Light Rail Portland

Portland’s New Light Rail Line is Welcome News, But It’s Not Routed as It Should Be

MAX Green Line Map» The Green Line, providing service to Clackamas County, will open Saturday.

Portland’s light rail expansion program will complete its most recent phase tomorrow, as trains on the city’s fourth line will make their way from downtown to Clackamas County along a right-of-way paralleling I-205. The 8.3-mile Green Line is expected to serve more than 40,000 riders by 2025 and required $575 million to build over two and a half years. Yet, despite excitement over Portland’s continued investment in rail transit, the Green Line’s route is imperfect, stuck on the side of a freeway and poorly linked to the denser areas adjacent to its route. Its completion illustrates the constraints that funding and history put on local transit advocates and their resulting decision to align a major capital investment along a less-than-appropriate corridor.

In the 1970s, activists in the Portland area put a stop to the Mount Hood Freeway, which would have cut a gash through several neighborhoods in the southeast portions of the city. In response, the state chose to reorient funds towards the first MAX light rail line, which ran from downtown to Gresham. At the same time, highway opponents east Portland and in Clackamas County fought against the proposed north-south I-205. Though they lost their fight, they received in concession space for a transitway along the side and median of the road, completely separated from automobile traffic.

A light rail line from Clackamas to Vancouver, Washington was planned as far back as the early 1980s, but it was repeatedly knocked down by voters before the Green Line was eventually approved for federal New Starts funding in 2007. The new route follows the existing Red and Blue Lines right-of-way between downtown and Gateway Transit Center, where it turns south onto the new I-205 corridor.

When it opened eight years ago yesterday, the Airport-bound Red Line from Gateway Transit Center used the northern portion of the line, and the new Green Line will use the southern section for its eight new stations. By taking advantage of the pre-built highway transitway, Portland saved a bundle of money on property acquisitions and right-of-way preparation. In addition, it was able to construct a line with fast running speeds (just 39 minutes between Clackamas and downtown) because there are no road intersections along the line. Land adjacent to stops had already been cleared for new park-and-ride spaces, which total 2,300 along the route.

But the transitway is the crux of the problem with the Green Line. The highway makes an ideal right-of-way for the purpose of increasing speeds and reducing interference with surrounding neighborhoods, but it is the worst when it comes to spurring transit-oriented development. TOD, after all, should be the primary land use goal of any new public transportation investment, and Portland is likely to get very little of it along the Green Line. That’s because the mere presence of I-205, with its traffic, noise, and pollution, will make development adjacent to it unappealing. Worse, because the transit corridor is located on one of the side of the freeway, people will have to cross the very wide road to get to the other side. These are the same problems Dubai faces with its own just-opened rapid transit line.

Portland’s decision to undertake construction along the freeway was an easy solution to an expensive proposition. After all, much of the Red and Blue Line routes also follow highway right-of-ways, even apart from the airport link aforementioned. But the region’s most emblematic TODs, including the famed Orenco Station, are on the west side of the city, where light rail runs in its own corridor, unencumbered by nearby roads. This should have been the example to follow.

Yet the need to reduce construction costs and the fact that the transitway already existed made it nearly impossible for transit agency TriMet to select a different routing before engineering began in 2005. That said, there was a promising alternative just a half a mile west of I-205: Southeast 82nd Avenue, which has a very wide right-of-way for an urban street and hundreds of commercial outfits bordering it. A priori, it would have been the best corridor to choose because of its potential to spur renewal in the communities alongside it; Portland’s planned Powell Boulevard line does have the potential to do as much, but the I-205 project does not. It is ironic, then, that as far back as 2005, Clackamas County envisioned the Green Line as a way redevelop SE 82nd Avenue — so why not build the light rail line directly on it rather than half a mile away?

Perhaps TriMet planners looked to the Interstate MAX Yellow Line and saw something less than ideal: though the line runs in the median of an urban boulevard, it has not spurred much reinvestment, and though perhaps it is no worse looking than a typical six-lane road, the rebuilt Interstate Boulevard is not aesthetically pleasing either. For all the acclaim planners give the city for its light rail, Portland has yet to design a light rail project whose construction can truly beautify the surrounding areas, a la Tramway Line 3 in Paris. The appeal of an 82nd Avenue route was probably diminished as a result of that precedent.

It is indicative of the way users will use the service that companies near the route are already planning vanpools to carry their workers from stations to business locations, rather than encouraging them to make the walk. The large number of parking locations along the line similarly suggests that this will be a route geared to the driver, rather than to the pedestrian. That’s a pity, because it will mean ultimately lower ridership than what could have been attracted with a project geared to induce dense, urban-level growth. The Green Line will encourage people in the surrounding neighborhoods to choose transit for downtown- or airport-oriented commutes, but not much else, as demonstrated by TriMet itself in its decision to run trains only every 30 minutes after 6 pm.

The project’s major positive benefits in terms of land use will come at the region’s core, where the Transit Mall has been rebuilt for $220 million, allowing for a doubling of dowotnw light rail capacity and direct access to the largest destination in the TriMet service area, Portland State University. The Transit Mall is a series of bus and train-only corridors running roughly north-south on 5th and 6th Avenues downtown, complementing the Red and Blue light rail lines that run roughly east-west on Yamhill and Morrison Streets. Yellow Line trains began running in the Transit Mall on August 30th. Unlike along the I-205 segment, light rail in the Mall will increase the density and transit-oriented nature of the inner city core, which is also to benefit from a major streetcar expansion in the coming years.

