (1)–so if a streetcar line has lower labor needs, it is because fewer trains are coming by. This is possible, of course–as you note, the streetcar has a higher capacity–but longer headways do not translate into an advantage for passengers. Some tout this as an advantage for busses, instead–a given bus has operating costs generally 30% less than a streetcar, so it can come 30% more frequently for the same budget. And if you don’t need the capacity, capacity isn’t all that relevant.

  18. Joseph E May 11, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    I have chose apartments based on bus transit options for my entire adult life, (In college I lived within walking distance of campus) despite never having taken an urban bus prior to graduating, except on very rare occasions. It was pretty clear to me that driving to grad school and paying for parking would be many times more expensive, and no affordable housing was available near that school. In fact, I based our living situation around an infrequenty but reliable every 30 minute express bus line, accessed via a very bad transfer (1/2 mile walk) from an every-15-minute local bus.
    Currently we live where we do because of the good bus service on 7th street in Long Beach, which is expected to stick around for at least a year or two; we could always move to a different apartment if need be.
    But I agree that if buying a home, I would consider looking for more permanent transit, such as a rail or trolley-bus line, especially one that had been around a while and had good funding. Unless the bus is a special route that the transit agency is proud of, like a BRT line, it would be foolish to make an investment based on a subsidized service with unstable funding.
    In Los Angeles, the Green Line shows up on the “12 minute map” of frequent service, despite only running every 15 minutes most of the day. It is getting 40,000 rides a day, despite having almost no destination within a 1/4 mile walk of any station, and having exposed stations mainly in the middle of a very loud freeway. The closest parallel rapid bus lines have lower ridership, despite going down busy streets (Firestone / Manchester and Florence) People are choosing speed and reliability over frequency or fewer transfers.
    I have always wondered how much Green Line ridership would increase were it automated like Skytrain (automation was considered in the initial plans for the line) with 2 car trains coming every 5 minutes all day. Extending the line to the LAX transfer cent and Norwalk Amtrak/Metrolink at the other end would help too.

  19. Rhywun May 11, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    I think the simplest explanation for the scenario posed in the article is the most likely to be correct, or at least it would be correct in my case: a trolleybus is simply better than a diesel bus, in almost every way. I live on a diesel bus line and it stinks. The roar of the engines is bothersome, especially when the gears change and the bus emits deafening bursts of air. If I lived in a city that had both, I would without hesitation prefer to have the former near my house rather than the latter.

  20. ws May 11, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    EngineerScotty:“Some tout this as an advantage for busses, instead–a given bus has operating costs generally 30% less than a streetcar, so it can come 30% more frequently for the same budget. And if you don’t need the capacity, capacity isn’t all that relevant.”
    What if you’re on a transit line where the capacity exceeds the bus’ limit (even with low headways)?

  21. Nathaanel May 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    What Tom West said. If you build fancy, high-investment bus stops, with level-boarding platforms, non-prefab shelters, and electronic countdown clocks, then people will trust that the bus will stick around. (They may be wrong, but that’s what people will think.) Then it will stimulate some development.
    If you just stop a bus on an ordinary street, people generally won’t trust it to stick around. Those can be moved away from you *really* easily, even if the bus line itself isn’t totally deleted. There may be exceptions if the marketing is good enough.
    The sheer uncomfortableness of motorbuses, however, acts as a permanent drag on them. Trolleybuses, with their smooth silent ride, and more so streetcars with their even smoother ride, attract the more sensitive richer customer. Which helps with the political problems!
    Actually, I figure fuel prices will be such that all buses will have go electric in 20 years anyway; it will be much cheaper to put up trolley wire than to put in HUGE batteries.

  22. Nathaanel May 11, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    “People are choosing speed and reliability over frequency or fewer transfers. ”
    I’ve read studies indicating that the reliability effect on ridership is *HUGE*, dominating practically everything else.

  23. Nathaanel May 11, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    “@Jonathan: Generally streetcars are seen as better than buses. However, what if a particular city has bus routes with 10-minute frequency, and streetcars with a 15-minute frequency?”
    Tested in LA and other places. Streetcars get more riders.
    “Perhaps the buses are modern and air-conditioned, whilst the streetcars are much older?”
    Tested in Philly back when they first got rid of their streetcars. Catastrophic drops in ridership when 50-year-old streetcars were replaced with air conditioned motorbuses.
    Yep, streetcars are preferred to buses. I’m only speculating when I try to figure out why, but the fact of the preference is abundantly clear from real-world data.

