This case study utilizes a fundamental strategy for analyzing the success of Portland, Oregon’s transit-oriented development (TOD) land use and transportation program. Inspired by the New Urbanist theory of transit-oriented development, the research presented here acts as an evaluation of the movement of said theory from urban planning rhetoric to reality. TOD aims to concentrate varied real estate development in a walkable distance to public transportation in the hopes of encouraging transit ridership, improving quality of life, and facilitating a more sustainable urban structure. Ideally, TOD projects capture all of these New Urbanist values, but like most policy proposals in the United States, market forces and public opinion carry heavy weight in the implementation process.

Portland, Oregon has garnered a reputation for environmentally sustainable practices like a strict urban growth boundary, extensive light-rail and streetcar systems, and an explicit transit-oriented development program. By focusing research on Portland’s experience, we can evaluate the level of success attained by one of the country’s leading TOD cities. Has Portland been successful with their TOD Program? The researcher hypothesizes: if Portland has operationalized their stated goals of transit-oriented development implementation, while increasing ridership of the MAX light rail and mixed-use real estate development, and maintaining a consistent control against transit-adjacent development, then the program can be considered successful. The decision rule used to distinguish success is an increase ex-post development in the number of residents who commute via public transit within census tracts where specific TOD projects are located.

Using census data, this research examines chronological trends in transit ridership in tracts where TOD projects exist to gauge levels of success. Upon triangulating this descriptive data with the socioeconomic makeup of the selected areas as well as the quality of the surrounding built environment and different policy and planning documents, results show varying levels of success development to development. Some of the selected projects have achieved comprehensive TOD typology; while others have failed to deliver all the benefits TOD can offer neighborhoods. This research concludes with a discussion on the limitations and intricacies of such a planning strategy and notes how crucial the partnership between public and private entities is to the overall success of TOD. This qualitative case study analysis offers a look into the process of TOD through the lens of a leading adoptee of the strategy, and therefore should not be considered a typological narrative for all TOD initiatives.


Burnell, Jim


Urban Studies


Behavioral Economics | Cultural Resource Management and Policy Analysis | Economic Policy | Environmental Design | Environmental Policy | Growth and Development | Infrastructure | Place and Environment | Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation | Real Estate | Transportation | Urban, Community and Regional Planning | Urban Studies | Urban Studies and Planning


Portland, Oregon, Public Transit, Transit Oriented Development, Urban Studies, Urban Economics, Urban Planning, transportation, land use, policy

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2016 Niall W. Cronin