Tuesday, February 13, 2007

portland, oregon

i was in portland, oregon this last week visiting family members there and walking and taking transit to get around. there were signs up around town that it was the 20th anniversary of the first max line. twenty years ago, portland opened the first leg of its light rail system. there have been four expansions since then and another line is now under construction. they have a popular streetcar, and a couple weeks ago, the latest addition to their transit system opened. it is called the portland aerial tram, and it is a wire suspended gondola that takes you from the portland south waterfront up to the campus of the Oregon Health Science University, on the hillside above the city.

portland may only have one professional sports team, it might not have as a high a profile as some other metros, but it is often one of the only U.S. cities i see on international lists of first class cities for walkers, bikers and transit users. twenty years of light rail have made the city see that alternative forms of transportation work, and the city and metro have committed funds and dreams to making it possible for people to get around well without a car.

i walked all over the city, and always saw other people walking around me. the weather was much warmer there than here in the upper midwest. spring was starting, and bulbs were popping out of the soil. but walking goes on in portland year round. it seems that people there walk not only for health, but to get places, and also for the sheer entertainment of walking.

saturday night i walked down broadway street after spending some time at the Oregon Historical Society. Altho some people looked like they might have been walking to get someplace, and some folks were walking their dogs, many people had that look on their faces that they were walking just to walk, that they were walking for the sheer entertainment of it.

there were many cars in portland, many people driving, but there are almost just as many not driving. there is a transportation balance in portland that doesn't exist in many or even any other U.S. city of that size. sure, people drive and park in parking lots. but many other people don't drive. they find that they live a great life walking and taking transit and biking. and the city has reshaped itself over the last twenty years to make those alternative modes competitive to the car. it seems to me that this could only be seen as fair. minneapolis doesn't have this balance. i hope it gets there someday, and the sooner the better, as far as i am concerned.

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