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Light Rail and Downtown Revitalization

There's no overstating the fact that light rail is an important economic development tool.

By Jason Leach

Here's a salient quote from HDR, an employee-owned architectural/engineering firm specializing in civic projects, in a monograph on urban revitalization [PDF]:

Twenty years ago, Portland's central business district was a typical tired downtown, with fading retail and rising office vacancy rates, when compared to suburban office parks. Today, the light rail system, MAX, carries 50,000 passengers a day to a downtown rated as one of the most livable in America. Office vacancy rates are now lower than suburban ones, and rents are higher. The best, most attractive retail in the region is in Portland's downtown. Over $2 billion of development has been constructed around downtown station areas.

There's no overstating the fact that light rail is an economic development tool, not just a transportation mode. From the monograph:

From its very inception, the streetcar [in Portland] was seen first and foremost as a redevelopment tool. Its backers organized a nonprofit corporation that built and now operates the line. The corporation is made up of developers, retailers and property owners, as well as city government officials. They have succeeded.