Image above: MAX Green Line map, from TriMet

57 replies on “Portland’s New Light Rail Line is Welcome News, But It’s Not Routed as It Should Be”

Cities that are applying light rail onto existing urban fabric fall under three catagories: 1) As a street car, which is inherently slow–it is great for short distances but inadequte for long distance commuters. 2) As mass transit within the righ-of-way of a freeway, which is great for fast travel but is not accessible to pedestrians. 3) As mass transit in its own narrow corridor, achieving high speeds and directly accessible to the pedestrian network.

Option #3 is clearly the best choice and it is disappointing how rarely this is currently being achieved in the US.

While many might question where the Green Line is placed now, this debate is long done. Time to start advocating for good placement of stations on the Yellow Line and for further transit expansion. And we should advocate for re-zoning around Green Line transit stations to increase density & walkability. Let’s move on and grow up.

As far as freeway right of way transit lines go, the Green Line is about as good as it gets… it has NO center of freeway running and only runs along the side of the freeway with a decent sized buffer zone between the tracks and the freeway. For much of the alignment, it is located on the best side of the freeway as far as for adjacency to neighborhoods and walkability. I-205 is really a dividing line between completely unwalkable and decently walkable and luckily most stations are on that side. Either way though its all post-war suburbia that it runs through. Plus there is a very good multi-use path that connects most of the stations together and with follows the route.

I’m really not so sure a LRT line could have been built down 82nd, is only 4-5 lanes wide (both directions) and it is a busy street to begin with and with lots of left turns. TriMet has some planned routes that will most likely operate in center of some major arterials lined with sprawl retail much like 82nd (McLoughlin from Milwaukie to Oregon City, Barbur Blvd and Powell Blvd as mentioned). I am sure we will see incredible opposition from the neighboring autopian businesses if you cut down the capacity of the street or restrict left turns.

Regarding the failed line to Vancouver, it is a long story, it did get voter approval in 3 counties but not a 4th county in WA state and then it all unraveled, the Portland tribune just yesterday summed it up well in an article…
35 YEARS IN TRAINING: Born of a ’70s freeway rebellion, I-205 Green Line finally arrives

Plus check out the digital version on their website of the 80 page guide to the Green Line.

I’m sure those park & rides will be redeveloped if the land is desirable enough in the future for housing despite the freeway proximity. Trimet has gone on the record saying they’d rather redevelop station parking lots such as along the Westside MAX line.

Adam, no worries. There should hopefully be one by 2016. Its in design now along with the Milwaukie MAX line. And the later Powell Blvd. line would be the second east-west line connecting Portland to Gresham.

The Steel Bridge could be modified to accomodate a second set of tracks, at some point in the future.

At any rate, as jon notes, LRT down 82nd Avenue would be a difficult proposition. Many of Portland’s urban boulevards, including 82nd, are narrow thoroughfares with 4 lanes and a left-turn refuge, which describes 82nd to a tee. And unlike many urban thoroughfares in places like LA, where noting borders the route but parking lots, there are many commercial and residential properties abutting 82nd. As the route is a state highway (unlike Interstate, which ceased being part of the highway system years ago), any LRT project on it will have an increased hurdle to cross.

Some of the same is true for the proposed Powell LRT, which is a similar configuration to 82nd on its stretch from the Ross Island Bridge out to 50th or so. East of there, though, there is an existing ROW, currently occupied by frontage roads, that was acquired for the Mt. Hood Freeway and could be re-purposed for LRT.

Never fear, though–the recently approved city streetcar plan (which Yonah blogged about earlier) does include a few streetcars along the denser segments of 82nd Avenue.

“TOD, after all, should be the primary land use goal of any new public transportation investment”

With respect, I disagree.

The primary goal is to enable transportation. The secondary goal is TOD.

In the case of the Green Line, I do indeed agree with you that it is less than ideal for TOD purposes. However, it also reflects community desires. An observant listener on a MAX train will be unlikely to hear complaints such as “I wish there was more TOD” but they would be bombarded with complaints about slowness, about a seemingly too-high number of stops, and so forth.

The Green Line represents a series of lessons learned from previous lines. Eliminate as many grade crossings as possible to reduce the chances of striking a vehicle. Spread out stations to reduce stop delays. Do *not* run in the street so as to enable faster running times. In short, the Green Line is less a traditional light rail line and more of a Metro.

Get used to this idea. It’s growing out here. In discussing a new extension being planned for the west side, a planner recently suggested to me that “it doesn’t matter where the line is, it only matters where the stations are,” and suggested that future lines may be even less likely to use street corridors. The new Orange Line under planning on the south side will be similar in nature when it opens. This is the progression of Portland’s light rail system based upon our experiences, so expect to see it more, not less.

As for 82nd, it is identified as a streetcar corridor by the newly passed Streetcar System Plan.

So yes, I agree, it’s not an ideal situation for TOD, but it is an improvement over current conditions and, to be frank, it was the best solution in this corridor from a transportation perspective, far better than an 82nd Avenue routing would have been.

Lastly, I think it’s a bit unfair to cherry pick a photo of the Yellow Line and call it ugly. Dan has probably hundreds of photos of the Yellow Line on his Flickr page, and while none of them show a rapidly densified TOD environment, many of them do show an attractive classic 1940s highway neighborhood that is, in point of fact, significantly improved economically since the 2004 opening. Folks who wish for rapid TOD development are indeed disappointed with the Yellow Line. I sympathize, but walking around the neighborhoods along the line I can hardly call it a failure. In point of fact I spend time there now I would not have in the past, purely due to the convenience in getting there.

