Portland Observations – Part 1

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A special thanks goes out to Mike from CityKin who has agreed to let us share his very informative streetcar posts here.  These are posts that were developed as a result of his trip to Portland with the Alliance for Regional Transit.  Enjoy the four part series.

I think I am going to break my Portland rail posts into the following:
1. The Streetcar and how it physically works.
2. The MAX Lightrail lines and TODs (transit oriented developments).
3. Development around streetcar routes and who uses the streetcar.

I’ll post the first of these this weekend. These may turn into very long posts and I may have some other miscellaneous Portland observations. However after I do this, I plan on returning to my regular downtown parents blogging. If you are not interested in rail transit, then turn away for a week or so. However, I hope you will bear with me, as rail transit in all its forms is extremely family friendly. The ease of taking strollers, bikes, grocery carts onto these systems, not to mention wheelchairs, walkers and toddlers is a critical benefit that should not be overlooked.

Some basics. Portland has one streetcar line, that has been extended several times. It is the first modern streetcar in the US. It currently runs in a long loop that connect the South Waterfront to the University, then to downtown, then to the Pearl District and ending the loop at Nob Hill. They are currently installing a second line a few blocks from the first line that will extend across the river. This second line is expected to open next year.

Getting on and off streetcar:

They also have two light rail MAX lines, that run on the same streets in downtown, but split into separate suburban destinations. In the downtown area, the light rail runs perpendicular to the streetcar routes. The light rail is actually a pretty heavy operation. It is expensive to build, and runs on separated grades at higher speeds once it gets out of town. It runs from the airport in the east to a distant suburb/town in the west, with the city in the middle.

The MAX line in center city:

The Streetcar is a circulator. It makes living in the city easier and more competitive with a car oriented suburban lifestyle. It is not meant to get people in and out of the city. In a way, it is meant to keep people in the city.

As you could tell from my bicycle and drinking fountain posts, the streetcar is not the only thing I noticed in Portland. In fact, the first thing I noticed when I walked out of my hotel Friday morning, was that the streets are configured differently in several ways. First, many intersections were 2 way stop signs or even no apparent signage. Cars inevitably stopped for pedestrians, even when crossing where they shouldn’t. I also noticed places with widened sidewalks with fewer on-street parking spaces. But then there were many areas that had back-in diagonal parking (which is safer that nose-in). I also noticed an extensive bus system. The signage, bus stops and integration of the system was much better than most US cities. Certainly better than most mid-sized cities.

I took the photo below to demonstrate how difficult it was for this old woman to get on the bus with her cart. However, also notice that the bus stops in traffic, and that the bus stop has seats, rain protection, signage etc….

These posts will be my impressions from visiting. I am NOT going to add research about costs and ridership etc etc. All that stuff is available multiple other places. My posts will just be my firsthand account of what I saw and how it works.

2 thoughts on “Portland Observations – Part 1

    ValkRaider said:
    February 20, 2009 at 1:52 am

    I applaud your in depth Portland posts. Lots of great Portland transit insights for a visit!

    “They also have two light rail MAX lines, that run on the same streets in downtown, but split into separate suburban destinations. In the downtown area, the light rail runs perpendicular to the streetcar routes.”

    We (Portland) have three MAX light rail routes currently running, and the fourth completing construction due to open in September.

    Blue, runs east/west about 40 miles total distance, connecting Hillsboro in the west to Gresham in the east – with Portland in the middle.

    Red runs east/west for most of it’s route, then splits off in east Portland to head north to the airport.

    Yellow runs north from downtown Portland into North Portland.

    Green will open in September, and runs east to the same place where the red splits off, then green will head south to Clackamas, a suburb.

    Downtown, the three lines currently run east/west through much of downtown, with another chunk paralleling the river heading north/south.

    The new green line, when it opens, will run downtown east and west from the Union Station Amtrak station (and Greyhound bus station) through downtown to the south end at Portland State University (the state’s biggest college). At that time they will move the yellow line along that route through downtown as well, so two lines will split downtown north/south and two lines will split downtown east/west. The north/south MAX lines parallel the Portland Streetcar about 4 blocks away for much of the downtown run. Also, the “bus mall” is included with the green line, where something like 70% of the busses in the city run up and down those blocks.

    I can’t tell by the picture if that bus is a “low floor” bus or one of the older “step up high floor” busses. The low floor ones are very accessible to wheelchairs and carts and whatnot. The high floor ones are being phased out as we get money for new busses. Our bus fleet is one of the oldest and most used in the nation…

    We have a lot of great transit blogs here… Not that they would be super interesting for you guys. But our transit here is quite nice, and I have lived all over the country.

    Sounds like Cincinnati is looking to beef up as well. That is great news. Buy a streetcar or two made by our own “Oregon Ironworks” who is making them (our streetcars) now. We need the orders. 🙂

    John said:
    January 14, 2010 at 5:35 am

    Also important to remember that Portland’s Tri-Met runs both MAX and the buses. Makes system integration much easier.

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