So easy to get around
Our first day in Portland has been very interesting, especially from a transit point of view. As some may remember, we’re here to enjoy and learn from the Portland Rose Festival, a sister festival to Fiesta San Antonio. They have one of the greenest festivals in the world so we want to see how they do it and possibly carry those ideas to Fiesta Verde to get us further along. However, as you might expect from my viewpoint, I’m looking at a lot more things in Portland. For one, I’m exploring their transit system and its impact on daily life in Portland. If you look at daily boardings, it’s number four behind Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, not bad for a city the size of Portland. There has to be something behind this system to make it work so well. There are other things I want to explore such as walkability and bike activity. But transit is definitely high on the list, especially since San Antonio keeps using it as a benchmark for our proposed system.
We started our trip in Portland by jumping on the TriMet MAX at the airport. Just past baggage claim you find the MAX station with a TriMet employee standing by the kiosk to help with any questions. That’s handy considering how long a new visitor to Portland might take trying to buy a ticket. It also served us well since just explaining our day’s activities helped him advise us. We were about to buy an all day ticket but when he heard where all our business would be, advised us to buy a 2 zone 2 hour ticket, much cheaper. You see, Portland’s downtown area is tagged as the Free Zone where you just jump on and off the MAX without a ticket any time of the day. Our hotels and activities are primarily in the Free Zone so why buy more than you need?
Riding the MAX is pretty simple and the trip was enjoyable. Our train was about 1/4 full but later Red Line trains I took were full of people coming from the airport with luggage. Trains have hooks for bikes that people actively use and the priority area for disabilities is kept clear most of the time. When we rode the MAX at various times throughout the day, the trains were busy and full, in some cases. You can definitely see that people have embraced the MAX as a primary form of transportation.
MAX trains crisscross the downtown area at many locations, making downtown very streetcar accessible. The trains intersperse with downtown traffic in such a way that it’s not an inconvenience for either the train, the car, or the pedestrian. We even took the MAX to a neighborhood to the north of downtown Portland to attend the Fred Meyer Junior Parade with very little inconvenience. In fact, it’s almost expected you take the MAX around Portland when you can. You orient your travels around the MAX, not in the sense you adjust the travel but you see how the MAX can factor into the trip.
MAX lines run from early in the morning to late at night, in some cases. Take, for example, the Blue Line schedule which runs east/west across Portland. If you’re trying to meet schedules of early or late service industry workers, these are the type of schedules you need to offer to encourage more ridership. VIA needs to consider this as they work to increase or enhance their system to become a primary mode of transportation for the city. Currently most of the primary bus lines, like the 92 down Fredericksburg Road, offer the early options, with the 92 starting at 4:30 a.m. at Crossroads Park and Ride and also downtown. But the latest you can expect is probably 12:30 a.m., and that has to be planned out.
TriMet is not absent of controversy. Currently a proposal to extend the service further within Clackamas County is meeting with some opposition, with a citizens referendum scheduled for vote on Sept. 18th that would require public vote on all public rail projects. The current extension is expected to cost about $1.5 billion, with half the funding coming from the federal government. Funding for the local portion comes in from various sources at different levels.
I’ll continue to look at the TriMet MAX system while here in Portland to see how the model might fit San Antonio. One thing I’m definitely looking involves transit oriented development. I’m seeing some aspects of it but not as much as I would have expected.