Various short trips around the Willamette Valley:

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Another Friday, another adventure! In this case, to Eugene. I spent this trip in the core area of Eugene, which on my previous trips (shown above), I only passed through.


I will be cross-posting this video to another thread, because one of the reasons I took it is to address what I see as very exaggerated negative attitudes towards Eugene, (and other Pacific Northwest cities). This video shows Eugene how I know it: as a vibrant area with lots of attractions where people are having fun. And not, as some would have it, as a blighted urban warzone.
But also, let me say something about the corridor service between Portland and Eugene: right now, it is convenient enough for overnight trips, but not really to the point where you can take a daytrip along the I-5 corridor. I say in this video that you could go from Portland to Eugene, have a beer in an outdoor tavern, then ride back home. And while you could, it would be a lot of work for not much time. Especially if the train is delayed (like it was on this day), even slightly. This is especially true for me, who is off the corridor. They changed the schedule for the northgoing Thruway bus by 15 minutes which meant it got into the Albany transit center just as the Corvallis bus was pulling out. So then I waited for an hour.
So even though it is fun for adventures or for fun, the Amtrak Cascades is not really convenient for day trips, especially if you are even a little off the corridor.
 
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I've been doing a lot of trips lately! I might take a break after this one!
This was a long and somewhat improbable trip that I took mostly to prove that I could. I had to stitch together many forms of transit (from three transit agencies, Flixbus, and Amtrak), to visit seven Willamette Valley counties in one day. I went to Portland and then went to McMinnville, to the southwest of Portland, and then to Salem.
The most important thing about this is how quickly transit drops off outside of cities. Yamhill County has about 100,000 people, which is not small, but there, like in many suburban/exurban counties, transit is treated like a social service, not like a part of transportation infrastructure. It is possible to use the bus routes to travel, but not in a way that most people could use it as part of normal commuting.
What this also means is that there are about 100,000 people who wouldn't get much practical advantage out of rail service. In most of Washington County, in places like Beaverton or Tigard, it really is easy to hop on a bus at any time, go to Union Station, and go to Seattle or Eugene. From the outer fringes of Washington County, and from Yamhill County, and Polk County, it would involve a lot of patience and juggling schedules.
That translates into a smaller customer base, and also a smaller political base: for many people in areas like this, a train they can't use probably seems like an indulgence. My own opinion is that Amtrak should at least think about getting shuttle buses that directly serve areas like this.
 

Willbridge

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My own opinion is that Amtrak should at least think about getting shuttle buses that directly serve areas like this.
The primary responsibility is with the state government. Amtrak will work with them, but ODOT is supposed to take the lead on it. Give them a call and ask if you can sit down with someone who works on this issue. (I recall that they have an intern working on Amtrak service.)

In the case of Yamhill County, it was orphaned when Tri-Met took over in the 1970's. The law setting up transit districts did not allow for operation outside of their Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas, so the Portland<>Newberg<>McMinnville route which was a direct descendant of the Red Electric was cut back to Rex Hill and then Sherwood. This left them with Greyhound on the PDX<>SFO run and Hamman Stage Lines running SLM<>McMinnville. As these crumbled away, Yamhill County eventually took on starting a transit system from scratch. That makes a four-decade gap with feeble efforts. Right now they are struggling with the driver shortage.
 
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The primary responsibility is with the state government. Amtrak will work with them, but ODOT is supposed to take the lead on it. Give them a call and ask if you can sit down with someone who works on this issue. (I recall that they have an intern working on Amtrak service.)

In the case of Yamhill County, it was orphaned when Tri-Met took over in the 1970's. The law setting up transit districts did not allow for operation outside of their Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas, so the Portland<>Newberg<>McMinnville route which was a direct descendant of the Red Electric was cut back to Rex Hill and then Sherwood. This left them with Greyhound on the PDX<>SFO run and Hamman Stage Lines running SLM<>McMinnville. As these crumbled away, Yamhill County eventually took on starting a transit system from scratch. That makes a four-decade gap with feeble efforts. Right now they are struggling with the driver shortage.
That is some interesting history, and puts things in perspective. It is also interesting that 40 or 50 years ago, when the region was much less populated, and wasn't a tourist center, that it had more options than it has today.
I think a big part of it is that a lot of suburban areas are in denial that they are now suburbs. Many small towns around the Willamette Valley have real estate ads calling them "little farming towns". When a few people move to a "little farming town" it doesn't matter, but when 5,000 people do, it is no longer a country town, it is a suburb. There are probably 10s of thousands of commuters, from McMinnville through Sherwood, all being funneled down Highway 99W. But because people there think they are in a rural area, they don't think they need a bus system.
 
