Lessons from Portland – Transit

During my recent trip to Portland, I did something that I rarely, if ever do when I am at home – I took transit. Why is that? Is there something about different transit systems that make them more or less useable than others? I would argue that of course there is! When a system is designed to be used, you can tell. Everything about the Portland system is complete and user friendly. From the weather protected bus shelters with their digital displays telling you what busses are coming and how low the wait is going to be, to the efficient and quite cost effective ticketing and pass validation system, Portland definitely wants you to use their transit system. There are transit maps at every stop so if you havn’t used your smart phone to plan your route on their incredibly user friendly website, you can use the old fashion but beautifully designed old school app.

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Portland’s system is made up of buses, trains and street cars. It would be very easy to say that they take you everywhere that you want to go, but that would be misleading. I have read that much of the recent development in Portland has gravitated to new locations adjacent to the various networks of transit lines. Transit has influence development to such an extent that the places that you likely want to go have moved to a location along a transit route. This is something that planners often fail to recognize. A permanent transit system, like a street car, far more than flexible bus route, will give the development community confidence that the city is serious and committed long term to their plan and that leads to new development along the line. So it should not have been that much of a surprise that when I took the train to the Knob Hill shopping district on the edge of downtown, I was greeted with the most delightful of small scale, pedestrian friendly, mixed use shopping and dining areas, quite different from the downtown core only 10 minutes away by street car.

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It was pretty cool to ride the streets cars and be smack dab in the middle of the roads that were shared with cars and cyclists. This approach certainly has to be more cost effective that the “skytrains” and “subways” of the world.  And the best part is with so many people using the street cars that go where people want them to go, the use of cars is way down and the streets are not as crowded which makes them so much better to use for everybody.

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For those of you in my community, we don’t need another bridge that will actually increase car traffic, we need a well planned street car system between communities!

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