All About the Portland MAX (and associated Transit)

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Radical innovation: bus stop sign.

View attachment 28829

When I went to Waldport, the bus stopped outside of Ray's Market. No sign, no shelter, not even a bench. On one hand, I can understand if a small town or county doesn't have a lot of money, but also I think it is often assumed that the people who are using the bus are locals and that they just know this stuff.
 

Willbridge

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When I went to Waldport, the bus stopped outside of Ray's Market. No sign, no shelter, not even a bench. On one hand, I can understand if a small town or county doesn't have a lot of money, but also I think it is often assumed that the people who ar e using the bus are locals and that they just know this stuff.
That's an example of the fluctuating interest in the Thruway lines. The photo was on the Bend<>Ontario route, which I think was set up before the coast route that you rode, with a different staff person. When I was at ODOT, the idea of bus stop signs was new. Prior to that it was the bus company's problem. The dividing line in the early-70's was when Greyhound economized by deleting the field representative in their Portland office. Agency stations then became fewer and a bus stop sign only was issued if it was requested.

You are right about locals. What I found, though, was that as time passed that generation of customers faded away. I kept finding Oregon towns where people thought they needed a ride to a bigger city because they did not know that there was a stop nearby.
 
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Yesterday, I walked across the Columbia River bridge, between Portland and Oregon:


One mistake I made in this video: I didn't specifically talk about how the light rail bridge would most likely be a separate, parallel span next to the replacement bridge. But hopefully this video demonstrates a few things, including how wide the Columbia River is at this point, how cramped Jantzen Beach would be, how much traffic is going over the bridge, and how many different transportation methods are all packed in one space. Hopefully seeing it makes it more clear what the debate is all about.
 

daybeers

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No sign, no shelter, not even a bench
I think you'd be rudely awakened by the state of most bus services in this country. Here in CT it's rare to find a stop without a sign, but also rare for it to have the route number. If you find a shelter or bench, that's a gold mine.
 
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I think you'd be rudely awakened by the state of most bus services in this country. Here in CT it's rare to find a stop without a sign, but also rare for it to have the route number. If you find a shelter or bench, that's a gold mine.

Well, in this case, I was referring to an intermediate distance line, a county line that goes between cities, so it wouldn't have a route number. And it having a sign, and a shelter, would be much more important, because it only runs about five times a day.
But in general, you are right--- in Portland, where buses are considered part of transportation infrastructure, shelters and transit centers are kept clean and comfortable with up-to-date schedules. In other cities, where transit is considered a social service, making it efficient isn't always as important, because they seem to think "beggars can't be choosers", and since it is all being dispensed as a favor, there is no reason to have reliable schedules or clear route marking.
 
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I tend to snap lots of photos on my travels, but feel motivated to try video in future... May I ask what camera you used to create yours?
Sorry, I forgot to answer this question. I actually have four cameras --- my Android (which I used for videos before May, mostly), a flip phone (which is good for when my other cameras have run out of battery), a Nikon camera (which is water and shock proof, and which I use to take mostly stills where I might drop it---it is so sturdy, I accidentally had it in my pocket when it went through the wash, and 30 minutes in a washer didn't damage it at all), but, most of my recent videos were taken on a relatively entry-level Sony Handycam. It cost 250 dollars, but it was worth it. Last summer, I bought a generic video camera for like 80 dollars, but it just didn't work right, and it eventually stopped working at all. The Sony is relatively easy to operate, and it came with everything. I would recommend it.
 
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This is a video I made of myself in downtown and central Portland:

Not all of it is transit-related, but significant parts of it are. (And even the parts that aren't, are related indirectly)
There are two things that are probably the most important. The first is the Portland Streetcar, which opened in 2001. When I lived in Portland, up until 2009, it wasn't a very useful thing, because it mostly just went around the core downtown area, and it mostly carried shoppers. It was mostly a convenience, and not even that, because usually the time to wait for it was longer than just walking, at least for me. (I was in my 20s and had a lot of energy :) ). So, like a lot of Streetcar systems, it seemed to be a cute way to attract suburbanites to a downtown area. But over the years, it expanded, and it now is long enough that it makes visiting certain places a lot faster. And I just checked---in 2019, it carried 5 million people a year, which makes it about half as busy as, say, Sacramento's "Real" Light Rail system. (Even compared to Portland's MAX system, it is considerable, carrying about 1/8th as many passengers). So I was pleasantly surprised to see how useful the Streetcar could be.
Towards the end of the video, I show the Steel Bridge, which is the double-lift bridge that carries both the MAX Light Rail on the top deck, and heavy rail (including the Coast Starlight and Cascades) on the bottom deck. When the MAX was first built, there was only one line. Now, all of those lines go over this bridge. So this bridge is one of the limiting factors for how many trains they can run through downtown.
Both of these points are related, because it shows how transportation infrastructure can sometimes scale in ways that are not expected. When the MAX opened in 1986, and even when the Streetcar opened in 2001, Portland was quite a different place than it is now, and so sometimes transportation plans have had to adapt to the city changing.
 
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TriMet is about to open a new BRT line, along Division, between downtown Portland and Gresham. This will replace the #2 Division bus, which is one of TriMets most frequently ridden routes. The line roughly parallels the main East/West MAX Blue line, about a mile or two to the north.
To me, this project signifies how TriMet has used a "kitchen sink" approach, in a good way. TriMet has built many light rail lines, but it wouldn't have been economically/practicable to build a second light rail line so close to the main line, so they built a BRT line that supplements service.
Also, the link I shared talks about how this is happening at the same time as service cutbacks---but hopefully the service cutbacks are caused by temporary economic conditions.
 
