Thursday, 19 November 2015

Planning in Portland - engaging the community in public transport

Prior to departing on our American study tour we were required to complete a research project. My research led me to believe that Portland, Oregon was a utopian wonderland, however after being here for three days this is far from what I have experienced. After first arriving in the city,  we were ushered onto the light rail system where we had to wait two and a half hours before departing for our hotel. This was quite a shock as the transportation system didn’t meet my high expectations. To be fair, I discovered the next morning that Portland had received their largest daily rainfall in over four years which had caused flooding in the downtown region and spun the system into chaos. While I accept this is mother nature's fault I am still yet to be impressed with the public transport system in Portland. On numerous occasions, such as when we had to go to class, the light rail network was down so we had to take the street car to the field work site. It’s lucky they have multiple transportation systems! A major issue with the light rail system is that when one unit is down the whole system locks up. This is mainly due to the light rail systems running on loops. Consequently these delays muddle up the real time updates at each of the stops. They do eventually update, however results in user frustration. 

The transport system runs very differently in Portland than it does in Japan. In Japan the transport options stay on time no matter what and leave even if your only half on-board, whereas here they tend to be more lenient and wait for individuals. On a positive note, the light rail stops are plentiful and in convenient locations. I was also impressed with the disability ramp that deploys to assist people in wheelchairs. Additionally, it is impressive how many people use the TriMet system. A poster on one of the light rail units states “45% of commuters going into Downtown Portland take transit” and that “nearly 1 in 4 transit trips are for shopping and recreation”. It is clear that the community is happy to support the TriMet network. Emulating this amount of community engagement in Australian cities would be ideal and determining how this has been achieved is something I wish to examine in my final assignment.  

The cycling culture in Portland is endemic. When exploring the city on our first free day I went for a walk around the riverfront. Multiple bike riders passed me and I began to wish I had a bike myself. Everywhere I visited had bike path infrastructure and in most cases bikes were split from the pedestrian walkway. Having this separate space greatly reduced congestion and also improved the safety of paths. I am surprised by the fact that I am yet to find a shop where I can rent a bike. Having all this bike infrastructure and not providing this mode of transport to visitors seems like a waste. Perhaps I haven’t been looking in the right places! In Melbourne we have the ‘Bike Share’ scheme where bikes are readily available in convenient locations where people can rent bikes. Whilst the scheme in Melbourne has its flaws, I believe a similar system would work better here due to the advanced cycling infrastructure. Adopting cycling concepts from places such as Amsterdam and London would also be a good idea.  


Portland is a vibrant, medium sized city with a plethora of transport options. Although I have not had the best experience with Portland’s transport systems I firmly believe that there is more than what meets the eye when It comes to moving around this city.

Allistair Krause