Some of the same is true for the proposed Powell LRT, which is a similar configuration to 82nd on its stretch from the Ross Island Bridge out to 50th or so. East of there, though, there is an existing ROW, currently occupied by frontage roads, that was acquired for the Mt. Hood Freeway and could be re-purposed for LRT.

One would guess and hope that Powell MAX would be elevated from where it would branch off the Milwaukie line at about 15th to 50th.

It puzzles me as to why they made the line entirely grade separated from cars except for 1 street crossing (Flavel) and 1 park & ride parking lot exit (SE Main/Mall 205).

82nd is way too autocentric to change to TOD anyway whether LRT could fit or not.

Interstate is gradually changing, there was an article in the Oregonian today that the fire department is practicing on two old houses that were planned to be torn down for a new mixed use building that has been held up by the financing problems. Also there was the planned “Go By MAX” building that fell through. There are also a handful of brand new mixed use buildings that opened in the last few years. And Westside MAX is a whole other story, probably the best example of contemporary era TOD other than DC Metro.

Westside MAX, of course, had the advantage of an existing abandoned rail corridor to build in–one that had freight service in recent years prior to the MAX construction–and thus didn’t have a lot of existing housing along the route.

The other abandoned rail corridors in town are the Jefferson Street Branch, where LO streetcar is going, and the Springwater Corridor. Unfortunately, much of the Jeff branch line passes through already-developed upscale neighborhoods, so there ins’t much opportunity for TOD. The Springwater corridor passes through lots of low-density development (some of it rather blighted) and a few industrial properties–but lies within a floodplain; and is presently occupied by a trail.

Other than building in a freeway or street median, along an abandoned railroad, or underground–any other line in existing urban areas is going to be expensive–and disruptive.

If Portland grows, why not build a subway (and a real heavy rail one)? It’s probably cheaper than building 12 lane road bridges.

There’s been talk about eventually burying many of the MAX lines through downtown–right now, getting through downtown takes longer than it might otherwise.

We just built a subway for sewage, after all…

But that will probably come after the MAX system is expanded a bit more. Right now, the existing Steel Bridge crossing is not saturated; it could be expanded to four tracks, and the next lines “in the chute” (Milwaukie, Powell, Barbur, and Beaverton-to-Tigard) all either connect at the southern end of downtown, or don’t run downtown at all. Many of those are a long ways off; only Milwaukie MAX is anywhere near shovel-ready.

Any ways to expedite the process? I’m looking to Portland as a model to see how we can build transit lines to somewhere at the same speed we can build highways to nowhere.

The key issue is funding. Portland has done fairly well, considering that it doesn’t have a particularly powerful Congressional delegation–while both Senators are from the majority party, one’s a freshman and the other’s a third-termer. Many public works projects are funded by earmarks and other types of pork-barrel politics–including numerous roadworks to nowhere.

In reaction to several commenters’ points —

Brock argues that we should “move on and grow up” — but the whole point of the discussions presented in most of the pieces I write for the Transport Politic, is to consider the experience of decisions made on transportation systems in the U.S. and elsewhere. We shouldn’t move on before we learn from past mistakes.

LRT along 82nd would indeed be a difficult proposition, reducing the street to one lane in each direction for most of the corridor if LRT is to run in its own lane — this is why a streetcar there, running amongst cars, makes some sense, as EngineerScotty writes. I also remain unconvinced, despite Alexander Craghead’s assertion, that Interstate MAX has produced a nice street based on my experience there (though I admit things might have changed in the past few years). Foreign examples show that LRT can truly improve a boulevard – and Portland should look at its peers for the design future lines.

I remain convinced that the decision to place stations along a highway median is almost inevitably a bad one. Even so, it clearly wouldn’t have been preferable for Portland to build no LRT to Clackamas at all. Is this a better of the two evils decision? Perhaps.

Yet, as I see it, TriMet hasn’t done enough to justify its decision to run along I-205, because TOD is (or should be) such an integral element of transit construction. There should be comprehensive plans to deck the highway near stations and to upzone adjacent land; instead, what we get is a series of park-and-rides. That does not produce what this blog is (and hopefully most transit advocates are) pushing for: transportation not for the sake of transportation but rather in the interest of creating more livable cities.

Wow. Deck the highway. Any money for that? I mean, if some of the gas tax could go for that, I could start a list of blocks suitable for decking — like along the BQE, the Cross Bronx, the East River/FDR Drive, the Major Deegan, some tunnel approaches — and keep busy on the list for the rest of the year.

Deck the highway. It would be like plastic surgery for third degree burn victims. Deck the highway. Like surgical repair of cleft palates. Deck the highway. Like prosthetic devices for armless civil war survivors in Sierra Leone. Deck the highway. Yes! Let’s do it!

But I’m afraid it would turn out to cost not much less than the Big Dig and without the open-ended Interstate funding mechanism it’s just another tantalizing vision of a better world we’ll not live to see.

Sorry. Didn’t mean to drop a ton of bricks. It is a beautiful dream, and nothing wrong with that.

“Deck the highway” is actually a worthy goal for cities with deep scars gashed by the Interstates. And a deck is worth mentioning to remind us all of the ugliness of the wide, ugly, and often sunken highways.