  24. Nathaanel May 11, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    “a demand exists to restrict growth/densification and reduce its impacts long, long before the growth becomes self-limiting and that streetcars and the like mostly serve to provide cover to allow zoning changes that permit more densification ”
    Uh, because the main nasty side effect of densification is all those cars crowding up the streets, and the streetcars both reduce the number of cars and allow people to avoid the cars? Think about this for a minute before you write!

  25. alexjonlin May 11, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    There is always a huge contingent of people that will never or rarely (at least at this point) ride a bus, but are perfectly willing and eager to ride a streetcar or any kind of rail. This group includes the many suburbanites now looking to move into the city, and the wealthy who definitely have a choice as to whether to drive or to take transit. While dedicated urbanists and transit advocates like ourselves will choose where to live based on transit service even if it’s not a rail line, the general public vastly prefers rail.

  26. JayinPortland May 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    I chose my current apartment in SE Portland solely due to the bus line which stops right at my front door (well okay, it’s more like 100 feet, but still). The TriMet 75 39th-Lombard, at the time I moved back here to SE from NE Portland a few years ago, used to come every 15 minutes or better and took me almost directly to where I was working at the time, up near the intersection of Columbia and NE 47th near the airport.
    Now, a few years later and after a couple of rounds of service cuts, the 75 bus operates at 18-minute (or worse) intervals, while MAX light rail at my old apartment (I lived a few blocks from Gateway / NE 99th, served then by MAX Red and Blue lines, and now the new Green line as well) still has yet to take any service cuts.
    I’m not really complaining, since my current neighborhood is infinitely better than my old neighborhood (matter of fact, I broke my lease out there one month early and paid a stiff penalty to the property management company simply because I hated living out there), but this does, at least in my case, say something about who takes hits first and way more often when service cuts come.
    Also, in this last year, the TriMet 33 bus, which I used to connect to at NE Fremont and 42nd to take to work about a year ago when I worked near Legacy-Emanuel Hospital, was initially slated to no longer serve the hospital at all until last minute compromises during one of the service cut rounds saved the Emanuel part (but not the original through-to-downtown part) of that service.
    I still rent, but like others here have said I would be much less likely to actually buy property (or set up a business) along a bus line rather than a rail or streetcar line, if transit was a major deciding factor. Which it would be, in my case. Granted, this is probably just because of the numerous inconveniences I’ve gone through myself over the past year and a half or so of seemingly continuous rounds of TriMet cuts to bus service while trains took none, but it’s certainly a real consideration for me now. Anecdotal and personal though my thoughts here may be, I’m sure I’m not the only one.
    That being said, buses will always be the best way for someone like me (living in the neighborhoods, and not working downtown much) to get around here, and I do enjoy riding them, even just for fun sometimes. In my experience, instances of unexpected community on a bus come more often than they do on a train. Just the other day, a guy boarded a 14 Hawthorne bus around SE 22nd, sat in the back and offered a few of us slices of the large Hot Lips pizza he brought aboard. They may happen on trains and streetcars occasionally too, but you don’t come across these experiences on highways, that’s for sure!
    The 15 Belmont bus is an interesting case, too. I sometimes take the line into Downtown Portland on weekday mornings around 7:30 AM, and I’ve noticed the line has a tendency to bunch quite a bit, to the point where rush hour 5 or 6-minute intervals effectively become 10 or so, and sometimes a bus or two will even pass right by stops in the 30’s (near Belmont Dairy, I typically board just one stop up from that development myself) when they’re full. The same thing is quite common in the afternoon rush going the other way as well, as anybody who’s ever tried to catch an Eastbound 15 between 4 and 6 PM from, say, the Green Dragon at SE 7th, can tell you as they watch 2 or 3 consecutive 15s pass right by before one is able to squeeze you on. Although I’ve been on quite a few filled-to-the-brim MAX trains or Portland Streetcars (and let’s not even mention the old Newark subway cars and PATH trains I used to regularly ride back in Jersey) in my time, I can’t say I ever remember a train leaving me in the rain as “Drop Off Only”…