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I think you'd be rudely awakened by the state of most bus services in this country. Here in CT it's rare to find a stop without a sign, but also rare for it to have the route number. If you find a shelter or bench, that's a gold mine.
One thing that amazed me when I lived in Israel in 1971-2 was that every dinky rural bus stop in the middle of nowhere not only had a sign with the route number and destination of the bus, it also had the bus schedule. And nearly all the stops had a paved pull-out with a proper platform. And back then, I think Israel was still considered a "developing country." I'm not sure what it's like today, as a larger percentage of the population drives cars.

I guess they still do. Here's an example:

bus-stop-in-kibbutz-urim-north-negev-d7b8eb.jpg
For those who don't know Hebrew, this says

Kibbutz Orim

030 Be'er Sheva
376 Tel Aviv

Which suggests that the 030 bus goes to Be'er Sheva and the 376 bus goes to Tel Aviv. No schedule shown here, I'll have to look around some more.
 

Willbridge

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TriMet is about to open a new BRT line, along Division, between downtown Portland and Gresham. This will replace the #2 Division bus, which is one of TriMets most frequently ridden routes. The line roughly parallels the main East/West MAX Blue line, about a mile or two to the north.
To me, this project signifies how TriMet has used a "kitchen sink" approach, in a good way. TriMet has built many light rail lines, but it wouldn't have been economically/practicable to build a second light rail line so close to the main line, so they built a BRT line that supplements service.
Also, the link I shared talks about how this is happening at the same time as service cutbacks---but hopefully the service cutbacks are caused by temporary economic conditions.
An interesting note: the Division line on the East Side was never a rail line. Most of Portland's frequent service lines include former streetcar or interurban routes.

The main hazard of opening a new line during service cuts is that some forecasted connecting traffic will be lost, Then the new line does not meet projections and the critics pounce. That happened with the original Portland MAX line and happened with RTD's West Line.
 
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This is a video I took yesterday of the MAX Yellow Line in North Portland. This is an at-grade stretch of the MAX, with my video showing the main 2 mile stretch of it, with stops every half mile.
I talk about this in the video, but one of the things I wanted to show was that while many portrayals of the MAX service in Portland focus on how it works in the downtown core and high-density neighborhoods, it also travels through lower density neighborhoods. Basically, this is the less glamorous side of Portland transit.
When we look at the system regionally, this could also be a shortcoming. If the Yellow Line is extended to Vancouver (as I talked about in previous posts), the speed will be limited because of this "streetcar" like stretch of At-Grade rail. Many of the problems with the MAX system come from its dual use as both a regional and neighborhood transit system.
 

Willbridge

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Glad you mentioned that N. Interstate Avenue was US99W. It explains the motor hotels, several of which were stops on the Seattle Times delivery route because so many customers were traveling to or from Puget Sound. What helps to explain the single family homes is that Interstate Avenue was a creation of the auto age, cut through streetcar-vintage neighborhoods. The avenues in that area were named for states. The newer I-5 alignment was called the Minnesota Freeway as compared to other alternatives named for other states.

A bit of film shows the "anchor" of Interstate Avenue, its intersection with Broadway. This was the transfer point for our family trips from the Broadway streetcar (and then bus) to the St. Johns trolley coach. In addition to that line, the Interstate Avenue and the Mississippi Avenue trolley coaches came through the intersection. Vancouver-Portland Bus Co. diesels also stopped at the intersection shown in the film. When US99W was created the highway was extended south from Broadway onto the Steel Bridge and Harbor Drive.



One of the reasons for the stop spacing is the grid bus network transfers. As this rail line depends on lower community auto ownership levels it needs the bus feeders. It does not have major parking except for the shared lot at the Exhibition Grounds.

The Yellow Line neighborhoods were redlined in the 1940's and 1950's due to having had Scandinavian and Eastern European populations attracted by waterfront industries and the packing plants. The Black population came as a consequence of the Vanport flood in 1948 which destroyed housing built for war industry workers. Due to the postwar housing shortage my family lived there for a year before its destruction. Prior to that, most of Portland's Black churches, businesses and residents had migrated from Northwest Portland to the Albina neighborhood, served by the Mississippi Avenue, Williams Avenue, Russell-Shaver, and Union Avenue streetcars.
 
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What helps to explain the single family homes is that Interstate Avenue was a creation of the auto age, cut through streetcar-vintage neighborhoods. The avenues in that area were named for states.
I mentioned the amount of single family homes and low density retail (and also, I don't mention it, but there is a dental clinic visible), because I want to show what the light rail is like outside of downtown. Much of the coverage of the MAX focuses on downtown Portland and tourist spots, so this video shows what it looks like in a mostly residential area.
A lot of transit advocates talk a lot about "density", and there is a big subset of people that believe that the only way to have transit is to have dense apartment buildings. Someone on reddit told me that single family homes represented a "disturbing ideology". So the reason I made this video was to show that transit occurs in traditional residential neighborhoods.
 
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A lot of transit advocates talk a lot about "density", and there is a big subset of people that believe that the only way to have transit is to have dense apartment buildings. Someone on reddit told me that single family homes represented a "disturbing ideology". So the reason I made this video was to show that transit occurs in traditional residential neighborhoods.
They obviously haven't been on co-op or condo boards - the most conflict and strive ridden organization ever (I say this as a board member).
 
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They obviously haven't been on co-op or condo boards - the most conflict and strive ridden organization ever (I say this as a board member).
There are transit advocates who believe that transit is the solution to all social problems. I am a transit advocate myself, of course. But there are people who blame car culture and suburban living for all problems, and think that all social problems will be solved if we all just lived in row houses along rail lines.
 
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