In some places the numbers might work — when the real estate market returns. But no time soon because it’s never cheap to deck them over. And I wonder if Homeland Security issues would come into play.

Actually, I’d expect to see railroad tracks decked over long before many expressway scars get the plastic surgery they need. If the zoning immediately surrounding LIRR or even some subway stations in Queens allowed high-rise apartments, a deck over the tracks would make a desirable site for TOD. And any profits from the decked-over real estate development could help support better rail service.

Deck the highway. When traffic comes off the George Washington Bridge, the main flow dives into a trench that runs four or five blocks across the narrow neck of Manhattan before another bridge to the Bronx. A commuter bus station sits atop the trench, and three or four 30-story public housing towers.

At one point the conventional wisdom was that those towers were an unfortunate mistake, with an excess of noise and air pollution rising from the flood of cars and trucks below.

Now, I wonder if we shouldn’t squeeze a couple more towers onto new decks over the trench. Auto exhausts have been cut dramatically. Noise can be mitigated by double-glazed windows and other insulation.

Even in the older buildings I bet the residents think it’s not so bad a place. The views are world class, nearby parks line both rivers, plenty of shopping is nearby on Broadway and on 181st, and public transit connections can’t be beat.

I’m curious, Yonah–

you write that “as I see it, TriMet hasn’t done enough to justify its decision to run along I-205, because TOD is (or should be) such an integral element of transit construction.”

What level of justification would suffice?

Like most (if not all) projects, it was funding constrained–the green line was going there, or nowhere. There ARE opportunities for TOD because many neighborhoods along the line, particularly south of Foster Road, are somewhat blighted (the line passes through a swath of east Portland known locally as “felony flats”), and blighted areas are generally easier to redevelop than more upscale low-density tracts. Whether the resulting gentrification would be a good thing or not is of course debateable.

(OTOH, the Blue Line passes through Rockwood, a blighted unincorporated area between Portland and Gresham; and the area is still blighted after twenty years of MAX. But being in an unincorporated area that neither city wants to touch probably has an affect; the Green Line lies mostly within the city limits except for the very southernmost part.)

Greater opportunities for TOD exist east of the current terminus at Clackamas, in the Happy Valley/Damascus/Boring corridor. If and when these areas receive such development is an open question–Damascus, in particular, is hostile to the suggestion that it be further developed–but much of this region is an “open book”.

Woody, the failure of housing projects has nothing to do with highways, and everything to do with the fact that they, too, are a scar on the neighborhoods they’re in. They’re monolithic. They’re income-segregated. They don’t have streets in the same way traditional neighborhoods do, which means it’s easier for gangs to take control out of the public sight.

What you say about TOD opportunities near subway and commuter rail lines misses one of the most important facts about modern TOD: if there’s no opportunity for corruption and eviction of the poor, it won’t happen. In New York it’s represented by Atlantic Yards and Hudson Yards. In Portland it’s represented by thinking of TOD in terms of redeveloping the areas south of Foster – “they’re poor, so let’s destroy them and build pretty upscale towers.” The key for this TOD is to construct monolithic housing projects, just for the rich.

Alon, to be clear–I’m not endorsing that sort of TOD, wherein poor neighborhoods are targeted for elimination. It does happen, of course–many cities are more than happy to see low-income residents leave, for a multitude of reasons, and are frequently happy to use tax dollars to push them out the door.

Many of the successful TODs in Portland along MAX or streetcar lines–are upscale. Orenco, the Pearl and SOWA (with the caveat that the latter isn’t yet successful; it was just starting to be populated when the housing market crashed), Villebois down in Wilsonville–all of them cater to the upper middle class.

The good news for all of these is that they weren’t examples of gentrification–they displaced things like industrial areas, suboptimal farmland, and brownfields, not lower-income neighborhoods. Gentrification has occured in Portland (NW 23rd, Hawthorne, and now NE Portland), but it generally has not correlated with rail.

There aren’t any significant brownfields or derelict industrial areas along the I-205 corridor, unfortunately. North of Foster, there has already been quite a bit of infill and increased density in the area surrounding 82nd and the freeway–it’s rapidly becoming the hub of Portland’s Chinese community. But the area between Foster and Clackamas is, FTMP, blighted; with the exception of some rather upscale neighborhoods in the Altamont development on Mt. Scott (on the opposite side of the freeway from the tracks).

However, gentrification is a concern. Many “urban renewal” projects, touted as improving the lot of residents of poor neighborhoods, often instead result in their being forced to move elsewhere (to some other blighted neighborhood); this doesn’t require any corruption or malfeasance, either. When a place becomes more desirable, rents and taxes go up, and many people get priced out of their homes. Rent controls and similar policies can help slow this down–but such policies are invariably unpopular with everyone but the tenants they protect.

Coming late to this discussion, but I feel strongly that there is no absolute rule about whether freeways are the right place to build LRT. It depends on (a) what the alternatives are and what they cost, and (b) what redevelopment options are along the line.

For the regional rapid transit market the Green Line is designed to serve, an 82nd Avenue alignment would have been unacceptably slow. Build a streetcar there if you want to, but you weren’t going to get the speed and reliability on 82nd to serve the radial market all the way to Clackamas and beyond.

Remember that Green Line is not freeway median LRT. It’s all on the east side of the freeway so there is the potential for good pedestrian access from one side. In that respect it’s exactly like the Banfield Freeway segment of the original line, which has seen some redevelopment where the bones of the city are good, especially around Hollywood and 60th Avenue stations. Sure the freeway was a barrier, but light rail would never have happened without that virtually free Banfield right of way.