  27. rg May 12, 2010 at 6:44 am #

    I do not have time to do the research, but example after example in cities throughout the world shows shows that ridership plummeted when buses replaced streetcars and that it increased when modern streetcars replaced buses. I do not doubt that in cities where rail has sparked a transit renaissance, proximity to a high-frequency bus line might be a selling point and might even spur some development. But I doubt that a bus-only system can do that. I’m not sure why you are so anti-streetcar, but as a regular rider of buses who has ridden streetcars, there is no comparison between the two in terms of rider experience and comfort. Even a bus with its own lane and signal priority that arrives every 5 minutes is still noisy and smelly and only as smooth as the underlying pavement.
    Anecdotally, I moved — that is to say sold my house and bought another one, with all the attendant hassle and stress — because I got tired of relying on the bus. My old house (in DC) was near the D6 bus, which has 10 minute headways at rush hour and 30 minute headways the rest of the day, and the X2 bus, which has 10 minute headways throughout the day. Both lines were slow, unreliable, overcrowded and uncomfortable. Countless times, I would wait and wait and wait for the D6 only to have two or three show up at the same time, all of them overflowing. As for the X2, riding it is perhaps the nadir of any transit experience. I cannot even to begin to imagine what the average citizen of a city with a modern streetcar network (say, Zurich) would think of the X2 bus. Trust me, nobody touts proximity to the X2 bus as a selling point or amenity, despite its frequent service. All of the development on H Street NE, where the X2 runs, started after they streetcar plans came to fruition and they started laying track. Anyway, I now live next to a subway station and my everyday life is exponentially better. I still take the D6 and the X2, but do not rely on them. Trust me, the streetcar along the route of the X2 cannot come soon enough!

  28. Eric Doherty May 12, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    Winston wrote: “Simply rezoning for higher densities is often enough to stimulate development with or without rail. It is my suspicion that most of the development attributed to streetcars has actually been caused by zoning changes that went with their introduction.”
    I think this is a key point. If planners do things like reduce parking requirements near all frequent service transit lines, that is where the higher density development will go. Make it electric trolley bus or street car, and the transit street itself becomes a better location (as opposed to two blocks away).
    Another commenter suggested that it is the wealthy who are picky about the kind of wheels their transit vehicles have. If this is true, good quality trolley bus service and greatly reduced parking requirements would be the way to stimulate affordable transit oriented development. (The three or four story apartment building is much cheaper to build if you don’t need on-site parking).
    Maybe streetcars are the fast road to gentrification, not sustainability? 😉

  29. Jonathan Parker May 12, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    Rather than a yes/no answer, I have always seen this issue as one with a continuum of answers, based on a variety of factors. Can buses stimulate development? Yes, but I think the degree to which this occurs is dependent on a variety of factors: the extent of market demand for TOD in a given corridor, frequency and quality of service provided, the regulatory land use framework, accounting for differences in regional behaviors, and so on.
    Even if many of these factors are present, it’s fair to say that frequent bus service would still result in a development response with a small ‘d’, maybe a 2 on a 10 scale, with full BRT at 3 or 4, light rail at 7 or 8, and heavy rail on the top end at 10. BRT has it’s place in the rapid transit spectrum, but proponents often mention Curitiba as the shining example of the land use shaping capabilities of BRT, but they fail to mention the draconian land use laws present that support it. I suppose you could make a similar argument (though not to the same extent) with the favorable financial incentives and policies that supported the Pearl District beyond simply building the streetcar.
    Especially in the US context, we can have arguments about whether buses spur development, but to some degree, perception is reality. Engineer Scotty wrote:
    “Not everything which makes a property command a higher price on the market need not marginal functional utility–people will gladly pay a premium for that which is “sexy”, or signifies wealth, or they simply find enjoyable. Whether stated preferences for streetcars are simply an example of style over substance (and how much this should matter even if true), I do not know.”
    We can commission endless research papers trying to isolate the variables to attempt to answer this complex question, or we can get on with the task of rebuilding our now fragmented communities primarily with the support of rail-based transit and smart land use policies. I’m firmly in the latter camp.

