success of light rail by Ken Hoffman, Houston
Chroncle, June 12,
PORTLAND, Ore. -- As I scooted
around the country, checking out cities that have light rail, I
kept hearing the same thing from transit officials:
"Wait till you get to Portand.
They're doing it right."
They were right about Portland
doing it right.
Thirty years ago, downtown
Portland was left for dead. There was no heartbeat. Traffic was at
a standstill. Nobody could find a parking space. At 5 p.m., the
place became a ghost town.
Then Portland decided to create
-- and take -- the road less traveled.
The city invested in a massive
33-mile light rail project, stretching from Hillsboro in the west,
and winding its way through downtown to Gresham in the
Portland also began thinking
differently about downtown. They passed laws limiting the
construction of parking garages. Businesses were restricted to one
parking space for every four employees. Office buildings had to
designate the first floor for retail stores and restaurants. Money
that once went toward new road projects was directed to light
They haven't had, or needed,
any road construction downtown in 25 years. Man, how jealous are
The facts and figures of light
rail's success in Portland are staggering.
Ridership on light rail has
tripled since the first route opened in 1986. Sixty thousand
people ride the train on a daily basis now. That's 37,500 fewer
cars a day pouring into downtown, snarling rush-hour traffic and
choking the air with unhealthy filth.
That's 1,700 tons of pollution
a year not going up in smoke.
Since about 65 percent of a
city's pollution problem is caused by gas engine exhaust, you
literally can see the effect of light rail in Portland. There's no
grimy haze clouding your view, itching your eyes and making your
Imagine that for
In Portland, three-quarters of
the people on a train have cars at home. They take the train
because it's convenient, it's clean and it's comfortable. And
don't forget, there's no place to park, anyway.
The train cars are roomy, with
72 seats, including some that fold out during rush hour. Trains
hit a top speed of 55 mph. The fare is $1.45 for most rides. You
can purchase tickets from machines at all 50 stops along the
There are "Fare Inspectors" on
board who check tickets. It's a $250 fine if you're caught trying
to beat the system.
Some of the cars have several
minilevels, like sunken living rooms. The only thing missing is
shag carpeting and disco music.
Here's something neat: All
rides within a central 300-square-block area of downtown Portland
are free. So you can hop on and off, reading menus in restaurant
windows. Downtown bars and eateries are thriving. It's fun just
walking around, people-watching.
Not only downtown has benefited
from light rail. More than $2.4 billion in commercial and
residential development has occurred within walking distance of
train stops since 1986.
Portland has an outdoor
lifestyle. So the train cars are built with bicycle racks aboard.
One drawback: I did notice some guys riding the train without
shirts on. Come on, people.
The trains have horns that
sound like the steamship in those Old Spice television
The day I got to Portland, the
city was in mid-celebration of its annual Rose Festival. It's just
like our Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, except without the
livestock show and rodeo. OK, so it's nothing like the
Mostly the Rose Festival is a
carnival along the banks of the Willamette River and a series of
parades through downtown.
This is no ordinary carnival.
It makes our rodeo midway look like a child's backyard birthday
party. One ride, called the Ejector Seat, shoots you from 0 to 60
mph in 1 second --straight up. It's a giant slingshot producing
four G's of acceleration force. It's $25 a ticket, not including
There was a giant tent
featuring all the stars of TV infomercials demonstrating their
The first infomercial I ever
saw was for Liquid Lustre car polish about 15 years ago. At the
Rose Festival I saw Pete Nathan, inventor of the super unbeatable
incredible car polish, setting his own car hood on fire to show
how Liquid Lustre protects the finish.
Granted, if your car is on
fire, its shine is the least of your problems. But watching Nathan
demonstrate Liquid Lustre was like watching Leonardo da Vinci
paint the Mona Lisa.
I've tried without success to get local groups to add their events to this calendar (Bike Texas, the Yellow Bike Project, City's Bicycle Program, Bike Austin, etc.)
If you'd like to help edit the calendar, or at least add your group's events to it, then please let me know!