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Full steam ahead for Powell-Division Transit and Development Project

If you've ever taken or tried to take the #4 or #9 bus during rush hour, you know buses are often standing room only. Worse, people waiting at bus stops on SE Powell watch as buses full to the brim fly by. Clearly, there is more demand for service than the transit system can meet.

The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project is designed to create a better experience and faster ride for the 18,000 people who ride transit on Powell Boulevard and Division Street every day to get to school, go to work or go shopping. The project is also intended to bring new development to Southeast Portland, East Portland and Gresham in five to seven years. It’s a multi-agency effort between Metro (lead agency), the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, TriMet, the City of Gresham, ODOT and Multnomah County.

Defining the route

In June 2015, the project steering committee recommended a general transit route that follows Powell Boulevard in Southeast Portland and outer Division Street from 82nd Ave to Gresham. The route crosses the Willamette River via the Tilikum Crossing (see map).


Parts of the route are still to be determined. The steering committee favored the one that crosses over from Powell to Division at 82nd Ave. They also recommended an alternative between 50th and52nd Avenues for further study during the design phase. Where the transit line ends in downtown Portland and Gresham is still undecided. These route options are being studied by consultants and project staff as Metro and partners continue to engage with the community about which of these options could best serve them. By Spring 2016, they will have honed in on a locally preferred alternative for the route.

Bus Rapid Transit

While the route is still being refined, there is consensus about the type of high-capacity transit for the corridor. During the planning process (Summer 2014), the Steering Committee deliberated on whether the new transit line should be light rail transit (LRT) or bus rapid transit (BRT). They considered the benefits and costs, impacts, timeframe for completion and public support for both. They advanced BRT as the more promising alternative because BRT requires less right-of-way, would have fewer impacts on residents and businesses during construction, could be built in 5 to 7 years instead of 15 to 20, and had greater overall public support.

For those unfamiliar with bus rapid transit, think of it as a cross between traditional bus service and light rail — or light rail rolling on rubber tires. Still a bus, it is typically much longer than a regular bus and incorporates elements of the light rail transit experience, such as:

  • BRT riders board and deboard the system the same as with light rail; all doors open at the same time and riders deboard and board from a station platform.
  • Riders purchase fares at station kiosks; they no longer pay when boarding the bus. This helps with BRT’s speed.
  • Along with limited stops, transit signal priority technologies, and maybe even dedicated lanes, BRT improves the speed, frequency, reliability, and overall transit experience.

Increasingly, BRT is becoming a popular transit choice across the country. More than 25 cities and counting have built a BRT line. In the Northwest, we can look to Seattle’s RapidRide; Everett, Washington’s Swift; and Eugene, Oregon’s EmX system. In other parts of the country, Cleveland’s “HealthLine” uses electric buses and arrives at stations as often as every 5 minutes. Chicago’s Ashland Ave BRT provides 20-minute commute access to thousands of jobs. And Los Angeles’ Orange Line BRT is one on the city’s busiest routes.

Local Action Plan identifies opportunity areas and community development actions

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, along with Portland Bureau of Transportation, Portland Development Commission and Portland Housing Bureau, has developed a “Local Action Plan” that complements the transit project. The action plan provides land use concepts for opportunity areas and community development actions that address equity issues in the corridor. The actions evolved from and reflect the community’s participation and continuous dialogue throughout the planning process. They focus on:

  • Continued community involvement in the design process.
  • Strategies for affordable housing preservation and development.
  • Workforce and economic development.
  • Improved tenant protections and multi-dwelling conditions.
  • Equity and anti-displacement strategies.
  • Ongoing research and monitoring.
  • Placemaking and urban design that reflects the community’s values.
  • High-quality transit service for current and future residents affected by this project.

Public hearing on Portland Local Action Plan

The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project Portland Local Action Plan will be presented to the Planning and Sustainability Commission on November 17, 2015. A public review draft will be released a few weeks in advance of the meeting. Visit the project website to review the action plan at:

For more information about the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project, go to Project partners hope to get to a “Locally Preferred Alternative” by Spring 2016.

Powell-Division Project wins public involvement award 

The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project recently received the International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2) 2015 “Project of the Year” Award. The project was recognized for its conscious effort to make sure that equity was a part of the planning process from start to finish.

What the judges said:

  • Your planners very carefully selected the techniques that were most appropriate for each audience and their specific concerns.
  • The conscious role of “equity” as a value was impressive, even courageous. The concept of fairness is often of paramount importance to a stakeholder, yet extremely difficult to define and measure. You did it very well.
  • The intentional use of the IAP2 Spectrum — tying it to the process from the beginning rather than an afterthought — was well done.
  • The IAP2 Core Values were well integrated into the overall process and approach.
  • We recognize the level of effort that has gone into the involvement of the public throughout a long planning process. The next challenge, of course, is to continue their involvement during the much longer design and implementation phases. The fact that the Powell-Division is being seen as a model for several regional initiatives and community decision-makers have agreed to continue their role through the design phase is further evidence of your success.

For more information, please visit