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10 very short highlights from RailVolution

I’m spending as much time as I can this week at Rail~Volution, the ritzy (open bars! all-you-can-eat pizza!) national transit convention founded by PDX’s own Earl Blumenauer. It’s the first time since the 90s that Portland (or, as APTA President Bill Millar referred to our town yesterday, “the mothership”) has hosted.

Bizarrely, there’s no wi-fi at the conference and hardly any cell coverage, so I haven’t been able to take as many live notes as I’d like. But here are some scattered thoughts from the sessions I’ve been able to attend.

Whatever happened to affordable housing? Ask D.C. architect Brian O’Toomey. Cost to build 1 condo bathroom at one of his projects = $7,000. 1 kitchen = $12,000. 1 parking space = $35,000.

What would transit-oriented schools look like? A school has always been “a sign that a neighborhood has made it.” Big obstacle to school building in dense neighborhoods: requirement by school districts that builders/developers/architects have past school experience. Leads to the same old suburban designs.

Reliable buses are especially useful for young families. Carla Saulter: When I was single, I could fill downtime by reading. It’s much harder to deal with a late bus with two kids in tow.

Riders with wheelchairs and riders with strollers are natural allies. Saulter: Policies that are good for wheelchairs – curb cuts, low-floor buses, enough space to roll in the buses – are usually good for parents.

Rail transit is good for home values. Across Northern New Jersey suburbs, median home prices decline 2.7 percent in 2010. In towns with rail, values rise 5.7 percent.

A brilliant plan to boost transportation funding. This one comes from 1980s Massachusetts, according to former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation James Aloisi: “They got a gas tax passed by stopping all highway construction. … You can only do that when Michael Dukakis is your boss.”

How much do bus service cuts affect ridership? “Just a tad,” said TriMet boss Neil McFarlane. “Frankly, far less than we predicted.” Says it’s down 2-3 percent. Hmm? TriMet’s latest figures, from before September’s cuts, show a 7 percent weekly drop. I asked McFarlane about this; he said he must have been remembering TriMet’s projections from earlier this year. So it sounds like the opposite is true: Ridership has fallen more than TriMet expected.

Los Angeles is terrifying. LA developer Reneta Simril: “I live 11 miles from downtown. It sometimes takes me 40 minutes to get to work.”

Everyone here is white. OK, not everyone. But in Portland, it takes an awful lot of whiteys to make a room feel disproportionately white. And most RailVolution rooms do.

The private sector isn’t listening. Speaker at “workforce housing” session asks if there are any developers in the room except herself. Zero hands. Uh-oh.

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