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My problem with TriMet is simply one of accountability. The governor is the only elected official in its management chain, and it would be a strange gubernatorial election that hinged on TriMet performance. It's hard for me to make the case for increasing the funding for TriMet when that bureaucracy doesn't have direct oversight by elected officials (Metro, say). I'd much rather have the Portland Streetcar under City control, because then we can have much more influence on its operation and expansion.

Brian Libby

Good points, Barry - so much so that I amended my original post a little bit to incorporate them.

Alexander Craghead

Brian, some interesting and thoughtful points. A few responses:

1.) MAX doesn't quite yet reach into every suburban area. Southwest is as yet without decent rapid transit. WES doesn't count, being a peak hours weekdays only service, and there's a lot of can of worms aspects there, but until the Barbur-Tigard corridor gets a rapid transit line, the system isn't quite fully built out. And, noting your own comments about the migration of lower income and ethnic populations, I think decent rapid transit out here is critical.

(FUll disclosure, I live in Tigard, but for various reasons I will not go into here and now, the arrival of MAX or any other rapid transit to this area of the metro region will likely have no personal bearing on my life.)

2.) One of the problems with Portland Streetcar -- and there are many -- is that is is first and foremost a redevelopment tool. If we expand the system as outlined by the Streetcar System Plan, then that means either a.) it will continue to bring redevelopment with it, forever altering core historic neighborhoods in dramatic ways, or, b.) it will have to be re-tasked to be a transportation mode first. I don't see the latter happening without a merger into TriMet as you suggested, or at least some kind of more unified planning system.

3.) Above all of this, there's a real equity issue here if we freeze the expansion of regional investments -- MAX -- in order to spend money on a transportation mode often seen (perhaps wrongly) as fluffy and lifestyle oriented for a predominantly white, upper-middle-class, liberal, urban demographic. As it is, the rhetoric of many disenfranchised communities is that the streetcar represents a toy for an establishment culture. Note, I'm not saying that's right. But I am saying that's the present and very strong rhetoric. Even geographic distribution of streetcar lines to less core areas -- say Gateway or Lents -- is likely to be seen as a kind of cultural imperialism.

My big concerns are that we don't lose the metropolitan notion of transit. The irony here is that, in some ways, Clackamas County opponents and I agree: this is about "Portland creep," but I don't see it as "Portland" so much as advancement and progress. One of the many ways that a metropolitan city can be measured is by how integrated transit makes that city, which is why, for so many of us, great cities are synonymous with great transit systems. Chicago *is* the CTA and Metra. San Francisco *is* the MUNI and BART (and the cable cars, and the F-Line). Vancouver *is* SkyTrain. When you have a ticket for these, you have, in effect, a ticket for the entire city, and thus a ticket to interact with millions of people with diverse ideas, talents, cultures, and business opportunities. Metropolitan scale transit systems become great personal enablers.

My fear with things like streetcar is that we turn inward, that we become more interested in concentrating on the fine-scale details of specific places and lose the metropolitan focus. One of the aspects that streetcar development planners like to tout -- this is straight out of CNU territory -- is that maybe distance and speed don't matter, and instead, the streetcar may draw certain kinds of development and thus lessen the need for someone along the route to travel many miles for their desired destination. And that sounds great in many ways, but it ignores what I would argue is the greatest importance of transit: connecting the most amount of people with each other.

Transit isn't for improving an individual's access to things, it's for improving an individual's access to other people. That is what makes transit great, and I fear that, much as I adore it, streetcar (at least at present) doesn't do this well, and MAX is only part of the way there.


Nice article!
And you didn't even get on the union bashing boat ride!

Doug Kelso

The only problem is that TriMet is largely out of Portland's hands - it is accountable to the governor rather than any city leaders. And that may be the other massive sea change necessary in the coming years: a greater ability for Portland's metro area to determine its own fate on transit.

By statute, Metro can take over Tri-Met any time they want to. Thus far, Metro hasn't wanted to -- perhaps because they would inherit all of the headaches Tri-Met is having right now. If they did so, however, the region's voters would have a lot more input into Tri-Met governance through elected Metro counsellors.

Fred Leeson

While talk of political accountability is nice, the sad fact is that if TriMet had been subject to direct political control, MAX never would have been built or expanded. We have the rail system today because dedicated transit experts struggled to make it happen. MAX would NEVER win at the polls. We'd have the Mt. Hood Freeway instead. I lived through that era and reported about it at the time. Transit never would have had a chance. And I don't think it would now, either. You can see the resistance today in Clackamas County. Nothing has changed.

Doug Kelso

Fred: In between the first MAX line and the current resistance in Clackamas County, Tri-Met area voters approved Westside MAX by an 80-20 margin and South/North MAX by 60-40. A regional majority voted "yes" on the statewide transportation package that would have included light rail funding for S/N (it was defeated outside the Metro area) and a regional vote on a shorter version of the project failed by a narrow 52-48 margin while sharing the ballot with multiple competing bond measures.

I'm pretty sure that with that track record, a good MAX project could win at the polls, and direct political control of Tri-Met wouldn't kill light rail.


As a resident of SW Portland with two daughters who use TriMet regularly, I am frustrated seeing my bus service cut-back and stops eliminated, in the same the year city plans for sidewalks on major arterials in SW are cancelled. My daughters will have to walk or bike a gravel shoulder on Taylor Ferry to get to the Barbur Transit Center unless I drive them. In contrast, there was apparently money to convert the Barbur Transit Center parking lot medians to bioswales. While I support bioswales in general, of course I place to safety of my children far above transit center bioswales. Riders could more easily bare the months of construction and disruption for the bioswales project if they didn’t see their bus lines being cut at the same time.

I wonder how many sidewalks could have been built for the cost of the new Gibbs Street Pedestrian Bridge. However without a pedestrian bridge, South Waterfront Park would only have a Trolley line, an aerial tram and a NEW Max line. I think the PDC calls that “blight.”

Fred Leeson

The Gibbs Street bridge was intended to help remedy some of the MANY devastations the neighborhood suffered at the hands of Interstate-5, the Ross Island bridge-ramp tangle and Barbur Boulevard. (Not to mention as a sop to the over-wrought protestations against the tram.) I agree with Linder on the need for sidewalks. As a parent and walker, I wouldn't live in one without them. Sidewalks are a sign of civilization.


My neighborhood also “suffers” the effects of I-5 and Barbur Blvd, but no remedies in the 20 years I have lived here. In the same year the city built the tram (when a bus could have worked) the city also supported closing my neighborhood’s exceptional, well-attended elementary school, to which my children could walk or bike. Instead busing our children through the I-5 / Barbur Blvd / Capital Hwy tangle to a seismically unsafe school that district now says should be torn-down. As a parent and walker, I wouldn't live in a neighborhood without a neighborhood school, but ours was stolen by apathetic city planners. Not even a plan for a pedestrian bridge. This is about spending priorities and outlying neighborhoods (and their taxes) being taken for granted.

What happened to all those perfectly serviceable bus stops downtown that TriMet “needed” to replace? We could use them in the other neighborhoods.

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