… in Portland:
PORTLAND — The question comes as I’m whisking 55 mph on a standing-room-only light-rail train in this city’s west suburbs.
“What is wrong with Seattle?” It’s not me who asks it. It’s the woman next to me, Debby Fehrenbach, of Hillsboro, Ore. She is commuting 15 miles on Portland’s MAX electric light rail to her job at a Portland software firm.
Fehrenbach lived in Seattle for 25 years. She moved here two years ago. Part of the reason, she says, is because of how stuck Seattle is.
“I love Seattle, but I kind of gave up on it,” she says. “It’s a bus city. In Portland it’s so easy and fast to get around, you feel like you don’t even have to have a car anymore.
“Seattle really, really needs one of these.”
He points out a few of the really important parts of rail transit being different that bus transit. First, frequency:
It didn’t take more than two minutes for me to be impressed. That’s how long I waited to catch my first train in downtown Portland.
In two days of riding the rails, on 14 different trains, the longest I waited for one to come was eight minutes. That was at 11 on a Sunday night.
Anyone who rides a crowded bus knows about “bunching”, where no bus comes for a long while and two or three show up at the same time. That’s impossible with trains because they have their own right-of-way. So, the longest you wait is 8 minutes.
Next, boarding times:
The longest any of my trains spent stopped at a station was 25 seconds — even when 75 rush-hour commuters tried to board a crowded train at once. I’ve waited much longer for a single rider to get on a Seattle bus, fumbling for change or arguing with the driver.
Trains are flush-against the platform, buses are usually raised and slightly in the street. Buses have only two narrow doors, trains have two or three per car. Buses can only be paid for in the front, trains can be paid on the platform, and then boarding is instant.
Trains are faster:
The trains are surprisingly speedy. Well, not in downtown Portland, where they run on the street like streetcars. But outside the core of the city, on their own grade-separated tracks or in the medians of arterials, the trains routinely reach 40 to 55 mph. (Seattle’s system is slated to be faster than Portland’s, because none of it runs in street lanes. All of it is planned for medians, tunnels or elevated tracks.)
Because they are separated from car traffic.
Finally, Mr Westneat sums up the argument on prop. 1 nicely is his own way:
All I’m saying in this column is that if we build more light rail, we will love it. As Portland plainly does. It’s pricey. But it’s reliable, quiet and, when designed so the tracks aren’t right in the street, fast.
So maybe we’ll start acting like a big city and build some real rapid transit.
Or, maybe we’ll go on as “Seattle: Bus City, USA.”
Forced to forever face that awkward question from our smaller, smarter friends to the south.