I have been in Oregon City, Oregon, for the last few days visiting my friend Tim, as well as Patti who came over to join us from Idaho. We worked together in the Superstition Wilderness in Arizona many years ago.
Monday I spent in Portland while Tim was working. Since I don’t have my bike with me on this trip (I miss it), I was focused more on walking and transit.
I walked all over the downtown area and along the river. Not once did I see a motor vehicle encroach on a crosswalk with a pedestrian in it, which is a common occurrence in Sacramento, though I’m sure it happens. Sidewalks are wide throughout most of downtown, but not on some of the older streets where new development or redevelopment has not taken place. Street furniture is common. In parts of town such as the Pearl District and Chinatown, there are frequent kiosks with maps of the streets and interesting destinations.
The Amtrak station is close enough to downtown that some people walk to it, but it is directly served by the yellow and green MAX light rail routes. The downtown area is crisscrossed by the four MAX routes, the streetcar line, and bus routes. As with all systems, it becomes sparse out into the suburbs, but it is still functional. Going back to Oregon City in the evening, I took the MAX green line to Clackamas and then a bus back to Oregon City, and a walk up the hill to Tim’s.
The light rail lines have quite nice stations, with ticket vending machines that take credit cards and dispense all classes of tickets – RT does not – and video displays that show the actual next arrival, not the theoretical time that RT’s show. The tracks are much better laid and/or maintained, as they provide a smooth ride even through switches. The cars are much nicer too. They have low floors and raised curbs at the stations, so the car floor is only about three inches above the platform, just enough for the slide out handicap ramps. I did not see these ramps in operation. For other people with limited or full mobility, the low lip is an easy step on and off the car. RT has steep stairs which are difficult for many people to navigate, particularly if the are carrying luggage, groceries, or bikes. Each car has only four official bike racks, but there is ample space for bikes in the priority handicapped areas, if not in use.
All that said, Portland really is a big city with big city traffic. The entire urban area is sliced and diced with freeways, even more so than Sacramento. The bridges across the river vary from utilitarian to scenic, but the approaches to them are uniformly ugly and create ugliness in the neighborhoods on both sides. The suburbs are nearly as bland as those of Sacramento, though because of the terrain, they don’t seem to stretch on forever. The business area arterials have the same “nowhere” look as the suburbs of Sacramento. The ubiquitous tattoo parlors of Sacramento are replaced by the ubiquitous topless bars of Portland. Portland does have a wonderful waterfront park along the Willamette that was created by removal of a highway, so downtown feels more connected to the river than Sacramento which is cut off by Interstate 5. But the same Interstate 5 does cut off a portion of east Portland from the river.
I met with LeeAnne Fergason of Bicycle Transportation Alliance to talk about on-bike education, which is what I want to establish in my school district in California, getting ideas about how to get programs started and make the sustainable after the SRTS funding runs out. This sort of networking with others in my profession is incredibly valuable.