Finally, if redevelopment is your standard, note that there are still a lot of economic and cultural barriers outside core parts of Portland. A small highrise project around Beaverton Central station had big problems, and there hasn’t been much more at a highrise scale. Orenco was a unique greenfield station site and we haven’t seen similar outcomes in suburban settings where there was existing suburban fabric. Gateway, which now has rail lines in four directions, is still way underdeveloped, for reasons that have nothing to do with pedestrian access to the station. It comes down to problems with the urban structure, land ownership, etc. It’s hard to stimulate the first move.

Meanwhile, Portland does now have a radial rapid transit service to one of its main suburban nodes (where considerable new density is conceivable) plus additional frequency on the key Banfield segment. I say bravo.

A minor correction for Jarrett–the Green Line lies on the east side of the Freeway from Gateway to Division Street. Just north of Division Street it switches to the west side of the freeway (using a pre-existing tunnel built as part of the transitway), has grade separated crossings of both Division (parallel to the existing bypass ramp for Powell-bound traffice) and Powell (via a new elevated structure). It runs parallel to the west side of the freeway for the remainder of its route to Clackamas Town Center.

As noted above, only two at-grade crossings exist on the segment south of Gateway–one at an enterance to a park-and-ride, and the other where it crosses SE Flavel street. Elevated structures were built where the line crosses several key thoroughfares, including Powell, Foster, 92nd, and Johnson Creek Boulevard.

Alon — I wasn’t commenting on housing projects in general, but only about the three or four high-rise buildings on a decked over portion of interstate 80 where it passes through Washington Heights in Manhattan. Those buildings actually do fit into the street grid.

I’m sure they are income-segregated, but hey, most private housing is nowadays. Politicians make speeches about the virtues of small town America — where rich and poor, white and black often lived in very close proximity. Then those same politicians, and the developers who seem to control their decisions, go and approve zoning that, by requiring one or even two-acre lots, guarantees income-segregated neighborhoods that are usually racially segregated as well. That is normal in America.

Anyway, I don’t disagree with your larger points about public housing. But I was only looking at one very unusual example of it that was built on a deck over a major highway.

Former Portland mayor Vera Katz 10 years ago proposed decking I-405 in Downtown Portland. Eventhough it would literally be just a lid the cost was deemed too high. I seem to recall a certain demographic in the region really ridiculed it too, I think we all know who these are. So if it cant work in downtown, it will never work in suburban Portland.

Scotty, you mention the Springwater, do you know why this corridor has never been studied for MAX. I was amazed it didnt even get considered for the HCT plan a few months ago. Sure theres a trail there but it could be a trail with rail. I admit its kind of a weird line in that it has no existing business districts near the route and doesnt hit any destinations but that could change with a light rail line. Have a Springwater light rail branch off the proposed Milwaukie line at Tacoma MAX station and run out to Gresham. The part of the springwater between OMSI and Sellwood could be the new home for the Willamette Shore Trolley.

I’m sure the Springwater has been studied–it might not make the cut.

To sell TOD, it works best if there is a strong destination that you are going TO, at which point you develop neighborhoods along the under-used portions of the route. Springwater doesn’t really go anywhere useful from a transit perspective, at least not until you get to Gresham–but that’s already served by the Blue Line. (The proposed Powell Boulevard line, on the other hand, serves numerous established communities en route).

The corridor is what is left of some electric lines that went to various hydroelectric facilities in the mountains (one near Estacada, and another on Bull Run). Much of the route of the Blue Line in Gresham (the towntown segment) is built on what used to be a Springwater branch. The main purpose of these lines was connecting the electrified railroad to its power source, and transporting men and materials to the dams; though several towns (Estacada, Boring, Gresham) sprang up along the route. But much of the route is floodplain, along Johnson Creek, so TOD there would have issues.

Right now, the stretch of track between OMSI and Golf Junction (south of Sellwood) is still an active shortline, one of two branches of the Oregon Pacific (or “Samtrak” as its called–it’s a one man operation, literally).

I didnt realize Samtrak was still around, I thought they sold their equipment and that the only passenger traffic on the shortline was the occasional steam train run at xmas.

Yeah I envisioned the Springwater as being a second (or third) route to Gresham that was infilled with TOD. It certainly wouldnt start out serving a dense established neighborhood, but would over time.

Metro already publicized their selected HCT corridors and ranked them. Springwater was not listed, not even in long term or low priority phase.

Have admired your work for some time, now and was most impressed by the recent essay on maglev. As a nation we seem to be more and more “blinkered” as the blundering dim-wits in Washington demonstrate on an almost daily basis. In both Germany and Japan, the idea of magnetic levitation has -after the expend-iture of millions- been shown to be worthless and yet no one at the DOT or in congress has apparently bothered to review all the efforts made by those nations. The French, really the leaders in modern rail technology now, would have been all over this mode if it had any merit at all; instead, they have wisely directed all their efforts and funds toward TGV (HSR) and the city tramway. Keep up the good work !

Probably large park and rides are necessary for the success of the Green Line due to its running through low density suburban neighborhoods which do not have the capacity to support excellent local transit. And probably never will – you’re not going to get single family neighborhoods to allow multifamily housing anytime soon.

The larger question is the state of Portland’s bus system. Due to budget cuts the “frequent” transit network as well as other routes have been drastically reduced. Do you really think Portland is a major transit city if it’s most frequent bus routes now run every 18 minutes during non-rush hour periods? Perhaps instead of building more rail lines the city should take the money to make transit a viable alternative for people who do not live within walking distance of a rail station.


