Monday, August 1, 2011

TRI & GET - a look at public transportation in Portland, OR

The citizens of Portland, Oregon did two amazing things in the late 1960's and early 1970's: it tore out an existing freeway and stopped another freeway from being built [ and]. In fact, the removal of Harbor Freeway along Portland's west side riverbank and the death of the Mt. Hood Freeway is the stuff of urban and environmentalism lore. The money which had already been allocated for the building of the Mt. Hood Freeway did not go to rebuilding Portland's legendary streetcar system but instead went to building light rail.

In Portland, Tri Met, shorten from the original Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon, is in charge of public transportation. The light rail is known as MAX, shorten from Metropolitan Area Express. For the purposes of this blog post, the entire affair is referred to as Tri & Get, which is shorten from your own personal story known as Try And Get Where I Want To Go On Time.

So it was, light rail instead of rebuilding one of the greatest mass transit electric streetcar systems in the nation. Did the new light rail get built along the original Mt. Hood Freeway route? Of course not, the first MAX line ran along an existing freeway (I-84 on the east side) and an existing highway (#26 on the west side). A pure boondoggle if there ever was one. Three branch lines have been added since the first one in 1986 with another currently being built: a line that branches off to the airport, a line that branches off and follows I-205 to end at a shopping mall, a line that branches off and follows Interstate Avenue, which lost its bus line and finally a line branching off to head to Milwaukie. Meanwhile, Tri & Get's existing bus lines have seen service reduced or lines totally eliminated.

Tri & Get operates what is known as a "spoke and hub" route system which was fine back in 1960 when most people worked and shopped downtown. Not so today, or even 25 years ago. On the east side of Portland, where I reside, there are only four north/south routes, since the spoke and hub dictates that most lines run west/east. Here is where the try and get of Tri & Get really comes into play. To get from my place to North Portland, for example, takes more than twice as long as driving a car, sorta negating the whole "get cars off the road" argument. Because of the spoke and hub the "fastest" way has me traveling from south east to downtown, waiting 10 to 20 minutes to transfer to another line to go north. If for whatever reason (bus is late) I miss that transfer, well, I can always wait downtown for the next bus or train and be late for my appointment.

That Tri & Get has not made any moves to remove its outmoded spoke and hub system exposes not only their arrogance but the continued boondoggle nature of spending funding on looks good/feels good projects which do little if anything to address public transportation needs. The citizen's victories of the late 1960's and '70's certainly seem hollow indeed in today's light. I'm sure out there, many of you have your own Tri & Get tale(s) of woe. Please share.

1 comment:

Al M said...

Great essay, thanks!