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This is Yachats, Oregon. This is in many ways the "last town" on the Northern Oregon Coast, before a 20 mile stretch of rocky, almost uninhabited coastline before Florence. This is also the last town in Lincoln County, Oregon, which parallels most of the Willamette Valley. I got here by taking the Albany->Newport bus, which is a cross-ticketed Amtrak route, and functions like one, and then by taking the south Lincoln County bus, which functions more as a social service bus, making frequent stops for locals who might not have a lot of mobility. It takes an hour to get from Newport to Yachats, and there are only four trips a day. The bus actually does coordinate with another bus that goes to Florence, but it is quite a number of trips.
The Oregon Coast is a really nice region to visit, and it is possible to visit it only on transit (incidentally, it would probably be possible, if not plausible, to get to this region coming from the south on the Coast Starlight, getting off in Eugene, going through Florence, and then rejoining the Amtrak Cascades in Albany...but not very possible), but it is also really isolated, and the discontinuation of long-distance transit service along the coast has made these communities more fragmented.
 
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This is Yachats, Oregon. This is in many ways the "last town" on the Northern Oregon Coast, before a 20 mile stretch of rocky, almost uninhabited coastline before Florence. This is also the last town in Lincoln County, Oregon, which parallels most of the Willamette Valley. I got here by taking the Albany->Newport bus, which is a cross-ticketed Amtrak route, and functions like one, and then by taking the south Lincoln County bus, which functions more as a social service bus, making frequent stops for locals who might not have a lot of mobility. It takes an hour to get from Newport to Yachats, and there are only four trips a day. The bus actually does coordinate with another bus that goes to Florence, but it is quite a number of trips.
The Oregon Coast is a really nice region to visit, and it is possible to visit it only on transit (incidentally, it would probably be possible, if not plausible, to get to this region coming from the south on the Coast Starlight, getting off in Eugene, going through Florence, and then rejoining the Amtrak Cascades in Albany...but not very possible), but it is also really isolated, and the discontinuation of long-distance transit service along the coast has made these communities more fragmented.

For those who may not know the proper pronunciation of Yachats it is ya-HOTS. My favorite town on the northern Oregon coast is Seaside. Just off the "prom" in Seaside is a memorial where members of the "Corps of Discovery" boiled seawater to make 3 bushels of salt to preserve their elk meat for the trip back to St. Louis.
 
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I haven't been to the northernmost coast this year, but I probably should go.
For travellers, the buses to the northcoast are more integrated with the Amtrak system, and more geared towards tourists. So the bus from Union Station to Astoria has all the luggage handling of any Amtrak thruway route. There is also going to be a lot more tourist friendly options once you get to the station---so if someone is taking the Coast Starlight and wants to see the Oregon Coast, going to Astoria/Cannon Beach/Seaside is probably the best option.
 
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Yesterday, I went to Eugene again---the Amtrak Cascades runs frequently enough that I can make semi-convenient daytrips down to Eugene. I can leave Albany at noon, stay there for a few hours, then come back on a Thruway bus. As I have commented, the Amtrak Cascades is easy enough for someone who just wants to go somewhere to see it---but is not quite there for someone who has a specific appointment.
Most of this video is not centered around transit, instead talking about natural features, but I do ask one really important transit-related question:
Eugene is pretty famous in Oregon, and maybe elsewhere, for being an environmentally-friendly and transit focused city. It helps that it is a college town. According to a figure on the Lane Transit District website, it has 27,000 boardings daily and 10 million boardings a year (not sure how they calculate boardings versus riders), which compares well to many bigger cities--- apparently, Cincinnati, Columbus and Milwaukee, all major cities, have around 15-30 million riders a year. (But they might have more boardings---again, I don't know how it is calculated.) Eugene has a BRT system, the Emerald Express, that runs about every 10-15 minutes, 18 hours a day. In places, the BRT has its own right of way. In other places, it is an articulated bus trying to navigate city streets.
Eugene is really walkable and transit-oriented downtown, but like most cities, it also has an area that is not as pleasant for pedestrians. There are miles to the west of the city that are six lane highways with big box stores. The BRT line actually goes along this stretch, and in this video, I take it to the end of the line and see this side of town. One of the biggest questions I had for this is, what happens when you have a good transit system going into a transit-unfriendly region? My own observation was that the BRT system was very well utilized in the downtown area, but that it was still fairly busy up until the end of the line, when there was still a half-dozen people riding.
Maybe someone who is more familiar with Eugene can tell me their experiences? From a transit standpoint, how does the Eugene part of Eugene relate to the "stereotypical American suburb" part of Eugene?
 