The service cutbacks on bus service are a response to the economic downturn–which has deprived Tri-Met of millions of dollars of payroll tax revenue; which makes up the lion’s share of its operating budget. Tri-Met has cut service before in downturns, and restored it afterwards.

It has always struck me as unfortunate, I guess, that many bus riders in Portland view MAX as “competition”–not as a valuable component to the system, but as an expensive boondoggle that detracts from Tri-Met’s true purpose, which in the reckoning of many is providing bus service to the city. In my view, bus riders complaining about the Green Line’s existence resulting in a lower level of service for busses (under the theory that there’s a zero-sum game being played) is about as productive as riders on the ONE bus line complaining about another bus line in a different part of town. You don’t see riders on the #33 calling for other bus routes to have service reduced or cancelled (even though some of them have terrible financial performance)–it’s accepted that they are part of the same system. But MAX gets viewed by some as a foreign body–as a tumor, spreading throughout the body and killing the patient. Many paranoid theories on the local transit blogs abound about how Tri-Met management is infested with “railfans” who intend to eventually kill off the bus system.


Keeping in mind that MAX’s construction costs come from a different pot o’ money, which could not be used to fund transit operations in any case–why would service on a train be viewed as a hostile competitor to your favorite local bus line, but another bus service in another neighborhood not be?

I do think its time for Portland/TriMet to throw significant money and effort into improving the bus system by increasing frequent service lines, expanding service and hours, converting a handful of bus lines to BRT, suburban express buses and buying articulated buses. But Portland’s bus system still is quite good and has had real time arrival info for all bus stops for 3 or so years. I also do think as Scotty does that bus and rail should complement each other and should be seen that way.

My feeling as to why light rail gets such angry opposition from certain people in the Portland region is that LRT & TOD single handedly are the guiding public policy for the region and local politics. All policy in the metro is about guiding growth and development around LRT stations especially downtown, the 20 minute neighborhood, encouraging density, taming the auto, sustainable transportion, and limiting sprawl. Even the whole Beavers baseball issue ties into LRT. And of course the Portland region is the only place I know where all you need to know is someones address in the region and you immediately know their politics and position on transit & TOD. If someone lives in Portland especially within 82nd you know there is almost unanimous support for light rail, bicycles and the entire regional public policy as mentioned. Beaverton and much of the Westside MAX line is about 60-70% support. If they live in a distant exurban community they almost entirely passionately hate the regional public policy, Portland, urbanity, bicycles, transit in general and most especially LRT.

I think the green line will see a lot of crosstown transfers with short trips entirely within the route from gateway to clackamas, a transfer from a 14 hawthorne at lents then ride up to the 9 powell. right now the 72 sees a lot of quick transfers and i could see a lot of these going over to the green line.

What surprises me are criticisms of Tri-Met and MAX from the left. Out in suburbia, you’ll find a lot of politically conservative folk who would rather we just build more freeways, rather than spend their tax money on transit projects they won’t ever use.

But many critics of MAX are from dedicated transit users, often of the bus system, who see MAX as a threat. Certainly, if you assume operations budgets are fixed, running one service here means you can’t run another service there without additional dollars. As trains are more expensive to operate than busses (on a fixed per/mile or per/hour basis, though NOT on a per-passenger mile basis when running even half full); rail is an easy target.

But I think the issue is one of scope–and is again the question of who the agency is serving, or ought to serve: Some are of the opinion that Tri-Met’s first priority should be the transit-dependent and carless, most of whom live close to town and value comprehensive service. MAX is geared significantly towards suburban commuters, and I think a few transit-dependent bus riders resent this change in focus somewhat–that getting people in Beaverton or Gresham to jobs downtown is not, and should not, be Tri-Met’s funding priority.

(This despite the fact “Tri” means tri-county and “met” means metropolitan–there’s a whole lot of “screw the burbs” attitude among some bus riders that I’ve noticed.)

Bad routing… I think I might agree….but I think it is still workable.

However, the advantage of the MAX running down the interstate is faster service. Why not improve and rely on frequent east-west service to connect more walkable neighbors and the MAX? I’m not very familiar with Portland, but I do imagine there are people wanting to travel east-west across the green line who’d also benefit from a transfer to a quick ride downtown.

Hey, there is one thing though: the side-of-the-highway alignment is a lot better for TOD than the middle-of-the-highway alignment chosen by a number of cities (Chicago’s Red and Blue line rebuilds come to mind). It does mean that there will be a “right side of the tracks” and a “wrong side of the tracks”, but it’s better than *all* access to the station crossing highway fumes.

Dear Yonah. Shut the fuck up. You’re probably suffering from Seattle Snoot Syndrome, a common Seattle mental condition that causes its victims to spout off ad nauseum about what they think they know, especially when it can include high-minded looking down on others. When it comes to rail system planning, even nationally-recognized Portland is not immune from sufferers of Seattle Snoot Syndrome. Get a clue. You don’t fucking know what you’re talking about. Here’s the truth – Portland rail planners have given up trying to understand how Seattle can it so wrong so often. National leaders in the know consider Seattle’s Link LRT system the nation’s worst new start and the example to avoid.

Uh, Wells, was that necessary? (And is the same Wells who usually writes interesting stuff on, or someone with the same pseudonym engaging in some rather juvenile and trollish behavior)?

