Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Transport: Almost the 4T Tour

A brand-new "Type 4" light rail car from Siemens worked a Red Line MAX train out of Beaverton, Oregon on 14-December-2009

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - The area around Portland, Oregon has led the way on the Pacific Coast of the United States in implementing public transportation. It had amongst the first light rail systems (starting in 1986, preceded only by the San Diego Trolley and legacy systems), the first modern streetcar system (since 2001), and the first heavy rail self-propelled service (opened this year; see my recent blog entry). Furthermore, all of these services plus TriMet buses operate on a single fare system, so that I could purchase an all-zone (there are only three) day pass at an automated machine for $4.75 and ride the entire system all day.

A sign for the "4T Trail" was found at the Central Library stop on the Portland, Oregon Streetcar on 14-December-2009

What I didn't realize until well into my planned explorations of the day was that Portland has established a 4T Trail taking advantage of their transportation system. The four T's are the "train" (MAX light rail), "trolley" (Portland streetcar), "tram" (the Portland Aerial Tram, yet another system), and "trail", a designated path between the top of the Tram and the Washington Park station on MAX. Taking about three hours to complete and costing only a TriMet fare (if one takes the circle counter-clockwise and heads, down the tram instead of up), it's a great way to tour Portland, but not having known about it in advance and concerned about imminent rain, I didn't take trail.

One of the original Czech-built Portland Streetcars, now supplemented by US-built cars, approached the Central Library stop on 14-December-2009

Instead, after a round trip to Wilsonville described earlier, I alighted from MAX downtown to catch the Portland Streetcar. This was my first trip on the streetcar down to waterfront area, where after riding the loop, I transferred to the tram.

One car of the Portland Aerial Tram met the other half-way between Portland's south waterfront and the Oregon Health & Science University on 14-December-2009

The tram, which opened in late 2006, climbs 500 feet from essentially Willamette River level up to the Oregon Health & Science University on Marquam Hill. It takes only three minutes to ride up or down, and the cost to go up is $4. It offers an interesting view of downtown Portland--I will need to go back when the skies are clearer and one can see Mount Hood to the east.

A Type 2 MAX light rail car had reached the end of the Green Line at Clackamas Town Center, Oregon, on 14-December-2009

After riding the remainder of the streetcar line, I next boarded the new MAX Green Line, opened in September, for a trip out to Clackamas. The Green Line is truly a fast service along I-205--once one reaches the Gateway Transit Center where the Red, Blue, and Green Lines go their separate ways. If I were a regular commuter, the slow running through downtown and around Lloyd Center would probably drive me crazy, but I cannot see how any complaint could be issued about running speeds on the new portion to Clackamas Town Center.

Portland may be the leader on the west coast of the United States, but in terms of efficiency in its core area of downtown Portland, it still compares poorly with the legacy systems--mostly subways--of places like New York, Toronto, and San Francisco. Then again, Portland has a quite comprehensive system of more than 50 miles of rail lines for a capital investment of $3 billion--not much more what Toronto is spending to extend the the Spadina subway less than six miles!

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