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Finally Exposed: Portland Street Car Suspicions…


“The Tilicum opened in 2014.” “No, it was 2015.”

Read the transportation editorial on the Oregonian’s Opinion front page, the sort of benchmark work a newspaper of record addresses online and hard copy.

In other words, try and stay awake.

No thwarted world terror plans to reflect on.

No national shootings of note.

Just an honest request to “prove Portland’s streetcar performance with good data.”

You know, prove it…or what? Another editorial slap? A wagging finger?

Prove it, or break it down?

People move to Portland with different expectations than locals.

They don’t have the civic memory, the urban archive, we all take for granted.

To them Portland is already beyond their dreams.

“Look, light rail. Wait, maybe a streetcar? Trolly? I love them all.”

The missing words are “bus” and “car” and “transfers.” Why?

  • Bikers

It’s a biker world, a biker’s New World. New people living on bikes.

Bike people travel light. They like small spaces.

Call them hipsters or millennials or mid-lifers, but bike life is a fact of life. It’s a commitment by those who can afford more, and a saving grace to those holding steady.

It’s a proud group, but not a proud as the bike guy with a car or two who never drives. And never stops talking about it. They all fit into the urban planning.

If the planners and engineers and administrators need to move the needle a little, to lay a heavy finger on the scale, then I’m glad to know about it.

  • Understand the plan.

The future Portland wants to embrace is Start Up City. shows a video of huge floors full people at work, lots of people.

These are streetcar people, the new eastside apartment people who’ll ride their bike to the tracks and hop on.

They are the right people and Portland is first in their destination line. Things are getting worked out for them.

An apartment building goes up on an empty half block where rented goats mowed the grass, and it’s an outrage.

A new house built to reflect the style of the neighborhood goes up on an infill lot, and the Garden of Eden takes another hit.

New people love the space; long-time neighbors feel the cramp. Doing it the right way eases the pain.

  • Moving a city

New people moving into Portland reminds me of a PBS show about Manhattan. Investors bought the farm land and cleared it for sky scrapers. The urban evolution included plans for moving people in and out of the city as well as up and down buildings.

Subways and elevators did it there the way bikes and street cars add to Portland’s transportation mix.

A baby boomer construction super I interviewed explained it best when he said Portland was a ghost town before the bus mall and trains and Pioneer Square. You need people and you’ve got to build before they’ll come.

And it worked.

Today’s people leave the suburbs for a Portland weekend instead of Seattle or San Fransisco. It’s city enough to feel it’s mean streets, but Oregon enough for the right context.

Thirty years later Portland tracks and what’s on them will be the ride every high-tech geek and geekette catches from Milwaukie to Portland.

They’ll do it from the good works done on the built environment today.

About David Gillaspie
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