I didn’t see any references to Link, pro or con, in the above–and given that Seattle’s LRT is intended mainly as a regional connector, comparisons with MAX are of limited value anyway.

It irks me to read Seattlers trash-talking Portland. Hah! What Seattle has so far is a conservative rail opponents best example of how NOT to build light rail. The perfect transit line for luxury air travellers to reach their downtown accommodations in sanitized safety. No free rides for the rabble on this train. The next big investment will be to reach the ivory tower institute, conveniently near where the most war-like of spectator activities – football – is conducted under the pre-requisite influence of intoxicating beverages, and where their off-spring may sell themselves for a diploma. Big money! Big money! Regional connector, my foot. The only part Sound Transit did right was rebuilding MLK, very much like Portland’s Yellow Line on Interstate, put down by our host here who like many others in Seattle can’t figure out what’s happening and can’t follow decent examples found elsewhere, the Seattle Snooty Syndrome personified.

Light rail, Engineer Scotty, are ‘anti-commute’ systems. They’re best able to direct suburban development and thus reduce the need to do the traditional downtown commute, cross-county commute and other long-distance travel. Once such a urban/suburban balance is perfected, the rush hour jam is supplanted with more off-rush hour travel demand in both directions of travel on light rail, thus filling their seats more fully and predictably around the clock. The number of cars on trainsets need not be more during rush hours, and this reduces the platform construction costs. As for the other complaints about TODs and station area development, our host should give some thought to transfer systems. It’s NOT the transfer that discourages transit patrons, it’s the length of time waiting to transfer. The Bellevue line could be installed on the Lake Washington RR line with a convenient transfer system, but Kemper Freeman can’t be correct about that principle because he’s anti-light rail. Development along a convenient transfer system is greater than around the otherwise intended light rail station. Oh, Seattlers are so smart. Vote 4 McGinn.

I have no idea where Yonah hails from–and I have never seen him “trash talk” Portland or any city on this blog; you need to dial down the sensitivity meter. While I disagree with the strength of his route criticism, I didn’t see any big-city ‘tude reflected in his post.

I will admit to being clueless on Seattle transit politics, other than laughing at all the “SLUT” jokes.

Suffice it to say, Link fills a different niche than MAX. Whether it is useful niche, or (as you seem to be suggesting) transit infrastructure for the wealthy that’s otherwise useless, I’ll take a pass–other than to note that this seems to be a common objection to any sort of inter-urban rail.

I’ll also note that Portland’s Fareless Square ain’t as progressive as you seem to think–it’s paid for by a local business subsidy these days (its initial clean air rationale has long been moot), and primarily covers the central business and tourist district downtown. That does include a somewhat blighted area (old town), but other than the large number of homeless which concentrate around the downtown social service agencies, most of Portland’s poor live in far-flung areas, many of them unincorporated. (Or in pockets of unincorporated land surrounded by a city–there are a few trailer parks near the Blue Line, completely surrounded by the City of Beaverton, but which aren’t part of the city–the city doesn’t really want additional low-income residents, and the landlord is happy his tax bill stays lower).

Wells —
Temper tantrums don’t look any better in print than they do when the two-year-old is lying on the floor kicking and screaming. You mention intoxicating beverages, but I wonder what mood-altering substance you’ve been using.

And a pity your froth about Seattle Snoot Syndrome (which comes across as ‘Portland Inferiority Feelings Syndrome’) was such a turn-off, even for me, a Texan living in NYC, and probably more so for Yohah, also not from Seattle.

I hope that other readers did not tune out too soon. Because your Comment #40, about light-rail being anti-commute, was new to me and quite insightful. If you feel better in the morning, you should try to work up this observation about leveling off peak-hour costs into a larger Comment, with more examples. But thanks for starting me to thinking about light rail in a new way.

I sincerely apologize. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. I’ve worked too hard, too long on Seattle projects and been handed a ration of shit for my efforts. Seattle is in dire straits. The entrenched planning bureaus there and in Olympia have exhibited a level of incompetence so profound, corruption cannot be ruled out. Portland is recognized as building one of the nation’s most successful transit systems, and Seattle’s plans get people shaking their heads in perplexity. Something is rotten in Denmark.

Of course, Portland has a high percentage of bicycle users, do they count?

The aforementioned article seems a bit suspicious in that they treat cities rather than metros–Oakland and San Francisco are both in the top 10, and listed separately. Given that many transit users in Oakland are folks riding BART across the bay to jobs in the city or the valley, is that a good methodology? A similar situation exists may exist with Seattle.

A big driver of transit usage among choice users, of course, is congestion–and the traffic in Seattle is famously worse than Portland (which isn’t all that bad, comparitively speaking). And of course, Calgary has a highly disjointed freeway network, in some ways reminiscent of Vancouver BC–a factor which makes transit more attractive.

But still, interesting results. Nice to be in the Top 10.

I would disagree, since Seattle has an excellent express bus and HOV system that serves more suburban commuters than Portland’s weak freeway system. Two lanes in each direction through the heart of town? Come on. Last Friday I was on a C-Tran bus to Vancouver, stuck for 45 minutes on I-5 (the bus got on the freeway at 5 to 6, just when the carpool lane turned into a pumpkin). 45 minutes to go 8 miles (not counting the additional 15 minutes once the bus left the freeway to get to Fisher’s Landing). I grew up in LA and have sat in traffic, and even LA traffic isn’t that bad… you can generally go 11 miles in those 45 minutes, like on the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass. Seattle’s HOV network generally works, and service through downtown FEELS fast because of the bus tunnel and HOV lanes, as well as the dedicated ROW through the central segment. Meanwhile, Portland FEELS like molasses – definitely true in downtown (30 minutes from west end of the Robertson Tunnel to Lloyd Center, a distance of 3.3 track miles), but speeds up once you get into the dedicated ROW sections.

