22 February 2008

First Rail Post

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.


Anonymous said...

Hello. I live in Portland, in the inner NE part of the city, and I work downtown. I'm a frequent bus commuter. I live near two bus lines and there is a third bus line that runs near our neighborhood school, which our child attends. This morning we walked to school, I dropped him off, and then hopped on the bus to work. Another mom/neighbor joined me on the bus and we got to catch up for the first time since the winter holidays. This is what I love about public transportation. I mention this because, while our buses win no awards, they are the unsung yeomen of our transit system.

I've also commuted by lightrail and have used both lightrail and street car to get from my office to appointments and to my child's day care when he was younger. And I did the tourist thing on the tram, rode it roundtrip and took a lot of great photos. Did you see it/catch a ride on it? I think the only folks who "commute" by tram are the people who work at the med school who use it to go back and forth between campuses.

I discovered your blog because I know someone who is moving to Cincinnati with kids.

I know you were focused on the street car, and that you only had four days. However, next time you are in town, you may want to check out some of the east side neighborhoods which are rapidly filling with young families. North Portland in particular would be of likely interest to you.


Anonymous said...

I have used Metro here in cincinnati when my Son was about 8 months old. Folding up the stroller and feeding the $1 all while holding my son in 1 arm and the stroller around my shoulder is not fun, not to mention the rude bus driver that started driving even before I started walking down the aisle on a bus with no seats left. The streetcar would have been nice.

Anonymous said...

Here's a good place to start if you're interested in neighborhoods beyond downtown:



Anonymous said...

Yeah, I hear ya, re babies on public transit. Although, the street car is no different in that regard. I found that "wearing" my baby in a sling was easiest. The whole thing becomes more challenging with toddlers (isn't everything more challenging with toddlers?).


Anonymous said...

The other thing to know about the streetcar (which I think was mentioned by the author of the blog) is that there's just one line. So, unless your point of origin and destination are along or near the street car, you're out of luck.

In my case, I take the street car to the eye doctor from my office. I walk 5-6 blocks to the street car, which stops about a block from the doctor's office. I also have the option of a bus (there's almost always the option of the bus if you're going to/from downtown), but this is the only time I get to commute by street car, and the street car *is* fun.

In any event, this is why most of us, even in Portland, commute by unglamorous bus. Although, there *are* loads of bicycle commuters. In my smallish office, two people commute by bike, rain or shine, and there are about 6-7 other fair weather bike commuters.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and just a minor correction WRT light rail. In addition to going to the airport (which is in the city) and the western suburbs of Beaverton and Hillsboro, the light rail goes through the east side of the city to the eastern suburb of Gresham (a separate line from the airport line), and into urban N Portland (a fourth line).

But your sense that the light rail is mainly for suburban commuters is correct (with the exceptions of the airport and N Portland lines). I used it when I had a job in Hillsboro and, a few years later, when I had my child in day care in N Portland. There are planned extensions to the light rail into other suburban locations (Tigard, Milwaukie, and Vancouver, WA are often mentioned).


CityKin said...

Thanks for the input Portlanders. I sometimes forget that someone outside of Cincy may read this blog. And yes I do understand the MAX rail line splits into two lines on both the east and west, but for my audience I didn't think more detail was needed.

Yes I rode the tram and thought it was way cool, but my camera was out of batteries at that moment, so no blog post about it.

One of the things I want to address in my next post is how much better it is to pay your fare before entering the bus or train. Standing in line on bus steps while everyone juggles for change is the kind of thing that loses ridership and time.

Anonymous said...

Citykin: I think I'm the only Portlander posting (Neisha aka anon -- I signed at the bottom of my posts, to save on the hassle of getting a Google account, etc.).

Rail is awesome, it's just that we don't have enough of it in Portland to replace the convenience of buses for those of us who live in close-in urban neighborhoods -- which is most families who live in the city (there are more dogs than kids downtown). The streetcar isn't the London Underground.

Our downtown is small enough that you can pretty much walk everywhere -- that's what I did when I lived downtown. Although, if there had been the streetcar back then, I probably would have taken it (and been slightly chubbier as a result -- heh).

Most people who commute by bus either buy a monthly bus pass or buy a book of tickets in advance. So, there's no real fumbing for fare. You just open your wallet and flash your pass. And our bus drivers are generally kind about waiting for wheelchairs and strollers.

Having said all this, if you can get streetcar in Cincinnati -- go for it. The more transit the better. Whatever you can do to get people our of their cars. Good luck!