Friday, April 10, 2009

Portland Continues to Expand LRT While We Just Think About It

Portland's MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) light rail system will soon add a fourth route. The MAX is a 44 mile LRT system that runs east-west with 64 stations. The Eastside MAX Blue Line runs 15 miles east and connects Portland to Gresham and opened in 1986. Westside MAX Blue Line runs 18 miles and connects Portland west to Hillsboro.

The MAX Red Line (or Airport MAX) connects Portland to PDX Airport running 5.5 miles northwest from Gateway Transit Center to PDX and cost $125M to build. The new $350M Interstate MAX Yellow Line runs 5.8 miles and connects Expo Center in North Portland to downtown Portland and the rest of the transit system.

For about 1 1/2 years I have watched the new rail in the street near the PDX AMTRAK station that I use each trip. As the line would service the Pearl District hotel that I usually stay at, I have been greatly anticipating the opening of this line. Imagine my surprise as I was leaving Portland this week and found this in front of my AMTRAK station!

This two phase I-205/Portland Mall MAX is scheduled to open in the Fall of this year. The first phase is a 6.5 mile I-205 LRT that will bring service out to Clackamas County, Milwaukie and Southeast Portland and will run along Interstate Hwy. 205. The second phase is called the Portland Mall Extension that will allow direct downtown connections from the PDX Union Station AMTRAK station to Portland State University (PSU) and very close to my favourite Portland hotel! It will be called the MAX Green Line and will run a total of 8.3 miles. The Green Line will have 15 new stations and provide for 2,000 park and ride 

The transit systems in Portland are run by the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (Tri-Met). They have been tasked with implementing an efficient light rail network that will attract new development, while at the same time NOT bringing a disproportionate growth in road traffic. 83% of riders choose Tri-Met over their cars. Four fifths of Tri-Met riders have a car, but choose to ride the LRT and bus. 

Investments worth $2.4B has occurred along the MAX line since building it, not to mention ongoing property taxes collected. It's interesting to note that the Westside MAX travels through stretches of undeveloped lands. The line has attracted 7,000 housing developments and $500M in new transit-oriented communities that are within easy walking distance of the stations. 

On the development front, the $125M Airport MAX has opened up a 120 acre transit-oriented development near the PDX airport entrance that is scheduled to complete in 2015. Part of the MAX Green Line was put down in a street filled with empty warehouses with broken windows way before this line would open. The area now looks much like our Vancouver's Yaletown, with trendy apartments and urban shops. 

I travelled out to Clackamas this trip. I took a street car from my hotel to a MAX train, and then on to 3-4 buses to reach my destination, a strip mall in Clackamas. It took about 66 minutes from start to finish. The new MAX Green Line will make that trip MUCH faster, as none of my buses travelled anywhere near the highway.   

The new MAX Green was being tested here near the AMTRAK station. I couldn't resist having a chat with the friendly Tri-Met engineers here. It must be a very rewarding job for them because they appeared to be as excited as I was about MAX Green. 

Portland, Oregon is a great Light Rail Transit city. Instead of wires (masked on most streets by trees) and broken up roads, these trains allow for beautiful brick intersections like this one above that make this city shine. Most areas of the downtown core in Portland are virtually litter free and people go out of their way to find a recycle bin. As I travelled through the downtown campus of Portland State University (PSU), I hadn't seen so many bicycles since my many work visits to China. 

I believe that this emphasis on sexy transit, connectivity to work, school, housing, and play all combine to make a city peaceful and easy to get around. As Portland's motto says on all public works and other city vehicles, Portland "The City That Works"

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