  30. Michael, Portland Afoot May 12, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Hey @george, very clever point about the Belmont dairy being the result of the old streetcar.

  31. cph May 12, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    I don’t know if buses spur development all that much, but some people do make a choice as to where to live based on good, frequent bus service.
    One amazing story is the influence that Google’s employee shuttle service (not quite “public” transit as such) has over real estate values in San Francisco:
    On the other hand, there are neighborhoods along the rail transit lines in LA that haven’t changed at all, even though stations have been there for 10-20 years.
    I think the rail transit (or maybe even very good and long-lasting bus routes–Wilshire Blvd’s bus route isn’t going away) can *help* attract development, but they’re not a magic nostrum. The commitment, the planning, the zoning needs to be there as well.

  32. Jerry May 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    Sorry to inform some of you, but Trolleybuses can leave the overhead wires. It isn’t a fixed line like Portland’s trolleys or Seattle’s trolley out to Lake Union or on the waterfront.

  33. ed May 12, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    What about government subsidies/government up zoning?
    In Sacramento, you can find transit oriented developments to the extent that the government subsidizes them and increases the intensity of permitted land uses which so far have been near light rail stations. I suspect that the region would have had the same results along the bus lines if it had declared areas adjacent to bus lines smart growth redevelopment zones.

  34. Rellaineurope May 13, 2010 at 8:14 am #

    In my experience of government backed (re)development projects there is a strong link between those projects and the provision of rapid transit in the form of trams, metros etc; and not with traditional buses.
    Having grown up in the UK and experienced both nationalised and privatised bus services I can wholeheartedly vouch that bus routes can change at a moments notice for little substantiated reason. This will obviously have a knock-on effect in the confidence in investing in long term developments.
    Moving the example to my present location of Amsterdam, when the council created new islands on the IJsselmeer they initially opted for a Light Rail scheme but shelved it for a more cost effective tram link which would integrate wholly within in the existing transit network. The result has been that the “IJburg” project now has thousands of people living here and businesses are beginning to move onto the islands which are 7km SW of the city, with the confidence that the investment is long term.
    In my view, the installation of a tram line gives the witness a more immediate and long lasting impression of the commitment of the provider to the area.
    I won’t spam Jarrett’s blog with links but the GVB (council transport provider), Wikipedia and the IJBurg site has more information on this, including the current effort to build 3 more islands!

  35. Andrew May 13, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    A counterexample to this: many of the streetcar lines in Toronto (ESPECIALLY the 501 Queen) are notorious for slow, unreliable service, especially at the outer ends of the line (east of Coxwell and west of the Humber River). As a result many wealthy residents in these areas drive. In contrast, the main suburban bus routes in Toronto generally run very frequently, are heavily used, are usually (though not always) fairly reliable, and significant service cuts on those routes would be almost inconceivable. This has created a lot of public suspicion towards Toronto’s suburban LRT plans, and public demands for subway construction. In Toronto, it is pretty clear that only subways, and not buses or streetcars, have a significant positive effect on property values.

  36. Jeffrey Bridgman June 5, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    It will be interesting to see what kind of investment the Health Line in Cincinnati “stimulates” especially since it really is still just a bus (albeit a nicer looking bus) since there really is no improvement in speed.

  37. jon September 28, 2010 at 8:54 pm #

    In my opinion, it 1, has to be frequent bus service, 2, the neighborhood has to be relatively urban so that one can live an urban lifestyle and 3, there has to be a reassurance that the bus is quite permanent, everyone knows the bus will always run down this stretch of Belmont as a transit vehicle has for the the last 120 years. Further out on this line I believe the route has changed considerably over the years. About a month ago a significant piece of the this very #15 bus line was cut back in a 1900-era neighborhood to the surprise of many including a good number who bought their houses understanding the bus line would always run.

  38. Justin June 12, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    I think why developers or so called streetcar advocates want the TODs to be more rail based is that when you build rail it is there for good(fixed rail is what it is called sometimes), and that with particularly non trolley buses is that bus routes can altered and changed to go some where else, rail does not, so that is probably why many TODs tend be more rail based.