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I took a trip to Portland the other day (I made a video, which I will put in my thread for the Portland MAX), and I took an Amtrak Thruway bus to get there. The Amtrak Cascades goes up the East side of the valley, while the Thruway goes up I-5. It stops in Woodburn and at the Tualatin Park and Ride.
The Tualatin Park and Ride is about 15 miles south of downtown Portland, so an outer-ring exurb. The Park and Ride is right off the freeway, so it seems easy enough to exit, pickup/dropoff, and then get right back on the freeway. But this is interchange land, so there was a lot of waiting for left turn signals just for that simple trip. I actually timed it: between exiting and entering, it was 10 minutes. And I think it was one or two passengers.
I think this can be a problem with a lot of train routes, that "just one stop" seems like an easy enough thing to add, but then when you add more and more, it can be "death by a thousand cuts", making the entire experience less viable for everyone. It also shows how much better trains are: the process of getting a bus into a transit center is much harder than stopping a train at a major station.
 

Willbridge

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I took a trip to Portland the other day (I made a video, which I will put in my thread for the Portland MAX), and I took an Amtrak Thruway bus to get there. The Amtrak Cascades goes up the East side of the valley, while the Thruway goes up I-5. It stops in Woodburn and at the Tualatin Park and Ride.
The Tualatin Park and Ride is about 15 miles south of downtown Portland, so an outer-ring exurb. The Park and Ride is right off the freeway, so it seems easy enough to exit, pickup/dropoff, and then get right back on the freeway. But this is interchange land, so there was a lot of waiting for left turn signals just for that simple trip. I actually timed it: between exiting and entering, it was 10 minutes. And I think it was one or two passengers.
I think this can be a problem with a lot of train routes, that "just one stop" seems like an easy enough thing to add, but then when you add more and more, it can be "death by a thousand cuts", making the entire experience less viable for everyone. It also shows how much better trains are: the process of getting a bus into a transit center is much harder than stopping a train at a major station.
The time lost getting on or off of a limited access highway was one of the issues that led instead to the development of the Cascades. Modest improvements can provide a service as fast between major cities as a non-stop bus, while providing stops in smaller cities.
 
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I can't remember when exactly the Tualatin Stop got on the Amtrak Cascades schedule. I imagine it has some good reasons, and bad reasons for being there. The good reasons are, it is quite a ways from Portland, and even though it is theoretically possible to get back to the Tualatin area from Portland by local buses, it probably takes more than an hour to do so. So I can see how it could be very convenient for travelers who are heading there, or to anywhere in the southwest part of the Portland area. I imagine that since the area also is pretty affluent and has a lot of tech businesses, I imagine that there might have been some lobbying to get a stop there. Also, it might be related to negative propaganda about Portland itself---there may be people who don't want to get off at Union station because of perceptions about that area being unsafe.
 
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Yesterday, I went to Eugene again:


This is actually the only "round trip" I can do by train from where I am, and would give me 2.5 hours in Eugene. But today, the train was late, and instead I only had 90 minutes there. And also, on that day, forest fire smoke started to fill the city. So all in all, it wasn't quite the trip I expected.
Two things: this was the day I was actually planning on having a Train Party, which I hope I can still do in the future. Many people expressed interest in this, but when I set the date, no one could come. This brings me to a major point about the Amtrak Cascades (at least south of Portland): right now it is a "Good Idea". The idea of taking a train trip through the Willamette Valley, enjoying the scenery, and then visiting Eugene, was something a lot of people thought would be a fun idea...and indeed it is, but also the schedules weren't practical for many people. I think this is true of a lot of transit outside of big cities and corridors: they are still "Good Ideas" but not really something that people can use practically.
Secondly, I will have to admit something that, as an Oregonian, I shouldn't admit: Oregon is the junior partner of Washington in many things, and this includes transit. I usually think about the Amtrak Cascades in terms of using it in the Willamette Valley, but the reality is, the second largest county in Washington State on the line (Pierce, home of Tacoma), has more people than the 3 Willamette Valley Counties (Marion, Salem; Linn, Albany; Lane, Eugene) that have Amtrak Cascades stops. (And almost as many if you add in Polk and Benton).
 
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