Tag Archives: Portland

Why April V. rides the bus

This Ignite Portland presentation absolutely made my day. (via: Transit Sleuth)

It’s worth the six minute time investment, but just in case you aren’t up for sitting through another random Internet video (or, like me, you have an ancient laptop with sound\speaker issues), please refer to all 900 of my previous blog posts. This Portland bus chick (April Venable) has managed to summarize them in a single (short!) PowerPoint.

Bus Dad: Portland lover, “transportation expert”

My dad‘s family has been in Seattle since the early 30’s. My grandparents originally settled in a home mere blocks from where I live now. Dad was born at Harborview, grew up in Seattle and its environs, and raised his family here. And yet, I get most of my (considerable) Seattle love from my mother, a Northwesterner by marriage.

Truth be told, my dad is a bit of a Seattle hater.

To be fair, his hateration is less about the place, which he reveres, and more about the culture. Let him tell it, it’s lack of leadership and foresight that has led us to the current sprawling, transit-deprived, farmland-encroaching, treeless mess we’re in. There is also some complaining about the lack of a “scene.”* Tough words, coming from a guy over 70. I digress.

Every time my dad visits Portland (which is a lot, since one of his closest friends lives there), I have to hear about what a great time he had, and which jazz clubs he visited, and how much better Portland is than Seattle and blah, blah, blah. (In case you missed it, I’m a bit sensitive about such comparisons.) He called me last week, after his most recent visit, to rave about the street fair his friend took him to.

“Do you know they have a street fair once a month down there?”

“But Dad, we have those, too. Remember? Seattle Summer Streets?”

“Yeah, but all they do at those is…ride bikes and stuff.”**

It’s usually a good idea to attend an event before making those kinds of judgments, but hey. Who am I to disrespect an elder? He continued.

“And you want to talk about public transit…”

I braced myself for the long list of Pdx’s PT virtues, but was instead treated to the tale of how he’d made it all the way from his front door to Portland without setting foot in a car: Short walk to Seacrest Water Taxi dock>Water Taxi to Pier 50>Longer walk to King Street Station>Amtrak to Portland’s Union Station.

The car-free adventure ended there. Dad opted to have his friend, who lives right in the city, pick him up. The streetcar apparently doesn’t run close enough to his friend’s house, and he wasn’t up for dealing with the less discoverable and predictable bus. Go figure.

I was impressed with my dad’s adventure*** despite its anticlimactic ending, and I told him as much. I even offered to come up with a catchy nickname for him, like “Train Dad” or “PT Traveler,” but he’s not so into nicknames.”Just call me the transportation expert,'” he said. And so I will.

*Oh, and he does tend to hate on Seattle sports teams, which used to make me mad, back before Clay Bennet and David Stern stole my Sonics. These days, I’m numb. But that’s a discussion for another venue.
**I think he appreciated the commerce at the Pdx version. He got very exicted about the booth that sold old records for $1.
***I should note that my dad has had many more officially adventurous adventures (hoo boy–has he ever!) than taking the train to Portland, but hey. He could have just hopped in his car and headed down I-5. I think it’s cool that he didn’t.

Why can’t you be more like…?

My current ride read is Siblings Without Rivalry, by family relationship gurus Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Toni Morrison, it ain’t, but I like to be prepared. I realize that using my precious solo bus time to consume such material makes me a lentement, but I’m learning a lot about how to foster cooperation (et cetera) between my little darlings, and it does have the added benefit of deterring any potential bus macks. I digress.

Folks, Chicklet and Busling, who’ve been getting along famously these past four months, are not the members of the Bus Fam who need help with rivalry issues. It is Yours Truly (a native of the 2-0-sickness and a total Seattle partisan) who has been guilty of hating a bit on our sibling city to the south–in part, at least, because I’m jealous of its transit system and all the alt-transpo love it gets from the rest of the country. What can I say? According to my brother, Jeremy (speaking of siblings), I’m a natural born hater.

And so, it is in the spirit of my newfound insight (at least, as much insight as I’ve been able to gain from the first 100 pages) that I celebrate the latest addition to Pdx’s progressive transportation resume: the “low-car lifestyle” magazine, Portland Afoot. Check it:

We bus. We bike. We MAX. We walk. We’re fifty thousand families strong, and just by getting around without a car sometimes, we’re transforming Portland step by step. We all know Portland’s got issues when it comes to getting around. But where’s our voice? What’s our conversation? And by the way, how can I get my boss to pay for my rail pass?
Portland Afoot is on the case. Solve the problems. Get the issues. Join the fun.*

Sold! I couldn’t resist subscribing, since I’m a sucker for smart writing and transit (and walking, and cycling) talk, no matter the city of origin. I can’t wait to read it.

OK, you scored again, Portland. Mom always liked you better, anyway.

More on kids and transportation

• A Portland dad discusses the need for family friendly transit (via: Streetsblog).

