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A New Dream Rises in Portland: A Housing Development Where Everyone Rides the Bus for Free

Broadway Corridor at the old Post Office site could resurrect hopes for a Fareless Square.

• 14 acres
• 3,100 residents
• Approximately 7,100 free transit passes

The U.S. Post Office site in Old Town is the canvas for big dreams.

Last year, a local architect floated a notion for the tallest skyscraper on the West Coast. That's been discarded. But another dramatic vision has emerged: a housing development where nobody pays to ride the bus.

A coalition of progressive advocates want a free TriMet pass for every single person who lives and works in the development.

Prosper Portland, the economic development agency of the city of Portland, projects the Post Office site could include 2,400 apartments and space for 4,000 jobs. It's hard to say for certain how many transit passes that translates into: The number goes up if more people move in per apartment, and goes down if there's overlap between people who work and live in the development.

Prosper Portland and City Hall have agreed to negotiate a community benefits agreement with the advocacy groups, but they haven't committed to any specifics.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said July 27 he was open to the idea of free transit passes.

"That certainly should be considered amongst many, many other things that I also think should be in that conversation," he said.

The Healthy Communities Coalition, which includes labor, environmental and social justice groups, are working together to push for a wide range of benefits, including the transit passes.

Portland used to have a section of town where people could ride buses and trains for free. Fareless Square operated from 1975 until 2012, when TriMet required paid fares throughout downtown again. Advocates for low-income riders have been looking for a replacement ever since.

"There's no reason someone working and living in the Broadway Corridor site would have to own a car," says Vivian Satterfield, deputy director of Opal Environmental Justice, which has long worked to provide especially low-income Oregonians access to free public transit.