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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Same as it ever was

An alert reader sends along this article from the Oregonian, published on March 3, 1910:

The streetcar is all about the real estate developers -- always has been, always will be. Only back then, they didn't have, or need, the vague greenwash that Earl the Pearl and his pals use to sell it today.

Comments (23)

Mostly true, but not entirely -- most "Traction Companies" were started by the REAL leviathans in the corrupting politics game, the utilities.

Electric utilities quickly found that they needed load, and fast, in the days when only the rich had many electric geegaws. Streetlights were tiny, and the economies of scale were such that generators got bigger, fast, even before Westinghouse won the war with Edison and AC took over from Edison's preferred DC.

Electric streetcars were the solution in lots of places.

George, look at the article. It's all about real estate, pal.

Why on earth would electric utilities need to get into land speculation?

The way O'Toole tells it, the electric utilities only bought existing streetcar lines after the land developers were tired of running them.


Here's another one:

In Portland, it was always the real estate boys.

Historically, as land was opened up to settlement the federal and state governments had to entice people to come over and settle...and land grants and other incentives were happily turned over to large businesses - railroads and utility companies - to build speculative lines in order to attract development.

So I think everyone is right here.

The City of Portland is conveniently revising history, claiming that streetcars/trams/trolleys were the hallmark of a dense, urban core, when in fact streetcars/trams/trolleys were used to get people OUT of the core and into the suburbs. Hence, the term "Streetcar Suburbs". The Streetcars didn't just run around in circles downtown, they took people places, that were several miles out of downtown. Multnomah Village. Lents. Gresham. St. Johns. Parkrose. Oregon City. By horse, those communities were quite a long ways away from the city center, but by streetcar they became convenient residential neighborhoods.

Once the developers developed their subdivisions, the utility companies ended up with the trolley lines as part of their franchises with the city, and continued to run them often at a loss, but the trolleys made for great promotion for electric service to residents' homes and to businesses.

In 1935, the Public Utility Holding Company Act was signed into law, drastically limiting the ability of utilities from owning transit systems. So the transit systems (being unprofitable) were spun off. And guess what? Without the profitable utility service to subsidize them, they started to fall. At the same time, the rise of the automobile was taking effect, and with the decline in transit quality, the popularity of the auto skyrocketed. Citizens simply didn't want to be beholden to the transit companies, living on the transit companies' schedule and being denied the freedom to travel as they pleased. Thus, transit usage declined even further.

There was the short blip during WWII, when oil and rubber was rationed - effectively curtailing auto use by law. Once the war ended, so did the rations, and do did trolley ridership.

Portland would like to make you think that none of that was true. Portland would like you to think that the trolleys were doing fine - ridership never decreased prior to WWII, it only went down when big bad General Motors started buying up the trolley lines just to shut them down and replace them with buses (hence, the City's anti-bus attitude). Which is ironic, because GM became one of the largest suppliers to the railroads from the 1930s until the 1990s (when it was surpassed by General Electric; and in the 2000s GM was forced to sell off its Electro-Motive Division. Today it exists as a unit of Caterpillar.)

And, of course, GM's National City Lines never for one minute controlled Portland's streetcar system, and yet it was abandoned a full decade before Los Angeles' streetcar system (whose Los Angeles Railway Company, a.k.a. the "Yellow Cars", was owned by NCL.)

Today, TriMet is playing the same game - cutting bus service and forcing dedicated bus riders to live based upon TriMet's schedule, and replacing bus service in one neighborhood with light rail and streetcar service in other neighborhoods in the attempt to "develop", most of which has been a failure (if you talk to citizens), or a success (if you talk to the government). Sure, if you're the contractor responsible for building many of those government buildings that dot the MAX line, life is grand.

Remember, this was BEFORE private ownership of autos. In order to sell the lots, the developers had to have a way for owners to get around. But who actually paid for the streetcars? I don't think the city did.

Nowadays the Homers and Edlens get the suckers -- the taxpayers -- to build it for them.

Regarding Eric’s post after the PUHCA was passed it was challenged in court. That law was upheld in this ruling NORTH AMERICAN CO. V. SEC, 327 U. S. 686 (1946). Many of the streetcar lines stayed until this case was finalized. After that is was all over for the most part.

Of course you don’t want too many people in Portland to know about this because it will destroy their fantasy that an evil corporation was the bad guy. There seems to have been some questionable activities from the folks at GMAC, but no one really knows all the details.

Thanks Eric for posting that.

Fascinating posts. Thanks guys.

Which is why the Seattle SLUT streetcar financing got it at least close to right -- fifty percent of the total cost of that line was paid for by upfront assessments on adjoining/neighboring land owners. How many rail/streetcar projects would be built if the intended beneficaries had to actually pay for the the service? Very few, in my estimation.

Gravy Train
Earl Blumenauer and the ”transportation mafia”

Nowadays the Homers and Edlens get the suckers -- the taxpayers -- to build it for them.

True that. Any challenger to the incumbents around here need to drive this point home.

Newleaf, in regards to your "How many rail/streetcar projects would be built if the intended beneficiaries had to actually pay for the service?", probably not any.