• Dorea of Carfree with Kids shares her tips for raising good walkers.

It occurs to me, after reading the Portland dad’s arguments and all of the comments on my last post, that is might be worth it for PT-loving parents to collaborate a bit. I’m thinking that–in addition to offering support and sharing information–we could probably come up with a list of best practices to help transit agencies better meet the needs of families.*

If you’re interested in working on a project like this, hit me up, and we’ll, as my friend Aileen says, “tawk.”

*Since most US agencies are in dire financial straits at this point, we probably can’t expect them to take suggestions that cost a lot of money, but I don’t think all (or even most) of the recommendations would have to be costly. Besides, the agencies won’t always be broke (I hope!), so it can’t hurt to put the expensive ideas out there.

Bus reading, part–OK, I’ve lost count

For some unknown reason, I regularly receive a monthly e-mail newsletter from King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson. (This is only unusual because I don’t live in his district and don’t remember signing up for it. Call me a civics nerd, but I do actually enjoy reading it.)

Councilmember Ferguson is a proud bus rider and regularly mentions Metro in his communiqués. His latest bus-related broadcast: The inaugural entry of Bob’s Bus Books.

This month, I am starting a new section in my eNews to share what I have been reading on my bus commutes. A few of the books I have enjoyed in the past few months are:

• The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig – Doig is a Shoreline resident and was nominated for the National Book Award for This House of Sky.
• The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – I stole this one from my wife’s reading stack.
Winter Wheat* and The Curlew’s Cry by Mildred Walker – Walker’s works focus on Western themes. These two novels take place in Montana and were no doubt inspired by her time there.

I am currently reading Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, which many consider to be the best novel set in Oregon.

Looks like Mr. Ferguson is partial to novels written by and about the West. Not that I can talk; I just finished reading (in honor of the anniversary of the boycott, and all) three Rosa Parks-related books–two by her, one about her–in a row. And since we’re on the subject…

My current bus read is Green Metropolis, by David Owen. I would have gotten to it sooner (it came out in September), but the library’s waiting list was about 50 deep. I dutifully waited my turn, and then, just days after my name finally came up, my sweet baby brother, Joel, bought me a copy for Christmas. Lucky for the next person in line.

I digress.

Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s blurb about the book:

Most Americans think of crowded cities as ecological nightmares, as wastelands of concrete and garbage and diesel fumes and traffic jams. Yet residents of compact urban centers, Owen shows, individually consume less oil, electricity, and water than other Americans. They live in smaller spaces, discard less trash, and, most important of all, spend far less time in automobiles. Residents of Manhattan — the most densely populated place in North America — rank first in public-transit use and last in per capita greenhouse-gas production… They are also among the only people in the United States for whom walking is still an important means of daily transportation.

I’m only on chapter one, but I already love it, and not just because it completely validates my world view–and hates on Portland**, just a little bit. (OK, mostly because of those reasons.) I’m actually learning something about individual energy consumption in the US, and since Owen is a strong writer, his nonfiction goes down nice and easy. (That means that this novel-preferring bus chick won’t take three months to get through it.) Get thee to a library and check out Green Metropolis (or, at least, get on SPL’s website and add yourself to the wait list) immediately.

Next up for me, another Christmas gift: Barbara Kingsolver’s latest, The Lacuna.

And you? What’s on your bus reading list for 2010?

* I’ve actually read Winter Wheat (my mom lent it to me over a decade ago), but I don’t remember much about it except that I enjoyed it.
**Folks, I have nothing but love for our Northwest neighbors to the south, but I do admit to being a wee bit jealous of all the love Portland gets from the rest of the planet. Sue me.

Speaking of TriMet…

A cool blog from a transit geek in Portland: Trimetiquette. Apparently, bus fouls are a problem there, too, since (as the name suggests) this person spends a good deal of time educating folks about proper transit etiquette.

I still think there’s a market for an advice column–a Dear Prudie devoted entirely to transit. Shoot–send me some questions, and I’ll start it up. I (sort of) already have.

Transit envy

Last Friday, Bus Nerd, Chicklet, and I headed to Portland (on the train!) to participate in the Towards Carfree Cities conference. (Actually, I was going to participate in the conference, and Nerd and Chicklet were going to hang around Portland. Minor detail.) It turned out to be a bad day to attend the conference (most of the good events happened earlier in the week) but a good day to learn more about getting around Portland. (Disclaimer: I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been to Portland–and on one hand the number of times I’ve been as an adult. Forgive me if this is old news to you Oregonphiles.)

I’ve been known to roll my eyes when folks start going on about how fabulously bikeable, walkable, and transit-friendly Portland is. It’s not that I don’t believe it; it’s just that I’m a bit of a Seattle partisan, and all that Portland love brings out the hater in me. Mostly, though, it makes me wish that my beloved hometown had grown smarter, with transit and biking as a focus, instead of ballooning into such a bloated, sprawling mess. But I digress.

