The Relationship between Streetcars and Development Activity: An Examination of Portland and Seattle

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - urban, mode - tram/light rail, land use - impacts


streetcar, development impact


In most U.S. cities, streetcars are not primarily pursued for the transportation benefits they might provide but instead for their anticipated development impacts. This paper examines the experiences of Portland and Seattle in order to better understand the nature of development activity around their streetcars. Using a multivariate analysis, the authors found that areas around Portland’s initial line experienced higher levels of development activity than areas not served by the streetcar, although the differences in activity between served and not served areas since the opening of the second line have been insignificant. In Seattle, areas around the first streetcar line experienced greater commercial development activity but less residential activity than nearby unserved areas. These results remained consistent when focusing on the expanded Seattle Streetcar system since the opening of the second line. These findings indicate that in certain contexts streetcars are associated with increased development activity. The results also suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between streetcars and development.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by SAGE, copyright remains with them.