That is why, in over several years of committee meetings about the Portland/LO trolley, the issue of LIDs for funding has been totally hidden.

When public officials have been directly asked if LIDs might be used they don't reply or retort "not considering it". Not until just recently, when pointedly asked about it, the reply was "we may have to seek funding from those directly affected". When immediately followed by asking "does that mean a LID district?", the reply was they couldn't even slur the LID word out; but, "maybe".

It interesting how the most discomforting aspects of funding of public projects are hidden until the final decision points, but the "free money" of federal funding is always the carrot that rolls the project along for years. When funding comes more directly out of our own pockets, then we face reality, but sometimes too late.

And now the fun begins as citizens learn that they may be paying into LIDs directly for a proposed trolley. And that includes Johns Landing folks as well as LO Foothill, LO Downtown and First Addition folks, and maybe even the Dunthorpe folks.

Even the SoWhat property owners, who already pay into a LID formed to help pay for the new trolley in that district, are asking and objecting if their existing portions would be increased to extend it south.

And all of this is with Blumenauer promising having our fed tax dollars paying 60% of it. Definitely not like the private funding of Portland's earlier trolleys without fed tax dollars.

Streetcars rule unless they don't make money for developers!

Looking at that 1910 article you could also say The Oregonian "is all about the real estate developers -- always has been, always will be." Only now instead of shilling for the developers directly they shill for their puppets in local government.

Well, government in Portland is now the developers giving us the business.

When immediately followed by asking "does that mean a LID district?", the reply was they couldn't even slur the LID word out; but, "maybe".

Or, they will say they don't know. I would think it has become more difficult to head these meetings as the people become more savvy to their mode of operation.

clinamen, it may have "become more difficult to head these meetings", but they have become more adept in avoiding the comments and questions.

Like PDC and CoP's propensity to say, "we have to keep the meeting and agenda going, we'd appreciate you talking to staff afterwards". Or, "that's not how we recall the issue, we'll get back to you later". Or, "that's a difficult question with possibly several answers for now". Or, "we can't really comment on this budgetary item [or any other item] because there's so many variables".

They have facilitator classes just to come up with these endless, "polite" dodges.

What started out as an attempt to preserve Portland as 'livable', Metro has since turned into self-sustaining, destructive, money-gobbling giant, an unstoppable stomping machine, a behemoth, a Gog that tramples neighborhoods, economies, families, lives, all while mechanically reciting to itself... "MUST SAVE CITY" "MUST BUILD CONDOS" "MUST LAY RAILS" "MUST SAVE CITY" "MUST BUILD CONDOS" "MUST LAY RAILS" "MUST SAVE CITY" "MUST BUILD CONDOS"...

Sort of like an automated SimCity being run by HAL9000.

Re: the second advertisement

What happened to Hyde Park? Do the Hyde Park Terrace Apts on Bertha Blvd take their name from a destination that no longer exists?

Re: the first advertisement

How extensive was residential development east of the river in 1910? There is a story about a large, white mansion built in Irvington, around NE24th, to spite Mr Pittock in his NW mansion, completed in 1914. Since, as the story goes, the unblemished view (of Hood) was spoiled by the Irvington estate, it would seem that there had been little development by 1910. Ladd's Addition had been laid out around 1891, but that distinctive neighborhood is a few miles south of Alameda Ridge, where the Autzen Mansion was not built until 1927.

Wikipedia, relying on numbers from the Portland Auditor's Office, notes that the city's population had increased "from 90,426 in 1900 to 207,214 in 1910." (The city merged with Albina and East Portland in 1891 and did not merge with Linnton and St Johns until 1915.) So there was clearly pressure for expansion in an era unburdened by the mythology of uncontrolled density. Or was the rigid grid of the Eastside considered planned density compared to the freer form of SW?

There is some fire hydrant data, but it is only suggestive:

Notice this excerpt:

"October 10, 1912 - Unsigned letter on Water Board letterhead to 'Messrs J. C. Ainsworth, W. B. Mackay, and D. D. Clarke, Engineer, Special Committee of the Water Board, Portland, Oregon.' The letter compares the prices of the six bids in the previous document. It recommends that the lowest bid, that of the John Wood Iron Works Company, be accepted. The letter is unsigned and has two spaces for approval signatures, also blank. The list of hydrant contracts awarded (1913 Audit) says that Oregon Foundry won this contract and produced 200 'Spl. Design' hydrants. However, Oregon Foundry never submitted a bid for this contract and their name never appears in any documents related to this contract."

A company that never submitted a bid won a contract over the low bidder recommended in an unsigned letter on Water Board letterhead. "Plus ça change,...?"

Just a reminder that the Pdx-LO Streetcar Steering Committee will be holding a public hearing today, Monday, from 5-8pm at The Lakewood Center in LO. All Metro residents are stakeholders on this project, so your attendance and participation is welcome. I'd like to see the federal funding fail due to lack of public support. Don't forget to call or write your congressmen to let them know how you feel about streetcar transit.

You mean the real estate developers that built some of Portland's greatest neighborhoods in the pre-WWII era?

If some of Portland's greatest neighborhoods were built in the pre-WWII era, why arent' those neighborhoods and plans they were built upon respected by the city and the current set of developers?

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