I have to give credit where credit is due, and Portland deserves some credit for thinking outside the car. For starters, their train station is actually clean and inviting. (When is King Street’s interminable “remodel” going to be finished, anyway?) And, of course, there’s the bike thing. I could tell almost immediately that Portland is much more bikeable than Seattle (bike paths, bike parking, and bike nerds everywhere!), but I didn’t try to get around by bike while I was there (hey, I know my limits), so I can’t really speak about it.

Portland's train station
Portland’s train station (the inside ain’t half bad, either)
Bike parking at Powell’s

On to transit:

I’m extremely impressed by what Portland has going on. Though I was only there for one day, and I didn’t really venture beyond the downtown/waterfront area, I can say with confidence that Portland’s system (TriMet) is much more usable (and useful) than Seattle’s. Some reasons why:

The website! I could write an entire post just about this. It is clearly organized, with easy access to the information riders need (trip planner, how to ride, maps, etc.). To find out how to get to the conference location, I typed “Amtrak Station” and “Portland State University” into the trip planner entry fields on the home page and (immediately, without errors or a list of obscure locations I might have meant to enter) got several useful itineraries, complete with fare information, links to maps, and detailed information about the stops, including the stop IDs. All transit websites should be this good.

• The bus stops. At the big stops, the shelters tell you the intersection where the stop is located, so you don’t have to walk to the corner and try to read the signs. The signs tell you: the stop ID (which, unlike in Seattle, you can use for TriMet’s version of Tracker or the automated phone system), if you’re in the Fareless Square, and if the stop has frequent service.

A Portland bus shelter
A Portland bus stop

• The streetcar. Getting around the center city on that thing is a cinch. Since it’s a fixed route and there are maps available almost everywhere, you can (and we did) use it to get from the waterfront to PSU to Powell’s without knowing a single thing about Portland or its transit system. No asking the driver of whatever route happens to show up, “How far do you go down 3rd?” No hassles trying to figure out how to get from one corner of downtown to another without a long, uphill walk (favored by bus chicks but few others), a transfer, or a cab ride.

(Note: I might get my bus chick credentials revoked when I admit that I haven’t yet ridden the SLUT, but there it is. Yes, Chicklet keeps me pretty busy, and blah, blah, blah, but the truth is, it doesn’t go anywhere I need to be–or, at least, it doesn’t go anywhere I’ve needed to be since it began operating. I’ll check it out before the summer’s over, but to clarify: This is not a comparison of Portland’s streetcar and Seattle’s [except perhaps to suggest that Portland’s is more useful to a larger number of people] but rather, a comparison of how easy it is to get around the cities’ downtown areas.)

Chicklet learning about the Portland streetcar
Portland Streetcar: So easy, a baby could ride.

• Digital signs inside vehicles. We saw these on the streetcar and on buses. They are very helpful if you don’t know a city (and don’t have a husband who uses a personal GPS device with his nerd phone), are in an unfamiliar neighborhood, or can’t see out the window.
MAX light rail. I didn’t ride it, but it’s there. Enough said.

Other stuff of note:

• The streetcar had audio ads over the automated PA. They went something like this: “State street station, brought to you by the State Street Grill.” It was kind of creepy, but interesting nonetheless; I’m always keeping my eyes out for new ways to fund transit. Most of the ads I heard were for new condo developments. And speaking of…

A condo ad on the Portland Streetcar
“Forget the car. Live in the Pearl.”

• We ran into Vic and Julia from Sustainable Ballard/Undriving Ballard (he-ey, ladies!) on the streetcar. They were in town for the conference as well. Julia even presented earlier in the week.

Portland isn’t perfect, by any stretch. Like most (OK, all) US cities, it still feels very car-dominated. I’m also aware that, despite their proximity, Seattle and Portland are very different cities–in part because of differences in size and geography, and in part because of better planning on Portland’s part. Still, what I wouldn’t give to have a little of what they’ve got around here. How about we start with a new and improved website?

Speaking of Portland…

The Towards Carfree Cities conference is a week away!

Towards Carfree Cities poster

In case you missed the first mention back in April, here are the relevant details:

What: A conference that “brings together people from around the world who work to promote practical alternatives to car dependence”
When: June 16-20, 2008
Where: Portland. Oregon (You can take the train!)
How much: Check the registration rates on the conference site.

Some stuff I forgot to mention the first time around:

1) The conference’s cool motto (a good enough reason to attend, as far as I’m concerned): “Live Free or Drive.” Props to the person who thought that up.

2) The free “Public Day” on the 17th:

We are committed to making this conference as inclusive as possible. If you are unable to attend for the entire week, please consider participating in our free events, such as Public Day on June 17th which features our keynote speakers, programs on Carfree Family Living and Portland’s Freeway History. Public Day is free and open to the entire community…

See you on TriMet!