Tuesday, April 8, 2008


The Portland Streetcar in Downtown Portland
This is a tale of two regions, and how they deal with getting people around. First lets start out with what makes Metro Vancouver (GVRD) and Metro Portland good cities to compare. Portland has a regional population of 2.3 million while Vancouver has a regional population of 2.2 million, both regions have more people living out in the ‘burbs than the core city, they also have transportation pattern which have people going more and more from suburb to suburb than to the city core. Another important similarity is that both regions have growth boundaries. We have the agricultural land reserve which acts as an urban growth boundary; while in Portland, Oregon State has urban growth boundary legislation. One final point, Portland and Vancouver both have congested highways and both fought-off highways ripping through their city cores. Vancouver being more successful (until 2008), but I digress…

There is a big difference between Vancouver and Portland. Portland has invested in Light Rail Transit (LRT) in a big way since the 1980’s and the results show. The following numbers are for transit only trips. This doesn’t include complex things like driving part way, or biking part way, etc.

12% of all trips in Portland are by transit compared to 10% for all of Vancouver. While this might seem like a small difference, once you brake down the numbers there are some interesting connections to be made. In Vancouver and Burnaby, 17.5% of all trips are by transit. In Surrey 4.4% of all trips are by transit and in Langley it is even lower with 1.2%. Guess where rail transit is? Vancouver and Burnaby… hmm. Let’s look at Portland, and specifically the City of Hillsboro. Hillsboro is community at the edge of the Portland region with a population of 84,445 much like the Langleys at the end of the GVRD with a population of 117,332. Both have “old” downtowns and growing areas around it. Unlike Vancouver though, the planners of Portland decided to build their LRT system out to Hillsboro before the “population warranted it” to get people to use transit, and to help with transit-oriented developments. Since the line opened in 1998, they have seen an explosion of ridership on the line. Ridership grows faster then the population each and ever year. Today 7.7% of all trips in Hillsboro are by transit only. Compare that to the Langleys' 1.4%.

Besides ridership, the LRT line to Hillsboro has attracted over $825 million worth of development within walking distance of the line. The LRT system also captures 26% of all trips to downtown Portland on the Hillsboro line. Portland has over 70km of light rail and they are building more. They have noticed that wherever they build a light-rail line, transit ridership dramatically increased. They are even building a WestCoast Express system between two suburbs that doesn’t even go into downtown Portland. The South of Fraser area in Vancouver has about 4km of rail transit. Just like building more road will attract more cars, building light rail will attract transit users. If we want to be the greenest region in North America, we need to be finding ways of getting people out of their cars, and light rail is a good way to do it and 4km is not enough.

Enough about that, I’ve included some picture of the MAX system, and the downtown Portland streetcar (which is really cool, and really popular, and a whole other story.)
Looking from a Portland Streetcar to
a MAX LRT train in downtown Portland

PS. All the numbers are from TriMet (Portland Area Transit), Stats Canada, and the US Census Bureau

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