Imagining a Different Course for MAX

Proposed Alignments of the Yellow line through Eliot. From the 1998 Draft EIS.

In 2001, a light rail line opened with service between the Portland Expo Center and downtown Portland. This service could have included service to residential Eliot and Legacy Emanuel Hospital with two stops on the east side of I-5. Imagine a dense commercial and residential corridor linking MLK with lower Albina along Russell Street. Vancouver Avenue would have been one block from the MAX, thriving with new businesses housed there. In southern Eliot, imagine the parking lots between MLK and the Broadway Bridge supporting residential or commercial buildings and lower Eliot with parking problems all day every day instead of just during Blazers games. Imagine pedestrian-scale connections around the Broadway/Williams intersection, connecting places that you want to visit, shop, or use to get from point A to B. Would Eliot have been better served?

Why didn’t Eliot want this option? In short, the cost to the neighborhood was high. The plan would have negatively impacted between 71 and 148 business and housing units, removed 16 residences and 8 businesses. The most concentrated impact would have been along Broadway and Flint avenues, as several turns of the MAX would have created loud squealing noises. The entire east side of Flint Avenue would have been completely inaccessible. Historically, 57% of Eliot’s housing was removed between 1960 and 2001, beginning with the construction of Memorial Coliseum and ending with MAX construction in 2001. The Eliot Neighborhood has been struggling to encourage housing development in the area, so removing more housing was considered unacceptable to some residents.

In 1998, the decision was made to run the MAX along Interstate Avenue instead of removing houses in residential Eliot, Boise, and Humboldt. Looking back, would Eliot have been better served with the Yellow Line running along Flint and Russell instead of along Interstate Avenue? Parts of Eliot would have been better served. Almost 97% of the neighborhood would have been within ½ mile of a MAX stop and about 35% would have been within ¼ mile of a stop. For context, the current scheme serves about 4% of the residential zoned area within ¼ mile. Also, the new MAX stops would probably have brought development to the station areas, including the first few blocks around the Broadway/Flint and the Russell Street corridor. Looking at this from a transportation and not rail-only context, however, Eliot would not have gained anything. With 15-minute service, the MAX runs about as often as the #4, #6, and #44 buses, but the #4 and #44 busses would probably have been merged or modified if the MAX had run through upper Eliot. The distance you could travel with a 30 minute trip would be quite similar with train service to what is offered with current bus lines.

Before the final alignment was chosen, both the Eliot Neighborhood Association and Lloyd District Community Association were in favor of the Vancouver/Wheeler alignment. Had these positions been taken early in the game, it is possible that the MAX would have taken a different course. Some residents think that the city deciding to save $84 million and run the MAX along Interstate was just another way that Eliot got overlooked. Although the decision had already been made, the Eliot Neighborhood Association supported the MAX running on the Wheeler/Russell alignment alternative. As a condition, Eliot was requiring replacement housing and commercial space for those being displaced. Notice that when housing had been removed by the previous Urban Renewal projects, home and business-owners were only paid the appraised value of their propreties and not the replacement cost. Providing replacement cost or replacement housing to the tenants might have been enough to offset the concerns from residents who were opposed to Eliot losing any more housing.

Looking forward, there are several development opportunities that may affect transit through the neighborhood. The Rose Quarter Redevelopment Project might encourage redevelopment of the Broadway corridor on the southern edge of Eliot. The proposed MLK streetcar between Broadway and Killingsworth Street may also affect development in Eliot. We have the power to veto destructive changes and encourage desirable outcomes. Will we be able to encourage vacant lots to get developed? Will public transportation through Eliot become faster or more convenient? We live in exciting times for our neighborhood.