In this time of local congestion and dwindling funding, how convenient is it to walk to your local rapid transit station, rather than taking your car?
If you live in southeast Portland, Oregon, as I do, the answer is frustrating. On a recent weekday morning, I circled around to a couple of end-of-line terminals near the Portland Expo Center looking for a place to park and pick up a lock. They were completely full. Once I drove down to the station and tried to park, a car code indicated that the door was closed. The station attendant couldn’t help me. There were six cars completely full at the station – just like the others behind me. There was nowhere for me to park, but there were numerous other parking lots available.
The city of Portland needs to rethink and streamline how they manage their rapid transit lines. Today I’m not satisfied with the cards they’ve been dealt.
As someone who rode the streetcar on a daily basis to work and who commutes to the Expo Center to see relatives once a year, I’m convinced this was another example of the city getting a great deal of taxpayer money, then doing absolutely nothing to actually make the system any better.
The system’s budget is slated to be about $140 million over the next decade. That sounds like a lot. But when you consider that only one stop is built in downtown Portland, the system is nearly equal to running two local buses for one mile. The number of trips made each day is a mere 8,000. There is no general circulation bus network and the closest of the streetcar stops is four miles away.
Despite the fact that the light rail system was never supposed to be an express system and is located at the end of a red traffic light, people will gladly line up for a chance to cut traffic. What’s the problem?
My understanding is that the system was supposed to be a “second-class” rail line that would, by adding cars to its line, allow regional transit officials to build out a general circulator bus network that would be faster, more frequent and better than any that existed today. Yet, there is no bus-borne line that connects to the light rail in downtown or to all of the stops located at the Expo Center. This single light rail line might be too expensive to serve existing bus stops, leaving system customers with an inferior system.
The other problem is that the train stops are located on what is known as “highway onramps,” which are intended to allow cars to leave the highway before the light rail arrives. My suspicion is that many of the parked cars at the system’s stops were people who had quit their jobs, taken the opportunity to leave their vehicles behind, and tried to take advantage of the opportunity. Having little to no storage would undoubtedly add to the congestion of the line during rush hour. At best, these cars should have been parked on private property, at least behind a fence.
But ultimately, this is about an inadequate deal for the taxpayers. The city of Portland needs to rethink and streamline how they manage their rapid transit lines. Today I’m not satisfied with the cards they’ve been dealt. With so many people looking for somewhere to park, it’s clear the public transportation system is suffering.
I understand the plan and the rationale behind it. And I know the politicians from both parties in Portland are hard at work on it. But it’s time to call a change in course and force a full-scale re-investment in transit infrastructure. That should include all lines as well, not just a poor downtown light rail system that’s years overdue.
Brad E. Brooks is a transportation policy analyst and lawyer based in Portland, Oregon. He is a past board member of Transit Voters of Oregon.