During rush hour, Portland traffic IMHO rivals that of LA for low speed. (It doesn’t for time, since LA traffic can spill over into different dayparts, while Portland traffic… with the notable exception of I-5 between Lake Oswego and Killingsworth – is non-congested the rest of the day.) Thus, transit is the least bad of the options, although I wonder if bicyclists eastbound get off at Lloyd Center and pedal downtown. They likely would get to work faster than staying on the train.

Now the Seattle light rail system is way over-built, with BART-like stations for a light rail, and way overserved, with 10 minute service well into the evening, seven days a week. Eventually, it will probably be cut back to Phoenix-level frequencies (20 in the evening and on Sundays).

Overall, having observed both cities, the Seattle model of express buses serving big centers and park and rides alike works like it would for a first-tier city, while Portland’s slow, but frequent and closely-spaced transit, works well for that community. I would probably choke someone if I were forced to live in Portland, but for the people that live there, it seems to work well.

In theory, “Faster is slower, and, slower is faster.”

Portland’s MAX runs slowly along surface streets through the city center, 20 minutes to go 4 miles. Some say a fast subway is necessary. But it’s likely the freeway traffic would get worse with a subway. The real factor generating overwhelming amounts of commuting by car and transit is the nature of suburban development. A subway is an attempt to accommodate an amount of commuting that it can’t handle nor can freeways, obviously. Though a subway may increase the number of transit users, an even greater number of car commuters will be generated if the nature of suburban development remains the same. Faster is slower.

Vancouver has a population of some 160,000, about 60,000 commuting to Portland weekdays. Vancouver plans to develop more housing further out in typical suburban sprawl style. And, opposition to extending ‘slow’ MAX light rail to Vancouver and then Vancouver Mall remains, though it would focus housing in high-density clusters and bring jobs of all kinds by which Vancouverites would reduce their need to commute to Portland. Slower is faster.

Seattlers do not understand this theory…

“Faster is slower, and, slower is faster.”

Correction: Here’s first part of the first paragraph that got lost in posting:

Portland’s MAX runs slowly along surface streets through the city center, 20 minutes to go 4 miles. Some say a fast subway is necessary. But it’s likely the freeway traffic would get worse with a subway. The real factor generating overwhelming amounts of commuting by car and transit is the nature of suburban development.

But it’s likely the freeway traffic would get worse with a subway.

Why? This is not observed in cities that actually do have subways.

The real problem with Portland is that unlike Calgary, it never decided to make light rail its primary mode of commuting. Calgary not only had reserved ROW since the 1960s, but also avoided building freeways to compete with light rail. Even the nationally important Trans-Canada Highway is not built to freeway standard within central Calgary; only one north-south link is a full freeway through the city. This contrasts with the pattern of freeways going through city centers in all US cities except New York and San Francisco.

I would be much more happier happy if the Portland light rail would go 20 minutes in four miles. It doesn’t. Objectively, it is 30 minutes for 3.3 miles.

And I agree with Alon, it is demonstrably false that freeway traffic gets worse with a subway. The Bay Bridge, for example, didn’t get more congested when BART opened. It was slow 40 years ago, and slow today. While BART generates suburban sprawl of its own, it provides a service to enhance the downtowns of Oakland and San Francisco. If BART didn’t exist, and the Bay Area freeway system was built as planned, you would likely see the edge cities of San Ramon, Foster City, Walnut Creek, etc. develop just as fast, with other centers at the intersection of freeway interchanges, forever immune to transit use by choice riders.

Is there a reason they dont install sound walls next to transit stations near the freeway?

i’m thinking of the lines that run along freeways in portland, sacramento, san jose, los angeles (green line/harbor transitway/el monte), BART, denver, chicago, etc. and i cant think of any with sound walls protecting the stations from freeway noise. i believe they do however with the DC Metro, MARTA and Boston’s Savin Hill Station.

jon — I’m afraid I can see how that would play out. Building the sound walls would come out of the transit budget. In other words, the victims of the noise pollution would have to pay for protection from it. That’s because, “highways pay for themselves,” and the rest of us pay all their external costs, including their noise.

Dont worry Woody, TriMet paid for a new sound wall along parts of I-205 with the green line project. Its primarily for mitigating the sound of the freeway than the trains, though shields from both.

What I’m talking about is placing a soundwall between the station platform and the freeway (and not the transport corridor and the adjacent neighborhood, which is more common). I see it more as mitigating the existing conditions. This is where the freeway is already in place and the rail line is being added alongside. I’m not suggesting that they built a sound wall the whole length of the freeway or rail line, but rather just where the stations are.

Sure some will say having a sound wall next to a station is unpleasant but I think the constant loud never-ending sound of cars and trucks zooming by and trucks jake-braking is many times worse (nevermind the exhaust pollution).

Theres also something not pleasant about seeing vehicles zoom by in the direction you are going while you wait on the platform for your vehicle to arrive. My guess is that plays into ones head and further explains why transit along freeways is less attractive to riders. At least a wall would block the view of traffic both clogged and free-flowing.

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