The Historic Streetcar Network’s Impact on Urban Development in Portland, Oregon

Way back when (2007), as part of a Portland State University GIS class, I worked on a very cool project to digitize Portland's historic streetcar system and analyze it's impact on urban development. My partner (Ben Kinkley) and I used the creation of tax lots as a proxy for development. We found some pretty interesting development patterns. For example, between 1901 and 1910 fully 99% of all tax lots in Portland were created within one mile of a streetcar line and 81% were within a quarter of a mile. We've seen similar development patterns with Portland's new streetcar system (albeit not nearly the percentage of all city development) and in other transportation infrastructure projects.

Consider that I told my loyal following of readers that I would post the findings over five years ago, I thought I might as well deliver on my promise. Hey! I never said when.

To read and/or download the full report (pdf), click on friends...

Streetcar History on OPB TV

I received this email from OPB:

(You can cut to the chase by going to the Oregon Experience web page.)

We wanted to let you know that OREGON EXPERIENCE: STREET CAR CITY will air on OPB TV on February 28 at 9pm. Kami Horton produced the half-hour special that explores how Oregon once had one of the most extensive streetcar systems in the United States providing cheap, comfortable public transportation – long before there were automobiles. The program also examines how streetcar lines formed the streets and neighborhoods that shaped our cities, and provided a foundation for the modern streetcar revival.

We hope you can help get the word out about the program and two pre-broadcast screenings:

The screenings are free and open to the public and OPB producers will be on hand to answer questions.

The first is in Astoria on Monday, Feb. 21 at noon at the Maritime Museum (1792 Marine Drive).

The second is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 24 at 6:30pm in Portland at the Ecotrust Building/Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center at 721 NW 9th Avenue. It's a great chance to use the street car for transport!

A couple of post-worthy links

Well, I promise at least one of these links is post-worthy: The City of Portland's Principal Planner, Steve Dotterrer has put together a fantastic presentation on Portland's transportation history. Through much labor, I embedded Dotterrer's audio to each corresponding slide. The audio is pretty good, but you'll most likely need to download the pdf's to listen. Luckily, its free (thanks City of Portland!) and well worth a listen. The presentation is broken down into seven files for size's sake.

The other link is to a review I wrote of Jeff Mapes' book Pedaling Revolution for the Winter 2009 Oregon Historical Quarterly. Yes, I am a year late in telling my legion of loyal readers about it. I apologize to all four of you.

Portland bike history in the air

While I toil away in the gray halls of the bureaucracy, there are people working on transportation history. In the last several weeks I've seen a handful of articles and fielded calls about Portland's bike past.

I was queried (I think "interview" would be too strong a word) by Outside magazine about the Portland's bike development for an article in the May edition. I'm not entirely sure of the article's full scope, but they were definitely interested in bicycle history in Portland. We'll see how the article turns out, but I give them credit for trying to get the facts straight - I received a follow up call after our initial conversation to make sure I was quoted correctly. Who says the blogosphere killed journalism?

More locally, Nick Bjork from the website "Neighborhood Notes", wrote an article on the Portland Bureau of Transportation's signature transportation demand management project, "SmartTrips." (Full disclosure: I work for PBOT and my main project is SmartTrips.) Transportation demand management is the bureaucratic term for getting people who drive alone to choose other modes like transit, carpooling, and/or bicycling through education and outreach. SmartTrips is the City of Portland's homegrown version, based primarily on Social Data's Travel Smart model. Bjork's article does a great job of telling how SmartTrips works and a little about its history. Keep up the great work, Nick!

And of course there is the prolific Jeff Mapes, author of Pedaling Revolution, political reporter for the Oregonian, and intrepid bike commuter. Momentum Magazine just published a Mapes article, "A Modern Bicycling Advocacy Timeline." It's not Portland-centric by any means, but all of Portland's bike history is directly tied in to the events Mapes' chronicles. It's worth reading.

Yes! A new post

Ok, ok - I know it's been about two years and none of you believe that I am still here. Well, I am - kind of. I have been doing some transportation history work, but not so much to keep regular postings flowing.

That said, I've got some links to articles I've written for the Oregon Encyclopedia Project and for the Oregon Historical Quarterly. The Encyclopedia Project is definitely worth checking out. There are hundreds of articles spanning all of Oregon's history. There is an entire subcategory on "transportation and communication."

In the Oregon Encyclopedia Project I have three short pieces on the history of the Springwater Corridor, Bridge Pedal, and Critical Mass.

In the OHQ I have a long piece on the history of the Crooked River, mainly twentieth century.

Links and Updates

I haven't had much (any) time to work on Portland's transportation history, but luckily some others have.

Jonathan over at has a great post on Oregon's first attempt at changing stop sign laws for cyclists. Find it here.

For anyone who is interested in the on-going Portland Bike History project, you can download a draft report that I am in the midst of updating with the help of folks at PDOT. (There is also a draft appendix you can download.)

I do have one mostly finished project. The bike history database of articles is nearly complete. We are still working on filling in some of the gaps where it seems that research is missing. So I'll probably be uploading another article database in a couple of months with even more data. Unbelievably, we found over 2,000 articles in major media outlets on cycling in Portland since 1970. And there is still more to come...

Some links and works in progress

In the past couple of weeks I've found a couple of interesting sites worth checking out. - An Oregonian link with articles on good recreational rides around town. This, of course, is not really history but I thought it noteworthy that the O used to have a weekly column dedicated to recreational riding that no longer exists. - The Place of Bicycle Transportation in Modern Industrialized Societies
- Good quotes from famous people on biking. There is also a book out there called The Quotable Cyclist with lots of good ones. My favorite is Susan B. Anthony's homage to women on bikes.

As for work in progress...I am still working on the Historic Streetcar paper, which I hope to post here soon (no promises this time, since a month ago I thought I'd have it up in no time). The Bicycle History Capstone Project will definitely be done by the end of June. The students are hard at work filling in some missing links from last term's project and wrapping it up in a nice little package. The amount of data they've found is impressive - there will probably be close to 1,500 articles about cycling in Portland from 1971- 2006, all from Portland-focused media. In addition, I am working on trascribing some of the fantastic oral history interviews the students did last term. Its a laborious, time-consuming process. Let me know if you enjoy that kind of unpaid work, I've got about 8 hours of talking that needs to be transcribed...

Lastly, my hope is to take the work that the Capstone students have done and write an article for a historical journal (such as the Oregon Historical Quarterly) on bicycling in Portland from 1971 - 2006. Its a long way from here to there, but I think there is enough primary data and interest to write a good history. We all know, of course, that its a great story already!