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Light rail system continues to grow


The Oregon Clinic is one of many developments built along the MAX line that connects riders to important services.
Mid-county reached a major milestone when the MAX Blue Line between downtown Portland and Gresham celebrated 25 years in service last month. TriMet, city leaders and many who helped build and operate the line celebrated with events in Gresham and downtown Portland.

Jim Strickland, one of the first MAX train operators, remembers opening day, “The crowds were huge; the trains were packed; and by the time the weekend was over, some 200,000 people had ridden the MAX train,” he said. Strickland, now a rail trainer for TriMet added, “It was such a great honor to be there, and it continues to be exciting as the system expands.”

At the time MAX opened between Gresham and downtown, there were just two other modern light rail systems in the country - San Diego and Buffalo, N.Y. Now there are nearly 30 light rail systems throughout the U.S.

Exchanging a freeway for light rail
When the region stopped the Mt. Hood Freeway, a planned eight-lane freeway running through Southeast Portland, the MAX line was built. Federal freeway funds were exchanged for light rail and other transportation improvements.

Since the first line opened in September 1986, 483 million trips have been taken on the entire MAX system. During that same time, 1.4 billion trips have been taken on TriMet buses.

“So much has happened in the past 25 years,” said TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane. “We've significantly expanded our transit system, reached record ridership and helped enhance neighborhoods along the MAX lines,” said McFarlane.

Since the original 15-mile MAX line to Gresham, the MAX system has grown to 52 miles, serving the three counties in the region. Mid-county residents have the Blue, Green and Red lines serving the community.

More than $10 billion in development has occurred within walking distance of the stations since the decision to build in 1980. In east Portland, the MAX line has helped shape the community, including the Russellville development on East Burnside St. at 102nd Avenue that transformed a former school district building. The Oregon Clinic, built at the Gateway Transit Center, provides an important service at the hub of much transit service.

“Transit is more than just moving people from one location to another, it's about the land use and transit connection that helps make this a great place to live,” McFarlane added.

TriMet says the community continues to ask for more - both bus and MAX service. So, what is next? The agency's sixth MAX line is in the design and construction phase. The 7.3-mile Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Line extends from downtown Portland, South Waterfront, across a new bridge over the Willamette River, through Southeast Portland and to Milwaukie and Clackamas County.

TriMet estimates up to 14,000 jobs will be created with the construction of the line. The Portland-Milwaukie line is set to open in fall 2015.

Over the past 25 years, the MAX system grows and continues to carry record ridership - now more than 130,000 trips on weekdays. It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the next 25 years.

Plan your trip
TriMet's award winning website is an easy place to plan your trip, with information on travel and walk times, transfers and cost. TriMet also offers real time arrival information for all of their 6,800 bus stops and 85 MAX stations. Check TransitTracker online at, by mobile device, or by texting 27299 or by calling 503-238-RIDE (7433) and entering the stop ID number.

Pursuant to this story, comments on the 25 years of light rail in east Portland from community leaders and regular folk were solicited. Tell us what you think. Overall, has light rail been good for east Portland? Send your answer to:

Rep. Michael Dembrow:
“Twenty-five years of east side light rail has had a positive effect on the region as a whole-diverting traffic congestion from the freeway and from downtown-but its direct effect on Portland east of 82nd Avenue has been mixed. Many people still refuse to use it because of concerns over personal safety, concerns that Tri-Met has still not addressed successfully. In addition, light rail is intended to be about more than transportation: it is intended to build economic opportunity through the creation of business and residential hubs, spurring new development. We are starting to see some of that at Gateway, but its success is not clear yet. Moreover, the development of the areas adjacent to the airport line has been disappointing so far. To this point, light rail's potential as an economic engine has been much more successful on the west side than the east side. Mid-and east-Multnomah County still don't receive the kind of attention and infrastructure development as the rest of the metro area. Light rail is one component of a bigger picture, but the key to success east of 82nd Ave. is a renewed focus from the city and county on the needs of the residents and businesses there.

Property owner Bill Bitar, whose office and retail building at 9828 E. Burnside St. is on the light rail line:
“The biggest mistake they made was no turnstiles. These people get on there (light rail), but they don't give a damn. Around our office, I can't see many negatives. It is a form of transportation for many people. They spend billions on light rail, but the car is still the major form of transportation. A lot of times, a bus works better because it gets closer to the neighborhood.”

Hazelwood Neighborhood Association chair Arlene Kimura:
“In my opinion, overall the results of the east side light rail are mixed. The focus of light rail has brought more attention to the east side and made Gateway the hub of three light rail lines. The light rail has facilitated getting around, and going to, other parts of Portland and beyond. However, the rail structure has brought about changes more rapidly than the community anticipated or was equipped to deal with. There was an obvious divide between those who were here before light rail and those who settled here after; gratefully, the community has stepped up to deal with issues and be part of the on-going solution, working the various agencies, non-profits and community groups. My thanks to everyone.

Russellville Park resident Dave Gardiner:
“I live in a retirement community which is right across the street from a MAX station. This is real handy if I wish to go somewhere near a MAX line. If my destination is not near MAX, I usually get there in my car. If I can walk there in fifteen minutes or so, and the weather is nice, I'll just lace up my sneakers and hit the sidewalk. I typically use MAX at least once a month, for recreational travel to and from downtown Portland.

The most obvious attribute of MAX is its proximity to both my residence and my usual destination(s). MAX seems more predictable, schedule-wise, than a bus, although I will happily use a bus if it will get me closer to my destination than MAX.

As a people mover, MAX seems quite efficient. As an entertainment medium, MAX is not nearly as entertaining as a bus. What I love/hate about MAX is that young women will notice my gray hair and offer me their seat. Even though I do not yet fit TriMet's definition of senior citizen. Thanks, ladies!”

Rep. and mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith:
“Tri-Met rail east of 82nd has been both a blessing and a challenge. Tri-Met access offers opportunities to open access to the central city and integrate our economy and communities. Rail may have helped relax traffic on I-84, Glisan, and Burnside, and may have helped reduce traffic deaths. Certainly numerous people have had an easier time getting to work and back while saving money on fuel and car insurance.

At the same time, development and planning around the platforms since creation of the MAX line and since the annexation of east Portland has not kept pace with the changing city. The areas around the platforms have not developed sufficiently as positive shopping districts or community gathering places. The constituents I have talked to don't feel as safe or comfortable waiting for or riding the MAX as they deserve to feel. (To be clear, I have never felt unsafe on the MAX. I am also over 6'4” in shoes and over two-hundred-and-I-don't-wanna-say-how-many pounds.)

Rather than give a grade for the last 25, I'd rather cheerlead a plan for the next 25. A plan with more locally-owned business, planning for economic diversity, beautified MAX stops, community safety strategies around the platforms, as well as improved bus connections. Done right, we can increase ridership and help defray the costs of improvements. And when we're asked this question on the 50th anniversary, we can give resounding praise.

And in the meantime, let's thank the hard working people at Tri-Met, the public safety officers, and the law-abiding riders who help make MAX work.”

Gateway business owner Dean Gauthier:
We were told when light rail goes in, it would improve the area, people will want to live by it; the area will be fancier; everyone is going to ride it. The reality is the opposite. You get the dregs of society who live in the low-end apartments across the street. The businesses are hurt because people want to shop by car, not by light rail. Anywhere there is light rail - don't care if it is downtown - you don't want to be on that street because it hurts your business. All those businesses that have the light rail line say 'Really?' They want to move to a place where cars drive by and can see them; where people can park and walk in. It's not a selling point to say 'I live on the MAX line' - especially in Rockwood.”
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